Friday, January 27, 2006

TV REVIEW: Lost: "Fire & Water"

It was a Charlie (Dominic Monaghan) episode on Lost, Wednesday night, in an installment written by Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis. "Fire & Water" found our favorite member of the rock band, Drive Shaft experiencing some pretty terrifying "waking dreams," some of which included portentous Christian imagery.

The other islanders, including a sanctimonious Locke and a frightened Claire, simply feared that Charlie had begun using drugs again. Interestingly, the episode didn't provide concrete proof either way. We didn't see Charlie using the heroin he had stashed in a tree stump, but he sure looked like he was using, didn't he? And Charlie really broke bad when he set a fire in the woods (as a distraction) so he could steal Claire's baby and baptize the kid in the surf. If you ask me, Locke did the right thing to punch the bastard. Several times.

And all this led up to a religious ritual conducted by our resident priest, Mr. Eko. Yes, Mother (Claire) and child received baptisms in the episode's denouement. I wonder if this preventive measure will keep "The Others" from taking the infant. Or quite the contrary. We know the Others only take people they deem good. Now that Claire's offspring has been officially baptized, I suppose the little guy actually qualifies for abduction...

This week's episode - another flashback heavy one - treaded territory we've seen before, charting the relationship between Charlie and his drug-addled brother, Liam. This week, we see Liam sell Charlie's prized sleigh, Rosebud, er - piano, given to him one Christmas morn by his doting mother. "You're special, Charlie," she tells him.

Much of this material feels like a rerun, because, as viewers who pay attention, we already understand the abusive dynamic between siblings Charlie and Liam. We caught the flashbacks last season, after all...

I like Lost; I really do. Some weeks, it's absolutely the best show on television. And others - it's the most intensely frustrating.

"Fire & Water" was more of the latter. It felt like another place holder with just one function: to prevent the audience from learning more about the mysteries of the island. A new mystery was added to the laundry list of puzzles the series is accumulating at warp speed. In particular, are Charlie's dreams real, and why is he getting them? And no answer presented itself. Honestly, at this point, I never expect one.

As far as the other narrative questions? No progress on Ana Lucia and Jack's army; no sign of Michael (I don't even think he was mentioned); no talk of rescuing Walt; no comment by Mr. Eko to the other islanders that he had come face-to-face with a monstrous black smoke entity; no mourning by Sayid about Shannon; no further explanation of those important numbers (which, by contrast, did appear on that night's episode of Veronica Mars...).

Actually, this was the first week that I taped Lost for later viewing, and watched Veronica Mars live instead. That UPN detective series features some pretty big mysteries too (like who was behind the bus accident...), but that mystery actually develops and is explored each week. We don't merely get character flashbacks.

On TV, this is the season of the flashback (we've got 'em on Invasion; we've got 'em on Lost; we've got 'em on Prison Break) and on and on. I don't object to the use of this now-popular technique (and indeed, the flashbacks on Invasion's "Redemption" were pretty bloody useful and fascinating), but I increasingly object to the time spent on 'em in Lost. We already know who these characters were before they arrived on the island. We know what they've done; who they've hurt, and why they suffer. Now is the time to see them take those pains in their past, put them aside, and deal with life on the island. It's time to address the situation they're facing; not the emotions of the past.

I understand that not all answers can be provided at once. I love ambiguity (hence my longstanding affection for Space:1999, X-Files, Sapphire & Steel etc.) and think that, in general, ambiguity can be a really marvelous thing. But when mysteries are ignored rather than acknowledged as the puzzles they are, believability goes out the window. For instance, I just don't believe, week-in-and-week out, that nobody is running around terrified or at least surprised by the fact that there's sentient black smoke hovering about, rattling trees. Charlie saw this "monster" for himself a few weeks back, and he's told absolutely nobody! At least not on screen. Not Claire, not Locke, not Jack! And ditto Mr. Eko. And here's the rub, it could have been acknowledged and fit into the storyline this week. Everybody would really think Charlie was using drugs if he ran around talking about the black smoke monster!!!

We're spending so much time in the emotionally tortured past of these castaways that the castaways themselves are forgetting where they are, what they're doing, and what dangers they're confronting. Why don't they talk to each other about the important stuff. Like the fact that last week, Jack met other inhabitants of the island, ones who threatened war and terror if our guys crossed a certain point in the forest? Isn't that worth a mention?

Next week, Lost will probably be great. About one in every four episodes this season is outstanding. I'd estimate that last season, the ratio was more like three out of four. At this rate, by next season, it will be one of eight episodes that is worth watching. I can't wait for the flashback episode about how Jack filled out the wrong medicare form for one of his elderly patients, and felt terrible guilt when the old guy couldn't get his medicine in a timely fashion. Or the one where Charlie is surprised when his brother Liam hocks his favorite amp (the one that goes up to 11). Or the one where Kate commits a terrible crime, but for noble reasons. Or where Sawyer remembers his troubled childhood, or where Hurley goes out on a date, or where Michael loses custody of Walt...again.

Come on Lost, get with it!


  1. Hey John,

    I agree, this was a weak episode. Charlie has become a really pathetic character. But I am curious where they are going to go with this vision of his. Or why Locke decided to keep those statues. Hmmm...and why was Eko marking those trees.

    Overall Lost is one of my favorite shows, but this concept of having a flashback every episode is not going to work unless they keep adding in more new characters. I was thrilled with the episode focusing on Eko, but found Charlie's flashback to be dull and repetitive. Honestly, few of these characters really have more than one good flashback in them. Except for Locke (how did he become paralyzed) or Hurley (how does he know Libby - she seemed to evade that question).

  2. Hey Marx!

    Thanks for writing.

    You hit the nail on the head with that comment, my friend. Truly.

    The flashback structure served its purpose on Lost, and served it well in regards to letting us know the castaways. And I agree, the Eko flashback was part of a terrific episode, and allowed us to get to know that particular character.

    But there's just not that much more interesting to be gleaned from flashbacks faturing the regular characters. We've had several Jack and Kate flashbacks, and more than enough of Charlie and Michael. I agree with you, Locke's story holds more promise.

    I loved Lost too. And I think it's time to move beyond this flashback structure.

    Mark my words, ratings will start to dip later this season (or early next season) and the producers will come out with a public statement about how they'll get the departing audience back by reducing the importance of the flashbacks.

    Just a matter of time now.