Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Best of LOST

I have been a crazy, psycho-obsessed fan of the television series LOST since the very first episode had aired. I re-watched the entire series prior to the start of its final season in order to relive all the twists and turns during the course of the show. It's been borderline LOST overload, but who said that was a bad thing?

One of the things that made me such a fan of the show was its deep, rich mythology. Prior to the series' debut, I had expected it to be something like Gilligan's Island as a drama. I quickly realized there were much deeper themes and content than just simply a group of people surviving on an island. Some episodes had only one or two crucial scenes important to the overall plot, but others were extremely heavy on exploring and building on the series' overall arc.

The show has one final episode to air this coming Sunday night, so to commemorate the series' legacy, I am ranking my 10 personal favorite episodes to date.

And here we go....

10. The 23rd Psalm - Right off the bat, this episode wasn't necessarily heavy on the show's mythology. What it was heavy on, however, was the embodiment of what made LOST so great. It centered on the mysterious Mr. Eko and his roots in Africa. One of LOST's greatest talents has been its ability to take a character at face value, and then give that character a backstory much more complex than what the audience had initially expected. Eko was a perfect example of this concept. On the island, he's quite a mystical character, and is a religious centerpiece among the survivors. His past in this episode showed he once had lived a life that was a far cry from that of devotion to faith or spirituality. At the same time, the episode explained why there was another plane's wreckage on the island, a key element late in Season 1. It also managed to create an amount of tension for another major character on the show without feeling contrived in the process.

9. The Shape of Things to Come - This was a real game changer of an episode. In fact, its central character Ben even uttered the line, "He changed the rules," at a key moment. A group of very bad mercenaries raided the island in search of Ben and dragged the rest of the survivors into their war. By the end of the episode, however, the stakes were raised significantly. The war going on between Ben and the mercenaries' boss reached a peak, and both parties had specific targets they were going after. The rest of the series became a race from here on out, which was precisely what the title referred to.

8. All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues - First of all, the title is great (not really important, but I felt like mentioning that). This episode centers on Jack, who's more or less the main hero of the series. It's from fairly early in season 1, but it introduces into a major piece of the show's overall conflict, that being the mysterious Others. It also shows Jack's history of being a man who has a complex within himself of needing to rescue or fix everyone and everything in his path. His pride and devotion are simultaneous character strengths and flaws, and both his flashback and the island events play heavily into those key traits. The episode also introduced us to the Others, another group of people native to the island and clearly are not friendly. Most of all though, the episode ended with a major cliffhanger with two other characters the jungle at night.

7. One of Them -Episodes centered around Sayid tend to be very dark and intense, and this episode is no exception. This episode introduces us to "Henry Gale," a mysterious man found on the island, who in turn becomes an extremely important character in his own right. Sayid finds him and immediately is skeptical of Henry. He doesn't believe a word of Henry's story, and is convinced from the very beginning Henry is an enemy. As Sayid questions Henry more and more, it also becomes clear Sayid is trying to avenge the death of his love who was murdered on the island. Sayid uses his skills in interrogation he had developed during the Gulf War (which was the focus of his flashback in this episode), and the toll of having those types of talents come back to haunt him in questioning Henry.

6. Numbers - I've always had an appreciation for dark comedy, and the writers realized they needed to break up some of the tension somehow. They built an episode around Hurley, a likable guy who was typically used as comedic relief throughout the series. "Numbers" explored Hurley's relationship with a sequence of mysterious numbers that followed all the major characters throughout the course of the show. Hurley used this sequence of numbers and won $150 million in the lottery, but his luck took odd turns from there. His mother broke her ankle as he was showing her a new mansion he had bought her as a gift (which also caught fire as he was showing her the house). He is mistaken by police to be a wanted fugitive. There's a lot more to it, but on the island he finds the same sequence of numbers and wants to understand their nature. The numbers played a key role throughout the course of the series, and every time Hurley came across them he always knew something bad would happen (and more often than not, something bad did in fact happen).

