Saturday, May 28, 2011

LOST – One Year Later

Oh, My Bad:
Needless to say, I apparently lied a year ago when I said I’d be back for more analysis. Although, come to think of it, I’m back now and I never specifically said WHEN I’d be back, so that makes me not so much a liar as it does a very, very bad person. My primary excuse is that I was life-changingly busy this past year finishing up the post-production on a feature length special effects extravaganza of a film that two of my buddies and I made in our garage. Hopefully you’ll hear a lot more about it soon – and hopefully from someone other than me!

But busy though I may have been, I was reminded recently while commemorating LOST at Nikki Stafford’s phenomenal blog that if you truly want to do something, then you somehow find the time. And so I guess I must admit to myself that my desire to write about the show was indeed somewhat diminished after it ended. Part of this I’m sure had to do with the freshness of theorizing having worn off, and part of it had to do with the surprisingly vitriolic atmosphere of fandom immediately after the conclusion of the show. For months I kept finding that every time I started to talk LOST, I found myself on the defensive explaining why I didn’t think the finale “sucked hard” or why I didn’t think that the entire show was a “train wreck.” It was wearying, and I didn’t like having to take the role of an apologist for a show I felt needed no apology. I certainly thought a few stumbles were made through the run of the series -- particularly in that final season -- but I genuinely enjoyed the finale and still truly LOVE the show as a whole.

But now that a year has passed, and some of that poisonous atmosphere has thinned, my inner English-major has kicked in, and it’s becoming more and more fun to think about LOST analytically as a literary work and as one whole piece of storytelling – something we were entirely unable to do while it was still an ongoing experience. So while I might not be able to commit to regular posts at the moment, I was truly moved by reading Ms. Stafford’s blog to throw my hat back in the ring at least one more time and journey back to that crazy whacked-out wonderful Island with you.

Living In A Post-LOST World:
This makes me sound like a bad fan, but I actually haven’t sat and watched an entire episode of the show since a repeat viewing of “The End” last May. That said, I’ve watched a good amount of special features on my mega-awesome complete blu-ray collection, listened to many of the episode commentaries, and spent an absolute countless amount of hours listening to maestro Giacchino’s opus of a score from that final season – generously released on four CDs last Fall. I think if any creative force behind the show stuck the landing 100% or beyond, it was him. Those soundtracks are fabulous.

I can guarantee I’ll watch the show many more times in the future, but I think the biggest compliment I can pay it currently is just how much I have missed it. No show has taken its place. Heck, no storytelling property has taken its place. I watch The Clone Wars (getting better every season), The Office (getting worse every season), and Parks & Recreation (favorite show on TV) – but I have yet to find anything that could remotely fill the void LOST has left in my entertainment life. Good thing I’ve been too damn busy to mourn it much!

What We Know
At the end of my last LOST post, I offered that despite many accusations to the contrary, the show has given us all the most important answers already, despite having been stingy with the details. You can hop back to that post if you wish to read precisely what I said then, but in summary: We know what the Island is. It’s a physical place filled with so much electromagnetic energy that it has all kinds of powers and is the heart of existence as we know it. We know who Jacob was. He was the most recent in a line of Island protectors dating back before anyone can remember, and he wanted a replacement. We know what the Smoke Monster was. It was a man who was merged irrevocably with the Island and its powers, and he wanted to mess with Jacob and leave. We know who the Others were. They were Jacob’s followers, who arrived piecemeal through the years starting with Richard. We know what the Dharma Initiative was. A community of scientists, it was the most recent of mankind’s attempts to conquer the Island’s power.

And the rest is history: The Incident was the result of Dharma trying too hard. The Purge was the Others’ ultimate reply to them. Flight 815 crashed because A) Jacob willed it, and B) Desmond forgot to press the button in the Swan hatch (Dharma’s attempt to put a band-aid over the wound they gave the Island). Let’s not forget that even though Jacob and the Island seem to will things to happen, there are generally always real-world, character-motivated reasons these things happen as well. And that, I believe, is at the center of the entire show and its story: faith and reason, co-existing in equal measure.

Stingy With The Details
Also in my previous post, I suggested that while there are indeed all sorts of nagging questions, quibbles, gripes, and dangling plot points that remain to haunt us, most of these things can be grouped under four major categories of missing details that make it a lot easier for us to deal with them. The categories I offered were: The Others, The Dharma Initiative, Special People, and the Island’s Vast Array of Powers. While asking everyone to stay tuned an entire year for an exploration of these categories is indeed preposterous, I offer in apology the following analysis of each of those categories as well as a Unifying Theory of LOST that brings them together in support of a “simple as possible” summation of the meaning of the show. Let’s do this:

