Sunday, August 14, 2011

LOST Redux: S3E14 Expose

(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.)

She’s running through the jungle. She’s a stripper (Quagmire says, “Alright.”). She’s a bad actress. She’s in love with the director (Jayemel says, “Gross.”). She’s running out of the jungle. She’s falling over. She’s DEAD?! LOST. (Commercials.) The show returns and the credits roll on the bottom of the screen. Daniel Roebuck…Artz is in this episode?!...Ian Somerhalder…Boone?!

This episode of LOST began with a frantic pace. Actually, I take that statement back. The entire first half of the episode had a frantic pace to it. Every commercial break had me going, “What is going on?”, while every scene had me intently watching to see if I could spy some small detail I had missed the first time (well, first eight times) I saw the original episode the scene was in or some small detail the writers and director choose to include in this episode that they didn’t include in the original episode. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our answer to all the doubters and, as the kids say, “haters.”

To start our understanding of our retort, let’s turn to for the definition of the word “expose”:
1. An exposure or a revelation of something discreditable.
2. A formal exposition of facts.

Obviously, the first definition applies directly to Nikki and Paulo. Turns out they were a pair of thieves as skilled as Amanda from Highlander. Who knew? (the producers, obviously). On that level, the show was an expose of their time on the island. Like The Other 48 days, the episode was a sped up timeline of the important events in their time on the island. Also, Nikki and Paulo (well, maybe just Nikki, but I’ll turn to that discussion later), were (yes, were) clearly discreditable. But this is LOST. Everything works on about sixty million levels…or two, whatever.

Yes, this episode was a formal exposition of facts. Although, I have to wonder what episode isn’t a formal exposition of facts. Maybe there’s a shortcoming in the definition here. What story or piece of writing isn’t a formal exposition of facts? Isn’t writing inherently exposition? Yes, there are certain types of writing that are considered “expository” and there is the nonfiction vs. fiction dichotomy, but saying fiction can’t be a formal exposition of facts renders this whole paragraph useless. Or does it? I’m actually going to sidestep that entire debate and explain how this episode can be fiction AND a formal exposition of nonfiction facts. So, I’ve essentially rendered this entire paragraph useless. Or have I? I’m confused. I’m like a messed up version of FoxNews. I confuse. You decide.

In the creation process, there are certain rules the creator must adhere to. I’m not necessarily referring to a set of constructs that are to remain constructs in the fictional universe. First off, those constructs would be fiction facts. Second off, the doubters would point out that the constructs aren’t constant in the LOST universe. Remember, the doubters are who we are crafting this response for. I could launch into a discussion of argumentation here by considering whether you should try to convince your opponents on their terms or not, but I won’t. Such a discussion isn’t necessary. What is important is reality. We’re stepping outside the fictional reality of LOST into the actual reality of, um, actual reality. Why? Because it is my contention that the writers intentionally led us in that direction.

(Note; When I use the term “writers” in my columns, I am referring to both the producers and the individual writers of the episodes. In television, producers write as much as the individual episode writers, as they create the overarching plot lines. In shows like 24 and LOST, the producers even step in to pen important episodes. If you don’t believe me, pay attention to the credits from now on. In 24, Manny Coto is listed as the episode writer for random episodes. In LOST, JJ Abrams will write an episode here and there and Damon Lindelof, Carlton Cuse, and Javier Grillo-Marxuach have written quite a few episodes. Ex: JJ Abrams and Damn Lindelof wrote “A Tale of Two Cities”, the Season Three opener.)

When a writer writes (as if he would do anything else), he must adhere to the rules of his own creation process. In fact, he necessarily adheres to the rules of his own creation process. There is no way he can’t. Just as you and I adhere to the rules of our character when we live our daily lives, a writer adheres to his rules of creation when he writes. There’s obviously two main debates intertwined in this topic. First, there is the notion of self awareness. How much self awareness is good? For our purposes, the answer to that question is irrelevant. You must adhere to the rules of yourself, no matter if you are aware of those rules or not. The other debate is, of course, the free will vs. determinism debate. If we must adhere to the rules of ourselves, does that mean determinism is true? In other words, do the rules determine our actions? The short answer is no. An affirmative answer to that question assumes that the rules are static. Obviously some rules are static (as of this point in human development, our DNA), but not all rules about a person are static. This point returns us to the self awareness debate. If a person is aware of his own rules, he can (possibly) change them or insure that they don’t change.

