Friday, March 5, 2010

LOST: My Defense of Season 6 and the Parallel Universe

NOTE: This is a response article, and it’s all in good, writerly fun. I enjoy analytical writing, and so I write analytically. Sometimes, I do it at people. This is one of those times.

So, here is my response to a recent post on io9, a blog I (sometimes) enjoy, but sometimes it's just...they’re missing the POINT. Especially when it's bitching about the shows I love, I do not tolerate shortsighted, half-baked analysis-lite, which is what this io9 article called “5 Reasons Lost’s Parallel Universe is a Waste of Time” is made up of almost entirely, glossing over nuance to achieve some altogether boring and misguided discussion that lacks all complexity of thought. So, you may want to look at the io9 article first, and then read this, and then I guess you can go ahead and decide for yourself whether you're going to watch "Lost" for the big pay-off in the end or whatever, or if you're going to understand it for what it truly is, which is a show that stopped being about something so simple as an answer the moment we found out what was in that hatch!

It was a man down there! (Gasp.)

Okay, so first (Part I), there is the argument that season five is the "Same Shit, Different Day." Here is why this argument is so simple and, therefore, so wrong. (I'm sorry for the length, but it had to be.)

Like much of this article, this first section completely ignores the concept of character complexity. In doing this, the writer (Meredith Woerner) has somehow managed to file away all of our Losties as happy-and-sad, good-and-evil constructs, when, in fact, they’re complex characters who act on motives that are never (ever) cut-and-dried or straight forward. My favorite example that this writer uses is that of Sayid. This is her description of Sayid: “He was a torturer, for god’s sake. We get it—he doesn’t like killing, but thinks it’s a necessary evil. That was established when he tortured Sawyer for an inhaler he didn’t have, roughed up Ben, went on a killing spree after his lover Nadia was murdered—hell, he even murdered the hell out of that chicken when he was a boy. We get it: Sayid kills to serve his own twisted reasoning, whatever that may be at the moment.” OKAY. Well! Now that we’ve got SAYID all nice and wrapped up for us here in this colossal web of black-and-white. What the writer completely neglects to understand here is that, nothing is so simple as black and white. First of all, yes, Sayid was a torturer. No, we don’t “get it,” because each time Sayid has tortured someone on the Island, it has never been for the same reason, and these “reasons” have never been so simple as “twisted.” When he tortures Sawyer toward the beginning (Confidence Man 1.8), yes, this is our first and most straightforward example of Sayid’s “moral ambiguity,” but then, when he tortures Ben in the armory—his motives here are anything but black and white. He is filled with remorse, grief, guilt, anger, vengeance... The complexity here, based in what we know about Sayid (in both the immediate and distant past) is staggering. “Lost” is a show that remembers everything about its characters so as to build a world of complexity for each one, and sometimes, this causes confusion, or it brings us to tears or drives us mad with worry. I know that, when I cry during Abandoned (2.6), it is not just because there’s a dead girl on the screen. It’s because everything I know about Shannon has just collided with everything I know about Sayid and everything I know about the two of them together in the most destructive way possible, and now that she’s dead, there’s something missing from inside of him. This is an example of an event that colors all future events involving a certain character. Woerner at io9 ignores the whole concept of resonance, emotional register based on deftly-placed exposition (which is all “Lost” really is), and in turn, she ignores the complexity of these characters and groups them into cut-and-dried types that are either happy or sad, good or evil, and she ignores the gray area in between. She ignores the concept of the pattern that repeats and that also builds on itself, that, in fiction (and in reality), a situation can look almost exactly the same as the one that precedes it (ie: Sayid tortures helpless victim), but it is not the same because we have new information now or because something has happened to color these current moments differently from moments in the past.

So, when Sayid is beating Ben in that armory (One of Them 2.14), he is not just beating Ben. He is beating himself because he could not protect Shannon, he is reaching for blame because he cannot blame Ana Lucia, because he cannot find anyone to blame. Just because Sayid is a “torturer” doesn’t mean that he’s mindless or “twisted.” It doesn’t mean that he’s all good or all evil. He is many, many things, because he is a carefully constructed character. He is not a type. He is not generic, which is what this writer misunderstands. Therefore, her argument that we’re not “learning” anything from the parallel universe is, well, just so refutable, because it’s ignoring so much information. She claims: “What about Kate? Claire makes Kate a better person?” Well, no, because what kind of a person is Kate? She’s no “kind” of person, and it’s not like, one minute she’s bad and the next she’s good. She’s a lot of things, but she’s no kind. “Kate’s still a thief and messed up, but at least Claire forces Kate to think about others.” Kate’s “messed up?” Well, that’s certainly true, but what the hell does that mean in this moment in time? Kate is messed up in the beginning of season one, for example, and still at the end of season three, and she’s still messed up now. Does that mean that Kate hasn’t changed? No. It just means that her “messed up”-ness has evolved and gained complexity. Also, Claire does not “[force]” Kate to do anything. The situation with Claire in What Kate Does (brilliant title) is presented by the writers as an opportunity for Kate’s character to grow, for her to become more complex ON TOP of everything we already know, because we now know what she’s capable of, and no, it’s not “shit” we’ve seen before.

