Talking With Lost’s Ultimate Superfan, EW’s Doc Jensen
NYM: Is your heart racing in anticipation?
Doc Jensen: Definitely getting excited! My wife can't wait for it to be over already, because of what it's doing to me. And her, I guess.
NYM:I adore your recaps, but they also made me worried about your sanity: What was the point where you really felt like you were going down the rabbit hole?
DJ: There were some moments in season two where I began to see conspiracies of meaning in every little detail. That really scared my co-workers, when I'd jump into their office and claim I found the secret to Lost in some offhand line from Sawyer that I thought had something to do with dino extinction theory. In some ways, it has never let up. In season three, I really took a deep dive, fueled in part by a medical crisis in our family. My wife, Amy, got brain cancer; I was home a lot, and there's a lot of downtime being a caretaker, surprisingly. Lost was a great, welcome distraction. I know that sounds heavy, so let me say: All is well with Amy. And let me joke: Cancer is awesome for Lost work productivity!
NYM: God, I'm so sorry. I didn't realize that.
DJ: I know so many people who can tell similar stories about Lost-as-coping-partner. I also recall hearing these stories in regard to Six Feet Under — helping them process their real grief/pain experience.
NYM: Now that I think of it, I actually watched the first season of Lost in one DVD burst, shortly after a major family loss. Although during my second maternity leave, I binged on Dexter, so I am obviously a troubled person in general. But watching Lost on DVD was excellent, because I missed out on the backlash in season three.
DJ: Lost on DVD is probably the best way to experience the serialized storytelling. The way they scheduled the show in season three totally contributed to that backlash, by the way. Six episodes to start in the fall, then a two-to-three-month break, then the rest — it just accentuated the frustration.
NYM: People were raging around me, and I was ducking spoilers, but when I actually watched it as a whole, I wasn't bothered. I love the Others in general. I'd watch a whole spinoff about the Baby Others, those kidnapped kids. Like the Muppet Babies, but morally ambiguous.
DJ: My idea for a spinoff: the story of the real Henry Gale who came to the Island in that balloon. What was HIS deal?
NYM: I enter the final season in a state of mild discontent, though. I'm really perturbed by this whole Jacob and Enemy thing.
DJ: Why perturbed by Jacob and the Man in Black (MIB)?
NYM: At first, I loved the way the narrative map flipped out further. I loved the leap off the island. I love the Dharma flashbacks. But I had a problem with the Spy vs. Spy implication of it all being a chess game. It made me suspicious of the whole show. I loved the characters early on, and I'm starting to feel like they are less like people than like markers. (Except for Locke, who is incredible.)
DJ: About Jacob and MIB: Yeah, it's troubling. I think it's supposed to be. I know many people [who are] deeply bothered by the implications that the castaways are pawns in a bitter chess match between capricious gods.
NYM: They should just name those characters Lindelof and Cuse.
DJ: This [plot] doesn't sit well with viewers who want the castaways to have control over their destinies, to be heroes of their own stories. For me, it makes for interesting deep thinking. I can see, though, how it doesn't make for fun entertainment. It'll be interesting to see if season six really plays out this troubling theme, or if we'll see our heroes rally and revolt successfully against these gods. It's total Clash of the Titans theory. Or Golden Compass theory, if you will.
NYM: You are a very soothing person to talk to about this. I feel like I'm having office hours with a much-more-informed professor, just before finals. I'm curious how you watch the show.
DJ: My engagement: I watch the episode without stopping, taking notes as I go, but really just trying to enjoy the experience. Then I dream into it, letting my imagination kinda go wild with it. Then I investigate, do research, then write. Then I watch a second time, for fact-checking purposes. I make sure I got lines and incidents right. I don't pretend to be right or correct with my readings of the show. I fully endorse projecting theories and readings ONTO the show. That's fun. But they are separate engagements, enjoyments. There's the story they are telling, and I dig that. And then there's the weird thing I do with their story, and I dig that, too.
NYM: I'm really intrigued by how this show does seem to act like some sort of national dreamscape: When it started, it resonated with 9/11, just in terms of a traumatized community figuring out how to respond to a plane crash.
DJ: I totally see Lost in post-9/11 terms, too. That event rocked us in so many ways, in terms of shaking the way we saw ourselves as a country and culture in relationship to the world. Lost kind of turned those energies into a freaky fable about reconstruction and reflection. Which is ironic: Lost has often been snarked at for its characters who don't reflect on things, who don't talk to each other about the mysteries of their world. But I think that's the point of the show. We don't do this stuff. And I think it's making an even more radical point, that perhaps we need to be asking the deep questions as we go about the process of rebuilding what America means in the 21st century. Remember that show Invasion? I remember interviewing its creator, Shaun Cassidy, who pitched the show the day after Lost premiered. He said that both shows — Lost and his own — basically are attempts to nail the defining narrative of the decade, which he put this way: "Aftermath." He called Lost "Aftermath Land." His own show, too. I liked that ...
NYM: But I also wonder if it's possible to make another show that would do this for people, now that TV economics have changed so much.
DJ: Yep, for sure, the mediascape has changed so much. TV thought people wanted more long-form, serialized storytelling, and maybe they do. But what they quickly realized is that serialized storytelling, at its best, doesn't really work for the business they're in given how people consume it, or how it's best consumed, which is at our own pace, in bunches. Especially in a fragmenting, eroding media world. That said, I think we can't really assess the "will we ever see another Lost?" question until AFTER Lost is over. I think absence of Lost could possibly create a new market for another Lost.
NYM: I was originally fascinated because the show seemed to weave deep (if stylized) character portraits within this highly symbolic comic-book web. But as the years have gone by, I have become less interested in the characters. They don't have the richness they did initially, with a few exceptions. So the heroic acts (like Sawyer jumping from the plane) don't matter the same way to me. I'm not expressing this well, but it made me a less trusting viewer, somehow.
DJ: No, you're onto something. There was a fundamental change in the storytelling in season four, whereby the character-oriented stuff that most interested you was made subordinate to a more plot-driven approach to storytelling. I think some characters suffered as a result. I also think it was the philosophy of the show that in most cases, there was nothing more to say about the characters until they advanced their plot to where we are now, and where they can get into character-resolution mode with a final season.
NYM: That's exciting to me, and I hope that it is the direction it moves. I do think much of this must have been driven, or at least influenced, by the audience howling for action. I love the Internet, I'm an Internet-fan-type person, but I also think it creates an impossible push-me-pull-you dynamic for TV creators, one requiring a set of psychological tools for show runners, writers, and producers (and actors, too, I suppose) that no one needed to possess before the late nineties. Thick yet permeable skin, the ability to be both rubber and glue, letting criticism at once bounce off them and stick to the show.
DJ: I agree with you. God bless the rabid fan, but message boards — and obsessed bloggers — make for HORRIBLE test groups. That's definitely been a complicated relationship for Lost. I hope they haven't been taking too many cues from the likes of us. Because seriously: No one REALLY wants to see my Others Are Animal-Human Hybrids Theory come true!