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!

Friday, May 14, 2010

LOST: Show of Science, Show of Faith

LOST has always been a balancing act between science-fiction reality and science-fantasy. There was a time when fans seeking to understand the show frequently quoted something the writers implied and/or misstated back in Season 1: that all the mysteries on the show could be explained by science. The show runners have long since rebuffed that notion, and to anyone paying attention to the visions, smoke monsters, and psychic powers of Season 1, this wasn't a bit surprising. The show may have launched itself out of our reality early on, but even as its mythology has expanded, I would argue that it has NEVER launched itself out of the reality it has created. And in that sense, everything that's happened can still be explained by the science of the show.

What separates science-fiction from science-fantasy? Nothing more than the size of the leap it takes to get from our reality to the reality presented in the fictional work -- and just how much that work bothers to try and connect the dots between our reality and its own. For something like, say "Jurassic Park," there was a small leap: Dinosaur DNA was preserved in a mosquito. The rest of the story fits pretty darn well with how real science actually works. So there's a small leap there. And what does a large leap look like? Let's say "Star Wars." Sure the spaceships and weapons look technically possible, but when you throw the Force into the equation, you've got something that is pure fantasy. It doesn't make apologies for itself, it doesn't attempt to resemble anything in our reality: it is what it is. And fans love it for that. In fact, when Episode I of the Prequel Trilogy attempted to add even a smidgeon of science to the Force with the concept of midichlorians, fans rejected it flat out. They wanted their Force to remain as mystical as it had always been.

LOST falls rather firmly between the two poles of science-fiction and science-fantasy. In fact, a major premise of the show has long been the battle between the characters' oscillating beliefs in science and faith. Most of the show's more vocal naysayers these days sound very much like Jack's 'Man of Science,' wanting everything they see to make a practical sense, labeling anything without a pat explanation as "nonsense." But many of us viewers who were hanging on Locke's every word as the "Man of Faith" in those early episodes were always hoping there would be something more than science -- we wanted to believe that everyone was brought to the Island for a profound reason -- that the destiny Locke was so convinced of wasn't just an illusion. And the show has always walked this line, sometimes peeling back the seemingly mystical and revealing science, other times peeling back the scientific and showcasing the mystical. But what's always separated LOST from works of true science-fantasy like "Star Wars" is that it has consistently (Yes, even now after 6.15 "Across The Sea") attempted to connect its dots back to reality -- firmly planting itself in the world of science but dabbling in the deeper mysteries of life itself.

Far from struggling with this dichotomy, the show celebrates it -- boldly and purposely flip-flopping back and forth to showcase its science, and then its supernatural, and then its science again, ad infinitum. In Season 1, there were monsters in the jungle, whispers in the air, others in the trees, and a miracle in Locke's spine. Season 2, did its best to swing all of this toward the Dharma Initiative: hatches and science experiments, vaccinations and fake beards. The polar bears weren't mysterious anymore, they were brought to the Island for study. The start of Season 3 continued this trend, but for every 3.01 "A Tale of Two Cities" which debunked the Others and made them seemingly normal people, there was a 3.20 "The Man Behind The Curtain" which brought us ageless Richard Alpert and finally gave "Jacob" a (disembodied) voice. Season 4 brought Jack and Locke's views on destiny to a head and tested the limits of what kinds of science-fiction fans would accept by blooping the Island through time and space at its close. Season 5 was the most unabashedly sci-fi set of episodes yet, wielding time travel with aplomb, but always - ALWAYS - attempting to ground its use in rules that seemed real enough in the world of the show (whatever happened happened, the Universe course corrects to avoid paradox, etc). And now we're nearly done with Season 6, wherein once again reality and fantasy continue to unfold simultaneously, each holding the other carefully in check to avoid the show losing the dual identity its writers and (many of) its fans have always cherished.

What's become more real? Well, the story's ultimate puppet-masters, Jacob and the Smoke Monster have been thoroughly humanized and stripped of the deity-like statuses that their previous appearances and mentions through the years have always seemed to connote. Just like Desmond, they're both ordinary men who became extraordinary because of the Island. Even the Mother character introduced as the Island guru prior to Jacob is said to have arrived to the Island by accident - she was once a normal person too.

What's become more fantastic? The Island itself. As the show has continued to unfold its tangled web of mysteries -- visions and whispers, faith healings and psychic abilities, ghosts and monsters, destiny and time travel -- the Island has become the scapegoat for ALL that is fantastic. As the show's myriad of confusing plot threads all lead back to the Island and its powers, the broader mystery of the show narrows its focus and as ALL ELSE becomes more real, the Island itself becomes more mythic.

And where's the science in all this? The science is the glue that binds the mythic to the real. The unexplained, after all, is very much real even in our world. Where'd the universe come from? Who built those crazy statues on Easter Island? Which came first, the chicken or the egg? It's not that the unknowable isn't out there -- It's how humanity has RESPONDED to the unknowable that turns it either mythic or scientific. To the Mother character, who clearly has a grudge against humanity, the Island's energy is light that most be protected from humanity's darkness. To Richard, who was deeply religious when he arrived on-Island, the energy was explained as evil that must not be let out into the world. But to the Dharma Initiative, Widmore, and the Man in Black (pre-Smokey), the source of Island's mysterious properties is simply electromagnetic energy -- to be studied, harnessed, and utilized for their respective goals of bettering mankind, taking power, or escaping the Island. It's the studies of the Dharma Initiative, the objectives of Widmore's science team, and even the (inexplicable to us) Donkey Wheel of the Man In Black that represent mankind's very real attempts to know the unknowable, and ground the show in its own science-fiction reality.

Everything that's unfolding in Season 6 has been a natural progression of the show's usual modus operandi. The Smoke Monster appeared in the pilot as nothing more than noises; It revealed its flag-flyingly supernatural form in Season 2. It became a character with motivations in Season 3 when it was linked to the appearance Eko's dead brother Yemi (and by extension, Jack's dead father Christian). And now, it not only has motivations, it has humanity. We've been given one long progression from monster to man. The Island's powers have been referenced ever since Locke could walk again. As early as the Season 2 finale, when Desmond turned the failsafe key, these powers have been connected to electromagnetism and blinding bright lights doing fantastic things. This continued with the Donkey Wheel; this continued with Season 5's time travel and Dharma's experiments; this continued with Widmore doing experiments on Desmond in Season 6 while seeking out the Island's electromagnetic pockets; this has now culminated with the reveal of the Island's heart: a cave full of the same blinding electromagnetic light we've encountered over and over again through the series.

