Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Believe The Hype? -- LOST! 24! And More!

LOST thoughts:

- Well, we all knew this would happen. You can apply band-aids in the form of awesome characters like Desmond. You can have interesting standalone episodes like the long-awaited Richard Alpert origin from a few weeks back. You can have all the promos in the world hyping "answers". But this episode sort of confirmed what we've all been dreading - LOST, as it approaches its final episode, is a giant freaking mess.

This was an okay episode, but in context (in that it's one of the final episodes of the series) it was oftentimes painful, and worse, just plain boring. I know, I know, there are fans of Lost who live for all the little character moments and asides - and those were plentiful in this episode. But at this point, I can barely muster up the energy to care about Jack's vague feeling that he needs to see things through on the island, or about Sun's sudden inability to speak English, or Hurley's self-confidence issues. All of these characters have been in the same holding patterns week after week, and spout the same recycled, half-formed thoughts over and over again. I mean, if Jack is so convinced of his need to stay on the island, why did he go through all the trouble of hanging out with Sawyer and Kate and riding out on the boat for who-knows-how-long? The moment where Jack jumps off the boat could have been dramatic if there was any real reason or motivation for him to do so, but at this point, his purpose is more muddled and unclear than ever. Jack jumps off the boat and swims back to the island because ... well, no reason really. That's partly the point, but who cares? Lost hasn't set up any real dramatic stakes, so the show has basically become a series of Waiting for Godot-like scenes that seem neither here nor there. But it doesn't feel like a deliberate dramatic direction so much as it just seems like a half-assed way of getting characters from Point A to Point B. That's now what Lost is, but that's not what Lost has been when it's been at its best. When it's firing on all cylinders, Lost is a sweeping, epic sci-fi narrative about great characters struggling to escape impossible situations that take them to the limits of reality and belief. This episode was just a series of characters in search of a purpose.

We are also still in this crazy situation of getting these "answers" that appease a certain segment of fans but, really, don't add up to much in terms of dramatic impact. For example, some people were excited simply to learn that the Smoke Monster was posing as Jack's father Christian at various moments from the show's history. Semi-interesting, and not wholly surprising. But MUCH more importantly is "why?" I hate when Lost treats its long-running mysteries so matter-of-factly. I don't know about you, but I don't watch Lost that way, with a checklist or something of my burning questions. Sure, I have a lot of questions I'd like to see addressed, but I want them to be addressed in a way that doesn't just provide an "answer", but a genuine "holy-$#%&!" moment. Lost's idea of a dramatic reveal lately has been simply having characters reappear. "Look! Ilana! She died but now, a week, later, she's back in the other reality! Aren't you amazed?" Um ... not really. I wanted this week's confrontation between Jack and Not-Locke to be intense, to be filled with palpable tension, to make my jaw drop. Instead, it was an example of Lost at its most uninspiring - the usual mix of semi-answers mixed in with a lack of context, drama, or wow-factor.

In terms of continuity though - does any of this make ANY sense anymore? It seems like even the Lost writers barely know or care what it means, exactly, when someone like Sayid or Claire is "infected" by the Smoke Monster. How about Christian Shephard - hasn't he appeared off-island and in some pretty random situations? I guess Not Locke could have been lying about this, but if he was, "why?," and, so what? And what about when Christian mysteriously appeared in "Jacob's cabin" way back when? Back when we all thought that *he* was Jacob. It just goes to show that there was probably never really any clear vision for these things - and it just adds to the feeling that we're watching the Lost team desperately try to reconcile six years worth of contrary plot threads and reveals rather than really build towards a proper narrative climax.

And what are we building towards, as of now? Some people want to leave the island, others don't. Jacob is dead. The Smoke Monster wants to escape but Widmore doesn't want him to. What would happen if either scenario played out, we have no idea. Jack and some others are a candidate. What that means, exactly, we have no real idea.

What made this episode watchable? Desmond was great, as always - again, Henry Ian Cusick's knack for delivering his lines with just the right flair for the dramatic makes the character endlessly entertaining. He's undoubtedly the MVP of this season, and he's only appeared in a few episodes. Lost also has always done a great job with its little moments of self-referential humor. Some of the little one-liners from Sawyer and Lapidus were pretty great, although it's funny, in that they worked so well partly because the characters have the same sort of "WTF is going on?" demeanor that we do as viewers.

Finally, despite most of the episode plodding along and not really progressing things much, I will say that the ep ended on a pretty dramatic note, and I liked the parallel of a near-death Locke under Jack's care in one universe, and the reverse occuring on the island. At the end of the day, there wasn't anything terrible about this ep, but also nothing all that exciting. It's bad pacing. We shouldn't have a lull like this so far into the season, you know? I mean, look, there's still plenty of time for Lost to up the ante and really kick things into high gear in the next few episodes, and I can't imagine that they won't try to hit it out of the park as they prep for that one final lap. But you've got to admit, the road to get to that point has, so far, been pretty damn bumpy.

My Grade: B-

24! 24! 24!

