I have a love/frustration relationship with the television show Lost, the kind you can only have with something you respect enormously, are addicted to, even, and likely have unrealistic expectations for. It is, after all, network television. And damned addictive.
But lately I've been obsessing over the structure, or design, really, of the show's scripts. The more I watch Lost, the more it strikes me how it's laid out a bit like a video game - not the fast paced video games that most people are accustomed to, but the more cerebral mystery-type computer games I used to play in the 90s. Myst. Movie-based games like Lucas Arts' Indiana Jones series. Secret of the Lost Cavern. Return to Mysterious Island. Games where you had to solve puzzles, interpret clues and separate them from the many red herrings scattered about on the island, jungle, cave, haunted mansion, or time periods your character found themselves in.
Lost's characters find themselves stranded on an increasingly surreal desert island, full of mystery - from The Others, "Them," seemingly possessed and evil people who otherwise appear normal physically, to the well-stocked bunker, and the revealing informational film left there as a crucial (or is it?) clue, to the monsters, horses, and other random creatures that may or may not be real - the show is designed, and information is revealed to the characters, as they would be in a problem-solving adventure game. Obviously, these games, and this show by (my)association share ancestry with the whodunit mystery novels and movies, as well as fantasy and science fiction mysteries, so it's without any credible evidence that I lay out this thesis.
But I know the makers of this show are my age or younger and have very likely been weaned on some of these games, just as I have, and it may in some way have affected their storytelling methods. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing in this case, because it keeps us coming back just as we keep coming back to a game we cannot quite solve. Yet. And there's no hint booklet, but the show's web site and fan boards does give off the feel of those I used to refer to when obsessed with certain video games.
There is certainly good character development on the show, too, which also keeps us coming back. Though I'm beginning to suspect the flashback structure has just about overstayed its welcome. In the first season, the structure made sense, and in fact added to the show's suspense - the wonderment about each character's relation to the fated flight, and to each other - but at times this second season the flashbacks more often serve to slow down momentum. (Except Kate's flashback in this week's episode did shed a great deal of light, finally, on why her character was on the run from the law - picked up from way back last season.) I'd rather the show give us a breather with the occasional dose of humor - which it did more often earlier in season one, but at this point, save for the occasional brief moment with Locke or Hurley, it's almost completely devoid of any levity. (And poor Michelle Rodriguez is saddled with one of the more hard-bit, snake-bit, scowly characters in recent memory). I'm not talking about slapstick, I just mean the occasional line, someone who can give us a bit of comic relief. Circumstances are dire on that island, sure, and people are dying, and possibly going insane, but aren't those the times when someone finds a knack for gallows humor?
Still, on I keep watching, and compared to most of the morass that is network television (so bad that people still try to convince me that Desperate Housewives is a great show. Are things that bad? I'd rather read a good book.) I keep watching Lost because I want to solve the puzzle, the mystery, I want the characters to get off the damned island in one piece. I want to get a high score and then play it all over again.