LOST has created a mythical Island full of electromagnetic energy. Beyond this one large fantastic element (which has been obvious for quite a while now), the show steers clear of the realm of science-fantasy by following its own rules, and always presenting a realistic vision of mankind's response to the fantastic -- whether the characters seek to understand it through myth or through science. The show even goes so far as to try and debunk some of reality's own unexplained phenomena (there ARE people who believe in ghosts, faith healing, and psychic powers, you know!) by attributing them to the energy that fills the Island and, according to the Mother character, is in each of us. All the supernatural happenings on this show? Sure there are all kinds of layers and character motivations, rules and rituals -- but the answer IS the Island -- a power source fully capable of being interpreted through whatever science, religion, or believers in magic would like to bring to the table. If that isn't enough of an answer for you, I recommend you start talking smack about the universe for not adequately explaining where it came from. (Kidding).

But just like the universe, where LOST gets its true value are the people in it. This isn't an editorial about the characters of LOST, so I'm not going to broach the topic in depth, but I do feel it would be a disservice to the show to analyze its operating methods in such detail without stating that the primary reason the show works as well as it does -- and stays grounded in reality despite its huge fantastic Island caveat -- is that the characters are so well fleshed-out and generally sympathetic. The humanizing of the Smoke Monster is just the most recent in the show's long line of sympathetic evil-doers: Ben Linus? Juliet? Sawyer? Jin? All were jack-asses when we first met them. Heck, sometimes they still are! Ben even murdered one of the show's most beloved characters last season in cold blood! But we GET them. We understand them. We sympathize even if we disapprove. For a show that loves its black and white symbology, I know few shows as dedicated to debunking the black and white mindset of good and evil. All characters on LOST are shades of grey, and when characters like these are placed on a magic Island and allowed to react to it in all ways human, be they faith-based, science-based, emotion-based, greed-based, et cetera, they fully legitimize and filter the science-fiction backdrop they've been placed in.

Every season of LOST, the show reinvents itself -- simultaneously gaining and losing a legion of followers who respectively like or dislike what it's currently doing -- but its nothing if not consistant in its insistance on permutations and never resting on its laurels. But no matter how it has changed, nor how much it changes in its final 3.5 show hours, LOST will NEVER fully lose either its mythic side or its science side. For every polar bear, there is a cage. For every cave of light, there is an electromagnetic pocket. Behind every monster, there is a man. And for every altered timeline, there is a course correction...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.15 - Across The Sea

With "Across the Sea," the humanization of Jacob and the Man In Black is now complete. Some viewers might prefer them to have been demigods with all the answers, but this viewer is very happy that LOST will ultimately remain a tale of human beings and their interactions with a mysterious Island's supernatural properties.

The Island:
We've known for quite a while that the Island has some incredible powers (healing, the inducing of visions, travel through time and space, the retention of ghosts, the granting of special powers, etc.). For almost as long, we've known that the show's representatives of modern science (Dharma, Widmore) have found that these supernatural properties emanate from Electromagnetic energy pockets deep within the Island. So it wasn't too surprising to find that the mother of all energy pockets is located at the "heart" of the Island, and is at the very core of the Island's need for protection. Human beings have apparently been drawn to the Island since before Jacob, and probably even since before the Mother character. We don't know who the first person to encounter the Island and channel its properties was, but like most mysteries of the universe, this is not likely something we will ever know. But we did learn a little bit more about the energy stored beneath the Island: there's a little in every person. I've previously stated that electromagnetic energy (or the Island's comparable variety) functions as a blanket source for all things supernatural on this show, we've seen the supernatural found off-Island in places such as the faith-healing grounds of Uluru (2.19 [S.O.S.]) and we've seen it in people such as Walt. So these revelations on the nature of the Island's energy aren't so much revelations as they are confirmations, further information, and further ways of looking at the Island's powers (since, obviously Mother isn't going to pull out modern technobabble to describe it).

Special People:
So if there's a bit of the Island's energy in each person, it stands to reason there may be more in some than others. After all, Walt isn't the only character to be considered Special on the show. Desmond has been describes as such; Hurley and Miles have been imbued with significant abilities from their time on the Island; and this week Mother refered to the Boy In Black as Special. What this boils down to is that certain people are able to tap into the Island's powers more than others. The possibility that Walt may have had this power ably explains the Others' interest in him. For the Man In Black, it meant seeing his dead (real) mother, possessing an intuitive knowledge of the Island's properties, and harnessing that knowledge to control the Island's powers: his creation of the donkey wheel device is a clear precursor to the Dharma Initiative's attempts to manipulate the Island's powers with more modern technology. But the most Special person of all in this story is clearly Mother herself -- able to set The Rules in motion by preventing Jacob and MIB from killing each other, able to destroy an entire village and fill up the well on her own in a matter of hours, and (most significantly) able to pass on her powers on to Jacob, even after he was shown to be the less-special son. When Jacob became "one" with Mother, he inherited the "most Special character" title, and had been making The Rules ever since. But we now know him to be just a man -- a man entrusted with both incredible powers and incredible responsibility.

The Man In Black and His Agenda:
Though while I feel for Jacob and his naive acceptance of an undesirable job, I feel even worse for the Man In Black. In 6.02 (LA X, Part II), he told us what he wanted more than anything was to go home. Now we know that home is a place he's never been. He may have been the more likely candidate for Island protector, based on his Special nature, but his mind has always been across the sea, trying to get away, trying to find out where he came from. We don't yet know why Mother restrained him -- was it simply a demented way of protecting him from the "evils" that lie out in the world beyond? (I suspect so). Or was there a more direct consequence of his leaving the Island even before his transformation? (possibly). Either way, his efforts to leave got him a rum deal: his life's work destroyed, his companions obliterated, and (after some heated revenge) his own life snuffed away as his soul endures something "worse than death." It's interesting that his body was left behind after he was dropped into the mother of all Island electromagnetic energy pockets and turned into the Smoke Monster we all know and love, but more interesting are the ramifications that he is a creation of the Island's heart: most likely a PART of the Island itself, intrinsic to the Island, and necessary to the Island. In a rather epic instance of poetic irony, the man who wanted nothing more than to leave the Island has become the Island's linchpin: the Island can't function without him, and if he leaves, all electromagnetic hell will break loose. At least now we know why seeing visions of kid Jacob pisses him off so much.

So in true LOST tradition, we can now sympathize with a character who hurt us possibly more than any other character by essentially murdering three of our favorite heroes just last episode (6.14 [The Candidate]). To anyone wondering why the writers chose now to reveal this back story, THAT's the reason. It's the narrative moment wherein understanding what past torments the Man In Black has suffered contributes most powerfully to the present day story. The writers love revealing a "big bad" character and then making us feel for them by revealing their prior woes -- and I love it every time. So we may despise the Man In Black still, and of course we want him to fail in his objectives, but now we can truly pity him. And the endgame of the show will be all the more powerful for it.

