Sunday, June 28, 2009

Lost: 3x07-3x12

The second phase of Lost’s third season is a big improvement over the trouble’s of the first batch of episodes, but still struggling a bit to regain narrative momentum. Some stuff happens, but I don’t have a sense of the overall direction of things, and that makes the continuing spiral of lies and missed opportunities for answers more frustrating.

“Not in Portland” resolved the initial captured by the Others arc in a satisfying way, and gave us just enough hints of what was going on with Juliet, and how she wound up on the island to keep things interesting. For all the criticism I have for the show, it manages to create some really weird moments and images. Karl getting brainwashed in the rave room can’t quite match the Orientation video from last season, but it’s the best moment of the season to date. It’s both a really successful scene in the moment, and full of intriguing hints about the future, and the real mission of the Others.

In light of the behavior we see from Cindy, and later Jack, it also raises questions about how the Others control the people they have imprisoned. Did Jack undergo a similar treatment, is that why he’s so happy to play football with Tom at the end of “Par Avion”? That would make sense, though I prefer to believe that Jack is just sick of being on this island and decided to embrace the creature comforts that the Others offer. It’s always more interesting to see characters consciously choose to do something transgressive than have them do it as a consequence of brainwashing.

If we accept that Jack has been pushed to the limit, and believes Kate has left him for Sawyer, it would make sense that he’d tell them to never come back, and then cross over to the other side, first for this football game, presumably with the hopes of getting off the island with Juliet in the future. Regardless of how it turns out, the episode closer with Jack and Tom tossing the ball around was one of the best misdirections on the show in a long time.

I suppose part of the point of “Stranger in a Strange Land” was to set up a slightly more unhinged Jack. Though I’d agree that it’s far from a good episode, I think parts of it worked, and it was better than doing another run through the standard Jack flashback milieu. Still, I think at this point we don’t need another Jack flashback at all. What did work was the surf noir feel of the early scenes, and the idea of Jack spiraling into this weird relationship with Bai Ling. What didn’t work was bringing in the ridiculous idea of the tattoos as a “gift,” and the fear that everyone seems to have about what Jack’s tattoos say about him.

That element, coming right after Desmond’s time travel journey in “Flashes Before Your Eyes” raises questions about the nature of mystical elements on the island. Season two seemed to be about coalescing the mythology of the first season under a single umbrella, a psychological experiment gone wrong. There’s some elements that don’t quite fit with that, but that’s fine, the show was figuring out who it was. However, now, the presence of the lady who tells Desmond about the nature of universal destiny, or the gifted tattoo artist who somehow curses Jack seem decidedly mystical, and I’m not really sure how to reconcile it with what we’ve seen before.

I’m guessing the tattoo stuff will never be mentioned again, and that’s probably for the best. But, Desmond’s time travel is something full of story potential, and clearly important to the development of the season. I thought that episode was great, and a nice spin on the flashback conceit of previous seasons. The way I interpreted it, after triggering the hatch’s fail safe, his consciousness was flung back in time to the moments he’d already experienced, and he experienced them again in a kind of fugue state, somewhat in control of his actions, but always destined to do the same thing.

The question that arises is, what is the nature of time in the series? Based on what’s presented, there’s two clear options, one is that Desmond is imagining the scenario he’s going through, as some kind of justification for the hellish imprisonment he’s been in, both the years in the hatch, and his return to the island. He’s told that the universe has a plan and we’re all subject to it. If he’s making this up, it could be an attempt to give meaning to his imprisonment by declaring that he “had” to be there, nothing he did could have averted it, and also that by pushing the button he is saving the world. This is the destiny the universe has chosen for him.

I don’t like the notion that it’s all in his subconscious though. I think there’s an eerie poetry in the idea of him literally getting a chance to redo the past. Perhaps the anomaly created by the destruction of the Hatch fractured time and led him into a newly created parallel universe where he has the chance to do something different. However, there’s a kind of universal governance directing things to ensure that they turn out the way they’re supposed to. So, even though Desmond gets a second chance, things are still going to turn out the same way, they have to, that’s the universe’s plan.

