?Lost? in translation

Andrew Fingerett

Now in its fifth season, ‘Lost’ has held us all in its grips for years, eagerly waiting for the next episode to answer our questions while simultaneously posing even more. But ‘Lost’ represents more than just a time vampire. It is the embodiment of the modern sci-fi thriller, a great departure from the science fiction of the past.

‘Lost’ is undeniably an entertaining and thoughtful television show, but it is difficult to deny that its plot is a massive, tangled mess (albeit an engaging, wonderful mess). In fact, ABC has even made captioned webisodes available to explain each new episode in the context of past episodes to either aid newcomers to the series or refresh the memories of confounded veterans. Plotlines containing mad scientists, teleporting landmasses and time-traveling characters who can logically be simultaneously alive and dead tend to warrant such treatment.

The Sci-Fi Channel’s hit remake of ‘Battlestar Galactica’ continues the trend, and while the plot may not be quite as labyrinthine, newcomers to the series are likely to find themselves struggling to understand what’s happening and why.

This style of storytelling not only allows greater interpersonal conflict, a must for any modern television series, but it also allows plotlines to delve into much greater complexity. With Internet access viewers can often avoid the ‘television-by-appointment’ approach, which means they can see every episode in order on their own time without missing anything.

But despite all these wonderful improvements to the genre, I find myself looking back with a bit of nostalgia at the sci-fi genre of old. That of self-contained episodes presenting a single, ponderous issue, then exposing every facet of that issue’s glorious depth. The original ‘Star Trek’ series and ‘The Twilight Zone’ are the best examples of this lost art.

Modern television can improve the old formula, but doesn’t. ‘Lost’ presents many sci-fi themes within each episode, but tends to wrap them around one another and interweave them rather than overtly explore them.

It will be interesting to see how these storytelling techniques progress. While I welcome new forms, I certainly hope their predecessors won’t be forgotten or ignored.