The Island’s Vast Array of Powers:
The Island is far from simple, but six seasons of evidence can at least give us a good idea of what the place can do. And each ability revealed is one more piece of evidence in determining exactly what it is. I offer the word “evidence” here as a blanket term to cover all the show’s details that otherwise seem disjointed or marooned by the larger story strands. With rare exception, no detail is entirely orphaned, each providing insight, context, and information about the show’s settings and characters. For the Island, it all boils down to electromagnetism.
  • Electromagnetism: Everything important and odd about the Island comes down to the massive amounts of electromagnetism contained in pockets all over it, and most grandly at its core. The most simple answer to “What is the Island” is that it’s exactly what it seems: it’s a damn island. It just so happens to be the source of all the world’s electromagnetism. Which on another show might not have been anything particularly special, but in the world of LOST, electromagnetism is the stuff of life and death, space and time. It represents that blurry line between science and magic, here being science we don’t understand. Now, I’m sure a real scientist could explain what exactly electromagnetism is and what it can and cannot do far better than I ever could – but the writers of LOST were counting on the fact that most television viewers hadn’t already determined their own acceptable limits of what electromagnetism can and cannot be responsible for in a science fiction show. And depending on who you talk to, said writers either pulled it off, jumped the electromagnetic shark, or perhaps just took a leap of electromagnetic faith. But as far as the show is concerned, electromagnetism is the source of everything in the LOST universe, and can be manipulated in all kinds of cool sci-fi ways if harnessed via the Island it all comes from.
  • Physical/Temporal Location: So all this electromagnetic build-up has made the Island a real chore to find. It can move through space; it can move its occupants through time and space (i.e. not only all of Season 5, but also the aftermath of the hatch implosion and the crash of Flight 815), and it can only be found through very specific bearings obtained through very complicated scientific calculations. This movement likewise makes the Island very difficult to leave, creating the snowglobe energy effect that kept Desmond sailing repeatedly back to it, and brought a time-skipping sickness to any who passed through the surrounding energy unsuccessfully. The nature of the Island’s enigmatic location caused Ben to speculate that God can’t see it, and meant that Penny had to wait for Desmond to blow the hatch in order for her team to pick up his current whereabouts. This separation of the Island from the natural flow of time and space for the rest of the world led to much speculation that it was, in fact, a realm beyond life and existence as we know it. But the ability of characters to come and go from the place (even with difficulty) proved that the Island was a real location, even if it houses the energy that makes up life beyond existence as we know it. Further exploration of that avenue would be relegated to Season Six’s controversial “Sideways World.”
  • Visions: Those on the Island were subject to seeing all kinds of crazy things. Sometimes these took the form of dreams. Sometimes animals. Sometimes the visions were experienced only by one person, sometimes jointly. Frequently, as with the rationale for Flight 815’s crash, we’re left with dual explanations for these visions. For instance, was Charlie’s vision of Aaron in danger from 2.12 [Fire+Water] the result of his lingering heroin addiction, or was it Island-sent? Was Locke really communicating with the Island in his smoky tent in 3.03 [Further Instructions] or was it all just his wacky paste doing its thing? Did the Island show Kate and Sawyer a black horse in 2.09 [What Kate Did] or was that just a lingering resident of Dharma’s zoological Hydra Station? Most visions could have simpler explanations than “the Island willed it” – but you and I both know (because we watched the damn show) that the Island was certainly capable of messing with people. And if not the Island itself, then frequently the dead people whispering in its wind were responsible. After all, electromagnetism is the stuff of life and death in this world.
  • Healing/Destruction: Like any power worth pursuing, the Island’s energy can be used for both good and ill, healing and hurting. The healing powers of the island are blatant – from Locke’s legs to Rose’s cancer – but its destructive powers are what make it worth protecting. Even when bottled, the Island’s energy causes sudden storms and induces pregnancy troubles in those too close to it. Once unleashed, the electromagnetic energy brings down planes, causes earthquakes, and if left uncorked will allegedly destroy all of existence. Judging by the evidence provided by the show, I don’t see a reason to doubt that claim. But if you do doubt that the entire world was threatened by the Man In Black’s actions in “The End,” then I suppose this would render Jack’s sacrifice somewhat moot and leave the narrative of the show rather piss poor. So we might as well believe Widmore when he tells Desmond how vital it is that the Man In Black be stopped. As far as the show is concerned, the destructive power of the Island is very real, and (once again) tied directly to its role as the source of the energy that makes up life and death.

