Friday, January 23, 2009

24, BSG and LOST this week

24 Season 7 episodes 1-5. Sara is right -- after season one every season of 24 is essentially a remake: Bauer is the one man who can save America, willing to go outside the law and torture to save everyone, some pansy liberals are trying to slow us down, there is a mole, main guys are undercover and hated even though they are trying to do the right thing, hard decisions are made in the line of trying to keep your cover to get to the main target. Season Five was the best season of 24, the one that worked the best, and I think it is time to go at this concept another way maybe. Still watchable, but dumb -- this has the makings of a bad season so far. I wish Tony had been the bad guy for longer, or the whole time. That had more legs. Also one of 24s main problems is they kill off likable characters faster than they replace them -- I am not sold on any of these new people. The best part of the show was always the RETURN OF X, and they have very few characters that can do that. Plus they do not want to lose the audience who has maybe not seen all the earlier seasons.

Battlestar Galactica's "A Great Notion." I usually hate stories that are unrelentingly grim, but this was so bleak I was laughing, as you would at black comedy or Beckett or gallows humor. Mostly I admired the fact that the writers were willing to take the idea of the 4.0 cliffhanger and spend a full episode dealing with the fallout. It was a good example of what Zizek calls the second death: you lose your civilization, but the full impact of that does not register until you lose the hope as well. (HIs example was of a woman whose husband dies -- she is actually handling it ok, until their beloved dog dies as well). One thing BSG does really well is COMMIT. The acting was superb -- apparently Olmos went around depressing everybody about how the show was not going to survive the upcoming writers strike, not because he believed it was true but to aid everyone in capturing a bleak mindset for their characters. He also ad libed the "main vein" line, which is stunning. I love this show -- it is not a guiltly pleasure, or even, I would argue a geeky one -- because it puts character and acting first, and in this regard has more in common with the Wire and Deadwood than Star Trek or Star Wars or Star Gate or Star Whatever. I found the advance of the mythology to be a little weak, which may be my fault -- they introduced major shifts in the status quo by revealing the fifth Cylon and discovering that the 13th colonies were organic Cylons, but, because I was a little in the dark on what the status quo was in the first place (I had to remind myself what the status of the 13th colony was in their minds -- quasi-Biblical myth?) some of the impact was lost. I think the writers wanted me to be stunned by the revelations, but I was more scratching my head.

LOST, Season 5, Episodes 1-2. Since the last season of Lost ended I have seen all of The Wire, the Sopranos, and most of Deadwood, and all of BSG. I think those shows are so good, the robbed me of some of my LOST enthusiasm. I enjoyed the start of Season 5 basically and it had some great moments -- "Why is there a dead Pakistani on my couch?" Hurly throwing a Hot Pocket at Ben, Hurley summarizing the events on the Island ("He had to push a button every 108 minutes or ... well I was never very clear on that"), the room in the basement of the church with the 70s computer at the Foucaults pendulum, Sun and Kate talking about Jin, Neil getting hit by a flaming arrow. The skipping record idea is a good one because it will allow us to get the history of the island -- maybe all the way back to the four toed statued by the end, and it promises to always give up something new, to shake things up constantly. But the dialogue in episode one was really bad -- especially with Halliwax in the cold open talking about time travel with the construction worker. "There are RULES" is weak sauce, especially since there sort of aren't and also because the rules are very much a writer's room problem that I would like to remain behind, but not IN, the actual dialogue. There were a lot of scenes of tension where you could not see someone's face but my group was calling out who it was correctly before they were revealed, even Anna Lucia. And I was not that invested in the emotional story of the lie because I was never super clear why they had to lie -- or how lying was supposed to protect the people back on the island from Widmore since the island moved. I thought the point about "Whatever Ben says, do the opposite" -- and they fact that it WORKED -- was dumb since the point of Ben's character is surely to anticipate that reaction and counter it -- say something that will make you do the opposite, make you think you are going against him, when doing the opposite is exactly what he wants. I was upset when he told the woman at the end he had lost Hurley -- sure he should have said "Hurly is locked up -- exactly where I want him [LOST logo; credits]." But my main problem with this season was that the goal seems wholly passive -- in order to save everyone on the island, the have to get to the island -- and then just stand there? No one has even raised the question of "and then what." Ben indicates they will never come back but what they are supposed to do there is very unclear -- and if I had more of a sense, or even a sense that any character cared about the question, I could care about them more.

By the way, since several viewers are unclear on this -- the old woman was Mrs Hawking from Desmond's time travelly flashback in Season 3 episode 8. I am also putting money on her being Daniel's mom.