5. Pilot - The episode that started it all. The show could have been simply a tale of survival or a version of Lord of the Flies, but it was much more than that. It wasn't anything like Lord of the Flies. And while the larger mythology of the series wasn't really introduced, the monster makes its "introduction," and the survivors find a radio signal by the end of the episode that also affects things later very significantly. It's thrilling, exciting, and makes you care about the characters enough that I had to at least give it a few episodes. Been stuck ever since.

4. The Constant - This is a very difficult episode to discuss because it's so integral to the show's mythology. It's centered around Desmond, one of the more mystical characters on the show. He's found his consciousness bouncing back and forth across time and he's going insane. His relationship to his lost love Penny is integral to the plot, and a simple phone conversation he has with her is truly heartbreaking. Their phone conversation is a great pay off to their relationship throughout the course of the series up to this point, and going forward Penny continues to be an important character whenever Desmond has to take action.

3. Walkabout - One of the first episodes of the series made me care for one of the other major mystical characters in the series. John Locke was always warning others about what they're "supposed to do," and that he was willing to take crazy leaps of faith in order to make his point. We got to see what kind of life he had before ending up in Australia and how he believed in defying the odds along the way. He refused to take no for an answer, and, to paraphrase Locke's own words, wouldn't let others tell him what he couldn't do. The episode ended on a great surprise, the first of many over the course of the series, and gave the audience a hint at understanding why Locke was so willing to take a leap of faith when others would not.

2. The Incident - By the time season 5 of the show rolled around, the writers realized that the audience was willing to go along with more science fiction elements. The show had always had mystical and fantasy themes, but as the series progressed, there were more and more sci-fi built into the show. Season 5 was centered around the major characters traveling back in time to 1977, back to when the Others had first started populating the island. There was a great deal of discussion of an incident that caused great destruction at some point in the island's past, and in this episode we see just what that incident was. More so, the concepts of fate and destiny are central to the episode, as the major characters are at odds with what they are "supposed to do." They realize they can reset the timeline by setting off a hydrogen bomb at the core of the island, and the episode ended with the bomb finally going off. It was a fantastic way to close out season 5 and set up the final season of the show.

1. Through the Looking Glass - The piece de resistance. Not only is it LOST's absolute best episode, but it's one of the best season finales of any series I've ever watched. The first three seasons of the series were built on several themes. First, there was the overall storyline of the survivors trying to be rescued. Built within that conflict was a secondary conflict of Jack vs. Locke - two characters diametrically opposed over the concept of free will vs. fate. A third major conflict was the group of survivors vs. the Others, and whether or not the Others were truly the villains everyone had painted them to be.

All three themes are intertwined in this episode, but the episode delves much deeper beyond them in many ways, most of which are far too detailed to discuss here. However, the concept of predestination is a very key element in two key characters in the show, including Jack, around whom the episode centers. As with his previous episodes, he has the endless desire/need to save everyone on the island. The problem is, his heroic nature is also a character flaw, and it blinds him to everything else around him. Once he realizes there is a chance for everyone to be saved, he takes advantage of that possibility, despite warnings from Locke and Ben. One favorite character of mine sacrifices himself in order to save his friends, and the final scene is one of the most mind-blowing cliffhangers I've ever seen.

LOST is one of those series that is quite sharply divided. Viewers either love it or hate it, and there isn't much space in between. Either way, it's been a great source of water cooler discussion in the office from day one, and its conclusion is bittersweet for me. I can't wait to see how the writers choose to wrap it up, but at the same time I have fun with the anticipation of waiting for the final episode. I know I'll be on my couch ready for the final episode Sunday night.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Guilty Pleasures

We all have guilty pleasures. They're the forms of entertainment that we'd all be embarrassed to admit or be caught with. Here I am, about to openly admit one of my biggest guilty pleasures.

I am a major fan of Maury Povich. I can't get enough of his paternity test and lie detector test shows. I record his show almost every day and watch the recordings every evening after work. They actually prove to be very relaxing if my day at work happens to be stressful. I can't even tell which side I find more entertaining - the guys who flat out deny being fathers to kids and find out they are in fact the kids' fathers, or the women who adamantly accuse men of fathering their children and are ultimately proven wrong.