Special People:
Much like the LOST universe takes for granted the power and capabilities of electromagnetic energy, it also assumes that there are some people out there in the world who are naturally more tuned-in to this energy than other people. Folks like Isaac of Uluru from 2.29 [S.O.S] come to mind. He was able to harness the energy of a location in Australia to cure some diseases and ailments, and told Rose that his spot wasn’t the location for her. But there are people the show specifically referred to as “special” that were far more important to the narrative than Isaac. And each of these people were equipped with powers in sync with what we’ve already discussed the Island could do. Their abilities are just the Island’s on a smaller scale.
  • Jacob: The Island’s chief protector appeared to have mastery over just about everything the Island is capable of: Jacob could move through time and space, appearing off-Island to Locke, Sayid, and Hurley. Jacob could induce visions, showing a young version of himself to the Man In Black and perhaps being responsible for any number of the other character’s visions throughout the series. Jacob could heal, dealing with Juliet’s sister’s cancer, Dogen’s son’s injuries, and Richard’s immortality. The powers of the Island equaled the powers of Jacob. And it seems that certain places he touched took on the Island’s erratic spatial/temporal qualities as well: the cabin and the lighthouse come to mind as places only visible when entered from certain directions, and (in the case of the cabin) can move about the Island in the same way the Island can move about the earth.
  • The Man In Black: Where Jacob’s special nature seems to have been given to him by the Island’s previous protector – passed on by her will -- the Man In Black was said to be special of his own accord. Even before his transmogrification into the Smoke Monster, he was able to see his dead mother and harness the temporal/spatial power of the Island to create the frozen donkey wheel mechanism. As the Smoke Monster, he became a physical embodiment of the Island energy’s destructive capability, could move around in spatially surprising ways, and could induce visions on a massive scale. To his regret, his new form left him permanently tethered to the Island, and also left him subject to a number of Jacob’s restrictions for which he had to find loopholes.
  • Desmond: Beyond Jacob and the Man In Black, the other tapped “special people” had a more limited spectrum of Island abilities. Whether inherent at birth or Island-given during the hatch implosion, Desmond developed an immunity to the destructive powers of the electromagnetism, and exhibited an unmatched mastery over the Island’s temporal fluctuations, whether witnessing flashes of the future or mentally travelling into the past. There’s a chance Eloise Hawking had some similar shade of his future-telling ability (combined with Daniel’s journal from his trip to the past).
  • Hurley & Miles: Both could interact with the dead in different ways.
  • Locke & Ben: Both seemed particularly susceptible to the Island’s energy, whether it was Ben seeing his dead mother, or Locke regaining his ability to walk. It’s possible both were just being played by Jacob and/or the Man In Black, but their mutual empathy for the Island’s powers led to their cutthroat competition with each other and convinced the Others of their potential candidacy for leadership.
  • Walt: Perhaps the biggest plot thread left to dangle, Walt was early evidence of both the existence of these special people, as well as the Others’ interest in such people. Walt seemed to have a bit of Desmond’s psychic powers as well as Jacob’s ability to be seen where he isn’t or cannot go. Unfortunately for Walt, he didn’t seem to have any control over his powers whatsoever. And unfortunately for fans of narrative continuity, working a child actor into the show’s overarching strategy proved to be too problematic for the LOST show runners. Unfortunate.
The Others:
Jacob’s followers were a diverse lot who arrived at the island at different times and in different ways. Many were offered deals for their service (Richard, Juliet, Dogen), others seemed meek enough to follow what seemed to be “the way of things” on the island (Cindy, Abducted Children), and other were power-hungry enough to want in automatically (Ben, Locke). Just as Jacob appeared to gain his mastery of Island powers from his predecessor, the Others appear to have been granted certain powers on a need-to-have basis via Jacob – but, again, they’re all dialed down versions of the same powers the Island inherently has, and the “special” people have freedom to tap. They’re granted immunity to the time-skipping electromagnetic waves, they seem to be able to hop spatially, appearing and disappearing at a supernatural speed, and some even have the ability to appear (or flash-travel) off-Island. In 4.08 [Meet Kevin Johnson], Tom even hinted at the exclusivity of being granted this ability when he visited Michael. But just as Jacob was able to put rules and restrictions on the Man In Black, so too he put them on his followers. Juliet was de-Othered via branding for killing one of their own and subsequently wasn’t tethered to the Island like the rest of the Others when Season 5’s time-skipping began. Ben and Widmore apparently couldn’t kill each other while Jacob was alive. Being an Other brought its perks and its restrictions, but for the most part, Jacob just let them handle things their own way – hence the sheer number of motivations and strategies they employed throughout the show’s seasons:
  • Season 1: The Others’ interest in pregnancy problems, children, and special people lead them to kidnap Claire and Walt. Ethan’s attachment to Claire causes him to go a bit berserk when she escapes.
  • Season 2: It’s revealed that the Others also took a great many “worthy applicants” from the Tail Section of Flight 815, while primarily trying to keep the less tame-able Fuselage survivors on the other side of the Island via theatrics and scare tactics that ultimately don’t work. Walt’s powers prove too much for them to handle, so when the opportunity arises, they exchange his freedom for Ben’s. Ben’s need for spinal surgery leads to the kidnap of Sawyer, Kate and Jack.
  • Season 3: Ben’s Machiavellian tactics successfully get him the surgery he needs, but Locke’s arrival on the scene threatens his grasp of leadership over his people. Ben’s obsession with the pregnancy problems cause him to go a bit too far in his fight with the Flight 815 survivors and get a load of his people killed and himself captured. He is unable to stop the summoning of Widmore’s freighter. The bulk of the Others retreat to the Temple.
  • Season 4: Ben survives the freighter assault with the help of the 815ers. He and the Others let a few of them leave the Island via helicopter in exchange for their aid. Ben banishes himself via the Donkey Wheel in order to save the Island and leaves Locke in charge of the Others.
  • Season 5: The Donkey Wheel being left off-kilter allows the Man In Black to intervene in Island affairs and take his position in Locke’s body, tricking the Others into leading him to Jacob, and tricking Ben into killing Jacob.
  • Season 6: The Others are massacred by the Man In Black at the Temple. Further Others are taken out by Widmore’s bombs. Any that remain will have to be rounded up by Hurley and Ben once the MIB is defeated and the last 815ers depart the Island.
So the Others’ story during the run of the show is really the story of their un-doing. They protected the island in cruel and authoritarian ways, much a reflection of Jacob’s apparent uncertainty toward the merits of mankind. And their in-fighting, distrust of outsiders, and over-trust of Jacob in many ways led to their downfall. Illana and her ilk were just another offshoot of the Others, followers of Jacob who dutifully played out their roles off-Island to gather the Candidates, and were dismissed without a second thought when their duties were fulfilled.

