Friday, March 5, 2010

Ghosts and Zombies

Talking to dead people is scary. I can’t say this from personal experience, but the people I respect a lot like Hugo Reyes, John Locke, and that lady from Medium (which Wikipedia says is now on its 109th episode!!? And Firefly gets canceled before it gets to 15!! Anyway…) tell me so. They tell me that even just seeing dead people is a tad frightening. Like, if you were just going about your morning, brewing some coffee and enjoying a blueberry pop-tart and then a dead person started staring at you from the other side of your bay window, it’s likely the pop-tart would fall to the floor and you’d sit absolutely frozen until the coffeemaker overflowed onto your pants and scalded your leg. If, by then, the dead person has mysteriously disappeared, you might then run outside and frantically start digging around the bay window with your bare hands, or hide on the other side of the house while intermittently poking your head around the corner to see if you can surprise the stealthy dead person, or begin incoherently pleading with passers-by to join you in an ad-hoc zombie hunting posse. My point is, all of this would be hilarious for your neighbors to watch—even if they couldn’t see the dead people. The reason your neighbors like it when you see and talk to dead people is that it always adds drama to the generally boring world that they’re watching go by.

When you throw dead people into the mix, predictable tasks are discarded in order to pursue maniacal chases, familiar faces invoke wild paranoia rather than comfort, and decisions you make that seem perfectly sensible in the context of chasing/running from dead people appear unbalanced and dangerous to say, your girlfriend.

So when dead people pop up in the exciting stories I read & watch in order to retreat from my generally boring world—I get nervous because hey, why would the creators need to use a prepackaged, off-the-shelf literary device to manufacture dramatic tension when they can manufacture it with the writing and story itself? Sometimes, I can get so paranoid that I think the creators are cynically inserting dead people in the story just to provide information that the plot hasn’t allowed a character to know, or to move a character somewhere the plot wouldn’t otherwise allow them to be, or to in some other way bend/break the rules their own plot has imposed upon them.

Of course, there’s one story where the creators can go nuts with dead people: the zombie story. A zombie story isn’t the same as a ghost story. In a ghost story, no explanation as to how the dead are able to appear to the living is necessary. The tension and eeriness of the successful ghost story is directly driven by the supernaturally exposed decay of reason and predictability that the apparitions signify. In a zombie story, the dead are brought back to the land of the living, but it’s accomplished by a force that has its own, likely twisted, but rational and coherent reason within the plot. 28 days later is a zombie story (duh); Invasion of the Body Snatchers is a zombie story (I’d argue); The Ring is a ghost story. Obviously, Lost isn’t a pure zombie or ghost story, but as the origin of the apparitions is revealed in more depth (as I hope it will be), I really, really hope it turns out to be part zombie story.

The characters in Lost thought they were living in a ghost story for the first 5 seasons. With the appearance of unkillable unLocke and ghost Jacob, some (i.e. Sawyer and Sayid) may suspect their now within a zombie story. Us viewers though, have a lot more evidence than even Sawyer and Sayid that it’s a zombie story, given unLocke’s acknowledged ability to come to us as ‘someone we know, someone who has died’. I’ll stop this ramble now…but not before I note that there’ve been many, many apparitions on this show, and I’d argue that if some of them have been zombies, then they’ve all been zombies (that is—not ghosts), and if so—they all require an animating reason to have acted the way they did.

Obviously, I am more than a little fixated on this question. This may stem from another recently ended, very popular TV drama (which will remain anonymous in the interest of non-spoilerage) that made frequent use of ‘apparitions’. In this show, the ‘apparitions’ successfully heightened dramatic tension on an episode-by-episode basis in addition to creating overall, years-long story arc spanning questions about the very basis of both the show’s mythology and the identity and motivations of key characters. The final explanation of the apparitions in this show was, imho, both a massive letdown, and a serious punting of the authorial responsibility of not concluding stories with a ridiculous Deus ex Machina.


1. Who is responsible for the island apparitions?
2. Are there some ‘apparitions’ that are ‘astral projections’ of a living person (i.e. Walt) and some that are ‘zombies’?
3. Are they all ‘masks’ that hide the same essential being beneath? Who is that being (obvious candidate: Smokey)?
4. What causes them to appear to certain characters? Can anyone see them?
5. To what ultimate (or proximate) end have they been deployed?
6. Are White-shoe Christian and Cabin Christian identical?
7. Is the same force responsible for waking ‘apparitions’ also responsible for dream ‘apparitions’?
8. Why did off-Island apparitions only appear to the Oceanic 6 after they left the island? Why not before they arrived?
9. How is Hurley’s ability to see dead people related to the force behind the apparitions? How about Miles’s abilities—any relation there?
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