Lost – “The Shape of Things To Come”

“The Shape of Things to Come”

April 24th, 2008

Of all of Lost’s characters, I think I missed Daniel Faraday the most. He’s such a piece of work, but not in a negative context: he’s just a perfect character for this moment, a man too caught up in his own scientific world to hide his knowledge of things of a social nature. He’s also, admittedly, an opportunity to get a little bit meta, as seen in his answer to Jack’s question as to when he last saw a washed up member of the boat’s crew:

“When is kind of a…relative term”

It was said with the most delightful uncertainty, with total certainty in his answer but not in the reactions he thinks he will receive. The show, perhaps, might be on the same page: as we travel into Ben’s future as he wakes up in the middle of the Sahara Desert, we learn that he is in a particular time and place: October 2005, to be exact, right at the time when Sayid is burying his wife in peace. Is it the start of a beautiful friendship? Well, perhaps, but it’s also a total time warp.

If this is the shape of things to come, then I would say it is a shape of indeterminate size, of indeterminate shape, and yet most certainly growing to dangerous proportions. Both in the present and the future, said shape grows in Benjamin Linus – this was a showcase of acting from Michael Emerson, and a fantastic and intriguing display of the way this show works, and the way this show will work in the future. We don’t know exactly what will come, but we know that it looks pretty damn intense.

There’s two lines of discussion to follow with Ben, but let’s go with the most eventful before the most philosophical. On the island in the present, Michael Emerson is put through a stunning series of events as Widmore’s men stormed the beach. The result of their invasion is a lot of dead extras and, more importantly, the re-emergence of an old friend: The Smoke Monster.

The entire sequence really wasn’t that complicated when it’s on paper, but it was a complicated and emotional scenario in reality. Alex being taken hostage, and losing her life, was not easy to watch. It should be surprising that the show was willing to kill her, but let’s consider how she died: having just heard the real truth behind her parenthood (That Ben stole her from Rousseau, a “crazy woman”), she watches as her father does nothing to save her. That’s a harsh death for any character, especially one as innocent in this whole affair as Alex.

It was yet another powerhouse moment for Emerson, who knocks the coldness of his decision to deny any feelings for Alex (A ploy to try to bluff him out of killing her), followed by the shock of her death, out of the park. Ben has been beaten up a lot this season, and forced into a quasi-subservient position: finally, here, he emerges as the lead figure, a man who struggles with his decisions and fears their consequences. The look on his face when she falls to the ground, or the quiet moment he shared with her as they left, were just gripping television: this year, he’s the one who deserves the Emmy, sorry Terry O’Quinn.

It makes the other revelation from this storyline somewhat less meaningful, mainly the fact that Ben calls on our friend Smokey the Smoke Monster to rid him of his Widmore problem. It certainly begs a lot of questions, certainly implies that Ben has been lying (That isn’t really breaking news), but somewhat more important is that we finally see the moment: we finally get to see the moment where Hurley makes his big mistake referred to in the premiere.

It is implied, as a result, that Hurley’s decision to go with Locke and Ben to visit Jacob’s cabin to save Locke and Sawyer killing one another is a bad one. When he tells Jack he is sorry, we have to ask: what, precisely, can happen as a result that will affect Jack so profoundly? I don’t know if there’s an easy answer to that question, per se, so the drive to the finale should prove most interesting.

That about covers that side of the coin, but this is not Ben’s only “When” of the episode: we also flashforward to October 2005, where he finds himself waking up in the Sahara desert. He seems disoriented at this moment, and as he pulls together his usual arsenal of tricks and trades we see some odd things: not only did he seem to wake up randomly in the middle of the desert, but he asks a hotel clerk not the date, but also the year. That’s a strange thing to do, unless you’re traveling through time.

There’s a lot of options at play here: based on the words of Widmore and Sayid, it is expected that Ben is supposed to be on the island at this point; Sayid asks him how he got off (He lies and says they took Desmond’s boat), and Widmore implies that the battle for the island is not over (And that Ben is currently in control). So how, then, is he off the island in such a disorienting fashion? The easy answer is time travel, but in what variety?

The show has explored only one option, so it makes sense that it is the answer: using a Faraday-esque strategy, Ben could be traveling from the island to this locaton (His question of “What year is it?” an attempt to confirm that he was at the right point in time taking into account the island’s relative time issues). It is also no coincidence that he arrives in Tunisia, which we saw during Charlotte’s flashback as a location where archeaologists are digging up polar bear fossils. This implies a definite Dharma connection between these two locations, so perhaps a less time-travel related solution could be at play in some fashion.

It’s a fascinating question, and definitely overshadows some of the other revelations (Why Sayid agrees to join Ben, and the nature of the Widmore and Ben feud). These were all very tenuous, brief foreshadows or simple statement of fact or development. It was the broader questions, again, that fascinated most, plus it showed the ability for the show to demonstrate the impact of Alex’s death on Ben, and his pledge to kill Penny in retaliation (Desmond, if alive, is going to choke a bitch). It was as a storyline itself a bit slow at points, but it did a great job of serving both future and present storylines.

And if you think that was enough for a single episode, you were clearly wrong: the Beach gets its own very brief but very intriguing storyline from which the above Faraday quote derives. After the Doctor washes up on shore, Faraday’s crude telegraph tells the truth: that the Doctor is on the boat and fine as far as they’re concerned. Bernard’s one-upmanship of Faraday’s attempt to lie the truth away (Fairly unconvincingly, in retrospect) was great, as was Jack’s anger at his betrayal. It was a slight little storyline, but it gets an important ball rolling: Jack knows that there is no rescue in sight, and he can move beyond hope to vengeance. Mmm, vengeance.

On the whole, I am extremely glad that I had three hours to sort out this episode, there was a lot to think about.

Cultural Observations

  • Nice subtle point of humour where the good deceased doctor, played by Marc Vann who portrayed Ecklie on CSI, was the subject of Jack’s forensic investigation.
  • There are apparently big things ahead for Claire, who this week was knocked out in a terrifying explosion, and is now heading back to the beach. Considering that we know Aaron makes it off the island and Claire doesn’t, we might be heading to the point where we discover yet another secret.
  • One of the things the Elder McNutt noticed was Ben’s statement that Widmore had broken the rules of the game by killing Alex. He wondered whether there was actually rules, that this game has been going for so long that there are rules of engagement – we are presuming that the battle goes back to the Hanso Foundation and the Dharma Initiative, which is the part of the history we are going to have to get at some point in the future – perhaps, it is possible that a truce that goes beyond the Others/Dharma split was reached, and that there are rules involved. We’ll have to wait and see, especially.

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