There’s so much hate. Lost is an awful show, but also oddly watchable and riveting. There are so many reasons why, but I’ll try to keep this somewhat succinct.
Lost is a show that’s very idea driven that mistakenly believes it’s character driven. This is one of its greatest flaws as a show. The ideas presented and the way they’re presented keep you watching. The way the mystery sort of continually deepens rather than evaporates is also pretty nifty. It keeps me watching, anyrate. My girlfriend, the great and beautiful creature called Chelsea, made a very good point about this, which is both an admonishment to the show’s narrative structure but also a congratulations to the writers: Lost substitutes character development with manipulative cliffhangers and mysterious allusions.
There are a lot of reasons that I believe contribute to the awfulness of Lost, but I’ll try to give them in some sort of order. I’ll start with the frontend [what we, the viewer, sees] and work towards the backend [the bits about production–writing and so on].
This is where Lost is at its worst. For such a large ensemble cast, there are shockingly few likeable characters. Even more shocking, the most prominent characters are often the absolute worst. I’ll just go with a person by person rundown so I can keep things straight and hopefully keep myself from ranting and raving.
–Jack, the lead character and de facto leader of the island’s gang of survivors, is, for a leading man, probably one of the most unwatchable characters to ever happen. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with being objectively unlikeable. House and Don Draper and Walt White are pretty hard to like as humans, but they’re captivating and, somehow, we’re [usually] on their side, or at least able to see things from their perspective [though Walt’s really going deeper and darker with every minute on screen]. But Jack is horrible to watch. He’s an infantile shortsighted narcissistic stubborn asshole who resolves every confrontation by pointing a gun at someone or screaming at them until they simply give in rather than be hounded by this lunatic. As a skillset, him being a doctor is probably the most important trade on the island. Unfortunately, not only does he have no respect for his patients [or anyone], but he’s constantly putting himself in grave danger for essentially no reason, which could rob the survivors from the one person who can heal anyone of anything. And while all of these traits are obnoxious, he’s also, for some reason, the best at every possible thing someone can be good at. Need a perfect shot? Jack. Need an incredible gambler? Jack. The only thing he can’t seem to do is track people, which becomes a whole thing occasionally. And his bad traits only erupt and become more pronounced in season two. He becomes more unreasonable, more caustic, more screamy. I know he’s the main character and we’re meant to be on his side, or at least see things from his perspective and have sympathy/empathy, but I can’t even reach common ground with this jagweed. And his actor is so wooden and horrible to watch. Ugh, even talking about Jack is the worst.
In season one I would audibly groan every time she came on camera, which was all the time. It was horrible. She’s the reason I almost didn’t make it past episode ten. As bad as Jack is during season one, she’s somehow infinitely worse. She follows people around to fight with them, to harass them, to complain and moan at them. She’s always smirking in this knowing way, which annoys you to the point of blinding rage. Also, she, like Jack, is good at everything that anyone can be good at. Why? Because she’s the female lead! This also brings me to my huge point about the writers’ inability to write a female character, but I’ll make that its own thing. Season two calms her down and she improves a great deal, mostly because Jack picks up and accelerates all her worst characteristics. Like Jack, the actor who portrays her is so inept it’s almost embarrassing. Wooden, hollow. Her performance is made of eyebrows at funny angles and smirks. The awkward sexual tension between her and Jack is by far the worst thing to happen to television. Ever. It’s almost torture to watch them interact. But, like I said, she gets better in season two, largely because she’s used less, and her interactions with Jack are greatly reduced, but still: Kate is the worst.
Michael is a strange character. He’s mostly made up of a man who yells a great deal about very small things. He’s obsessed with the petty authority and power he occasionally gains from the group. As we get a look at his backstory, we empathise and sympathise with him much more. That is, until he starts acting in the present. Despite the infrequent rays of sunshine where he has awesome interactions with his son, Michael only yells. About the most insignificant and inconsequential things in the world. Even when we understand how difficult his relationship is with his son and we want to be on his side, he acts like such a lunatic that we struggle a lot to even pretend to like him. Then he kills people and leaves the show. Michael: you’re awful, though your backstory is the most illuminating.
