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"Man of Science, Man of Faith," "Adrift," "Orientation," "Everybody Hates Hugo," "...And Found," "Abandoned," "The Other 48 Days," "Collision," "What Kate Did," "The 23rdPsalm," "The Hunting Party," "Fire + Water," "The Long Con," "One of Them," "Maternity Leave," "The Whole Truth," "Lockdown," "Dave," "S.O.S.," "Two for the Road," "?," "Three Minutes," "Live Together, Die Alone"
by Walter Chaw The problem so far, as I see it, is that the first season's episodes--with the possible exception of the two-part pilot and the three-part closer--were too, how to phrase this, episodic. Predictable rises and falls in action ending in either a cliffhanger or poignant musical montage or some mutant hybrid of the two do not a sustainable experience make. (Perhaps it's easier to take when you're not watching it in six-hour chunks.) I feel almost the same way about "Lost"--and many would count this as a positive comparison, though I would not--as I do about Dickens, and concede the same: that maybe it was different reading Great Expectations in bite-sized chunks separated by days and weeks. Anything designed for parceling out and serialization dooms itself to a certain viewer-fatigue when consumed all at once. Still, I watched the first two seasons of "Deadwood" in the space of something like three days and didn't feel anything close to the disdain and exhaustion I felt after just one season of "Lost". It's not that it's tense so much as it's generally bereft of imagination and therefore repetitive early and often. Its only consistency is this steadfast observance of its staid narrative ebb and flow; its only innovation is that it sometimes begins an episode with a flashback instead of going to flashback midstream.
That said, the cliffhanger that ends Season One, what with a hatch being opened upon a chthonic hole, suggests any number of delicious, loaded possibilities. A shame, then, that what they discover Down There is The Mundane. And not Mundane in the sense of the hotel room at the end of the light tunnel in 2001, but mundane in the sense that we suspect the writers have chosen a path away from mysterium tremens and towards schlock sci-fi explanations and "The Prisoner" conspiracy theories--forgetting that the best of schlock sci-fi (and "The Prisoner") actually trends away from apathy. It's the decision workmen, not artists, make, informed by the misconception that what people really want are answers that make sense instead of answers that feel right. Having supremely fucked up any chance that the debut season can come to a sensible resolution, the only way through it is to provide a spiritual answer in the form of a conundrum, or a metaphor. By introducing the beginning of the end with some Scottish dude taking a shower at the bottom of that great, black shaft, "Lost" has destroyed not only much chance that it'll be something special once the dust settles, but also any kind of generation of suspense for the rest of the season premiere. See, every time someone wonders with dread what could possibly be down there, everyone out there knows it's just a guy Jack met while jogging pre-crash. That brand of decision has marred "Lost" thus far, these genuinely inexplicable editing and pacing choices that, aside from being hopelessly inept, demonstrate that the creators are dedicated to making sense of something that should by all rights be senseless. They're operating on the mistaken assumption that their imagination is better than ours--that the Force could, and should, be explained by a blood disorder.
Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), it seems, has been living in this luxury basement on a diet of Repo Man canned goods, Mama Cass Elliot vinyl, and 8mm educational reels and entering that infamous "Lost" number sequence every 108 minutes (and of course the sum of those numbers is 108), lest something terrible happen. It's an Operant Conditioning Box without an obvious feeder reward, meaning that Desmond's existence is the exact equivalent of each viewer's experience: you depress an operant lever at regular intervals with the promise of, six years down the road, receiving a prize that's commensurate with the time spent in that tiny fucking box. By now, I'm guessing that most people keep coming back to "Lost" not because they expect the punchline to be any good, but because they've invested so much time in the enterprise that they feel they might as well get something out of it. Again like Desmond's Apple II+, it is, in other words, a contraption running on its operator's fear. This also explains the show's compulsive need to do an ominous cut to black at not merely the end of every episode, but every single commercial break as well--whether or not something scary is happening. It's the bell that causes us to salivate, not to mix behaviouralists (and Skinner is name-dropped by Locke at one point, meaning that the writers are not smarter than you in addition to telling a large joke at your expense), and like Desmond's button, pressing it proffers no immediate, discernible gratification.
Aside from the fact that "Lost" is, to this point, a colossal case of blue balls terminally unrelieved, it's extremely bad. The acting is deplorable, the writing is deplorable; it eventually becomes clear that there are only two actors in the cast (O'Quinn and Yunjin Kim), and they're given the same terrible material as everyone else. The flashbacks are base primetime soap-opera fodder peddling in racial shorthand in the Sayid and Sun/Jin sequences, antiquated "Alias Smith & Jones" bullshit with Kate and Sawyer, and "Marcus Welby"/"ER" stuff with Jack. (It's occasionally leavened by Hurley's desperately unpleasant Mack Sennett fat-guy slapstick, which admittedly isn't as painful as it could be because it mostly avoids the Mexican stuff "Lost" would be doing with him if he had a six-pack like the rest.) It's all meant to showcase how maverick are Kate and Sawyer, how Christ-like is Jack, how Asian/Iraqi are the Celestial and the enemy combatant--giving "Lost" the luxury of pandering to the stay-at-home set whilst pretending it has something to say about current events and our place in the world.