Jacob & His Agenda:
I hold by my previous assertion: Jacob brings people to the Island because he wants humanity to prove that humanity is worth protecting the Island for. It might not make logical sense to allow folks like Dharma to run around when your mission is to make sure no one screws with the Island's electromagnetic heart -- but it makes PERFECT sense to do so, if you were never certain that your mission was valuable to begin with. We have to wonder why Mother bothered to protect all of existence if she hated other people so much; and I believe Jacob wondered this as well, and conducted his experiments on humanity in an effort to figure it all out. He'd been told they were corrupt, but he never wanted to believe that -- not as long as it was his long life's purpose to protect them. So he continued his mission to protect the Island, but tolerated so many people putting it at risk upon his "summons" in order to see if they deserved protection. And now that he's dead and it's up to his Candidates to finish the job, he's primarily sitting back to watch and see who will step forward for the sake of humanity and existence as we know it.

On the Anatomy of Disappointment:
As a side note, a lot of fans seem down on this episode -- and it's certainly their prerogative to like it as much as they please -- but having been thrilled by it myself, I'm really not satisfied by that most common of internet-propagated explanations: that "it sucked." It really didn't. I tend not to get excited by things that suck. So where was the disconnect here between fans and writers? Certainly the usual complaint that few clear answers were given applies here once again, but perhaps it hits harder for people due to the unique nature of the episode -- I think many viewers really wanted Jacob and the Man In Black to KNOW everything about the Island and to be able to provide us with a checklist of explanations. Instead, we were here shown that they were once just as clueless as the survivors of Oceanic 815. And we were shown how they were led and/or duped into their current roles as Island protector and energy embodiment by someone else once drawn to the Island. What this episode did was to completely and thoroughly humanize the two characters, flaws and all. Letting their story unfold over the course of the episode allows us a level of understanding of their mindsets that will service us well going into the Series Finale. The "answers" everyone wants will be elaborated on further in what's to come, but now we'll understand on a psychological level where Jacob and the Man in Black are coming from. And personally, I'm very glad they took the time to allow us that level of depth.

And that's where we are!

Thursday, May 06, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.14 – The Candidate

Um... Wow?

Well, we've already reached season finale levels of epic tension and occurrences, so I can barely fathom the level of intensity that awaits us in the actual season/series finale. I'll address this week's tragedies in the CharacterWatch segments below, but first let's tackle the usual batch of mysteries and see what's been cleared up this week...

The Altered Universe:
AU Locke's refusal to undergo Jack's surgery seemed curiously at odds with the trends of the Altered Universe in general. While many AU characters are actively seeking happier endings than their Original Timeline counterparts, Locke obstinately refuses to progress toward his, preferring to hold himself back from potentially walking again. Even as the AU characters' consciousnesses seem to bleed back and forth between universes, it's still hard to predict what the precise one-to-one correlation will be between he worlds -- but perhaps the MIB holding the OT Locke's likeness prisoner is somehow keeping AU Locke from releasing himself from his own sins. (Primarily being responsible for the permanent catatonic state of his father, who incidentally I still expect to be the same con-artist sleezebag as the OT Anthony Cooper but now rendered incapable of showing his true colors). Bernard seems to know more than he's letting on; Jack and Claire share a mirror moment; and Locke mumbles classic OT dialogue in his sleep. But ultimately the major step forward here was Jack finally putting together that not only is he finding odd connections between the people he's meeting, but that all these people have one major thing in common: their presence aboard Oceanic Flight 815. As AU Jack slowly figures all this out and AU Locke starts having his OT memories triggered, the Altered Universe remains the show's biggest wild card. Sure the on-Island happenings seem to be leading up to some kind of big showdown between Jack and the Man In Black, but fitting the AU into the puzzle can and will change the puzzle completely, whether it's a timeline that must be preserved so our characters can live happily ever after, or a future that must be sacrificed for the good of the Original Timeline and the "proper" course of things.

The Man In Black and His Agenda:
Well if one thing was made crystal clear this week, it was the Man in Black's objective. Sure we may not know the details of how he came to be nor the precise implications of what will happen if he's free, but we know how he needs to do it: he needs Jacob's Candidates dead, and he can't kill them himself. All season long, he's been working to create a circumstance wherein they'll all in-avoidably kill each other and it'll all happen at once. Tricking them into setting off a bomb on a submarine must have seemed like a good bet, but it's doubtful he predicted Jack's intuition in figuring out what was going on (The Candidate, indeed!). He also seemed to know instinctively that his plan failed, indicating that he would physically be able to tell if there were no longer anyone left alive that could keep him enslaved to the Island. His frustration at this failure was palpable, and I have a feeling he wouldn't be keeping Claire around any longer if he didn't think she might be useful in getting rid of whichever Candidates might still be alive...

Widmore's Mission:
Widmore's roll in all this subterfuge is a bit more unclear. His original mysterious intentions of seeking Island energy pocketts with Jin and Desmond might currently be scuttled, but did he really do as the MIB suggested and move the sonic fence pylons so that the MIB would attempt to escape with the Candidates on the Ajira plane? I kinda doubt it. Widmore clearly has a list of the remaining Candidates (information not even Richard was privy to), and if Widmore knew enough to name the Candidates, wouldn't he know that the MIB also wants them dead? If the MIB is truly his enemy (which their showdown on the beach in 6.12 [Everybody Loves Hugo] sure appeared to indicate), then Widmore's putting the Candidates in a cage behind the reset pylons would be a true attempt to protect them, just as he said. But then who exactly DID rig the Ajira plane with explosives?

Richard's Mission:
Well we DO know that when last we saw Richard (6.12 [Everybody Loves Hugo), he was setting out with Ben and Miles to do precisely that: blow up the Ajira plane with explosives... so where the heck were they this week? Perhaps the trio started the job but then got interrupted and/or captured by Widmore's team before they could finish it. This doesn't explain why Widmore moved his pylons, but it at least might explain how the explosives got put into place -- and maybe even why ghost-Michael was so insistent that Hurley not allow dynamite to be brought to Hydra Island. Either the Ajira plane is important and needs to be intact to avoid further death, or else Michael somehow knew that an attempt to destroy the plane would result in death. Which -- if indeed Team Richard was responsible for planting the C-4 -- it now has. Either way, hopefully Richard, Miles, and Ben will turn up soon and clear some of this up.

