Posts from the ‘television’ Category

Lost, Actually: Happily Ever After


symbolic Driveshaft/Dexter Stratton ring

Happily Ever After is another episode that offers possible big-picture answers, but filtered though one character’s heavily biased perspective. Here, they break out Desmond, Lost’s go-to guy for bringing the heart to lacklustre mini-arcs. Introduced in the second season premier, Desmond is a modern-day Odysseus, spending much of his adult life attempting to simultaneously return to his first love while running from himself – first into a monastery, then the military, and finally the seven seas. He was the rare Islander who got exactly his desired happy ending after much travail – helped along by a contemporary Penelope not content to simply wait at home when she can fund a worldwide search – so he deserves a little celebratory hyperbole where love is concerned.

Daniel and Charlie, however, don’t. And unlike Jacob and the Man in Black in Ab Aeterno, they don’t have a real reason to alter their conversation to suit their reluctant disciple’s mindset. They’re speaking from the heart…unfortunately. Bizarro-world Charlie is following the example of noted relationship guru Bella Swan, seeking near-death experiences in order to have visions of a lost love. Fellow musician Daniel is moved not to compose a Michelle for the 00s but spontaneously emit advanced quantum mechanics equations in his sleep (which is actually a adorable nerdlinger reaction to love at first sight) after spotting a pre-blind date Charlotte. Their Harlequin descriptions (“I’ve seen something real. I’ve seen the truth.”) resonate with Desmond when he has his own magnetically-induced visions and ultimately lead him to resume his role as the helpful visionary spanner in the works.

nerd love

nerd love

There was an awful lot of arc-y goodness in this episode, particularly the hint that Eloise and Charles Widmore are the architects or maintainers of the flash-sideways universe and quite possibly at odds in that venture, but the bulk of the character interactions gave lip service to the Power of Love. Only one kind of love, mind you – platonic or parental or any other sort of love has no place saving the world. No, long-term relationships are a person’s sole anchor (or Constant) in a real world, and the only motivation to return. (Sorry, Ji Yeon.)

Desmond, with his decade of love, loss, and reunion can be forgiven a few goggle-eyed flights of near-poetry, but can Daniel or Charlie’s mutual-but-unconsummated crushes with women they’ve known less than three months really be called “spectacular, consciousness-altering love”? It’s unfair to expect and adult audience the show has often forced to educate themselves in classical philosophy and modern quantum physics to roll with that.

After all, that insane giddiness only lasts during a few weeks of infatuation in any ultimately functional relationship. Then, the connection is primarily fantasy, the unreasonable expectation that this time, this person will fulfill every desire, and it naturally doesn’t last beyond actually getting to know each other. Love isn’t something like an eternal first shot of heroin, wiping away all problems and wrapping both in superficial bliss, despite a total lack of specific connection (sorry, 99% of fanfiction.net). Good long-term relationships are better defined as things that make most aspects of your life happier and more interesting, and provides at least a distraction from the rest. And that’s absolutely brilliant.

I think, as a character, Desmond certainly gets that. I hope the writers do as well (although the Jack/Kate/Sawyer romantic plot tumor doesn’t give me a lot of hope).

LA's only tour de stade venue

Vorlons and cylons and Jacob: Lost Season 6

drowning in symbolism

Lost Season 6: Ab Aeterno

I always prefer questions to answers (while demanding the answers that will ruin my fun).  Lost hasn’t been nearly as much fun since it switched from world-building mode to a self-conscious endgame, too often combining glaringly on-the-nose dialogue with half-hearted jungle-walking scenes to pad out time between those revelations. The multi-layered storytelling (providing us with either an alternative reality to be crushed or an extended happier-ending epilogue to the entire series) is a fascinating device – I keep forgetting how amazing it is to have a major network show with an unexplained non-linear structure! – but the stories it tells are (possibly by necessity) more like bullet-point references to well worn tropes.

Depending on where the season heads, Ab Aeterno was either a refreshing break from that trend or the worst example of this tell-don’t-show headache. Concerning the ethical seduction of Richard Alpert, the episode is (possibly) filtered through the point of view of an uneducated 19th-century Catholic who’s recently lost his beloved wife and been condemned to death for the murder of the doctor who refused to save her – so Heaven, Hell, and the (im)possibility of redemption weight heavily on his mind. Both men offer him a version of salvation: Smokey releasing the starving man from his chains and bringing a vision of his lost wife, Jacob providing the immortal Purgatory that will give him time to redeem himself, or at least delay entering the fires of wife-less Hell.