The parallel universe in “Lost” is all about fate, that these people would have met anyway under different circumstances, many of which have similar, although oblique ramifications for our Losties. For example, Jack the father is something that’s never been addressed (aside from Sarah’s negative pregnancy test in The Hunting Party 2.11), but his own daddy issues are. Lighthouse (6.5) is a fascinating inverse, not a rehashing, of familiar themes. It’s also shortsighted to describe Jack as a generic “bad dad.” Is Jack a bad dad? I don’t get that impression, although it would be an easy mistake to make if you’re not really paying attention to what’s going on. Jack is divorced, and Jack does not get a ton of time with his kid, but this only makes him a bad father if we’re imposing our personal opinions or accepted stereotypes of what it means to be a bad father (or a “torturer,” if we’re talking about Sayid) onto a nuanced character like Jack, who exists in a world that is not our own. If his son fears him, it is not for the same reasons that Jack feared his own father. Remember, Jack is a “great man.” If his father is a great man, David may fear that he, one day, will not be a great man. We can see this in that he is driven, that he is like his father (A musician and a spinal surgeon? What parallels! What complexities!) in that they both need to succeed, but that great men (and women, for that matter) cannot succeed without missing a few notes, or watching a few people die on the table in the process. This all would, of course, require one to read into character complexities that are far beyond face value, or the generic, so I can see why it’s misunderstood at io9.

So, to this: “We’ve learned nothing new or interesting about these characters we’ve known for years”—I say, “Construct an argument that takes into account all the character complexity you’ve ignored, or the existance of complexity at all, because otherwise, you’re just molding the material into a shape that fits your agenda, and so your argument is not credible.” If you’re mad at “Lost,” you’re mad at “Lost,” but if you want to make a legitimate argument, then you’ve got to consider all the information, and not just the information, or the personal inferences that you care about.

HOLY CRAP. I’ll try not to make all my responses so long. But the thing is, if you’re doing actual analysis, which I know that io9 isn’t really attempting to do on any real level and so it is not satisfying, then it takes time. Watch me go, I guess, if you’re still interested.

Part II: Woerner claims, “Who are These New People? Oh, Wait. It doesn’t Matter.” She writes, “Who are these hippie Others and why should we care? Well, we shouldn’t, because they were all killed off this week by the smoke monster.”

I claim: Well, it’s interesting to me that this writer assumes we care about these people at all, OR that we’re meant to. She asks, “[W]ere we sad when [Dogen] and his nerd sidekick were brutally cut down by Sayid?” and she doesn’t have an answer, but I do: NO. No, we don’t care. And does that then absolve these characters of their purpose on the show? Absolutely not! I want to ask this writer: “What would you rather have happen? Who would you rather our Losties interract with this late in the game?” More on that in a second, but first, a bit about what’s at stake.

Okay, while I agree with Woerner and her irritable sensibility toward these “hippie Others,” one thing that this aspect of the show has always done (introducing ancillaries who go on to die a hot minute later) is remind us of who and what is really at stake here. Woerner is right in that we care about the people we’ve just spent five seasons getting to know, but I question her invocation of the “We’re running out of time” card, because a) Stop groping for answers when you should be watching closely, and b) Whatever ending Abrams has in store for us will never be good enough if we’re so damn worried about how quickly he’s getting us there. Keep in mind that the writers aren’t fumbling here. They know the answers. We’re not going to get all of the answers because “Lost” is not a show about answers. Nor do its writers and producers care that you want answers. To watch “Lost” merely for answers is like watching “Mad Men” because you like commercials. Seriously, what’s at stake in “Lost” is not anything so simple as “What do the numbers mean?” or “What’s in that hatch?” or “Who are the Others?” et cetera, et cetera. Is it not a much more powerful moment when Sayid loses the woman he loves again than the moment when we learn that Hurley’s numbers correspond to a bunch of coordinates that point to pretty pictures in a mirror that gets smashed anyway? If you’re going to watch “Lost” just for its answers, then you’re missing the point, and you’re always disappointed, and you probably shouldn’t be writing articles about it. “Lost” sure is an entertaining show, but it’s also layered, intelligent, complex. People watch it for its unique complexity in a world of bland procedural shows and gauzy doctor operas, not for cut-and-dried answers.