The Rules:
The Man in Black can't kill Candidates. A Candidate can't kill him/herself. But Candidates CAN kill other Candidates. And now Sawyer (unwittingly) has potentially killed two of them: Jarrah and a Kwon. Unless, of course, Sayid had already lost Candidate status upon dying in 6.02 (LA X, Part II) and Ji Yeon is the actual Kwon Candidate. In which case, the Man In Back is REALLY screwed. But, taking things at Agatha Christie style face value: "and then there were three..."

CharacterWatch - Sayid:
So while there still may be a gazillion questions surrounding The Sickness (Where does it come from? Can it really bring people back to life? What are the actual symptoms?) we now have rather definitive proof that it can indeed be at least temporarily overcome. The capable, heroic Sayid we all know and love made one final appearance just before dying (again): he explained how to (in theory) disarm the bomb, explained where to find Desmond, told Jack "It's going to be you," and sacrificed himself to buy his fellow survivors a chance to live. He may have been a person all too ready and all too capable of committing heinous acts of violence, but Sayid was also always a person who looked out for those important to him: the ultimate protector. In his final moments, he was finally able to protect not by harming others, but by harming himself -- perhaps this was the only way to break the cycle of violence he was inexhaustibly caught up in. As for The Sickness, we'll have to hope that the rest of Claire's story can provide us answers to that...

CharacterWatch - Sun and Jin:
And because killing one major character isn't shocking enough, Sun and Jin's Original Timeline story also ended in this episode. On-Island, before the Oceanic 6 escaped, Sun and Jin constantly struggled to forgive each other's past sins and overcome their differences. They rarely let themselves get entangled in the more supernatural goings on of the Island and fought primarily for nothing more than the right to be together. Just when they began to finally obtain solace in their expecting of Ji Yeon and potential rescue from the Island, they were torn apart for years. Their struggle to once again be together was drawn out perhaps too long and thus lost a fair bit of its dramatic impact along the way, but now that we know that they were fighting for nothing more than the right to die together... their struggles over the past two seasons get put in an entirely different light. Some might argue that their demise cheapens and/or nullifies their efforts (including Sun's entire return to the Island), but to my way of thinking, watching Jin commit to and honor the value of their mutual struggle -- even upon knowing that the result would be nothing more than death together -- added a level of profundity to their story which had been lacking for quite some time. And Ji Yeon? I do wish they'd brought her up in their final moments together rather than just in the cage earlier in the episode... but at least she's got very wealthy grandparents.

Jacob and His Agenda:
Jack. Sawyer. Hurley. Even though the Man In Black was finally proven to be the jackass we all knew he was this week, I doubt Jacob's intentions towards his remaining Candidates is much more noble. He clearly doesn't care about their happiness. He clearly has no intention of offering them help beyond a teensy shove here and there. If THIS is the process Jacob has chosen to select a successor, a part of me would definitely love to see him find none. Last week Jack was "The Last Recruit" without really adhering to the Man In Black's Agenda, this week I kinda hope he's "The Candidate" without any intention of really adhering to Jacob's Agenda. But then, as I've said before, perhaps that's exactly what Jacob needs, even though it might hurt him to get Jack there. For now, we've just got three really guilty men and one injured woman. Jack spear-headed the Jughead mission that killed Juliet. Sawyer triggered the C-4 bomb that killed Sayid, Sun, and Jin. And Hurley led his friends right into the hands of the Man In Black (on a seemingly a self-concocted whim) to make this possible. These guys are hurting for a variety of reason. And Kate's also hurting because she got shot. Sucks to be them.

And Lapidus?
He's currently battling Ilana for the lamest main character death on the show. Let's hope he somehow floats out that open hatch and washes up on shore to save the day with a carefully placed one-liner.

And that's where we are!

Monday, May 03, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - 2.20-22 - 'The Boba Fett Trilogy'

Boba Fett teams up with Bounty Hunters to seek revenge on Mace Windu.

What worked? Bringing Boba Fett into The Clone Wars to close out Season 2 was a great idea. His mere presence in the mix was enough to bring an air of much needed over-arching story continuity to the show, and his revenge motivation gave some of the proceedings a very welcome level of dark gravitas. Additionally, the episodes provided us with a good tapestry of character-use, bringing various protagonists and antagonists into the limelight at different times and using them all well. What didn't work? While the fluctuation of tone from episode to episode was a bit of a distraction when viewing all three in succession, the only true disappointment here was that the character depth seemingly promised by the first episode (2.20 [Death Trap]) wasn't followed through to any satisfying moment of dramatic climax in the last (2.22 [Lethal Trackdown]). Also, what was up with Bossk speaking English (basic)? Blehk! I want my Bossk subtitled, thank you very much!

The story itself was thin, but sufficient enough to connect the various action sequences and intrigue. The slow, suspenseful pacing of 2.20 (Death Trap) was particularly well executed and had the secret of Boba's identity been better kept, his reveal as one of the clone cadets would have been even more fun. Still, including him as a spy amidst the cadets was clever and paid off nicely with his having to betray his "brothers." While Boba's plan to blow up Mace was rather quickly thwarted, watching the bounty-hunter-to-be take more and more desperate (and destructive) actions to achieve his ends was impactful and appropriately disturbing. Seeing cadet training in action was equally cool, as was viewing the Jedi and the older clones from the awe-inspired cadet point of view. It was a bit surprising to see Aurra Sing let the other cadets (with whom Boba escaped) go so easily, but I suppose blowing up an escape pod full of children would be just a bit too dark for this show. Still, perhaps a failed attempt at sending them spinning off into uncharted space would have been a nice way to keep the character threatening without visualizing murders.

We as viewers of course already know Boba's motivations, but watching Mace put two-and-two together upon seeing Jango's helmet was an effective sequence and the best part of the next episode, 2.21 (R2 Come Home). The later scene where he recounts what happened in Attack of the Clones to Anakin was a telling bit of characterwork for Mace, but would have been far more effective had Mace continued to offer his view on the necessity of his actions rather than simply review known events in a somewhat regretful manner. The second best parts of the episode offered us a look at the curious relationship between Boba and Aurra Sing. Watching Aurra lead Boba down a dark path, and watching Boba take the first uneasy steps toward following her down that path, made for some compelling internal struggle from Boba, but these scenes, too, may have been better served had they offered us more a glimpse into Aurra's views and her rationale for taking on Boba as a team-member (as well as Boba's need to be accepted by here). As is often the case with this show, the surface relationship is there -- and it's a clear, interesting one -- but the depths of what makes these people tick are only ever hinted at, rather than explored to a satisfying extent. But the bulk of episode 2.21 was devoted to R2-D2 hijinx and heroics -- a not unwelcome, but oddly placed, bit of subject matter. The R2 story here (wherein the little droid proves his Anakin-encouraged/allowed personality to be a benefit) could have made for a great, fun standalone episode. But sandwiched between two far more dramatic episodes, the comic relief primarily served to undercut the impact of Boba's overall storyline, taking the focus away from his character to a hurtful degree. To reiterate, I have no issue with any of R2's story in the episode, and actually enjoyed much of it (particularly his protecting of Mace and Anakin from the Bounty Hunters by sending debris tumbling their way), but as presented, the material diluted 2.20's careful build-up of tension (perhaps intentionally for the kiddies watching) at the unfortunate muddling of the central Boba Fett story-arch's cohesion and clear narrative through-line.