The Dharma Initiative:
The reason the Island needs protection – the reason that Jacob and the Others and the Island’s previous protectors existed – is because mankind is curious, power-hungry, and seeks advancement. For mankind, the Island and its electromagnetic energy represent the ultimate “MacGuffin.” A MacGuffin is a screenwriter’s term for an object of immense value sought by all parties in a story, such as The One Ring, The Lost Ark, The Holy Grail, The Maltese Falcon, The Dead Man’s Chest, The Fountain of Youth, The Rabbit’s Foot, The Death Star Plans, Et Cetera. The Island is like all of those things rolled into one huge temptation: it contains the ultimate power capable of being wielded for good or evil and offers mankind an unprecedented opportunity to study the unknown - to figure out all that is mysterious in our world. While some viewers may have been disappointed that 6.15 [Across The Sea] didn’t offer a more conclusive origin story for The Island, its Protectors, and its Invaders, that episode instead showed us just how long this cycle has been going. Just as Mother sought to protect the Island from those ancient visitors who manufactured the Donkey Wheel to harness its energy, protectors have been defending the Island from such entrepreneurs for as far back as anyone can remember, hence the ancient Egyptian artifacts and multiple sites of ancient ruins.

The Dharma Initiative was simply mankind’s most recent and most advanced attempt to harvest the Island’s power, just as Jacob and the Others were the most recent organization to take up the Island’s protection. But while the last days of The Others were played out before our eyes over the course of the series, the downfall of the Dharma Initiative had already taken place before the show began. They moved in en force; they spotted the Island with their various stations; and they dug too deep, injuring the Island and incurring the Others’ wrath. The story of Dharma was over before the story of Flight 815 began, even if time-skipping allowed the 815ers to play a surprising role in Dharma history. The importance of Dharma was the legacy of technology they left behind and the warning their story represents.

My Unifying Theory of LOST:
So what does this all add up to? Only the formula for the entire show: The existence of a location that houses the ultimate source of power/life/death leads to an exploration of the duality of Faith and Reason, represented in-show by a series of dualities held in precarious balance:
  • The Others and Dharma / Protectors and Conquerors: Do you loose yourself and your scruples doing whatever it takes to protect the power, or do you throw caution to the wind and explore all the potential uses that power could have?
  • Magic and Science: Is the power light that can do anything at the will of a magician, or electromagnetism which has a limited number of uses that can be harnessed via machinery and manmade devices built by scientists?
  • Locke and Jack / The Inexplicable and the Explicable: Do you believe in the power of this place even if you don’t understand it, or do you refuse to believe unless you can find a rational explanation?
  • Jacob and the Man In Black: Do you blindly accept your role as protector even if you’re not that best man for the job, or do you do everything in your power to fight your fate?
  • Destiny versus Free Will: Is the power of the Island controlling your decisions and making your actions inevitable, or are your decisions leading to your actions and allowing the power to survive?
  • Faith and Reason: When it comes down to it, do you really have to choose one or the other – or is finding balance possible?
The Others and Dharma offered extreme examples of protective zealots and intrepid invaders. The hubris of each led to its own destruction. The same is true of Jacob and the Man In Black. We may not know how the Faith/Reason duality will continue under Hurley’s reign as Island protector, but we have reason to be hopeful that he’ll find a better balance. And that reason is that throughout all the grand plays for power, throughout all the chess moves and incidents, throughout all the deception and manipulation, the fate of the Island was NOT decided by The Others, or Dharma, or Jacob, or the Man In Black, or really any of the major power players. The fate of the Island was ultimately decided by a doctor with daddy issues, an ex-con full of self-loathing, a murderer turned mother, a torturer turned protector, an average joe with a heart of gold, and a cripple who just wanted to be great. No matter how much observation and influence Jacob placed upon the 815ers, their decisions were ultimately the results of their individual character stories. We know this. We watched them unfold for six seasons.

The ins and outs of the Island’s powers and the details of Dharma and the Others, could have filled six more seasons of episodes. Maybe they should have. But the show we got offered those details to us as evidence in uncovering the meaning behind the world into which our heroes found themselves unexpectedly thrust. LOST took a story of organizations and “gods” fighting for power, and followed it from the perspective of a ragtag group of bystanders interjected into the midst of the conflict via a plane crash. Bystanders who, through their unique set of circumstances and individual stories, came to accept the grey area that exists between the duality of faith and reason, put an end to the current Island fight cycle, protected the energy of life and death, and saved the world. It didn’t take gods; it just took ordinary people. But those people had to have a little faith!

A Final Thought On The Elephant In The Room:
Yeah, I didn’t talk about The Sideways World much, did I? I’ll admit that’s because I find it the least well-executed aspect of the show’s plot – primarily BECAUSE it can be so easily excised from a discussion of everything else that happened in the show (you know, in the REAL world portion of the show). I think the controversial nature of LOST’s finale mainly came to pass because of just how the resolution of the Sideways World plot was handled. It was clunky, and fought against details and plot points that were already held close to our hearts such as the effect of Juliet detonating the Jughead h-bomb and the reason the Island was at the bottom of the Sea when Sideways Flight-815 passed over it. We were very ready for there to be a clearer connection between the real world and the Sideways world, and so when it was revealed to be a realm outside time and space where our characters reunited post-death… well that just didn’t seem simpatico with the rest of the show’s careful juggling of faith and reason, and reeked just a bit too much of a “gotcha!”-style twist. But it’s something that fits better with contemplation when the trickery of its reveal is removed from the equation. After all, the energy of the Island is the stuff that makes up life and death, so it’s not outside the context of the show to speculate on existence beyond life. Exploring the Sideways World allowed us to appreciate what the 815ers were fighting to protect: their right to not just life itself, but things beyond. All while allowing the individual character archs to play-out full circle and give our favorite heroes a few more moments of on-screen happiness amidst all the sorrow and sacrifice they endured to save the rest of us. Not that bad a way to go out :)

Stay LOST, my friends!

