March 30th, 2010
There are plenty of reasons to be apprehensive about “The Package.” It’s coming off of an epic mythology episode of romance and intrigue, it features a vague title that seems to refer to some sort of MacGuffin, and it has the unfortunate task of “filling in the gaps” in its flash sideways as opposed to telling its own story. Because we saw a small glimpse into Jin’s fate in “Sundown,” we can be fairly certain that the show will be colouring in the lines this week, and after a week when the show was willing to go off the page entirely it means that the show is facing an uphill battle.
Like the season’s weaker episodes, “The Package” struggles with a flash-sideways that proves completely inconclusive and an island scenario which feels like pieces moving on a chess board, but it ultimately works because it doesn’t feel like those pieces are being moved. When things stall in the episode, it feels like they’re stalling for a reason, and everyone involved knows why they’re making the choices they are. While things may not be moving as quickly as some fans want them to be, they seem to be moving faster than the characters were prepared for, and there’s a nice tension there which bodes well for the remainder of the season.
And, let’s face it: the reveal of just what “The Package” is was way too good for me to be too cranky.
It has been a long time since we’ve seen Henry Ian Cusick, and however long it’s been it has been too long. We had no way of knowing if Desmond was the one in the submarine last week, but as soon as they confirmed that it was a human being he was the only real option: he was the person off the island who would be seen as the most important, and while we don’t entirely understand what role he is going to play in all of this there is no question that he is “unique.” It is not clear whether Desmond holds answers to important questions or whether he himself is the key to unlocking the future of the island, but I don’t really care: what makes Desmond work as a character is that despite the dehumanizing term with which he was referred to in the episode, we as an audience are madly in love with him. Desmond’s relationship with Penny, and young Charlie, and even some of the other characters on the show, has always been an incredibly important part of its emotional core, and so the idea that this potential MacGuffin is revealed to be everyone’s favourite former monk is just the sort of development that we need to buoy our hopes for the rest of the year, brotha.
It wasn’t really necessary to “save” the episode or anything like that, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. The problem with this episode is that, by design, nothing happens: Smokey tests the waters with the Widmore crew, and sends Sayid to the Submarine to do some recon work, but he has no intentions of waging war without gaining that information. Similarly, Widmore’s people kidnap Jin in an effort to get closer to some form of answers in regards to the electromagnetic qualities of the island (and a map that Jin apparently signed off on in the 1970s), but it is just one step towards their greater goal. While Smokey knows what he wants to do (convince the remaining candidates to board a plane with him and take off to the outside world), there are several barriers (some literal, in the form of the fence system) that are keeping him from achieving that goal, and they will take time: rather than just some item he needs to collect, he needs to convince Jack, Sun, and Hurley (the remaining candidates) to come with him. They are, however, not chess pieces, and they will not be moved as easily as he might desire, as he learned when he tried to convince Sun to come with him based on the fact that he has Jin. While he has made similar promises to other characters (Sayid and Richard, for example), in this case he believed he was telling the truth: sure, Jin wasn’t at his camp anymore thanks to Widmore’s people kidnapping him, but he thought he was. Smokey does not always lie, just as Jacob does not always tell the truth, but Sun (and everyone else) is right not to trust him.
Like most early Sun and Jin episodes, this one was heavy on themes of understanding and language: in the flash-sideways, Sun didn’t learn to speak English before traveling to America (although there was a beat where it seemed she would reveal that secret to her) despite the plan to stay there remaining intact. Sure, it was a bit convenient to have Sun lose her ability to speak English (but not her ability to understand it) when she was chased through the grass by Smokey, but it nicely reminded us that these are characters who, for the most part, are pretty universally terrible at understanding one another. Sometimes it means they’re speaking in different languages, other times there’s people who can speak with the dead. The point is that everyone has their own interpretation, and everyone understands things in different ways. Faraday understood the physics of the island, Richard believes he understands Smokey’s plan, and Jack is starting to believe that he understands the role of destiny on the island.
But there are other characters like Sun who don’t understand any of that for reasons which go beyond language. While understanding is a theme most commonly associated with language when dealing with Jin and Sun, especially in the flash-sideways, more important are those moments when Sun doesn’t understand why her father cleared out her secret bank account, or when Jin gets angry with the hotel clerk for presuming they were together. Both situations have nothing to do with language, but rather characters so focused on one thing (Sun and her escape, Jin and his attempts to hide their affair) that they fail to see how others may have acted, have forgotten the role of outside observers. For Sun, this was her own independent decision, so to have her father invade that space was a violation to the point that she does not immediately comprehend what that means for Jin; Jin, by comparison, has a better sense of what her father is capable of, and so he doesn’t hesitate to pull the trigger on Mikhail when the time comes to do so.