In a television show or movie, especially a show like 24 or LOST, I would argue that the self awareness of the creation process is important. There needs to be some sort of stability in the story in order for it to make sense and be entertaining. Of course, I’m now circling ANOTHER debate. Some artists love to contradict style, even within their own works, for “artistic purposes.” However, doing so can be dangerous. Take the show House for example. In season one, the best episode (and my favorite episode of the series so far) was told in a completely different manner than the rest of the season (which had a very rigid storytelling technique). In season three, the writers have tried to challenge that rigid storytelling technique more often and those episodes have largely fallen flat, resulting in the weakest season of the show so far. LOST, on the other hand, has always been a show where the writers have been very careful to insure that stability.

How do I know that the writers have been careful to insure that stability? Episodes like Flashes Before Your Eyes have been so intensely successful. I’m not saying there haven’t been missteps in the process (I’ll discuss those mistakes in a minute), but regardless of what changes have been made, a few very basic rules have been followed. Every episode centers around one character. Every episode has a flashback that reveals some back story concerning that character. That flashback has some sort of relevance to the story on the island for that episode. Obviously, sometimes the flashbacks are very loosely related to the island story and some have belonged to multiple characters. Regardless, those tweaks were small. The reason Flashes Before Your Eyes was so successful was because it played with one of the basics rules. As Lindelof said, “The flashbacks will be used in a way they’ve never been before and never will be again.” In other words, were they flashbacks or were they not flashbacks?

In the same article where Lindelof mentioned the uniqueness of Desmond’s episode, he also mentioned the importance of Nikki and Paulo’s episode. “'We had a plan when we introduced them… when the plan is executed, Nikki and Paulo will be iconic characters on the show.” Silly me, the LOST fanatic that I am, assumed that he was referring to LOSTology. Expose was certainly entertaining as hell, but one thing it was not was a large contradiction to LOSTology. Sure, there were a few little in gags here and there. Locke and Boone were the Christopher Columbus of the other plane. Artz actually had friends. Boone asked Nikki for a pen in the Pilot. All of these moments were smile worthy, but small in the grand scheme of LOSTology. How can hiding diamonds in a toilet compare to a giant cloud of black smoke slamming Eko against a tree or the Crazy French Chick doing Crazy French Things because she’s still in mourning over the loss of her daughter? It can’t, so I was left with the quandary. How are Nikki and Paulo so important? How are two characters that had minimal lines all season and were one and done like a #16 seed in March Madness, ICONIC? John Locke is ICONIC. Sawyer is ICONIC. How can Nikki and Paulo be added to that list?

“We had a plan when we introduced them…” Lindelof said, “WHEN the plan IS executed…” Obviously, I added the emphasis on the words when and is. Why, you ask? Hey, that’s a good question. I’ll get to it next week. As always, remember: Shut up, you’re wrong.

In all seriousness, I ask you to remember my earlier discussion in this column. Did you not understand how it was relevant? Here is how it is relevant. Consider Lindelof’s quote again. He used the words “when” and “is” and used the word “plan” twice. Just sa I said that the writers of a show like LOST have to be self aware of their creative process, Lindelof demonstrated in that quote that they are aware of their process. They know how they’re writing and they’re sticking to it. They’ve been telling us that they know what they’re doing since day one. They’ve owned up to their missteps (ex: the first six episodes of Season Three, Eko’s death), but they have always told us to have faith. Well, to be quite honest, I think they got sick of us telling us and remembered a basic rule of storytelling: show don’t tell. An expose is a formal exposition of facts. Expose was the formal exposition of the facts of the LOST creation process. Expose is the ultimate answer. You still don’t believe me? Let’s take a closer look at Nikki and Paulo, shall we?

As I previously stated, their role in earlier episodes was minimal. They went along on the trip that involved Eko’s death. They argued. They both were yelled at by Sawyer. They were nothings. They were nobodies. Then, they died. They became blips on the radar, right? In a discussion of the episode, a friend of mind noted how this episode was a “hanging” episode. To her, it was essentially as close to a one shot episode as LOST could get. Remove it from the series and nothing would be harmed. There would be no Jenga like collapse as there would be if, say, Lockdown were to be removed. And I certainly don’t disagree. The introduction and demise of this pair of tragic lovers served to create one hell of an entertaining episode and let’s not forget, being entertaining is the main purpose of LOST, but how can a show like LOST create characters just to kill them off? How can the studio be satisfied to pay the actor and actress a full season’s salary to play such a minimal role? They can’t.