But now, back to my first point: It’s important to recognize conflict. Anytime we’re dealing with fiction (or TV or whatever), it’s important to recognize conflict. We’ve watched “our guys” struggle to escape from, fight, kill, torture these Others for a long time, and it would be silly to think that this should all just…disappear in the final season. Live together, die alone, right? What’s that matter if there’s nothing to unite against? No cause to die for? Great literature, and yes, I’ll refer to “Lost” as such for the sake of this discussion, is loyal and possessive, and it gives itself entirely to one specific stock of characters; however, extras (like the Others) and villains (like Keamy) are often necessary to order a credible world, and also to further the plot, to create conflict and tension, and to give our loyal band of adventurers a reason to unite. Isn’t it powerful when, after five seasons of time/space travel and struggles of both an internal and physical nature, Jack and Sayid trust each other so fully—that Sayid will do anything that Jack says and Jack will swallow a mysterious pill to get the truth (What Kate Does 6.3)? How can we get that trust and that powerful, powerful moment if there’s nobody that they CAN’T trust and no situations in which such unequivocal trust is necessary? So, I ask: What would you rather have happen, Meredith Woerner, contributing writer at io9? I really do wonder, because there’s so much complaining in here (“Who are these hippie Others and why should we care?”) but no qualification in terms of what you’d rather see, or what would have worked better, or what you’d like to have happened in the first six episodes of “Lost”’s final season. IT MAKES SENSE that the Others are there. This is a world that exists in three (sometimes four) dimensions, and there are people living in it other than Jack, Kate, Sayid, et al. The Others are a credible force to unite against, and when many of them are killed by the Smoke Monster, it’s not because they served no purpose, or because the writers just got sick of them or whatever, it’s because they’re purpose has come, presented itself, and now it’s gone. They’ve put the plot where it needs to be (and yes, the “magical dagger” was an important part of that) and now, we can all move forward into the evening because they’re out of the way. Sometimes, writing is about problem-solving. That’s what I teach my students here at UCI, and if all of this shit with the Others and Dogen and the dagger is necessary to up the ante on Sayid one notch, then I’ll take it. Because again, “Lost” serves its characters. It doesn’t serve you or me or the answers we sometimes desire.

Part III: Woerner claims, “The Shock and Awe of Parallel Whaaaaat??? Moments Have Lost Their Luster.” I claim, “You’re missing the point.”

I guess, first, in terms of her claim that the continual reappearances of Losties and Lostie-Extras in the parallel universe “[cheapens] some of the past awesomeness these characters went through,” I have to say this: Your tenses are screwed up. None of that happened in this world. It’s not in the past. YES, it is in the past for us, and so we can suffuse these new encounters (with Rose, Keamy, Jin, etc.) with characterizing factors that we’ve learned from the universe in which the Island still exists, the universe we’ve been living in for the past five seasons. But again, I make the argument that the parallel universe, which assumes that everything we’ve seen so far has not actually happened, is not recycling old themes or, as Woerner puts it, merely “pandering to fans”—it is putting our characters into situations that seem familiar (like Jack and fatherhood), but that are, in fact, an inverse on the familiar (Jack is now the father, not the son), and/or they’re approached obliquely so as to enlighten us with a new perspective on, not only who these characters are (Jack and his daddy issues), but also, how fate works in the world of “Lost” (Jack has a kid in this universe, and so he is forced to work the same things out differently than he does in the universe where he doesn’t have a kid, and this new approach gives us new insight on Jack and Jack’s potential.). All of this is important. We’re learning as much about these characters as we can. We’re even getting hypothetical information, and we’re getting all this in lieu of a universe that Woerner would prefer to be something so simple and boring as “a question-answering aid.” My response to that is this: If you prefer a show that gives straight answers to straight questions, you may want to try “Fringe” or “Bones” or or any one of the thousands of police procedurals on TV. Clearly, and I’ve got lots and lots more proof if you want it, “Lost” is a character-driven show, and sometimes, in character-driven shows (like “Mad Men” or “Friday Night Lights”), the real question is not, “Will Don Draper continue to cheat?” It’s “Why does Don Draper continue to cheat?” In “Lost,” the real question is not, “What does it all mean?” It’s, “How does it all mean?” How does the fact that the smoke monster is John Locke (simple reveal) affect Sawyer, who is grieving and vulnerable (complicated unfurling)? Do you see what I mean? Stop demanding the what and start reveling in the how, because it’s much more beautiful, and it’s much more satisfying that way, I assure you.