What’s interesting about their behaviour on the island is that they have absolutely no interest in understanding the big picture. All they want to do is be together, to be reunited and to get back to the daughter that Sun left behind. But both Charles Widmore and Smokey are interested in the information they have, and so they’re trapped in this situation largely against their will. Neither of them care about “purpose” or “destiny,” at least not unless it earns them some sort of bargaining power to get themselves off this island and back to their family. While someone like Kate returned to the island to find Claire and discovered an unsatisfying answer wrapped up in the island’s mysterious “illness” that has afflicted her, Sun and Jin are convinced that their singular goal (to find one another) remains untainted by the island’s mumbo-jumbo. And so while the episode uses various stall tactics (her loss of speech, his kidnapping) that keeps them apart, none of it is driven by wishy-washy character motivations or done without purpose; instead, it’s a reminder that they don’t care why they’re here so much as they care that they get together. While characters like Jack and Hurley are accepting their roles, and characters like Sawyer and Kate are going along with things because they have no other choice, Jin and Sun are driven to the point that all they care about is the love they share with one another. In the flash-sideways, that love (and their child) is in danger as a result of her father’s meddling, and on the island their lives are at risk thanks to Widmore and Smokey’s battle; the faith that we must have, and the faith the episode reminds us of, is that their love is more powerful than those forces, a fact that should never be in doubt.
Without any sort of conclusion, though, the flash-sideways is very clearly just the beginning of a story: surely Jin and Sun will head to the hospital where Ethan will check the condition of their baby, and the story will go on from there. These are ultimately the least satisfying of the flash-sideways, without the sort of emotional hooks that drove “The Substitute” or “Dr. Linus” into classic territory, but there was enough fan service and thematic connections (as discussed above) for the show to get away with it. Having Mikhail turn up as a translator, and having Jin shoot out his eye in the midst of the struggle at the end of the flash, was the sort of thing that we get way too excited about; it’s cute rather than substantial, and perhaps we should be more concerned about that. But even beyond that, a couple of twists in the story really worked: finding out they weren’t yet married, and that Sun’s father would be so cruel as to send Jin on a plane with money to pay his own murderer, kept the story moving (unlike Sayid, where the initial reveal of Nadia marrying his brother was pretty much it for plot development) and kept things compelling enough to consider it a success.
But more importantly, “The Package” is an episode that reminds us that Sun and Jin remain the show’s second-most-compelling love story, and so scenes like Sun slowly unbuttoning her blouse and daring Jin to tell her to button it up doubled as both fan service (reminders of his insistence on her chaste appearance in the first season) and as a romantic and compelling glimpse at a couple in love, just as Jin flipping through photos of Ji Yeon from Sun’s luggage warms out hearts. Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim were fantastic at getting to the core of these emotions both when together and when separated, and the huge differences between the versions of their characters were smoothly handled.
The flash sideways, if we believe some of the going theories, are showing us what would have happened rather than what the characters wanted to see happen, and so things still go awry for these characters as they did for just about everyone else. However, even in their own version of “The Bodyguard” where Whitney Houston has an evil father intent on killing anyone who gets close to her, there are still those moments where you sense their connections: while some things have changed, other things stay the same. The heart wants what the heart wants, it seems, and perhaps that is what can’t change: you can change whether or not a plane crashes, and you can change the circumstances and position of various characters, but you cannot stand in the way of love and the impulses that come with it.
And Charles Widmore and the Man in Black, at the end of the day, will be unable to stand between Jin and Sun, and I’m compelled enough by these two characters for that to be a nice bit of setup heading into the war ahead.
- Did I mention my excitement for Desmond’s return? My notes at the time: “DESMOND BITCHES!”
- On the note of the flash-sideways: one of the slides in Room 23 was listed as “Everything Changes,” which seems like a nice descriptor for the flash-sideways (at least in general – as noted, some things haven’t changed).
- Neat little stylistic trick using the night vision scope to inform us that someone was watching in the jungle before the attack on Smokey’s camp was undertaken – it made what was otherwise a sort of “where are the characters at now, mentally” scene a little bit more tense, which is never a bad thing.
- One issue with the episode is that I thought Richard’s plan was introduced a bit too quickly: it seemed like a lot of exposition that everyone took for granted so that Sun’s refusal would stand out, but I’d have to think that at least someone else would have raised some concerns (like Frank, perhaps) about blowing up the plane, especially since they don’t know there’s a submarine kicking around as well.
- Of the ticking time bombs introduced as of late, the news that Kate is officially not on the cave wall, and that Claire isn’t either, has placed all sorts of wicked thoughts in Ms. Littleton’s head which do not bode well for Kate if everything else comes together. She is, ultimately, expendable, which is definitely the worst place to be at this point in time.
- Always fun to return to Room 23, the site of Karl’s Clockwork Orange moment – it’s clear that Widmore’s people have a pretty clear understanding of what Dharma was doing, and even have access to a great deal of their mateirals, but it’s also clear that they don’t understand everything. We can also add “geophysicist” to the collection of occupations that Widmore has sent to the island in search of answers, it seems.
- Some fairly likeable Jack/Sun scenes this week: while he’s trying to convince her to move along with the group, and there’s some consequences to that that he isn’t entirely thinking through in his own quest for some sort of purpose in life, he was really quite nice to Sun, and the scene on the beach with the notepad at the end of the episode reminded me of Jack convincing Rose to drink some water and join the rest of the camp rather than sitting out staring into the ocean, a high point for the character.
- Sayid creepily staring up at Desmond from the water? Really, really creepy.
- I avoided the ridiculous V countdown by the ABC logo throughout the entire episode because I was watching on CTV earlier, but I caught a bit of the ABC airing: it was unfortunate.