Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Lost: television bloodbath 2006

I don’t even know where to begin with this one. I don’t watch as much television as it seems I may, but the TV I do watch seems to get a rise out of me.... as all great storytelling should, right?

So, if I don’t gripe enough about “24” blowing away their entire cast one-by-one, tonight’s “Lost” decided to go two at a time. This is another visible example of how
trigger-happy television shows have been this season, a weird trend if you ask me. Because all five of you that read this are likely not dedicated to “Lost”, I’ll put a humble SPOILER WARNING here, with the caveat that reading on will reveal why I must gripe about the unfortunate circumstances around the two characters that happened to bite the dust. Oh, and I’ll complain about how this flirts with sloppy writing and evidences further that the writers of “Lost” just might be flying by the seat of their pants.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m all for the death of a main character in a serial television show as long as it is 1) surprising, and 2) challenging to the story. I’ve already vented steam about how “24” religiously does not do this as of late, and thereby is not as well-written as it could be. “Lost” is a different beast though, and the finale of tonight’s episode was gutsy and disturbing. Usually the more random and unsettling deaths of main characters hit home the hardest (everyone, look to the paragon of television serial drama that is “Twin Peaks” to back this up).... Tonight, Ana-Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez) and Libby (Cynthia Watros, who is still on my dream TV cast list) both got shot in the gut, and yup, we watched their last breaths (which was terrifying, I’ll admit) and watched them die before our eyes. Always important to have the pan-shot over the dead body for the viewer to be assured that the character is dead (Ana-Lucia, check; Libby, check)*.

Okay, so why kill these two characters? We were just starting to get to know them. Looks like real life might have played a role in this one: Both Rodriguez and Watros were arrested last December for drunk driving, and this snafu probably spelled u-n-p-r-o-f-e-s-s-i-o-n-a-l to the producers, and they set their crosshairs on the characters. Fans were already turned against Ana-Lucia when she shot and killed Shannon (an underused and thereby useless character, à la Edgar in “24”), so her departure is probably a godsend to many fans. But Libby? Oh writer/producers, what have you done?

Well, about a month ago (only two episodes ago) they decided to pull a wicked reveal that connected Libby in flashback to other characters in a challenging and satisfying way. We know little of her except she’s a clinical psychologist.... and the reveal showed us (from an omniscient POV, rare for “Lost”’s flashback-heavy character-centric episodes) that she spent some time in the loony bin too. But now Libby, who was just getting interesting, is dead.... meaning that loony bin reveal has been wasted! Bad writers, bad! You completely tarnished that plot twist, the most satisfying this season until.... well, tonight’s. But, my point being: perhaps the writers had this cool Libby-backstory idea before they decided to kill her off, thus wasting an opportunity to complicate the story through her character. With her dead, how will that awesome reveal from two episodes ago ever pay off? It won’t. The same can be said of interconnections set up in the backstories of other axed characters (Shannon, for instance), which all lead to nowhere when we don’t have the character there to make the connection for us. Dear Writers of Lost: do you have an exit strategy planned for this show? Because at times it seems like the emperor doesn’t have any clothes.

Okay, about Ana-Lucia. Was I the only one who actually liked her? They gave us an unlikable character who had a mountain to cross with the other characters, and they seemed to be doing a good job of integrating her tough-girl exterior into the fold. But, instead of taking the challenging route with her character and exploring further tensions with her, she gets popped. This was an out for the writers, an easy way to dispense with a character that the fans apparently didn’t like and an actress who was rumored to be causing problems on-set. Regardless of whatever on-set chemistry was going on, her character had more depth than quite a few of the gaggle of other whiny characters who are still sticking around. Now she’s done with, and the viewer gets no more.

I’m not so sure my mind can be changed regarding killing off Libby, but the writers did ultimately succeed in fulfilling the two requirements above about killing main characters. I was absolutely floored, so the surprise was there. How does this challenge the story? Michael, fresh from a many-episode hiatus at the Others’ Club Med off-screen somewhere on the island, takes a sinister turn as our bad guy murderer. He betrays Ana-Lucia outright, and finishes Libby off because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. By framing the captured Other the good guys have for these murders, it seems like Michael’s turned to be a bad guy now. Of course, this now limits his tenure on the island. BUT: This is a great reveal and justifies at least one of the deaths (sorry, Libby's death is a waste and thereby not justifiable.... so, why not take out that whiny hobbit Charlie?). The viewer knows Michael’s turned, but none of the characters do.... and thus the story is forced to change and evolve based on this reveal. This is challenging writing and presents a new course of obstacles for the characters ahead, and raises the bar for the writers. Let's hope they can make the grade.

But, why kill off two characters played by actresses that were just hired at the beginning of the year? Obviously some kind of shake-up was in order. Unfortunately, it kind of cheapens the whole tail-section-meets-the-rest-of-the-survivors arc. I was hoping that those rumors that Cynthia Watros has landed a role in a pilot picked up for this fall were just bunk. Apparently not. And what will become of Michelle Rodriguez? At least her character got to have some steamy sex on the island before her time was up. I for one will miss her. In the end though, this episode packed a powerhouse wallop that completely blindsided me, and made for some great television. I’m just not sure how I feel about the results quite yet.

*yes, a footnote: when “24” decided in their third season to kill off the two greatest villains they’ve ever had and probably ever will have, they didn’t abide by the pan-over-the-dead-body shot when Sherry Palmer got two bullets in the gut (interesting parallel to the recent “Lost” axe-ings here). It doesn’t matter if she wouldn’t be able to survive the shooting in real life, but by television rules the viewer has to have visual evidence that the character is dead, and all we got with Sherry was to watch her get blown backward onto the floor. The camera conspicuously panned away quickly, and that was it. So, writers of “24”, do yourself a big favor and bring back Sherry to knock our socks off. You left that window open….


Anonymous said...

I knew you were going to have something to say about this week's LOST installment.
I think that Libby isn't dead. I read an interview with Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof this morning and they all but said that Libby will be back next week. Remember she was holding those thick blankets in front of her?
Weird. We shall see.
- Meredith

Long_Division said...

I like it that your blog makes you look like a couch potato and mine makes me look like an alcoholic.

is that so wrong? said...

Meredith-- thick blankets or no, I'm afraid that might be all we get of Hot Libby. I'd like to think that they protected her, but not after seeing her horrified expression as she sank to the floor. A shame.

LD-- we should co-author a blog as an alcoholic couch potato support group.... in disguise.

Laurenhoffman said...

Can we hang out and watch First Contact? I'm totally serious.