Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Lost - LA X (6x01/6x02)

Six months after I wrapped up my viewing of the entire Lost series to date, it’s time to check out the Lost season premiere, the first Lost episode I’ve watched as it aired since the first season finale. LA X is a strong episode in a lot of ways, but features a central narrative conceit that seems expressly designed to bring back everything I dislike about the show, creating for a fractured viewing experience that jumps between some really great stuff and some plot developments that even if they lead to good stuff later are just stagnant and tired here in the present.

Let me start with the bad, namely the alternate universe conceit, and how it was used here. In many ways, the low point of the series for me is the feels like fifteen minute slow motion shot in ‘Exodus’ showing everybody getting on the plane. There, it was frustrating to spend so much time on this while the plot points on the island moved forward at glacial pace. Here, we get a reprisal of that moment, this time with people actually getting off the plane, plus a bunch of other bad season one rehash stories.

I think the greatest misconception the Lost creators have, based on interviews I’m reading, is that season one is still peoples’ favorite. Season one is okay, but nothing compared to the best moments of seasons two or three, and nowhere near the heights the show hit in years four and five. And yet, the central purpose of this alternate universe thing seems to be to let us relive classic terrible stories like Kate on the run from the law or Jack feeling guilty about not fixing people.

Other than the Locke/Jack scene at the end of the episode and the surprise appearance of Desmond, every scene in the alternate universe felt like an attempt to “give the fans” something they, or at least I, don’t even want. Most of the series’ great characters were additions to the cast in the later years, the people whose personalities weren’t fit into neat boxes to accommodate flashbacks, and who don’t feel exhausted from overexplanation of their pasts. And, even originals who are still interesting, like Sawyer and Jin, are totally removed from the people they were in those early days.

Trying to relive the “glory” of season one is like Radiohead dropping OK Computer or Kid A then coming out and saying that they really want to get back to what they were doing with Pablo Honey. Those episodes don’t compare to the complexity or ambition of season five, and I’m baffled at this point as to why they chose to do this conceit.

Now, it may have a larger point in the overall narrative. I’m guessing that they’re going to somehow pull the real Locke out of the alt universe, perhaps after Jack heals him, and then real Locke will do battle with fake Locke. And, that’s a potentially good storyline, but I just don’t have that much interest in the series of disconnected stories that will likely lead there. Every story has to work both in a larger context and in the moment, this might work in the larger context, but in this episode at least, it didn’t work at all in the moment. The potential interesting stories are in finding out why the island is flooded and seeing what Juliet or Ben are up to, but I’m not sure that’s worth the terrible story that’s sure to come in “What Kate Does” next week.

I don’t know why the show continually looks backward when the stories are so much more interesting in the present. The reason seasons four and five were so great is that finally every part of the episode was worth watching and we didn’t have the frustrating bifurcated structure. Now, that structural annoyance is back and I find myself wanting to get out of the alt-verse and back to the present day of the islanders.

And things are much better there. Over with fake Locke, we get confirmation that fake Locke is the smoke monster, and see another demonstration of his powers. This makes a lot of sense, and goes a good ways towards tying the whole series together. Jacob and this guy (who really needs a name) are locked in an eternal battle to see if the people who land on the island can do good or if they’ll succumb to the fear manifested by the smoke monster.

The smoke monster has been shown as being able to manifest as dead people, so the question is raised whether the Jacob that Hurley sees is actually Jacob or if he’s the Fake Locke manipulating Hurley to go to the temple. The show implies that it’s the real Jacob, but it’s possible that it could be manipulation, along the lines of Ben seeing his daughter.

Everything on that side of the story was very exciting, and it looks like all our characters will finally be getting reunited soon, now that they’re back in the same time and place. The big question coming out of this is where is Fake Locke’s home. I’ve got no idea on that one, but it’s conceivable it could involve something in the alternate universe.

The question remains what was it that split the timeline. In the main timeline, it’s clear that the bomb exploding was what came to be called the incident by the Dharma people. It’s notable that when Desmond triggered the destruction of the hatch, we saw a similar white flash like in the other time jumps. Is it possible that there was a time jump there? I doubt the show would revisit that moment, but it was invoked here in the destroyed hatch site.