2.22 (Lethal Trackdown) does a good bit of work refocusing the narrative back to Boba, but ultimately unravels after a great start. What should have been a progression to the climactic dissolution of Boba and Aurra's relationship is here reduced to one solid moment and the sudden run away by Aurra. Rather than have circumstance simply force Aurra to show her true colors and abandon Boba -- it would have been far more dramatically satisfying to watch the characters come to the conclusion that they were incompatible. I'm not saying Boba needed to be a hero at all -- but choosing to distance himself from Sing, or watching Aurra choose to ditch Fett (of her own free will and not because of a Jedi attack) would have been the climactic character pay-off this trilogy of episodes deserved. The good news here is that the other stories this episode wove together in place of a solid Boba/Aurra character pay-off were damn good, even if they were culpable for over-stuffing the narrative. Bringing Hondo back once more was a nice touch, and seeing him walk the line between good and evil was a welcome change of pace, giving his character a lot of potential in the future for roles on both sides of the conflict. Knowing he had a history with Jango, also makes him a potential player in future Boba story-archs as well. Equally compelling was Ahsoka and Plo Koon's journey into the Coruscant depths and eventual run-in with Aurra. Both Jedi's characteristics were well-mined for good character moments, and I hope we see more of them working together soon. The Coruscant depths, meanwhile, were an area I'd never thought we'd see visualized. I'd figured the seedy bars of Attack of the Clones and a few of this season's earlier episodes were the closest we'd come to seeing the underworld described so effectively in Timothy Zahn's (and many others') Expanded Universe novels. But here, the visuals were journeying down into Coruscant were some of the most effective in these episodes, and I hope further trips to these places in future episodes yield even more dangerous results than the scum-filled (and surprisingly colorful) nightclub we were presented with here.

As a final note, the action at the end of 2.22 was superb, exciting, and cleverly choreographed - helping to fill the gaping void of an emotional climax with a stirring visual one. But the great action comes amidst a rushed third act. The last moment between Boba and Mace was particularly laughable due to how rushed it was. When a character spouts out in anger that he knows he's done wrong... well those two things just don't fit well, do they? A more distrubed, bitter, SLOWER, line delivery from Boba could have been chilling here, and could have served to unsettle Mace Windu in a way not witnessed in the show's slapdash treatment of the scene. Had this moment been handled better and/or more powerfully, it could have raised the entire trilogy of episodes up a level and left viewers on a far more memorable note to close the season. Sadly, the story runs away as quickly as Aurra did minutes earlier. Yes, Boba is captured (for now) --- but I wish they'd given us some kind of more impactful character conclusion to the arch, be it Mace second-guessing his usual confidence or Boba deciding he works solo from now on. Ultimately, these were a fairly solid set of episodes with a great variety of good ideas, but some frustratingly poor choices in character development and story-arch execution keep them from becoming series classics. This show is making all the right moves and telling all the right stories -- it just needs to tell them a bit more carefully...

2.20 Death Trap: 4 stars
2.21 R2 Come Home: 3.5 stars
2.22 Lethal Trackdown: 3.5 stars


Stay tuned for a Season 2 round-up and overall score!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.13 – The Last Recruit

You can always tell when a LOST season begins to ramp up its story-telling toward its conclusion by the increasingly militaristic nature of Michael Giacchino's always exemplary score music. This usually occurs in the penultimate episode each season, but the end is clearly beginning early this year. This week's shift away from a single character-centric story may remain the show's operating method straight through to the end, and while I often worried that such multi-centric storytelling on LOST detracts from the number of quality character moments per episode, if "The Last Recruit" is any indication, we're in good hands. Since the episode revolved around giving us important vignettes for each character, confirming and furthering their story archs, I'll mix things up a bit this week as well, and focus the majority of my analysis on CharacterWatch items.

The Altered Universe:
Fate definitely seems to be giving AU Desmond a hand on his mission to reunite and "wake" the other AU characters to the truth about their reality. He may have brought Claire to Jack this week, but the universe didn't need any help bringing Kate and Sayid to Sawyer and Miles, and Sun and Jin to the same Hospital as Jack, Locke, and Ben. And even with Claire, Desmond was very lucky that Illana's practice was on floor 15 across the hall from the adoption agency, otherwise I doubt Claire would have gone very far with the stalker-ish Scotsman. As many have observed from the start of the show, there are a lot of universal forces at work bringing everyone together, accounting for character crosses and similarities between the timelines despite their 1977 point of divergence. Desmond has simply started helping them along. As AU Jack is set to "fix" AU Locke, you've got to wonder who Desmond is off to run over next. I'm still on the fence about what Desmond's ultimate goal is with the AU -- In 6.11 (Happily Ever After) Daniel seemed to imply that waking up to reality was important because the AU wasn't how things were supposed to be. And AU Eloise Hawking seemed worried that Desmond's becoming aware could actually damage their reality. If ending/damaging the AU is the ultimate goal -- Desmond's going to have a tough sell even after he wakes everyone up. Life in the OT is much bleaker, after all -- and I can think of at least one person very important to AU Jack who would cease to exist. The storytelling balance currently seems to be tipping in favor of the AU ultimately winning out over the OT, but this is something that could change any moment. Or so AU Eloise Hawking clearly believes.

The Man In Black and His Agenda:
So what exactly ARE the MIB's intentions toward those Candidates!? He wanted them all together, and he's got them. Rather than just leave for the Ajira plane immediately, he waits for Widmore to make the next move and threaten him. If he's confident his group can infiltrate Hydra Island and get to the runway intact, then I wonder what he was waiting for. If he doubts all the Candidates could survive a shoot-out with Widmore's scientists, then maybe he just wanted to give them motivation to blitz the Hydra and get themselves killed. It all boils down to whether he actually wants them gone, or dead. Maybe either is equally satisfactory to his intentions to leave, and his primary concern is keeping them all together so he can guarantee they share the same fate. Which means even after Sawyer's group has abandoned him for Widmore, the MIB values Jack's life more than anyone's since Jack is the only person who might be able to convince the others to do what the MIB needs them to do (whether wittingly or not). As we're running out of episodes fast, I doubt the MIB's intentions toward the Candidates will remain a mystery for very long.

