Daynah Burnett

After Season Three's finale, Lost and I have made up now, and it looks like we're working towards a real future together. Finally.


Airtime: Wednesdays, 10pm ET
Cast: Matthew Fox, Evangeline Lilly, Josh Holloway, Elizabeth Mitchell, Michael Emerson, Naveen Andrews, Dominic Monaghan, Jorge Garcia, Terry O'Quinn, Daniel Dae Kim, Yunjin Kim
MPAA rating: N/A
Subtitle: Season 3 Finale
Network: ABC
US release date: 2007-05-23

It's been an abusive cycle -- betrayal, promises, more betrayal -- but eventually a Lost fan has to realize that it's never going to be what it was, that perhaps the spark of passion that drove us wild when we first met is gone. Sometime late this season, I made my peace with Lost, accepting the show as a high-maintenance conundrum. Whether my surrender was an act of resignation or faith, after Season Three's finale, we've made up now, and it looks like we're working towards a real future together. Finally.

That episode, "Through the Looking Glass," opened on a fairly bleak scene of Jack (Matthew Fox), in a typical Lost-style flashback, scraggly-bearded and in quite a sorry state indeed. Gone were all traces of the rugged and capable leader of Oceanic 815's survivors, the guy who traipsed across the island forming armies and delivering babies. Heroic Jack was replaced by a suicidal, Oxycontin-popping, booze-guzzling mess, who more than once yelled out to those around him, "I'm not a hero!" Right: the point was not made subtly: when Jack, on his way to a mysterious funeral, listened to Nirvana's "Scentless Apprentice" at full volume, we got it: he has Daddy issues. But it was a jarring enough contrast to the Jack we know to question the intent and eventual effect. Who was this guy? Over the past three years, we've seen him down and out before -- divorced, bereaved, righteously indignant -- but this was a Jack of a different color.

This shift for Jack was the perfect segue way for a major turning point in the series, one that coincides with the writers' announcement just two weeks ago that the series will end in three more seasons by 2010. Lost then opted to invert the narrative conventions of its mythology-soaked sci-fi drama. Bearded Jack was not a regular flashback at all, but rather a flashforward. Not only do we know now that at least Jack and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) will get off the island, but there's the matter of this unspecified funeral that Jack attended, after which he expressed surprise that Kate wasn't there too. "Who's in the coffin?" might be this generation's "Who shot JR?", only the question might be unanswered for three years.

It also appeared the writers were having fun again, from the anagrammed name of the funeral home (HOFFS/DRAWLAR = FLASH/FORWARD) to concealing the make of Jack's cell phone (his MotoCrazr was not available in 2004, Lost's "current" date is still late 2004). After a season written in the obtuse language we've come to expect from the Others, language that leaves room for any possible permutation of the plot, this change was refreshing.

I'll admit that I was more than mildly impressed with "The Brig," which featured Sawyer's (Josh Holloway) cathartic encounter with Locke's dad (Kevin Tighe), who turned out to be the conman who incited his own father's murder-suicide. But it would have been more impressive if I knew that intersection had been up the pike all along. After feeling strung along for a season, the audience can finally trust the writers again. Reciprocity, at last!

Lost's new trajectory is invigorating, in part because it's a gutsy move, but also because it seems the only move left to prevent the show imploding on itself. To remain on the island indefinitely would mean the plots must become increasingly claustrophobic. Trapped on the island, in the hands of the Others, casualties started to chip away at the foundation of the show. First our beloved Mr. Eko's (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje) hokey death, then Desmond's (Henry Ian Cusick) loss of dignity, and then even the demise of Kate and Sawyer's sexual tension! The show hadn't just jumped the shark, it had stamped a Dharma Initiative logo on the side of the shark and then just kept skipping right along. It seemed with every episode this season, there was some new discovery to be made -- a new hatch, a new character, a new version of the truth -- but feeling battered by so many plot points, viewers started to not care.

The whoppers this season included the idea that conception on the island meant certain death for women and their babies, which certainly doesn't bode well for Sun (Yunjin Kim), who got confirmation that Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) was her BabyDaddy after all. Another was our introduction to Jacob, the omniscient and (mostly) invisible leader of the island, whose apparent "agenda" hasn't extended past throwing his voice and making things fly around an old cabin.

Such outrageousness made last season's suggestion that the island was an allegory for Eden look almost clever. Now, it appears the Others are aware of Giant Smoke Monster, but keep it out of their habitat with a sonic security system. Except there's one problem: if Kate & Co. were able to traverse over the system's poles unscathed, what's stopping Giant Smoke Monster from just floating over the poles as well? Similarly confusing is the apparent zombieness of the Others, which only seems vaguely spooky.

The series sometimes makes me feel like I'm in that scene from The Princess Bride, locked a battle of wits with the writers, trying to guess whose cup has the poison. A perfect example is Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell), her face become an impenetrable mixture of compassion and cunning. She could single-handedly oversee the healthy birth of Sun's baby or she could annihilate them all with chemical weapon she's been hiding in her rucksack -- nothing that woman could do would surprise me. I feel like I have to be paying extra close attention, looking for some kind of tell, wondering if, once I do spot one, if it's been contrived just to throw me off.

In the finale, though, the mind games didn't feel like a way for the writers to lollygag. The episode balanced revelation with action. Sayid (Naveen Andrews) was snapping necks, literally with his hands tied behind his back; John Locke (Terry O'Quinn) was rising from the dead; Jack was beating the shit out of Ben (Michael Emerson); and Sawyer continued his vengeance streak. Even Hurley (Jorge Garcia) got in on the action, kicking ass with the big kids for a change.

