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The Flash Sideways structure is thematically interesting, but it feels as if the initial “what’s going on” dynamism has been replaced by a sort of meandering structure as Jack stumbles upon connections that we made weeks ago, and reveals elements of the story which bear emotional weight but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.
“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.
“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 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.
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.
“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.
May 13th, 2009
“It only ends once. Anything that happens before that…it’s just progress.”
After last week’s penultimate episode, there were two paths moving forward: one was John Locke leading a group of Others and Benjamin Linus to kill the man known as Jacob, and the other was Jack Sheppard heading out to drop a hydrogen bomb into the Swan Station and rest the entire show as we know it.
What was so fascinating about these two paths is that you are convinced, at about the halway point of “The Incident,” that neither will truly happen. The latter is far too big of a series reboot for them to risk this late in the series’ lifetime, and the former seems premature considering that we haven’t even met this mysterious Jacob who runs this island and now we’re just going to kill him, just like that? But the episode just kept going: the closer you got to its conclusion, the more you realized that there really wasn’t anything standing in the way of these events at all except for our own expectations.
What Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof did with this episode was toy with the viewers in a way that they only can, and in one of the only ways I’ll admit I downright love. In an episode where the first scene was the most important, and where the inevitable became questionable and the predicted was thrown entirely on its head, they managed to take a scenario that sounded too simple and complicate it beyond any reasonable expectation. In one fell swoop, they rewrote the events of the entire season, opening up a metric ton of new questions just as the final shot in many ways made everything fair game for the show’s final season, all the while situating the show’s characters in the right place for the action to come.
There are some key reasons why this isn’t quite Lost’s best finale, but in terms of its technique I’d say that Lindelof and Cuse have certainly tapped into something that will yield some fantastic results in the show’s sixth and final season.
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.
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.
“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.