Watching Lost

Posted: October 5, 2009 in Braak, reviews

(This is a half a post; I’ve got a real one coming later)

I decided that I wouldn’t watch Lost from the middle, which is when I started hearing about how great it was.  But now it’s on Netflix, and so I’ve been catching up, so that I have the basic canonical grounding to participate in human society.

You probably all noticed these things years ago when they were first relevant, but maybe not–there’s something about watching five or six episodes at a time that throws everything into stark relief.  But here are some crazy things that I picked up on:

1.  For real, someone gets sick or stabbed in EVERY episode?  There’s no way that maybe a whole day could go by without someone running to Jack and saying, “Jack, we’ve got a problem”?

2.  Why did they split into two groups, instead of just moving everyone to the caves and have a rotating group of five people go down to the beach to keep the signal fire going?

3.  Wait, so, there’s a giant monster, polar bears and wild boar running around–but for some reason, it never occurred to anyone that, “Hey, maybe we should keep a watch, or something?  In case that horrible monster shows up again?”  They don’t decide to do that until an evil guy shows up and kidnaps their only pregnant woman?

4.  Kate is boring as shit.  Man, I know that we’re supposed to like her, but did you ever get the feeling that the writers were trying too hard to MAKE us like her?  Every god-damn thing, you think she did something bad, but then it turned out that she was REALLY doing something good.  And instead of just telling people that she did something good, she stares at them in this kind of sad, squinty way.  What is that?  This whole time with Kate and her, “I killed a man” schtick, I kept thinking to myself, “Well, at least we know she isn’t relentlessly perfect.  She might be a little hard-core.”  But NO!  It was an accident for which she blames herself. Lame, guys.  Seriously.

5.  It’s funny, but I don’t find myself getting excited about the weird coincidences that put all of these people on the plane together, or their connections to each other, or anything.  At all.  Like, why wouldn’t Sawyer have run into Jack’s dad in Sidney?  It’s a weird coincidence, I guess, but not THAT weird.  They were both in Sidney, they both liked drinking, whatever.

And the astonishing coincidences that got them all on the plane together–was it Schopenhauer that said that looking back on his life, it seemed like there was a hand guiding it that he’d never noticed before?  I know there’s a term for this, I think it’s “Hindsight Bias.”

Like, you look at all these people on the plane, and once you discover their stories it’s all ZOMG!  If Sayyid hadn’t stayed an extra day to claim his dead friend’s body!  ZOMG, what are the odds that Hurley was in Sidney at the same time as Jack?!?!  And it looks like Fate has stepped in to put all these people on a plane together.

Except, obviously, any group of 47 people that were on a plane together would have dozens of “near-miss” stories about how they almost didn’t get on the plane, or they were going to catch an earlier flight.  Probably a bunch of them have them same birthday, too, because when your sample size is large enough, it starts being weird when there AREN’T weird coincidences.  (Do they do the birthday thing later in the season?  That would be awesome if Hurley found out when everyone’s birthday was, and someone noticed how weird it was that everyone had a different birthday.)  Anyway, of course there are bunch of weird stories that put all of these people on this plane at this time–you have chosen a sample consisting entirely of PEOPLE WHO WERE ON THIS PLANE.

So, now I don’t know if I’m supposed to be freaking out about this or not.  Do the writers know about this, and are purposefully throwing in a bunch of red-herring coincidence?  Or am I a viewer unusually inured to the effect of coincidence?

6.  Finally, there are two episodes left in the first season.  I am assuming that the flashback with Jack and Ana Lucia is a precursor to the discovery that somehow the tail of the plane that broke off also contained passengers who miraculously survived that and are somewhere else on the island, maybe with their own signal fire (that no one ever noticed), hunting their own wild boar, building their own giant raft.  If not, I expect there to be a very good reason that Jack survived a plane crash and then spent a month not even saying “Hello” to the only other person he knew on the island.

  1. Jeff Holland says:

    Hoo-boy. Okay, where to start.

