I miss him so much.
I don’t know for sure if it’s the voice with that southern twinge that gets more noticeable when he’s excited or agitated or that perfect scruff that gilds the bone structure of a face almost too perfect to be human or his sheer fearlessness – but what I do know is that I really miss him.
But it’s not just Sawyer that I miss. I miss Jack too. And Juliet. And Hurley.
And don’t even get me started on Ben…
As the recent year has come and almost gone, along with the once-present sunlight that used to shine brightly at five pm, I’ve taken stock of my television watching habits. And you guys: I watch a whole barrage of shit programming.
Scrolling through both my mental list and the one lovingly kept alphabetized by my trusty DVR, here are the shows I watched consistently over the last year:
· The Real Housewives of New York
· The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills
· The Real Housewives of Orange County
· The Real Housewives of (oh, it hurts just to type this) New Jersey
· True Tori
· Vanderpump Rules
· Top Chef
· Big Brother
· Shark Tank
· The Mindy Project
· Parks and Recreation
· Modern Family
· Dexter (I’m going to marry whoever invented Netflix – and I don’t care if it’s a man who is already married or if it is an unattractive woman. I can learn to compromise for the human being who has brought past seasons of perfect television into my living room.)
· Bachelor in Paradise
· Dateline Mysteries
· 48 Hours Mysteries
· The Daily Show
· The Colbert Report
· Mad Men
· Million Dollar Listing: Los Angeles
I’ve been a devoted viewer to all of those programs, and sure, there’s a nice mix of the highbrow and the guttural lowbrow in there. And while I believe that I might never change the channel if a network came out that just ran Seinfeld reruns on a continuous loop, I still can’t help but feel a burn of nostalgia for the shows I used to watch.
I was always a big television watcher – always. I suppose I could blame that habit on being a child of divorce and coming home to an empty house I had to let myself into with the key that my mother was terrified I’d lose. I would make myself a snack and do my homework at the white kitchen table while sitting on the seats upholstered in seafoam green (it was the eighties – life then was all seafoam and peach), and then I’d go watch television. I remember daily reruns of What’s Happening and new episodes at night of Three’s Company, and, even at the tender age of eleven, my favorite of all the shows was Dynasty.
That’s right: I watched every single episode of Dynasty each week when it came on at nine in the evening. My mother, choosing her battles wisely, allowed me to stay up late to see the show about wealthy people conniving against one another and falling either into beds covered in satin sheets or falling over stairways towards death or a case of amnesia that would last for less than a season.
I loved everything about that show. I liked the way the women would sleep in luxurious cream-colored nightgowns, even though I’m a sweatpants-and-tank-top-while-I-slumber kind of girl. I loved that they all seemed to wear clip-on earrings and that they’d remove one each time they answered the telephone. The truly badass women would carelessly toss the earring onto the Lucite table upon which the princess phone sat. So what if a diamond or a sparkling emerald flew out upon impact? Bitch would have new jewels by nightfall.
Alexis was my favorite character – I always liked the mean one. I look back through my cultural lexicon of memories and I see that, whether I think about television shows, movies, or books, I have just always been far more drawn to characters who are ruthless. I like watching the emotional strategizing and the unwillingness to ever walk away without every single fucking thing they want. These characters encompass perhaps the kinds of qualities I should have embraced earlier in my own life when I was foolish enough to try to make room for things like selflessness and tolerance. That said, I was also always able to walk down a grand and winding staircase without the fear that someone I’d deceived or tortured would exact revenge by flinging me over the side, so there are of course some positives to living a clean and noble kind of life.
But perhaps what I loved most about Dynasty was the backstory each character was given and how the viewer would be let in on the winding histories these people shared. It was sometimes hard, especially as a young kid, to keep track of it all.
Okay, I’d say to myself, sometimes even moving my mouth as I thought out loud. Alexis was married to Blake and now she’s sleeping with Dex Dexter and she hates Krystle because Blake really loves her and Alexis and Blake keep finding children one of them didn’t know was birthed in the first place.