Part IV: Woerner claims, “It’s Undoing All the Hard Work From Previous Seasons.”

Well, now, there are moments in here where I agree (like, I do agree that Sun has been “reduced to standing around uselessly for too long now,” and I’d like to see her taking a bit more agency and getting a bit angrier) but I also think that this, right here, is a gross exagerration propelled, yet again, by this writer’s shortsighted anger at the current lack of answers. Answers Answers Answers! Wow, the constant disappointment that the answers-only-oriented viewer must endure. Now, the only example we get here of this incredible “undoing” is of the Sun and Jin plot, the star-crossed lovers who haven’t seen each other in three years, and I guess…I’m just willing to wait. I’m not going to get all crabby and excited about Jin in the freezer, because I don’t have all the information yet. Their episode is coming up on March 30th, and since “Lost” has never failed to deliver a helluva reunion, I’m trusting that it’ll play out, and that it will be impactful and beautiful. Or, perhaps it will be gravely sad. I don’t know. Because like I said, we don’t have all the information. We don’t know what’s going to continue to happen to keep them apart, and while I do agree that these two characters have fallen a bit by the wayside, I think that this relationship is so dynamic that it’s earned a little bit of time on the backburner. 

I also do not believe that Woerner has “forgotten about all the hard work the writers did building up the tension between these two wonderful characters.” First of all, this writing again confuses complication (Sun and Jin have been apart for a while, separated not only by space and time, but by the anomolous factor space/time jumping) for a cut-and-dried lack of answers. Second of all, I simply do not understand this argument at all. This season is undoing “hard work from previous seasons” because…Sun and Jin have not reunited yet? Woerner claims, “in reality all we want is to watch these two strive to be together again.” Um, are they not striving? Every damn day? And is this really “all we really want?” Perhaps we could get a little more face time with each of them, but isn’t this just one writer’s opinion attempting to stand in for a multitude of other’s, angry that Sun and Jin have not yet been reunited, and somehow, inexplicably blaming this anger on the parallel universe device? I guess the idea of this argument is fine and intelligent, but it’s not executed very well. Meaning: There are no real examples here, no real analysis to prove this point. And also, I think that part of the purpose of the parallel universe is to, yes, undo some of what’s been done in order to prove a point that, yes, remains to be seen. And it remains to be seen because…we don’t have all the information yet! And so we cannot apply it to the characterization of Sun and Jin.

Part V: And this is my favorite, because I’ve already done all the backlashing I can do on the matter. Woerner claims, “Where are My Answers, Lost?”, effectively inserting herself into the equation, as if the quest for answers were the only thing this show has to offer, and that it is a failure if it does not make good on every damn mystery that’s been introduced, and that it is a failure because, well, some angry fan said so. Oh, that’s just so boring. It’s missing the point. Who cares? Who cares what questions were answered in Sundown? I’ve seen a whole new facet of Sayid and now Shannon’s back on the table and…I’m willing to wait for all the information. This desperate fear that “we’re running out of time” is tired and painfully premature. Patience, and allow the information to present itself. Then, when it does, although not to your liking and surely not fast enough (which is the outcome any such viewer should expect), you can complain or do whatever you want, but that’s only because you’re missing the point.

Again, I ask, is it more powerful to learn that John Locke is the smoke monster or to watch how this information affects our players and the strange, sometimes terrifying things it might cause them to do? Perhaps watch the entire series again and ask yourself, “Why am I really enjoying this? Is it because of all this new information I have now? Or is it because of the painstaking development of these vast and intricate characters, and that it is how they’re affected by that information, or by (gasp!) less stimulating information, that truly makes this great?”


Woerner, Meredith. "5 Reasons Lost's Parallel Universe is a Waste of Time." io9. 4 Mar 2010.
     5 Mar 2010.

Lost. ABC: Television. (2004-2010)

Monday, February 15, 2010

Favorite Shows: Part II

"Lost" (2004-2010)

"Lost" is a terribly good show. It's addictive and well-rendered, character-focused, patient, beautiful. I will be so sad to see it go, but I am near death in my excitement for the conclusion of this incredibly rich, momentous and bold sequence of events.