Claire & Shannon
It’s not really their fault, mind, but these two humans were given nothing to do but scream and complain and act irrational because, as I’ll talk about in a bit, the writers on Lost have no idea what to do with female characters.
is the savior of Lost. He’s brilliant through all of season one. He’s our mystical explorer of the island and the soul. He makes me want to believe. He makes me want to care. He’s constantly interesting, from his backstory to his present. He’s a genius child in the body of an aged man. But then season two happens and they stick him underground for the entire season pushing a button. This is something that could only happen on a show like this. One that not only taunts its viewers, but actively hates them. They make us love a character deeply, and then they give them the most menial and uninteresting task to do so that we almost forget why we care.
Like Locke, he’s the spiritual rock of the show. He makes us believe. He makes us watch. More than that, he demands attention. He has all the power and ferocity of a warrior, but the gentleness of a child. He’s sort of the perfect character. Never for even a second is he dull, though the show tries hard to keep him out of focus while Jack and Kate and other boring people do insane things. Ecko also has the most dynamic difference between who he was and who he is. Him and Sayid are, morally, the most interesting characters, but I’ll get to Sayid later.
Hurley & Charlie
We love these two, though the show tries to pin us against Charlie pretty often, especially in season two when he starts behaving like a lunatic, which is pretty typical of people on this show. Hurley’s always great though, and has, arguably, the best backstory. In general, these two are sort of the comic hearts of the show who give real humanity to everything that’s going on. They’re the only ones who call out the narrative itself and point out its lunacy or how everyone acts psychotically when someone disagrees with them.
Jin & Sun
Jin was pretty hard to like until we understood his backstory, but then he was right on the good side, firmly. They, along with Charlie and Hurley, are the most consistent characters, and the most consistently human. They’re beautiful and real and also mostly reasonable. Sun is also the only convincing female character. They bring a great deal of sweetness and are the only working relationship on the show. I always enjoy them being on screen, even when things go terribly.
Sawyer is what you get if you invert everything Jack does. He’s cool and collected and intelligent, able to think things through and reason with a level head. He’s pretty impulsive, but, compared to others on this show, he acts with the utmost reason and forethought. Also, he’s able to add grace and humor to even the most horrible situations. Sawyer’s like House: he’s an asshole who we can’t help but like and get behind. Everyone is a dick to him, too, which is part of what’s frustrating about this show, but I’ll get to that.
Sayid is a weird character. At times I love him and want to watch him all the time. And then he tortures people. It almost always works like that. We get on his side, and then he does some gnarly and beastly thing to someone. That aside, he’s one of the only people on the island who thinks rationally. He’s a planner and a doer, which is rare here.
We actually know very little about Desmond right now and he’s barely been on the show but he’s so much better than everyone that he goes on the awesome list. He’s just a real pleasure to watch. One of the few on the show.
I know he’s a badguy or whatever, but he’s irresistible to watch. He has an odd sense of magnetism and charisma. He so clearly outmatches all the survivors too, able to sow dissent in just a few phrases.
I don’t even want to write this. I hated every second of her presence in front of the camera. She is by far the worst character to ever be on any show ever. She made me miss Jack and Kate.
A summary of the characters:
While it may seem like I enjoy most of the characters, I’m also not listing a lot of the barely there annoying ones. And even if I enjoyed all the characters there’s still one huge flaw–character interactions.
The writers of this show seem to have never been around humans or watched them interact before. They confuse drama with bickering. The majority of this show is people bickering. Someone follows someone else around and yells at them about something. That person yells back. Everyone is contentious and unreasonable, and solves every dispute by shouting. It makes the show difficult to even tolerate. All human interaction is based around conflict here. There’s no sense of collaboration unless everyone has a gun in their hand and an enemy to shoot. Usually they’re pointing the guns at one another whilst drowning out each other’s words with screams. I can’t even count how many times Jack and/or Kate follow someone around just to yell at them while they also threaten that person. And it’s not just those two assholes: this is how people interact, according to the writers of Lost.
And I get it: high stress survival situation. But this brings me to the role of women on the show. Or lack of role, rather.
