Tag Archives: Lost

Let’s be Less Rotten: Thoughts on Spoilers

DoctorWhoSpoilers

Author’s Note: In order to write this post I had to include spoilers, which is silly but true (and kind of why I wrote it). I redacted all spoilers. I’ve linked each redaction to something that tells you what plot point I’m referring to. Click at your own risk. The links are, by definition, SPOILERS

I’ve been thinking about spoilers a lot, recently.They’re everywhere. For people writing about entertainment (especially TV these days) it’s rough.Writers try to avoid spoiling people, but sometimes they fail. They add capitalized and bolded SPOILER ALERTS to articles and posts. They try to keep them out of the comments. I’ve seen recaps use a blackout system. I myself have recently discovered the art of [REDACTION].

But sometimes, I think, our collective fear of spoilers can be as harmful as the spoilers themselves. I think we could, perhaps, relax a little. If we change the way we approach spoilers, I think we all might feel a little better.

Spoilers suck and they are everywhere

Okay let’s start by agreeing that spoilers are the worst. They genuinely can take the fun out of entertainment. It might seem trivial, but for certain, some things should stay hidden. There is a certain joy (sometimes followed by unendurable sadness and/or anger) in being surprised by something. Weren’t you genuinely bowled over when (REDACTED) happened in Game of Thrones? Wasn’t it so perfect when they revealed [REDACTED] on Battlestar Galactica? Even for a sitcom like How I Met Your Mother, wasn’t [REDACTED] just crazy? Wouldn’t the experience of watching these shows be cheapened by knowing THE-BIG-THING-THAT-HAPPENED? Yeah it would.

But spoilers are just literally all over the place. I have a friend who, in one night, spoiled [REDACTED] from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and [REDACTED] from  A Song of Ice and Fire  (and consequently, Game of Thrones) for a group. It was an accident. But people still got spoiled. I’m guilty of this too. I tend to just irrationally believe that everyone has watched and read everything I have and only that. What was worse than [REDACTED] in Game of Thrones? [REDACTED] in Angel, or [REDACTED] in The Sopranos or worse still [REDACTED] in Buffy! I tend to accidentally lay land mines in conversations for my friends who don’t watch quite as much TV as I do (read: all my friends).

The internet is way, way worse. Unless you’re planning on avoiding social media and news outlets all together, you best watch your shows live. I mean, the reaction to episode 9 of this season’s Game of Thrones was so prevalent that before we were done reacting to the episode we started reacting to each other’s spoilers. And it’s not just social media. Don’t forget how an actor spoiled the world for Downton Abbey by [REDACTED].

So yeah, spoilers are awful and can be hard to avoid. I’m totally with you on that. But there are ways to make them suck less.

Rosebud is a sled, not a spoiler

I was spoiled for [REDACTED], [REDACTED], and [REDACTED] in Lost by virtue of having been alive while it was on the air, but not watching it until about a year ago. It sucked but it was unavoidable.

A problem I find in spoiler culture is that some moments from TV and film and books have become part of our larger culture, but they’re still taboo to talk about. I want to list things Harry PotterThe Sixth Sense, Twin Peaks and more right now, but I don’t want to spoil any of you. But at the same time, it’s been years.

So there’s got to be a statute of limitations on spoilers.

It can’t just be a number, because the significance of these plot points isn’t just a product of the date they became public. It’s cultural, like I said. Some shows’ plots are more well-known than others. And it’s different for tv than for say, movies or books, because TV by nature tends to have more spoiler opportunities. I feel like, at this point The Sixth Sense should be fair game. It premiered in 1999. But that same year had bits of the third and fourth seasons of Buffy, which are definitely not fair game.

So maybe we can’t make a hard and fast rule, but we can be more understanding. It’ll have to be based on a “feeling” but that’s all we’ve got. Examples: I won’t spoil the new JJ Abrams Star Trek movies, but The Wrath of Khan is on the table. I’ll stay away from 24 but not Friends. Psycho can be discussed but Bates Motel cannot. Are you with me? I hope so.

Regardless, I think we can all agree that Shakespeare’s statute has expired.

If spoilers are bad, surprises have to be good

We all spend a lot of time trying to avoid spoilers and/or griping about how we’ve been spoiled. But then as soon as we see great plots, we start immediately noting how “we knew it all along.”

The best example of this that I can think of occurred during season six of the new Doctor Who. At the midseason finale, we finally discovered [REDACTED]. I personally thought it was a big deal. A pretty huge deal. If I recall correctly I had to get up off my bed where I was watching it and run around just to get my adrenaline out. 