PS: A hearty thank you to for maintaining such a great gallery of screen captures!

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Where Have I Been? THIS Is Where!

Not that anyone's reading anymore since I've been AWOL for nearly a year, but if anyone is still curious what happened to me... this is it:

I'm the guy in the red suit all through the trailer, and one of the "three guys working from their garage" who put this movie together :)

For more info, visit


Now to get back to talking LOST and reviewing TV shows... just... need... free... time!

Monday, May 24, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.17 - The End

I considered titling the column "Where Were We?" this week, considering the show has now ended, but something tells me that the real analysis of LOST is only just beginning. As with 6.15 (Across The Sea), the knee-jerk fan reaction to the finale seems pretty split down the middle, with many heaping praise at the beautifully elegiac nature of the characters' various send-offs, and many offering only scorn at the myriad of unanswered details the show has left in its wake. Still others just wish they knew how to easily classify what exactly the Altered Universe turned out to be in the episode's final minutes.

And this viewer? I wouldn't call the finale perfect, but I also unabashedly loved it -- and I also have a feeling it's going to age VERY well on series re-watches through the decades. The emotion and character beats were highly wrought and exquisitely pitched. The on-Island events were appropriately epic, and brought a true ring of finality to the story of the Flight 815 Survivors and their role in the Island's search for a new protector. The Altered Universe events were captivating throughout, and concluded on a staggeringly spiritual (and admittedly heavy-handed) beat that pulled the rug out from beneath viewers' perceptions and left them thinking long into the night, and will quite likely haunt them for some time beyond.

And all those questions? Well, to be honest, I'm a bit tired of hearing people say that the show never gave us "answers." Simply put, it gave us PLENTY of answers -- it just didn't provide them in fully fleshed-out, detail. Would I have liked more detail? Sure! As much as the next fan - probably more so than many, as I'm clearly into this whole LOST thing. But we certainly got all the answers we needed to complete the story, and more than enough to clearly make out the puzzle -- even if there are still many pieces mising (of varying degrees of importance). Let's take a look at what pieces we DID get...

The Island Unleashed:
So if Desmond was Jacob's failsafe, Jacob must have had a hunch that un-corking the Island might be the only way to stop the Man In Black once and for all. The Man In Black, having failed to prevent the Candidate-process, chose the exact same failsafe, hoping to bring the Island down with Jack on it - all while escaping aboard the good ol' Elizabeth. So while detail-seekers might be frustrated that we don't know every last ramification of uncorking the Island (or who built the cork, or whose skeletons those were down there, et cetera), they ought to take a bit of solace in the fact that this was the whole point: neither did Jack, the Man In Black, or even Desmond. Each expected and hoped for different results in pulling the plug, and thus LOST cements itself as a story of mankind struggling to deal with the unknown. At least this wasn't the first time we've seen an Island drain -- Ben's method of "summoning" smokey was eerily similar in nature. So, as with most mysteries on the show, things don't become clear with explanation, but they at least become clearER with repetition: if this spot was the birthplace of Smokey, it makes sense he might be connected to similar spots around the Island.

But, again, like most aspects of LOST, what's of key importance here is not the what or the how, but the who and the why. If Jack, the ultimate man of science, can take this kind of leap of faith, and just TRUST that this is what he's supposed to do, even if he doesn't understand all of it, then so must the viewers: that's just the nature of the story being told. Desmond, on the other hand -- who we thought was the man with the plan -- turns out to have it all wrong. And here the Altered Universe makes its single major impact on the events of the Original Timeline. For Desmond is confident that when he reaches the source of the Island's energy, he's going to be transported to the AU (Just as he was when Widmore blasted him with electromagnetic energy), and now we know why he was suddenly okay with Widmore asking him to get blasted again: he thought (like much of the audience, this viewer included) that the AU was meant to be his "happily ever after" -- and by making his sacrifice, he'd be headed to a place where he could be happy. He descends with the confidence of a man who knows what he has to do ONLY because the AU's existence convinced him to do it. But this time -- instead of the light surging his consciousness into another place -- the light fizzles out, and the Island begins to sink into the sea, as the Man In Black predicted.

However, it doesn't take Jack long to figure out that his own instinct was also right: with the Island's energy gone, the Man In Black is rendered mortal. And after a pretty spectacular brawl, he's soon rendered dead. But while the antagonist has been defeated, it took risking the very thing it has ALL been about protecting: the Island itself. And if everything we've been told about the Island is true -- that it's the source of the electromagnetically-charged energy that fuels all life and death -- then Jack's final foray down the waterfall is for the sake of all existence as we know it: just like Widmore said; just like Richard said. And that's what it has ALWAYS been about. We knew this, even back in Season 2 when all it took was entering a code and pushing a button every 108 minutes. We just didn't have the context yet to see Dharma's Swan hatch as a microcosm of what Jacob and the Others had going on with the whole Island. So to an extent, they certainly were "the good guys," just as they always told us. They were just a bunch of total douchebags as well, limited in their methods by the limitations of a leader who couldn't bring himself to personally impact the goings-on beyond getting things started by bringing people to the Island.

