Wednesday, February 24, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.05 - Lighthouse

I didn’t need Hurley’s rather blatant shout-out to recognize the old school vibe of this episode. From location nods, to mystery references, to its character-centered heart, Lighthouse was practically dripping with Season 1 nostalgia, and I dug every minute of it. Thematically, Jack’s story here is the perfect compliment to his story in 1.05 (White Rabbit). Haunted by his father’s ruthless assertion that he “doesn’t have what it takes” to make tough decisions, Season 1 Jack struggled with the mantle of leadership that had been thrust upon him by the other Survivors after the crash of Oceanic 815. Now, five seasons later, on-island Jack lashes out at the expectations put upon him, while his Altered Universe self is meanwhile able to right the wrongs of his father’s mantra.

The multiple, diverse, and carefully intertwined connections between this episode's Core Events and its Flashes are as deftly executed as many of Season 1’s best, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see so much strong character and heart injected into the series after the cool but cold intensity that dominated Season 5’s storytelling. It’s a strong sign that the writers have got their heads in the right place as they bring this massive tale to its endgame. Once all is said and done -- after the last answer has been given, and the last theory checked off -- it’s LOST’s inspiring heart and rich depth that will carry its intricately engrossing mystery forward to conquer the test of time.

That said, the mysteries do indeed rule the present:

The Altered Universe:
Even as the stories in the AU remain character-centered, hints continue to crop up that suggest what’s to come. That Jack’s appendix was removed at age 8 in the AU tells us that some things are different not because the Island was sunk, but simply because they are. The shape of destiny and the strength of a given character may be constants in the AU, but appendicitis and perhaps even having a son (the creation of life itself!), might as well have resulted from the role of a die. But even more telling is that Jack seems to suddenly have doubts about the origin of his abdominal scar. Does the name Juliet ring a bell to him? How about Bernard? …Is a certain Island calling?

The Island:
How the Island is connected to the rest of the globe is of central importance to establishing its identity. We know that physically it’s moving around – or at least the spot where one can access it is mobile – but so far any other connections presented have been of the magical vision-inducing (Jack, Hurley) or suicide-preventing (Jack, Michael) varieties. The abilities of the titular Lighthouse to view candidate-related spots all over the globe are no less magical, but are given mechanical weight through the compass-like distribution of the numbers. If the Island and its powers can be so intimately connected to the rest of the world, this only lends credence to Jacob’s insistence that the Island must be protected. And now we can add to that Jacob's declaration to Hurley that Jack has an important role to play in protecting it. For the sake of the series and its general awesomeness, I hope Jacob is right!

Jacob’s Agenda:
The importance of setting the Lighthouse to 108 in preparation for someone’s impending arrival should play out soon enough, but at least we’re here given great insight into Jacob’s own particular brand of manipulation. That he’s been watching Jack all his life might be creepy, but he clearly knows when a light touch is needed – or “a little push” as he told Jack when they met off-Island in 5.16 (The Incident). Unlike Hurley, Jack is not someone who could simply be told what to do by a stranger in a cab, and it’s been important to Jacob’s plan that Jack make his own decisions, influenced or otherwise. Jacob has finally chosen now -- after Jack has been brow-beaten by life and destiny -- to tip his hand and reveal his presence.

The Numbers:
Jacob’s off-island influence on Hurley, however, might not be as innocent as a single cab conversation. Viewers will recall that the Lighthouse’s wheel isn’t the first time the Numbers have been used to reach out from the Island to the world outside: it was the looped recording of “4 8 15 16 23 42” that functioned as a siren song in bringing Rousseau’s science team to the Island in the 1980s, and ultimately resulted in getting Hurley on board Oceanic 815. I’d love to know when, why, and by whom that looped recording was made, but if Hurley’s ultimate destiny is perchance to take over for Jacob, then it will have been the Numbers that brought him to the Island. And if Hurley’s even partially right that his "bad luck" contributed to Flight 815 flying off course and into Desmond’s System Failure… well then it’s the Numbers – the numbers of Jacob’s favorite Candidates -- that were responsible for bringing the lot of them to the Island. I hope these dots are one day connected in-show.