Visions and the Magic Box:
Regarding the MIB telling us that he was Christian Shepard all along, I'll be perfectly okay if Smokey was telling Jack the truth here -- but let's just say it wouldn't shock me in the least if there were a lot more to it, and he were being a bit duplicitous letting Jack (and the audience) fill in the blanks here. As I've discussed previously (in my write-up for 6.09 [Ab Aeterno]), there seem to be two ways Christian Shepard has consistently presented himself on the show, and only one of those two ways (non-suited Christian) fits best with the MIB's operating mode. The other (suited Christian) seems more like an Island Magic Box occurrence, and if the MIB knew Jack had seen his father, maybe this is what gave him the idea to take the Christian Shepard form in the first place. At this point in the series, it's probably easiest to take the simplest explanation - the one the show has just given us. But considering the discrepancies between the two Christians, along with the facts that the MIB is both a known liar and that his telling Jack about an Island-induced Christian wouldn't jive with the MIB's "the Island isn't special" mantra... well, personally I'm not going to drop the mystery completely until the final LOST logo has smashed into the screen :)

Widmore's Mission:
He just wants Desmond back. Whatever his method for saving space-time and taking possession of the Island for himself, the two things Widmore needs are Desmond with is superpowers, and Jin with his energy pocket knowledge. The necessity of the latter's cooperation is the thing most likely to keep Widmore from having his new captives shot outright.

CharacterWatch - Hurley:
Having reunited the original Oceanic Survivors via his dubious impulses, Hurley seems content to once again bow out of his leadership role. He okays Jack's one-on-one with the Man In Black, and then supports Sawyer's plan to defect aboard Desmond's -- and previously Libby's -- old boat (last seen captured by the Others in 3.02 [The Glass Ballerina]). It seems all Hurley needed was to get "the family" back together again. It would have been nice if this concept had played a bit more heavily into his motivations last week, but perhaps this would have compromised his somewhat surprising willingness to leave Claire and Sayid behind this week.

CharacterWatch - Kate:
Fortunately, Kate wasn't as quick to give up on Claire. Her character has been solidly motivated to be Claire's guardian and reunite Aaron with his mother ever since the events of her flashbacks in 5.11 (Whatever Happened, Happened), and it was very rewarding to see these motivations follow through and pay off (at least temporarily) with Claire trusting her enough to turn over her gun and join Sawyer's escape team. I don't believe for a minute Kate would have ever left the Island without Claire, whether Claire had followed them or not. Now that she has Claire, her motivations are just as clear. She's never given a damn about Locke or Jack's protestations that the Island has plans for them, and she's ready to get away from that place once and for all.

CharacterWatch - Sawyer:
Never having left the Island in the first great escape (4.13 [There's No Place Like Home]), Sawyer can't fathom Jack's prediction that he'll one day feel leaving was a mistake. Sawyer has been one of the most ardent supporters of leaving since Day 1, and he blames Juliet's death on his decision to stay with the Dharma Initiative and wait for Locke's return (5.08 [LaFleur]). As far as Sawyer's concerned, nothing good has ever come from sticking around. All season he's been constantly on the lookout for the quickest ticket off the Island, and there's no way in hell he's letting Jack convince himself or any of the others that staying is the right idea. It's interesting that Sawyer jumped the gun on his own plan a bit by approaching Widmore's team before the fighting broke between them and Smokey, but I guess he just trusted Widmore's good will toward him a bit too much.

CharacterWatch - Sayid:
Just as Claire seemed to come back to life a bit in response to Kate's plea for trust, Sayid sure seemed to be affected by Desmond's plea at the well. Chances are Sayid has now made his first lie to the Man In Black -- a big step toward his potential redemption. Here's hoping, even if they're redeemed, we'll at least get some understanding of why these two characters got "infected" and how The Sickness functions as a regular Island threat...

CharacterWatch - Sun/Jin:
After a nearly interminable amount of lag time between the drama of their separation in Season 4 and their reunion now, the Sun/Jin storyline had become rather one-note and lost a lot of steam. While it was nice to see them back together, the moment couldn't help but feel a bit anti-climactic outside of an entire episode devoted to the topic. And at this point, being that there really isn't time for that, I suppose it's fitting that their reunion was relegated to the sidelines of the story just as their separation has been for more than a season now. Hopefully a greater, more dramatic pay-off will come in their bid to get off-Island together to return to Ji Yeon -- and gain them back their strengths as dynamic characters in the process. On a side note, though, I do have to wonder if Sun's short bout of aphasia will amount to anything more than a little plot for her because she needed one. If Lapidus' admittedly corny "Looks like someone got their voice back" is the final word on the matter, it won't be any loss to the show, but it'll render that side-plot about as superfluous as Sawyer's hunt for the noisy tree frog back in 2.14 (One of Them).

CharacterWatch - Jack:
In all likelihood the titular "Last Recruit," Jack completed his transition into a Man of Faith this episode. While still unwilling to align himself with Team Jacob or Team MIB, Jack's refusal to leave the Island and make the same mistake he made in the Season 3 finale (3.22 [Through the Looking Glass]) was a huge step for him in acknowledging that he had returned for a reason, even if that reason wasn't the one he initially thought it was and he STILL doesn't know what that reason is. During his time off-island, Jack was told by Locke that it was imperative he return in order to save those he left behind. When Jack and the others returned and were zapped to 1977 by the Island, he found those he intended to save living comfortably not wanting his assistance. He sought his purpose in aligning with Faraday's plan to detonate Jughead at the Incident and change their futures. Now that (to his knowledge) that too was a failure, he no longer knows what he's supposed to do -- but this time, he's letting go of his need to take charge, no longer thinking for the rest of the survivors, and doing the one thing he feels is right: thwarting the intentions of the Man In Black. He may not know what exactly Smokey wants, but he can very clearly see that Smokey is obsessed with gathering the survivors and getting them off-island. "Maybe he's afraid of what happens if we stay," says Jack -- and just like a few episodes ago on the Black Rock, Jack is willing to test his theory and swim back to shore. While this may make him "The Last Recruit" in the MIB's eyes, we know his purpose in returning was anything but appeasing Smokey.

CharacterWatch - Frank:
He's here for the food.

And that's where we are!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – 2.18/19 – The Zillo Beast & The Zillo Beast Strikes Back

The Republic army accidently wakes a ginormous worm thing from beneath the Malastare ground. It is then brought to Coruscant for research.

