May 4th, 2010
For the first half of its running time, “The Candidate” felt like the show was going through a list of the ways in which this season has somewhat struggled with its competing narrative foci. The Flash Sideways structure is thematically interesting, but it feels as if the initial “what’s going on” dynamism has been replaced by a sort of meandering structure as Jack stumbles upon connections that we made weeks ago, and reveals elements of the story which bear emotional weight but which get saved until the episode’s conclusion. This might be fine, perhaps, if there was anything happening on the island to compare it to, but through the first half of the episode the show’s action seemed borderline illogical, leaving me pondering just how cranky this review was doing to sound.
And then, at a certain point in the episode, all hell broke loose, and the stakes of the season went up by roughly ten thousand percent. Life becomes a commodity, trust becomes more important than perhaps life itself, and the show’s poetic style gets turned on its ear like perhaps it’s never been turned on its ear before. “The Candidate” is not an exemplary hour of television, struggling mightily to set up its eventual conclusion, but that conclusion ends up being such a rollercoaster that it leaves the show in perhaps the best shape its been all year while leaving us emotional wrecks.
It’s something the show hasn’t really accomplished thus far this season, which means that we’re officially in the home stretch.
Early on, “The Candidate” struggles under the weight of Jack Shepard, medical detective. This is not to say that Matthew Fox wasn’t great in this episode (he was), or that I didn’t like seeing Bernard, Anthony Cooper, or Helen (I certainly did), but rather that the story was very clearly going in a particular direction. You could tell that Locke was refusing the surgery for reasons that went deeper than just fear, and so I immediately jumped to the conclusion that it was he who caused his father to become injured and that the wheelchair is his cross to bear, so the speak. And sure enough, Jack eventually discovers that Anthony Cooper is now in a long-term care facility unable to speak or walk, and Locke was the one who put him there by turning his father into that guy from Alanis Morrissette’s “Ironic” and encouraging him to be his first passenger and then crashing the small plane to the ground shortly after takeoff. The story has plenty of poetry, but getting to that poetic ending feels like a really low-stakes mystery – throwing in a scene where Jack and Claire each get their own mirror shot in the music box isn’t going to change the fact that this Flash Sideways gets us no closer to any big answers.
Now, as we’ll see in a moment, this works extremely well once the episode gets down to business, but early on it was just as linear: Widmore herds them all into cages, then Smokey and Jack rescue them from the cages, and then they go to the plane, and then they go to the submarine. I spent much of the story wondering just how Widmore was just sitting around minding his own business while this was going on, and why no one was guarding the submarine considering that it’s their ticket off the island. We needed a scene showing what Widmore was doing that would keep him so preoccupied, or why he wouldn’t be trying to save them himself if he was so worried about keeping the candidates alive, for those scenes to work. I was so busy dealing with the contrivance of it all to really enjoy any of the action, and even that felt like it wasn’t laid out as carefully as one might hope. It was at that point I was wondering just where this episode was going, and how the show was going to drag this out for an entire hour.
It was at that point, however, that Jack pushed Smokey into the water, and Sawyer told the submarine to dive without Claire on board. It was at that point that you stop and realize that they’re on a submarine that’s supposed to take them home, and Smokey seems pretty content with that fact. Then your mind starts working, and the mysteries of the show become less about theory and more about practicality. From the point where Kate gets shot, things get real – people are bleeding, people are leaving, and yet we know that the latter can’t actually happen. And so when Jack pulls that bomb out of the backpack, we start to piece things together: while I was so busy complaining about plot holes Smokey was busy picking up that wristwatch (which is something I did mark down in my notes), and switching Jack’s bag (which I noticed but didn’t bat an eyelash at when they were preparing to head down to the submarine). You start to realize that this was the plan all along – while you could argue the show always operatives as if there were a bomb underneath the table that the characters aren’t aware of but we’re always cognizant of, now the bomb was on the table, and everyone asked that fateful question: what do we do with it?
