Brad tells me that in LA, once something hits DVD, all bets are off, spoiler-wise, and everyone can speak freely about the secret twist ending or whatever. (I think discussions of comics, after the first week, should never need spoiler space, since comics are read only by die-hards, but that is a subject for another day). With the second season of Lost on DVD, I am going to talk about its first episode. If you have not seen it, and you are sure you are going to, stop reading now. You also might want to go download the song from somewhere, if you have not heard it.
The teaser -- the pre-credits sequence -- for the first episode of the second season of Lost is, outside of The West Wing, the most riveting television I have ever seen. One of the things that makes the sequence great it is that it revolves around the Mama Cass song "Make Your Own Kind of Music." In the the first season finale, our heroes blow open the island's mysterious hatch. The second season opens with a guy whose face we don't see in a white shirt and shorts leaping out of bed to answer some kind of alarm. He types at an old fashioned computer. Then he puts a record on -- Mama Cass's "Make Your Own Kind of Music" -- and we see his morning montage -- food in a blender, wash the single bowl in a nice sink, sit-ups on a piece of equipment, jogging on a treadmill, then off to a room full of weapons to inject something into his arm with one of those futuristic injection guns. As he goes to inject himself a dull explosion from far away rattles the place, causing dust to fall from the ceiling and knocking the needle off of the record just as the song hit the second chorus. The figure, tense, makes preparations, and a tracking shot reveals that this is no kind of flashback -- this is what is in the hatch.
Pop songs are about building tension through the verses and then exploding into the big satisfying chorus everyone is waiting for. Lost, of course, has built a lot of tension about what is in the hatch and is about to reveal the answer. Much like many ABBA songs, however, "Make Your Own Kind of Music" seems in a rush to get to the big chorus. The first verse seems to have barely begun when she bursts into "MAAAAKE YOUR OWN KIND OF MUSIC! SIIIIING YOUR OWN SPECIAL SONG!" It is a typical product of feel good 70s pop. The song is maniacally optimistic. Its nearly hysterical assertions are the opposite of Hamlet's oft quoted "thou dos't protest too much." The song asserts too much, as it were, especially as it breaks its own rhythm on "even if nobody else sings along". The fact that it has this double edged sense today -- the way it almost seems ironic now -- is why it is such a good choice for Lost.
As we get into the larger story about the hatch, we learn about the Dharma corporation. The fact that they selected such a song to put in the hatch speaks directly to the kind of "can-do" science that seems to drive them. In the case of our lone figure Desmond, the song -- an anthem about being an individual even when there is pressure to conform -- has a double meaning. On the one hand his individuality has been replaced by the will of the Dharma corporation; he mindlessly follows their orders. On the other hand he has been on his own in the hatch for a long time and so the "make your own way" theme is personal and direct and a reason to get up in the morning; the second verse begins, "You're gonna be lonely. The loneliest kind of lonely. It may be rough going. Just to do your own thing is the hardest thing to do" before it again hits the big chorus.
One of the big accomplishments of the scene is that we don't feel the influence of Tarantino, but we should -- an upbeat seventies song is being used out of context in a weird and pulpy story. The best example of this is in Kill Bill, when Lucy Liu and Uma Thurman fight in the snow to Santa Esmeralda's nearly eleven minute "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood." Unlike "Make Your Own Kind of Music" "Don't Let me Be Misunderstood" builds a lot of tension, refusing to get to the big explosion for quite some time. But just as in Lost's "Make Your Own Music," Kill Bill's "Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood" is violently interrupted when it hits its big moment; just as we are getting into listening to it, it suddenly stops to bring home on-screen violence. But I will save that song, and that scene, for another discussion. For now, "Make Your Own Kind of Music" stands out as one of Lost's best thought through details.