I waited to review 2.18 (The Zillo Beast) until its follow-up episode had aired because I wasn’t particularly fond of the first episode but was still very much looking forward to its sequel. The Zillo Beast episodes continue this season’s and odd enchantment with re-enacting other famous/classic properties in the Star Wars universe. Large monsters are no strangers to the Galaxy Far Far Away, so a Godzilla homage must have seemed like a natural fit. While I still reiterate my wish for the Clone Wars writers to find their own mythology rather than to continue playing with the ideas of others, the Godzilla element that came off as rather ho-hum in the first half of this duology was pitch perfect in the second half – with a great twist added to the premise.

In the first episode (2.18), the battle that starts the episode is impressive in scope but also very familiar territory. The idea of the Republic testing a new bomb that harms only droids and technology does have potential, however, and I hope this plot thread is developed more in further episodes. It’s a cool parallel/counterpoint to the Separatist weapon displayed in 1.14 (Defenders of Peace) which harmed only biological lifeforms, and I appreciated the attention to detail when Anakin’s robotic arm showed signs of malfunction when the bomb was detonated. This was neat foreshadowing, and it would be great if his arm got him into trouble one day when/if this weapon’s use becomes standard.

Once the Zillo Beast itself appears on the scene, the imagery of it emerging from the ground and the fight that ensues was technically impressive, but felt oddly contemplative in pacing – a rare thing on this show. The arguments with the resident Dugs were all rather routine and uninspired, and the Dugs themselves proved to be uninteresting one-note characters. The episode felt like clear set-up for the much more interesting idea of bringing the stunned Zillo Beast to Coruscant. So at the end of 2.18 I felt unsatisfied, but still looked forward to the story’s continuation.

2.19 (The Zillo Beast Strikes Back) improved on everything the first episode did wrong. This time around the character arguments and debates that surrounded the Beasts assault on Coruscant were charged and hit hard. While we know Palpatine’s motivations toward the Beast were ultimately less than wholesome, both his and Padme’s arguments for and against destroying the Beast were persuasive. It would clearly be inhumane to knowingly wipe out the last of a species, yet it’s equally hard deny that sacrificing it for the betterment of troop armor and the potential saving of thousands of humanoid lives is a reasonable position.

What undermines the value of Palpatine’s argument, of course, is his clear (to the audience) malicious attitude toward the Zillo Beast, and I must say it was a breath of fresh air to see Palpatine FINALLY portrayed as an outright villain on this show, even if it was just to the audience (as it ought to be since his villainy needs to remain a secret to the other characters until the events of Episode III: Revenge of the Sith). Having Palpatine legitimately outed as a villain opens up a lot of storytelling potential on this show and I hope the writers run with this potential. One of the troubles with the Prequel Trilogy’s thinly-veiled hiding of Palpatine’s plotting was that the audience was left without a clear perception of his plans and machinations throughout the three films. The Original Star Wars trilogy had quite an opposite presentation of evil, wherein the villains and their intentions were as front and center as the heroes, and the original trilogy benefited from this entertaining duality immensely. I hope the Clone Wars can benefit from such villainous clarity as well, and watching Palpatine’s secret intentions toward the Zillo Beast unfold was a major step in the right direction.

And while it was cool to see the Beast running amock on Coruscant, and equally cool to see its tragic death unfold (typical ground for cinema’s classic behemoths), what really stood out in the episode was the Beast’s single-minded (and intelligent) pursuit of Palpatine. While there’s no reason to believe the Beast understood the English (Basic) language, it clearly understood Palpatine’s malicious intentions, and perhaps perceived Palpatine’s malicious soul more clearly than the Jedi warriors risking their lives to protect him. It was riveting to see the Star Wars universe’s uber-villain being hunted down so doggedly by the Beast, making the creature very much a hero in its own way. And watching our heroes bring it down to save the man who we know is even now plotting to betray them added an extra – and very welcome – level of poetic irony to the proceedings.

Yes, the Zillo Beast’s death was tragic because it was the last of its species, and it died because of the mistakes of the humanoids, but the tragedy is magnified tenfold because the Beast was one of the first characters in the galaxy to perceive Palpatine as the monster he is and to do its utmost to wipe the Sith lord out. Now THAT’s how you take a classic premise and MAKE it Star Wars. I wish the writers had been able to make the first of the Zillo Beast episodes a bit more valuable beyond its function as an obvious (albeit necessary) bridge to the sequel episode, but the grandeur, fun, and strengths of 2.19 (The Zillo Beast Strikes Back) go a long way in making the first outing forgivable. Here’s hoping they continue to use Palpatine as well as he was used in this story arch. 3 stars and 4.5 stars, respectively.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.12 – Everybody Loves Hugo

For this episode, the writers seem to have taken a page from the Hollywood guidebook, and replaced their usual careful plotting and clear characterizations with a pair of explosions. Faster than you can say "ka-boom," Illana is yesterday's news and the union of Hurley, Jack, and Richard is dismissed. Oh, and suddenly our Candidates' best course of action is not to stop the Man In Black from leaving the Island "or we all go to hell," but rather to deliver themselves into the MIB's hands because Hurley thought it might be keen. Um... what?

I'll save my (rare) need to grouse for the end of the analysis, but this episode's bizarre plotting leaps left me colder than I've felt toward an episode of LOST in a long time. In the meantime, there were still plenty of cool happenings to talk about:

The Altered Universe:
We may still not know why Original Timeline Libby was a patient at the Santa Rosa mental hospital, but the reason why Altered Universe Libby checked herself in was great! Like AU Charlie and AU Faraday before her, AU Libby gained an exceptional understanding of the Original Timeline simply by getting one glance at her OT significant other. This continues the trend that characters deceased in the OT have a stronger aptitude toward "waking up" to the notion of the double timelines in the AU. And just as Charlie helped bring about Desmond's epiphany, Libby helps bring about Hurley's realization. We now have at least six characters running around in the AU who know what's what (the five mentioned, plus Eloise), and Desmond's still assumably on a mission to grow this number. Whether running over poor AU John Locke was part of Desmond's mission to raise OT awareness, or whether it was some kind of cross-dimensional attack on the OT Man In Black, Desmond clearly has great insight into what all is going on. If he downed AU Locke to wake him up to the OT, then our Scottish Brotha' has some HARSH methods and hopefully somehow knows that this is they ONLY way Locke can be helped. If instead it's an attack on the MIB of some kind, then one must wonder what the consequences of it could be. If Locke dies in the AU, does OT MIB gain any insight to the AU? Does OT John Locke awaken further inside the MIB? Either way, OT Desmond appeared pretty insistent when he told the MIB that the MIB WAS John Locke. He then seemed pretty nonplussed when the MIB threatened him at the well. Desmond seemed confident through the entire episode, and perhaps the only thing that's changed by its end is that he's confident at the bottom of a well...