When all else fails, the show will threaten children. It does it often enough that when there're a couple more episodes in which little bastard Aaron is threatened by heroin-addicted hobbit Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) in the throes of some myth-inspired dementia, one develops the ardent desire that something terrible happen to the baby only so Charlie can be written out along with vanilla mommy Claire (Emilie de Ravin). Rather than seek to develop and thin its already-bloated core, however, "Lost" grants a concession to how quickly and completely it's jumped the shark (literally) by introducing a quartet of "Tailies," i.e., survivors from the tail section of the airplane who've taken up uneasy residence on the far side of the island. They can't handle the idiots they have already, so they pile on more idiots to forestall the moment everyone figures it out.
Leading the newcomers are tough-talking Latina badass Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) and near-mute honest-to-God savage Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje)--she an ex-cop with a dark past, he a product of warlord indoctrination/drug lord/priest/buck tradition. There's also limp Libby (Cynthia Watros), who's there to give Hurley the opportunity to be a completely inept lover and soothe the fear among devotees that they're assholes for adopting this grown man as their lumpen mascot. Then there's The Others, a group of parochial Van De Kamp fishermen with beards who appear periodically to beat the crap out of Sun and/or reinject an element of menace in a series that has apparently forgotten it's placed itself on an island infested with polar bears, wild boars, and a smoke monster. Season Two is likewise where "Lost" decides that it's going to position itself as a struggle between faith and reason (the episode where they decide whether or not to keep pushing the button is called "Man of Science, Man of Faith") and put Locke on the one side and Jack on the other. Much will be made of this in the dialogue in the manner of dimwit entertainment so enamoured or unsure of itself that it needs to dispense its mission statement in reams of expository sputs. What galls most about "Lost", really, is that it puts on airs. "Dallas" never tackled dharma not because it wasn't ambitious, but because it knew what it was. By the same token, for opening cans of worms "Lost" is less daring than it is suddenly exposed to accusations of dilettantism. What galls is the giant following it's seduced with its facile treatment of types, its soap-opera conventions, and its nod to genre elements. No wonder NBC followed with its own version of this formula, the similarly briefly-popular, instantly frustrating "Heroes". The chronicles of beautiful people dealing with shallow existential exigencies: insert check here.
Additionally introduced is the mysterious Henry Gale (Michael Emerson, the spitting image of Mike White), alleged survivor of a balloon mishap and catalyst for several moments wherein Sayid betrays his declaration that he'll never again torture (made in the first season) and Locke undermines his status as the smartest guy in the room. Whatever's introduced, however, the overall effect is to obscure the truth: that "Lost" is about who's pregnant, who's sleeping with whom, who's the alpha, who looks good without a shirt, and whether the fat guy has an invisible friend encouraging him to eat. 'Lost' in all that lettuce are abhorrent and incomprehensible behaviours that would be unforgivable in any other context--like how they keep wandering around alone and in the dark in a forest full of wild boars, polar bears, dinosaurs, and a tribe of dirty men who steal babies and beat women. Or like how the fat guy destroys his hidden stash of food in a moment of joyous affirmation when meanwhile his compatriots on the beach are starving to death (hurray for the fat guy!). Or how the flashback for Locke and his short-lived girlfriend (I love Katey Sagal) would've felt right at home in an episode of "Falcon Crest". In a greater sense, the soap is meant to mask that whatever the attempts at forgiving miscegenation, in the end, it's still the apples with the apples and the tomatoes with the tomatoes, with Sayid and Shannon punished by a bullet to the gut--ditto Jack/Sawyer and Ana Lucia; ditto Hurley and Libby; ditto, in a cosmic sense, old Rose (L. Scott Caldwell) and old Bernard (Sam Anderson), doubly-neutered by terminal illness and oldness; and ditto Sun and Michael, a complete non-starter. Thus, while "Lost" plays at rocky road, it's vanilla all the way. Most have called Season Two the worst of the five so far--frankly, and for what it's worth, it's not much worse than Season One.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
"Lost: The Complete Second Season" docks on Blu-ray in a frankly amazing 1.78:1, 1080p presentation that demonstrates a showcase level of clarity and detail. A shame you have to watch "Lost" to see the loveliness of the images therein--it's truly the sort of thing for which Blu-ray was invented. More real than real, as they say; there's nothing like edge enhancement or digital artifacts to mar that sharpness, no bleed to distract from the vividness of the colours. Blacks are completely pitch, while nighttime scenes, particularly ones around fires, are so vivid that it makes one want to weep for their purity. Lovely stuff, to say the least, and if the video keeps getting better as the seasons progress, well, it won't detract from the greatness of this one. The D-BOX-encoded DTS-HD 5.1 audio (mislabelled PCM uncompressed on the packaging) blooms with atmosphere, from snapped twigs to, in one key middle episode, the bleat of a lonesome tree frog--apparently the only tree frog on the entire goddamned island, causing Sawyer and Hurley to go in search of it to silence its cry. Confession time: I thought for a good long time that their search for the godforsaken frog was a search for the French woman who appears occasionally. (Frog/frog. See?) Anyway, the frog croak appears in every channel with suitable irritation. It's sharp and wonderful sound; even the steady stings that appear at regular intervals (a lot like that "Law & Order" double-clang) ring with a rich, sonorous, timbre. Nothing compares, however, to the sudden rainstorms that beset the island. Perhaps obvious to say, but the DD 2.0 surround alternative doesn't come close to the complete immersion this lossless track offers.