    1) On the one hand, it’s good that there are four seasons currently available (I believe season 5 is out in December), so you can plow through them without getting overly frustrated with the ticks. On the other hand: relax, man. It’s a LOT of episodes to get through, so you’re gonna have to temper your outrage accordingly.

    2) Everybody hates Kate. In fact, it has gotten to the point that at the start of every episode, I say to Tad, “I hope they kill Kate this episode.” But so far, no such stinking luck.

    3) There are many dangling plots that will become relevant later. Some more so, some less (in fact, be prepared for quite a few false starts in s2). It is around the midpoint of season 3 that you start getting the feeling that the writers actually DO have a handle on the material. But it’s only around the end of season 5 that the possibility is explicitly raised that these coincidences might not have been so coincidental.

    4) “Why didn’t they do this or that! Stupid castaways!” is called “Monday morning quarterbacking,” and you’re probably going to have to get out of that habit, or your nose will start to bleed. (Also, a character in season 3 does bring up the obvious point of, “Why haven’t we made a giant SOS with rocks yet?” and it’s actually kind of a poignant episode.)

    5) You should probably bookmark my I Speak TV articles, since I broke down seasons 1-4 and what they did right and wrong. This might help. Or possibly not.

    6) Good luck with that Bai Ling episode in season 3. Yow.

  2. braak says:

    1) I feel like this one would have been less obvious if you were watching it on a weekly basis, instead of five at a time–so I can recognize it as being forgivable.

    2) Good.

    4) It is an OBVIOUS PLAN. You do not need twenty people to keep a signal fire going. You need FIVE people to keep a signal fire going. If the whole show is plagued with no one sitting down and saying, “Wait, let’s take a couple minutes and be fucking reasonable about this,” I probably am going to die of apoplexy. Especially considering that we already know that Sayyid has the power of “Dividing people into shifts so that we’re not wasting manpower.” For god’s sake. Next you’re going to tell me that all this time it never occurred to anyone to start training monkey butlers.

  3. Ha! I just started watching these in the last few months on Netflix instant play as well, so I totally hear you on all these things.

    Ugh, Kate is the WORST. Jack always says, “No, Kate. You can’t come.” And so Kate goes anyway. After a while, it’s like, “Kate, just take a day off from being badass and go pick some fruit or something.” Everything she does is without a single shred of logic. She just runs into the jungle with her gun and hopes it all comes out okay.

    I also don’t understand why the US Marshall is all Tommy Lee Jones about capturing her. There are crimes, and then there are CRIMES. Go catch some real bad guys, loser. Also, I don’t care if he IS a US Marshall. You can’t carry six guns on a plane.

    I got through all five seasons. There were highs and lows, but it’s all worth watching.

  4. Sam says:

    Lost is full of colossal morons and I stopped watching after the middle of season 2. Why then? I’m not sure, it might have something to do with WAAAAAAAAAALT!

  5. braak says:

    I have kind of a general problem with magic children. Also a general problem with parents who are all, “I’m going to make thoroughly retarded decisions because my reasoning faculties are clouded by my desire to protect my child BLARRRAAGGGHAHAHAH!”

    So, Michael isn’t my favorite guy, either.

  6. Jeff Holland says:

    Kate’s arc is definitely one where the writers knew she did SOMETHING bad, but no idea what, so when it came time to actually clear that up, it was incredibly underwhelming (and yes, made the marshall character’s obsession with her really strange).

    @Braak: Know what’s weird? Not a single monkey on this island. Not a one. I bet it would be more likely they’d find monkey-sized tuxedos on the island than actual monkeys.

    And somewhere, there is a fan who will consider the show a colossal failure if the monkey-situation is not addressed.

    Which leads me to my #1 recommendation: Do NOT pay a lot of attention to what fans of the show think about the show. “Lost” invites some spectacularly dumb (and oddly vitriolic) speculation.

  7. Leela says:



  8. braak says:

    Sorry. The kitten doesn’t type very well, yet.

