Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Lost - 'Everybody Loves Hugo' (6x12)

Tonight's Lost does a good job of keeping up the momentum and intrigue of last week's great Desmond episode, even as it raises some potentially troubling issues, both going forward and in retrospect about the direction of the season as a whole. But, the Desmond/Locke stuff alone was fantastic, and I'm eager to see where everything winds up going.

Let me start with what worked best about this episode, and that's Desmond's role as cross temporal angel of destiny, most notably the extended discussion with Smoke Locke that was full of subtle manuvering and gamesmanship as each one seemed to be testing what exactly the other knew. Smoke Locke seems fairly certain that Desmond is aware of his true nature, but Desmond seems unphased, as if it's all part of his plan. What exactly did Desmond and Widmore agree on doing last week? It's unclear, but Desmond seems to be a wild element, something Smoke Locke hadn't considered, hence his attempt to dispatch him into the electromagnetic hole.

Desmond's stuff in the alternate universe is, outside of last week, the first example of those sequences really working to enhance and inform the narrative. Desmond has a clear goal, and we're witnessing his action, which moves the plot forward, through the emotional arc of another character. It's an efficient way of doing things, and by the end of the episode, it's clear that the focus of the episode was not so much Hurley's reunion with Libby as it was a step of Desmond's mission being completed, hence the episode ending scene in which Desmond runs over Locke.

Why did he do this? It could be an attempt to mimic Locke's on island injuries and make him walk again. Or, it could simply be an attempt to put Locke through the same kind of near death trauma that made him and Charlie see into the alternate universe. Why do it in such a haphazard and dangerous way? Perhaps there's still a link between alternate universe Locke and his on island counterpart, so Desmond lets himself get pushed down the well knowing that he can get back at Smoke Locke from the alternate universe. Either way, it's an intriguing and dynamic scene that does a great job of building momentum going into the next episode.

The Hurley alt-verse story worked much better than previous ones because we actually had an idea of the stakes and purpose of what was going on. It was great to see Pierre Chang again, though I'd have preferred an hour of him recounting what happened to his life between the detonation of the bomb and the present, in either the alternate or present universe, but it's not my show! That said, did we ever find out if Chang is still alive in the present? Miles seems to have not known his dad, but we never saw him get killed in the Dharma massacre? I guess it remains an enigma.

But, the core of the story worked on an emotional level, and made sense as a demonstration of the principles first presented in last week's Desmond story. For the first time, it felt like we had two forward moving stories, not a digression taking time away from the main narrative. And, I think the character beats generally worked.

That said, I did have a couple of issues with the episode. The smaller one is the way that action on island is presented. I've already talked about the problematic fact that most of the characters have spent the entire season sitting around not doing much, and in most cases, waiting for some vague supernatural figure to tell them what to do. As Locke says, there's a difference between doing nothing and waiting, but when most of the characters are literally sitting there with no character arc or long term emotional issues, then that's doing nothing.

In the case of this episode, Michael fills the role of Jacob, telling Hurley what he needs to know to move the plot forward, but also taking away real character agency. I suppose the idea is that Hurley overcomes his own fears about begin a leader and takes control of things, but so much narrative information is conveyed by this omnipotent presence that it makes the story a bit boring. This is particularly frustrating since there's some cool potential stories to be had from a group scouting to find where Locke is, rather than just being told by a ghost.

Ilana getting blown up by dynamite was a surprising moment, but didn't do much for me emotionally, and the characters' lack of reaction to it reinforces that. I will say that it's nice to trim the cast down a bit, and I also like the decision to fork off some characters and have them do different things. Ben in particular has been totally wasted this season, and hopefully sending him, Richard and Miles off on this mission will give all those characters something interesting to do. Ben was such a brilliant character in seasons three and four, and it's a shame that he's being so ill served by this season.

My bigger issue with the episode is the reinforcement of this idea that everyone has to find their soul mate to get back in touch with life in the real world. The problem with this is that romantic relationships have never been a centerpiece of the show, and though Hurley and Libby had a couple of sweet moments, there's nothing in the show to suggest that they're soul mates. That idea works for Penny and Desmond because we're so invested in their relationship, but to assume that Hurley is Libby's soul mate just because they had some good banter once is a bit over the top. I understand the concept in universe that the island brings people together who need to be together, but from a storytelling point of view, it's giving a bit too much credit to a minor development from four seasons ago.

Love as the great universal connector just doesn't seem to fit with the themes of the series we've seen to date. Apart from Desmond, nobody in the show has really been defined by their relationships, and it seems odd to swerve now and make those so central to the endgame of the series, particularly when it doesn't seem that tied to the good/evil Jacob mythology in the main universe. The idea of the Man in Black creating a world without love is a great one, but I think that the notion of 'love' needs to be a bit more general than the romantic one presented here.

On that note, the developments in this episode only reinforce my complaints about the narrative structure and content of the alt-verse material in the early days of season six, right up through 'The Package.' I'd argue that you could take 'The Package' out of the series and lose virtually nothing. That's just not good storytelling, every episode should have something important to say, and develop the characters in some way. 'The Package' isn't an episode that laid groundwork to make the Desmond episode work, it was just sort of there and then 'Happily Ever After' came out and took us in a totally different direction. But, the alt-verse segment there, and indeed most of the previous alt-verse segments, don't particularly mesh well or gain added resonance by the revelations about love in this episode. In fact, they only serve to confuse what seems to now be a fairly clear message.

Maybe some other major twist will come along to put everything in perspective, but it seems increasingly unlikely, and to me, it feels like the creators just wanted to kill time and throw in some cameos before bringing us to the point where they could reveal the truth about the alt-verse.

So, even though this episode featured some riveting scenes, most of which involved Desmond, it also raises some concerns for the continued development of the series. I guess we'll have to wait and see how everything sorts out down the line, but I can say that the teaser for next week was fantastic, and has me very excited to see how it all develops.


Christopher said...

Really great analysis. I appreciate your eye for story and the necessity of necessity in serialized formats.

Two thoughts:
1. Desmond does not explicitly know that smoke monster Locke is the infamous Man in Black and not Locke. So, could his side-jump attack perhaps be motivated by ill-informed revenge?

2. When you opened your analysis by talking about problems with the narrative structure, I thought for sure you would hit on the forest voices revelation. It all felt so forced to me. Hugo stops, hits his mark and delivers, "I know what that is." Then he goes off to have a conversation that succinctly and blandly summarizes one of the great mysteries of the island in heavy-handed rhetoric. If that is the way they're going to handle unraveling the mysteries that carried for six seasons, I have a real problem with their narrative taste level.

I know I said two points, but...
1a. Desmond as Jacob in the alt-verse. Thoughts?

Good luck in Chicago.

Patrick said...

Yeah, the whispers reveal was not the most dynamic. I always saw the whispers as more of a sound design element than a mystery of the show, so I wasn't too bad, but I hope the next batch of revelations is a bit more dynamic.

It's possible that Desmond doesn't know Locke is the Man in Black, but I doubt it considering he's working with Widmore, and the key piece of Widmore's mission is to defeat the MiB.

And Desmond as Jacob in the alt-verse makes perfect sense. Jacob in the prime-verse made everyone aware of their place in the larger scheme of things, and ensured that their lives would progress to bring them to the island and their greater role in life. Desmond is doing the same thing here, and the whole alt-verse story made be leading up to yet another reenactment of the original flight a la Ajira in season five.

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Hugo is one of the biggest character of the whole show. He adds interesting thing to the series.