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Finales: Lost vs. Heroes

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Did you ever have a Magic 8-ball when you were a kid, the kind that would provide you with answers to even the wildest questions? After you shook the Magic 8-ball and asked your question,, the tension was palpable as you waited for the answer to float up to the window. Would it be: "Signs point to yes," or "Don't count on it," or the (n)ever popular, "Reply hazy … Ask again later."

Laurie Hutzler is a Hollywood script doctor and writing guru who doesn't need a Magic 8-ball to foretell success or failure for feature films or TV projects. It's all about story, characters, and structure, and what she doesn't know about story telling, character development and script writing isn't worth knowing.

Hutzler's theories and observations can be found at her Web site, The Emotional Toolbox and she recently turned her powers of perception to the finales of two popular shows: Lost and Heroes.

In part, here is what she says:

"In my view of film and television," says Hutzler, "there are nine story types - each of which contains its own unique set of story questions that drive a protagonist and storyline. These lay out the emotional playing field or emotional core of the show. This is what the audience intuitively recognizes, even if it can't be consciously articulated. A successful show embraces one of these nine and must remain true to it in every respect."

In Hutzler's opinion, Lost is driven by the Power of Reason, which asks the following questions:

-- How can I make sense from a world gone mad?
-- How can I grasp this world’s complexity?
-- Do I have enough information to understand my situation?
-- Will I be overwhelmed by the enormity of my situation or task?
-- How can order be restored from chaos?
-- What will I sacrifice to maintain or restore rational order?
These questions create an emotional core that wrestles with conflicts having to do with such dichotomies as: Order vs. Chaos; Alienation vs. Connection; Madness vs. Sanity; Man vs. Monster; Purity vs. Contamination; and even Natural vs. Unnatural.

On the other hand, Hutzler maintains that Heroes is driven by the Power of Imagination, which asks the following questions:

-- How does the ordinary become extraordinary?
-- Do you see what I see or understand the wider vision that I do?
-- Will my wider vision be appreciated or understood?
-- How can I seek unity or make connections with others who believe what I do?
-- What does this belief or vision demand of me?
-- What will I sacrifice to find my inner strength?
These questions create an emotional core that wrestles with conflicts having to do with such forces as: Belief vs. Doubt; The Magic and Miraculous vs. The Mundane; Community Action vs Individual Responsibility; and Inner Strength vs. Outer Conflict.

Lost stayed extremely true to its story type through the first season, helping its audience to perceive through the eyes of its protagonists all of the mystery, suspense, horror, and uncertainty presented by the survivor's baffling continued existence on the strange and sometimes hostile island. However, through Season Two and the current season, Lost strayed away from what made it special. The Others were introduced and all of a sudden, the story wasn't about the main characters any more, but instead asked the audience to embrace a whole new cast beyond those who crashed of Oceanic Flight 815. Equally sudden, the audience found that this story wasn't nearly as compelling as what they had originally come to expect.

And the ratings showed it.

Conversely, the first season of Heroes made the fairly compact promise, "Save the cheerleader, save the world," and stuck to it. The show brought on board a very compelling cast of characters, each with nascent superpowers that were revealed over time to a growing and increasingly expectant audience. The show never wavered very far from its story type, and while there was a dip in viewers after the show went on hiatus, the notion that the show's promise would be fulfilled brought more than just the True Believers back as the first season wound down.

Spoilers aren't completely necessary but I can't promise I won't give away a bit of each show here or there, so if there are cobwebs on your TiVo play button or you've been out of the country for the past few weeks, now it the time to catch up on other news headlines from Marvel, DC, Image, or Dark Horse.

The Heroes finale was probably just what the series needed: it provided closure while allowing any number of compelling plot lines to continue within Season Two, or to be reinvigorated sometime even farther downstream. What of Nathan and Peter? Well, we all know that Peter could survive the big bang, but did Nathan launch him ahead of himself as they rocketed away above the city so that both of them could survive? Only time will tell.

And it the best possible comic book style, even Sylar crawled away - out of sight is not necessarily out of mind - leaving only a bloody question mark in his wake.

While all of the Heroes' denouement might seem somewhat hollow and devoid of conclusive conclusions, the final bits of it played out beneath the judiciously calm voice of Dr. Suresh, who assured us that everything was as it should have been.

In short, it was the kind of finale that Heroes needed.

But Lost, on the other hand …

Well, Lost seemed more than a little muddled at the end of its finale. The Others attack the survivors' camp; captives are taken; Jack is leading everyone toward safety; Charlie and Desmond are in a whole heap of trouble down in the Looking Glass, and two of Jack's crew turn back to try to save the captives.

And then there's Locke … Crickey …we love this guy, but how many times is he going to get up off of the matt to unleash a can of mystical whup ass on somebody? In the case of the final moments of the finale, there is good ol' Locke, shot in the gut by Ben, lying atop a healthy heap of the bony remains of Ben's old Dharma compadres, reaching for a gun so he can put a bullet through his cranium and into his branium, and who should appear at the edge of the pit??

Is it really Walt? Or is it Walt Lite?

Or is it Jacob?

Or is it another tired old manifestation that’s popped out of the magic metaphorical box.

Or is it a fugitive Walt look-alike that escaped from the Outrigger Rapids action ride at the soon-to-be announced Lost Theme Park in (insert your favorite city or country here)?

Oh, PUH-leeeez.

Now that its first season is over, the good folks at Heroes will soon unveil a new show, titled "Origins" that will introduce new humans with super powers. The most successful will go on to be featured when the second season of Heroes embarks. About Origins, Laurie Hutzler says, "… it would be wise to maintain the story-telling integrity exhibited in season one. If the show keeps coming back to its fundamental emotional core and key story questions I predict viewership will continue to build."

Lost, on the other hand, seems to have strayed irrevocably far from its original story-telling integrity. Even with a few characters punching out their time clock (Charlie (sadly), Mikhail (gladly), Tom (badly), and seven Others, for instance. Naomi gets knifed, but is she really dead? … I don't think so …) the cast list still resembles a page of the Manhattan phone book. And at this point, the original survivors, the Others, the flashbacks, the Dharma Project, Naomi with her magic transmitter, the Looking Glass, Walt's return, and the ingenious flash-forward to Jack and Kate all resemble Kool-Aid, spaghetti, brussel sprouts, Jello and Moon Pies thrown together into a huge blender. While probability theory states that it's not impossible for a meal to result from such a mixture, common sense implies that such a meal may not be appealing.

All of this is underscored by the fact that the best part of the entire two hours was the massively underappreciated Hurley getting his props by saving the captive's collective asses on the beach by turning a previously seen Dharma microbus into a cruise missile. Yahoo! Everything else sinks back into the quagmire that is: What did we see? Who do we trust? and Does any of it really matter anyway?

ABC recently announced that Lost is slated to run until 2010 … a total of 117 episodes. The show's creative team seems intent upon returning Lost to its emotional roots. I hope they're successful. If not, look for the whole thing to come to a close with an action-packed, two-night, two-hour "Must See TV" all answers provided, perfect for the Last Season DVD Package and extremely final finale.

And if getting off the island was so bad for Jack … wait until you see Locke suffering through his new job as a safari guide on one of the boats at Disneyland's Jungle Cruise attraction. He'll be leaving voicemails for Jack asking him not to Bogart his prescription meds.

And as for fickle viewers, will more of them return to Lost when it begins airing new episodes later this year?

Kind of like the answer floating up from the Magic 8-ball that I had when I was a kid, the Power of Reason tells me …

"Reply hazy … Ask again later."

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