Thursday, 28 February 2008

"The Nikki and Paulo Problem."

The ‘Lost’ characters, Nikki and Paulo, were, it’s fair to say, universally despised by the fanbase upon their introduction back in Season 3. Conversely, the Freighter People in the present season have been embraced with open arms. Why is this? What was it about Nikki and Paulo?

The start of ‘Lost’ Season 3 suffered from bad writing. Under pressure from the studio to put out a 6-episode mini-season, the writers were hard-pressed and it led to some bad scripts particularly evident with the notoriously ambiguous phrasing of Eko’s last words. The dialogue wasn’t up to par, the pacing was all off, and time wasn’t distributed satisfactorily between the various characters.

Nikki and Paulo were introduced in the midst of this already heavy-laden story-arc. The character Nikki was introduced with a first line where she proceeded to have a go at Hurley. There’s the first mistake; you don’t get popular by insulting the most popular character on the island, especially when he’s just come back from a long hike and your criticism doesn’t make any sense. The second big problem with Nikki and Paulo was that they were Boone and Shannon. For some arbitrary reason, the show-runners decided to write these two lukewarm characters back into the show under an ever-so slightly different guise. Most crucially, Nikki and Paulo were uninteresting characters. Sticking an attractive non-entity into a scene may work on ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ but ‘Lost’ has a richer depth of ensemble characters. Fling two pretty new survivors into the mix simply didn’t fit.

The Freighter People are thankfully genuinely interesting and, unlike Nikki and Paulo, have a definite reason for their sudden appearance on the island. Obviously the new cast members benefit from Season 4’s vastly improved scripts but the characters themselves are much more likeable (despite the fact that they may be a threat to the heroes of the show). Jeremy Davies’ character, Daniel Faraday, is wonderfully endearing because of the nervous and idiosyncratic way he’s played. I also like the angle they’re taking with his apparently poor memory; it seems to be an interesting arc and I cannot wait for Faraday to get a full-fledged flashback episode. Ken Leung’s character, Miles Straume, is not as endearing. In fact, it seems he’s just channelling Sawyer. But it works. What was great about Sawyer was that he was an enigma; a mysterious intelligent hillbilly conman. By Season 4 however we know all about him and, with the death of his namesake, his story-arc is complete. So it’s nice to get this Sawyer-type character who can be angry and mysterious. Miles also seems to know more than the Losties and that gives him a position of power comparable to Ben.

With a Desmond-centric episode this Sunday (tonight in the States), it’ll be interesting to learn more about the freighter and Frank the helicopter pilot. Having said that, any episode with lots of Desmond is a good one by me: he was the most interesting character introduced on that island even before he started supposedly ‘time-travelling’.

Season 4 of ‘Lost’ is a vast improvement over Season 3 bringing us some of the best episodes since late Season 1/start of Season 2. The game-changing season finale narrative shift last year has been continued magnificently and it’s really reinvigorated the show’s concept. For the very first time since the show began, it feels like the writers actually know where the story’s going; apparently they were telling the truth when they said they weren’t making it up as they go along. If you gave up on ‘Lost’ due to lack of resolution, you should try watching it again because Season 4 represents an entirely new chapter in the sprawling but ultimately rewarding narrative.

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