Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Lost - 'Happily Ever After' (6x11)

This week's Lost brought back perhaps the series' most beloved character, Desmond, and with him, the promise of some kind of major reveal about the time screwiness that's been going on in the alternate universe. As the episode ends, it seems like the nature of the alternate universe has finally been revealed, though questions certainly still linger. The final reveal is great, and fits with a lot of the ideas I've had about the series as a whole, but the episode itself doesn't quite make it to classic status thanks to it hitting a lot of the same beats we've already seen in the alt-verse throughout the season.

Let me start out with the big reveal, namely the nature of the alternate universe, and Desmond's purpose going forward in the season. It seems that the alternate universe is a world that shouldn't be, but was brought into existence through the detonation of the atom bomb on the island, which consequently uncorked the Man in Black and let him loose into the world. And, more specifically, it ensured that Jacob was not able to intercede in the lives of our main characters to bring them to the island. Without their destiny on the island, they have varying levels of success, but all seem to feel that something is missing in their lives, and they struggle to fill that hole in various ways.

The vague allusions of Jack looking in a mirror in the season premiere are expanded here to Charlie describing his vision of Claire, and Desmond experiencing a hallucinatory journey through his life in the core timeline. It seems that people who died in the main timeline are easier able to access their memories. Both Charlie and Faraday are aware that something is wrong in this world, that they're missing the love that gave them joy in the core timeline.

I'd argue that even more important than the specific love for Claire was the sense of purpose and feeling. The hallucinatory joy he talks about is what being on the island gave them all, it took them out of failed, troubled lives and gave them purpose and destiny. That's been one of my key readings of the show throughout, the idea that the island was not a curse, but a blessing because it let them all reinvent themselves and find a happiness that alluded them on the mainland.

That's why all the characters trying to leave the island baffled me, since things seemed so much worse on the mainland, that's why the entire atomic bomb plan made no sense, and now the results of the plan seem to reinforce the reading. At the core of the show was the conflict between Locke and Jack, between faith and reason. Locke had faith that they were on the island for a reason, and he exalted in the opportunities that it gave him. It took Jack a long time to come around to that viewpoint, but at this point in the run, he's taken up Locke's mantle and is advocating a surrender to destiny and service to the island.

So, the implication is that a life without going to the island is a colorless kind of hell where no one feels as vibrantly as they do in the main timeline, and the only way to tap back into that feeling is through love. The major question here is how does that fit with what we saw in the previous alt-verse stories. The early ones, Jack and Locke in particular, seemed to offer the alt-verse as an ideal world, where the characters are able to overcome the conflicts that defined them before the island and find happiness and peace.

However, perhaps that happiness comes at the price of greatness. You could admire Locke accepting his place in the world, but isn't that also a form of surrender? He's letting people tell him what he can't do and surrendering to an acceptable life, but one that's not all it could be. Would Locke rather have the adventure he had on the island or be happy with Helen? I'd argue that he'd probably be happier on the island. It would make sense that the two people who must wholeheartedly buy into Jacob's mission, Jack and Locke, would receive the greatest temptation from the Man in Black, the happy lives they never thought possible. If we get to the point where the characters have to choose between their alt-verse lives and their on island lives, it would make sense to give Jack the greatest temptation since he has the greatest faith.

One could argue that the island is there to let every character grow and be their best. Someone like Sawyer changed so much because of his experiences, and particularly his relationship with Juliet. All the characters who've stuck around and been at the heart of the show have become much more than they were at the beginning, they've felt more and opened up in a way we never saw them do in the flashbacks.

This episode goes on to posit love as the 'constant' for everyone, the thing they can hold on to to remain grounded as they drift further and further into the alt-verse. It's love that brings back Farraday's memories of who he used to be, and allows him to access the part of himself that was once alive on the island, the him that should have been. It's love that lets Charlie see his true self, and the same for Desmond.

At the end of the episode, it seems that thanks to meeting Penny, he has freed his consciousness to travel between the two worlds, and he will go on a mission in both worlds to warn everyone about how wrong the alt-verse is and try to save the main world. In the main universe, I'm guessing he's going to try to stop Smoke Locke from escaping, while in the alt-verse, he's going to try to make the characters remember the false nature of their universe. Ultimately, I'm guessing everybody will have to make some kind of choice between the alt-verse life and the main-verse life.