UPDATE: I forgot something funny Brad said to me on the phone: "So if a person is standing next to a tent when they movie in time the tent disappears but their clothes stay and also if you give someone a compass then that goes with them?" This could be a complaint but this kind of pulpy silliness I have come to LOVE from Lost -- it is typified in the Constant, which I am starting to think is the quintessential Lost episode in the way it uses time travel sci fi to just tell a love story and does not get hung up on how it would actually work.


Prof Fury said...

Good description of some of the probs with the LOST premiere -- The whole thing felt very leaden and forced to me; when the episode started, I sort of felt myself beginning to pay really close attention to try to catch clues and details; by the end I was only half watching. The face that everyone sort of accepts the time travel thing so quickly -- even Locke, who isn't with Daniel, asks "When am I?", which I thought was too easy -- bugged me, though I can't say I wish they'd drug it out longer.

In general I'm hoping this was a big infodump to set the stage for the rest of the season and that things will begin to be awesome again soon.

James said...

Other great moments: balcony & dishwasher kills; "I need a cool codename".

I wonder if the Lost guys are annoyed that the Watchmen movie will be out this year - I said ages ago that Desmond is turning into Dr. Manhattan, and these episodes did not dissuade me!

Prof Fury: I actually really liked that Locke sussed what was happening almost immediately; he's always been the survivor most in the know and ready to accept the island's magic, and two sets of people demanding exposition would have been infuriating.

Geoff: Another thing I "actually like" is that in Lost, he who is super-competent one season can have that taken away the next. It kind of all started to go wrong for Ben by the close of season 4, didn't it? He never wanted to leave the island, after all - I think he might have even said that he "failed". And I think you had this problem before with Locke, who was pretty useless last year. His knife action this episode convinces me that this could be his big comeback. I also have a feeling (had it before Jack asked, thanks) that Benthem is not dead, just sleeping. ("You're going to have to 'die'.")

Lost's back!

Stefan Delatovic said...

24: Do not watch. Saw season one, thought it was alright, but had no desire to return. The oft-reinforced perception I have of it - a one-man torture train breaking all the rules - does nothing for me.

BSG: Bleak as hell. Liked it upon watching and will tune in again, but the more I think about it, the more I think that's because the finish line is so close. The reveals did nothing for me as the mythology is murky and I can barely remember the details. Still good character work, but the 'who is a Cylon' thing started to lose my interest last season.

LOST: Loved it. Strangely I have also seen The Wire, BSG and a chunk of Sopranos since my last LOST. That did not dull the experience for me.
I don't mind the cheesiness of such a clear statement of rules, it seemed a natural progression from "you need a constant! A love constant!"
I also enjoyed Ben's failed attempt to sway Hugo, especially given that Ben and Hugo's goal was the same. I liked seeing Ben's omniscience falter now he is off the island, even as we saw Ms Hawking, a figure who may been above him in the scheme of things.

Loved Ben flushing Jack's pills, Richard's talk with Locke and Sawyer's quest for a shirt and Miles' boar hunt, as well as the previously mentioned moments.

My main complaint was the overuse of shielding a character's face from the camera. That was fun the first 43 times, but grew stale.

And I would totally watch a spin-off about Hurley's family.

James said...

Oh man, forgot about Miles. Love him. Did he talk to the boar's ghost?

jasonrenzi said...

i think 'the constant' is the finest single episode in the series...
wonderful usage of high sci fi elements, but doesn't fall victim their complexities...
simply brilliant...

Telosandcontext said...

As far as writers room problems making their ways into the actual narrative of the show, I think it serves the audience a whole hell of a lot more if those problems are actual organizing principles, such as Chang waxing (get it?) philosophic on the issue of time, rather than the problems becoming a subtext to a really shitty narrative, viz. the writers' fears of where the show was going becoming the Season 3 plot with the Dharma cages...

Besides, Chang has always been a kitschy fan-favorite character and much like Faraday has to chew the fat on some technobabble. But in the case of these "rules" I think they are the point of the show. We learned that the Dharma Initiative has been trying to change the seemingly immutable variables of the Valenzetti Equation in order to save the world. We also hear Ben speak of Widmore changing the rules in response to seeing his daughter die. And we learn from Faraday that Desmond is special because the rules don't apply to him. This business of rules and changes is what the denouement of Lost (assuming "we have to go back, Kate!" is the show's climax) is going to be: things that shouldn't have been changed were somehow changed and now need to be fixed. And the Oceanic Six have to return to the island because they serve as agencies of both the destructive changes and hopefully the remedial changes.