But now, with Jacob dead and his followers reduced to a handful of wishy-washy turncoats who have scattered into the jungle, it falls onto Jack to tell Desmond he's done enough, and fix the Island himself. And with the job done, he's transported/zapped out via the light (just as he was during the crash of Oceanic 815, off of Ajira 316, and out of the Incident, and just like what happened to the folks in the Swan hatch when it imploded, and to anyone who turned the Frozen Wheel [see, clearER with repetition!]) and Jack wakes up right by the same spot Jacob found the Man In Black's discarded body all those centuries ago -- presumably removed from the heart of the Island before the energy was strong enough to fry him or disembody him smokey-style. And so, Jack Shephard stumbles back to the spot where his time on the Island began, and -- succumbing to the knife wound in his chest -- ends it with the same golden retriever by his side.

The Ajira 6:
While one does have to wonder what the heck Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Miles, Richard, and Lapidus are going to tell the press, there's much less mysterious to talk about with their part of the story, other than a thrilling escape and Frank and Richard agreeing to not battle over who got the most ignoble death. Also, Richard's grey hair did put a grin on my face. And I'm very glad Kate will be able to reunite Claire with Aaron. From a survival point-of-view, rather than a protecting-the-Island-and-through-it-all-of-mankind point-of-view, this reunion alone really justifies the Oceanic 6's entire return.

And The Meek Shall Inherit:
Hurley really is the best leader the Island could ask for. I thought the exchange of Island leadership from Jack to Hurley was a perfect endgame to the mythology half of LOST's story, and I should have seen it coming, but didn't. Of note is the fact that no specific, cup, water, or incantation was required for Jack to transfer his power. I found this a nice way of saying that the Island's power is more about commitment and a person's decision than about magic words sprinkled over magic elixer (as many feared after Mother's ritual in 6.15 [Across The Sea]. The only thing missing from Hurley's assumption of leadership was an ending montage shot of him and Ben gathering Rose, Bernard, Cindi, the Kids, and any other scattered Others. Could have been a cool last image for him. But I DO get why they dialed everything out to focus on Jack in the final minutes -- that is, after all, where we began. At least we got to hear that he and Ben had a good run of it in the Altered Universe. Oh and speaking of --

The Altered Universe:
If you're reading this, then you probably already know that the endgame of the AU is what's going to cause the greatest contention among fans when discussing the finale (and perhaps LOST in general) for the rest of eternity. The decision to yank our happy altered reality (with all of our "woken up" characters) away from us, and replace it with an acceptance of death, was a bold and somewhat cruel one. Though it's probably worth noting that many of the viewers who complain that the AU having lead to death was a cop out, might very well be similarly crying foul had the AU turned out to be the "happily ever after" that many fans (and Desmond) preditected. The "happily ever after" AU would have, after all, rendered all of the tragedy and sacrifice that happened on-Island over the course of the series somewhat moot. And even as the AU character awakenings over the course of the finale were reaching a fever pitch of awesome, I couldn't help but feel that a successful jumping-over of all our characters from one timeline to the other would really undermine the drama of what was happening on-Island. And it actually somewhat did! I wasn't nearly as into Jack's final sacrifice until it was suddenly revealed what the AU really was, and once that reveal arrived, I was too reeling at having our charcters' chance for a happy reality shut down to savour the tragic impact of Jack's death. While this is, indeed, a stumbling block of the finale's, I didn't find it to be a deal-breaker, and on re-watch (KNOWING the genuine stakes of Jack's sacrifice and the true nature of the AU), it actually plays extremely well and brought me to tears.

So, what the hell IS the true nature of the Altered Universe, you ask? I've heard the words purgatory and bardo bandied about the web, as well as afterlife, pre-afterlife, and next-afterlife -- but personally, I'd rather just take the explanation the show gave us all along: It was, indeed, an altered timeline -- the result of our survivors detonating a hydrogen bomb in the middle of one of the Island's richest energy pockets ("a place [they] all made together"). Rather than change time by letting the Island be damged in 1977, fate course-corrected (as it always does in the world of LOST) and in this case, it shunted the results of Jughead's detonation into an Altered reality that existed outside of time, wherein the Island sank long before Oceanic 815 flew over it. Nothing new here; we figured this from the beginning of Season 6. What we didn't know (even though AU Charlie and Faraday TOLD us in 6.11 [Happily Ever After]) was that this place wasn't the truth: this place wasn't supposed to be. And so, as one-by-one our characters awoke to remember their true lives -- ALL of their true lives through to death -- the AU was revealed to ultimately exist for the purpose of letting the characters find themselves and find each other beyond the events of the Original (real) Timeline. But not so that they can live forever together in bliss, but rather so they can "remember," "let go," and "move on" together. Mystical? Yes. Sad? Yes. Beautiful? A fair bit. Heavy-handed? Also a fair bit. Appropriate? That's your call. I thought it was; you may not.