You know: normal eleven-year-old musings that occur in the dead of the night.
The next show that meant everything to me appeared several years later and it only lasted two seasons. I was about sixteen years old and I was into dark entertainment, even as I spent each one of my days being told by friends and strangers alike that no person on the planet ever smiled with more consistency than I did. And that observation was – and remains – true; I’m a smiley person. But dimples do not negate the love of sorting through a mythology of psychosis on network television.
Twin Peaks combined everything I longed for in my television viewing at the time. It was beautifully shot and scored by an instrumental master. It was loaded with offbeat characters who hid secrets from their loved ones and from the viewer. It was set in a small town where everybody knew everybody else and yet nobody knew anybody at all. The script was tight and quickly-paced and the actors said their lines in unexpected ways, lilting up sometimes at the end of a sentence so that the line would come across as quirky and somewhat mysterious, like there were things that were hiding beneath the lilting inflection. And then, of course, there was Kyle MacLachlan’s Agent Cooper who was as interested in coffee and pie as I always was and the haunting mystery of who killed teen queen Laura Palmer and then left her naked body wrapped in plastic at the water’s edge with a letter cut from a newspaper shoved beneath one of her fingernails.
I remember vividly the moment when that letter was extracted from Laura’s finger. Her body lay upon a slab in a coroner’s office and Cooper took tweezers and inched them below the bed of her fingernail. David Lynch shot the moment in extreme close-up; we could all see how far down those tweezers were going, beyond the skin and maybe into a ligament, and I sat and stared at the screen, my mouth falling open and my eyes getting wider because I couldn’t believe that the director was taking us there. A boundary, it seemed, was broken for me that day, and I wanted to be led by the hand and steered towards the very darkness I always sought to avoid in my real life.
That’s always a profound moment for me as a viewer – the one where I think no way are we going to be shown that, and then there it appears. It’s kind of a rare moment for me, and maybe that’s what makes it so special. It’s not at all about showing a viewer gore or being intentionally provocative because that shit is easy; there’s no threshold being crossed because you’re showing me a woman standing in a vat of needles in a movie like Saw 2. That’s not brave; that’s vile, and the thing is, I wasn’t made to really care for that character before the moment of her terror so the only thing I’m really reacting to is that I also hate needles. That kind of pretend pushing of boundaries is the stuff I have no patience for.
It's the real pushing of boundaries that impresses me still.
Like the moment in Pulp Fiction when Mia Wallace was about to overdose and was carted by Vincent Vega to the dealer’s house in abject terror. Sprawled on the shag carpet in the living room of the man who sold Vincent the drug Mia ended up snorting with gusto before it stopped her heart cold, Mia’s chest was sweaty and growing grey in terms of pallor. The adrenaline shot that needed to be injected directly into her heart was prepared, and Lance-the-dealer explained how the needle needed to break through the breastbone. He thumped hard on Mia’s chest to indicate the kind of bony barrier they were all up against and then Vincent drew a blood red marking on the exact spot the needle needed to aim for. I remember that the marker spot ended up looking almost runny because of the sweat of her body in the throes of an overdose and I also remember the blocking and the framing of the moment: Mia lying like a ragdoll across the floor, her hair splayed out against her pale skin; the dealer’s wife and her friend hunched above Mia but still in the background and to the far left of the frame; and Lance hovering behind Vincent who crouched above Mia, holding the adrenaline-filled syringe. Tarantino pushed in for a slow zoom to the craziest example of X Marks the Spot that I’d ever seen and then cut to a slow zoom of the needle, pulling focus so the viewer could clearly see the drop of liquid dangling from the needle’s sharp point.