Top Season(s): 1 -- Right now, I'm just finishing up season one for the second time (not in a row, just ever), and I'm's a thing of beauty. I think the reason "Lost" is so successful is the reason so many other shows are not successful. It takes its time, takes its time, allowing us to truly know and understand these people and their lives before plunging us head first into plot. This is where "Fringe" fails, and where that knock-off garbage "Flash Forward" falls flat on its face. In those early episodes of "Lost," there is a painstaking quality, an incredible patience, an unfolding into this gorgeous mess of symbolic gold--It is a story that could not possibly be told any better, because it takes its time. "Lost" is best watched in the form of the binge. Six, seven episodes at a time is really the best way...I think there are a lot of people that will back me up on that. It's like reading a book, a book written by an author who understands exposition and placement of exposition and the precise calculation of which information is best revealed when. The greatest thing about "Lost" is that it makes us wait, and it doesn't only make us wait for answers to questions like, What's the deal with that hatch? Who are the Others? What happens to the pregnant women? In fact, I think it's almost more excruciating to wait for the answers to much more interesting, character-driven questions: How does Locke end up in the chair? Why does Jack's marriage end? What did Kate do? It's the emotional undercurrent that carries "Lost," not the plot, I think, which is interesting and ever-evolving, but it's the raw human stories, I think, that really make it so special and that really set it so far apart from (and above) the rest.

Top Episodes: Pilot Pt. I (1.1), All the Best Cowboys have Daddy Issues (1.11), Deus Ex Machina (1.19), Abandoned (2.6), The Long Con (2.13), Man of Science, Man of Faith (2.1), What Kate Did (2.9), The Glass Ballerina (3.2), I Do (3.6), The Man from Tallahassee (3.13), The Constant (4.5), Something Nice Back Home (4.10), There's No Place Like Home Pt. II (4.14), What Kate Does (6.2)

Favorite Character(s):

Character Death that Hurts the Most:

Favorite Story/Character Arc: Sawyer (James Ford) -- Sawyer's evolution really reminds me of Spike's (from "Buffy") in such that they both begin as minor villains who find themselves consistently rendered obsolete or 'harmless,' who then change deeply, usually due to the influence of women, women who are both like them and who are attracted to them (against their better judgment), and yet who ask something of them that, at first, they cannot give. Usually, it's decency, emotional availability. These are the things that they learn to understand. While Sawyer is a new man (with a brand new name) once he shacks up with Juliet in the season five, it was Kate, way back in the beginning, who, I think, sort of singled him out as, not an outsider, but a man of worth, a man who could do something good, and this is what changed him. Sawyer is dynamic, and he is consistently one of the most interesting characters to watch. He's written with quite a bit of nuance, the way he'll sort of push a certain character away for a moment before caving or giving in--He's incredibly vulnerable, and that is so very unlike Jack, who is vulnerable, sure, but he's got a very hard shell, and he's got his head on straight, and he comes from money and class and all that. Sawyer is like the same sad song sung over and over again, only toward the end, maybe there's a major chord in there somewhere that you didn't notice before, and it's all, I think, because of Kate. 

Favorite Moment in the Writing: Kate professes her love for Sawyer in 3.4 Every Man for Himself (Back when James was Sawyer, and Kate was Freckles) OR the entire Pilot, both parts. That first scene when Jack comes onto the beach is both perfectly set up with scenery, proper tone and hell fire ambience, as well as filtered directly through Jack's point of view, effectively placing him into the hero slot and letting us know that, hey, this is the guy we're going to follow for six years, and isn't he cute and oh, he's a doctor, and he's our guy. "He's a good man, maybe a great one," Christian says in 1.16 Outlaws. I think those opening scenes in "Lost" are a direct and fabulous testament to that. 

Friday, February 12, 2010

Review: "Supernatural" 5.14 My Bloody Valentine

Well, it's another hiatus for our boys. I always hate TV in the spring, especially with our underdogs like "Supernatural," which is painfully underrated, which competes with "Fringe," is a helluva lot better than "Fringe," and just keeps getting better and better every episode, every moment, and I speak specifically of this week's episode, My Bloody Valentine, which was blessed and cruel and entirely amazing. Last night's was the best ep of "Supernatural" yet. From its very first scene, which shocks and disgusts, I think, in a league beyond any we've ever seen the show approach, to Dean's long-time-comin' prayer in that final moment, My Bloody Valentine contains a certain irreverence, a maturity that truly a very, very good way.

"Supernatural" has never been a show that hands anything to its protagonists, the Winchester boys (which is why I got so mad earlier this season). The writing frequently afflicts them beyond their means to get better, and it forces them to ride out long, complicated roads of maybes and if-only scenarios, before finally yanking the rug out from under them and saying, "Nice try. You're going to doom mankind after all." And in this episode, there is also a sense of degeneration. We're backsliding. Not the show itself, but the characters, who find themselves stewing in the tragic soup of their respective (and joint) emotional baggage--Sam is back on demon blood; Dean has no hunger; Even Castiel has backslid, fallen prey to the hunger of his vessel, Jimmy, who has been gone for a long time now. This sense of degeneration ads yet another layer to the hopelessness that exists at the core of "Supernatural."

