Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Midside: S5E01 Because You Left

Sometimes, when you’re gone for a really long time, it’s hard to know where to start again. This column will surely reflect that condition as did the first episode of the fifth season of LOST. First off, I’ve taken way too long to write it. The episode aired on Wednesday, and I’m now typing it fast and furious (like Michelle Rodriguez). Granted, I watched it again on Saturday night (and I’m really glad I did), but that explanation is no excuse. Second, everything is going to change, Hurley. No longer will tvlost.com host the wonders of my words. Instead, I have been promoted (relegated?) to my blog at blogspot.com. What happened to tvlost.com? I’m not sure. Maybe it started traveling through time like a record that skips (huh?).

Let me make my first bold claim of the season: I’ve figured out the time travel. Will I tell you my explanation right now? Are you kidding me? Telling you would be the worst rhetorical move ever. My idea (which I consider “confirmed”) will be explicated at the end of the column, that way you’ll read all the other crap I spew. The only question now is how I’ll format this piece of opining (take that Bill O’Reilly!) now that the “flashes” aren’t limited to one character. Take a back seat, character development. Now it’s time for plot!

Screw it, I’ll format it anyway I want, which probably means these things will become a whole lot more stream of consciousness (they weren’t before?). Onward on our first journey of the season into The Midside.


Write this down (or copy and paste it [could someone take the parentheses keys away from me already?]):

This episode was much better on a second viewing. And when I say much better, I mean much better. I mean much much better. The first time through, I was appalled. I couldn’t believe Lindelof and Cuse had written such a turd. I almost turned into the Angry Video Game Nerd, spouting nonsensical vulgar statements that were too absurd to be gross. In fact, I’m pretty sure the large group of people I had over to my place were waiting for me to throw something at the TV. The atmosphere in my apartment hadn’t been that awkward since the Patriots lost Super Bowl XLII to go 18-1.

Do you want to know how bad we all thought this episode was? Of course you do, you’re reading this column. The guy in the group who likes Fringe (legitimately not in the “let’s get high and watch Fringe because it’s so ridiculous” sense) complained about how much the episode sucked. Think about that turn of events for a second. Fringe, the show featuring a Matthew-Fox-impersonating Joshua Jackson, a dull-as-everything Anna Torv, and a story that makes no sense at all (killer butterflies that turn out to be imaginary self inflicted wounds?) was considered to be better that LOST by someone for the briefest of seconds.

For the record, I would never say Fringe was better than LOST. I don’t even think it was better than Transformers, which Kurtzman and Orci also wrote.

What was so bad about this episode? The first episode was filled with “catch up” material. Rather than the story being written around the characters and the plot, it was written around the audience and broadcast schedule of the show. For instance:

-Faraday’s “It would take hours to explain it to a quantum physicist” and subsequent five minute explanation of “time is like a skipping record.” Maybe a corrupted mp3 would have been a better metaphor now-a-days? And, oh yeah, there are rules. Apparently, Sawyer can’t bang on the Swan door, but Faraday can.

-The incessant need to paste in clips of the season four finale during unnecessary expository dialogue. This editing technique began in the motel scene with Ben and Jack after the Addict Beard ™ had been shaved. I guess I should have figured the end of the beard would signal a downturn in the show. For instance, when Ben told Jack he had to go back for his friends he left behind, there was a cut to Sawyer and Juliet. Why? I can ask no other questions. Well, this episode wasn’t directed by Jack Bender, so I can actually ask one more question: Why wouldn’t you let the main director of LOST direct the season premiere? Unless Matthew Fox and Michael Emerson’s performances in that scene were that bad (which I seriously doubt because Emerson should have about eight Emmys by now), there was no reason for those edits.

-Rose and Bernard randomly running out of the jungle. What was that? I felt like Lindelof and Cuse were like, “Hey, we should re-introduce Rose and Bernard.” “Have them come out of the jungle.” “Yes, done.”

-Sawyer’s ridiculously stupid “I jumped off for her…I mean them because I always slip on my words and accidentally say what I’m feeling” line.

Hold on, I feel a flash coming on…

(A bright white light fills the room, allowing us to see only the bare outlines of those characters in the scene. Slowly, it dissipates; revealing the same characters standing in the same positions, but the appearance of the setting has changed.)

Man, those flashes through time must be a bitch to block. I wonder how easy it is to control the light on an outside side to change the perception of time of day? I sense a DVD special feature!

More importantly, post our flash, where are we, excuse me, when are we now? We’re back at the beginning of the column. You know how you can tell? I’m rambling inanely about things that are only tangential to LOST. But let’s get on with it and talk about the episode from the perspective of the second time I watch it. Nothing changed (time is a street [wait, I thought it was a skipping record] and you can’t create a new one), but I saw it from a different perspective.

-If you watch the Season Four DVD special feature on the people from the freighter, you’ll know that the entire reason Faraday was created was to explain the time travel to the audience. Lindelof and Cuse knew some complex stuff would be coming up and thought it was a good idea to create a character to explain it all to the audience. I applaud their audience awareness. Writers ignore their audiences for the sake of bullshit that makes no sense far too often. Instead, the writers of LOST have found a way to explain their unique story telling technique. However, the problem it presents is a subjugation of the character to the exposition.