- Okay, let's talk about TWENTY BY-GOD FOUR. Monday's episode left me with very mixed feelings. On one hand, there's no denying that the episode was off-the-chain intense, and filled with several kickass scenes. On the other hand, there was definitely a feeling of predictability to the whole thing. In past seasons, the killer-cliffhanger ending might have made me cheer, but now, after having seen similar scenarios play out so many times on the show, I had to groan that they once again went down this very familiar road with Jack.

Let me mention Greogry Itzin as Logan though. He's just an awesome villain - something that 24 has sorely lacked so far this season. His big scene with Cherry Jones' President Taylor was over-the-top, but in a really fun, melodramatic way that injected some much-needed conflict into the President's decision making. While it's been a lot to swallow to even buy that Taylor would work with Logan in the first place, it was still fun seeing him appeal to her ego and to see his tactics starting to work on her. Cherry Jones is a great actress, so it was nice to see her with some scenes in this episode to really sink her teeth into, as opposed to just saying "Whaaat? She's dead?! How did this haaappen!" (although, yeah, she did that in this episode too ...). Similarly, I loved her scene wit Jack at CTU. She did a great job playing against Kiefer Sutherland. Because, let's face it, Jack Bauer is the kind of guy who you don't have a simple conversation with. When it comes to life-or-death situations, he says exactly what he thinks and does what he wants. And in this case, he made the President red in the face and reduced to tears. Damn, Jack!

It's actually a somewhat interesting moral dillemma that the president is in. But, I'm not convinced that it's worth the risk of exposure to sign a treaty based on false pretenses. Especially in the world of 24, in which moles and inter-government conspiracies crop up all the time, does Taylor really think she can hide the truth about the Russians for long? Plus, if elements of the Russian government really were trying to nuke NYC, she's going to have to deal with them, right? I mean, no way do you just let those guys walk after plotting the biggest attack on US soil in history. My point is, while it's nice to see Taylor enter a moral grey area, I also question just how plausible the situation actually is (even for the crazy world of 24). Speaking of plausible, Chloe as CTU director is one of those that's entertaining and yet kind of dumb. Chloe's always been a fun supporting character, but a born leader she is not. Plus, it was literally her first day at CTU New York. That said, I enjoyed her scenes with President Taylor for the sheer absurdity of two such mismatched personalities interacting.

In any case, the real meat of this episode was Jack's inner trumoil as he grapples with Renee's sudden and violent murder. It felt like Jack, and probably the writers, couldn't quite decide whether to have him stay relatively calm or go absolutely ballistic, as he's been known to do from time to time. Personally, as fun as it is to see Jack go nuts, we've seen him "go rogue" and become a target of his own government SO MANY times on the show, and even in this season. I was hoping for some sort of new twist here, given that this is, afterall, the end for 24. What would be interesting is for Jack to REALLY go to the darkside, and kill innocents and just go full-on badguy in his quest for unholy vengeance. But given that there's a movie on the way, I don't necessarilly see that happenning. Instead, we'll probably see Jack somehow exonerated, in that his actions will expose Taylor's cover-up and keep him on the side of the angels for now. It will be interesting to see Jack's revenge mission take down a President who, until now, has basically been a model of integrity. At the same time, Jack going rogue only to come out on top and morally on the right side of things is well-worn territory.

Also, you can argue about the consistency of characterization with Jack. Obviously, Jack has snapped and gone off the grid before, but it's almost always been to serve the greater good. Just a few episodes ago, he tried to prevent President Hassan from taking matters into his own hands to keep in line with the President's orders. Jack has always been willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done, but by that same token, he's always been about getting the job done. My hope is that we don't conveniently get a situation where Jack gets his personal revenge, saves the world, outs the badguys, etc in one fell swoop.

So yeah, it seems like the motto going forward for 24 will be "vintage Jack Bauer, only even bigger and crazier than before." That's okay, I guess, but also kind of a downer in some ways. I'm all for one last JACK vs. THE WORLD type of endgame, but I hope that a couple of twists get thrown in to make these final episodes more than just "24's Greatest Hits."

My Grade: B+


- I don't know if this makes me less of a man, but, I will just freely admit - last night's Madonna-centric episode of Glee was a lot of fun, and one of the most memorable episodes of the series to date. Sure, the episode sacrificed some of the usual story and narrative for the sake of packing in as many of Madonna's classics as humanly possible, but as a one-off I thought it really worked well, and topped previous episodes in terms of overall production and complexity of the musical numbers. The big surprise for me was how much of the episode revolved around Sue Sylvester and her unlikely love for the Material Girl. There was something just inherantly hilarious about Sue having such a girl-crush on Madonna, of all people. I thought her role models would be Margaret Thatcher or Billie Jean King or something. But, that seeming incongruity just made the episode that much funnier, and lent a totally entertaining, off-the-wall context to the previously-seen Sue Sylvester remake of the "Vogue" music video. Plus, even with all the Madonna love, there were still some interesting developments here, with some fun developments in the love lives of Rachel, Fynn, and Will & Emma. So, yeah, as much as I could do without the crazy hype for this show, I'm still man enough to admit that it's like nothing else on TV, and, when it's clicking like it was last night, one of the most entertaining shows on the air. Dammit all.

My Grade: A-

- Okay, that's all the gravitas we have time for at the moment - I'll be back with more soon.

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