March 4th, 2009
“…now what?” – Jin ; “…then what?” – Juliet
It has been said that the last two episodes of Lost, “316” and “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham,” were sort of a launching point for the rest of the show’s fifth season, the one bit of major story material (focusing entirely on off-island activities beyond the bookends of each episode) that felt like it needed to be blatantly exposed to switch gears. “Lafleur,” then, has a lot to live up to: it takes us back to the storyline we’ve abandoned for two episodes, and has created new expectations and new mysteries upon which it is going to rely in the future.
But to answer Jin’s question immediately (and get to Juliet’s later), “Lafleur” establishes that the moment the island stopped “skipping,” the show has gone back to a familiar tune, one less driven by the series’ structure and far more by the series’ characters. What we have in this episode is the closest Lost has come to its initial purpose all season, offering up a few really intriguing character arcs that have created two parallel but ultimately very different series of flashforwards in regards to how these characters got to this place. Faraday seems to indicate that the record is playing the wrong song when they end up stuck in 1974, but the establishment of the “when” doesn’t lead the show to a detailed investigation as to why.
Because James Sawyer isn’t something fascinated with the question of “why,” and when he gets stuck in 1974 he’s going to do everything he can to survive, as if he’s been marooned all over again. And in the absence of Jack and Locke, Sawyer is the closest thing these people have to a leader, and what we see in “Lafleur” is a man finally ready to step into that position and his three-year journey to a sort of peace that operated entirely outside of the show’s mythology, the simple sort of life he never got to lead before.
And then Flight 316 happened, and the show comes to Juliet’s question, and all of a sudden two groups of people fundamentally changed by time are sent back to another one entirely, although this time entirely metaphorically.
It’s been quite some time since we got a Sawyer episode, but early this season we started to see some signs that this was a different Sawyer. When Kate left on that helicopter, and he made the decision to jump to his potential doom rather than risk her death, Sawyer was resigning himself to staying on that island, really not having any idea what that meant. He gave her his mission, whatever it was that he whispered in her ear, and that was enough for him: whether it was something to do with his daughter or something else entirely, Sawyer was content to never go back, lacking the drive of someone like Jin or even Juliet.
Sawyer has never been one to care about the island’s mysterious properties: he listens to Locke because he appeals to his love for Kate and not because of any belief in the island’s system. After spending two weeks seeing how a man of science and a man of faith react to the island’s power, Sawyer is the one character who has never cared for either category: he is a man driven by survival, the person who hoardes supplies, takes control of guns, and who becomes the badass outlaw. But now, without one of those leaders in place, he’s also the perfect person to leave this ragtag group – while we get the great scene where he discovers that the entire group told Horace to speak to him about who they were, he also realizes that this was per his instructions, and that he had to put his money where his mouth was.
And so was born James Lafleur, a survivor of a salvage vessel which capsized on the reefs while searching for the Black Rock. The story comes naturally to Sawyer: as soon as he said he was going to take control, you could tell that Juliet (as the one left who knows his history and his past discretions) knew he was fully capable of selling this con. It’s not a surprising character path, but Sawyer is a character who has always felt like he wasn’t being as useful as he could be: the Others didn’t take him because he was actually special so much as they wanted to screw with Jack, for example. He’s always been playing second fiddle, and for him to find himself in 1974 selling this story is perhaps the first time it’s felt like the island has brought him here for a reason.
So who isn’t cheering for Sawyer when you realize that’s he’s advanced to head of security, serving as Horace Goodspeed’s confidante? He’s always been an extremely likeable character, but this finally has him in complete control, orchestrating very carefully the right moves to get to the point of gaining the Dharma Initiative’s trust in what was a complicated period. His problems are no longer about survival, and his interactions with Dharma are not being undertaken to “change the course of history” or any such nonsense. Rather, he’s just there to find happiness, fulfillment, and to live like it’s 1977.
