“Lost”: The return of an American masterpiece
By Bernie Quigley
- For The Hill on 2/2/10
The best writing is in TV these days said Glenn Close when she went to work on FX’s “Damages.” It has been so now for quite a while. Nothing surpasses “The Sopranos” in writing and dramatic imagination, and “House” regularly surpasses Hollywood movies. The star system, the technology, the exploding cars and cities, are yielded to the more complex art of the acting troop, in which the star is the story told and not the muscular or snarling actor. Greater subtlety can evolve as the telling develops over time.
But in our time of imagination perhaps nothing compares to “Lost” which begins its final chapter tonight. Like the revolutionary Russian writers of the mid-1800s, it is filled with hidden references, intentionally planted beneath the story line to slip beneath the censors, the sponsors and the culturally sensitive. In season two, for example, it is suggested that the seemingly malevolent Ben is actually the Christ worn through and half mad in his final days of reign. He is marked by the chest wound and John Locke – his replacement in the rising Age of Aquarius – gives him a book to read while he is being imprisoned and tortured. The book is “The Brothers Karamazov,” Dostoyevsky’s great classic in which the Christ returns and is imprisoned and tortured by the Grand Inquisitor.
The early Russian revolutionaries claimed that stylish writing was a bourgeois affectation – the original folk tale was as good as the elegant opera populaire which expanded its market. Likewise “Lost” which mixes soap opera with subtle composition and recalls the great Saturday afternoon matinee serials like “The Daredevils of the Red Circle” pays homage to originality in both high and low in a masterful mix. George A. Romero’s living dead share the stage with Thomas Mann and Lao Tzu with Tarzan.
Like those Russians mentioned and the French writers of an earlier century who wrote for serial publication, “Lost” traces our age like a river rising and receding. When historians look back to us they will look to “Lost.” Some of the references are arcane – Ben turns the style in a “timeless” place so the Age of Pisces can yield to the Age of Aquarius. But one reference is clear. The plane that crashed and brought the voyagers to the island belonged to Oceanic Airlines, a reference to George Orwell’s “Oceania” the global realm suggesting us and our English-speaking cousins in “1984.”
Will the Lost islanders physically and psychologically survive the crash? Will we?