'Lost' left hanging
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By Bill Ervolino and Virginia Rohan
Knight Ridder News Service
By Bill Ervolino and Virginia Rohan
"Lost" may be the most closely watched and obsessed-about show on television. But as the Season 2 finale nears, and we return to new episodes tonight, the show's most perplexing questions remain unanswered.
Not just the whereabouts of Mike, Walt and Desmond, the significance of Hurley's numbers or the real lowdown on the Others. We're talking about the really big issues: Does hunting down the various hidden clues add to the fun of the show or detract from it? Does Jack need to die to save the show? Does the recent ratings dip simply reflect the power of its new time-slot rival, the "American Idol" results show, or could it also signal a growing discontent in the "Lost" world? Will the path from the hatch lead all the way to Twin Peaks?
TV writer Virginia Rohan and columnist Bill Ervolino, friends who love to debate each other, have been arguing those points for weeks now:
CLUES IN THE EPISODES
Bill Ervolino: I don't think hunting down "clues" is the only reason to watch this show. But if the writers are going to go through the trouble of inserting them, then why ignore them?
"Lost," TiVo and Google were made for each other. And cross-referencing things after the show is fun, like doing a crossword puzzle.
Virginia Rohan: I know some people enjoy it. I don't. Once upon a time, there was this terrific show called "Lost," which I mainly watched for its narrative and characters not its cryptic clues and subliminal seductions.
Yes, I know that the show's producers, from Day 1, dropped us breadcrumbs a trail that would presumably lead, eventually, to the solution of the island's great underlying mystery. At first, these clues were tantalizing. But this season, they've upstaged the more important story elements.
Some obsessive Losties appear to primarily watch the show to sniff out clues, and the "Lost" writers appear to be tossing in more leads to keep them happy. The series has become one big I-saw-it-first contest for some people. Thanks to DVR technology, they freeze-frame, rewind, zero in on minute details, then run to their computers to post findings.
This season, "Lost" has become the most interactive scripted series on TV. And, to me, that's not a good thing.
Ervolino: The flashbacks should let us know more about the character and, to some extent, advance the plot line.
I don't think we need to know any more about Charlie, his brother or that annoying song of theirs, but that doesn't mean I dislike Charlie as a character.
"The Other 48 Days" was the ultimate flashback. Some of Jack's have been good. But a weak flashback kills an episode
Rohan: I think we pretty much agree on this. In Season 1, the flashbacks were a great way to introduce the back stories of these seeming strangers without resorting to awkward expository dialogue. ("Hi. I'm Jack. I'm a doctor, and I was married to a woman who came into the emergency room paralyzed after a terrible car accident. ...") It has also been fun to see how the Oceanic Flight 815 passengers had crossed paths before they wound up on that doomed jet.
However, the device, and even the jet-engine "whoosh" sound that precedes the flashbacks, is becoming tiresome. It's still great to learn things about new characters like Mr. Eko, and the Locke back story remains fascinating. But if I have to watch one more sequence about Charlie's Driveshaft days, I'll be driven to use his finger-painting technique to spell out: MAKE IT STOP!
CONTAINED VS. SERIAL
Rohan: The show's basic concept is that it's serialized, so "Lost" shouldn't suddenly turn into "CSI." But I'd propose a compromise. In every episode, the writers could reveal at least one key to solving the island's mystery, while letting some larger questions continue to play out.
These weekly reveals should be real gotchas, though. The unveiling of the Others earlier this season was a big letdown.
Ervolino: I think we're basically on the same page here. This is obviously a continuing series with a lot of loose ends, and I don't expect that to change anytime soon. Still, I think the best episodes are those in which the flashback offers a nice, relatively self-contained story. Or one in which the flashback solves a problem in the "present."
A lot of people who have never watched the show ask me if they can start watching it now, and I almost always say no, because so few episodes can be enjoyed as stand-alone hours.
Ervolino: There's no getting around the fact that Jack is the hero. As he's written, Jack is an interesting guy, about as complex as we can expect any character in a drama series to be. But he has been grating on my nerves this season.
I'd like to find out the rest of Jack's story, and I'm not rooting for him to die. But unless the entire premise of the show hinges on him, I think he's expendable.
This show is blessed and cursed with a huge number of characters. They can be hard to keep track of, but I think playing up new ones and playing down older ones will be a key to keeping the show fresh and exciting.
Rohan: Boy, has there been a Jack backlash this season. Some "Lost" fans have even suggested that the Grim Reaper should pay a visit to the heroic doctor.
I disagree. Jack, to me, is the show's moral compass. If he's veered off course, or become maddeningly self-righteous and the latter is certainly true that's a problem the writers could and should fix. (Jack's poker game with Sawyer was a good start.)
Also, Jack has had so many flashbacks, but he has far too little to do in the here and now (or whatever dimension of time the castaways are in).
'TWIN PEAKS' SYNDROME
Ervolino: "Twin Peaks" cleared the way for "Lost" and "The Sopranos." It was the TV equivalent of the auteur film. Many people forget that "Twin Peaks" also had some terrific episodes in its second season, but there is no getting around the fact that stretching the show's single mystery ("Who killed Laura Palmer?") beyond one season was a mistake.
"Lost" has had many good episodes this season. But unless some central plot lines are resolved soon, viewers are going to get tired of it all. We can't live by cliffhangers alone.
Rohan: "Twin Peaks," of course, also started out brilliantly. But the central mystery dragged on too long, and the producers started to throw in lots of clues that turned out to be meaningless.
The last new "Lost" episode, written by executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, gave me hope that the show is moving back on track. But still, here we are 17 episodes into the second season, and there are still so many unanswered questions. Where's Walt? Where's Desmond? What exactly is the Dharma Initiative? Henry Gale? Where's that polar bear? What's the deal with the numbers?
Most of all: Will we ever get a payoff or are these just so many red herrings?