Lost in the B.S.

Watching Heroes the other night, I realized I was suffering from plot whiplash.

Heroes is just one more nail in the coffin of the implied compact between storytellers and their audience. Maybe it all began back with Twin Peaks. It has certainly flowered in Lost. But some time, somewhere, smart script writers figured out how to manipulate the plot system — kind of like the financiers who figured out how to manipulate derivatives to make obscene, and essentially unearned,  fortunes, right before they crashed the entire financial system.

Dramatic and surprising turns in plots have always reliably created an audience reaction. A character suddenly does or reveals something drastically at odds with everything we’ve known about him or her, or a hugely unexpected, unlikely or puzzling event occurs, and the reader/viewer is reliably brought to the edge of his/her seat. The excitement isn’t created by the unexpected twist alone, but because there is a built-in trust that the twist means something, that subsequent events will demonstrate how the anomaly fits convincingly into the larger reality — that in the end, it will all make sense. The bigger the anomaly, the reader/viewer reasonably supposes, the more spectacular and satisfying the revelation that will eventually explain everything.

These junk bond dealers of the literary world are shamelessly abusing that trust. They rack up the profits from bizarre and outrageous  turns in character and plot without any intention of ever repaying the emotional investment. In their stories, absolutely anything can happen, because they know they will never have to explain it all. They’ll just create another distraction downstream, and then another.

All that weird stuff happening on the island, analyzed and parsed by fans ad nausea? Well, the real revelation is, it doesn’t mean a damn thing. The writers are just making it up as they go along.

Anyone who regularly watched Battlestar Galactica knows how expertly the show’s brain trust kept viewers on the edge of their seat. Each twist was a kind of commitment, an IOU for a satisfying explanation. But as the twists accumulated, the indebtedness grew ever larger, and I began to suspect that I was being taken. This whole show was a pyramid scheme. These people had no idea where any of this was going. They had no plan to repay their investors.

And when the margin was called, when the show finally couldn’t defer explanations to another episode or another season, it all crashed down, the proverbial house of cards.  The final episodes were hideous, desperate little things. Far-fetched didn’t cover it. The gaps in logic could only be measured in light years. The show’s fans could only have felt like fools holding fists full of worthless paper.

Trust me on this.

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