But some decided to rain on my parade. “It was so obvious,” they’d say, or “I can’t believe you didn’t see that coming,” as if I am quite the idiot for being shocked by something that was designed to shock me. For the record this twist isn’t foreshadowed very much in the show. There are subtle hints. When you rewatch you’ll think to yourself, “oh, that’s what that was about.” But I really doubt very many people “totally knew that was going to happen.”

People talk about a twist or surprise or reveal afterwards with such negativity. And yeah, sometimes they are super disappointing, like [REDACTED], another instance from Doctor Who. But sometimes moments are so good and so genuinely surprising, they remind us why we hate spoilers in the first place. Trying to make yourself seem clever afterwards by claiming to have “called it” cheapens the surprise.

Follow the signs

I’m behind on Mad Men right now. And as a result, I’ve been steering clear of twitter Sundays at 9pm. I’ve been careful when looking on entertainment news sites. I scroll past anything I see with “Mad Men” or “Draper” in the headline. I’m keeping myself spoiler-free.

You can too! Yeah I get it, sometimes you just want to go on facebook without being accidentally spoiled. But be smart. If you’re a fan who’s missing an episode for some reason or who regularly watches the next day, stay off  dangerous sites until you’ve seen the episode. If you live on the West Coast wait to go on twitter until the episode airs for you. Talk about it with people who live there too. Don’t yell at the East coasters who tweeted to each other three hours ago. Be smart about it, and you won’t need to rage-tweet until you actually watch the episode and find out who died. Then you rage tweet at the show-runner.

It’s all about the journey

Above all we need to remember that spoilers are a fact of life in the internet age, and they’re not going away anytime soon. I’ve been spoiled for lots of shows. Lost, like I mentioned before but also, BuffyAngelMad MenThe SopranosPsychThe West Wing, How I Met Your Mother and probably a bunch more I can’t remember specifically. But I still love all of those shows. Yeah I knew that someone was going to die or a couple was going to get together or an identity was going to be revealed or any number of other plot points, but I still was enthralled watching all these things happen. I still got emotional and involved.

Having read A Song of Ice and Fire is arguably one giant Game of Thrones spoiler. But I still watch the show. Because knowing how it ends doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy the ride on the way there.

So let’s be smart about spoilers. And then we can get back to what’s really important: watching way too much TV.

The Best 24 Hours of TV (Part 2)

Today I continue the list I started of the best hours of TV. Like 24-13, this list only includes hour-long series from the last twenty years or so, and only shows I’ve watched (again, sorry about the lack of The Wire). Again, spoilers for all these shows up the the episode listed. So if you’re not caught up skip down.

12. “Blink” Doctor Who, Series 3 Episode 11

It’s a bit of a shame that the only episode of Doctor Who to make my list doesn’t really feature much of the Doctor, but that’s part of the reason this episode is so compelling. Following Sally Sparrow (an early-career Carey Mulligan!) as she interacts with vestiges the Doctor has left behind after being trapped in 1969, the episode uses time travel in a truly unique way. It’s an episode longtime fans and neophytes can enjoy equally, as the audience is reintroduced to the Doctor along with Sally. Steven Moffat is at his best here, before he became showrunner, telling a story about some truly terrifying monsters who can only move when they aren’t seen. He taps into one of our fundamental fears: you must look at the thing that wants to kill you, stare at it unblinkingly, or it will get you. I’d recommend not watching this episode too close to bedtime.

11. “Q&A” Homeland, Season 2 Episode 5

It’s hard not to watch this episode from Homeland’s second season and say to yourself, “damn, this is good television.” That’s certainly what I said to myself as I watched Carrie systematically break Brody down in the interrogation room, all pretentions, secrets, and distractions gone. The sometimes absurd nature of the show is gone. The extraneous teenagers are gone. The exotic settings and characters are gone. It’s just the two of them there, in that room. Claire Danes and Damien Lewis are those characters. They own this episode. And they will take your breath away.

10. “The Wheel” Mad Men, Season 1 Episode 13

“Good luck at your other meetings,” Duck Phillips says to Kodak after Don’s intense presentation of his campaign for their new slide projector. Really, Matthew Weiner is saying to the audience, “good luck watching any other TV show after seeing this.” Mad Men started off its first season a little shaky, with a great concept but so-so execution. Quickly it morphed into the best show on television (at that moment) and culminated in this astounding season 1 finale. A lot happens and a lot is wrapped up, but the episode is really about those minutes with Kodak and Don. Don’s pitch with photos from his own Potemkin life with Betty was so convincing he even sold himself on this life a little bit. And so he rushes home to what he imagines will be a glorious welcome, but in reality, is the emptiness he has enshrouded himself in.

