“The Last Recruit”
April 20th, 2010
“You could find yourself in a situation that’s…irreversible.”
From what we can gather, the Man in Black is a man of promises: while he has a certain power of persuasion in general, his greatest tool appears to be his ability to offer the thing that people want most. He offered Claire knowledge about her son’s whereabouts, and promised that he would help her find him, and he promised Sayid that he would reunite him with Nadia so long as he joined his side. In both cases, the characters had clear goals, and in both cases their predisposition to accepting such promises (the darkness within them) pushes them into the realm of the psychotic and dangerous.
But “The Last Recruit” asks us to reevaluate these characters, or more accurately asks us to reconsider whether their situation is truly irreversible. While Sawyer is right to be wary of Sayid and Claire due to their allegiance with Locke, other characters have the ability to promise them something more, or to force them to fully consider the nature of what the Man in Black is promising and the complications therein. On a show marked by the overwhelming power of fate, this week’s episode demonstrated a lot of characters charting a new path for themselves just as soon as it seemed everyone was in the same place for the first time in ages, with most choosing to chart their own path amidst the unclear motivations which define the island’s politics.
It becomes an instance where short-term convergence leads to long-term, and ideological, dispersion, just as the Sideways storyline begins to bring the whole gang back together again in a way which seems just uncanny enough to overcome a somewhat problematic short-term focus.
With a single Flash Sideways which manages to bring just about every character into the picture (Hurley was the only on-island castaway absent), Lost has begun to piece together the meaning of the previous Sideways stories…or at least they’re trying to do so. As much as I like how Desmond is playing such an important role here, especially after his decision to run over Locke has turned his every move into an edge-of-your-seat sort of moment, I think that the Flash Sideways storyline is suffering from a sense of the short-term which seems ill-fitting for a final season. While I’m not so convinced, as I know Alan Sepinwall is, that the reveal of the Flash Sideways’ function came too late in the game, I do think that this sort of convergence needs to feel like it’s addressing larger issues than just the underwhelming response to earlier Sideways stories. While Sawyer and Kate’s banter plays nicely into what we saw in “LA X” or Kate and Sawyer’s Flash Sideways episodes, I don’t know if it says that much about the characters in general; similarly, while Jack’s rapport with his son is a nice callback to their time together earlier in the season, it doesn’t really say anything about Jack on the island or Jack’s past. Bringing the characters together is certainly more interesting than when they were apart, and there are brief moments (like Sun, before going into surgery, spotting Locke on the stretcher beside her and shouting “It’s him! It’s him!”) where you start to ask bigger questions, but the rest seems complacent with just connecting some dots they just drew a few months ago rather than trying to make a more challenging connection.
I’m not saying that I need bigger answers (I’m certainly not that viewer), but I do think that I expect something which feels a little bit larger, especially when the point of the story seems to be that something very big is happening here. While there are some moments, like Jack discovering Locke on his operating table, which feel big and important, the Sideways still seem dominated by little tidbits like Ilana as the lawyer handling Christian’s estate. It’s not as if the Flash Sideways have gone from boring to interesting, because I think they were interesting before and they remain interesting now; however, now that we have an expectation that we’re getting closer to something big, the anticipation actually seems like a distraction rather than a benefit, and the stories seem less focused in terms of establishing themes (which was one of the better functions of the Flash Sideways structure). I liked a lot of what the episode did, like juxtaposing Sayid pondering an action on island even more reprehensible than the one which he gets arrested for in the Sideways, but it all felt smaller than the story seemed to indicate it was supposed to feel.
That being said, I really liked a lot of what the episode did in those small moments, even if the sense of motion and chaos in terms of characters moving around and heading off on different paths kept it from feeling particularly organized. In that sense, you could argue that it’s just an episode where the characters are moved around like pieces on a chess board, but I think the most interesting parts of the episode were psychological, and that they emerged through the chaos well enough. The episode had a lot to do with last week’s theme of authority, with Hurley using that authority to lead the group to rendezvous with “Locke.” However, Hurley isn’t a character who can sustain that drive, and so the episode ends up investigating how Sawyer and Jack are each following their gut instincts rather than trying to follow others. What’s fascinating to me is that they’re the precise opposites of where they stood just a season or two ago: Juliet’s death no longer gave Sawyer a reason to stay on the island, which he had resigned himself to once he fell in love, while Jack’s experience off the island was so defined by his intense desire to “Go Back” that he believes he has to stay in order to stop what is about to happen. One man was once willing to stay forever, and the other was desperate to leave: now, the roles have reversed, and it’s creating a really compelling dynamic heading into the final stretch of episodes.
However, we’ve always known that Sawyer and Jack are malleable, characters able to change their minds and who are starkly human in that respect. We didn’t have the same hope for Claire and Sayid, two characters who as a result of their “illness” have effectively been written off as independent human agents. The Man in Black’s powers of persuasion seem to have won them over, and when Desmond spoke of irreversible situations in the Sideways I wondered if he was speaking of Claire and Sayid. However, then Desmond and Kate both managed to appeal to their humanity, each offering an alternate series of events which would deviate from the Man in Black’s intentions. In the case of Sayid, Desmond forces him to consider how he would live with himself, and how Nadia would respond, to the fact that he killed Desmond in cold blood in order to win her back, or that he helped orchestrate the murder of all of those people at the temple (including Dogen and Lennon). It was an appeal to his sense of morality, and the fact that (we presume) Desmond is still alive would seem to be evidence that Sayid’s condition may not be quite as final as we expected.
