Thursday, October 16, 2008

Mystery and Revelation

The Lost Spiral. That's a term I'm gonna try to coin. It has to do with a TV show's gradual regression from phenomenal to lame. It starts strong, but hits a tipping point where it spirals into incredulity and loses its audience. (Kind of like jumping the shark, only more of a season-to-season phenomenon)

Track with me: LOST season 1 was fantastic, a perfect balance of character development and intrigue, with just enough revealed each episode to keep one watching every week. Season 2 was slightly less so; more characters and side-plots were introduced, more questions raised than answered, but the character development was still strong enough to keep the show strong. Season 3 hit the tipping point, falling into absurdity, introducing new poorly developed characters and radically changing the personalities of others, crossing the line from intrigue to frustration with the amount of unanswered questions and the increase in time-travel and flashbacks/forwards.

I bring this up because I've noticed a similar progression with NBC's Heroes. Season 1 had a lot of character development, a great story arc, and had a good balance of the mysterious and the concrete. There was a clear villain (Sylar), a clear goal (save the cheerleader; save the world), and lots of great surprises. Season 2--limited because of the writer's strike--was still interesting, but lost that central good vs. evil element with a variety of sub-plots. There were a lot of loose ends left untied by the finale. And now with season 3, it's spiraling into the ridiculous. Time travel, surprise siblings, an attempt at spirituality, and inconsistency with the character development are creating one crazy rollercoaster of a show. (My biggest frustration--spoiler here--is that the whole first season is totally moot if Sylar can take Claire's power without killing her. "Save the cheerleader, save the world" doesn't matter if the cheerleader, the villain, and other characters are now immortal.)

Perhaps the main theme here is the balance of mystery and revelation. When just enough is revealed, you are intrigued, eager to learn more and understand what is really happening. When too much is revealed, the intrigue is lost and complacency sets in. Yet when there is not enough revealed, frustration rears its head and we give up trying to know anything at all.

I think we're drawn into that balance between mystery and revelation in art because that's where God and truth reside--between the transcendent and the tangible.


  1. For Lost, I half-agree. I don't think these last couple seasons have been as strong as the first two, but they still grab my attention and they make me think about it and talk about it many days after the airing of the show. The first season, every episode was great. They were well thought out. This last season, the majority of the episodes are lame, but there's always that one or two episodes that blow me away. My favorite episodes of last season were The Beginning of the End, The Constant and The Shape of Things to Come parts 1, 2, and 3. Notice the common element in all of the episodes: written by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.

    As for Heroes, I completely agree with you. The first season was fantastic. The past two seasons so far have been crap. Pure utter crap. I still watch it because I want to know what's going to happen, but the show really has gone down the toilet. I think the producers have become way to full of themselves.

  2. Cam,
    Perhaps I should call it the "Heroes Spiral" instead! Heroes is a much more extreme spiral into lameness than LOST. And I definitely agree, there are some gems in seasons 3 and 4 of LOST.

  3. I like both of these shows ... but have been disappointed too. Not disappointed enough to stop watching all together though. The tipping point for me in Heroes is ... beware spoiler ... Seresh going to the dark side. COME ON!! They should have just stayed with the XMen kind of feel they had going on. But ... I will probably watch on.

  4. Lori,
    Totally agree with the Suresh thing! He goes from meek scientist nerd to creepy Spiderman guy in zero time. And Sylar goes from uber-evil villain to misunderstood mama's boy?

    And yet...I will probably still watch both shows!

  5. You hit it! Spiralitis is taking all our good shows....