March 16th, 2010
There are only so many ways that we can talk about the “Flash Sideways” structure of Lost’s sixth season before we discover its deeper meaning, only so many ways that we can pass judgment while technically reserving judgment.
However, I will contend that those who suggest that the structure is meaningless without a sense of the big picture are overstating things: yes, episodes like “Recon” might become more interesting with a rewatch once the pieces start to come together, but the structure is capable of being interesting in its own right. Like the original flashbacks, the segments are more dependent on individual characters than the show has been in a long time, and so we love episodes featuring Locke and Ben while we become frustrated with episodes featuring Kate and whatever other character we don’t tend to like very much.
I’ll be curious to see how people respond to “Recon,” a Sawyer episode that threatens to rewrite the character’s fairly popular transformation during the “LaFleur” story last year. Part of what made Kate’s flash so problematic was that it felt regressive: it’s one thing to hearken back to an earlier structure that focuses more on these characters, but it’s another to show them more or less exactly as we’d seen them before. Some even argued that Sayid’s flash had the same problem, in that it didn’t show us anything new, or really change our perception of the character.
Personally, I think that we can take a lack of change as a fairly substantial clue to the deeper meanings at play here, but what makes “Recon” work is that the changes we’ve witnessed on the island feel as if they have heavily influenced the James Ford we meet in the flash sideways. The changes between this Sawyer and the one we saw in the first season are not dissimilar from the changes between the Sawyer who crashed on Oceanic Flight 815 and the Sawyer who was known as Lafleur, and it’s the sort of change that says more through simple character drama than any plot-based exposition could ever accomplish. The scenes are as much a reminder as they are a reveal, and while that might not currently seem fitting for a final season I think it’s all going to work out in the long run (or the long con, if you prefer).
March 2nd, 2010
“You think you know me but you don’t.”
The Flash Sideways structure this season has been taking a lot of criticism from those who think that its opaque intentions are obscuring any meaning that it might have, but I think that in terms of its immediate function it has actually been quite clear. As the show confuses the question of identity through the Man in Black and his various influences, the Flashes offer a glimpse at characters in a far less confused universe who are still just as confused as they were before. Yes, there seems like there is a deeper meaning behind the scenes that is being withheld, and there are times when the connections are too simple to feel eventful enough for the show’s final season, but “Sundown” is a pretty clear example of the basic dramatic purpose of these scenes.
“Sundown” is not the best episode of this short season, nor is it a particularly pleasant one: it is an episode filled with darkness, showing characters taking actions and getting into situations from which there is no real escape. However, it’s a nice bit of analysis of the determinism that dominates this universe, and with a strong performance from Naveen Andrews the episode is able to entertain even if we are none too happy with its outcomes.
February 23rd, 2010
“I guess we weren’t looking for it…”
When Lost adds new elements to its world, acts of expansion that have been quite common early in the show’s sixth season, there’s always a question of why we’ve never seen it before. Why did they wait so long, for example, for us to meet Benjamin Linus, and why did we never learn about the Man in Black until the fifth season finale? They’re questions that have some merit, certainly, but which perhaps miss the point: the reality is that sometimes things sneak up on you, and things that have existed for centuries are only able to be found when you know where to look (and sometimes Michael Emerson blows away the producers and becomes part of the show’s expansion).
“Lighthouse” is a cross-reality investigation of this idea, of what people are able to “see” with the right information and how those viewpoints change those characters. For some, their perspective is clouded by an infection taking over their mind and body, while for others their perspective is clouded by a life filled with self-doubt and personal struggle. And while we’ve yet to be given the proper coordinates to full interested what the show’s flash-sideways structure represents, it continues to offer a unique perspective on who these characters could have been, which remains a compelling counterpoint to the characters they are and – perhaps more importantly – the characters they are destined, or not destined, to be.