But while calling the AU purgatory or bardo or whatever you like is fine by me, I think it important not to discard everything we've known about the AU in light of the finale's final revelation. I've read many comments that say things like "so it wasn't the result of Jughead afterall" or "so it didn't matter the Island was at the bottom of the sea," et cetera. In fact, it's tempting to say that NONE of what happened in the AU over the course of the season mattered at all. But, do remember, that the signifigance of the AU lies EXACTLY in the details that differed from the OT, and that it ALL mattered to our characters. They were the same characters in the AU as in the OT, even as their experiences differed. And everything they learned about themselves during their experiences in the AU are things they're now able to take to their ultimate rest, and for some (perhaps all, but particularly Jack and Sayid come to mind) these were experiences key to their finding peace in whatever lies beyond. Jack needed to experience David before he could truly "Let Go." Sayid needed Hurley to tell him to stop letting other people label him as a killer. With Shannon as one last example, Hurley showed Sayid that at heart he was a protector. And these examples exist for all the characters, informing both us and them about who they are in important ways.

For some, such as Ben, there was still more he needed to learn, more he needed to find out about himself before "letting go" and "moving on" -- hopefully Danielle and Alex will help him find it out. Faraday and Charlotte were another fascinating exception to the AU's mechanics: He couldn't even wake her up. Was their Island connection not as deep as he had hoped? At least Eloise will be happy about his remaining with her, granting her the life with him that the Original Timeline so harshly denied. (And for the record, I'm still betting she knows all she knows because she obtained Faraday's OT journal in 1977 in both timelines). But while the Altered Universe may still carry on for those left behind, things clearly turn all supernatural for those ready to move on. As Jack slowly and somewhat stubbornly comes 'round, bit by bit, David seems to disappear from both the narrative, and very likely the world itself ("You don't have a son, Jack."), and finally, after the truth dawns, Christian Shephard makes his one final appearance. For the sake of those fearing that the Island itself was a purgatory-like place, he clarifies for us that everything that ever happened to Jack was real, and then everyone gathers for one heartfelt farewell reunion. What's next? None of them know. Neither do we. A story of mankind struggling to deal with the unknown, remember?

Now we as viewers can speculate for the rest of our lives if Season Six could have told the EXACT same story just as well without the Altered Universe, but it's hard to imagine a more emotionally satisfying end to all the character's story-archs amidst the harsh happenings and epic sacrifices of the Original Timeline's on-Island story. And it's equally hard to shake the feeling that a "happily-ever-after" in the AU would have been a kind of cop out. So we're left with the AU being an affirmation of the characters' lives and an ease through to their deaths. There's something deeply moving in knowing a character to their core and seeing them lifted up and appreciated by each other. And in The End, this is what the detonation of Jughead and the purpose of Desmond's mission in the AU all boiled down to. It's the same endgame as Sun and Jin's narrative in the Original Timeline: the characters fighting for the right to die together. And depending on your point of view, this is either VERY profound or VERY dumb. You already know I'm in the former camp ;)

About Those End Credits Images:
I didn't for a moment think that showing images of the Oceanic 815 crash site over the end credits of the finale meant anything other than a "hey, remember where it all began?" call-back. I've read of people founding theories on the placement of these images, but I personally refuse to. The show ended with the slamming of the "LOST" title, and that's where I end my analysis.

The Answers:
As discussed earlier, I feel the show has given us almost all the important answers even though it's been stingy with the details. What's the Island? It's a hub protecting the electromagnetic energy that makes up life and death. It's a hard place to find, capable of moving through time and space thanks to the power/effects of its energy stores. Since before anyone can remember, man has encountered the energy, some choosing to protect it, others choosing to try and wield it for power/science/etc. Who are Jacob and the Man In Black? Jacob (representing faith in the Island) was the most recent Island protector, could wield the Island's powers in many ways. The Man In Black, his brother (representing science and/or man's need to understand), was cursed to remain tethered to the Island as a mysterious living embodiment of the Island's energy. Jacob brings people to the Island to try and see if humankind is good or bad (a question put into his mind by his Mother who was deadset against humanity). Who are The Others? When Richard arrives and takes a job as Jacob's intermediary, "The Others" as we knew them were formed -- a collective of people who arrived a the Island in different ways over the years and were herded together as "the good ones" to follow Jacob and protect the place as they saw fit. What was the Dharma Initiative? The Dharma Initiative was the latest and most modern of mankinds attempts to mine the Island's energy (electromagnetic properties) for science, and the Others made a mediocre attempt to coexist with them, but Dharma drilled too deep ("The Incident"), damaged the Island, and eventually were wiped out by the Others, leaving only the Swan hatch to plug the hole they created. The Swan hatch and the energy it covered, led to the crash of Oceanic 815. The rest is the Survivors' story.

Details, Details, Details:
And what details are we missing? The vast majority fall under four major categories: The Others, The Dharma Initiative, Special People, and the Island's Vast Array of Powers. And, I've got a LOT to say about all of these, so we'll have to save it for another time. "The End" may have come and gone, but stay tuned for a thorough analysis of LOST's mysteries, how they impacted the characters, and how they were essential to the overall narrative.

"It only ends once. All the rest is progress."

And that's where we are!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.16 - What They Died For

More than just a perfect setup for what will hopefully be a stellar series finale, "What They Died For" featured a couple major developments I thought for sure would be saved until "The End."

