Friday, July 17, 2009

Lost: 5x05-5x13

This batch of Lost episodes takes us through some of my favorite material the show has ever done, as well as some slightly frustrating stuff. But, in general I’m loving the 70s era stuff, and the turns that the show has taken in this season.

There’s two primary threads in this batch of episodes, one is the tracking of how the Oceanic Six make it back to the island, and the other follows the island based characters as they join up with the Dharma Initiative. I’ll start out with the mainland stuff, since I found that much more poorly executed, and a generally lackluster end to the Oceanic Six arc.

The mainland stuff that worked best was Locke’s journey around the globe in “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham.” After turning the wheel of time, in a really cool scene, he met up with Widmore, who once again casts doubt on who’s the “good guy” and who’s the “bad guy” in his ongoing feud with Ben. We’re inclined to side with Ben, simply because we’ve spent so much more time with him, but ultimately neither of them seems particularly reputable. The introduction of the third group of people, the new crash survivors raises even more questions.

But, that stuff is all so hypothetical, it’s hard to say anything definitive about it. The factions battle over the island, almost like gods, while our characters suffer or prosper at their hands in the middle of it. The Locke episode was one of the most downbeat and atmospheric episodes the show has ever done. I don’t think it’s one of the series’ strongest episodes, but it worked well as a trial for Locke, he passed through suffering on the mainland and is now reborn on the island, his quest vindicated.

The problem with the episode for me was more in how it relates to “316.” “Bentham” seemed entirely about the characters telling Locke he’s insane to want to go back to the island, but in “316” they all go back, seemingly of their own volition. I get why Jack is going back, his life has gone to hell and he blames it all on leaving the island. But, even after her spotlight episode, I don’t get why Kate went back. What is her plan for rescuing Claire, and if she did go back for Claire, why isn’t she looking for her at all?

The structural decision to not say why anyone went back to the island doesn’t make much sense, and I doubt we’ll get a full explanation for why Hurley chose to go back before the season ends. It makes particularly little sense for them all to have such a turnabout after utterly rejecting Locke’s entreaty. It felt like the writers decided this mainland stuff was over, so everyone just went back all of a sudden, logic be damned. Maybe more attempts to clarify the motivation will happen in the next few episodes, but after so much stuff with the Six, it didn’t feel totally motivated for them to return. There’s a lot of playing with “destiny” and what the island wants, and in this case that feels like a shortcut replacing real character motivation.

“316” did have a really downbeat, palpable atmosphere, but the illogical character beats were what I ultimately took away from the episode.

But, part of my frustration with going back to the six, and particularly Jack and Kate, is that it means time away from the people on the island, who are by far the most interesting characters at this point, and their entry in to the Dharma Initiative is one of the most fun episodes in the series’ history. As longtime readers probably noticed, I have a massive affection for the Dharma material, going back to the very first Pierre Chang video, which I still think is the best three minutes in the entire series. So, to see the full operation in its glory days is great.

“LaFleur” features many great moments, as we see Sawyer’s continued rise to leader, alongside his co-pilot Juliet. I love the dynamic that’s developed between the two of them, which comes to fruition in the great scene on the dock, where Sawyer sells her on staying on the island for a while, even though she’s wanted to do nothing but leave for the past three years. He and Juliet are great because there’s very little of the will they, won’t they drama of the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle. There’s not the constant posturing for position. Without Jack on the island, Sawyer is the undisputed alpha male, and that means he doesn’t have to be as over the top as Jack was, he knows that Juliet will support him, and they can run things together.

This leads to the seamless jump from Sawyer selling her on staying on the island, to three years later, where everyone is living a basically happy life. I found myself wanting to see even more of that three year gap, to just stay in this world forever, where LaFleur runs things, and lives with Juliet and everyone’s happy. There’s that old adage that happy people is boring, but I just love the world of Dharma so much, and it’d be great to discover it through the eyes of our characters. Thankfully, it looks like we’ll get a glimpse into upper management through the eyes of Farraday in an upcoming episode.

Hanging out in the world of Dharma, everything’s chill and times are good, so it didn’t please me much to see Jack and Kate turn up, to mess with the perfect setup and domestic bliss of Sawyer and Juliet. It’s weird how you find yourself invested in certain characters and couples on a TV show. Why do I care so much about Sawyer and Juliet together? What makes that important to me as a viewer of the show? A lot of it is the maturity of the characters, and the quiet dynamic between them. Juliet is easily the most interesting female character on the series, carrying a moral complexity and demeanor that Sun and Kate can’t match. And her being with Sawyer calms him down and makes him grow a lot, as he tells Kate later on.

