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A Conversation With David Mills
lost

Hater Like Me: A Lost-Recap Explanation

  • 3/26/10 at 12:00 PM
Hater Like Me: A Lost-Recap Explanation

Photo: Mario Perez/ABC

There used to be a thread on the Television Without Pity Buffy boards, one I visited only out of curiosity. It was called the "Deep Bitterness Thread," and it was a place for those so disenchanted they needed a safe place to vomit their televisual toxins among other, similarly damaged souls. It was a brilliant way to isolate the more scarred viewers from the rest of us excitable cheerleaders, so neither could spoil the other's idea of fun.

I never posted to the thread. I was never bitter about Buffy, whether an episode disappointed me or not. Long before I was a TV critic, I was a rabid online TV analyzer — a fan of fanhood, even when the discussions veered into mental illness, freakish entitlement, and overuse of emoticons.

But now, to my surprise, I find myself a Hater. My Lost recap this week has attracted rage from some commenters and I can understand why. I was annoyed by, disenchanted by, and dismissive of, an episode of the show that many people adored — and even as I was writing my nasty little recap, I was surfing TWOP posts arguing that it was the best episode of the show this season, or ever.

Now, I did put a warning at the top, but there it was: Deep Bitterness.

It's not that I don't understand why many people like Lost this season — it's still Lost. I was excited myself to see a starring performance by Nestor Carbonell (not to mention the delicious Titus Welliver). But for this viewer, the "pious peasant" backstory this week was just schlock, with its purely evil villains, purely pious hero, and yet another saintly soul mate (adding to a list that includes Penny, Nadia, Charlotte, and the radically de-complexified late Juliet). I don't mind stylization. I like Gothic, when it's Gothic with punch. But this went past that for me, into a you-must-pay-the-rent/I-can't-pay-the-rent skit. And a condescending one, too: Would a poverty-stricken Spaniard, exposed to death and suffering, really be such a puppy dog of true love? Would Richard have really stayed the same loyal Jacobite for more than a hundred years — never falling in love again, never meaningfully affected by his contact with modern people? It bugged me, and it seemed like a lost opportunity.

I can tell from the comments that many viewers were excited by the metaphor of the wine bottle, which seemed to promise a larger philosophical framework. The island is a cork; the bottle contains some great evil. Don't open it or it will spill.

I didn't react that way — in fact, I found that whole Jacob explanation downright agitating, because it suggested something I'd been worried about all season: that everything was going to come down to a battle against Evil. Some commenters have argued that this has always been the case on the show, but I don't think so. To me, this seems like the retcon to end all retcons: a late intervention that rewrites earlier seasons entirely. (Retroactive Continuity, for the ungeeks among you.)

I'm going to expand on this, so even if you hate my Hate, it's at least comprehensible. It's true that for the first three seasons, viewers were aware there might be some force drawing the survivors toward the mysterious island. A conspiracy, say — although that conspiracy seemed as likely to be man-made as anything else. Maybe someone wanted to use the island's powers (whatever they were, and they eventually involved smoke monsters, undead visions, magnetism, and time travel) for their own needs? Maybe some scientific experiment had gone terribly awry? Maybe every single bad father in the world was involved in the scheme? The Others were certainly creepy, and creepier yet when we discovered they believed they were the good guys. The Dharma Initiative suggested interesting things about the risks of Utopian social experiments. And then there was that whole fantastic thread about women dying in childbirth, which was downright unnerving, and God knows what it all meant.

Anyway, throughout all this, those first seasons were very much about establishing the characters. They had emotionally compelling backstories, with ambiguity and relative nuance, despite their comic-book trappings. They'd experienced evil with a small "e." The question of how these hot, yet tormented, individuals could form a society in the aftermath of a disaster seemed genuinely resonant to me, in the way science fiction often is on social issues: It was an extended metaphor for post-9/11 global politics, among other things.

Then the show began jumping around in time, and I was even more excited. I looove time travel! Oh, the physics conundrums. Also, many of my favorite TV series and movies (ranging from Eternal Sunshine to How I Met Your Mother) are about chronological experimentation, a great tool to play with ideas about the fluidity of identity. I wrote two pieces about how excited I was about this — although I was also starting to recognize that there was something a little, well, juvenile, underneath these characters that I'd invested a lot of interest in.

Then came last season's finale, in which we realized that a Man in White and a Man in Black have been bickering for centuries, with one of them in the background all along, nudging our characters along some psychic chessboard toward the crash.

I've tried to adjust to the news, I have. Despite my disenchantment, I am genuinely charmed that they've turned the Smoke Monster — a seeming red herring — into an actual character. Personally, I think my favorite scene this season was the Smokey cam.

And yet, I'm bitter! Because all those great themes — about society, about human nature, about recovery after trauma — and all those great threads — the Others, Dharma, the childbirth mystery — feel to me simplified by the news that it's all an abstract experiment between super-frenemies in whether human beings are corruptible. To me, that's like folding an enormous, colorful, mysterious map into a tiny wad of chewing gum.

If you read this far, maybe you disagree. Tell me about it in the comments.

Anyway, there's a war coming, clearly, and in the war, our characters will be on two sides: sexy Smokey (who acts like the Devil, or really, like an Other, but to me, less interesting, because more Evil), and Jacob, who sighs like Al Gore and can grant eternal life. (Although the one thing that did seriously interest me in this episode was how openly jerky Jacob was: What does that mean?)

Sayid will probably do something terrible. Sawyer might pull a con. Ben will likely sacrifice himself in a last-minute redeeming moment. Jin and Sun will be together, forever, the intriguing complexity of their marital history dissolved into soul mate–hood. I'm not sure what Jack will do, but I certainly hope the show doesn't turn him into a great leader, because I've got serious Jack problems. I'm sure Hurley will end up in some benign capacity, because he's a sweetheart. And I'm hoping Shannon comes back: I miss her!

I may be a Hater, but I'll watch this show until the end. For those who say it's just a TV show, I say, that's the whole point of great TV: that you expect a lot from it.

But I promise next week I will try to open my shriveled heart. Maybe it's possible for me to learn to love again — even if the show is not my soul mate.

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