Lost’s Plot Gets Lost

As Lost’s ever-twisting plot becomes more entangled with itself, I fear viewers will do the only rational thing when faced with an impossible puzzle: give up.

In its sophomore season, Lost initially seemed to have hit its stride. As we all know, this was the season of the hatch, moving the action steadily away from castaway caricatures like Gilligan’s Island or Survivor and further into a nebulous world of conspiracies, karma, smoky monsters, and existentialism. While this shift made for some compelling TV, there were many times this season when I just wanted answers, dammit. I mean, where’s Jeff Probst when you need him?

However, with characters with names like John Locke and Rousseau, it’s not surprising that philosophical dilemmas have become increasingly prominent. The island, and even the hatch, prod the characters to ask themselves the kinds of questions that have plagued humans for millennia. It’s just that the threat of annihilation looming every 108 minutes has sped up the process. Whether or not to push the button can translate into faith vs. science, and this allegory reached a fever pitch in the last three episodes with the Eko-Locke Showdown.

I’ve long suspected that Mr. Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) and John Locke (Terry O’Quinn) were two halves of one person. On their first meeting, they held one another’s gaze as if looking into a mirror. Black and white, yin and yang — you get the idea. So when the debate over whether or not to push the button broke out between The Priest and The Sage, it was clear that this was not just a spat, this was The Question: Do you have faith despite the best evidence convincing you otherwise? (Psst, this is really about God, not the button, or didn’t you feel that hatch lid hitting you over the head?)

Frankly, it leaves a bad taste in my mouth to discover that a show called “Lost,” as ostensibly sexy and mysterious as this sounds, is really about being “found.” I’ll take Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) doing it in the jungle without the sermon, thank you very much. But we should have known better. When, in the first season, Rose (L. Scott Caldwell) clutched her wedding ring, declaring her faith that she knows her husband is alive, despite seeing her husband’s tail section of the plane break off in mid-air, she believed, and she was right. When Mr. Eko’s reverent priest brother Yemi (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) came to him in a dream with specific instructions, and voila, his instructions were accurate! I’m not saying that I object to these affirmations of faith; I’m just saying, enough already.

And let’s also be honest: the season finale was disappointing and reductive. Lost failed to deliver sufficient answers and adequate character development (John Locke, the man who has a fable or profound thought on everything, even backgammon, said, as the world is apparently ending and everyone probably dying, “I was wrong”), or enough drama to sustain the two hours, let alone the long wait until Season Three. Am I on the edge of my seat because Claire (Emilie de Ravin) kissed Charlie (Dominic Monaghan)? Because Penelope (Sonya Walger) knows where Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) is and might come to everyone’s rescue? Not really.

The finale did debunk several outstanding theories (that the island was purgatory, that they were all really dead, that the button was bunk, that the rest of the world had vanished), but it didn’t offer any engaging storytelling. Sun (Yoon-jin Kim), Jin (Daniel Dae Kim), and Said (Naveen Andrews), arguably the most stereotyped of the characters (Sun with her garden, Jin the son of a poor Korean fisherman, and Sayid praising Allah while being a torture expert) are presumably still sailing past a giant statue of a four-toed foot, a development more immediate than The Others admitting their jungle hillbilly look is fake, which we’ve known for ten episodes. Yet the giant mutant foot statue was abandoned mid-finale.

The finale could have taken its cues from the jaw-dropping episode “Two for the Road,” where Michael (Harold Perrineau Jr.) took out two regulars in a stunning betrayal. The most exciting moment was seeing Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly), and Sawyer all (finally) gagged, giving some other, more compelling characters screen time. Michael Emerson’s Henry Gale (note the Wizard of Oz ref.) has out-acted Matthew Fox in nearly every scene, and his mind games with Locke while held captive in the hatch were truly some brilliant tête-à-têtes.

And from the first scene of the season set inside the hatch — Desmond’s morning routine montage, set to Mama Cass’ “Make Your Own Kind of Music” — the questions started piling up: what’s under quarantine? Who is in the hatch? Is the button real? What was that injection? How do they get oxygen? Food? Power? Ahhh! Some of those questions were answered immediately, other answers could have been pieced together with clues, and others still only came in the finale. It’s not that I mind these narrative hiccups and the work of connecting the dots, it’s just that for a show that asks us to pay attention to every little bit of minutia, it sure does bend the rules and gloss over details as it pleases (see: Libby).

I was especially chagrinned to discover, mid-second season, that Rose and Bernard (Sam Anderson) had met and been married within that year when her “I know my husband is still alive” monologue in early Season One suggested strongly that they had been together much, much longer. I wouldn’t care nearly so much if the Internet hadn’t caught fire with “Who’s Geronimo Jackson?” queries after Hurley (Jorge Garcia) held up the fictitious record mid-season. How are we supposed to know what to pay attention to?

Sometimes — when I’m buying the Lost companion novel Bad Twin or navigating the perplexing websites of the Dharma Project’s sponsor, The Hanso Corporation — I think if Lost were my boyfriend, we’d have to break up. Relationships shouldn’t be this much work. I should not have to gather passwords, memorize numbers, and fish around online for secret documents that, once I find them, don’t make any sense. I followed the trail online last week to find something about a life expectancy experiment and a 105-year-old chimpanzee named Joop — I still want to know how Locke lost the use of his legs for Joop’s sake!

I’m about as ardent a Lost follower one can be without quitting her day job, and I still have no idea who Hanso honcho Hugh McIntyre is (though I’ve seen fake documents he’s “signed” and surveillance tapes of his mistress). I heard he was on Jimmy Kimmel the night of the finale, but I was too flummoxed to stay up to watch. I put in the time, I try to piece it together, and every time I think I’m close, I’m wrong. Eventually, I fear viewers will do the only rational thing when faced with an impossible puzzle: give up.

RATING 8 / 10