Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Lost - 'The Package' (6x10)

Another week of Lost, another episode that exemplifies most of my issues with the previous season six episodes. There's some really great scenes in here, and the final reveal is very satisfying, but both the on island and particularly the alt-verse stuff is a lot of wheel spinning with not too much payoff.

First, let me deal with the downside of the episode. With any long running work, a looming end raises the stakes for what you've got to do. Not only must the episode be satisfying on its own terms, but with limited time, every story, every scene has to deal with being the best possible use of the time left. I don't like to judge a work based on what I want it to be rather than what it is, but I don't think anyone could consider this Sun/Jin story the best use of the series' remaining time.

More than any of the other flash-sideways, this one didn't even deal with the characters on an emotional level. Some of the beats in the hotel room were nice, particularly the shirt unbuttoning thing, but the characters were so far from their on island counterparts that they don't even resonate emotionally with what we've seen those people go through. That means that it's harder to emotionally engage with the characters and the whole thing doesn't work. I'd compare it to watching these two actors in another movie. You get that Sun/Jin resonance thanks to the performers, but it's not the same people. Even fan service allusions like Mikhail's return don't make for a satisfying story.

Most troubling is the realization that with only eight episodes left, there's no way that all these alt-verse stories will find a satisfactory resolution, nor is that were I want screentime expended. If alt-Sun/alt-Jin never do anything else, why did we spend this time with them in the first place? I'm increasingly unclear about the purpose of these stories in the overall narrative, and the decision to only tell us how Jin got in the fridge we saw him in several episodes ago doesn't help move things forward. That's characteristic of the worst of Lost, the idea that we'd really care about how Jin got in that fridge. Why not just pick up there and let us catch up on what happened.

On island, a lot of good stuff is happening. My biggest issue right now is that character motivations are very unclear, primarily due to the fact that so many of the characters who willingly came back to the island now only want to leave. I thought we'd moved towards the idea of the island as an end in and of itself, as the purpose these people have been seeking. Sun seemed eager to get away from her daughter and fuck around with Widmore in season five, so I don't buy her only wanting to find Jin and go back. I prefer the idea that these characters have become part of a larger world and the simple desire to go home will only prove as dissatisfying as it was to the Oceanic Six earlier. Jack is the only character who seems to realize the magic of what's happening, while everyone else is still in seasons one and two mode.

But, other than these issues, there was a lot of great stuff here. Things are mounting towards the eventual war, and the Widmore/Locke confrontation was as good a scene as we've had this season. Terry O'Quinn has been absolutely owning this season with his seemingly benevolent menace, and here he had an equally ambiguous force to reckon with. I also loved the scene with Richard getting his troops ready and making his plan.

Richard's speech makes me think that the eventual split at the end of the series might come down to people who believe in the higher purpose of the island battling people who want to leave it. Jack has come around to believe that this is where he's meant to be, and destroying the plane is the ultimate symbolic gesture to indicate that. By destroying the plane, he is reenacting again the opening of the series, and acquiescing to his fate. SmokeLocke, Kate, Claire and the others who want to leave have resisted the will of the island and seek to return to the world.

It would make sense to stage the final battle around the plane because of its resonance with the series opening, and clearly the creators have an interest in bringing stuff full circle. It would also make the stakes clearer in the war and give them a relatable hook. Throughout the series, we've seen the island function as a transformative engine, giving people what they want, and sometimes punishing them when they want to leave. You could argue that Juliet's death in “The Incident” was a consequence of her and Sawyer's decision to leave the island. Committing to stay on the island means it will protect you, trying to leave means it will fight against you. Locke is invulnerable on the island, but off island, he is killed by Ben.

But, I'm guessing things will all be shaken up next week by the return of Desmond, the man who may finally be able to hack the alt-verse/prime-verse divide, or at least shed some light on the larger purpose of things. Either way, it's great to finally have the character back, and I'm eager to see how he plays in the narrative.

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