It's also suggestive that these "changes" are why Ben has become so impotent in his manipulations of people. It's hard to always have a plan, as he says, if you no longer have access to the end game, which he seemed to always have. Now that he's off the island and the island has moved on, he's as lost as everyone else. Which I suppose is an interesting irony.

The one little wrinkle I loved them introducing was this concept of bringing objects along for the ride during skips. As a huge Nightmare on Elm Street fan, the concept of bringing objects along with you through metaphysical space simply by holding onto them while moving was a delight. However, this opens the door for a serious paradox that I hope they avoid. How easily someone can bring an object along with them into the past and LEAVE IT THERE for someone else to pick up...

I have a lot of faith in Darlton. It was an ambitious opener that seems to be laying the groundwork for an even more ambitious season. And while the potential for disaster is high, the payoff of success will be even higher. I think we can all agree we're not going to find ourselves pulling a Matrix Revolutions wondering where the hell this all went wrong...

Phew... prolixity of that nature is what unemployment affords you...

Andy said...

Interesting that Desmond jumps with his mind and the people on the island are jumping in what appears to be mind+body. As for the statement of the rules of time travel, I agree with Geoff's gripe but time travel, like vampires, have there genre specific rules and they need to be stated and adhered to. The 1st episode of Buffy has Giles explaining to all of us this is how vampires are killed in the Whedonverse. By introducing time travel blatantly, we need our mercurial scientist to give us the lay of the land.

Andy said...

Interesting theory on how our remaining season one 815ers still on the island (Rose, Sawyer and Locke) may have a vague recollection of future events:


In the pilot episode of our beloved series, when the Losties first heard Smokey in the jungle and saw trees swaying and crashing in the distance, Rose said, "That sound that it made, I keep thinking that there was something really familiar about it."

You may also recall that Rose was absolutely adamant that her husband was alive elsewhere on the Island. At the time we all attributed this to Rose's strong faith. But what if she actually knew about both the monster and the fact that Bernard would eventually be found because these memories were in her mind from the time-jumping?


Some of you probably remember me harping on and on over the years about an offhanded comment Sawyer made in "White Rabbit" (episode five of the first season). Kate tackled him because she thought he was hoarding the group's water. [You'll miss me one day, Freckles...] He replied, "It's about time -- I made this birthday wish four years ago."

I thought it was a totally bizarre line in 2004, and now I am absolutely convinced that it was there on purpose -- to prove the existence of either time travel or a time loop for the characters from the very beginning. (I'll attempt to explain the "four years" part later in this post.)

But here's the kicker: I don't think that either Rose or Sawyer were even conscious of these buried memories or the fact that they may have gone through certain events on the Island more than once. The comments they made in Season One that seem suspicious could be compared to when something comes out of your mouth before you had a chance to think about it too much. Obviously Sawyer and Rose would've acted much differently throughout Seasons One - Four if they were actually fully aware of what transpired during their time-jumps. But I can't be as certain about Locke...


Locke's the easiest one to explain. How many times has he known when it would stop or start raining? [Here comes the rain again (literally)] How many times has he told people what they were or were not "supposed" to do? Locke has shown multiple signs of having been on the Island before, so to speak. While I think he's always figured that he's been following some strong gut instinct, what may have actually been happening is that because he's more connected to the Island than Rose or Sawyer are, his time-jump memories are more accessible to him.

And yes, if you've inferred through all of this that I think the Lostaways are going to repeat the crash, or at least that those three characters will live through it again because of their time-shifting, then you are right -- that's what I believe. The Time Loop Theory will not die... not on my watch!

If you need one last bit of evidence that these "memories" could be affecting the characters' thoughts and actions before the events technically transpired, look no further than our first flashback of Daniel Faraday.

[Sucks to be me.] Surely you remember him sitting at home in his tired-looking robe, sobbing at the footage of the Flight 815 wreckage on TV. A woman in his kitchen asks him why he's so upset, and he replies, "I don't know."

But WE now know. Even though Faraday's body wouldn't start time-jumping for a few more months, Daniel's mind had already been to the Island and Lord knows where else in the past, all in the name of his time-travel research and DHARMA Initiative investigation. His suppressed memories were making him weep. And therefore I think we have good reason to believe that Locke, Rose and Sawyer were in similar situations once they landed on the Island.

Andy said...

also, how does our Dr. Candle/Halliwax/Wickmund have a baby on the island? My friend's theory is that the no baby rule of the island was because at that time Ben was the leader of the island and it's natives and the island reacted to Ben's childhood hangups. So before and after Ben arrives, baby makin' is allowed on the iland