Friday, July 10, 2009

Lost: 4x10-4x14

The fourth season of Lost was by far the series’ most consistent, so it stands to reason that where other seasons fluctuated wildly between drawn out, boring middle patches, and brilliant finales, the gap between regular episode and finale would be less in this season. The finale is still strong, with a couple of great moments, but in general, feels more like just putting together a bunch of pieces we already knew than progressing the story in a totally unexpected fashion. Those story developments needed to happen, but I almost wish we had to get to them an episode earlier, then gotten a bit more new stuff in the finale.

As it is, I’d argue the season’s high point was Ben’s trip through time in “The Shape of Things to Come,” an episode that contained the season’s biggest “game changing” moment and solidified Ben as the series’ central actor, pushing all the stories forward just as he pushed the wheel of spacetime forward at the end here. In general, that episode spoke to the divide between the characters who are still interesting, and those who have basically exhausted themselves.

Jack and Kate are certainly exhausted at this point. Both were fairly simple characters to begin with, and hammering the same beats over the course of many flashbacks didn’t help them. Turning Kate into a protective mother in the flashforwards seems like the most easy and obvious way to go with a female character. I’m sure we’ll see Kate in action at some points this year, but most likely just in service of protecting her ‘son,’ and I think that’s a boring direction. It worked great with Ripley in Aliens, but I don’t see any particular motivation for Kate’s motherhood all of a sudden, why would someone who was all about running earlier in her life all of a sudden decide to settle down?

The reason is that she’s got to be a contrast to Jack, who’s gradually sliding back into bad old habits. We see their relationship dramatized in fast forward, jumping from engagement to separation in a few flashbacks. Jack is playing the same beats we saw in his flashbacks with Sarah, and apart from the intriguing appearance of his dad, not too much exciting happens there.

You’d think that the flashforward structure would make the island action largely irrelevant, but in most cases, I found myself still preferring the island stuff to the flashforwards. For one, it’s still where most of the narrative momentum is, and where most of the questions are. The flashforwards, though far superior to the flashbacks, still suffer from the fact that the characters are disconnected from the island and the core mystical experience of the show. There’s more questions raised and answered, but apart from Sayid and Sun’s stuff, we’re getting that much real forward movement.

But, the on the island action is better than ever. Though the ultimate scene in the cabin was a bit anticlimactic, I enjoyed Locke, Hurley and Ben’s trip to see Jacob in “Cabin Fever,” particularly Locke’s dream vision of Horace Mathematician, raising again the specter of Ben’s past destruction of the Dharma Initiative. I loved seeing them in their heyday in “Man Behind the Curtain,” and I’m hoping we’ll get another glimpse in the not too distant future.

The cabin scene itself had the feel of Twin Peaks’ Red Room, it’s a classic other space, with spatial temporal properties that don’t adhere to the typical rules of behavior. Based on what we see in this episode, and the finale, it seems like Christian Shepard has become a form through which the island can present itself to others, and enact its will. How he will contrast to the eventual appearance of Jacob remains to be seen, but his appearance to Claire, and his later appearance to Michael indicates that he’s a form through which the island can enact its will. Claire’s chilled out demeanor in the cabin raises a lot of questions, she’s more interesting now than she ever was during her many normal days on the island.

Starting last year, but coming to prominence in this season is the notion of the island exerting a will of its own over characters. It feels that Michael has a role to play, and he’s not allowed to die until that role is finished. This recalls The Invisibles’ cosmological structure, which posed that each character has a specific role to play in the realization of an end, in that case, the supercontext, and that our choices will inevitably result in that end. With the introduction of time travel as a prominent element in the final episode, it’s clear that some of that predestination, fate vs. free will thematic exploration will come to the fore in the next season.

The moving of the island scene is the high point of the finale for me. It’s the only scene in the episode that recaptures the feeling of religious otherness that made the season two finale so special. Ben starts out in a scientific space, the video cues us to view this as similar to the Hatch we saw previously in the second season. But, after he blows through the hatch, he finds himself in a strange fantasy realm, where all of a sudden it’s cold, and there’s an ancient looking wheel that can activate travel through spacetime. As he turns the wheel, we see everyone connected by a strange feeling, again echoing the explosion of the hatch in season two, then the island disappears, and we don’t see it again this year.

After Ben leaves, Locke moves on to take his place as leader of the Others. This is a plot development that was teased in season three, as well as in Locke’s flashbacks, and finally comes to fruition here. Why doesn’t Richard lead the tribe himself? I’m guessing we’ll see more of the mechanics of the hostiles/others society next season. The axis of conflict has now shifted from others/castaways to the island vs. society. And, because we’ve watched this whole show about the island, I’m more inclined to side with the mystical reverence of Locke than with the people who just want to get home.

This episode does feature a key development in the Locke/Jack rivalry, as Jack’s lie indicates that Jack accepts that Locke was right, at least to some extent. There is a mystical piece of the island, and it may be guiding them forward to a specific destiny. I’m guessing that season five will focus largely on Jack dealing with that realization, as he struggles to get back to the island and correct the mistake he made by leaving in the first place. Where does Locke’s dead body, and the alias Jeremy Bentham factor into this? I don’t know that yet.

Though I found some of the finale a bit perfunctory, I thought the boat escape and explosion stuff was really well executed. The ferrying of passengers between the island and the boat, accompanied by a great score cue, was very visual and dynamic. And, the explosion of the boat, as Jin tried to get their attention was a great moment. I’m sure he’s still out there somewhere, we didn’t see a body.

Desmond and Penny’s reunion was also really well done, a great payoff to their long separation. Though, it does leave me questioning where the character will go in the next season. We’ve still got Ben’s desire to kill Penny out there, so perhaps he and Desmond will come into conflict over that.

But, the character who impressed me the most in the finale, and has grown the most in general, is Sawyer, who’s right up there with Ben and Locke as the most compelling characters on the series. He definitely started out as a riff on the Han Solo archetype, but he’s grown into the hero role subtly over the past few seasons, and now is the one to step up and sacrifice himself and stay on the island so everyone else can leave. It’s a great moment, and I like him and Juliet sitting on the empty beach, wondering what’s going to happen now that everyone else has left.

So, season four ends with most of the answers from the season three cliffhanger answered, but a lot of stuff still in flux. I think this was easily the series’ best season, and it just flew by. I’d imagine watching seven months after season three, and seven months from season five, it had to be a bit frustrating since it’s very much a middle act. A lot of new elements are introduced, and the scope of the story is vastly expanded, but not much is resolved, and we’re still waiting to get to the real story about what’s up with Daniel, Charlotte and Miles. I’m guessing now that there’s fewer people on the island, we’ll see more of them, and I hope so. They all have potential as characters.

In general, I’m much more interested in seeing what happens on the island, and I’m hoping they don’t elide over the three years spent there without Jack and Kate, just to keep the ostensible stars of the show in the spotlight. I want to see how Locke runs the island now that he’s got everything he wanted, and I want to see whether Sawyer and Juliet join up with him, or try to keep their own society going. What does Sawyer do now that he’s decided he’s not going back to society, and that the island will be his world? And how will Ben get back to the island?

I’m sure Jack and co. will get back eventually, but I’m not as concerned with that. That said, I think all the plots are in a really interesting place, and most of the characters are a lot more interesting than they were at the beginning of the season. Sun’s proposal to Widmore, Sayid’s work with Ben, the scope of the show has expanded, and I’m curious to see how all the threads will tie together.

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