Sunday, July 10, 2011

LOST Redux: S2 Special Edition Tell Shannon

(At the request of a reader, I will be reposting old editions of my LOST column as they no longer appear on the internet. I will not be making any edits to them, so please be aware that they represent a moment and time--my thoughts and analysis after watching an episode's initial airing.)

The spoiler is one of the most despicable diseases on the planet. By its very definition it “impairs the value or quality of” or “damages irreparably; ruins” whatever it cares to attack. I’ll admit that I am no stranger to this sickness. I am an early member of the internet generation that provided the means for the rapid dissemination of spoiler information throughout the general population. I have spent my fair share (to be kind to myself) of time delving into the depths of spoiler communities. My spoiler virginity was taken from me in the same time period that people like to say they lost their sexual virginity, high school. These spoilers, however, were stealth spoilers.

In the mid-1990s, World Championship Wrestling was the class of the professional wrestling industry and I was one of its many fans. One day one of my friends introduced me to a wrestling “news” site Though WCW has since been bought about by the WWE and the ratings for professional wrestling have decreased in general, the site is still open to this day. Essentially what this site does is report backstage professional wrestling news the way ESPN reports professional sporting news, from the hiring and firing of wrestlers to the backstage politics. The difference between other professional sports and professional wrestling is, of course, that professional wrestling is scripted. In other words, if a wrestler is signed and you don’t have knowledge of the signing, his appearance on the program will be a shock to you in the same way a storyline twist you have no knowledge of in your favorite program will be a shock to you. Thus, if you have knowledge of a signing and the wrestler shows up, the storyline was spoiled for you.

Let’s fast forward about ten years. I’ve graduated from high school and somehow managed to overcome a Survivor spoiler addiction (while unscripted, the show is fully taped before it airs and that community is very resourceful at uncovering outcomes), a whole bunch of hippies, and a whole lot of snow to make it to my senior year of college. LOST premieres on ABC and I uncover a new spoiler community from which to take information. I was there when it leaked that a character would die. I was there when it leaked that Daniel Roebuck would be joining the cast. I was there when it leaked over the summer that a female character would die this season. I haven’t been there ever since.

When Charlie dangled from that tree, the life seemingly draining from his eyes, I honestly believed he was dead. I figured that his salary was too high for the network to keep paying and they used his Lord of the Rings fame to lure in and hook viewers. When Boone died, I was sad but about as surprised as President Bush when someone tells him the media is slamming him over his choice of breakfast food. Thanks to the death spoiler, I was 100% certain Boone would die when I saw the previews for the episode. When Artz blew up, I was shocked for about three seconds and then proceeded to cheer the demise of such a nuisance. When Shannon died, my head immediately filled with thoughts of plot devices and coming character confrontations. Spoilers had jaded me to the point that I was no longer emotionally invested in Shannon as a character for I knew she wasn’t a true main character (even though she actually was).

Fear not, good reader, it was at that point (among other reasons) that I began to wean myself off of spoiler communities. I will still admit to reading the wrestling “news” site and though it spoiled the surprise return of a wrestler at a TNA pay per view this weekend, I have never watched pay per views and barely watch any wrestling program anymore, so my indulgence in that site is more to satisfy my own curiosity concerning how the industry is fairing. Now that we have established that I am imperfect (a shocking revelation for some of you, I know), I would also like to note that I have not read a spoiler for any other form of entertainment for months and my ignorance of “insider” information has led to some pretty shocking moments in my television viewing, specifically concerning the death of main characters.

