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'Lost' shows no sign of losing its direction

November 11, 2005|Paul Brownfield | Times Staff Writer

Wednesday night, in what ABC was either promoting as a night that would change television or a night that would change the way we look at television or a night that would change all of us forever, including our televisions, the producers of "Lost" bumped off a character, the snotty-pouty castaway Shannon.

Character deaths on hit TV shows are events; this one took place during the November sweeps, and promotional tie-ins attached themselves to the episode like barnacles. "Find out what else is in the hatch on 'Jimmy Kimmel Live,' " while another promised a "secret scene" on "Good Morning America." What, no crumbs for "The View"?

Shannon (Maggie Grace), who in the early days of "Lost" sunbathed amid the fuselage of the downed Oceanic Airlines Flight 815 from Sydney to Los Angeles, was a younger, much more thoroughly American version of the entitled beauty in "Swept Away." She's been softened, since, with tragedy (her stepbrother/forbidden lover/fellow castaway Boone was killed last season) and abandonment issues, which "Lost" spelled out this week in flashback -- pop-psychotherapeutic emotional mapping being one of the show's trademarks.

On the island, the Internet chatters speculated, Shannon was a dispensable, if regrettable, loss, a pawn in what is emerging as TV-as-elaborate-guessing-game: What actor's going to get kicked off the island next, only to get more work on the show later in flashback? She died in the arms of her lover, Sayid (Naveen Andrews), the former Baathist regime interrogator, after being mistakenly shot in the belly by Ana Lucia, the gun-toting, midriff-baring island militant played by Michelle Rodriguez.

Ana Lucia is new to the show this season, and like other characters she's under tremendous physical and emotional strain but manages to take good care of her teeth. She heads a counter-group of survivors from the tail-end of the plane, whose numbers have dwindled due to an evil presence known as the Others, which announces itself in whispers (last season's shadowy evil, in the form of polar bears, is evidently in plot hibernation).

It's got story moxie, this "Lost." One of the great, and vexing, things about the show is that it's a mix-and-match of types and situations from other movies and TV shows you can't quite reference in the moment, although you're pretty certain you've seen this scene before and possibly groaned at it before. Meanwhile, the show is exceedingly democratic in the way it parcels out the gestalt moments; in Wednesday's penultimate beat, Shannon, in deep close-up with Sayid, said: "You're just gonna leave me. I know, as soon as we get out of here, you're just gonna leave me," and Sayid said: "I will never leave you. I love you." Also, it was raining at the time.

But then Shannon ran off into the jungle to chase the ghost of Walt, the kid who went missing in this season's first episode, and was shot by Ana Lucia, in what you sense the other castaways will eventually judge to be involuntary manslaughter. Couldn't Shannon have just stayed in her noble lover's arms and pointed? ("Subtle foreshadowing, thy name is Lost," I read in a chat room later that night. "Oh wait, it's not. Jesus could it have been any more blatant?").

But comments like these only betray deep viewer involvement, the reason "Lost," and not "Freddie," is available for download on your iPod at $1.99 an episode. Nor should it detract from the fact that "Lost" is a live-by-its-own-rules exercise in pulp fiction, dizzyingly so. Yes, it's splintered into disparate story lines and taken on more characters while returning in flashback to existing ones, but all of this, so far, just contributes to the sense of a smorgasbord, never mind where it's all going.

Or should we mind? To be sure, the show has grown a bit headachy with plot points and mythology and embedded clues/red herrings, and new characters keep emerging from the jungle, but you still believe in a master plan. Market forces, as much as dramatic imperatives, are surely what killed off Shannon rather than more popular characters like Sawyer (Josh Holloway), the hunky renegade, or Locke (Terry O'Quinn), the nothing-ventured, nothing-gained Zen-like survivalist. The show's two putative leads, Jack the doctor (Matthew Fox) and Kate the former bank robber/fugitive (Evangeline Lilly), weren't even in the episode.

Shannon's death, in this regard, was the opposite of a slow, dramatic build to a monumental payoff, like the death of Adriana on "The Sopranos," which played as gut-wrenching elegy; despite her mob boyfriend she was an innocent, and yet you understood, from the bad guys' point of view, why she had to be rubbed out.

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