It’s quite simple here: the Man in Black is sexy, persuasive Evil and the Man in White is remote, dissociated Good. Jacob keeps Smokey locked on the island – the metaphorical cork in the bottle – to protect the world.

Even this simple paradigm is a bit complicated: Jacob is a strange Good, bringing an endless stream of unsuspecting mortals to the island to be slaughtered in a vague effort to make Smokey see good in them (just before he rips them limb from limb, dying in agony and bewildered terror?). Their deaths are their own fault, he reasons, because they had to choose the mysterious right path on their own, without any intervention from him. This seems like the logic of a very old god, angered when individuals don’t chose against their own survival without compelling, or any, reason to do so.

Smokey, on the other hand, is much more basic. After releasing Richardo, he feeds him roasted boar, likely from the same menacing beast that feasted on the dead slaves chained next to him. There’s a clear message about life’s brutality there, an understanding and warning of what humans and gods will or must do when trapped. There may be a greater purpose to uphold or face punishment, but without the Cliff Notes, people have to make decisions based on the little information they’ve got.

Whether I’ll love or loathe this episode will depend on whether the Candidates ultimately take the Babylon 5 route and reject choosing between the powerful beings in favor of writing their own meanings on the blank canvas of the universe, or if it ends like the poor Battlestar Gallactica victims, frantically playing a rigged game in hopes they’d be rewarded with their bare lives. If it is (sigh) the latter, I’m joining Team Smokey, even if it does destroy the world (…more than we already have), solely because he’s got a much better grasp of free will, seeking to break the game rather than simply play it.

half a bottle of wine...thanks?

forget the butterflies: Lost Season Five

Daniel Faraday and Jughead

Daniel Faraday and Jughead

Lost Season 5: Jughead and The Little Prince

It’s almost starting to seem normal to have the A- and B-plots separated by thousands of miles, three years, and uncountable metaphysical planes.

Like a polar bear let loose from its training cage, the action continues to galumph in great strides in both LA and back on the island. The Island 6 are far more compelling than the adventures of the Oceanic 6, although the action in LA will certainly be interesting in retrospect and there are scattered moments of brilliance – particularly the evolution of Sun into corporate shark and vengeful assassin. Ben’s use of human chess pieces is always entertaining as well, especially now that the moves are revealed within the same episode.

(Who could be challenging Kate’s custody of the narcoleptic turniphead? Maybe we’ll find out by the end of the season or – oh, it’s Ben. Hmmm. Oh, oh, but his lawyer – what’s that guy’s story, huh? Is he Kelvin’s secret lovechild half-brother, or what? Ah Lost, never really answers it’s true mysteries…)

Still, these moments are rationed throughout the LA plotline, crammed in the spaces between plot gears. The island 6 are encountering nothing but great chunks of interesting backstory, and – in between being attacked and bewildered and nearly dead, which is any given day on the island – developing an almost warm group cohesion. Juliet abandons her self-imposed isolation to stabilise Sawyer’s shaky emotional state; John begins to explain his motivations, and their lack of solid evidence, rather than clinging to his deluded mystical-John Wayne image. Faraday jumps to protect the group – and Charlotte – from gun-toting hardliners with only his wits and scientific background. Sawyer – who 100 or so days ago was an amoral conman preying on fellow survivors – immediately launches a rescue ambush when he sees Faraday at gunpoint, berating John for looking out for his personal interests.

Even Miles asks for help when he admits he’s joined the nosebleed club.

No wonder I spend the LA times wanting to get back to the island, where the group is pulling together and investigating immediate mysteries, instead of going on with Lost’s business as usual – a loose collection of deeply flawed characters continually compromising their few principles, who each may or may not be plotting to kill the rest, with the world possibly at stake and not nearly enough information to make these decisions.

I’ll probably be fascinated by it in a few episodes, but for now…

Lost uses the interesting form of time travel, in which the timeline is resilient. Someone who goes back in time has always been there at that time, and unless they did a thing with a key and a magnetic field no one’s ever quite figured out, they can’t do a thing to change the future. Stomp on all the butterflies you want, kill all four grandparents, rip open the box with the alive-dead cat – none of it can change a thing. You were always there in the past and you always did exactly as you are going to do, as time and space are far too powerful to be inconvenienced by mere paradox.