Hopelessness, like a nail, has been driven in deeper and deeper up to this point, and we know that it's there and it's going to stay. Unlike in recent episodes (ie: Changing Channels or The Song Remains the Same), the hopelessness in My Bloody Valentine is not directly related to the boys' presumed inability to avoid their destinies as Michael and Lucifer. Instead, it is a hopelessness that has burrowed finally into the human underbelly of "Supernatural"--my favorite part--in which we not only get to see what terrifying, unstoppable monsters lurk in the shadows of the physical world, but also in the fraying psyches of our main characters. Dean and Sam are at the end of their rope. The hopelessness is real now, not just something out there in the world to be stricken down with the Colt or Angel allies or anything like that. It's in the bodies and the minds and the souls of our Winchesters--It's hunger, Famine, which is bodily if anything. Perfect timing for Famine! I think we see this in that last scene. Dean prays, and it's like--Oh my god, it's come to this.

The violent nature of the deaths in this episode alone, I think, is indicative of some deeper interior struggle going on with the boys, especially with Dean. Lovers eating themselves to death? R&J type suicide pacts? I see Jo all over this episode--Dean's loss of appetite rather than increase--for food, for sex. The Black Rider informs us that this is because Dean is already so empty, there's nothing to fill the void, but I'd argue that it's something much more specific than that. Had I written the episode, I would have invoked the Jo card swiftly and incurably. We know how much her death hurt Dean, and how, before that, he was already damaged beyond repair. My only criticism of My Bloody Valentine is this deliberate non-meniton of Jo. Instead, Dean's emptiness is pushed onto platitudes about his shitty, shitty existence, but as I try to teach my beginning fiction writing students: The specific is always much more powerful than the general. Any reference to Jo would have, I think, pushed this episode past the precipice of great and into utterly affecting territory.

Other great things here: We've got Cupid, who is sort of like the Trickster in terms of comic scapegoating, and a lesser moment in "Supernatural" history would have dwelled on him for too long. But here, in this mature and fabulous My Bloody Valentine, it's just enough to break up the terror, and to give Dean an opportunity to say something like, "I punched a dick." This is one of the scarier episodes we've seen from the show. Even some of the images in here, while they might feel familiar, are singularly violent: Sam with a face full of demon blood, Castiel stuffing himself with ground beef, that crumbling old man in the wheel chair, Famine. The way that he reveres Sam Winchester toward the end is horrifying, because we've seen Sam revered before, by demons, by Lucifer. Again and a again, we're reminded of the darkness that lurks within the Sam character, and we wonder, we wonder again and again whether and how he'll say yes to the Devil, and some part of all of us, I think, will not be surprised if (when) he does.

Season five has been so good, I think, because its proverbial demons are bigger and badder than ever--in both the world and the psychology of the show. With My Bloody Valentine, "Supernatural" just got a little bit older, wiser, a little harder than its ever been. Its performances, too, felt mature to me. That bit with Sam assaulting that demon on the street was quick and impacting. Nice chops, Padalecki. Also, I don't want to approach Dean's prayer in the end here, only because I think it's a moment so earned, so expertly achieved that it may need its own post entirely. Have we forgotten about Castiel's quest for God? Or the half-demon child? I don't know. I thought maybe we had, but this last moment has absorbed all of that. Who is Dean talking to here? He asks for help. If this were season three, surely, he'd be talking to his dad. But the boys--they're past that now. He's praying, and to who? God is dead, or so we're told. But I think that God is the literal Deus Ex Machina that this season is sort of waiting for, and I think that, if that's what it comes to, somehow, it will be very, very earned.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Favorite Shows: Part I

I'm not as well-read as I'd like to be, in terms of television. I mean, I've seen a lot of TV, sure, but I've only been alive for twenty-four (almost twenty-five) years, and, well, there's just not enough time for me to have seen it all. But I try. I try, and because of it, I've come up with a few favorites over the years. So, I'm going to take my time on this blog and try to come up with ten of these favorites over the next week or so, and I'm going to write about them a little bit here. This is basically me purging myself of the shows that have affected, impressed me, and broken my heart over. It's also a bit of analysis on why I think they're so great, and why everybody else should think so, too.

I've written about two favorites in this first post. These shows are, I suppose, stereotypically female-centric, but if you want to go ahead and debate, I'll debate. I think both men and women have been able to enjoy both over the years. Especially the first.