This show is pretty clearly written by men. This is obvious from the credits but also from the female characters. Men do everything on this island. They’re the leaders of hunting, gathering, and social interactions. Everything is based around force and physical coercion. Kate is pretty much the only female character on the show who’s in every episode in any meaningful way. And how do they portray Kate? With almost exclusively traditional masculine characteristics. This would normally be no problem. There are plenty of strong women who inhabit these characteristics. The problem is that there’s no real femininity to her, and even that, isn’t really the problem, but then when you contrast this with the more traditionally feminine characters, like Shannon and Claire, you come to realise that, to Lost, women are either hysterical or useless. Claire is either pregnant or shrieking about her baby. She is literally the textbook example of hysteria. And I don’t mean that in a this-is-scientifically-viable. I mean that in this-is-the-worst-of-Victorian-drama. Her wandering uterus keeps her in a constant state of scream. Shannon is feminine but not a mother so her role on the island is being a useless suck on everyone’s patience and time. Oh, also, she’s hot and people want to have sex with her. Also, she’s manipulative. Also, did I mention how useless she is?
The only female character who is a real person who has traditionally feminine characteristics is Sun, who is also one of the best characters on the show. In a better written show, she’d be the center. She’d be the person that the social structure of the survivors is built around. Sun is well rounded and thoughtful and nurturing and maternal.
Okay, so, if this society were to really exist, this is how I see it happening:
There’d be the explorers. You’d have Locke and Boone and Kate and Jack running around the island doing whatever random mission they have to do. You’d have Hurley and Charlie keeping people’s hopes up. You’d have Sawyer being the badguy as well as the blackmarket guy. But then the real social aspect of the island would be, I think, run by women. Sun, or someone like her, would be the glue connecting all the disparate groups. Hurley and Charlie play a very important role in this, of course, as do the hunters and explorers. I think when Jack came back and waved his dick around the rest of them would let him believe he’s the leader of them all, and then the moment he ran back into the jungle on some stupid mission, Sun would get them all back to their normal lives, shaking her head at his lunacy. The show needs a strong female core, and that’s why the show never really works on a character level. You have the people who spend the least amount of time in the camp as the leaders of the camp. It forces everything out of balance. What needed to happen was for characters like Claire and Shannon and Rose and Sun to take a more central role. Unfortunately Rose is barely even an afterthought in the show, and Claire and Shannon are so woefully underdeveloped that they’re just caricatures of what femininity is. Sun’s well rounded but forced to an outsider or supplementary position because she’s not white. The white male characters run the show, which works strongly against the show’s dynamic. Like, seriously. The characters who spend the most time on screen are all white dudes. I guess Hurley’s hispanic, but he’s not really identifiable by that culture [which isn’t a bad thing, since he’s american and american means more than being suburban].
But, yes, because of all these things, the show relies on a very confrontational version of human interactions. It’s basically Hobbes on television, and it’s even worse than that book.
Another huge problem with the show is its reliance on flashbacks. Flashbacks are a horrible device in any show/book/film, but I accept it as a sort of standard tool used by most people. The problem with Lost is that it relies so heavily on flashbacks, even after we know everything we need to know about the character in question.
I think it actually works decently to introduce us to these characters and round them out. Michael and Jin are the best examples of this. By learning who they were, we understand who they are much better. After one Jack and/or Kate flashback, I knew pretty much all I needed to know. Same with Sawyer. Hurley has a great backstory, as does Locke and Ecko. Almost every other character introduced so far could use much less time in the past. And that’s the thing, even when the backstory of someone I like and care about is given, after three episodes delving into their past, I’m ready to only look at their present. I don’t need to keep seeing Sawyer con people to fill out his character. I’m more interested in who Sawyer is now than who he was. Locke and Ecko, I’ll still dig their flashbacks, and Hurley, of course, but every other character: stick to the present.
So what keeps you watching? The mystery.
Also, the characters who are watchable. But mostly it’s the mystery of the island. The Dharma Initiative and all the sort of quantum magic happening. Hurley mentioned something about timetravel and I’m into that. Locke mentioned something about your ideas becoming real and I’m into that. Even though I’m mostly against this sort of wishy washy mysticism, I’m really digging the way Lost approaches it.
And that mystery, it drags me, kicking and screaming. The constant cliffhangers: they work. I hate it. I want to quit but I also need to know what’s next. It’s done brilliantly but it’s crazy frustrating.
Honestly, I don’t know why people like this so much. These first three seasons are meant to be the good ones, which makes me scared going into season three [which I’ve already watched a few of, and it’s dreadful for all the reasons stated above, but mostly because of its obsession with Jack and Kate], and if I don’t dig this show by the end of the season, I can’t imagine going through the half that’s meant to be bad.
But maybe this is one of those viewer differences that I usually run into. The things I hate are what others love and the things others love are what I hate.
Anyrate: those are my thoughts on Lost, seasons one and two.