Death is not a concept that television shows often deal with. Main characters very rarely bite it and in the rare instances that they do, it is in a season or series finale. I can only recall two characters dying from my favorite shows growing up, Jadzia Dax from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine (which wasn’t very sad or shocking because even TV Guide spoiled that one by reporting the actress’ contract dispute with Paramount) and Chet Hunter on Boy Meets World (though he wasn’t a true main character, his death was both shocking and sad). More recently, though the show aired while I was growing up, I finally witnessed (spoiler alert) the death of Richie Ryan in the fifth season finale of Highlander. Richie’s death is probably the saddest moment in television history for me because even though I had prior knowledge of it (though I didn’t know the episode) and saw it coming in the episode (I sat up and yelled, “Oh my God, this is the one when he dies!), I still bawled liked a baby. Yes, go ahead, you can laugh and call me Gayemel. I also cried at the series finales of Deep Space Nine and Boy Meets World.

Are you finished laughing? While I’m baring my soul here, I’d like to admit that I cried over two events in the past two weeks of television as well. My tears didn’t reach the epic Richie Ryan death proportions, but I shed a few drops none-the-less. Before I continue I’d like to note that if you ever intend on viewing season five of 24, do not finish reading this paragraph or read the next few. Last week, a terrorist released nerve gas in CTU (Jack Bauer’s home base) and the main characters had to scatter into sealed off rooms to survive the attack. In the closing moments of the episode, the portly computer savvy geek Edgar waltzed into the main room of CTU which was contaminated and in the view of the uncontaminated glass walled Situation Room where Jack and assorted others escaped to. The realization hit us, (me, the characters, and Edgar) at the same time that these seconds were the last seconds we would ever see his character ever again. A tear rolled down Chloe’s cheek, Edgar’s best friend at CTU, as he keeled over and foamed at the mouth. There was an eerie absence of music as the show cut to their clock ticking ending. For those of you who have never seen 24, imagine Hurley dying and then BAM the LOST logo. See, you’re crying, I knew it!

This past week on 24, another main character met his apparent demise (I say apparent because there is reasonable doubt to believe he is not actually deceased). One of Jack’s best friends Tony went to stab the apparently unconscious killer of his wife with a syringe full of some chemical. Moments earlier, Tony had missed the man opening his eyes for an instant. As Tony hesitated before stabbing the man, because like Sawyer he just isn’t a killer, the man grabbed the syringe, stabbed Tony, and escaped. Moments later, Jack Bauer ran into the room and grabbed his friend, who was slowing slipping away. Jack screamed for a medical team as Tony said, “She’s gone” in reference to his wife. Jack clutched Tony’s body as the final bits of life drained from him and there was an eerie absence of music as the show cut to their clock ticking ending. It was a truly shocking moment. The mortal danger doesn’t end with 24’s Tony either.

Sopranos fans who haven’t watched the new season may not want to read the next paragraph. I have never watched the Sopranos and never intend to. The only cable channel produced show I ever liked was the short lived Dead Like Me. However, the chatter over an event in the show’s season finale intrigued me. Apparently Tony, the head of the family, was shot. Now I, being a cynic, figured he was shot in the leg or something and was in no danger, but wanted to know to be sure. I asked one of my coworkers where he was shot. The coworker replied the stomach and that he was most likely dead. He and another person then began to debate how the storylines would progress from that point on without Tony.

After Edgar met his untimely end, I read a news story that many fans were unhappy with the death of such a likeable character (except my father who was glad because he didn’t like the guy) and the producers of the show responded by saying that main characters have to die for the danger to be real. Now, you and I know that comment is not an original one. When the rumors of death in LOST first emerged, the producers fed us that very line, and you know what? It’s true. See, my seemingly random tirade does have a point.

Years ago, as I stated earlier, the deaths of main characters were few and far between. Today people are debating if the head of the mob family in the show about that mob family is going to die. It is within the realm of possibility that any of the main characters on any show on television could bite the big one at any time. LOST is revolutionizing television here, people.

What made the producers of LOST take such a risk? Why lay your entire fan base on the line by killing popular characters on a popular show? Aren’t you asking for people to tune out? Let’s not look at this killing spree as a whim. This realistic edge to LOST was premeditated. The producers originally wanted to build up Jack in the first episode and then kill him off at the very end (if only we could have been so lucky). They want us to invest in these characters in a way we never have before to make the ride that much more intense for us and he only way to do that is to make television more realistic. One way to move towards that realism is to kill off main characters.