There’s no way this shot is making it into this film, I remember thinking. It was opening night and I was at a theatre in Delaware with my friends Mike and Brian. I sat in movie theatres cross-legged back then, curling up on the seat like I was a cat, and I can still see myself in that moment, my fingers (definitely not manicured) gripping the legs of my jeans, my breath leaving my body in stops and in starts and the pure exhilaration I felt rush through me when the count off went down and the number three was said and the needle crashed down upon Mia’s chest and the entire thing was shot in close-up before she sprang back to life, looking like a cross between Winona Ryder’s character in Beetlejuice and an anime figure who had just escaped the apocalypse.
That cinematic moment felt so pure to me and I read it as so brave and risky because, by that point, I cared about all of those characters. I knew them. I’d been let into some of their lost hopes and their fears and I’d been acquainted with their humor and I could already root for each of them. It didn’t matter that one was the wife of a kind of merciless Mob Boss with feet that were so spectacular that they were wrapped in shoes of gold and the other one was a drug-addicted hit man. The movie had earned my loyalty – and the provocative needle shot was utterly brilliant.
But even as movies began to become more experimental in terms of nonlinear narratives and the exploration of the blackness of the human psyche, television turned formulaic and safe. The best shows – Twin Peaks, My So-Called Life, Sports Night – all of them only seemed to last for a season or two. Meanwhile, Keeping Up With the Kardashians is currently heading into season ten.
I haven’t helped stop the momentum of reality television – that easily packaged and cheaply produced form of entertainment – by tuning in continuously to some of the compelling drivel. I am not part of a Nielsen family, but watching this programming has made me more than complicit in the ways in which it has grown. I own that. I tuned in for one season of The Real Housewives and I have now subsequently watched just about every installment of the franchise. That series has become a lot of different things to me: it’s background noise. It’s easy escapism. It’s a way to pretend-shop for décor as long as the scene is not shot in the homes of Vicky from Orange County or in any of the homes of the women of New Jersey – those women veer towards heavy baroque furniture that hurts my sense of style, even when I just glimpse it with my peripheral vision. I never got into watching the show about the women in Miami and I’m not sure why, but I see my lack of Miami-awareness as perhaps some tiny bit of evidence that I haven’t compromised my intellect completely.
But even as I allowed these attention-craving narcissists – all of whom have a publicist when what they should really procure is a therapist who will work around the clock – into my home, it was the television that took risks that continued to have my heart. And no show challenged me more since the rainy days of Twin Peaks than Lost.
I started watching Lost the very first night it aired. I was drawn in by the commercials run by ABC of an exploding plane and a wide shot of a beach full of stranded castaways. I’m not sure if it’s true, but the commercials before the premiere of the show struck me as lengthier than those of other shows. I remember reading that when Forrest Gump was coming out, Paramount agreed to full-minute television ads to better illustrate the scope of the film. I thought that perhaps ABC had done the same thing for the same reason with this new show, and it struck me as wise. I was drawn in by the impression of a huge production budget given to a show that revolved around one of a rational person’s biggest fears: what if this plane I’m on crashes? Who will I be forced to try to survive with?
Plus, I’ve always been a sucker for Lord of the Flies and when I heard that the guy who used to play Charlie on Party of Five – a show I think had the smallest lighting budget in television history since every room was dim as the confining hallways of hell – would be playing a man named Jack on Lost, I smiled at the parallel between this new show and one of my favorite books.
Lost snagged me immediately. Shot on the gorgeous and expansive sands of Hawaii that were meant to double for an island in the middle of – well, we only sort of found out close to the end of the series where that island was – the show took its time revealing who its characters were. Their on-island interactions helped the viewer form a series of alliances, but it was their off-island prior lives, told in flashbacks that began with the whooooooooosh sound cue to propel the viewer back in time, that filled in who these people really might be. The jumps in time and the shift in focus from one character to another could sometimes be frustrating and it was often beyond compelling and I always wanted to know more than the show seemed willing to tell me, but I didn’t resent it then and I only further respect it now.
I spent a lot of time in those first two seasons tracking the interactions the castaways had in their lives before the plane crash.