9. “Two Cathedrals” The West Wing, Season 2 Episode 22

After Aaron Sorkin ripped out our souls by killing Mrs. Landingham (the late-great Kathryn Joosten) in the penultimate episode of season 2, he delivered this force-of-nature episode to close out the year. If The West Wing was about bringing a microscope to the often faceless government and humanizing a figure as distant as the president, it never does it better than in this episode. It’s actually perfect, from the flashbacks to President Bartlett’s youth with his father to the scene in the National Cathedral with the cigarette to the moment a rain-soaked Bartlett decides to run for a second term by putting his hands in his pockets and smiling. Yeah he has Multiple Sclerosis and yeah, he lied about it and yeah, it’s going to be hard but he’s going to run again. And we’re going to run to season three with him.

8. “33” Battlestar Galactica, Season 1 Episode 1

Not exactly a series premiere, in that it is preceded by a miniseries that introduced the setting and characters, but “33” does start the show by establishing the tone and pace of the Battlestar Galactica to come. That tone is dark and that pace is very, very fast. In the episode the remains of humanity in the Colonial fleet must jump through space every 33 minutes lest the Cylons find them.  When they realize the Cylons are tracking one particular ship, Adama and Roslin order it destroyed, even though it may be carrying humans. Not exactly the stuff dreams are made of. But the world is basically over and you know what they say about desperate times. The always amazing Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell are particularly brilliant in this exceedingly well-written episode, which tells us the one thing Battlestar Galactica is about more than anything else: survival.

7. “College” The Sopranos Season 1 Episode 5

Tony Soprano has been described as TV’s first great anti-hero, and it’s this episode where that status is cemented. While taking Meadow on a college tour Tony spots an old wiseguy in witness protection. In a very literal show of his personality, he spends half his time tracking down and killing the snitch and half the time being a father who encourages Meadow’s denial of his real profession. This is where you learn to love and hate Tony with some consistency. He’s never going to be just a good or just a bad guy. Yeah he killed a federally-protected man with his bare hands, but he also really loves his daughter. It’s this cognitive dissonance that keeps you coming back to The Sopranos.

6. “Blackwater” Game of Thrones, Season 2 Episode 9

Fans of A Song of Ice and Fire are gifted with one episode per season written by the big man himself, George RR Martin. In season 2 he took on an episode which I consider to be the most ambitious hour of television ever. Take a battle the scale of any one battle from The Lord of the Rings or Braveheart or any other cinematic epic, add a big old green explosion, lots of exposition, and no real hero or villain, and do it all in one hour on a television budget. The result was the best any fan of the show or the book series could have hoped for, something epic and intimate all at once. The stakes were high, the writing was tight and urgent, and the usual disparate locations and characters were abandoned for an hour focused just on King’s Landing. When people talk about TV being the “new cinema,” they’re talking about episodes like this.

5 & 4. “Pilot Parts 1 and 2” Lost, Season 1 Episodes 1 and 2

Lots of fans will point to season 4’s The Constant as the best episode of Lost and one of the best episodes of all time, but although the hour devoted to Desmond and Penny is beautiful and sad, it does not compare to the brilliance of the pilot. The two-hour pilot is so well-written and executed, establishing the rules of the show without relying too much on exposition or becoming too complicated for a viewer. They’ve crashed, and there’s something weird about this island, and not in a predictable way at all (how many of you were able to guess that there would be a polar bear in the South Pacific?). The flashbacks in the entire series may have been slightly uneven, but in the pilot they are pitch-perfect, leading up to the reveal at the end of the episode that the seemingly-innocent Kate (Evangeline Lilly) was the one wearing the handcuffs all along. Whatever your feelings about the series as a whole, its hard to deny these episodes place as one of the best episodes of all time, and perhaps the greatest pilot ever.