"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" (1997-2003)

"Buffy" appeals to me because it's Joss Whedon writing strong televised fiction about a woman who has been chosen to do a job, a job that only a woman can be chosen to do, and she does it...well. "Buffy" is a kind of show that doesn't exist anymore, and it's sort of like the fundamental antithesis of "Dollhouse," because it gives its characters that one thing that "Dollhouse" simply cannot: agency. While so much of it, especially those earlier episodes, may be steeped in the villain-of-the-week formula, "Buffy" is still a show whose characters act clearly and consistently on their agendas. Even when the characters change in the most drastic, unexpected ways, it's never truly unexpected, because they never change merely to convenience the plot; They only change because, well, there just never was any other way--Willow was always going to become an ambitious, uber-witch, and Riley was always going to leave, and Faith was always going to get pushed off that rooftop. Buffy was always going to sleep with Spike. You can look back, you can find those roots. That first time Spike puts his hand on Buffy's back in Fool for Love, how they fought before that--there's even that line that's echoed again much later--You're beneath me. From beneath you, it devours, we remember the First. Well, this is kind of how Buffy works. Its characters mature and become jaded and hard, sad creatures, but none of it is ever sudden. It's always been there, lurking in its many forms, cold beneath the surface, waiting to come up and to hurt and feed and kill again like it was always meant to do.

Top Season(s): 2, 5 -- Season two is my truest love, mainly because of the way that it handles the crisis of the teenage girl--sex, boys, first love, passion and limits and bodily disorientation. Season five, I think, has a vast and well-developed arc. It is the tightest of all the seasons, in terms of vision, and Glory is, perhaps, my favorite of all the Big Bads.

Top Episodes: Surprise/Innocence (2.13/2.14), The Body (5.16), Passion (2.17), Conversations with Dead People (7.7), End of Days (7.21), Restless (4.22), The Zeppo (4.13), I Only Have Eyes for You (2.19), Graduation Day Pt. 2 (3.22), Becoming Pt. 1 & 2 (2.21/2.22), Amends (3.10), Hush (4.10), Once More, With Feeling (6.7)

Favorite Character:

Favorite Story Arc: The Buffy/Spike relationship--I have always maintained that Spike is one of the most dynamic characters ever written for TV. His relationship with Buffy, as well as his ascension from monster to man, is long, filled with tragedy, violence, and small, perfect moments, moments like that last scene in 5.7 Fool for Love, or much much later in 7.20 Touched. There is a crossroads when Spike returns in season seven with a soul, and he's weak and possibly killing again, skulking mad in the basement of Sunnydale High School. I write specifically of episode 7.2 Beneath You, those final moments when Spike reveals himself to Buffy as a man, and he folds himself over the cross, and things are never so easy as folding yourself over the cross...but in time, I think, Buffy accepts him as this, as a man. Does she ever learn to love him? I'm not really sure. By the end of season seven, I'm not sure that Buffy is capable of truly loving anyone. She's hard-worn and broken, and the days have been long, and the's been aplenty.

Favorite Moment in the Writing: Anya in 5.16 The Body, struggling with the concept of mortality in her recently human state - "But I don't understand! I don't understand how all this happens. How we go through this. I mean, I knew her, and then she's--there's just a body, and I don't understand why she just can't get back in it and not be dead anymore. It's stupid! It's mortal and stupid! And, and Xander's crying and not talking, and, I was having fruit punch, and I though, well, Joyce will never have any more fruit punch, ever, and she'll never have eggs, or yawn or brush her hair, not ever, and no one will explain to me why."

"Gilmore Girls" (2000-2007)

I think that, after having watched the entire series between two and seventeen times, I have begun to understand "Gilmore Girls" as one of the most consistently well-written, well-directed, well-acted shows ever on television. Each episode is its own little gem, building, not a thousand little story arcs in the way that "Buffy" builds story arcs, but instead, an incredibly gracious, vast world of individual characters, their growth, their relationships, and such a marvelous setting for them to walk around in--Stars Hollow. "Gilmore Girls" is a show that appreciates its characters more than anything else, that relies solely on its characters as credible, flawed individuals. It exercises restraint and agenda to push itself forward, where lesser shows will exercise plot. The tension in "Gilmore Girls" is rarely plot-driven, and even when it is, our real concerns always lie with Rory and Lorelai, the women at the heart of this massive, magnificent universe, and their experiences and plights and stumbles and falls are the things that make this show so special, so charming, so terribly missed.

