SciFi Weekend Part II: Lost in Time

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The two genre shows with the most compelling mysteries both return this month. I already discussed the return of Battlestar Galactica in Part I of SciFi Weekend. Lost returns this week and many hints as to what to expect have been published.  TV Guide had an article (which I have not been able to find on line) in which executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse discussed ten episodes of the show which are important to understanding what happens in the upcoming seasons. I will briefly summarize the key points:

Season One: In Walkabout we  learned that Locke had been confined to his wheel chair before coming to the island. “Locke and his relation to the island is very central to the fifth season.” White Rabit showed Jack’s father Christian appearing alive on the island. “The fact that Christian’s wearing white tennis shoes is a mystery which will be answered this season.” In Deus Ex Machina Locke pleaded with an island and then a light appeared. This will be revisited and “we will learn the whole nature of why the Swan hatch exists.”

Season Two: The 23rd Psalm showed that the smoke monster could pull memories from a character’s life. We will learn more about the smoke monster this season. A giant four-toed statue is seen in Live Together, Die Alone. We will have to wait until the sixth season to find out what this statue means.

Season Three: Time travel will play a big part in the upcoming seasons. Desmond is shown to experience time in a nonlinear fashion in Flashes Before Your Eyes. The episode introduced Fionnula Flanigan and suggested that characters could not change their ultimate fate. We will see Fionnula again and she turns out to be “important in the overall storytelling of Lost. The Man Behind the Curtain showed some of Ben’s back story on the island. We will see more of Ben’s life and the Dharma Initiative this season.

Season Four: The Constant showed more of Desmond’s nonlinear experience of time, along with Faraday’s experiments. Desmond’s consciousness from 1996 inhabited his present body when he attempted to leave the island on the wrong bearing. We will see that incorrectly entering or exiting the island will play a crucial return when the members of the Oceanic Six attempt to return, and that the island “pulled off one doozy of a masquerade.” The Shape of Things to Come showed the power struggle between Ben Linus and Charles Whidmore. We will see more about this power struggle and whether neither or both are either bad or good guys. Everything is important in There’s No Place Like Home including the scenes involving Jacob. Locke’s faith will continue to be tested by the island and/or Jacob with “great personal sacrifice.” We will see Locke’s death midway thorough the season but the question of what the island wants from Locke won’t be seen until the sixth season.

If reviewing ten episodes for clues is too much, Entertainment Weekly looks at the clues in five episodes. Most of the episodes overlap with those mentioned above. The one episode which was not mentioned above is Cabin Fever from Season Four which showed Locke’s early life, including an encounter with  Richard Alpert who never seems to age–or was he traveling in time? Alpert apparently will be an important character this season.

Maureen Ryan also interviewed Lindelof and Cuse with the discussion including matters such as the importance of time travel, and the hazards this presents:

How do you keep the show grounded in emotions and characters, when it seems as though this season is poised to unspool a lot of the mythology and time travel and so forth? Is that a tricky balance to achieve?

Cuse: I don’t know if it’s a tricky balance. I think that this is what we always saw as the natural evolution of the show, that it would have more overt science-fiction and fantasy elements [as time went on] and that was sort of always our plan. I guess we would say our model is any of a number of great Spielberg movies, maybe even “E.T.,” as a primary example of a movie that has, obviously, very extreme science-fiction and fantasy elements, yet at its core it’s a deeply emotional story. We hope that even though we’re introducing these elements, we’re staying true to our central premise, which is that we’re making a character-based show.

Lindelof: I think the fun part for us, and this is not so much a challenge as something we hold ourselves to, is the idea that the characters react to these crazy things in real ways. So if you’re explaining to Sawyer something about time travel, he’s not going to say, “Oh, that makes sense.” He’s going to say, “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard and I don’t like it and I don’t want to be on the time-travel show.”

As long as the different characters on our show have real reactions to the things that are happening around them, [it works]. I think if every single character on the show basically accepted that it’s their destiny to be on the island, with all these characters sitting around talking about their destiny all the time, [that doesn’t work]. Whereas our show — really, Locke is the only one who cares about the island. Jack cares about Jack, and Kate cares about Kate, even Hurley only cares about being jinxed most of the time.

You guys have opened up the time element of the show in this really interesting way, but how do you stop it from becoming a giant story problem? You know, “If a train left Pittsburgh going 50 miles an hour, and another train left Dallas going 25 miles an hour…” How do you make that time element clean and clear for people who might have trouble with it?

Lindelof: Carlton and I spent five weeks last year just breaking “The Constant,” with the entire writing staff. The reason it was so tricky was all these things you’re talking about, in terms of, “If Faraday told Desmond in 1996 to tell Penny to call him in 2004, wouldn’t she say to him …”

And then eventually, you get to a point of saying, “Are we breaking any rules, according to the rules we set, is it emotionally viable, and is it confusing?” So when we were sitting down to talk about Season 5, we were like, “We’re essentially breaking ‘The Constant’ every single week now.”

I think since we’ve gone through the process the first time, we learned valuable lessons. It is very challenging to do clean time-travel stories where you can’t change the future, but also rewarding when we accomplish it.

Obviously you accomplished that with “The Constant.” The reason that worked so well was because, as you were saying, it wasn’t about time travel per se, but about this relationship between two people. Did you know that was special when you were writing it?

Cuse: I think when we wrote it, we realized it was really hard [to do]. The reason, as Damon said, it took us five weeks to break the story was because we were relentless with each other about making sure that the story — we would not consider the story to be finished until it had emotional resonance.

We had to deal with all the consciousness-traveling craziness, but ultimately we felt the story would only be successful [under the following conditions:] Not only did the time-travel stuff have to make some sort of sense and follow its own logic, but there needed to be a really genuine emotional payoff. And it took a long time to get to a place where we felt both goals were accomplished. To echo what Damon said, that really became the template for us in terms of what our goal is this year.

Yes, time travel provides a really cool device that allows us to tell what we consider to be some really great adventure stories. But at the heart, these stories are really about the characters and what we’re most interested in, on a character level, is how are they affected by the consequences of time travel? That’s really what the show explores.

And the entire season isn’t overtly about time travel. It’s an element, but I think it would get really boring [to focus too much on that]. We’re not interested in — every week, you climb into a time machine. That’s not what the show’s going to be.

Part III of SciFi Weekend will look at shows including  Doctor Who, Torchwood, and 24.

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