overthinking the idiot box

July 17, 2006

Rejected Column Titles: "Kirk Wouldn't Stoop That Low", "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot," "Resistance is Futile," and "some sort of Locutus pun?" This one goes out to all the nerds in the hizz-ouse.

Holographic Wow
The Hell?

A dispatch from the depths of the J.J. Abrams' nonsensiverse.
by Jill Weinberger

When I decided to write an examination of J.J. Abrams' unique plotting style, I thought it'd be fun. I'd get in, I'd gently mock, I'd get out. Clean and easy-like.


Um. Yes. Sisters. Yes.
Only it's all gone horribly wrong. I think I'm trapped here. I keep going back to things, trying to get them to make sense. From Felicity (Why was Elena there? Why) to Alias (Why are the Russian Derevko sisters played by a Swede, an Italian, and a Brazilan? Why?) to Lost (But why a horse? Why?), the questions keep cropping up, and I'm torn between a gritty determination to get to the bottom of things and a slow-growing, despairing feeling that there is no bottom, and I'm just freefalling through some sort of weird atmospheric anomaly created by an unprecedented number of plot holes fusing together into a giant sucking void. It's getting a little stressful.

Now, before you fankittens get your collective panties in a twist, let me clarify: I like Abrams' shows. And I dig a slowly unfolding mystery as much as the next TV junkie. I just feel like well, is it me, or does he seem to making this shit up as he goes along?

Let's start with Felicity. Why discuss Felicity in a sci-fi column? Well, after four fairly normal seasons, in the last five episodes of the series, our favorite curly-topped coed went back in time. See, after years of the Ben/Noel waffling, Felicity had finally settled on Ben, and the rest of us figured we could finally get some sleep. But no. Just as a now-free Noel was about to marry Zoe, Felicity caught Ben kissing some Claire chick. Oh, and Felicity's friend Elena was killed in a car accident. So Felicity, rather than crying her eyes out and gaining ten pounds like a normal person, had her buddy Megan send her back in time, so that Felicity could choose Noel and save herself a big mess o' heartbreak. And that's where things went off the rails.

Only, a) Undoing the spell was supposed undo all the changes made in the past, b) If I learned anything at all from Final Destination, it's that it takes a lot more than Keri Russell to stop Death, and c) They didn't show the cockadoody scene!
Time-Traveling-Felicity made significant changes, sure, but unfortunately those changes included getting Noel killed in a fire and herself locked up in a mental ward (where she ran into Zoe. Hey, Zoe!) So Felicity figured out that perhaps time travel was not for her, and she went home and forgave Ben. And Noel married Zoe and everything was back to normal — except Elena was there! Alive! Say what? Well, apparently, there was a missing scene in which Time-Traveling-Felicity convinced Elena to switch medical schools, which would have saved Elena from the car-accident. Only, a) Undoing the spell was supposed undo all the changes made in the past, b) If I learned anything at all from Final Destination, it's that it takes a lot more than Keri Russell to stop Death, and c) They didn't show the cockadoody scene! So basically, Elena was alive for no reason at all, other than that J.J. Abrams wanted us to know that Felicity didn't dream the whole thing. Hmm.

Then there's Alias. You know what I discovered when researching how convoluted Alias' storylines were? About a hundred more plot twists that I had forgotten (no doubt an effort on the part of my brain to keep itself from imploding). Forget the fact that Arvin Sloane and Irina Derevko each flipped from villainous to trustworthy more times than a politician with dissociative identity disorder. Forget the fact that virtually none of the show's timelines make any sense (Bill Vaughn rescued Nadia from a Russian bunker several years after he was already dead, which is quite a trick), or that nearly every storyline of Season Five had been stolen from the show's previous seasons (Thank God Jennifer Garner's fertile. If she hadn't gotten knocked up, we'd have had nothing new to look at.) Forget all of that, because none of it — NONE of it — compares to Milo Rambaldi.

I think the best thing that can be said about the Rambaldi legend is that it's probably forced us all to look a little more kindly on The X Files' alien conspiracy. I've tried — I mean really, really tried — to sort it all out, just so I could discuss it here, but frankly, depending on logic to help you figure out the Rambaldi mythology is like depending on a drunk to lead you out of a cornfield.

Milo Rambaldi was a 15th century artist, visionary, engineer, mathematical genius, alchemist, and all-around funky guy who, among other things, foresaw genetics and EEGs, developed a precursor to binary code, and invented a small neutron bomb. (One wonders when he had time among all of that to create any actual art. But one doesn't wonder for very long, because one will get a headache.) Put together a bunch of Rambaldi artifacts, and you get a message that says, "peace." Put together a different bunch, and you get the aforementioned bomb, or maybe a giant device that turns people into killer zombies, or — if you're really, really lucky — the secret to immortality. One of Rambaldi's greatest prophecies was that two women, Nadia and Sydney (both of whom he identified 500 years in advance) would clash, and only one would survive. Well, they did clash, back when Elena (the Brazilian Derevko) fashioned a big old zombifying Rambaldi thingy and Nadia went all "28 Days Later" and Sloane (having a more-or-less "not evil" day) shot her. But Nadia didn't die, she was just in a coma, which means both women did, in fact, survive. Unless you count what happened a whole season later when Sloane threw Nadia through a glass table and killed her. (Evil day.)

So Rambaldi was a peacenik with a penchant for creating doomsday devices, a mystic whose predictions were only sporadically accurate, and a man who possessed the secret to immortality but nonetheless died alone and childless at 52. Plus, there was the Rambaldi fluid which gave the injectee a cosmic uplink to the man himself, the Sphere of Life which contained Rambaldi's consciousness, the Rambaldi tissue which was a live sample of his DNA, and the Rambaldi orchid which made everyone all peaceful and harmonious when injected into the water — UNTIL, that is, when combined it with the big red floaty madness of the Mueller device, because that's how you get the zombies. I need to lie down now. If only I knew J.J. Abrams personally. Not that I expect him to explain things; I just have a feeling he's got access to the good pills.

And finally we come to Lost. At the end of this past season, we got the news that the island has some crazy-ass electromagnetic mojo. Well, thank God for that big, whoopty revelation, because that certainly does explain everything.
And finally we come to Lost. At the end of this past season, we got the news that the island has some crazy-ass electromagnetic mojo. Well, thank God for that big, whoopty revelation, because that certainly does explain everything.

I'm not being fair. We got more than that. We learned that one of the Island's many hatches was for watching the button-pushing hatch, and that the people in the watching hatch THOUGHT that the people in the button-pushing hatch were part of an experiment, 'cause that there button didn't actually do nothin' — but in fact, it was actually the people in the WATCHING hatch that were the experiment, because that there button actually keeps the whole island from imploding. Or something. We also learned that the Others kept a bunch of raggedy costumes in yet another hatch. Which either means that the Others are faking their raggedyness, or they just have a nice little community theater going on their side of the island. I think it's the theater thing, because the costumes were there after the hatch was abandoned, and yet the next time we saw the Others, they were still looking mighty raggedy.


J.J. ABRAMS KNOWS WHAT HE IS DOING. PAY NO ATTENTION TO THE MAN BEHIND THE CURTAIN.
But there's still the polar bear. And the big scary monster that's made of black smoke, spirits of the forsaken, and old bicycle chains. And the fact that everybody keeps making random cameos in everybody else's flashbacks. And the fact that food falls from the sky, and everybody's all, "Hey, food fell from the sky! Neat." And, you know, that business with the occasional dead person dropping by.

But I'm sure that's all going to be explained eventually, right? And it'll all make sense? Because J.J. Abrams surely wouldn't reward my loyalty with anything other than a big, satisfying payoff that brings everything together in the end in a way that shows he's known what he's been doing all along, right? Right?... Um, right?

Incidentally, if anybody wants to send a rescue party, I'm still trapped over here in the Alias section of Wikipedia. I think I may be somewhere in those two years Sydney lost between seasons two and three. Sometime after Vaughn married that English chick who wasn't really English, but before she turned out to be the CIA mole who was supposed to shoot her father the Senator, until she lost her nerve and her mom had to do it.

Somebody please help me.

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