And then, these characters who were chess pieces not that long ago become their various types. Sayid looks at it from a technological perspective trying to figure out how to diffuse, Sawyer wants to act impulsively, while Jack wants everyone to trust him: he saw what happened when Richard Alpert lit that stick of dynamite in the Black Rock, so he knows that there is something about the Candidates which keeps them from “dying” in the same way that other characters do. If you look back, none of the main characters on Lost were killed by Smokey or the island itself, but rather died by their own hands: the only person on Oceanic Flight 815 who Smokey killed was the pilot, which is probably because he wasn’t supposed to be there anyways and Lapidus was supposed to be flying the plane. But if we go back to Shannon, Boone, Locke, Alex, Rousseau, Nikki, Paolo, Ana Lucia, Libby, Michael, they all dies in circumstances wherein they either made a conscious choice to sacrifice themselves or where they were killed by the actions of another candidate.* If this is all one big morality play, the test is whether or not the characters are able to keep from killing themselves, not whether they can survive the attack at the hands of Smokey (or, for that matter, Jacob).
* The one exception to this appears to be Eko, but he “confessed his sins,” which might have been enough to resolve him of candidate status and allow the smoke monster to kill him. I’ll buy the stretch considering the contract situaiton.
So what Smokey creates is the ultimate morality play: he creates a bomb, which was supplied by Widmore, and then places it in their hands. Jack argues, in my eyes correctly, that if they do nothing the bomb doesn’t go off: Smokey isn’t able to kill them by his own hands, so his introduction of the watch to the mix means that the bomb would be as harmless as Richard’s dynamite (as Richard is also not a candidate, thus also not part of the “game”). However, Sawyer doesn’t trust Jack (and who would when you have a bomb sitting there), so he pulls out the wires and the countdown runs out quicker. At that point, the chaos begins, and for the first time in a very long time things on Lost quite literally become out of control, so out of control that the end result is three dead characters, one missing character, and me becoming a complete emotional wreck.
Let’s start with Sayid, a character who many of us wrote off in terms of the whole good/evil situation in “Sundown.” Like Locke in the Sideways, I think Sayid went over to the side of evil because he felt like it was his burden to bear: when he thought of everything he had already done, he figured he would always eventually end up at this point, so why not take the opportunity to see Nadia again (it’s sort of like Lost’s equivalent to Jesse Pinkman in Breaking Bad’s third season, for those like me who enjoys both shows). However, when he was faced with killing Desmond, you realize that Smokey’s persuasion tactics didn’t penetrate Sayid entirely. While he started out seeming like a completely different character, over time we’ve seen quips (“At least you didn’t have to paddle”) and his tech knowledge returning to the forefront. He’s seemed more human, and his final act of sacrifice feels like it rings true to that small shred of humanity. I think the show could have done more in terms of his internal struggle, and it seems strange to not get a single Flash Sideways appearance from Sayid in what will be his final episode, but we have to remember that this isn’t his final episode: these characters are dying, but they will live on in the show’s other half, which is why we can’t entirely say that this is the end of their journey or that the show hasn’t given them a satisfying death. Sayid’s sacrifice was shocking and quick, but it was effective, and set of the storm afterrwards (I’ll get back to his final words to Jack once I get through that chaos).
Meanwhile, I’m still coming to grips with the deaths of Jin and Sun, as they seem awfully senseless when you consider them. They were just reunited two weeks ago, and at the time we were all complaining that it seemed like there wasn’t much emotion. Well, I don’t think there was anyone who was unmoved by their tragic fate, as Sun gets trapped beneath some rubble after the bomb explodes and Jin and Jack (once Sawyer gets knocked out) are unable to save her. Sun begs for Jin to leave (strangely not making the “Ji Yeon needs to have at least one parent” argument, which seemed like a no brainer to me), but he refuses because he’s only just found her again, and so they end up dying hand in hand as the submarine sinks to the ocean floor. Say what you will about Charlie’s death in Season Three, so beautifully set up by “Greatest Hits,” but we were told that one was coming: Desmond’s flashes informed us that he was going to drown, so the audience and Charlie knew what to expect. Here, there was no sign that they were going to die this way, so that show of their hands slowly floating apart as the sub continues to sink was more heartbreaking than mere typed words can honestly express. It was a masterpiece of a shot from Jack Bender, one of the best in the show’s history, and when you throw in Hurley, Kate and Jack breaking down on the beach you have me sitting on the couch with very, very wet eyes (I was doing alright until Hurley started crying, then I was just plain done).
