January 28th, 2009
There are some who believe, and who boasted ahead of the episode airing, that “Jughead” is one of the strongest episodes in Lost’s five season run.
I’m inclined to disagree, although not out of malice towards the episode or its intentions.
I liked “Jughead,” a lot, but it felt like a much more purposeful attempt to confuse and overwhelm the viewer than some of the show’s past mythology episodes. There is no doubt that, compared to the premiere, this episode is far more revealing: the island’s pit stop in the 1950s introduces us to some key individuals and ideas which seem to fit together numerous pieces of our puzzle, whether it be Richard Alpert’s reasoning for entering into the life of John Locke or the various details that explain the current condition of Daniel Faraday.
Abandoning the Oceanic Six entirely, the episode is all about trying to piece things together in ways that seem at first unorthodox but then, over time, become more focused if not more clear. My reservations about placing the episode into the show’s upper echelon is that it, as an entity, did not feel like a story in its own right: while we approached some major revelations for Daniel Faraday in particular, the episode never felt like it really had time to apply those to his character and demonstrate those effects.
But no one can claim that there are not now some much larger questions, and certainly the fog is beginning to clear on, at the very least, a few very important things. So that makes “Jughead” an entertaining and momentum-building episode for the show, if not the television revelation that some had sold it as.
What we learned about Daniel Faraday in this episode is really quite simple: we learned that his research was funded by Charles Widmore, we learned that he at one point used his technology on a young woman, and we learned that his mother is most likely Ms. Hawking, the woman who we saw at the end of “The Lie” mapping the location of the next event (considering that his mother is in Los Angeles, and all). These things don’t add up to too much, but it’s enough to successfully reframe the question of Faraday’s identity. The impression crafted here, publicly, is that Faraday has vanished: that, after he placed Teresa into the state of divided being that she rests in now, he ran off to America in order to escape the consequences.
Of course, the impression we get is that he did quite the opposite: indeed, it seems instead as if he has simply been working with Widmore, using the technology on himself in order to travel back to the early days of the Dharma Initiative, to film things such as the Comic Con video, and to prepare the island for whatever its fate would be. In the process, we know that he too was suffering when he first arrived on the island: time travel took a hold on him as it had with Theresa, requiring him to find his constant and resettle into this environment. We also start to wonder whether or not the female Other who was holding him hostage was, in fact, some version of Theresa, or perhaps even Ms. Hawking as Jace posts at Televisionary, considering the potential for resemblance. It’s all really intriguing mythology stuff, and it adds up to a whole load of further questions on the subject.
But the most revelatory thing we learn is less to do with Faraday and more to do with one of the people who interacts with our group of castaways: we learn that the leader of the group who attacked Sawyer and Juliet last week is, in fact, Charles Widmore. We had always presumed that he would emerge from the island’s past, but we have to wonder how it happened and in what way it could operate. We know that Ben is Dharma, and that his arrival is still a ways away as far as we can be aware, so that showdown still has a ways to go. Nonetheless, it is an important piece of this puzzle that nonetheless bears no fruit here: we don’t get to see much of Widmore, or even interactions of him, before we’re flashing away at episode’s end.
What worked best about the episode, in my mind, was those parts which were tied less to vague questions and more to emotional qualities. I find Faraday fascinating, but also a bit tough to follow considering how removed we still are from him as a character in many ways. It’s hard to really care about Charlotte and Daniel’s little love affair of sorts when we have Desmond and Penny on the other end of the coin, especially in this storyline. What can possibly compared with the opening scene revealing that Desmond and Penny have a baby boy? And is there anything more heartwarming than, later in the episode, learning that the child is named Charlie? And is there a greater sense of tragedy than this couple realizing that one of them will always be pulled to the island and that pulling in the opposite direction is a fool’s errand? There are real stakes in that storyline, that felt and breathed like the kind of things we’ve seen in the show’s best episodes.
The rest didn’t do the same, simulating more the inner reaches of the mind than our immediate reaction sensors. We learned a lot of things here: that the American military had been present on the island in the 1950s and they had brought with them a leaking Hydrogen Bomb; that Alpert at this point was taking orders from Jacob but himself seemed to be leading the Others; that the Others can all speak Latin; that Juliet was aware of Richard’s ominpresence on the island. These are all basic facts, but the problem is that the episode doesn’t have time to stop and analyze them, or even let most of them play out. Instead, it’s a true hit and run: they hit us with the information, and then we’re skipping to a different period altogether like we just reached the end of an episode of Sliders.
But the show isn’t going to not let any of this linger. What does it mean, for instance, that Locke was able to find Richard and, presumably, create the scenario that played out in “Cabin Fever” wherein Alpert stops in during various points in Locke’s childhood in order to test him (including presenting the compass as one of the items that “he already owns”)? Is that Locke changing the future, which Faraday said was impossible, or rather Locke fulfilling his destiny to be there in that moment, as he might never have been on the island anyways if not for his initial visit? There’s a disconnect there that still doesn’t make much in the way of sense. Similarly, the H-Bomb is an intriguing specimen: Faraday seems sure that he could disarm it, and he certainly told her how to do it, but since the island still exists in fifty years does that mean the bomb is still there somewhere, waiting to be unleashed? Did Dharma discover it and use it for their own purposes, or is it still buried there?
The time travel is giving them a chance to go on an island history tour, a journey that has a great deal of potential not particularly lived up to within this episode. That isn’t really the fault of anyone involved: the acting was great, the scenery was quite stunning, and some of the scenes (in particular Desmond’s standoff with Widmore) really did pop. The problem is that the episode was still more of a tease, never manifesting itself into a broader whole about any of these characters. If last week was about how these moments of time travel were playing out in the short term, here we began to see long term implications: now that the 1950s others know about them, what happens next? Do they course correct? Do things change? Is whatever time they just leapt to different from theire actions, no matter what Faraday says?
They’re all relevant questions, and I don’t want to insinuate that we needed answers, but the episode lacked its own constant to pull it together into something cohesive and bigger than an intriguing but ultimately unworthy of hyperbole episode.
- I liked seeing Juliet become more important here, same goes for Miles – they were both given a bit of a bum rap last season, in many ways, so I’m hoping that they are able to find new relevance (Miles with his amazing ability to speak to the dead to confirm what kind of threat they were heading into, and Juliet who by far has the most knowledge of the actual people who live on the island).
- I noticed in catching the end of the early repeat of last week’s “The Lie” that they listed Ms. Hawking’s name as Eloise Hawking, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Faraday’s lab mouse who he put through the maze was named Eloise. The show seems to be pretty clear in the fact that Hawking is Faraday’s mother, so either we’re in for some massive misdirection or else the surprise comes less in who she is and more in what she has to say.
- My brother informed me that, in fact, there was some writing on paintings in Widmore’s office: “Namaste.” It’s an intriguing statement because we still have no idea how Dharma plays into any of this, or when they were really operating. Piecing that together is going to take more time, and I’m hoping we see more of that during the varying time periods they will eventually visit on the island.
- I don’t know if there’s even been an episode without Jack, Kate, or Hurley, but this was one – I didn’t really miss them, to be honest, although I do feel like placing the weight of such exposition on characters we don’t yet have an emotional connection to (especially with Faraday’s and Charlotte’s doomed and unrequited love stopped by killer nosebleeds) was kind of problematic at times.
- And just so we’re entirely clear, I frakking melted into the ground when I saw that Desmond and Penny named their baby Charlie – one of those moments where you didn’t even see it coming, and then there it was, melting your cold heart in one fell swoop.
- As always, for more analysis and some lively commenting, head over to Sepinwall’s review, which is where I’m headed right now.