Writer Follows Carlton Cuse, Figures Out Why “Lost” Lost Steam

23Aug12

I was heading West on Riverside drive, on my way to my weekly writers group in Studio City, when I caught up to (another) Prius. This one had the license plate “108LOST,” with a Beverly Hills auto dealer license plate frame. And I got to thinking that one of the famous “numbers” from “Lost” was 108, so I started wondering if this driver worked on the show. A few months back, I had seen Damon Lindelof at an In-N-Out Burger near Universal, so maybe it was him.

A touch of speed proved that it was not Lindelof, but Carton Cuse, the other show runner. But that’s not the point. The point is the numbers.

On the show (if memory serves), the famous numbers which were entered into the computer down in the famous Hatch, and entering the correct numbers in the correct sequence kept the world from blowing up. Or something. When first introduced, the numbers added mystery and tension to Crazy Island. It was so random and precise that you didn’t know what would happen if you didn’t enter the numbers correctly, so we didn’t have time to figure out what they meant.

Then, it turned out, the numbers related to the main characters. Very specifically, Jacob’s lighthouse had a selection of numbers on the mirror which — when positioned just so — allowed the viewer to magically gaze across time and space at the corresponding Number Person.

Now, this is indeed weird, and I’m sure when I saw it I was intrigued, but driving behind Carlton Cuse’s vanity plates I realized that tying the numbers to specific characters nullifies the audience’s tension. When we didn’t know what the numbers meant, they could mean anything, and the consequences could affect anything. Or anyone. Meaning “us.” We felt tension because if this random number thing couldn’t be figured out by the characters in the show, then they couldn’t be figured out by us. Therefore, if we were on the Crazy Island, we would be just as screwed.

But apparently not. Our fates were separated from the Number People’s when the numbers got assigned to specific characters. And by removing that tie, the audience loses a reason to feel scared for these characters.

Audiences feel tension for Everyman Characters because we, the audience, can imagine ourselves in that role. “If this happened to him, it could happen to ME!” The best of Hitchcock’s work played with this toy magnificently. He specifically cast Jimmy Stewart because the audience could easily picture themselves in the actor’s shoes. Then, when extraordinary events happen to Jimmy Everyman, we can relate. It would be awful if we, too, suffered from vertigo and weren’t able to save the woman we love, or if our legs were broken when a murderer attacked us in our apartment. These events happen to specific characters, but could (possibly) have happened to ANYONE.

And that’s the difference. That’s why “Lost” ran out of steam. In the beginning, anyone could have crash landed on an island, and therefore, could have suffered the craziness of Crazy Island. But once the show told us that this could have only happened to THESE SPECIFIC PEOPLE, in THIS SPECIFIC SEQUENCE, reliability evaporates.

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