And yet, just a scene later, we see Jin walking down the hospital corridor as Locke and Jack leave the hospital, a jarring reminder that their stories aren’t done. When Jughead exploded, the show’s narrative split into two, but in some ways the show’s characters split into two as well. That duality has been part of the season as a whole, but what’s happening now is certain characters becoming wholly situated within the Sideways verse. Now, Jin and Sun’s story is over in one universe but becomes incredibly important in the other, just as Locke’s journey is independent of the island itself considering his death as Jeremy Bentham. It’s created a new dynamism that wasn’t there before, allowing the show to turn death into something which reinvigorates characters rather than ending their stories. It’s almost cheating, really: they get to create the intense emotional destruction of killing two characters who have been with us from the beginning, who we’ve seen grow over six seasons, without actually saying goodbye to the actors, and without their stories (within the show’s larger narrative) being over. We’ll see how that pans out in the weeks ahead, but for now it feels like the show has turned death into momentum in a way that I don’t think they’ve really been able to do in the past.
There are now only three candidates remaining, as Jack, Sawyer and Hurley are the last three men standing. Sayid seemed to believe that Desmond is important (logical since Smokey wants him dead) and that Jack is going to be the one to replace Jacob (and thus stand in opposition to Smokey), but it still leaves us wondering where Hurley and Sawyer fit into this, and more importantly how Kate fits into this (as the gunshot wound seems to be minor in the grand scheme of things). Throw in Smokey desperate to kill them (and unable to do it himself, likely turning to Claire to do his dirty work), and you realize that the pieces have moved: Smokey called “Check,” the candidates panicked, and now they’re that much closer to the end of the game.
Early in the season, there were concerns that Jacob and Smokey’s omniscience would create a scenario where the characters would feel like victims of fate and prophecy more than actual human agents. However, what “The Candidate” makes very clear is that it is their agency which gets them killed, or which allows them to survive, and it is their agency which will foil Smokey at every turn. It’s a really compelling lesson that we should have seen all along, but the deaths in this week’s episode are the shot over the bow, so to speak – they warn us that there’s no room for mistakes from now on, and that just when you think the pieces are simply moving into place there’s a bomb in a backpack and trust is the only thing which will keep you alive. After an episode like “The Candidate,” my trust in Lindelof and Cuse is at its height: it still bears some of the concerns with the Sideways structure, but it opens up so many new possibilities that I still may end up eating those words in a few weeks time.
- Some part of me was really excited when Jin and Sun died, because it means good things for Penny and Desmond. BELIEVE.
- This seems like an easy lock for Matthew Fox’s Emmy episode: his work with Terry O’Quinn in the Sideways stories was great, and he got to be fairly heroic on the island as well. My one issue with the character in the episode is that he goes along with Sawyer’s plan a bit too quickly, but I’ll accept that as part of his new “follow other leader” mantra.
- To place Frank Lapidus’ fate in 24 terms, there was no silent countdown: we saw the character get knocked down by the door, but we didn’t actually see his body, so until that surfaces I refuse to believe that he is truly dead. I get that the show wanted Jin and Sin’s moment to remain on its own accord, but it seems like writing both he and Sayid off in similar fashions would seem redundant (and I think the show would miss his one-liners, although Miles is still kicking around somewhere).
- Note the double meaning of Candidate, as Jack uses the term to describe Locke qualifying for the experimental surgery.
- Locke is dreaming of the island (pushing the button, “I wish you had believed me”) but Desmond wasn’t kind enough to fill Jack in on the details regarding the island, just sending Locke to him and letting it sort out from there. I really loved Jack using the line against him, though, starting to play into the connections (as Bernard hinted at when he seemed blase about the coincidence of it all).
- Michael Giacchino didn’t really break any new ground with his themes, but that love theme gets me every single bloody time. It was like an immediate spoiler that they were going to die once it started playing.
- I haven’t read it yet, but Jeff Jensen has Lindelof and Cuse on the deaths in the episode.