Commentary for season opener "Man of Science, Man of Faith" with producers Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, and Bryan Burk and director Jack Bender sparked my first bullet-from-the-blue moment, owing to the revelation that series diehards were disappointed with the ending of the first season and that Season Two's awful inagural episodes were an attempt to redress that disappointment. Two things: for fans to be disappointed with the previous season's cliffhanger speaks ill of the fans; and the fact that the series has spiralled into Donnie Darko mumbo-jumbo territory can probably be directly linked to the stupidity of its diehards and their stated desire for no mystery. I've read interviews with Lindelof in which he bemoans the midichlorian thing in the Star Wars universe--making it ironic in my mind that "Lost" is essentially all midichlorian with occasional lip-service played to some Christian "Force." This shit about baptism and keeping the faith as it's manifested in pushing a button, though, should give everyone--Christian and non-Christian alike--pause. For the rest of the yakker, with its gabba gabba about the hatch as a character and foreshadowing and whatnot, is deadening. It's candy for the masses, forgetting that foreshadowing implies a known climax.
Episode 2.9, "What Kate Did," receives a yakker, too, featuring director Paul Edwards, DP Michael Bonvillain, and "Evie" Lilly chatting about nothing in a non-scene-specific way while revealing that not a one of the trio has much of a personality to speak of. Bonvillain has the most to say, but let's face it, a chimp could point a camera at Hawaii and come away with an IMAX movie. Close your eyes and it's easy to envision Lilly doing her patented head tilt/squint, by the by. "The 23rd Psalm" (2.10) reunites Lindelof, Burk, and Cuse for more self-congratulation about how complicated everything is and how adding characters at a geometric rate can be both a burden and a joy for creative minds such as theirs. "The Whole Truth" (2.16) teams writers Elizabeth Sarnoff and Cristina Kim with Yunjin Kim and Daniel Kim discussing the difficulty of pretending not to speak English without offering any opinion on why that was necessary in the first place. The writers, as writers are wont to do, trainspot how the final product differs from their script, though the bulk of the time is given over to noting how hard it was to render Ana Lucia--one of the shallowest, most poorly-realized characterizations in recent memory--briefly sympathetic before dispatching her for fucking Sawyer. Finally, "Dave" (2.18) pairs Bender with Jorge Garcia and Cynthia Watros for a non-informative track that paints Garcia as giddy as his alter ego is about his brief on-screen flirtation in fantasy world. Long stretches of silence, punctuated now and again by giggling, are the hallmark of this yakker.
Disc Seven sports the bonus features. Begin with "Fire and Water" (32 mins.), a standard doc that, sans narration, shows vignettes from each stage in an episode's production. It's not interesting. "Lost: On Location" (45 mins.) is also not interesting, splicing various B-roll together to indicate that it's fun to get paid a shitload to play Calvinball in Hawaii. "The World According to Sawyer" (5 mins.) is another opportunity to spotlight Josh Holloway as a great underwear model and barely-literate reader of lines. "The Lost Flashbacks" (4 mins.) gives us two more opportunities to ogle Shannon, while "Deleted Scenes" (20 mins.) has the distinction of having no bearing whatsoever on anything within or without the series as well as clarifying that much of what hit the cutting-room floor involved the minorities. I don't want to make too much of this because I don't think "Lost" is racist, just expedient and good, if good at anything, at knowing what the people want--and don't want--to see. Four minutes of bloopers demonstrates exactly how unwitty our castaways are, and a British ad for the show--lately getting attention on YouTube--is, after all's said and done, a commercial that's only exactly as pretentious as the show itself.
"Lost Connections" is an interactive clips presentation that allows you, should you so desire, to find the narrative and flashback connections between characters. "Mysteries, Theories & Conspiracies" (10 mins.) has a lot of stuff that people think about this rounded out by more of those reassurances that there's a master plan and not to worry, all will be revealed. Am I the only one aware that promises like this traditionally end with spiked Kool-Aid? Finally, there's "Secrets from the Hatch" (16 mins.)--essentially a walkthrough through the hatch. All the preceding are ported from the SD box set. Exclusive to the Blu-ray but also in SD for whatever reason, start with "More Lost: On Location" (18 mins.), which offers up three more location spots--a handful more deleted scenes (4 mins.) that are basically extensions of existing scenes. The whole enchilada is collected in an economical slipcovered swing case. Originally published: March 10, 2010.
43 minutes/episode; Not Rated; 1.78:1 (1080p/MPEG-4); English 5.1 DTS-HD MA, English Dolby Surround, French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1, Portuguese DD 5.1; English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Korean, Chinese, Thai, Malay, Indonesian, Arabic, Dutch subtitles; 7 BD-50s; Buena Vista