There’s Sawyer in the back of the police station, I’d practically scream out loud during a scene where another character was in the front of the frame being interrogated. What does it all mean?
I’m still not so sure what it all meant, that overlapping of brief moments in their histories, but it was baffling in a wonderful way and the stories for each of the many characters were so rich and so honest and so layered that I forgave the showrunners for not revealing all of the mysteries dangled before my hungry eyes.
For me, it was the shrouded history of the Dharma Initiative, that cult-like organization that once ran experiments on the island, which fascinated me most. I wanted to know how the organization started and what their research was all about. I wanted to know why the food drops from the sky still occurred. I wanted to know what was in each station, each of which had its own weird insignia. I wanted to know who in the hell designed the shapeless Dharma jumpsuits. I wanted to know what was missing from the footage found in the hatch and what would happen if the numbers weren’t entered into the antiquated computer.
I stopped reading spoilers soon after season one because I just found that there was an inherent joy in being surprised by the action. And the total amount of dumbfoundedness I exhibited when I realized that Desmond was living in that hatch and that some of the castaways had actually gotten off of the island and that Ben had never even met Jacob, well, those were some great moments.
I had theories of course – lots of them. It’s hard to even remember what they were anymore, but I know that for an entire season I was convinced that the shape of a hexagon might mean absolutely everything when it came to solving the mythology of the series. Why did I think this? Well, there were hexagons everywhere: light-switches shaped like hexagons, windowpanes in the shape of hexagons, floor tiles that formed the impression of a hexagon.
How could it not be all about the fucking hexagon?
(Spoiler: it was not all about the fucking hexagon.)
I’d go out to lunch the day after a new episode aired with my friend Michael. We’d eat turkey sandwiches on wheat bread and discuss what we thought everything we had seen the night before might mean, and we were never right – not a single time.
But we never stopped diving in for more.
I was never of the belief that the island was a literal purgatory, though I was grateful that I had to read the Bible for a college course because Lost certainly had some literal and some slight biblical references. I wasn’t even terribly upset by the series finale, that last episode that left many questions unanswered and many devout fans furious. I liked it. I thought it had heart. Sure, I wish I’d learned more about the Dharma folk and it struck me that so many plot points dropped over the years were either red herrings or simply stories that the writers were never able to competently explore, but I think on some level that the very best shows – programs like The Sopranos and Twin Peaks and Lost – are kind of like life where there are always gaps in what we can piece together from the dangling threads of a fabric we wish could be a tighter and cozier knit.
My former boyfriend didn’t watch Lost and on the night the finale aired, he heard brief things about the show’s final reveals and he posted on Facebook something about Lost utterly sucking. I was at home, wiping tears from my eyes because my favorite show and one of my very favorite mysteries had just ended, and when I saw what he posted, it was the second time I thought to myself this guy is an asshole.
It takes a special level of entertainment to truly get myself wrapped up in the stories and the mysteries and the characters as they develop, and that happened with Lost. I was actively engaged. Lost was not the kind of show I could watch at the same time as I did anything else. I didn’t read, I didn’t go online, I didn’t paint my toenails, I didn’t do anything but watch that show carefully. It’s the first show that made my DVR not just a nice convenience, but something that seemed a necessity. I can say with certainty that I rewatched the scene where John Locke lay with his leg caught under the door of the hatch and the map of the island appeared on the wall in pastel colors at least twelve times. I rewound that scene. I paused it. I got off of my couch and stood only inches from the television and I stared at the screen.
What does it all mean?
But here’s the thing: on some level, it doesn’t matter what it all means. It doesn’t matter that I was never told why the characters on Lost led such intersecting lives. It doesn’t matter that I’m still somewhat confused about the origin of the dancing dwarf on Twin Peaks. And it really doesn’t matter that The Sopranos ended with that bold smash cut to black instead of explicitly revealing Tony’s fate.
It doesn’t always matter that we don’t fully understand the resolution – not when we loved the journey.