So, with my affection for them, I was glad to see that Jack and Kate’s return to the island didn’t ruin their relationship, or lead to a lot of adolescent bickering. Jack and Kate seem totally out of their depth, and wind up essentially ruining the life that everyone has here. It’s interesting to consider that this show is called Lost, but now that the Six have chosen to come back to the island, what does the endgame become? Getting ‘rescued’ isn’t enough, the search for happiness ceases to be connected to a specific end, and becomes a more general existential journey. So, maybe in the Dharma Initiative Juliet and Sawyer were rescued. Juliet got the kind of community she was originally promised, while Sawyer was able to reinvent himself and become a better man, unencumbered by his past. He’s left behind the Sawyer name, the mark of the man who shaped him into a con artist who couldn’t show his real feelings, and became someone else.

That makes the discussion between Kate and Cassidy on the mainland feel so off. The Sawyer they talk about isn’t the character we’re watching now, and I don’t think that he jumped off the plane because he couldn’t face being with her. Cassidy in particular seems to cast her own, justifiably negative, view of Sawyer on to Kate.

I’ve talked a lot about the divide in complexity between characters who were added later in the series and ones who were there from the beginning. At this point, Sawyer and Locke have been reinvented and grown into characters just as complex as the new batch, while we’ve shed Lost 1.0 characters like Charlie and Claire, but pretty much all the Oceanic Six still feel tied to the archetypal roles they had in the show’s original conception. Sayid and Sun have suffered from some inconsistent development, and the lack of a long enough focus to really propel their own narrative forward. Sun smacking Ben with the oar is a fun moment, but beyond getting Jin back, it’s hard to say what her agenda is. Sayid gets put through the same torture beats again and again, though I did love the tripped out truth serum scene where he reveals that he’s from the future. That leaves Jack and Kate as the most frustrating characters because they still suck up so much screen time, but just don’t feel as real as the best characters on the show.

Anyway, the reappearance of young Ben kicks the narrative back into forward motion after the sojourn at Dharma town. These episodes, particularly “Dead is Dead” give us a lot of insight into the history of the Others and the development of Ben into the person he became. I’m curious about the idea that he lost his “innocence” by being healed in the temple. Locke tells Ben that they’re going under the temple, not into it, which is where the smoke monster resides. What resides in the temple itself? Perhaps the island demands a sacrifice in order to heal Ben, in the same way that Locke had to sacrifice Boone to continue his ascend to ruler of the island status.

That episode followed up on the interesting stuff with Sun and Lapidus meeting Jack’s dad in the abandoned Dharma cabins. What is Jack’s dad at this point? Is he actually reborn, or is he just a manifestation of the island’s will, in the same way that Alex is for Ben? The stuff with Sun looking at the picture of all the contemporary characters at the Dharma camp reminded me a lot of the end of The Shining, raising the question of the island as a mystical space that requires people to fulfill specific roles.

Ben forces Widmore to leave the island because Widmore spent too much time on the mainland. The island has specific rules, and those who believe in it most seem to get the most out of it. You could argue that the reason Sawyer, Miles and Juliet and are so happy for three years is because they chose to stay on the island and follow its will. By leaving the island often, Widmore broke the covenant with the island, and could no longer be its leader.

Has Ben broken his covenant by moving the island? Perhaps, rather than rule the island, Ben must now serve Locke. I think there were some effects issues with the incorporation of old clips inside the smoke monster, but I loved Alex appearing and yelling at Ben, telling him to follow Locke. And the Smoke Monster’s lair raises questions about just how long this island has been around, and how many regime changes it’s had.

I’m guessing that at least some of next season will delve even deeper into the history of the island, perhaps finally showing us the origin of Richard Alpert, and where this statue comes from. The statue seems to have major significance to the new group of people on the island, who seem to have come there by design, in the same way that the Oceanic Six did. How did they know that all the Six would be on the plane? Are they in cahoots with Ben, or an independent group?

So, there’s many questions out there, and the happy days of Dharma for Juliet and Sawyer seem on the verge of crumbling. But, at least we got one more comparatively light episode there, “Some Like it Hoth,” which featured some funny time travel material, and at last, an extended spotlight on Pierre Chang, who’s confirmed to be Miles’s father. I think Miles is one of the most fun and interesting characters on the show, so it was great to see him get the chance to do a bit more than usual. Some of the flashback stuff fell into the contrived beats that old flashbacks did, but I loved the scene with him, Hurley and Chang driving around, and the promise of a possible beer together. Chang has become such an iconic figure through the movies that pretty much anything he does is of interest to me.

I’d have loved to spend even more time in the world of Dharma, but it looks like it’s almost at an end. I’ve got four episodes left to go, then I’ll be all caught up and looking at a six month wait for the final season. I’ll probably wrap the season tomorrow, then write up those last episodes, stay tuned.

1 comment:

Patrick C said...

I cannot wait for your thoughts on the season finale.