    @Holland: I think that the most interesting thing they could have done with Kate would be to reveal that she was actually a serial killer, and that all of this, “maybe she’s good” shit was a horrible lie.

  9. Moff says:

    Kate is pretty tiresome, and I’m pretty sure her primary reason for inclusion on the show is that a tank-top manufacturer gave the producers a shitload of money. Of course, Jack is also pretty tiresome. Michael too. Mrs. Moff and I love just about nothing more than shouting “Mah boy! Mah boooyyyy!” at each other, or saying, whenever Michael appears, “Wait? He has a kid? I didn’t know that.”

    You do have to let your brain gloss over some of the niggling shit, like the fact that they don’t put anyone on watch or the splitting into two groups-ness. I think the show more than makes up for it by the number of times you say, “But wait…” and then two minutes later, they address exactly, explicitly, as if they knew just what you were thinking, the specific seeming plot hole that had occurred to you. As for the coincidences, I think it’s clear from early on that this is a world where COINCIDENCE IS NEVER MERELY COINCIDENCE.

    Lost isn’t perfect, but it’s awfully entertaining, it does a lot of neat tricks with storytelling, and I think it’s impressive that it managed to sucker so many network-TV viewers into watching a science-fiction show. Not that anyone is comparing the two, but I think it’s exponentially (several times over) superior to BSG, the other big SF television breakout hit of the time.

  10. Moff says:

    Oh, and I don’t think you’re supposed to be that astonished by the meeting-each-other coincidences in Season 1. They’re maybe more about adding some touches to the backstory, with some elements that will pay off down the line.

  11. braak says:

    You just stay away from my boy, Moff.

  12. braak says:

    @Moff: My guess is some kind of combination of time-travel and probability distortion, meant to bring to fruition an experiment in maximizing human potential. Like, probably the whole island was set up by scientists, and someone with psychic powers from the future sent those special numbers back in time in order to guide the unlikely coincidences in such a way as to ensure the future scenario. And maybe someone else was also sending things back in time, trying to stop it. Probably the Others are an off-shoot program, where instead of trying to make humans into superhumans, some guy figured he would just make better humans out of something else. I figure if you can send things back in time, you can probably send your embryonic monkey-people back in time so that they have plenty of opportunity to develop.

    But that’s just speculation based on the first 23 episodes. Probably, something will happen in 24 that will completely change my mind.

  13. Carl says:

    I like LOST and all (well not Kate, let me be sure and pile on there. I’ve been a Claire guy from the very start) and in this dark age of reality shows, its one of the best, most compelling things going on network TV.

    I think everyone who’s stuck with this show has had that same moment of speaking aloud to the TV, saying, “Wait. WAIT a second, people, SIT DOWN AND TALK TO EACH OTHER. Ask each other some questions before you go and… or… don’t, I guess. Huff. You’re all fucked now.”

    There was a time– end of the second season, I guess– when I considered myself quite the LOST devotee. But (SPOILER ALERT of sorts, here, Chris) the waste of time that was season three, and the quiet, unapologetic abandonment of several once-significant plot threads has, over time, served to dull my interest. Seems like the show itself is very unclear on the distinction it wants to make between fatedness (intrinsically meaningful) and coincidence from which people MAKE meaning. Some things are clearly one or the other, but in several cases, the writers don’t seem to know or much care.

    Still, I’ll be watching when it comes back to TV.

  14. Moff says:

    I liked Season 3 fine, but that might be a function of watching it on DVD. Maybe it would have driven us crazy if we’d had to wait a week or longer between every cliffhanger. As it stands, going in I’d heard a bunch about the quality falling off at various points after Season 1, but I haven’t noticed any major decline at any time.

    The way I gloss over a lot of the “Why the fuck don’t they talk about this shit?” is to remind myself that even though it gets to feeling like we’ve been watching for so long, the action actually takes place over a matter of weeks (well, months, but you know). (And I also don’t mind a little “Well, that has to happen/not happen for the story” in my television, as long as the story seems worth it.)