Part of this was getting over Kate, something made easier by the almost inevitable pairing of Juliet and Sawyer that I would have called as soon as we left them on the beach with a bottle of alcohol at the end of Season Four. Mitchell and Holloway have a lot of chemistry, but the storyline works mainly because it doesn’t feel perfunctory. Sawyer’s speech to her on the dock, noting how he wouldn’t be able to survive on the island without her, was not him conning her into staying or trying to keep her from falling into another man’s arms (See: a great deal of his interactions with Kate). Much as his life has become simple with time, Sawyer chooses Juliet because there are no more complications, no more need to run, no more need to steal her from another man’s clutches. Sawyer has gone from being the source of a lot of drama to actually being the mediator of them.
The story of Amy and Horace Goodspeed is nothing new, and doesn’t offer any profound revelations, but it brings Juliet in particular back to a place where she hasn’t been for a long time. As soon as you discovered that Amy (24’s Reiko Aylesworth) was pregnant, you knew that Juliet was going to enter into the equation, but her reluctance was something that made a great deal of sense. Of course she’s rather be a grease jockey than throw herself back into a position that quite literally broke her heart, every mother and child dying before she could save them. Her time on this island was not happy, more or less being held hostage and asked to watch people die in her care. She had no faith in survival, and her idea of a simple life did not include playing midwife to these people.
However, her presence in that infirmary when Amy gave birth was one of two major things in the episode which felt as if they were inadvertent shifts in the history of the island, as she saves Amy’s baby where it would not have been saved before. They had been relying on external medicine for her delivery, Amy having been set to be on the next submarine off the island, but with Juliet there the baby was saved. We don’t have a sense of whether or not this changes something on the island, but the change in Juliet’s character is really all I care about right now. Mitchell nailed the scene as we begin to see that she has finally regained faith in survival, that she is capable of reconnecting with part of herself she left behind by choice when they began this three-year subterfuge. And for her, this connection only makes her relationship with Sawyer stronger, because he believed in her.
Of course, the other main parallel in Horace and Amy’s storyline was Paul, Amy’s first husband who was killed by the Others while the two shared a picnic outside of the fence (for what reason we’re never told, we arrive after his death and never get any answers). He’s her Kate, really: it’s been three years since she’s seen him, and yet she holds onto his necklace, this keepsake of sorts. Considering that she doesn’t have a grave, the body sent back to the Others (will get to this in a second), this is all she really has left, and Horace is concerned about that connection. Sawyer, of course, gives a speech about Kate, about how he doesn’t even recognize her anymore, and at this point we realize how very close we are to the moment we saw at the end of “316” as Jin picks up the three castaways who made their way back to 1977. We realize that for all he says about not recognizing Kate, he’s about to get a rude awakening, and that basic survival is about to become a whole lot more complicated, Love Rhombus style.
You’ll notice that none of this has anything to do with time travel, at least directly. It is implied that they were placed into 1977 for a reason: Faraday spots Charlotte running off to play, there appears to be quite a few dead bodies being buried for Miles to communicate with, Juliet was on the island during Amy’s childbirth, and Sawyer was there during that tense encounter between Horace and Alpert in order to bring up “Jughead,” the hydrogen bomb we know is kicking around somewhere, and to use Locke’s image as a way to keep Alpert from breaking the truce. We don’t dwell on any of these issues, though: yes, we want more information about the truce, and curse John Locke for fixing the island just as the remaining castaways were staring at a tall statue of an Egyptian-esque (many think it might be Anubis, who is big on life and death and resurrection) statue on the water, but being in 1977 wasn’t a plot contrivance so much as it was an emotional development, creating a gap wherein just as much has changed for Sawyer and Juliet as it has for Kate and Jack.
It’s the perfect scenario for everything to come flooding back to the surface as they reunite, and while the shippers are probably having a conniption thinking about the current scenario (where Juliet and Kate have now been with both of the men, leaving no other possible heterosexual pairings) it’s one that feels starkly human. It doesn’t feel like we stopped in 1977 to show us every inch of the Dharma Initiative, and the show couldn’t operate in that way even if they wanted it too. What they’ve done is to actually take the show forward three years, now having gaps in everyone’s lives that we haven’t seen and that more importantly they as characters don’t know about one another. Nothing can possibly fill in Kate about these last three years for Sawyer and Juliet, just as Sawyer has no real perspective on Jack or Locke’s journey to this point in their lives.