This form still allows for character pitfalls. For instance, Faraday, confronted by a leaking hydrogen bomb, tells the 1950’s-era Others to simply bury it in cement and forget about it – after all, he knows the island didn’t blow up. His knowledge of the future makes him ignore its limitations. After all, in 2004 the bomb hasn’t gone off, but what about 2005? And what effect could the loose radiation from a shoddy containment job have had on the mysterious power course behind the donkey wheel? And, now that he knows there’s a powerful, if dangerous and unstable, weapon, will Faraday ever be tempted to dig it up to face off some seemingly greater threat?

There are also pitfalls of a bootstrap nature, the undermining of one’s personal (assumed) causality. John Locke is a particular demonstration of this. He grows up feeling there is some destiny he’s meant for that he’s always just failing to grasp. Arriving on a mystical island that heals his spine and gives him an outlet for his aborted Walkabout studies, then joining the locals as their leader, John feels he has finally achieved his true place. He is King of the Others for all of five minutes before he’s sent reeling into the past, given a compass that will somehow prove his identity (an item that seems trapped in its own closed time loop, eternally passing between John and Richard across fifty years). There he tells the (somewhat) younger Richard that he will be their leader in the future, casually giving them his upcoming birthdate and location before disappearing in a flash of light, leaving behind a prophesy. Based on this, the Others attempt to groom young John for leadership from a distance, eventually culminating in his five minutes in charge.

One mystery solved: does John Locke really have a mystical connection to the island? No. Does he have a destiny? Only the one he’s created for himself – always seeking leadership and validation, and always just overshooting it.

Thus, it’s really worrisome to discover that the origin of the ‘Return the O6 to the Island’ world-saver came from our Mr Locke.

Is it too late for him to embrace the advice of his high school guidance councillor and see if Faraday won’t take him on as an apprentice jack-of-all-sciences?

Where are Rose and Bernard, and, if alive, have they joined the nosebleed club as well?

What other sleeping time bombs lie Cthuhlu-like beneath the innocent jungle?

How did Jin not only survive but get caught up in the island’s time warp? Oh, I don’t even care. I’m just happy he made it. There’s nothing like a bitter vengeance arc undercut by the lost object’s inconvenient existence. This could fill the Desmond/Penny gap left by their reunion – lovers whose relationship is defined by absence, with enough remembered sweetness to leave viewers illogically anticipating an unlikely happy ending.

Not to mention – the poor fellow – he finally learns enough English to communicate with the rest of the group, and now is back in the situation of having only one other person who can understand him! And by the time he’s picked up enough French to ask for a drink of water, he’ll be lifted away to another group, probably one that only speaks Norwegian. By next season, he’ll be the island’s official interpreter.

Speaking of sweetness, there is Jin’s new friend: Danielle Rousseau, marooned with her research team. Assuming the actress’ availability, it would have been easy enough to youth-inize Mira Furlan by 16 years with little more than some conditioner and lip gloss. But with the new actress, Melissa Farman, the young Danielle’s softness and vulnerability is painfully obvious – her rounder face and sunless complexion, with a ready smile and unguarded expression. Furlan has been the paranoid and pared-down survivor from her first appearance – both crazy and hot, as I and everyone else with eyes have noted – and it does require the jolt of a different actress to illustrate the character’s change. Somehow this sweet young woman will have the inner strength – or psychotic break – to murder her dangerously ill teammates, give birth unassisted, and survive 16 years of constant warfare with those who know every inch of the Island.

I can’t wait to see how that happens.

men in high castles

Frost/Nixon Interview

Frost/Nixon Interview

Frost/Nixon, 2008

“That poor poor man,” I said once to my wife, with tears in my eyes. “Shut up in the darkness, playing the piano in the night to himself, alone and afraid, knowing what’s to come.” For God’s sake, let us forgive him, finally. But what was done to him and all his men—”all the President’s men,” as it’s put—had to be done. But it is over, and he should be let out into the sunlight again; no creature, no person, should be shut up in darkness forever, in fear. It is not humane.

Philip K Dick, How to Build a Universe That Doesn’t Fall Apart in Two Days

Nixon just doesn’t seem so bad any more. Not after the last eight years, and not when he is up against the lightweight avatar of politics’ television-ruled future, trying to convince himself this is a worthy adversary.

