Friday, May 22, 2009

LOST, BSG and Twin Peaks (Major Spoilers for all three)

My office-mate Joe noted something the other day --

In Twin Peaks Leland and Agent Cooper are possessed by Bob, the spirit of evil.

Starbuck dies and returns as an Angel for some mysterious god, probably good (though they leave open the question as to whether this is some kind of Gnostic god).

Locke died, apparently for real if the actor is to be believed (or if he even knows), and is then he is possessed by (let's call him) Easu.

Interestingly Quantum Leap turns out to show this theme from the other perspective.

Why are we so interested in our human characters being possessed by, or swapped out for, cosmic forces?

8 comments:

hcduvall said...

Because we all like to avoid the banality of evil? Ok, obviously not all the time, and not everyone either, but greater powers are a way of providing meaning to events, even while removing agency in characters. And perhaps overbloviating now, this both reflects escapism and a comfort (because here's a plan to all things) for people, because as individuals we're frequently too small to change all the big things. The comfort's most commonly found in Deism of some sort rather than Humanism, though I like the latter, and not coincidentally, like Warren Ellis for.

And despite the presence of this move in the stories you mention, they're frequently focus more on the human forces and causes, rather than anything supernatural. Twin Peaks, just by example, is one messed up town with or without Bob.

Huh, the morality angle is probably my personal topic of interest, but more generally people like their being big plans, and big plans need big powers, but at the end of the day, we need to anthropomorphize things to make some sense of them Either as a bartender or Q. Other explanations of things: whim, chance, or the like are ego stripping in a less likeable manner.

Andy said...

You could add to the list:
(X-Men) Jean Grey = Phoenix
(Angel) Fred = Illyria

Currently, I'm of the viewpoint that having Locke not die for real in season 6 would be just as big of a cop out as the Jean Grey resurrection.

Joss Whedon shows have cheated on death in several instances and that's why the Fred death was so strong. Yea the body's there but the Illyria boiled her from the inside out. all that's left are a few spark of brain synapsis' that end up giving Illyria a small sense of humanity

Telosandcontext said...

Interesting that you would consider a potential reveal that Locke isn't really dead to be a cop out, when I'm of the viewpoint that revealing him to be really dead in the first place (and not the promised rewarded version of himself as faithful leader) and just a visage for Jacob's Enemy is a pretty cheap move on the writers' parts.

As for cosmic forces: I think Locke is an interesting case study in the allure of ancient good/ancient evil. Ancient good is the ultimate prize. Ancient evil the ultimate antagonist. For four and a half seasons, John Locke sought out his destiny to be something great on that island. And in the face of doubters and failures etc., he made the ultimate choice to sacrifice himself for the island. And when his body is returned we see him up and at 'em--a seemingly just prize for his just behaviors. But then they reveal that it was all a ruse, that some ultimate bad guy did this in order to kill Jacob, the apparent ultimate good guy. That just makes the show's ultimate antagonist all the more threatening.

In simpler words: For better or worse, cosmic forces amplify the stakes.

neilshyminsky said...

"Because we all like to avoid the banality of evil?"

Indeed - how many different writers have revisited the Nazis in order to show that they were supplemented/empowered/organized by magic/demons/aliens/the future? I'm mostly unimpressed by the move to 'amplify the stakes', as it were, (mostly because it involves bending or destroying whatever internal logic the show appeared to be otherwise operating with) but I can see the affective appeal.

Geoff Klock said...

Except when you amplify the stakes past the human level it becomes much harder to care about the people involved.

Telosandcontext said...

Well, I think that's exactly why it's all in how you do it. I mean, "for better or worse" cosmic forces do successfully create a bigger deal for the characters involved and thus an opportunity to care MORE about them. But it's all in how you reveal cosmic forces are at play.

Take The Exorcist, for instance. When Father Karras takes the demon Pazuzu into himself and jumps out of the window, that was a hugely resonant sacrifice that redeemed an erstwhile broken figure. But imagine the cosmic forces taken out of the story. What happens to his self-sacrifice when Regan is really just a schizophrenic who needed to believe that she had been exorcised? Then Karras' choice to jump out of the window becomes a silly way for him to commit the suicide we were being led to believe he was going to do anyway. Introducing cosmic forces in this story made the protagonist's choices all the more important and thus we cared about him more.

But contrarily, imagine a story in which a guy is shown taking on monsters, jumping over impossibly distant chasms, and ultimately slaying a fire-breathing demon. The audience watches in horror as this guy throws caution to the wind and finds itself soon reveling in his choices to continuously take on the absolutely impossible. But then the audience finds out that before the journey took place, some angelic being gave him a kiss that made him invincible. The introduction of that cosmic force at that juncture would totally undermine all the human choices he made that we rallied behind and would make me pissed. (That's what they kind of did to John Locke....)

So it's all in how and why you amplify the stakes.

Benjo said...

I'd like to point out that on TV shows it may also be a point of convenience to kill the character but continue using the actor. I don't think Lost/BSG is guilty of this, but it is what it seemed like with Fred in Angel.

Kyle said...

Benjo's point was similarly used in Alias when the roommate was replaced by an evil doppelganger.