Instead, we as the viewers are the ones who kind of have to piece it all together, and now that we’ve brought almost everyone together the show is going to set about doing this. We have our two parallels now, with the island group having spent three years assimilating into this culture while the Oceanic Six did exactly the opposite, spending three years returning to their old lives and trying (but mostly failing) to leave this all behind. It’ll be a whole new dose of culture shock, peppered throughout with the mysteries yet unanswered, including everything that brought those people onto Flight 316 and, for the island folk, the current location of Daniel Faraday or the true purpose of the Dharma Initiative they’ve managed to make their way into.
The episode succeeded in making me not just interested but invested in these questions, because their consequences have regained a truly human purpose. The reason those people got on that plane were complicated and personal, driven by a sense of greater purpose (saving their friends left on the island) but also for something about themselves, erasing doubt or digging back into their past. We’ve returned to where we were in season one in many ways, as we’re trying to discover less why they were “put” on the plane and more why, in this instance, they put themselves on it. And for those still on the island, we have another question: were they, in fact, put in this “when” for a reason? If so, how is the island truly operating, and how does this all connect with Locke’s present day adventures with Ben Linus – if there is truly going to be a war, how strange is it that the two people we presumed would be fighting it are separated from the very factions we believe are at the center of it?
What these last three episodes have done is give us every perspective on this: for every time period, and every group, we have both reasons to care for them as characters and reasons why it may be important to the show’s overally mythology. And if that isn’t the sign of Lost playing the right song, Faraday’s sadness over Charlotte’s death be damned – another great outing for the show.
- I don’t know how much I trust Horace Goodspeed – he was a drunk simpleton much of this episode, but his talk of arming the Arrow station and preparing the fence (before Sawyer went to smooth things over) implies that he has deeper motives. Similarly, he claimed to have not heard of the Black Rock, but something tells me that he’s full of it – I’ll be curious to see, over time, how precisely this operation actually functions, and whether Sawyer’s position of trust has given him some knowledge this episode left out (or that he perhaps has written off as unimportant without a perspective on the issue).
- Lots of great guest stars to populate 1974-77’s New Dharmaton (I still want to call it New Otherton) – Kevin Rankin (who plays Herc on Friday Night Lights) and Patrick Fischler (who guest starred on every single one of my favourite summer shows in 2008, pretty much) played the two security lunkies who first saw Horace dynamiting trees, and Aylesworth was as solid as she was on 24 as the damaged Amy.
- Teasing us with the statue was pretty much the meanest thing that Darleton has done in a while – this is the second time it’s just been sitting there but just at the wrong angle, missing the piece we need to put it together. It kind of reminded me of the Ramses II-era statues of Anubis, as linked above, but that was just the back – I’d need a better look to try to read anything else into it.
- The episode affirmed more than posed questions, but I am curious as to why Sun wasn’t warped to 1977 – is it because her purpose is elsewhere, or because she and Jin need to be kept apart for some reason? If the island has some kind of agency in this decision, something to consider.
- Sawyer might have shaved (which took some getting used to as the episode), but with talk of coconut telegrams it’s clear that he hasn’t lost his sense of humour in all of this.
- Horace tells Locke that he isn’t Dharma material, but of course he proves himself worthy (we presume) in time – I have to wonder what inspired Horace to be so choosy about who gets into Dharma – no one we’ve seen that has been part of the initiative has been particularly bright, and it seems like the minds behind the operation are geniuses but that they surround themselves with less than reliable characters in terms of the actual running of the place. Dharma remains an enigma, and I hope we’ll get to see more of Horace’s story in time. The same goes for Alpert, really – that backstory is still coming, I hope.