Let’s look back at the small scenes that seemed unimportant, but now make a heck of a lot more sense. Nikki and Paulo argued a little bit, right? Just a small spat between a boyfriend and a girlfriend, right? Wrong. This pair was fighting over diamonds worth eight million dollars. Well, Nikki was fighting over that prize. Paulo was fighting over the prize of love (aww, sweet). After watching Expose, there is now so much more added depth to any fight the pair had earlier in the season. Now turn to their time in the Pearl. Nikki wasn’t pointing out the obvious; she most likely had been down there already. Paulo wasn’t going to the bathroom; he was hiding the diamonds in toilet. Those scenes HAD to be planned. There is no way Expose would have worked on ANY level if there was no plan. It would have fallen apart in a web of contradictions. Instead, Nikki and Paulo fell apart in a web of deceit, literally.

Remember, I’ve been harping on the plan for so long. I always say, “Hey, go back and watch Season One. You see everything in a different light. You understand the plan.” Maybe I’m a victim of a lack of a social life because I’ve seen Season One so many times, but Expose is a microcosm of LOST. Expose is LOST in a nutshell. Cue Mike Meyers saying, “No, this is LOST in a nutshell” and then imitating the characters from LOST while acting like he’s in a nutshell.

There was a plan. There is no way anyone can deny it. There were missteps. I’m not going to lie. Seeing Nikki running around during the plane crash seemed so hokey to me. Something about it was obviously fake. I mean, intellectually I obviously knew it was fake, but come on. Couldn’t they have dirtied her up a bit more or something? I’d be interested to learn how they filmed the scene and to consider any different ways they could have filmed it. It was also ridiculous when Paulo was hiding in the bathroom and Ben was like, “Hey Juliet, let me tell you my entire master plan. I’m going to get Jack to want to cut the tumor out of my back by using Michael’s love for his son, duh.” The dialogue was a little too expository (though is that possible in an episode named Expose?). But you know what that cheesy dialogue tells us? The writers knew Ben had a tumor in Season Two. Heck, it’s possible they knew he had a tumor in Season One, before we even knew his name. Look at the misstep of Eko’s death (which I’m not as critical of as the writers are themselves). He died and said, “You’re next” Goldberg style. Well, they were next. Sure, there are missteps in LOST. There were missteps in Expose. But neither missteps are enough to say, “Mr. Lindelof, tear down this wall.”

There were also the holes in the plan that allowed for some fun. They always seem to find a way to bring Boone back. They even added Shannon to that equation. Heck, they even found a way to bring Artz back. (Note: Do this actors have no post-LOST careers to the point that the producers can be like, “Hey, come to Hawaii for a one episode one scene guest appearance” and they do? Maybe they just really like Hawaii.) They deepened the “B-Team” plot line. They even had Sawyer make some of his typical meta comments concerning the writing as he played his tweener role of major or minor character. Finally, each of the characters that could be fit into the episode (except for maybe Claire) were in some capacity. Sun even resolved to lie to Jin AGAIN. (Is it bad that I’m starting to root for him to leave her?)

What’s the point of this incredibly long rant that deviates from MY normal creation constructs? Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our proof. No more will the doubters run rampant and roughshod over the LOSTiverse, decrying its death and defiling its greatness. You say there’s no plan? You say the producers are making a mess like it’s nobody’s business? Well, there is one very simple answer.

When someone gets “all up in your grill” and starts saying these things, don’t get flustered. Don’t get mad. Don’t feel like you have to defend LOST. No, from now on there is only one response, one word you have to utter: Expose. It is now the 100% status quo (not that I ever thought it was otherwise) that there is a plan and the writers know what they’re doing. If the person is confused when you say “Expose”, continue by saying, “Nikki and Paulo.” If they still don’t get it, they’ll probably get angry and possibly insult you because that’s what angry people do. At that point you should respond, “Expose, Nikki and Paulo’s flashback episode, watch it.” If they watch it, come back to you, and still don’t agree, then you have to wonder, are they really a fan of LOST or are they just arguing with them for argument’s sake? Do you really want to discuss LOST with a non-fan or someone who just wants to argue with you anyway?

Nikki and Paulo, you will be missed (especially Nikki when she’s wearing that red top like when she went to talk to Artz at his Hut of Insects). Yes, they are dead. Paulo got bit by all the male spiders and Nikki was buried alive. Not even Beatrix Kiddo could dig herself up under the weight of that much sand.

And if you disagree with anything I’ve written about this episode, well, then there’s only one thing I have to say to you:


(Final Note: Could someone explain to me how Artz caught that spider to begin with if it’s mere presence attracted every male in the vicinity?)

No comments: