After watching “Lost” last night, I’ve been mulling over the question of comprehension. How important is it, really, for me to understand what the hell is going on in a show or movie? Does it lessen my enjoyment of the thing or does it just liven things up by forcing me to continually turn to my husband and ask, “What the hell just happened?”
Those “what the hell” moments have been happening to me a lot lately with both “Lost” and “Battlestar Galactica.” I should point out that I never miss an episode of either show and am geek enough to frequent the Television Without Pity boards and eavesdrop on all the conspiracy theories. So it’s not like I’m not doing the homework. I just don’t always get it. Like physics or the appeal of radishes.
Perhaps I shouldn’t worry about it. There have been plenty of things in the past that I enjoyed without fully understanding what was going on. Adolescence, for one. I don’t get James Joyce but I like reading his work because the cadence of the language and indecipherable imagery appeal to me on a sensory level. I like Dadaism but maybe that’s just because I know it’s supposed to confuse me. I’ll watch a Wes Anderson film any day of the week even when I’m not quite sure what I’m meant to get out of it. Of course, I’m not sure Wes is either.
But I feel like I should have a better grip on TV. Isn’t television supposed to be the 20th century’s non-denominational opiate of the masses? I thought so, but these days I feel as though my opiate has come in a child-proof bottle that I’ll never, ever get open, let alone get all that packing cotton out of. At the same time – to extend the shoddy metaphor – I’m equally sure the kid down the street has opened the bottle with ease and is nodding his head in thoughtful agreement to everything on the screen. I feel more and more as though everyone is getting it but me.
Don’t get me wrong, though. I don’t need to understand everything right away. I like to be challenged. I like to have to work to decipher a story. I’m just worried that my brain has reached saturation point. I know it’s bad when I’m watching “Lost” and can’t remember Ben’s daughter’s name and can’t remember the other hot time-traveling dude (Desmond! How could I forget you and your well-groomed scruffiness?). It’s bad, too, when I have to do math to figure out if something is a fast-forward or a flash-back. (“Okay, Ben’s trip to the Middle East is set in 2005. ‘Lost’ has been on for four season? Which means the plane crashed in 2004. Carry the one, subtract the two, find the square root of something…okay, it’s a flash-forward!”) How do the writers keep all this straight?
And don’t even ask me to figure out “Battlestar.” How did Baltar’s transformation into Hugh Hefner turn him into Jesus? Is it the hair? And the cylons make my brain hurt. There’s Sixes and Eights and Fours and some are working together and some aren’t and some are Dean Stockwell and some are making out with Dean Stockwell. And oh, did I mention a bunch of them look alike?
The thing is, these shows are all so well done that I trust this is an issue with me and not with the story telling. And I trust that eventually, all will be revealed and I’ll finally be able to go, “Ahhh, so that’s the answer. I knew it all along.” (Yes, I will lie when that moment comes.) In the meantime, I’m just going to accept that full comprehension is not important and embrace the belief that it’s all going to make sense someday. Otherwise, I’m going to start thinking that watching 100+ hours of confusing TV might have been a mistake.