Top Season(s): 6, 7 -- This show is so very consistent in its brilliance, but there is a certain maturity in the later seasons that I love, perhaps because we're centered more on Lorelai, and as Rory gets older and her life gets its own pieces and moving parts, they become separate, autonomous women, and each of their experiences are no longer hopelessly linked, but individually textured. I also love the utilization of Emily in these later seasons, who has learned quite a bit about herself and about her daughter over the past several years. Her relationship with Lorelai evolves, and there are moments toward the end there, especially in episode 6.21 Driving Miss Gilmore that are so deftly achieved it breaks my heart to acknowledge the series' demise.

Top Episodes: Driving Miss Gilmore (6.21), Partings (6.22), Raincoats and Recipes (4.22), Friday Night's Alright for Fighting (6.13), You Jump, I Jump, Jack (5.7), Those Lazy-Hazy-Crazy-Days (3.1), They Shoot Gilmores, Don't They? (3.7), I'd Rather be in Philadelphia (7.13), Hay Bale Maze (7.18)

Favorite Character: 
Lorelai Gilmore

Favorite Story Arc: While this show does not have clear-cut arcs, as previously mentioned, my favorite thing that's closest to an arc is the relationship between Luke and Lorelai. It takes forever to get there, but when we finally do at the end of Raincoats and Recipes, and we watch it rise and stagnate, fall and flounder, then, perhaps, rise again, it's just so credible and so well-developed. There never was more restraint exercised in a TV romance, or more practicality.

Favorite Moment in the Writing: Friday Night Dinner in 6.13 Friday Night's Alright for Fighting -- scroll to the bottom of the page to watch the clip. It's incredibly hilarious, comic timing genius, a moment of pure catharsis powered by six seasons of painstaking characterization and the continuous escalation of familial tension after familial tension. I could never transcribe it correctly here. The funny stuff starts at about 5:20 on the clip.

(Next, I'm going to take a minute to talk about "The West Wing" and possibly "Lost.")

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

LOST: Season 6 Premiere Review

10:13 - The season six opener has, so far, impressed, beckoned, and broken my heart. For the first three seasons, we had flash-backs, for the fourth, we had flash-forwards, the fifth just had flashes, and in the sixth...well...we're flashing sideways. We've got an alternate reality now. TWO alternate realities. Those who were once dead may no longer be...or they're not dead yet, or they're dead somewhere else, but just not here. I think the first hour of the "Lost" season six premier bodes well for our ending as a whole--There's authority, sincerity, that devotion to character and agenda that season one did so well, and still that love for genre experimentation, for hard scifi mixed with the sociological that was initiated (flawlessly) back in season four.


10:19 - Josh Holloway has become a real actor. He's channeling something here, something completely new. He's no longer Sawyer. And he's no longer James. Who is he?

10:22 - Ankh?

10: 23 - Waiting for Dean and Sammy Winchester to swoop in and save the day. (RE: Lucifer needs a new meat suit)

10:24 - Who's hotter? Jack, Sawyer, Jin, Sayid?

(ANSWER: Kate)

10:27 - My questions about this season lie primarily with the development of our characters: Will Jack finally win Kate? Who will Sawyer become? What's become of Desmond Hume? Will Sayid find happiness? Where is John Locke? Will Jin and Sun find each other?

10:31 - Sawyer has always reminded me of Spike from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer"--our most dynamic character, our anti-hero, love's bitch, a man who undergoes constant transformation.

10:34 - Sayid = Jesus much?

10:36 - Sayid's "death" (death?) resonates--it is a moment of resonance, a moment in which all of the characterization sketched out through the first five seasons really sails--who has Jack become? Not only a doctor, but a friend, a partner, a comrade, a soldier. This is a fabulous moment, pending Sayid's death, of course, in which a character hurts. Jack, why can't you save him? This is a question that will go on and on.

10:40 - It's weird. At first I was irritated by the alternate reality at LAX, but it's fantastic. So many new tensions! We know these characters. That's why it works.

10:43 - Claire! (Reunions)

10:45 - The smoke monster reveals Locke? Only it isn't Locke. Of course. The plot is moving along fabulously--characters intact, enough questions are answered, new questions presented--I think this is a success!

10:48 - "What do you want?" "...The one thing that John Locke didn't. I want to go home."

10:52 - "Lost" deaths no longer mean what they once meant. It all makes sense now, the novelty of a "Lost" death--because nobody is actually dead. ...Or whatever. Whatever "death" really means at this point.

10:55 - Oh, Locke. The joy that you are when you truly are. Does that make sense?

10:56 - Building new bridges--there's nothing I love more than watching these characters meet again...for the first time.

10:58 - This episode is bizarre but oddly coherent.

10:59 - Sayid!

What happened?

That's right.