The Altered Universe:
Not too much to say here beyond the fact that everything is coming together in spades. Desmond continues to work his magic on Ben, Locke, Kate, and Sayid. Hurley's Island memories have fleshed out to the point where he remembers Anna Lucia fondly. Lots of people are going to a concert. And Jack's neck injury, previously glimpsed in 6.01 (LA X, Part I), is bleeding again. Whether the AU itself will live or die is perhaps the biggest mystery of the show, but one thing's practically guaranteed: our characters are all going to receive their island memories as they converge at that concert, and on-Island Jack's going to receive some sort of neck injury. AU Eloise Widmore is going to be PISSED.

Jacob & His Agenda:
Well, Jacob has chosen his successor -- or rather, a potential successor has chosen to take the job. This may seem like a small distinction, but it apparently means everything to Jacob. Having found himself thrust into the job of Island protector having never experienced the outside world, nor anything beyond his apparent Mother, Jacob took up the mantle having no idea what sort of sacrifice he was making. Being told of the Island and its powers was zero preparation for a man who knew nothing beyond his sheltered existence and his love for his Mother. So, with 2000 years of experience now under his belt, Jacob sought to find a replacement: like-minded in broken humility, and incapable of wanting the job for selfish reasons. He followed the lives of people he felt were kindred spirits, people he thought needed the Island as much as it needed them, and forced them to find their own way on the Island amidst all hardship and without single helping hand or explanation until the eleventh hour. Chances are he thought this the only way to lead someone to take the job with pure motivations: knowledge of the Island, and the truth about its powers and importance might only attract those with sinister intentions, or twist the intentions of those more properly inclined.

So now, having let his Candidates endure the confusion of facing his followers (The Others), coping with tragedy after tragedy, and figuring out the importance of the Island (mostly) on their own, Jacob finally popped the question. Maybe they didn't have much of a choice if they believed how important it was for someone to fill Jacob's shoes, but he did give them the choice not to believe, and Jack made it clear that he was certain becoming Island protector was what he wanted. And after a brief makeshift ceremony that mirrored Mother's actions in last week's episode, Jack has been given Jacob's job. And just how many of Jacob's crazy powers come with the title? We'll have one last chance to find out, but if I could only see one, I'd like to see Jack project himself off-Island to have a little chat with Eloise Hawking. And, of course, at first he'd appear to her talking backward (a la Walt) until he got the hang of the ability. A fan can dream ;)

On Widmore & Ben:
Jacob and The Man In Black may have thought their personal feud was more important than that of Widmore and Ben, but apparently no one informed Ben of the fact. It's fitting that Widmore was welcomed back to the Island as a method for Jacob to receive Desmond there. While this essentially aligned Widmore with Team Jacob (Team Not-Causing-The-Destruction-Of-Existence-As-We-Know-It), judging from just how (in)sincere Widmore sounded when he referenced learning the error of his ways, I certainly doubt Widmore was fulfilling Jacob's requests for any reasons beyond self-preservation and self-gain. He certainly turned squealer easily enough. But Ben lashing out and murdering his longtime rival served two goals: not only was it the delicious revenge he'd wanted for a very long time, it also shut Widmore up from blabbing anything further to the Man In Black.

I don't buy Ben's "Yeah, I'll murder anyone" attitude for a moment. He's out to ingratiate himself to the Man In Black until he can figure out how best to help the Island from this point on. Getting to take his personal revenge as a way of proving his mettle was just icing. Ben Linus is capable of quite a bit of evil to get what he wants, but he's not going to ultimately betray the Island he's given his life (and his daughter) to protect. The Man In Black manipulated Ben into murdering Jacob; now it's Ben's turn to repay the favor.

And Widmore's legacy on the show? Having completed his function as one of the principal villains, Widmore has left us with whatever that equipment in his canoe was. They made a very deliberate effort to linger the camera on the metal cases in that canoe, so I'm guessing we haven't seen the last of that stuff. Maybe Miles can find it. It's not like the poor guy's been given ANYTHING else of value to do beyond running around the jungle in terror with a walkie-talkie.

The Man In Black and His Agenda:
At the start of "What They Died For," I'm fairly certain the Man In Black's motivations were as simple as finding a way to bump off the remaining Candidates, and finding Ben at the abandoned Dharma Barracks presented a possible avenue for getting these murders accomplished. He offered Ben Island leadership if Ben helps him leave without saying anything about all of existence collapsing in on itself if he were to accomplish his goal (as Widmore and Richard's deceased Isabella have previously foretold). Chances are, the Man In Black doesn't believe any of this rot about the universe ending or perhaps he wouldn't be so anxious to cause it. But whatever his thoughts here, his goals clearly change (or at least are amended) by the end of the episode -- possibly because of what Widmore whispered to him about Desmond, possibly because he can sense that Jacob has been replaced and his efforts to prevent this from happening have failed. So it would seem the Man In Black's offer to Ben of Island leadership is now out of the equation, since once he's armed with Desmond, he intends to use the man labeled Jacob's "failsafe," to destroy the Island. MIB may think this is the only way to free himself, or he may be after revenge for not being allowed to leave, but if Jacob's even the slightest bit right about the importance of the Island and its energy, then it's paramount that someone stops him.

MIA - Missing In Action:
Richard joins Lapidus in the "Ignoble Death or Being Saved For A Surprise Reappearance" category. Since neither character has been given even a moment to be mourned on the show, I'm rooting for the latter.

And that's where we are!