Frost/Nixon is an uncomfortable experience. Our “hero” is a placeholder protagonist – the promo materials promise a flawed white knight who stalks, fights, and eventually slays the mighty beast, but it gives us a fluffy chancer who is driven only by a vague entrepreneurial greed and the petulant desire to have his face on telly. The devil himself is a miserable man in poor health who dreads the inactivity of early and ignoble retirement, who would trade anything for a return to the challenge, excitement, and stress of politics.

Is the dichotomy of cultural meta-narrative against the worth of characters purposeful? The infinitely annoying framing device – faux documentary cutscenes, with the actors still playing the roles – continually provide exposition and character motivation that has usually been imparted quite well by the actors (and if it wasn’t, it damn well should’ve been) or blandly trot out the well known myth.

(Seriously, Ron? Either leave it for the audience to learn on wikipedia later or directly stage it in an engaging manner. If all else fails, at least get in the actual people to have the stage, describing their place in history!)

The “interviews” tell us one thing – Nixon ruined America, man! – but the action presents a more complicated story, one that doesn’t exonerate Nixon but does kind of hate Frost-the-cipher and the men who passionately want to pillory the ex-president.

Of the characters presented, Nixon is a much better fit for a hero story: the disgraced and beaten former champion seeking redemption while battling the internal demons that ruined him. He is compelling in a way the other characters aren’t, a self-loathing and charmless intellectual who brutally forced his way into the one field that absolutely requires charm and bulletproof confidence. He’s fixated on his finances – after all, he can hardly count on the high-paying speaking and consulting milk runs an ex-president can usually expect. He envies the happiness and hedonism of his political and cultural enemies desperately, but can’t identify with it. His eyes may linger on the lovely body of Frost’s girl-of-the-moment, but when he tells Frost to marry her, it’s not so he can vicariously keep her nubile charms close but secure his fiscal future: she lives in Monte Carlo, where they pay no income tax.

Most painfully, this Nixon is intensely conscious of his flaws and their permanence. He muses with Frost that perhaps they should have lived each others’ lives: Nixon the brilliant, incisive interviewer and Frost the motivating, emotive politician. This character, though, could never have been happy with a career path that would leave him happy; he needs an outward doomed struggle to mirror his internal self-hatred in order to simply function.

This Nixon defends himself: every other president has done exactly the same things, but (it’s implied) had the savvy to delegate the dirty work. How much of Latin America was covered in Nixon’s fingerprints during his vice-presidency in Eisenhower ‘do-nothing’ era? He not only got caught masterminding the amateurish mess, but couldn’t bring himself to confess or deflect the fallout before this had eclipsed all other political matters in the country, as well as wiping his earlier accomplishments from the nation’s memory.

This is the Nixon that even Philip K Dick, author of VALIS and occasional Nixonian arch-enemy, could feel some compassion for.

His opponent, David Frost, is a man whose main talent in life is knowing what will bring the maximum number of eyes to television sets. He has talk shows in the UK and Australia and once had a third in the US, which he recalls as a fairyland celebrating his specialness. Frost wants to interview Nixon because it will draw a large audience, which would give him the chance to pitch another US show, which would allow him to once again get good tables in exclusive restaurants. He assembles a two-man research team, who are bent on taking down the devil, to provide him with information and strategy – and then ignores them. They pull endless material from obscure archives, pore over the details, and roleplay scenarios, gleefully embodying Nixon’s larger-then-life persona, while Frost chases advertisers and races to the opening of every envelope in LA.

It is difficult to root for this hero. Frost has no great goal, nothing he is burning to prove – when his team asks what he hopes to achieve in the interview, his face is blank with surprise. The thought hadn’t occurred to him; he had Nixon, they’d fill time, and people would watch. The end. He didn’t even review the material his team had painstakingly gathered until the final hours before the last recording session, and even that was only motivated by a shot of Nixon’s poisonous vitality in the form of a midnight drunk dial.

Even this montage is de-motivating for the audience. He’s gambled his career and savings on this one event, and he’s never glanced at the research he commissioned? It’s as if Rocky consisted of a somewhat successful boxer who’d been briefly on top, who spends all the time leading up to final his title fight gorging on KFC and chasing endorsement deals, finally hitting the gym during a break between rounds.

