Thursday, July 17, 2008

Extended Play: "Lost," Season 2

When I talk to people about “Lost,” the general response is, “Yeah, I tuned in every now and again, but every episode was about pressing a frickin’ button, so I lost interest.” Which made me all the more curious to watch Season 2 – I mean, how much frickin’ button-pushing was there?

What surprised me most about Season 2 is how quickly the show changed from being about one thing – surviving on an island – to being about another – discovering that the island is a totally different place than previously understood. While Season 1 had virtually no mentions of The Dharma Initiative and only a bare glimpse at the notion of The Others, Season 2 dove headlong into it from the first episode, and these two new additions dominated the stories for the rest of the year.

As a result of introducing the overarching Dharma mystery – a story that, unlike the character-based dramas, has to have a beginning, middle and end – Season 2 started to tug fitfully in a lot of directions. In particular, the Dharma story was introduced, but couldn’t progress too far since the writers didn’t know how long the series would run.

And because the new stuff was so interesting and offered viewers the hint that there was something more important going on here, the character drama started to feel needlessly manufactured (see: Charlie, who ended Season 1 triumphantly but became truly insufferable for no real reason shortly into Season 2 – but it did give me a theory, which I’ll get to in a second) or so slight as to be totally pointless (hello, “Sawyer hunts down a noisy tree-frog”).

If Season 2 saw a lot of false starts in terms of plotting (my favorite being Jack’s idea to “train an army” to combat The Others, an idea that sounded terribly important but disappeared within three episodes), it saw its greatest cock-up with the introduction of the tail section characters, in particular Ana-Lucia and Mister Eko. And here’s where "TV Series As Novel" meets its arch-enemy, “Everyday hassles of working on a weekly network show.”

It’s clear they intended to do more with both characters – Ana-Lucia as the island’s sheriff and Eko as its spiritual guide – but through a mix of uncertain planning, bungled introductions (Ana-Lucia was so insanely grating from the outset that it was simply impossible for viewers to get behind the character even after she started to rehabilitate), and casting actors who would prove too difficult to work with, that revisions had to be made (and man, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje must have been a major pain in the ass, for the producers to jettison the Eko character after setting him up as a major player in the series).

Add to this the often erratic airing schedule for new episodes, and it’s no wonder the audience started turning on “Lost” in Season 2. And while the season does view better in large chunks (once again lending credence to the “novelistic TV” theory), watching 40 minutes of “Hey, Sun’s pregnant” just to get three minutes of teases about The Others does make a viewer feel like he’s getting dicked around.

Even viewing it now, with the knowledge of how things start to pull together, being aware that some throwaway bits do have actual meaning, there were still some moments where even I was developing outlandish theories that didn’t even track with what I already knew, just to stave off frustration.

(My favorite made-up theory is that the “island sickness” that was heavily alluded to in the first two seasons but since then has been pretty much forgotten about was meant to explain why some characters – say, Charlie – started behaving erratically or, well, stupidly, for no reason and with no later follow-up. I’m still working on a theory that would explain why the hell the island would want Hurley to jump off a cliff, though. I’m open to any suggestion that doesn’t begin or end with the phrase “crappy writing.”)

So yes. Officially speaking, Season 2 was sort of iffy, in comparison with the nearly-perfect first season. But I think it was a necessary learning experience for the show’s writers. As we’ll see as we get to Season 3, once they got past some first-quarter hiccups (most glaringly, another stupid introduction to new characters Nikki and Paulo…oh, Nikki and Paulo, how I can’t wait to revisit you two), the show started firing on all cylinders, and hasn’t really stopped since.

Onwards to Season 3!

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