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August 20, 2014

"Lost" and the pacing of mystery

by Brad Hill, posted Jan 23rd 2006 3:47PM
Lost is losing me. The kickoff to the second half of the season, "23rd Psalm," has accelerated my disaffection. Yet I used to love this thing, devouring it every Wednesday and thinking about it during the week. The shows I think about between episodes are Battlestar Galactica and 24. Both have been in production longer than Lost, and both still have me in their grip. Since all three tell long-arc story lines with "Previously..." clips at the top of each episode, and since all three embody strains of mystery, it's worth comparing them to determine why (in my opinion) Lost is failing.

The problem for me is pacing, which must be distinguished from gravitas. Galactica plays its scenes with tremendous weight, yet still manages to move the story along at a gallop compared to Lost's inching tempo. 24 sometimes suffers from uneven pacing; the writers there grapple with the problem of fashioning a story that must end when the season ends. To do so, they sometimes stretch or compress the unfolding of events, or introduce inconsequential subplots to pad the story. Lost and Galactica are open-ended (for as long as ratings remain strong), so they can hurtle forward (Galactica) or languish atmospherically (Lost) without threatening to end early or late.

The "23rd Psalm" episode was some kind of last straw for me. In all these shows there must be a balance of deepening mystery and crackling resolution. Lost has tipped way over to the murky allure of mystery, almost completely forsaking the bracing effect of solution and movement. The show is mired in its own preciousness, and the terror that infused early episodes is waning. I recognize that the writers are painting on a small, confining palette: the show is set on a freakin' island. Galactica roams outer space by way of startling contrast, and 24 leaps about without inhibition.

Because of its scenic restrictions, Lost is forced to rely on back stories, and this week's episode proved (if proof was needed) that it over-relies on flashbacks. The most gradual and irrevocable aspect of my slow detachment from the drama is my diminishing interest in pre-crash history. This week we learned quite a bit about a character I've barely had time to develop caring for. Perhaps an example of quick pacing, then, you might assert. But I think it's a cop-out, and that the incessant historical diversions simply mask the show's reluctance to give us real story, to move the damn drama along.

Nothing progressive happened on the island this week. Sawyer got his hair cut, Charlie reveals a surprising statue stash, and Claire kicks him out of the tent. That's not enough to get me thinking about the show over the weekend, wishing Wednesday would come quicker. The black mist? Frak me. That's got to be the most disappointing payoff to a publicized teaser in years.

Pick up the pace, Lost. You're losing it.

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jeff

While I'm not giving up totally on Lost, I think I might start watching Veronica Mars live while recording Lost, instead of the other way around. VM is another show that does a good job at pacing a larger mystery/plot and also developing interesting characters. Except maybe Duncan.

January 24 2006 at 8:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Howard

You're crazy. You say LOST is "forced" to rely on back stories. Those are part of what has made it into the great show it is. I thought the Eko episode was very good. Learning about these characters and how their lives before the crash shapes their actions on the island is what this show is all about.

January 24 2006 at 11:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Howard

You're crazy. You say LOST is "forced" to rely on back stories. Those are part of what has made it into the great show it is. I thought the Eko episode was very good. Learning about these characters and how their lives before the crash shapes their actions on the island is what this show is all about.

January 24 2006 at 11:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
John Howard

You're crazy. You say LOST is "forced" to rely on back stories. Those are part of what has made it inot the great show it is. I thought the Eko episode was very good. Learning about these characters and how their lives before the crash shapes their actions on the island is what this show is all about.

January 24 2006 at 11:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Joe

i agree that the last couple episodes of lost have lost some luster - but i disagree that it's specifically because of pacing. i think the -pace- is just fine, but it only works when the flashbacks are as engaging as the main story. the last two episodes contained flashbacks that were either peripheral (eko) or a rehash of what we already knew (jack needs to fix things). all it will take to get me back is the introduction of tantalizing new information - information that ties back to the beginning in clever ways, but also opens the door to further exploration. i would just really hate to see this go the way of twin peaks - a well drawn construct that eventually just becomes weird for weirdness' sake.

January 24 2006 at 10:26 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
E-Rock

Mystery may have moved season one along, but I'm glad that it's taking a back seat to character development and plot intricacies this season. For example, I loved that the first three episodes of the season all examined the same little bit of time, going back and filling in more detail with each episode. I thought that was excellent. Further, Lost does something that few television series can do well. They give us the Why (which I'll grant you The Shield does well, too). I love understanding just a little bit more about why a character behaved or is behaving the way he/she does each week. That's the stuff of literature, not television. As long as Lost doesn't get too ridiculous (the black horse) then I'll be there with it.

January 24 2006 at 9:50 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
AR

aw jeez, here comes more overuse of the word "gravitas." please stop!!

January 24 2006 at 9:05 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Chris

I agree with every single point in this post, which is rare when 3 shows are reviewed let alone 1.

BSG has been consistently damned good, and while I can't speak for 24 (never really got into it, yet understand where you're coming from), Lost is just getting lost on me.

Sometimes it feels like they just throw out 2 times more questions than you're given answers, and you're forced to suffer through some ridiculous "moral of the week" sermon that explains why one character is being a cunt or making a good decision.

If Lost doesn't start picking up the pieces its dropping, I'm going to start walking away, as will a few others.

In fact, Lost and 24 aside, I won't be surprised at all if BSG slows down a little. I'm very surprised it's stayed this good since it started.

The only other show I think that sustained it's momentum like that was Carnivale. Sadly, HBO nixed it after abandoning it (marketing wise) like UPN did Voyager and Enterprise.

January 23 2006 at 7:57 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Morgan at Spot Cost

"The show is mired in its own preciousness."

That's a great summation for how I feel about the show. And the limiting part of the island is made more obvious by the fact that the writers leave the characters on the beach instead of inside with showers, toilets, water, etc. Totally ridiculous. It's like they can't imagine not being able to show the ocean shots, so they can't move them inland.

I completely reject the notion that it's a good character show either. The characters are far, far, far from believable.

Some obvious reasons-- Hurley wanting to dynamite the food pantry, Mike and Locke using a gallon of ranch for target practice, Eko burning the plane with the radio in it, and tClaire with the newborn baby sleeping on the beach exposed to kidnappers, bears, boars, monsters, mosquitoes, rats, and whatever else is out there. Their behavior is on par with characters in a bad horror movie.

That being said, I have still been watching, which doesn't say much for my judgment or willpower.

January 23 2006 at 5:56 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Anthony

I kinda of agree that Lost is trapped by it own success. People love the show because of the mystery. However, the same mystery drags when they close one door to open into a hallway.

For all your talk of how the shows "picks up" midseason which is now, remember that the finale was the biggest letdown of last season. I think this year's finale will be much bigger. I don't know if this is a show that people will be able to drift from and come back a season or two later.

January 23 2006 at 5:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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