Lost in Thought, Wibbly Wobby Timey Wimey Narratives
For the last eighteen weeks, I have looked forward to Wednesdays with delirious anticipation. Only two were disappointments (when Lost didn’t air new episodes). Lost has brought nothing but teh awesomeness this fifth season. It’s explaining some of the mysteries introduced during the last four seasons in such a cool way: Time Travel. When Benjamin “Benry” Linus turned the Frozen Donkey Wheel (end of season four) it set events in motion that scattered our friendly neighbourhood Lostaways into the past. We’ve received first-hand accounts accounts of how our heroes were involved in events leading to The Hatch, maybe The Purge and most definitely The Incident (what the heck did that mean? I don’t know but it was cool. Why isn’t season six already done?!). By first-hand, I mean non-flashback… can we call them flashbacks or is it just a semi-linear story? It’s awesome stuff, sprinkled with the usual kick-ass Lost characters and twisty turns but I want to spend a moment and salute the brilliance of how they built to this and how we’ve been unwittingly educated on how one watches this show…
We began our studies of all things Lostological when season one introduced the infamous flashback structure. Flashbacks were an existing tool of novels, comics and television so when the show baked them into the DNA of the show, the writers started us with something we were familiar with. Clever viewers soon noticed that character back-stories overlapped. The Lost mosaic was ever so hazily beginning to form as we drew connections between these disparate stories and peoples. And we grew familiar with characters that would lead us from the beginning to (one presumes) the end of this insane convoluted journey.
More characters revealed their back-stories, educating us in following fragments of different time periods, they were also delivered out of sequence too (for Maximum
Surprise ). What kept it grounded was the ever present island-time stories, moving at a steady realtime-esque pace of one week passing roughly every five episodes (perfect for syndication!). That tethered us, the audience, to something familiar but even island-time would occasionally switch things up by playing with relative timeframes and multiple overlapping stories. Lost famously sidelined plot threads for long periods of time to focus on subsets of stories. (causing viewers to give up and yell they’re making it up as they go along! This Just In: You are watching fiction. Fiction is made up.) Season after season, Lost kept mixing things up further by splicing techniques together and the audience that stayed with them were forced to adjust to all the disjointed perspectives of time and long story setups. The writers were careful never to push things too much at one time. Mind-bending outings like Flashes Before Your Eyes (feat. the time-traveling consciousness of Desmond) were kept to a minimum. They would eventually hit the “Go” button on the massive story machine being constructing but they were patient like zombies (we do spend lots of time shuffling about, hoping a tasty brain walks by, don’t we?)
We graduated to Lost post-secondary when season four added a new technique to the curriculum: flash-forwards-to-future-time. With three season of time-shifting perspectivizing under our belts, flash-forwards weren’t much harder to follow then the usual hijinks, yet they felt like a breath of fresh air. The writers had actually introduced a plot thread that would eventually replace island-time as the narrative-prime, the reliable thread to anchor viewers. Perhaps anticipating that some might just throw in the towel at that point, they tied the biggest carrot they had onto future-time: some of the lostaways got off the island. While we all furiously speculated how that happened we were also learning what would become the backstory to this “new present”, if one can still use such a term as “present” when time travel is involved. Benry spun the Frozen Donkey Wheel making the bait & switch official. click!
Season five supplied us with our post-graduate materials: the island, our heroes, or both, were unstuck in time and skipping around to the sound of flashing white lights. Now I realize Sawyer, Locke, Hurley and the rest had their stories continue on. When I say that island-time ceased to exist I’m referring to the 101 days from Sept 22 to Dec 30 2004 that started with a crashing plane. We’re so used to following characters around different timelines that the time travel flashes weren’t nearly so jarring; We’ve been training since season one at having our perspective of time warped to fit the authorial whims. But actual time travel was still quite a leap beyond normal, especially constant uncontrolled random flashes to places and times unknown. But once we hear that Lost wooooosh™ sound-effect, we know we’ve changed time periods and we should begin hunting for clues as to when we are now. Unlike me, not everyone has engaged in a season 1-3 re-watch “just for fun”. If you can relate to my passion about Lost (may I point out: you are reading a blog article about Lost) remember that some viewers are getting their first heavy dose of science fiction and fantasy weirdness and Lost has kept things relatable and compelling for both types of fans. Michael Emerson and Jorge Garcia were just on The View promoting the finale for goodness sake! (Mind you, Papadama and Roslin were on the The View as well, so perhaps they’re cool)
To reduce confusion the story was kept straightforward and linear at the start of the season five. By that I mean the absence of flashbacks; we instead alternated between the time-jumpers and the Oceanic Six. The Oceanic Six story became a linear realtime-esque story about “now they get on a plane.” The denouement of island-time became OMG! I haz nosebleed! WTF When are we?! The characters were as confused as us, but the story of that confusion and subsequent fix (get Locke off the island) was pretty relatable. I believe keeping focused so tightly on the character interactions helped us, the audience, track something understandable and familiar while the space-time continuum warped around our protagonists. It also helped that the time-jumpers landed at some familiar landmarks (familiar to the audience at least). Dedicated fans might remember the connection to Yemi’s plane crash; we’d already been made curious about the four toed statue; about what happened to Danielle “The French Woman” Rousseau; and how Montand had come to lose his arm (Rosseau mentioned it one hear early introduction scene, 1x09 I think). They tried their best to keep us invested not only in the character arcs, but also the locales that Sawyer and the rest went to. Just imagine trying to pull the same story four season earlier. They spent four seasons foreshadowing time travel. A lot of time laying the foundation kept the wacky plot twists feeling real and familiar to us.
The most technically amazing, to me, occurs when John “Jeremy Bentham” Locke takes his spin at the Wheel of The Frozen Donkey. His travel through time had been set up for a season and a half by that point... Future-time welcomed Locke as its newest character and click! things started fitting together like puzzle pieces (some pieces remain absent; it is still Lost). They managed to avoid the “Hey audience! You are now in the past” moment that exists in most other time travel fiction (think Star Trek or Back To The Future). Instead Locke slips between the curtains of time and plot threads and emerges into a
future present already fully realized, with existing characters and motivations and momentum.
The show is starting to hint at or answer some of the mysteries its presented us with. Most new questions I’ve had were about the time travel rules of the Lostiverse: Could objects (like compasses or canoes) travel with them? Could they affect the future? (My Guess: Yes, but with no paradoxes). They’ve played fair and are answering those ponderings and their own pace; a pace no longer so glacial. I often sit here, deep in my zombie grave and marvel at how accomplished these writers are and how well they’ve structure this behemoth of story machinery. They have done an amazing job showing us an inherently confusing chapter of the Lost mosaic and keping it relatable. They sure have spent a lot of time ensuring we could follow along and its well appreciated (hell, maybe I can even forgive season three after this; Lost, you had me at hello ). I have high hopes for where this story plans to take us. As long as they don’t explain it all away as being God’s Will (and Jacob said so is the same thing) — we zombies shall be most upset if you disappoint us! Prepare for the inevitable zombie apocalypse or face your doom!
What are your thoughts? Liking Lost or couldn’t be bothered? Will season six require doctorate-level research? Will all actually be answered a year from now?
And what did you think of that finale? Wow!