The same goes for Claire, who has been noticeably less crazy as of late; yes, she’s still a bit unhinged, but Emilie de Ravin is playing it really subtly, and we got to see Claire interacting with her brother in two different universes this week and the nuances really reflect well on de Ravin’s work. On the island, though, we see Claire’s insecurities win out over her insanity: she’s following Locke because he made her a promise, and because he was the only person who didn’t “leave me behind.” If she was purely psychotic, holding a grudge over that situation, she would have shot Jack and the rest who changed paths once Locke left the lineup, but instead she stops. She doesn’t want to be abandoned again, and there is some part of her who is still capable of being reasoned with. While it is still reckless for Kate to allow her onto the boat, and potentially return her to the real world, there is legitimate human emotion in that scene as Kate makes her own promise which is far more “real” than what Locke promised: the basic facts are the same, a reunion with her son, but Kate seems to actually want that to happen rather than just wanting Claire to put down the gun. There’s an honesty that Kate is capable of which the Man in Black can’t recreate, and we realize that promises can come from anyone at any time. Jin makes a promise to Sayid in the Sideways that their ordeal is now over, a promise he makes to try to comfort her and help her move forward, which is likely more powerful than a promise made just to gain your allegiance in an overgrown chess game which becomes more incomprehensible by the minute.
The question we have to ask right now is what, precisely, do these characters want? For Jin and Sun, their driving goal was to be reunited, and so we get them together on the beach in a wonderful moment that even without much fanfare led to some watery eyes; for Kate, her goal was to return with Claire, and so we find her closer than ever to achieving that particularly purpose. By comparison, Jack came back for answers and has no priorities about escaping the island, while someone like Hurley came back because he was told to, and now wants to leave because he wants to. By comparison, I don’t necessarily know if Sawyer has such a purpose: I think he’s running away more than anything else, unable to confront what happened to Juliet and resolve that part of his life. It’s one thing to follow your gut, but in Sawyer’s case the goal seems independent of emotions, his promises not that much more comforting than the ones Locke offered. By comparison, there was a purpose to Hurley’s attempt at leadership which spoke to his character, and there was something in Kate’s voice that convinced Claire to put down the gun: if you’re going to make promises, you need to have a clear sense of purpose.
I don’t blame Sawyer for his pragmatic approach to this situation, but the fact of the matter is that the time for pragmatism is over. While basic survival may be part of this series, self-actualization is a far more important message, and also the one which seems to drive the Sideways stories. These episodes work best when that self-actualization is either very clear (like Jin and Sun) or very purposefully unclear (like Jack), and my one issue is whether or not the big players in this war, the Man in Black and Charles Widmore, fall into either category: I still don’t entirely know what their purpose is, and while the mystery therein has been interestingly unclear for a while I don’t know if the escalation we’re seeing is actually improving their clarity or whether it’s just making things a bit more bombastic (see: Widmore’s use of long-range artillery).
Ultimately, “The Last Recruit” focused enough on the characters who are still searching for that sense of purpose to feel, well, purposeful at this late stage in the game, and for all of my issues with the Sideways structure or with Widmore’s motivations this was a fairly well-paced episode which kept me engaged throughout due to its dynamic narrative which never lingered for too long on any single character. This doesn’t make it one of the season’s strongest episodes, nor does it indicate either the island or sideways narratives finally reaching their greatest potential, but there’s more than enough here to convince me that this potential still exists.
- I’m going to presume that the title refers to Jack, who is now “Locke’s” one and only disciple – while we haven’t really seen this pay off yet, the idea of Jack and Locke (even in this altered form) together on the same side at the end is darn poetic, especially when it’s mirrored in the Sideways (where Locke’s life is in Jack’s hands, as opposed to the opposite on the island).
- Sawyer’s got Lapidus pegged: he really does look like he stepped out of a Burt Reynolds movie.
- Of the mysteries still left to be solved and hinted at here: what Sawyer did in Australia (which kept him from arresting Kate in that elevator), and who David’s mother is (who shares a phone call with Jack but remains unseen).
- A Star Wars reference from Hurley is always welcome, so I’m with him: I think Sayid/Claire could turn out to be Anakin-types, especially the former, even if Sawyer doesn’t know who that is.
- No sign of Ben, Miles and Richard this week, although we get to see both Dr. Linus and Detective Strom in the Sideways.
- Was that Desmond’s boat (or a copy of Desmond’s boat, since that one was blown up a while ago)? Or was the Elizabeth out of Newport Beach a different vessel altogether? Curious to know where it came from, but I guess we might never find out.
- Some great musical moments from Michael Giacchino this week – as always, his reunion music is spectacular, and there were some interesting action themes in the more chaotic scenes as well.