  15. V.I.P. Referee says:

    …but aren’t they all “social misfits”—people who’ve screwed up by either killing someone on purpose, accidently, maiming animal or property or have the unfortunate fate (a-ha–FATE) of being the offspring of such winners? That might explain the general incompetence found throughout the group. I, personally, think the writers are just trying to kill-off my “mean people” theory: Those who are unable to peacefully co-exist with others in modern societies, would have superior abilities to do so in an alternate scenario, where their amazing hoarding skills and power of violence and irrationality would give them an advantage over others; however, I never considered the possiblity of a world of only those kinds of people trying to make things work.

    So, I’m going to now apply “Lost” theory, B: That the writers pulled material from both “The Invention of Morel” by Adolfo Bioy Casares and “Twins” starring Danny Devito and Arnold Schwarzenegger; Danny Devito will appear with the whole cast of “Always Sunny…” to smack the “Lost” cast around in the final season. Arnold then enters, with his booming Euro-transfer voice, chastising them for not taking group fitness and nutrition seriously enough (“Wait–you guys just lost a pregnant woman? How can you be sure she’s properly consuming her daily dairy intake?!) and assigns them each their final “strikes”, revealing that they are, in fact, HOLOGRAMS. This realization dissolves the Matrix-like program they were imbedded in and they all awake in a top-secret, Disney testing facility at Epcot, where societal naughties are sent to test new rides and tend to the “Circle of life” exhibit, all while manipulated through a mind-control system (hmm…something to do with mouse ears). A Disney “world domination” plan seems to obvious, but it would be the most artistic advertisement ever created.

    Ooo–Monkeys! Monkeys in tuxedos! How adorable would that be? Ooo–a moth!

  16. braak says:

    I just want to say, I like Lost. I just think that there are peculiar problems that are thrown into stark, hilarious relief when you watch all of the episodes in a huge chunk, rather than once a week. Like, for example–the plot just inching along might whip the audience into an insane frenzy of speculation and interest when you’ve seen the newest episode. Maybe you’re chomping at the bit. When you know that there’s eighteen more hours of plot to get to, you get tired of the dumb shit a lot faster.

    And hey man, I can get why 47 people never thought to spell SOS out of rocks. They probably figured the signal fire would be enough. I can get that.

    What I can’t get is, when Locke and Jack are picking up the dynamite and Locke is very carefully lifting up the sticks of dynamite saying, “Man, I always used to lose at Operation.” Well, Locke, you know who DIDN’T lose at Operation? The guy sitting across from you. Who is a SPINAL SURGEON. What the FUCK man?

  17. Moff says:

    Actually, that fits in pretty well with Locke’s character, though. Also, the dynamite scenes make me NERVOUS AS FUCK.

    Oh, and if you get through Seasons 1-4 in time and want to see Season 5 before the last season starts in January, but don’t want to wait till December to get the DVDs, I would be more than happy to send you the episodes.

  18. braak says:

    Man, I thought Locke was all big into understanding what people are good at. And not blowing the hell up.

  19. Moff says:

    He is also very, very big into arguing with Jack. (Politely, mostly.)

  20. braak says:

    Jack didn’t even ASK to move the dynamite! Which is super crazier, because Jack needs to do every dangerous thing himself! Even if Locke didn’t know he was a spinal surgeon and was going to do it on his own, JACK should have said something!

    And, also: I’m not sure if Locke’s character trait is “arguing with Jack” or “advocating for a reasonable course of action,” since apparently those things are almost always the same thing.

  21. Jeff Holland says:

    The Locke/Jack arguments are always some of my favorite parts of the show.

    NOT because either of them is particularly good at articulating their point – they’re not. But Jack never comes off as more of a self-righteous, bug-eyed asshole, which means Locke actually comes off as the saner of the two.

    Jack is the ONLY person Locke looks saner than in conversation. It’s awesome.

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