He could have put the slightest bit of effort into this interview, and all 8 hours would have been brilliant.

In many ways, to continue to film’s overt boxing metaphor, the final fight is before the last interview. Nixon, having uneasily accepting the premature praise from his staff at how well he’d managed the interviews, has a few drinks and calls Frost at his hotel room. He may be winning, but it’s against a pitifully overmatched opponent with whom he has no connection. There’s no satisfaction, no real struggle. He convinces himself he’s dealing with a worthy adversary based on a history of succeeding beyond the situations they were born into and because they both want to return to past success – wilfully ignoring the fact that he wants to wield real power again, while Frost just wants the warm glow of the limelight and better party invitations.

At least the call does level the playing field. Frost does his research, allowing Nixon to take a longed-for dive with some dignity.

This last interview session could be seen as the moment Nixon began to move out of the dark. True, he would never hold office again, and he would be forced to fill his time with inane retirement activities. But he did go on to give more interviews, write more books, and was even quietly consulted as an elder politician, allowing him some measure of influence. More importantly, though, it allowed him to take his place in the American pantheon as a timeless personality, like Elvis or his great rival, Kennedy. Years after his death, Nixon (…er, his preserved cranium) became a popular recurring character on Futurama, making a successful grab at the President of Earth slot, a position that suited his Machiavellian schemes.

David Frost reads the Sunday papers on television every week.

Futurama's Earth-President Nixon

Futurama's Earth-President Nixon

an inconstant island – Lost Season Five

Lost Season 5.1 – 2: Because You Left / The Lie

Faith and science continue to tango in issues surrounding the island. We’re given shiny new pseudo-science chewtoys to work on – the “nearly infinite power source,” the survivors bouncing Billy Pilgrim-style through the island’s past, return of the universal bloody nose of time-sickness, the resilience of the timeline that refuses to allow the past to be changed, and the resistance of Desmond to that inertia by virtue of his timey-wimey key-turning specialness – but issues of faith carry the plot.

Faith is one step removed from the island’s miracles; here, characters need their loved ones and enemies to have faith in their unbelievable truths, to save the world, serve their own ends, or just rest their consciences. Ben needs to convince the group that knows he’s a compulsive liar and manipulator to return to their exile – while not breaking his inner imperative to never give a provable reason to support his demands. His poor wee skull would apparently break if he did that. Locke has to accept he is no longer King of the Others and rejoin the group that needs his skills and intuition – and somehow convince them to accept him, yet again.

Hurley, despite his stated intentions to screw over Sayid at the soonest opportunity, continues to be the dependable hero and finds relief in telling his mother the insane-sounding truth of his survival. Hurley, as well as being the audience identification figure and occasional Greek chorus, is often the overlooked centre of the cast and plot. He has a set of morals that it makes him sick to violate, and at the core of these is the simple “don’t hurt people.” The hatred of lying is a newly introduced mental foundation – that is a callback (and more suited) to the first season’s thematic establishment – but it fits with his character. In a twisted, multilayered situation, he follows his rules instead of believing his intended outcome with justify his means. Hurley connects and, to the best of his ability, protects; thus when he is in needs, others pull him through. The rest could do worse than follow his example. Not lead, as leadership is obviously not what he’s skilled or comfortable with – see Juliet and Sawyer, below for the opposite state.

Late and perhaps most interesting: Sun. Sun is playing her own game, connecting with those she will work with and those she plans to use in gaining revenge – but who is the former, and who the latter?

Juliet and Sawyer, the perpetual second-stringers step up to the role of leaders, and so far at least have slightly more success at it then Jack. Sawyer still attacks any situation with blunt force, but he turns that force on the people with information he needs to make even basic decisions that will affect the group’s survival. Juliet, finding herself more or less accepted into the group given their much larger problems than her origin, integrates her insider knowledge of the island with Faraday’s hypotheses and generally pushes the others to think instead of fight. Neither of them is hung up by Jack’s desperate need to prove himself, which helps.

Slate’s

Þ Time-sickness and the infinite power that causes it (hmmmm). I was embarrassingly moved by the sickness and resolution of The Constant, and fear continuing to play with the concept will weaken it, a la the Turok-Han vampires of Season 7 Buffy.  But the infinite power that cannot be safely harnessed, that powerful people will continually attempt to harness? Accessed by a donkey wheel? Interesting.