If you’ve been following the blog and the recaps, then you know I’ve been grappling, both with myself and with readers, about the crazy nature of time in the Lost universe. At first I dug my heels in deep, refusing to cede my point of view, and by the end of last week, was prepared to throw up the white flag and invite all anti-time travel proponents over to my place to share a Dharma keg of beer. And now? I think I’m getting a bit more perspective on just why some people vehemently deny any aspect of time travel or alternate time-lines in the show.
As an up-front: what follows is NOT meant to sway you to one side or the other. Many blog writers try to shove their point-of-view down your throat as the be-all and end-all, and while I get as fired up as you over certain topics, the last thing I want to do is alienate you or appear condescending in my replies to your comments. That being said, if you want to engage in verbal fisticuffs with yours truly, just know I’m rubber, you’re glue, and um, you’re a stupid head.
Zap2It reader Tonester wrote something in yesterday’s comments that I feel marks a good jumping off point for today’s discussion:
If we open the door to time travel and the like, then anything is possible and we lose that reality, and Lost is so good because these crazy events are based so firmly in reality.
If I am reading Tonester correctly, he enjoys Lost when it’s more supernatural/sci-fi aspects are minimized, leaving as much explainable as well as possible as can be. As such, for him, and those like-minded, Lost works best as a realistic drama set in hard science fiction world. It takes place on a mysterious Island, to be sure, but if the Island gets too powerful, gets too "out there," and replaces actual drama with sci-fi convention in order to 1) move along the plot, 2) seem more clever than it really is, or 3) a combination of both, then the show fails for him.
And to some degree, I completely agree with that assessment. I’ve mentioned this before, but the absolute worst thing Heroes ever did was inventing that "Claire’s blood can cure anyone as well as bringing back people from the dead" plot point in Season 2. Absolutely terrible. That’s something I think the Tonester would likewise despise. I don’t think anyone out there actually doubts that Lost is a show that contains elements of both science fiction and the supernatural, but just how much of those elements should make up the fabric of the show seems to be a mark of contention.
I think that the time travel push back has surprised me so much is not because people disagree with me about it (trust me, I’m both used to and fine with being contested on my theories), but because somehow this is the straw that broke the proverbial Lostie’s back. They are fine with a smoke monster. They are fine with an invisible man that lives inside a cabin that moves throughout the Island. Apparitions of dead people cause them no alarm. Voices in the jungle are A-OK. But time travel? Much like Hall and Oates, they say no go.
If I have it correctly, time travel fails where something like the Dharma Initiatives succeeds. Dharma is fantastical, but POSSIBLE. And that’s the key for the anti-time travel contingency (correct me if I’m wrong). Dharma is more plausible of a sci-fi stretch than time travel. It’s pretty strange that one has to press a button every 108 minutes to discharge an electromagnetic build-up. It’s pretty strange that polar bears are in a tropical climate. But these things are easy to identify as potential events, events that could occur in our world. Time travel would require a leap of faith that in many ways violates the "hard" nature of the world.
I don’t need to tell you I think time travel can exist within that "hard" world just fine, but that of course is contingent upon the writers using, not abusing, it in terms of advancing their story. To use Heroes as an example once again: it would be patently ridiculous (albeit freakin’ sweet) if the end of Season 4 ends with Future Jin teleporting on the Island, replete with samurai sword, and started shouting in perfect English, "Save the Island, save the world!" I mean, that would be pretty ridiculous. In Heroes? Most excellent.
Point is this: there are ways in which Lost can use time travel/alternative timelines/The Dharma Snooze Button of Eternity to advance the story AND maintain that edge of reality people like Tonester want. I’m not saying it’s easy, and in fact, they picked one of the hardest staples of sci-fi in which to further their narrative. Time-travel sagas do my head in, whether it’s trying to make heads or tails out of a movie like Primer or keeping track of multiple universes in comic books. Using time travel can either entirely remove the stakes of your drama (as Tonester quite rightly points out) or completely confuse both writers, actors, and audience to the point where we’re all wondering what’s going on and allow a bloodied Ben Linus to get away.
In short, I would hold out hope that, should there be an element of time trickery involved in the show, those of you who yearn for its absence will watch it with an open mind. And those of us on this side of the fence will be hoping and praying that its introduction won’t turn the show into an unrecognizable, dull mess of a program. If there’s anything we can all agree on, it’s that we all want the best Lost possible. (That, and that Bernard’s a sexy beast. But that’s another topic for another day.) For now, we should watch with open minds and see what the show has in store for us.
Ryan also posts every 108 minutes over at Boob Tube Dude.