Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Jigsaw Falling Into Place- Lost: Season 4 in Review (Part 1)

*Disclaimer: Part one of a four part (i hope) entry on a theoretical analysis on season four of lost; what happened, what it means, and where we are now. Obviously, this is not spoiler free, so if you haven't caught up with all of season 4, I advise you not to read it. This has been a work in progress for about two weeks. Part two and three have already been partially written, but from well-thought advice from the fanbase (Asenath), I will release it in parts, because, according to the fanbase (Asenath), "No one wants to read long entries. That's why it's a blog. You're stupid Eric. You're so bloody stupid. Just stop writing. You FAIL." Enjoy.

"It's a polar bear on a tropical island! There are so many reasons why that's amazing!"
-The Daily Show

Seemingly, Lost has always been a show about a bunch of survivors from a plane wreck, beached on an island, terrorized by its original inhabitants, and now sullied by the mere mention of rescue. Yes, on the surface, Lost does sound a bit silly doesn't it? Disappearing islands, frozen donkey wheels, buttons that need to be pushed every 108 minutes, etc. etc. But like any good piece of science-fiction text, Lost uses its non-Aristocratic (as Linda Williams puts it) qualities to delve deeper into metaphysics, epistemology, ontology, etc., to create our quintessential postmodern allegory; a cultural text that is not only entertaining, but serves as a commentary and reiteration of the social, political and philosophical aspects of our time.

While the program has always presented civilizational themes of power, reason, faith, discipline, and social order within a sci-fi context, it was the fourth season where the producers presented sci-fi upfront, explicit and bombastic, where most of this season's episodes had at least one science-fiction element to it. In addition to the societal themes that made Lost so prevalent, the concentration on the show's scientific themes carved out a whole new landscape, while, at the same time, providing explanations to the burning questions that have been long eluding us for the past four years. The fourth season's influence, more than any other season, on the future of the narrative is paramount; changing not only the narrative itself, but even how the narrative is told. The show has arguably come full circle. We have spent the past four seasons dissecting the intricacies of what it all possibly means, and now, in its most postmodern move to date, it is moving beyond the circular narrative into new territory, and for the first time, delving into what can possibly happen after the hero's (or heroes') return home isn't all what it is hyped up to be.

The Hero's Path: Shift from Modern to Postmodern
From comic books to epic fantasies, from space operas to the American West, most of what we understand as good and bad, righteous and immoral, and, most importantly, truth and deception come from modernist tales; grand narratives which have a primary utility to discover the essence of humanity by uncovering the one overarching "truth" that can maintain balance, create authenticity, and prevent susceptibility from the detriments and chaos of our external reality. Essentially, the specific purpose of modernism's grand narrative is to develop the canonization of "truth"; in other words, the inhibition of expressions of different viewpoints, narratives and, ultimately, versions of the "truth". Lost, needless to say, is the very antithesis of the grand narrative, while it constantly challenges any solidified "truth" or understanding of how the world works.

The Monomyth
According to author Joseph Campbell (best known for his work in The Hero With A Thousand Faces), the narrative construction of the path of the hero is universal, so much in fact, that Campbell asserts that it crosses all ethnic and racial boundaries and borders, implying that "truth", in whatever shape or form, is succeeded by "enlightenment", which is only achieved when the "hero" goes through departure, initiation, and return. In any narrative tale, it can be argued that there will always be a departure and initiation; in other words, trial and tribulation, being born and reborn, facing challenges and being changed from them. What makes a modern grand narrative and a postmodern cultural text different is within the third characteristic: the return

is, as you have no doubt surmised, an amalgamation of characteristics from both modern and postmodern texts, being that the first three seasons have concentrated, arguably, on Campbell's departure and initiation.
In one of its postmodern characteristics, Lost presents multiple characters and narratives that are capable of exuding the qualities of a hero; however, the multiplicity and subsequently conflicting nature of the narrative presents a multi-faceted truth. Ultimately, leading us, the viewer, to choose what version of the "truth" we want to believe in.

The Departure: White Rabbits, Black Smoke, Dead Fathers, and Crashing Planes

With departure, we have Campbell asserting that, in any great hero narrative, it begins with a "call to adventure". WIkipedia (come on, give me a break. This isn't a bloody dissertation) quotes Campbell:

The adventure begins with the hero receiving a call to action, such as a threat to the peace of the community [
i.e. giant pillar of smoke tearing down 40 ft. trees], or the hero simply falls into or blunders into it [i.e. Jack literally falling off a cliff only to be saved by the encouraging Locke in White Rabbit or Locke accidentally finding the hatch when dropping a flashlight in All The Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues]. The call is often announced to the hero by another character who acts as a "herald". The herald, often represented as dark or terrifying and judged evil by the world, may call the character to adventure simply by the crisis of his appearance [i.e. smokey, Christian Shepherd in White Rabbit, Matthew Abbadon in The Beginning of the End or Cabin Fever, or Richard Alpert in The Man Behind The Curtain].