Here's the best part, though: my officemate is an equally big fan of the show. We spend every day talking about the previous day's shows and which guests we loved the most. To be fair, there are some truly tragic stories among the paternity tests, and I do feel sympathy for those guests.

I am now ready to add another task to my list. My officemate and I have started making plans to take a bus trip up to New York in August to see a taping of Maury, and hopefully see a paternity test show and/or lie detector test show. It's a bit of a shot in the dark since the show doesn't list specifically what shows tape on what days, but at least three-quarters of all of Maury's shows are paternity tests or lie detector tests (some are even combinations of the two), so the odds are pretty good in our favor.

Task #76: Attend a live taping of Maury Povich.

Yeah, go ahead and laugh.

Monday, May 3, 2010

If It's in an E-mail Forward, It Must Be True...Right?

I get a number of mass e-mail forwards every week that are designed to spread awareness of a number of social and political ideas. Some even spread celebrity gossip occasionally, and those I barely even read. However, the socially and politically-oriented e-mails I do read, but I'm really shocked at some of the content of these forwards.

One of these recent mass e-mail forwards dealt with Obama cancelling the National Day of Prayer (or in some claims, declaring it unconstitutional). The National Day of Prayer happens to be this coming Thursday, and rumors spread in e-mails (and on Facebook) that Obama declared it unconstitutional on the grounds of the day being Christian in nature. The e-mail claimed that Obama felt a National Day of Prayer only centers around one religious sect of this country, and therefore should be banned. The e-mail also is known for including a picture of Obama attending a mosque prayer session on White House grounds, implying that Obama is a Muslim and wants to distance the entire country from Christian principles.

I've never liked Obama or his policies, but the allegations in this e-mail are just ludicrous. First of all, Obama never "cancelled" the National Day of Prayer. All he did was opt to have a private service in the White House among himself and his family, as opposed to having a public service on the estate. That's his right to do so. Christians across the country are hardly going to be publicly flogged and/or arrested should they choose to pray in public.

As for the infamous picture in the e-mail, Obama didn't have any "Islamic Prayer Day" at the White House. The picture that's typically found in the e-mail wasn't even taken at the White House as it claimed. The picture wasn't even taken in the United States! It was taken at a Istanbul. Obama was in Turkey when the photo was taken, and it's customary to remove one's shoes before entering the mosque.

One of my other personal favorite forwards or scams is common on Facebook. Many of my friends have joined groups on there dedicated to deleting their profiles should Facebook start charging monthly membership fees to keep profiles up, almost like a dating website. The story goes that a mysterious someone is looking to buy out Facebook and start charging its millions of members as a result. The latest "deadline" that I recall seeing is July 7, 2010.

First of all, do people not know how much Facebook is worth? The founder of the website - who's all of about 25 years old (which makes me feel woefully inadequate in comparison) - is worth BILLIONS. Considering Facebook has only been around a few short years, that's pretty darn impressive. So why would a company that's as radically successful as Facebook be looking to find a buyer? Companies are only on the open market for sale if they're struggling to make money (see Dreamworks, GM, numerous banks across the country, etc).

I'm also amused that all the crazy claims that "someone" is looking to buy Facebook doesn't even bother who that buyer is. Major mergers and acquisitions are reported on the news constantly (And interestingly enough, I haven't seen anything on CNN about Facebook for sale. Hmm...), and the potential buyer is identified publicly pretty early on. So why isn't that information known?

Now I'm not about to make any claims that I'm great at reading between the lines or being better at smelling b.s. than most other people. I'm no more well-read than the average American citizen. I just use one amazing tool that I'm shocked and rather disgusted that most friends and family don't see to think about or remember. That tool is Google.

I do simple Google searches to look up information about these mass e-mails, and I typically find something pretty quickly that completely debunks message. I often think about e-mailing my friends and family who send these notes off, but I feel like I'm going to come off as a snotty ass for proving them wrong. Plus, all I have to do in the end is hit the delete button on these e-mails and they're gone for good.

I suppose my point here is to open people's eyes and know when to smell the bullsh. Please, dear reader. If you get any crazy e-mail forwarded with some absurd claim in it, Google the information. Should you feel like sharing the information you find with the original sender, go ahead and do so.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to clean out my inbox.