People die. I’m sorry to make you face your own mortality, but you will die. And yes, saddest of all, I will die too (that day will be a sad day in the history of humanity). Worse yet, sometimes people die way before their time in ways that no one ever could have predicted. Sometimes that main character in your life is taken from you, suddenly, shockingly, randomly. We don’t like to think about it, and that is arguably why the escapism of entertainment shied away from portraying it, but it is a cold hard fact of reality. The beauty of LOST is that they face many of the issues of reality that other shows have never faced before.

I’d like you to answer a question for me. Really, I’m 100% serious. Who is the hero of LOST, who is the good guy? If you know, send me an e-mail, post a comment, whatever. I’m willing to bet that if enough people thought I was actually serious, I would get a myriad of responses. From day one, we haven’t known who the hero is. We were given Jack, but his fallibility was immediately called into question. We were given Locke, but he is obviously damaged. We don’t even know if our “heroes” are the good guys. For all we know, the others could be holding the stability of the universe together and by crashing on the island, the 815ers are threatening that stability. Maybe it really is their island and they are only letting the 815ers stay on it.

How do you know who the good guys are in life? You can’t really. You can only judge upon your own standards (be they considered valid or invalid by others) who you think is good and who you think you can trust. The most realistic thing about LOST is that it allows us each to make those same personal judgments about the characters. LOST does not pass judgment on its characters the way a Law & Order does. LOST does not take stands on issues the way a South Park does. LOST is not built itself upon a political premise the way a Commander and Chief is. The morally and socially questionable actions each character commits are shown through the eyes of that character. LOST grants us a unique perspective into the human mind; your and my opinion be damned.

Take, for example, Sawyer. Many people dislike him and consider him a bad guy because he is rude, aggressive, and ferociously independent. However, I have been a staunch supporter of his actions since day one. While many jeered his speech about becoming the new sheriff, I cheered it. The beauty of that speech is that nowhere did the producers say if we were supposed to cheer or jeer it. We were never shown a reason that Jack and Locke had a moral right to the guns and to leadership beyond Jack and Locke’s own personal reasons. More than likely, if you disagreed with Sawyer, you either agreed with Locke or Jack (or perhaps Sayid). The reason I agree with Sawyer is because I identify with him. I am also a ferociously independent Repunklican (yes, I would call Sawyer a Repunklican). What makes LOST even more complex is that not only does it allow us to make our own judgments, but has so many characters that it represents almost every class, creed, and race (except for Hollywood’s beloved homosexuality, but you can’t really blame them for opening up the can of worms).

LOST is using the hint of fantasy to add reality back into entertainment. The premise is so farfetched (or so we are led to believe) that we have no problem with granting them the realism we so readily deny other shows and films. No one wants to see a true portrayal of life as a New York city single so Hollywood took the premise and made it into a situational comedy like Friends or a whatever type of show Sex and the City was. They took the reality and gave us a fantasy to escape into. LOST is doing the exact opposite on a level of depth that has never been achieved before and it’s leading the television industry down the road not taken. Although, what is the road not taken? Can we really tell from that poem? Only Robert Frost truly knows. All we can do is use the skills we’ve gained to make our own best judgment.

As Jack looked down on Boone, Boone murmured his cryptic final words, “Tell Shannon…” “Tell Shannon what?” The LOST fan base responded. In all likelihood, he was most likely going to say, “I love her” but we don’t really know, do we? Sometimes, we don’t always get to finish and more often than not, our moments, be they our first or final, are not always as we imagined them…unless your name is Jayemel and you write a weekly column about one of your favorite television shows. So please, do me a favor. Tell Shannon…

Shut up, you’re wrong.

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