3. “Objects in Space” Firefly, Season 1 Episode 14

This episode is one of the most poetic and philosophical things you’ll ever see on a TV series. The last episode produced before Firefly was cancelled, “Objects in Space” is wonderfully weird and trippy but also dark and pondering. Whedon really gets down to the very soul of his characters in the context of action. Using a bounty hunter named Jubal Early searching the ship for fugitive River, Whedon exposes each character’s greatest weakness, fear and insecurity by having Early systematically take each of them down. While some confrontations are physical, his interaction with Kaylee is brutally psychological. River is only able to defeat Early by mounting a similar psychological attack, momentarily convincing him that she has spiritually joined with Serenity and eventually tricking him into being pushed into space by Mal. The final words of the episode, as Early floats through space into oblivion, are especially haunting: “Well…here I am.”

2. “The Suitcase” Mad Men Season 4 Episode 7

Mad Men is great because it combines a shared history (the 60s) with a workplace that tends to reveal things about its broken characters, and a particularly compelling anti-hero. This episode is the pinnacle of all of those things. The history is the Ali vs. Liston fight, the Samsonite campaign reveals a lot about Peggy, and Don is at his most “hero” (as in, not the terrible person he normally is) when dealing with the death of Anna Draper, the only person who ever knew him. The relationship of these two characters is what Mad Men is all about in the end, and this episode highlights their lives in a profound way. It’s not just that Peggy doesn’t think Don appreciates her. It’s not just that Don doesn’t think Peggy is good enough. It’s so, so much more. Jon Hamm and Elisabeth Moss are undeniably fantastic in the episode, the best of the series by far. When it focuses on these two essential characters, the show is creating something incredibly captivating. Basically, anytime Don and Peggy are in a room together talking, Mad Men shines.

1. “The Body” Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 5 episode 16

Here it is, in my opinion, the best episode of television ever. I wish it wasn’t so far in Buffy’s run so that people who have never seen the show could just watch it right now. It’s the saddest, most gut-wrenching hour you’ll spend watching TV, and the realest, even though it takes place in a supernatural world. Buffy’s mom, the immeasurable Joyce Summers (Kristine Sutherland), an incredible mother to Buffy and surrogate to her friends, has died of a brain aneurism. Separate from the world of vampires and demons she is used to, Buffy must deal with this real and horrible loss, and so must her sister and her friends. The show, normally bouncing to the tune of an action score, lacks music for the entire hour, pounding the sound of every sob and angry word into the ears of the viewer. This episode is Joss Whedon’s true masterpiece. It’s impeccable in every way. Seven people must deal with loss, and so must everyone who watches.

So there it is, the best day of television you could watch. Let me know if you think I’m right or out of my mind.

Lost in a Fairytale: Once Upon a Time and the Flashback Trend on TV

It was a pretty surprising moment for the show. Not as shocking as a death or pregnancy or any of the many events that usually make up May sweeps. But still, it was very surprising when in the second season premier of Once Upon a Time, a show that had become rather formulaic by the end of its first season, actually changed from something very procedural into a more serialized narrative. And it was in that moment that it became clear that the show could probably survive into more seasons to come.

The show, built on the conceit that fairytale characters are real and that a curse has brought them into our world, relied on a flashback formula during its first season to help explain that often confusing concept. The fact that the local schoolteacher is Snow White, the mayor is the evil queen and a pawnbroker is Rumplestiltskin is much more easily explained by showing the same actors in gowns and crowns, fighting off monsters and magic. And as the show veered from the accepted versions of fairytales that everyone knows, the flashbacks helped to create a world that was unique to the show, and that had its own rules. In essence, Once Upon a Time spent half of its first season on some very glitzy exposition.

But when the curse was broken at the end of season one and suddenly everyone remembers who they all really are, the time for explaining how and why was over. The time for the past was over, as the future was so uncertain for the characters. But how to change something that had worked for a whole year?

The premier did indeed flash between the fairy tale world and the real one, only not in a way that the show had ever done before. In fairyland we see Sleeping Beauty, a brand new character, awakened by her handsome prince who is accompanied by Mulan. They encounter a hooded phantom who marks his victims with a metal disk and then sucks out their souls. Aurora’s prince is marked and dies.

It all seems a little irrelevant until the phantom appears back in the real world. Although it still seemed a little unnecessary. Introducing three new characters just to explain what the scary hooded monster did? He was scary and hooded and so logic says he probably sucked out souls. But when in the real world they get rid of the phantom by banishing him back to fairyland, and the two female leads with him, they land right next to Aurora and Mulan. It wasn’t a flashback; it was a peek into the not-so-distant future. The show had introduced three new characters to move the plot forward, not back. And suddenly a whole world of possibilities emerges.

The flashback formula was made most popular by Lost, and when you think back to the first season of that show, you can understand why it was so good. It made a high concept, serialized show more procedural, and easier to watch and understand. It kept the show from having the entire series on a beach. The audience could see how the plane crash had changed the characters. It was a great way to bring those characters together.

