Is My Faith Lost?

09Nov06

I’ve argued to anyone unfortunate enough to be within earshot that one of the elements driving the rise of television narrative complexity is viewers’ faith in show creators to deliver payoffs. Back in the Buffy era, “Trust Joss” was a mantra that fans clung to whenever the show seemed to be straying off path, and for me at least, my total lack of faith in the creators of 24 makes it impossible for me to watch the show, as I assume that every interesting situation that is set-up will be botched in the end. This ties into my previous post about Gilmore Girls, as the departure of the Palladinos triggers a loss of faith in the minds of viewers & critics.

So at the start of Lost‘s winter hiatus, I feel my faith being tested. Perhaps this is a meta-theme from the show, as testing faith is a regular narrative event for the castaways, but I don’t watch TV to feel like I’ve been stranded on craphole island. But that’s how I felt after last night’s episode. [Spoilers beneath the fold]

One of Lost‘s strengths thus far has been a mastery of final acts, both of season and episode. Throughout season 2, fans complained that many episodes were 40 minutes of boring set-up for a great final 3-minute sequence. I was always fine with that, as I recognized that those set-ups were usually needed to deliver the final moments, and they served to deepen character and plot arcs in often subtle ways. And Lost has delivered in the season finales both years, albeit in different ways. Season 1 ended with some frustrating suspense, peering down the hatch, but the capture of Walt was an immensely satisfying twist. Season 2’s finale was simply perfect, answering tons of questions about Desmond & the hatch, while opening a great number of mysteries to keep us pondering all summer (cue Giant Foot).

Now Lost is going with a split-season model, delivering a 6-episode mini-season this fall before going on hiatus until February. Last night’s episode, “I Do,” seemed poised to deliver on wrapping up many of the issues raised this season, and creating enough momentum to sustain interest for three months. It failed at both tasks. What was wrapped up? The only thing I can see is the resolution of the Kate/Sawyer/Jack love triangle – Kate & Sawyer are the couple, as Kate doesn’t do taco night (and Jack’s all about taco night). For some fans, this is huge, but I’m not a “shipper,” nor do I think that’s the main draw for the majority of Lost viewers. We got nothing about the motivations, history, or plans of The Others (as a friend of mine says, they seem omnipotent simply for omnipotence sake), no clues into Desmond’s transformation or any other insights into the Swan’s implosion, and no better sense of the numerous dangling clues (giant foot, Eyepatch Man, Mrs. Klugh, Alex, Penny’s listening station, DHARMA/Hanso/numbers, Walt, Libby, shall I continue?).

What about narrative momentum? The cliffhanger seemed more out of 24 than Lost (which is not praise on my blog) – Jack holding Ben’s kidney hostage, Kate trying to escape from mini-island peril, Sawyer at gunpoint. None of these developments are surprising, and the suspense is pretty low as well, as we know all three characters will survive this, and probably Ben will too. Lost‘s strength has been not in generating “what will happen?” suspense like typical thrillers, but creating “why are things happening?” intrigue. We know why Ben wants surgery, we know why Jack wants to save himself and Kate, we know why Kate & Sawyer want to get it on in a cage. I won’t spend 3 months wondering what will happen to these characters, but I’m still pondering many “whys.” The only dangling mystery we were given was Locke’s revelation on Eko’s Jesus Stick – but it’s a clue with no payoff and no immediate resonance. I’m sure it’ll matter in February, but who cares until then. [Plus as an added gripe, Kate’s flashback completely wasted the glorious Nathan Fillion, only making me want to watch Firefly again.]

So “I Do” didn’t do it for me. It made me lose faith in the producers’ understanding of their own show. It made me feel like I was watching 24. And if you don’t have faith in Lost, you can’t enjoy the show. I’ll spend 3 months fretting over whether the show has lost its way, caring more about the fate of the producers than the island’s mysteries. And I’ll rely on Battlestar Galactica to fill the Lost-shaped hole in my personal TV canon.

So say we all.

Update: Clearly the Lost producers agree that the cliffhanger was more in the vein of 24. In a TV Guide interview previewing the finale, they say:

Damon: It’s a much more conventional cliff-hanger in the vein of Jack Bauer going on a slow boat to China.
Carlton: We believe it’s a cliff-hanger that will make the audience want to come back and watch the show when it picks up in February.
Damon: It will hopefully be good enough to incur major frustration from the audience as to “How dare we go off the air for 13 weeks and leave them hanging in that fashion!”
Carlton: The angrier we make them the better the cliff-hanger is, I guess.