To be fair to Lindelof and Cuse, I wonder if the first half of this episode is a necessity of the medium of television, especially when considering shows that air for half a season. Because television shows air week to week, it can be easy to forget what happened the week before, let alone two weeks ago. Heck, for years television writers have been worrying about what us viewers forgot over the commercial break. Haven’t you ever noticed how the last line of a scene before a break is “She slapped you?” and the first line of the scene following the break is “I can’t believe she slapped you.”? The only purpose the second line is to remind you what happened before the break. And I’ve always had a problem with it. It’s very choppy and redundant writing. The response of my critique, of course, is what I’ve already noted.

The difficulty for us dedicated fans is that we don’t need to be reminded at the beginning of a new season. We remember the last season. We watched the rec(r)ap special. We watched the last season more than one. Heck, we watched the last season last week. I’m not even joking. Most of my LOST friends either watched Season Four on the internet or borrowed my DVDs. One of my friends even watched the third part of “There’s No Place Like Home” during the rec(r)ap special. So, when we watch the first half of this episode that’s intended to be a heavily expository explanation of the past and the future of the show, it strikes us as jarring and outside the typical narrative.

I can hold out hope that one day the need for such a writing style on television will become unnecessary, but I doubt it ever will. The need to treat the audience like idiots comes from sources that are too deep, too important, and too irrelevant in regards to this column.

-The way the “flashes” have been continued is pretty novel. Since the survivors on the island will be traveling through time, every scene with them is now that episode’s “flashes.” How come I don’t consider the old “flashforwards” to still be the flashes? Since half of the scenes are “unstuck” in time and the other half are “stuck” in time, I consider those scenes that are “stuck” in time to be the “present.” Otherwise, we would be forced to admit there is no present. (Although, it would also be correct to note that the viewer is now “unstuck” in time and thus any time we’re watching is the present. Also, I would argue the original present of the show is still in play.)

Also, in regards to the “flashes,” if there are rules and no one can break those rules except Desmond, than I once again return to the notion that he is the most important character of the show. This story is about time travel. I believe that it has been since day one. Desmond’s story has been about time travel since “Flashes Before Your Eyes.” I don’t see a way how this can all end without him saving the day. At the very least, we need to hear him yell “Penny!” a few more times.

Desmond’s importance brings us back to what I believe to be the key question of the series: Is Charles Widmore evil? Still, I can’t answer that question with a yes. He might own Dharma. So what? He might want to own the island. So what? Isn’t existence about man conquering the world and achieving all he can from the means he garners from it? If Ben is truly trying to “hide” or “protect” the island from Widmore, isn’t Ben the evil one for limiting human production and capabilities? The only possible hinge in this theory is the history of the “hostiles” and the ancient civilization on the island. Are the hostiles the Native Americans of the LOST island, and this entire show is a retelling of the colonization of America? Widmore is British, after all. Go, I hope not. That would suck.

-As for the Sawyer line, I still can’t reconcile that piece of crap. Even Mystery Girl X, who isn’t a writer and doesn’t analyze the episodes on the same level I do, hates it. Seriously, Sawyer is a con man who is always in control of what he says. Are we supposed to believe he is so emotionally distraught at Kate dying on the freighter (he believes she did) that he would lose control of his words? Maybe, but if they wanted to go that route, they should have written a little more beforehand to make it apparent. Otherwise, the line just comes off as a piece of crap.


Now it’s time for my big reveal, the explanation as to what’s going on with the time travel:

The “flashes” are a pendulum. Wait, I know it sounds ridiculous, but hear me out. First, they went back to the past to when Yemi’s plane crash. Then, they went back to the future to after the freighter exploded. Then they went back to the past to when Desmond was pushing the button in the Swan. Then, using our knowledge of the next episode, they went further back in the past to a time when the Dharma Initiative was in control. I would expect the next shift to either be further into the past or into the future. Likewise, as the season progresses, as I would expect the “flashes” to get further into the past and further into the future. I don’t expect this explanation to be a binding rule (we’ve already seen them go back to Yemi’s plane crashing and then when Desmond was in the Swan), but I do expect it to generally guide the plot. I’ll discuss this idea more (and why I believe it to be confirmed) when I write about episode two tomorrow.


Well, at least the close to this column can remain the same. Wait, you’re upset about my explanation the time travel? Maybe you feel a little ripped off? Well, where else did you read an explanation like that it? Even if you read it on some message board somewhere (which we all know message boards are for people who couldn’t be cool in high school to be e-cool now), they obviously don’t have the wit, grace, or intelligence that I do. Besides, maybe you’re supposed to feel ripped off. Maybe the writing of this column mirrors the writing of this episode. I built up unattainable expectations and in no way delivered on them.

But, I guarantee if you read it again, you’ll find it to be better than you remembered. And if you disagree with that then:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

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