Is ‘Lost’ on the right track?

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“Lost” may be the most closely watched and obsessed-about show on television. But as the Season 2 finale nears, the show’s most perplexing questions remain unanswered.

Not just the whereabouts of Mike, Walt and Desmond, the significance of Hurley’s numbers or the real lowdown on The Others. We’re talking about the really big issues: Does hunting down the various hidden clues add to the fun of the show – or detract from it? Does Jack need to die to save the show? Does its recent ratings dip simply reflect the power of its new time-slot rival, the “American Idol” results show, or could it also signal a growing discontent in the “Lost” world? Will the path from the hatch lead all the way to Twin Peaks?

TV writer Virginia Rohan and columnist Bill Ervolino, friends who love to debate each other, have been arguing those points for weeks now. Here, they tackle the big issues:

Clues

Bill Ervolino: I don’t think hunting down “clues” is the only reason to watch this show. But if the writers are going to go through the trouble of inserting them, then why ignore them? “Lost,” TiVo and Google were made for each other. And cross-referencing things after the show is fun, like doing a crossword puzzle.

Virginia Rohan: I know some people enjoy it. I don’t. Once upon a time, there was this terrific show called “Lost,” which I mainly watched for its narrative and characters – not its cryptic clues and subliminal seductions.

Yes, I know that the show’s producers, from Day One, dropped us breadcrumbs – a trail that would presumably lead, eventually, to the solution of the island’s great underlying mystery. At first, these clues were tantalizing. But this season, they’ve upstaged the more important story elements.

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Flashbacks

Ervolino: The flashbacks should let us know more about the character and, to some extent, advance the plotline. It’s also nice if the “past” and “present” stories have some relationship to each other.

I don’t think we need to know any more about Charlie, his brother or that annoying song of theirs, but that doesn’t mean I dislike Charlie as a character.

Rohan: I think we pretty much agree on this. In Season One, the flashbacks were a great way to introduce the back stories of these seeming strangers without resorting to awkward expository dialogue. (“Hi. I’m Jack. I’m a doctor, and I was married to a woman who came into the emergency room paralyzed after a terrible car accident …”)

As these flashbacks have progressed, it has also been fun to see how the Oceanic Flight 815 passengers had crossed paths before they ever wound up on that doomed jet. However, the device, and even the jet-engine “whoosh” that precedes the flashbacks, is becoming tiresome.

Self-contained vs. Serial

Rohan: The show’s basic concept is that it’s serialized, so “Lost” shouldn’t suddenly turn into “CSI.” But I’d propose a compromise. In every episode, the writers could reveal at least one key to solving the island’s mystery, while letting some larger questions continue to play out. These weekly reveals should be real gotchas.

Jack

Ervolino: There’s no getting around the fact that Jack is the hero, even after you’ve learned that he was supposed to die in the pilot. As he’s written, Jack is an interesting guy, about as complex as we can expect any character in a drama series to be. But he has been grating on my nerves this season.

I’d like to find out the rest of Jack’s story, and I’m not rooting for him to die. But, unless the entire premise of the show hinges on him, I think he’s expendable.

How long before the show turns into ‘Twin Peaks’

Rohan: Sadly, I’m getting a sinking feeling that that process may have already begun. “Twin Peaks,” of course, also started out brilliantly. But the central mystery dragged on too long, and the producers started to throw in lots of clues that turned out to be meaningless.

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