All this, and, thanks to Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) and Desmond, the survivors have finally made contact with the outside world. Evidently rescue is imminent, what with Jack leading "his people" to the radio tower for salvation (thanks to the show for acknowledging the biblical subtext of this dynamic -- it's about time). Sure, we still have no information on flickering Jacob, the four-toed statue from last season's finale, Michael (Harold Perrineau Jr.) and Walt (Malcolm David Kelley), or the ageless Others. But that's okay, I'm content to wait. Finally.

In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

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The Best Country Music of 2017

still from Midland "Drinkin' Problem" video

There are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. Here are ten of our favorites.

Year to year, country music as a genre sometimes seems to roll on without paying that much attention to what's going on in the world (with the exception of bro-country singers trying to adopt the latest hip-hop slang). That can feel like a problem in a year when 58 people are killed and 546 are injured by gun violence at a country-music concert – a public-relations issue for a genre that sees many of its stars outright celebrating the NRA. Then again, these days mainstream country stars don't seem to do all that well when they try to pivot quickly to comment on current events – take Keith Urban's muddled-at-best 2017 single "Female", as but one easy example.

Nonetheless, there are many fine country musicians making music that is relevant and affecting in these troubled times. There are singers tackling deep, universal matters of the heart and mind. Artists continuing to mess around with a genre that can sometimes seem fixed, but never really is. Musicians and singers have been experimenting within the genre forever, and continue to. As Charlie Worsham sings, "let's try something new / for old time's sake." - Dave Heaton

10. Lillie Mae – Forever and Then Some (Third Man)

The first two songs on Lillie Mae's debut album are titled "Over the Hill and Through the Woods" and "Honky Tonks and Taverns". The music splits the difference between those settings, or rather bears the marks of both. Growing up in a musical family, playing fiddle in a sibling bluegrass act that once had a country radio hit, Lillie Mae roots her songs in musical traditions without relying on them as a gimmick or costume. The music feels both in touch with the past and very current. Her voice and perspective shine, carrying a singular sort of deep melancholy. This is sad, beautiful music that captures the points of view of people carrying weighty burdens and trying to find home. - Dave Heaton

9. Sunny Sweeney – Trophy (Aunt Daddy)

Sunny Sweeney is on her fourth album; each one has felt like it didn't get the attention it deserved. She's a careful singer and has a capacity for combining humor and likability with old-fashioned portrayal of deep sadness. Beginning in a bar and ending at a cemetery, Trophy projects deep sorrow more thoroughly than her past releases, as good as they were. In between, there are pills, bad ideas, heartbreak, and a clever, true-tearjerker ballad voicing a woman's longing to have children. -- Dave Heaton

8. Kip Moore – Slowheart (MCA Nashville)

The bro-country label never sat easy with Kip Moore. The man who gave us "Somethin' 'Bout a Truck" has spent the last few years trying to distance himself from the beer and tailgate crowd. Mission accomplished on the outstanding Slowheart, an album stuffed with perfectly produced hooks packaged in smoldering, synthy Risky Business guitars and a rugged vocal rasp that sheds most of the drawl from his delivery. Moore sounds determined to help redefine contemporary country music with hard nods toward both classic rock history and contemporary pop flavors. With its swirling guitar textures, meticulously catchy songcraft, and Moore's career-best performances (see the spare album-closing "Guitar Man"), Slowheart raises the bar for every would-be bro out there. -- Steve Leftridge

7. Chris Stapleton – From a Room: Volume 1 (Mercury Nashville)

If Chris Stapleton didn't really exist, we would have to invent him—a burly country singer with hair down to his nipples and a chainsaw of a soul-slinging voice who writes terrific throwback outlaw-indebted country songs and who wholesale rejects modern country trends. Stapleton's recent rise to festival headliner status is one of the biggest country music surprises in recent years, but his fans were relieved this year that his success didn't find him straying from his traditional wheelhouse. The first installment of From a Room once again finds Stapleton singing the hell out of his sturdy original songs. A Willie Nelson cover is not unwelcome either, as he unearths a semi-obscure one. The rest is made up of first-rate tales of commonality: Whether he's singing about hard-hurtin' breakups or resorting to smoking them stems, we've all been there. -- Steve Leftridge

6. Carly Pearce – Every Little Thing (Big Machine)

Many of the exciting young emerging artists in country music these days are women, yet the industry on the whole is still unwelcoming and unforgiving towards them. Look at who's getting the most radio play, for one. Carly Pearce had a radio hit with "Every Little Thing", a heartbreaking ballad about moments in time that in its pace itself tries to stop time. Every Little Thing the album is the sort of debut that deserves full attention. From start to finish it's a thoroughly riveting, rewarding work by a singer with presence and personality. There's a lot of humor, lust, blues, betrayal, beauty and sentimentality, in proper proportions. One of the best songs is a call for a lover to make her "feel something", even if it's anger or hatred. Indeed, the album doesn't shy away from a variety of emotions. Even when she treads into common tropes of mainstream country love songs, there's room for revelations and surprises. – Dave Heaton

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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Scholar Judith May Fathallah's work blurs lines between author and ethnographer, fan experiences and genre TV storytelling.

In Fanfiction and the Author: How Fanfic Changes Popular Culture Texts, author Judith May Fathallah investigates the progressive intersections between popular culture and fan studies, expanding scholarly discourse concerning how contemporary blurred lines between texts and audiences result in evolving mediated practices.

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Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

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