“Happily Ever After”
April 6th, 2010
Early in “Happily Ever After,” Charles Widmore tells Jin that it will be easier to show him what he intends to do with Desmond than it would be to tell him. Normally, this would make me quite excited, as I’m a strong supporter of the “Show, Don’t Tell” mode of storytelling when it comes to shows like Lost. However, if I have a single complaint about the show’s sixth season as a whole, it’s that the flash-sideways narrative device has remained frustratingly opaque – while there is value to mystery, and some of the season’s episodes have nicely played on our uncertainty, there is a point where the mystery needs to be solved in order for the show to move on.
Solution, however, is not the end goal of “Happily Ever After,” despite its title. Rather, it is an episode filled with multiple revelations and philosophical conversations which tell us something very important about what, precisely, is going on in this all-important half of the show’s narrative. It neither confirms nor discredits any of the running theories about what the flash-sideways are supposed to mean, but it establishes key parameters by which we may be able to figure things out, for good, in the future.
While some may feel that a lack of “answers” makes this yet another mysterious episode in a vague and unfocused season, I would argue that it’s the perfect “turn” of sorts: Desmond Hume’s journey into a new reality tells us enough to make us reconsider everything we’ve seen up to this point in the season but not so much that there aren’t still some mysteries to unlock in the future. While “why” and “how” remain complex questions that we still can’t entirely pin down, both questions have become more practical as we head towards the series’ conclusion, and I strongly believe that we now have all the tools we’ll need in order to connect the dots towards Lost’s “Happily Ever After” – so long as “love” is not the only answer, I’m pretty gosh darn excited about it.
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 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.
“This Place is Death”
February 11th, 2009
Yesterday, I was reading a piece by Devin Faraci over at CHUD.com, wherein he laid out a laundry list of concerns over the trajectory of Lost’s fifth season. To summarize, Devin is arguing that the focus on time travel has them indulging themselves in the show’s science fiction elements, and that it is forgetting about its characters, losing its momentum, and diverting attention from where it should be placed. And, ostensibly, I believe that he is right about every one of these things; the only difference is that I feel the show is better for it.
“This Place is Death” is a reminder that this isn’t just an investigation of the island itself, but rather an investigation of the island and its relationship with these characters. It has given them things, such as a new set of legs, just as it has taken them away, and what we have here is the island beginning to assert its power over them. Charlotte is correct to remark that this island is one where death is prevalent, but we know it hasn’t always been this way: it gave Locke back his ability to walk, it cured Rose’s cancer, and it appears to have given Richard Alpert the ability to transcend the aging process entirely.
But now the island is off its axis, something has gone off-kilter. As the when of the island changes, the what changes with it: it affects different people to different degrees, its only consistency that it has turned against them all in at least some capacity. This episode is about one man’s plan to try to change this, and another man’s concern that if it proves unstoppable it might mean something terrible for the person about whom he cares the most. This, ultimately, is a character-driven story, one that focuses on a central relationship while reminding us that powers stronger than their love are operating here.
And with a single spin of the wheel, anything is possible.
“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.
January 28th, 2009
There are some who believe, and who boasted ahead of the episode airing, that “Jughead” is one of the strongest episodes in Lost’s five season run.
I’m inclined to disagree, although not out of malice towards the episode or its intentions.
I liked “Jughead,” a lot, but it felt like a much more purposeful attempt to confuse and overwhelm the viewer than some of the show’s past mythology episodes. There is no doubt that, compared to the premiere, this episode is far more revealing: the island’s pit stop in the 1950s introduces us to some key individuals and ideas which seem to fit together numerous pieces of our puzzle, whether it be Richard Alpert’s reasoning for entering into the life of John Locke or the various details that explain the current condition of Daniel Faraday.
Abandoning the Oceanic Six entirely, the episode is all about trying to piece things together in ways that seem at first unorthodox but then, over time, become more focused if not more clear. My reservations about placing the episode into the show’s upper echelon is that it, as an entity, did not feel like a story in its own right: while we approached some major revelations for Daniel Faraday in particular, the episode never felt like it really had time to apply those to his character and demonstrate those effects.
But no one can claim that there are not now some much larger questions, and certainly the fog is beginning to clear on, at the very least, a few very important things. So that makes “Jughead” an entertaining and momentum-building episode for the show, if not the television revelation that some had sold it as.
“Because You Left / The Lie”
January 21st, 2009
Going into tonight’s two-hour premiere for Lost’s second season, I was unsure. Not about the show, really, so much as unsure about my own ability to get back into a Lost frame of mind. I’m only a few days out from the mindfrak that was the BSG premiere, and to enter into a similar level of complexity so soon was something that didn’t feel normal. I love this show with all my heart, through the slow periods and the various leaps through time, but there is a point where you wonder how many more twists and turns you can take.
But from the moment that Marvin Candle puts a record on and heads to the Orchid station to investigate a new discovery, it becomes very clear that there is never a time where a Lost frame of mind feels overbearing. What makes “Because You Left” and “The Lie” so effective is that they are operating are on a whole new plane: what was once a simple construct of present and past, and then present and future, has been eternally complicated by a whirlwind tour through what we’ve experienced, what we know, and what could happen in the future. Before, we were the ones who were traveling through time, but hearkening back to Season Four’s pivotal “The Constant” the show has unstuck its characters in time and we’re just along for the ride.
The result has us perhaps the most confused we’ve ever been, but it makes sense: our characters are just as confused, just as at the whim of the island and whatever crazy sense of time, space and fate this show is holding going into its fifth and penultimate season. This two-hour season premiere, more than the flashforwards or the Oceanic Six before it, has this world in a constant state of change that has fundamentally altered our sense of the show’s direction. If Season Four was drawing the line from Point A, the island, to Point B, the rescue of the Oceanic Six, then now we’re drawing a line between points constantly moving, evolving as we watch into something we haven’t come close to understanding.
We’ve gone from knowing what happens and wondering how the show will take us there to slowly discovering what needs to happen and growing increasingly doubtful that it’s an achievable goal considering the variables involved. The sheer uncertainty of this premiere is exactly what the show needed to put me into a Lost frame of mind: I don’t understand you, Lost, but at the end of the day I will always believe you.