“What Kate Does”
February 9th, 2010
I sat down to watch two early Kate flashbacks from the first two seasons of Lost earlier tonight, and I was struck by a moment in “Tabula Rasa,” an episode that reads very different with hindsight. The episode’s title refers to “blank slates,” and Jack (who just found out about Kate’s criminal past) says that he doesn’t need to know the truth about what she did, because the island offers them all a fresh start. However, the show’s flashbacks were based on the premise that what happened in the past did matter, and the fact that so many characters struggled to live down their past lives makes “Tabula Rasa” a particularly portentous episode in retrospect.
Of course, with the new flash sideways structure the show is taking on, getting a fresh start has taken on a new meaning. Rather than starting a new life, the characters are returning to their old ones without the seasons of development we’ve witnessed, stepping back into the same problems that made the island as much refuge as isolation for some of the castaways. “What Kate Does” is the first episode to go beyond small character changes to ask what would have happened to these characters if Flight 815 had never crashed, and while some seem to have turned on Kate as a character I strongly believe she is the perfect vantage point to usher the show into this new era.
“Whatever Happened, Happened”
April 1st, 2009
[I’m still technically on a blogging hiatus (hence, if you were wondering, my lack of coverage of Chuck, or HIMYM, or the season premieres of Greek and My Boys), but I learned my lesson last year when it comes to Lost – when I went back to revisit past reviews, I found that I hadn’t reviewed “The Constant,” and that fact still haunts me to this day. As a result, Lost is one show I want to consistently recap, even if doing so will become more challenging over the next couple of weeks as I prepare/participate in/recover from my trip to Los Angeles.]
“Whatever Happened, Happened” is an odd episode in the sense that it is most definitely eventful in terms of its on-island material, certainly one that I couldn’t resist blogging about, as the fallout from last week’s episode becomes a struggle between life and death, between right and wrong, between past and present, but its off island material (and much of its subtext within the main storyline) surrounds one of the show’s more consistently weak elements, a love triangle that has turned into a square without an uptick in real interest. It’s an unorthodox episode for Lindelof and Cuse to tackle themselves, at least on the surface.
Very quickly, though, we realize that this episode isn’t about Kate’s relationship with Jack, or Kate’s relationship with Sawyer, but actually about Kate. It’s the first time in a long time that she has emerged as a character in her own right, less interested in discovering who she was or even who she is, and discovering instead what role she is supposed to be playing. Too often, Kate has been a foil and not a real character, and when you really consider it she hasn’t had a substantial or effective episode in a long time.
This one isn’t perfect, but with Lindelof and Cuse at the helm we get a couple of tantalizing hints, a predictable but well executed “flash” for Ms. Austen, and a compelling if not groundbreaking metaconversation about time travel – I’ll take that.
February 18th, 2009
“We’re all convinced sooner or later, Jack.”
There is a point in “316” where Ben tells Jack the story of Thomas the Apostle, a man who is best known for doubting Jesus’ resurrection. What we take from Ben’s explanation is that Thomas was a brave man, who stood up for Jesus during his life and was unwilling to back away from threats against him. And yet, he isn’t known for that: he is known for not believing, for not welcoming Jesus back into this world under circumstances that he couldn’t grasp immediately. While he did eventually believe once he felt Jesus’ wounds with his own hands, that doubt has defined his existence.
In many ways, “316” is a study of Jack Shepherd’s willingness to believe, and whether or not fate and history will remember him as the person who rebuffed John Locke when he first came to Jack off the island or as the person who eventually became a believer and got on Ajira Airways Flight 316 in order to return to the island. The same pattern goes for the rest of the Oceanic Six: are the decisions they made, the sacrifices they take in order to go back to the island, enough to overcome the fact that they ignored Locke when he first came to them? They were all convinced, sooner or later, to return, but where they sit on that timeline could be very important to their futures.