This could lead to the creation of a time loop recalling the end of The Dark Tower, where Desmond will have to relive his life over and over again until he does the one thing that will make things right. In light of the last scene of season two, I could see Desmond going back in time again and telling Penny that he’s going to disappear, but she has to watch for an anomaly, that’s the way to find him, leading to the South Pole team in season two calling her with his location.

I’m inclined to believe the flashback is more than Desmond’s subconscious, rather he’s floating in a kind of out of time state. The stuff in the present day, with him trying to save Charlie reinforces that. However, that raises the question of who the woman who tells him about the nature of destiny is. How would she know that he’s “supposed” to not buy the ring? Is she a higher dimensional being, a la John a Dreams from The Invisibles, or is part of the Dharma experiment about time travel and making sure the universe runs a certain way?

Speaking of Dharma, there’s a lot of teasing about the nature of the Initiative and its relationship to the Others/Hostiles, but nothing too definitive yet. It’s particularly frustrating when Sawyer and Kate have Karl with them, a guy who has no reason to lie, and they don’t ask him such basic questions as how long have you been here, and what’s the ultimate goal of the group?

That said, I did like the little mini arc with Karl and Alex Rousseau. She’s a very Buffy kind of character, and it’s fun to see her running around with the slingshot roughing up the Dharma group. I’m assuming that she’s not actually Ben’s daughter, since Rousseau sees Ben in season two, and gives no indication that she knows him, let alone once had a child with him. Though, she does say he is one of the others to Sayid, so perhaps getting him captured is some kind of elaborate revenge for what happened. That’s pushing it though, even for this show.

Also interesting in this batch of episodes is the Juliet flashback, which seems to support the concept in Desmond’s episode that destiny exists, and the universe will work outs its will no matter what we do. Juliet had to come to the island, and if it took a bus crash to do it, so be it. The question that arises now is whether that destiny is a general universal thing, or whether it’s all manipulated by the Dharma group. Were these people brought together on this island for a reason, or is it mere happenstance?

The sheer amount of coincidence would support a universal agenda, but that could also be the writers link characters together in the past as a way of justifying the increasingly irrelevant flashbacks. Even Juliet’s flashback only had moments of interest, and was wrapped in another domestic drama storyline that felt a bit played out.

I did really enjoy Hurley’s flashback episode, if only because it was a nice tonal shift from what we’d seen recently. And, the on island story about getting the bus running was fun in the short term, but also further hinted at the utopian dreams of the Dharma group. There’s no symbol of 60s dreams like the VW bus, and supposedly, these scientists went insane and attacked people. What led to that? The video that Locke sees in the Flame Station supports the idea that the Others/Hostiles and Dharma are separate people, but it could be a new video created just to mess with him.

Also introduced in this batch of episodes is Jacob, who seems to be the leader of the Others, and has a list that Kate and Sayid aren’t on. Was Ben not lying when he said he came to get Locke and bring him back because he was good? Jacob is also mentioned in the video that Karl sees. I’m sure we’ll see more of him down the line. For now, it seems like Locke is ready to cross over to the other side, more concerned with finding out what’s going on than protecting the people around him.

So, the show’s back on track to some extent. I think there’s still some issues with the constant lying and untruths, making real narrative progression difficult. But, there’s been some stronger character moments, and I think the show is another strong episode away from a real turnaround.

And as a side note, I'm reading the episode recaps at The House Next Door as I go through each episode, and it's pretty funny in retrospect to read so many people talking about Lost needs to learn a lesson from Heroes, a show that burned out incredibly quickly, and was never that good to begin with. I have a lot of issues with Lost along the way, but at least it intrigued me enough to get me to come back and give it another try, nothing's bringing me back to Heroes.

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