I’m not sure why, from a dramatic point of view, they chose to have Juliet survive. I loved that final scene with Sawyer, and I can see that she was needed to tell them that the alt-verse exists, but emotionally their farewell in “The Incident” was so raw, this scene, great as it was, can’t compare. I did love Sawyer burying Juliet on his own and forcing Miles to read her.

But, bringing Juliet back also reinforced one of my major issues with the show at this point, which is the renewed centrality of Jack and Kate to the narrative. I liked the 70s Dharma stuff so much, and I feel like bringing Jack and Kate in to screw things up there cemented the loathsomeness of the characters that had always been there. We’ve got Jack and Kates making dull storylines in two universes, and the show still seems to hold them up as heroes and sympathetic. The way things have gone, Sawyer has every right to be furious at Jack, and I think those two characters are so toxic at this point, I have no sympathy left for them at all.

It’s also notable that in that side of the story, almost all of the new characters are gone, and we’re back to the old, less interesting dynamic. It’s great to have Miles there, but it seems like they’re getting back to the old group of characters, and I’m not sure where he’s going to fit in.

But, that said, there was a lot of stuff that I did love in the premiere. A lot of the Sawyer stuff was great, all the Locke/Ben stuff, and also the nature of the temple was awesome. Seeing Cindy the flight attendant was a great surprise, and I loved the Apocalypse Now end of the road feel of their settlement. It felt like this might be where some of the surviving Dharma people went, or perhaps all these people are near immortal, like Richard. I loved that environment, and am eager to see more of it, and I love that the show is still presenting new characters and ideas and worlds at this point in its run.

Thinking more about the alternate reality device, it seems designed to prove what Fake Locke says to Ben, that everyone who came to the island wanted to leave, but they’re really better because of it. The plane crash was a new start for people trapped in lives they almost uniformly hated, and that always seemed to be the fundamental flaw of Jack’s plan. Why would Kate agree to go along with it when it meant she winds up back in custody? Why would anyone agree to wipe away the last five years of their life? I’m guessing the realization of the island’s importance in their lives and the fact that it was a curse not a blessing will be key to the finale, and ultimately be the purpose of the alt-verse storyline.

So, there’s a lot to like, but also some potential issues. The show is drifting from the things that I loved so much in season five, and does feel more like season one. But, why you would want to go back to the worst season, I don’t know! Maybe I’m alone in this, but if Jack and Kate died and we never saw the alt-verse, and just proceeded with the island stuff and spent some episodes with those temple folk, I’d be happy.

Lost, much like Locke, has a good self and a bad self. Will the bad self, the one centered around pop-psychology backstories and beaten to death character arcs for Jack and Kate triumph? Or will it be the good Lost, with interesting characters like Sawyer and Ben and crazy ideas and wildly ambitious conflicts be the winner? We’ll have to watch on and see.


suncore598 said...

I thought it was a pretty good start to Lost's final season. I'm sick of the Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle as much as the next guy but at least they're downplaying it a bit this season.

I'm interested in this alternate universe storyline and I'm wondering if it's really an alaternate universe Jack and the others are in. For a second, I thought Locke was going to reveal to Jack in the scene near the end of the episode that he has knowledge of the original timeline or that he was Jacob or the Smoke Monster once again using the disguise of Locke to fool others.
And have you noticed that when Fake Locke told the people that he was disappointed in them, he was talking to them as if they were his children who have all failed to reach his expectations? I can't wait to see what direction Saywer is going to take after losing Juliet. I also think she was hinting at the alternate universe when Miles said that the important thing she wanted to tell Sawyer was, "It worked."

Patrick said...

I think Juliet's "It worked" must have referred to the alt-verse. It's possible that her soul or part of her self moved to the other world after she died in the prime universe? There's got to be a major reason that they had her survive only to die again, and that would be an interesting way to bring the character back down the line.

And, I really hope they don't bring back the love triangle, I really bought into the Sawyer/Juliet relationship and I think it's too soon for him to get back together with Kate, and totally illogical in the context of the overall series, unless they were only using the Sawyer/Juliet relationship to mature the character so he could get together with Kate, which I seriously hope was not the case.

Shlomo said...

hey patrick, saw youre comment on sepinwall's blgo post, and came to check out your review. cant beleive you guys meanaged to write so much so quickly.