What this week’s episode, scripted by Lost overlords Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, doesn’t do is give us the ability to answer these questions, presenting a labyrinth that is complex not because of some sort of twisted time warp but rather because we are still missing parts, human parts, of this story. While we got to see what brought Jack to the end of this episode, we do not yet understand the context of the letter he receives, or how the rest of the Oceanic Six resolves this conflict. These questions aren’t going to be solved by Mrs. Hawking spouting off techno-babble, but rather an investigation into these characters, their motivations, and the kinds of questions that have formed the foundation of the series since its opening.
Perhaps its fitting, then, that we begin this episode the same way we began the pilot, a close-up of Jack’s eye as he wakes up in a whole new world for the second time.
“The Little Prince”
February 4th, 2009
“It is the time you have spent with your rose that makes your rose so important…”
The last time we spent a great deal of time with Kate off the island, we were in the midst of her legal battles. It was quite literally a loose end: they needed to deal with her pending trial, no question, but in doing so they were forced to dredge up parts of her past back stories which felt overplayed, and to play with Jack’s lies in a way that couldn’t be investigated within that narrow time frame. The episode, “Eggtown,” was amongst the most frustrating of Season Four primarily because it never felt like there was something bigger at stake: here was Kate with this gap of time we don’t understand and with a future ahead of her, and we’re diddling around in her past and eventually, only eventually, putting together that Aaron was one of the Oceanic Six.
There was reason to be concerned that “The Little Prince” would be much the same, but it was actually quite the opposite. Working within this new broadly drawn character-focused episode structure, this is not just an episode about Kate: yes we spent a lot of time with the show’s female lead, but we spend an equal amount of time with the man who is back on the island, still in love with her to this day. The episode draws a line between Sawyer and Kate that is able to transcend time, dropping each of them into the other’s story when it feels like their connection could be severed.
This, more definitively than the other episodes of the season, is the one that shows just how beneficial this new format is. Not only do we avoid being too one-dimensional in our focus, extending it to other characters like Sawyer, but the episode delves into a substantial amount of island mythology, flashing around in time on multiple occasions and never letting those left behind to catch their breath. The urgency of the island is palpable, which keeps the momentum going from an action perspective, whereas what’s happening off the island is both emotionally resonant and questionably manipulative to the point where it maintains that momentum even without the same sense of urgency.
To draw on the above line from The Little Prince, the story on which the episode’s title is based, we can draw numerous conclusions: not only is it a key phrase for the island’s newest mystery (where time spent is an important variable), but it’s also a reminder that all the time spent building these characters has made episodes like this one operate on a shorthand that can’t be beat right now. Combine that with the episode-ending shocker of sorts, and there is no question that this episode shows the continued promise for the season ahead.
“Bonfire of the Vanity”
November 10th, 2009
Gossip Girl is not one for subtlety, nor one for taking their time to get into storylines. Last week, Serena was just discovering that Aaron could be a potential mate of sorts: this week, he’s leading her on romantic trips around the city and making her his muse. Just at the beginning of the season, Jenny Humphrey was a naive young girl looking for her big break, and now she’s an angst-ridden, eyeshadow wearing and hoodie sporting punk.
It feels like these two characters, in particular, are jumping around from story point to story point: Serena has gone from post-Dan sadness to new Dan closeness to post-Dan sadness to anti-Blair bitchiness to suddenly friendly towards Blair to now hunting after Aaron. Jenny, meanwhile, went from unhappy intern to unhappy student to home-schooled young assistant to unappreciated designer to unappreciative rebel to guerilla runaway fashionista to homeless, dressless child (And in between she made out with Nate – Ew.)
And we’re not too far into this the show’s second season, and there’s a long way to go: right now, what Gossip Girl is doing right is those storylines that feel natural, and don’t count those two girls amongst them. In fact, only really Chuck and Blair have maintained something approximating consistency, and the result is the episode’s only positive development. And while I’m glad the show is finding its footing in the ratings, there are points where the guilty pleasure needs to show a bit more pleasure.