Whether it be Jack, Locke, Kate, Ben, Sawyer, or even Hurley, every character in our grand tapestry that is Lost seems to have their own departure, their own "call to adventure". A clear sign of how our beloved narrative is both modern and postmodern characteristics coalesced together is within this departure. Postmodern in the fact that the hero's narrative is split up into a multifaceted platform, giving us 31 flavors of different tastes of heroes. On the contrary, Lost has one unifying "call to adventure", and that lies within the fact that all of our heroes were on the same flight: Oceanic 815. That very fact indicates that the path of our multiple heroes, despite the different interpretations and worldviews, is more or less the same.

The Initiation: "Your Weapons...You Will Not Need Them"
Directly following the hero's departure from his old world and into a new world journey comes his or her initiation, with the first, and most prevalent, theme being "The Road of Trials". Campbell writes:

Once past the threshold, the hero encounters a dream landscape of ambiguous and fluid forms. The hero is challenged to survive a succession of obstacles and, in so doing, amplifies his consciousness. The hero is helped covertly by the supernatural helper or may discover a benign power supporting him in his passage.

Without our given context, Campbell's "road of trials" can read like a plot synopsis for most of the primary threads of narrative we have intertwining in our beloved show. Needless to say, "dream landscapes" are one of the primary plot devices to activate many of our show's "heroes". In Further Instructions, Locke's rebirth from his desertion in the Swan Hatch was encouraged by a radical, vast and sonic dream landscape, in which a knowingly dead Boone (acting as his supernatural helper), led Locke to finding his true calling as a "Hemingway", and not a "Dostoevsky". Other examples would include Locke's encounter with Horace Goodspeed in Cabin Fever, Eko's meeting with both Ana Lucia and his brother Yemi in ?, and Kate's awkward confrontation with Aaron's real mother, Claire, in There's No Place Like Home.

The Return: Into The West
The third, and final, segment in Campbell's monomyth is dubbed "return", and it is within said return where Lost diverges from its grand narrative structure into new territory. While Campbell believes that a hero, after much deliberation and ultimately, reluctance, decides to return back to where he or she departed from. The hero becomes, as Campbell calls it, "master of two worlds", applying his "boon" (the goal that is accomplished, or the lesson learned that has led to enlightenment, truth, and the qualities for the formation of an ideal self) to his fellow people; ultimately achieving a much improved world. The hero is now at a different and, arguably, higher level of consciousness than his fellow man. Normally, in most grand narratives, this "master of two worlds" graciously and willingly upholds the divinity of this new found knowledge of the truth. Let us take the most famous grand narrative for the sake of an easy argument: Jesus Christ. It would seem that much of Campbell's formation of his monomyth was to direct reference to the story of Christ, especially in how the hero is not only supposed to uphold the divinity of truth, but to make the common world better for all men and women involved. On Lost, however, there is no enlightenment for the common man; in fact, the Oceanic 6 lie about their divine experience, with no mention of giant smoke pillars, four toe statues, electromagnetic hatches, or Billy Pilgrim-esque time travel. The 6 are, ostensibly, the same, albeit with a few scratches and bruises; but their memories, attitude, and relationships are seemingly unchanged. But (and there is always a but) the person's perspective on the world is forever altered. The Oceanic 6, with the knowledge of this divinity, or boon, can never express said knowledge, never enact it upon the millions who would want it, and, most importantly, can never express or relive the experience that brought them to that state in the first place. Normally, most narratives would end at this point. (Examples: Frodo leaving to the undying lands in Lord of the Rings, Luke finally achieving Jedi status after defeating his father in Return of the Jedi, Neo quite literally bringing the "word" [the ship he was driving was called the logos] to the machine city in The Matrix, etc). Lost, on the the other hand, took what many of us thought would be the ending and placed it right in the middle. The first episode's title of this sensational season was The Beginning of The End. How interesting is it that we get two whole seasons to find out what happens to our heroes after the proverbial threshold has been crossed.

Part 2- From Nowhere to Nothing: Philosophical Implications Updated...coming soon.

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