The Shadow of the Statue Folks:
With Illana's abrupt, unmourned, and barely discussed departure, we're going to have to see her as a ghost, AU character, or in someone else's flashback (Jacob's?) if we're ever going to find out who the heck she was, where her little band of "Shadow of the Statue Folks" came from, and why Jacob was "like a father to her." I do hope these blanks are somehow filled in, but even if they do, with her existing on the periphery of every episode she was in (other than 6.07 [Dr. Linus] where she was briefly humanized) it'll be hard not to remember her as a thinly veiled plot device. Though perhaps to Jacob, that's all she ever was. If so, I'd love to feel the tragedy of that rather than just have to guess at it...

The Whispers:
So the Whispers are the voices of dead people "stuck on the Island." But, according to Michael, not everyone who dies on the Island is stuck there -- he says that he specifically is stuck there "because of what I did." So while we at least know that committing double homicide for a reason other than protecting the Island is considered wrong and punishable there, we're again left to wonder who's making the moral judgements on the Island -- Jacob? The Man in Black? The Island itself? Whoever it is, chances are the decision process is connected to the white and black stones that Jacob and the MIB exchange. Somewhere in the MIB's Cave or Jacob's Foot, there's probably a black stone for Michael, and the instant it was laid out, his spirit was doomed to join the collection of souls who walk the Island whispering about redemption boars, backward-speaking apparitions of Walt, warning about appearences of the Others and the Smoke Monster, and visitors' proximity to the Haunted Cabin. One has to wonder what all these dead folks' agenda(s) are. Are they out to help Island visitors? Are they out the help the Others? My guess would be that they're ultimately out to help the Island, that being the only way they can atone for sinning against it. Michael at least sure seems to have gotten it into his head that Hurley shouldn't lead anyone to blow up the Ajira plane or else "people are gonna die." How he knows this and what alternative he's hoping will happen, only the dead can say. ...And maybe the writers ;)

The Man In Black and His Agenda:
Early on in the episode, the MIB confirmed who precisely he was waiting to add to his collection: Jack, Sun, and Hurley. And by the end of the episode, he got all three (plus Lapidus) free of charge. Chances are the MIB's next move will be to retrieve Jin, and then proceed with his plan to either escape the Island with all the Candidates, send all the Candidates packing so that no potential-Jacobs are around on-Island to keep him trapped, or else get all of them killed by someone's hand other than his own -- as I'm still somewhat confident that he personally lacks the ability to harm Candidates. Maybe he'll seek Widmore's aid in this? Offer to return Desmond in exchange? While I'm not sure what the MIB knows about Desmond or his capabilities, it did appear that the MIB was very freaked out by Desmond's lack of fear and insight into the Island's nature to "have it in" for everyone. The MIB seemed to be judging Desmond over the course of their conversations, and if Desmond's alive at the bottom of that well (which he is), then I'm sure the MIB is too smart not to be aware of it. He's currently unsure what Desmond's role will be in all this -- friend or foe -- and will have to figure it out before deciding what to do with our chosen Hero of Time.

And Now For Those Previously Referenced Plotting Gripes!
The sudden full-stop to Illana's story hearlded the sudden full-stop to the coming together of the beach party, a group whose union and purpose we've observed slowly forming over the course of three episodes. We saw Illana forgive and win the allegiance of Ben while Jack convinced Richard to live (6.07 [Dr. Linus]), we saw Hurley help Richard re-find his purpose and motivation to stop the MIB (6.09 [Ab Aeterno]), and we saw the group formulate the plan to destroy the Ajira plane (6.10 [The Package]). And now all this build-up is exploded amidst foggily-motivated bickering: Hurley keeps his reasons for not wanting to blow up the plane (Michael's visit) to himself and then proceeds to MAKE UP a DRASTIC alternative on the spot without explanation. The thought process of "Well, if we can't stop the Smoke Monster from leaving on a plane, then we might as well just hand ourselves over to him" doesn't make a lick of sense. And it's not that characters shouldn't be allowed to do stupid things or make errors in judgement -- of course they should -- but if they're the star of the episode and the primary motivator for the general direction of the show's overall plot, the viewer NEEDS to understand their reasoning.

Yes, the end result of Team Jack meeting up with Team MIB was an anticipated and neccessary step for the show, but having Hurley just pull the idea of joining up out of his hat and call full-stop on everything the last sequence of Team Jack stories had been leading up to smells of plot-patching -- a quick fix to get writers from where they were headed to where they need to be. And I hold these guys to their own higher standards of character insight.

When I voiced my concerns in a recent LOST discussion, it was friendfully suggested that maybe I was letting my own theories of where I personally wanted and/or expected the show to go get in the way of my enjoyment of where the show is going. Such things can indeed happen, but that simply isn't the case here. I don't theorize about where the show ought to go so much as theorize about the meaning and impact of what has happened. The show can go anywhere the writers want -- I'm good with that and on board for the ride. I'm even cool with the notions of Illana dying, the break-up with Richard, and the merging of Jack's and Locke's camps -- BUT there needs to be payoff for plot threads carefully built up to, as well as a followable progression for the character decisions involved in getting us there. Sending Ilana off with zero fanfare and handing Team Jack off from Richard to the MIB based on Michael and Hurley's unexplained whims was poor form. Hurley says he listens to the dead because they're "more reliable than the living," but did he already forget what dead-Isabella told him a few epsiodes back? Yes, maybe Hurley would trustingly follow dead-Michael's advice to not assist in blowing up the Ajira plane, but why completely throw out what dead-Isabella told him about priority-one being to stop the MIB? Why suddenly decide that GOING to the MIB is the best course of action? The idea is as out-of-nowhere as Illana's death, and potentially of much more importance to the the overall story of LOST.

So while I'm certainly hoping that we're given more in-show rationale for both of these sketchy moves, that can't help the experience of this episode on its own. On LOST, at each episode's heart is a tale of discovery about its central character - learning more about that character's past, future, world-view, and rationale. While surprises and mysterious character behavior are routine on the show, if the viewers can't at least ground their empathy in the thinking process of a given episode's central character -- then that episode is a partial failure. See 2.12 (Fire+Water) for another example of this. I still don't know what the hell Charlie's thought process was in that episode!

But, plotting gripes aside: this is LOST. There's still plenty awesome in every hour, and new potential in every twist.

And that's where we are!

Friday, April 09, 2010