Is My Faith Lost?
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…
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