I think that this episode did do a great job of explaining and contextualizing the alt-verse. However, it didn't make up for a lot of weak stories getting here. Even in this episode, there's moments that seem meant to be surprising, like Desmond working for Widmore, that don't have much impact. The alt-verse only came alive when we saw its relationship to the main one, because that gives us a context for understanding how these stories matter. That's a lot more interesting than just seeing a bunch of characters who've died appear in random roles.

But, in general, this was easily the season's best episode, and if the rest of the series is centered around Desmond's mission, I won't be complaining. A lot of the Lost characters, even great ones like Ben and Farraday, are interesting on a conceptual level, Desmond is one of the few who engenders a really strong emotional connection, so he's a great 'constant' for the series itself, reminding us why we care even when the stories don't work so well.

The on island stuff this week was particularly fantastic. I love the return of the strange science experiments, the Watchmen evoking particle reactor and the strange Jurassic Park style setups. Widmore is killing it every week, and I'm eager to hear more about his overall mission, and perhaps get some more of his backstory.

So, the episode does answer a lot of questions, but much also remains unresolved. Particularly of interest to me is what will happen when we see Juliet in the alt-verse. She knows that the bomb worked to create the alt-verse, and was conscious of that in the main-verse, but will that transfer? And, will she be Sawyer's constant? Will he be tempted by her to accept the alt-verse, or will the producers play up the Kate/Sawyer thing again, as alluded to by the end of his solo episode.

We'll see I guess. I'm feeling a lot better about the show going forward. I think we could have gotten to this place in a much more efficient way, but at least things are looking good going forward.


suncore598 said...

I loved this episode too. I almost believed in the theory that the sideways world took place after the end of the show. I'm so glad that wasn't the case and I'm happy we are finally getting a few inklings of what this world is about with some of the characters getting glimpses of their former lives. I look forward to what Desmond has planned. Have you noticed that he seems oddly at peace with everything that's going on like something happened during his trip between our world and the sideways world? What do you think it could have been? Do you think Jacob may have had a hand in it?

Patrick said...

My guess would be that he got a glimpse of the world where he never went to the island, and realized that even though the island experience was painful, it was crucial in helping make him the person he is today, and bringing him to Penny. So, he is more at peace with himself and the way that things are, and is now going to work to make sure that everyone gets that same peace.

exactwords said...

I agree that this was the best ep of the season, hands-down. Aside from the big reveal, it introduced two other new elements: George, the chauffeur, and Mrs. Widmore with her apparent knowledge of the alt-verse and the real-verse.
I have no idea if George will play a significant role in Desmond's mission, but it seems to have been set up that way, with his constant insistence that he can get Desmond anything he needs. Is he embodying Jacob somehow?
Mrs. Widmore, meanwhile, would seem to be embodying the man in black. Or perhaps she just has knowledge of the alt/real-verse conflict and likes the alt-verse better because her son's alive in this one. She's tuned in to it all somehow, though.
I like your idea re: temptation, but I would argue that Locke had/has more faith in the island than Jack. Yes, Jack is a believer to the core, but Locke seemed destined to be on the island always. I'm also not certain that Locke's life in the alt-verse is so great a temptation. I mean, he can't walk. On the island, he can.
Enjoying your ep-by-ep commentary--look forward to the rest this season.

Patrick said...

Eloise seems to function as a kind of time agent in both worlds, ensuring that things happen when and how they're supposed to. She has some kind of extratemporal sight/power, that allowed her to tell Desmond that you can't fight fate in the main timeline, and also that he isn't 'ready' to know certain things here.

Some of that may come simply from her having seen Daniel in the 70s, and being aware that he will have to die on the island and it's out of her hands. That said, she seems to do everything she can to encourage him to get to that point, it's not like she's fighting his return to the island. I'm not sure if this will ever be satisfactorily resolved, or if it's more a case of the writers needing to do certain things and giving her a mysterious surface to cover her basic deus ex machina/expository function.

As for Locke's temptation, the temptation in this case would be that he's dead on the island! But, I'd agree that I think he'd rather have that life of adventure than the relationship he has on the mainland. The strange thing is that in that case, he has love in the alt-verse, and whatever he has on the island, it's not love. But, love in the case of things here may not mean so much literal romantic love as it is a sense of joy and spirit and life.