But in that show, and others, the brilliance of the flashbacks just didn’t last as characters joined cults, got married randomly, and got strange tattoos in Thailand. And when the flashbacks started to falter the show started flashing forward and eventually “sideways” into the increasingly absurd. These scenes weren’t telling the audience anything about the characters or the plot of the present. They were just there to be there, because that is what the show had always done.

But now Once Upon a Time is not cursed to the same fate as Lost. It doesn’t have to flashback endlessly to fairytale characters who don’t last more than one episode, or create increasingly absurd back stories for the characters. And they can continue to flashback, occasionally. It never hurts to know more about the characters, even if we think we already know everything about Snow White. But inevitably the story matters more than the procedure.

Of course the showis still struggling with the transition. A few episodes in this season have gotten a little heady, sporting three separate plots in a short forty-three minute episode: the real world, the current fairyland, and a flashback. But as the stories converge over the season and the stakes are raised, the show ultimately has dropped the flashbacks in episodes where they weren’t needed. It has chosen instead to focus on the here and now, where all of the action is happening. This is a lesson Lost never learned.

 

Off the Air: Battlestar Galactica and Lost are Actually the Same Show

I watch a lot of TV, but I missed some classics by virtue of being too young, too uninformed, or too cable-less when they were on the air. As I try to correct this error I will fill you in on observations, reactions, and musings on old and great TV. 

Okay so they’re not exactly the same. One is about a war between the last of  humanity and their robot creations and the other is about forty-odd people stranded on an island after a plane crash. One is about space travel and take place in an alternate reality. The other is about plane travel and takes place in our modern world. They are just inherently different.

But, think about it. There are some definite similarities. A rag tag group of survivors after a devastating tragedy, trying to survive on limited resources and means. The dynamics that arise between the interaction of people who would never otherwise have met. A power struggle between two central figures. The looming threat of a people who are similar but different from our heroes. The revelation that these people aren’t as villainous as we once thought. The quest for a seemingly unattainable goal. The revelation that the goal wasn’t exactly what it was cracked up to be. (Heavy spoilers from both shows follow.) 

And so on. The story they share is that of survivors. Whether there are 40 or 40,000, there are shared experiences that are unavoidable. But the shows both reach for similar stories and explore similar themes. You can draw parallels between numerous storylines and characters between the two shows. It’s uncanny sometimes. For example, the time Galactica spends on the cylon occupation of New Caprica parallels Lost’s season 3 captivity of Jack, Kate, and Sawyer by the Others. Both story arcs took place at the beginning of season 3, only lasted only a few episodes before the status quo was restored, and were frustrating to watch for the viewer.

I watched Lost a few months ago and am almost finished with Battlestar, having most recently reached the midseason finale where the fleet reached Earth and found it a wasteland. I am incredibly excited to see where it goes from here, but I noticed something as I started season 4. Having been not entirely shocked by Starbuck’s return from the dead at the end of season 3, I hungrily moved to the next episode on my Netflix. Instead of a season 4 premier, however, I found myself watching Razor, which some quick internet searching showed me was a TV movie all on its own, that chronologically took place in season 2. The movie chronicled the experience of the Battlestar Pegasus, from the time of the attack on the Colonies to their meeting with Galactica. I was reminded, unsurprisingly, of a great episode of Lost while watching it. “The Other 48 Days” details the lives of the survivors from the tail end of the Oceanic flight from the crash up until the point they meet our survivors. They are both excellent looks at the road not taken, at the reality that could have been there but for the grace of whatever. In the case of Battlestar, the Galactica had the benefit of Adama at the helm, a civilian fleet to protect, and Roslyn to keep them honest, all preventing them from becoming the military machine that Pegasus was. In Lost, the survivors from the middle of the plane had Jack, a doctor and a leader, they had luggage and spare clothing and alcohol and supplies, and they had a manifest to weed out the Other in their midst, to keep them from becoming like Analucia.

(End of Spoilers)

In essence, the experience of watching these shows has made me realize both how few stories there actually are out there, and how that doesn’t really matter. Watching Lost earlier this year didn’t at all hamper my enjoyment of Battlestar. On the contrary, I love finding clues to our collective consciousness, and recognizes archetypes that permeate fiction. It’s just one more way to enjoy stories. So my advice to you is: if you’ve watched show to watch the other. You might be surprised by just how much you end up liking it.