I think the meta comment of this season's narrative technique is that the narrative now mirrors the feeling of the show's fans. we now have two narratives: one for the fan's of the mythology, and one for fans of the characters development. The latter at this point can be imagined to be a rewriting of the show without any of the original mythological elements--its purely about what these characters lives would have been like if no island-craziness had ever invaded it. Persoanlly I find it fascinating, and ive even spoken to people who liked it better than the mythological narrative.

the two moment's I loved from the character-non-crash story (during which i gave my wife a high-five):
- where locke lied to boone and earned his respect
- jack and locke's conversation about the body, the knives and his spine.

I'm a sucker for narrative repetition. Also, I liked season five, but only disliked the love-quadrangle moments at the end, because they seemed to be serving the plot more than developing naturally.

Patrick said...

I'd agree that some of the quadrangle stuff at the end of season five was extremely contrived. I'll forgive it in some respects since it gave us the intense moment where Juliet gets pulled down the hole, but the radical swerves in character motivation made little sense. The major problem was that the characters decide to essentially kill themselves, and arguably the entire universe, just because, in Juliet's case she's mad that Sawyer looked at Kate, or Jack is mad that he messed things up with Kate, ignoring the fact that doing so will mean they never met at all.

I could buy one person doing this insane thing, but having everyone support it made no sense, and I'd argue was less dramatic than having Jack and Sawyer fighting each other, and the bomb going off against Sawyer's will.

But, in this episode, I can understand the idea that the split is designed to give people the mythology and the character stuff, but for me, that reflects a kind of false conception that the flashbacks actually gave character development. The flashbacks, in most cases, didn't develop the characters, they explained the characters, telling us why something we already know exists rather than letting us see that through the characters' actions. The flashbacks for the newer characters, like Ben or Juliet, did a great job of illuminating larger plot concerns, but the flashbacks in seasons one through three almost uniformly distract from the ongoing concerns of the series.

The most meaningful character development happened on the island, and that's why the alt-verse stuff worries me so. With so many characters on the island, I don't think we need to spend time seeing Kate mess her life up again on the mainland when we saw that in the flashbacks, we saw it in the flashforwards and now we'll see it an alternate world. I'd rather see her mess things up on the island itself.

I guess my biggest issue is that the characters we've seen in the alt-verse so far are generally the less interesting ones, so maybe alt-verse Ben or Desmond might be dramatically different in illuminating ways, but I'm fearing that it's going to be a device to tell the kinds of stories that bogged down the series in its early going.

That said, I did love both scenes you mentioned with Locke, and I feel almost certain that alt-verse Locke is going to come over to the main timeline, and we may see a reversal of the traditional dynamic, in which Jack has to help Locke find faith in himself.

I think there's some potentially fascinating and crazy stories to do surrounding the idea of a multiverse, I'm not opposed to it in theory, I just don't want it to be another round of boring off island stories that distract from so much going on on island.

Eman said...

I strongly agree with most of your arguments.
Fake Locke changing to the Smoke Monster and surprinsingly being the only one i've seen to kick Richard's ass, the look on his face was self explanatory, makes me think of what happened in that island even before dharma with Smokey,Jacob and a chained Richards.

I have a theory to discuss about why they needed Juliet to die again.
I mean, that the first death in this season (not including the guys from Ajira)knew that it worked and that there's an alt universe. Coincidence? Maybe,I will have to wait for the next episode to confirm that when you're near to death to can see that universe or something like that. Waiting for Sayid's reactions as he died too.

Eman said...

Oh and i think that Hugo did actually see Jacob and not Fake Locke with his appearance.
He remember about the case and the taxi so it must be him.

Anonymous said...

For me, the best "LOST" episode was "The Constant" -- loved the rip-in-time, time/space-crossed lovers storyline between Penny and Desmond (their last scene really choked me up)... I really loved Jeremy Davies' character, the disheveled former Oxford scientist Daniel Faraday, who was selected for the mission to discover information about the Island's electromagnetic properties (i.e. "the Faraday effect"). For me, it's hard to top that one -- and I think this season we'll have to see more episodes that bring the science-fiction together with the soap-opera aspects of the storylines as good or better than this episode if everyone's going to be satisfied in the end...