Somehow I don’t think they were going for the type of anger they got from me…



4 Responses to “Is My Faith Lost?”

  1. 1 Dan Roberts

    Professor Mittell–

    I agree with you on the unfortunate subject of disappointment with last night’s “fall finale.” However, I would add to your analysis some points of my own– I was disappointed/frustrated with last night’s episode less for the plot-type elements you name, such as the 24-style suspense or the lack of answers… instead, I was more aggravated by the acting and the style. I really felt that as much as I hate to say this about a show I feel ALWAYS delivers, this was a departure from the program’s usual high-quality style of acting and performance.

    Here’s what I mean. First off, I really do not like that the show’s creators feel that they can add new characters to the show at any moment, with the excuse that they “have been on the island all along,” we just didn’t see them. I am speaking of Paulo and Nikki, of course. Nikki is clearly here for her, well, boobage, and Paulo here because he is “hot” eye candy for female viewers (they call him the Brazilian Tom Cruise. I don’t feel the

    “reality” (what little reality there is on this show) is maintained if new characters can enter willy nilly. I also feel that neither person is a good actor and, for example, in the episode two weeks ago when Sayid, Locke, Paulo and Nikki go to another hatch.. I had to watch Paulo flush the toilet? Get rid of them and bring in some old favorites that have been given the shaft lately (i.e. Charlie, Rose, Bernard, Claire, Jin).

    Furthermore the bad acting I refer to was also present, SADLY, in last nites episode by the people I usually trust, i.e. Kate and Sawyer…. specifically there were some really cheesy lines when Jack is saying RUN RUN! and Kate can only sob and say, “I cant leave without you” bla bla. Kinda trite/overdone for LOST’s good reputation.

    Staying on the subject of characters, I am continually losing faith in the idea that Juliet and Jack will have a romance. Also, I seem to be completely alone in wanting Kate to be with Jack, and being only angry when Kate and Sawyer had their filthy cage-rendezvous. Let me say though that I certainly do NOT agree that the kate-sawyer-jack triangle has been resolved. Kate enjoying a night with Sawyer is by no means evidence that she has made her final decision… didn’t we enjoy the tender scene with her behind the glass of Jack’s cell?!

    Also, I had originally thought that when Juliet held the cards up, it was in fact SHE who Jack should not trust. I have been hoping to see a Ben-Jack alliance against the true evil, deceitful character, Juliet… who wants control. But with Ben on the operating table he obviously can’t do much.

    And are we really supposed to believe Danny would have shot Sawyer execution-style like that? No way. By that logic, Sawyer and Kate’s only purpose in being taken prisoner was as bait to get Jack to do the surgery… there’s no way I believe that was their only purpose. So why would Danny think he would be allowed to kill Sawyer, a valuable prisoner? He wouldn’t.

    Anyways. I agree about answers. The Kate flashback seemed rather pointless, (did she really need to drug the drink of her husband? and it seemed excessive that she would phone the guy who is after her. come on, kate.) Furthermore I didnt like how Locke sees that cryptic note on EKo’s stick, and that’s that, we dont see them the rest of the episode. And Eko’s funeral gets only a quick word by Locke, and appearances by Paulo and Nikki, Sayid and Desmond? Also, give more screen time to Desmond!! Right?

    I guess it will certainly be a frustrating wait until the 16-episode run begins in February. I guess it will begin with Kate on the run… but how could they possibly get very far, now that we know there are TWO islands?!

    Good stuff though… I’m not exactly frustrated enough to stop watching. Far from it.

  2. 2 Neal Grigsby

    Hi Jason. I have to say I agree with your pessimistic analysis. I’ve been in the uncomfortable position of Lost apologist in my household this season, my wife feeling frustrated by the empty tension and the creators’ failure to resolve any of the dangling mysteries. Her theory is that whenever JJ Abrams starts a new series, as he did this season with Six Degrees, his other shows go to pot. My own frustration centers on a sense that the characters have lost their curiosity about their increasingly bizarre predicament. Has Jack ever flat-out asked his captors, “who the hell are you people, and why are you on the island, and what is the deal with the black smoke monster?” I wouldn’t expect them to give up the answers, but it would bolster my faith if the characters cared.

  3. 3 Joe Press

    Sorry about the real late late reply

    But I’d just like to point out this episode was up for an emmy

    Unfortunately great writing is “Lost” on most viewers because they dont understand what the writers see. The better you are at seeing themes and understanding the episodes depth the more you will enjoy it.

    Some people dont like classical music..not because its not genius–because they are not genius. All you can say with any authority is YOU didnt like it. You cannot say it wasnt good.

    My opinion is that this episode and its followup were some of the best Lost had to offer. If you about learning facts–you can go read newpaper. Too many people who watch lost are simple minded. They dont understand the themes. They dont see the depth in the writing and they dont appreciate top notch execution by the actors. All they want is information. Enjoy the art. If its facts you want– buy a book at skip to the end.


  1. 1 JustTV

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