Jacob's Candidates:
The most telling moment of the night may have been Hurley’s refusal to listen to Dogen, and Dogen’s inability to do anything to stop a Candidate. This probably explains why Sayid had to choose to poison himself in 6.03 (What Kate Does), and why these Temple Others hold the free wills of our Survivors in such high esteem. It might even explain everything back to why Ben’s Others needed Michael to bring Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley to them in 2.23 (Live Togehter, Die Alone). Candidates are given special treatment. (Though I guess no one told Pickett back in Season 3). I suspect Dogen’s AU line is very applicable to his and the Others’ current situation: “It is hard to watch and be unable to help.” There must be some reason these guys have to keep their secrets even from Candidates. Probably the same reason they have to be douchebags even to Candidates...

The Sickness:
Now that we’ve had a chance to get to know the new Crazy Jungle Claire, I’m slightly less afraid for Sayid than I previously was. Dogen told Jack that the Sickness grows inside a person until it spreads to his/her heart, and then all that person is will be consumed. While Claire was certainly changed from the sweet character we remember, I can pretty easily imagine a similar Claire emerging from three years of living alone in the wilderness running from and fighting the Others for her life – with or without the help of an alleged Sickness. She’s still something of the same character: She helps Jin, and still values Aaron (though she doesn’t remember the circumstance under which she and Aaron parted ways). That said, perhaps this darkness Dogen refers to comes in the form of a susceptibility to the Man in Black’s (MIB’s) temptations and ways. Claire’s memory of her leaving Aaron in the Jungle is then fuzzy from the direct influence of the MIB (probably in the form of her father, Christian Shepard) who led her away from Sawyer and Miles back in 4.10 (Something Nice Back Home). If this is the case -- if the loss of all that you are primarily results in becoming a pawn of the MIB -- then I’m guessing there’ll be fireworks if/when he and Sayid meet up.

CharacterWatch - Jack:
By calling back to Jack’s first solo island adventure, Lighthouse allows viewers to look at his story-arch of beleaguered responsibility through eyes both wizened and jaded by the events of the past five seasons. And Jack himself is the most jaded viewer of all. His season 1 heroics and insistence to take control may have been largely self-inflicted to prove daddy wrong, but their impact had consequences for all involved. In taking responsibility for the Survivors, Jack took on the equal-parts-selfish-and-selfless role of leader. He was mayor of cavetown in Season 1, and led the fight against the Others in Seasons 2 and 3. His needs to control and to rescue morphed into single-minded stubbornness in Season 4 when he ignored every warning that the Freighter and its occupants were trouble and practically demanded that he be allowed to save everyone.

But we all know how well that turned out. As Jack tells us in Lighthouse, his days off Island broke him. He failed to get everyone off Island, and those that were lost in the transition weighted on his conscience. He hoped returning to the Island would be an easy fix for his soul, and with no obvious penance in sight, he latched on to Faraday’s plan to fight the future. It remains to be seen whether the Incident was as important or life-defining as Farday insisted it would be, but post-Incident Jack is done with letting his motivations be dependent on the demands of others. He’s had it with trying to impress daddy, he’s through with trying to fulfill destiny, and he most certainly doesn’t want to hear that Jacob has been watching him with the same expectant eye.

Altered Universe Jack learns to hold back on forcing such expectations on his son, but Island Jack can’t seem to fight free of them. We’ll have to wait and see whether staring out at the ocean for a while will ready Jack for whatever lies ahead, but hopefully when it comes, he’ll be able to take action on his own terms – not his father’s, not destiny’s, and not Jacob’s. …even if that’s exactly what Jacob wants ;)

And that’s where we are!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.04 - The Substitute

Locke has always been a compelling character. He was compelling as a pre-crash, wheelchair-bound desk jockey with delusions of grandeur. He was compelling as a born-again, boar-hunting jungle man on a mission. And now, he's somehow remained compelling as a sandcrab-covered corpse. That Terry O'Quinn has been able to play two all-new, completely different shades of Locke after the character has been dead for half a season is testament to just how weird - and completely awesome - this show is.

Locke was tapped very quickly by the island and/or the Man In Black (MIB) as someone "amenable for coercion" (3.03 [Further Instructions]), and ever since, Locke's faith in both the Island and his own greater purpose has led him to deeds equal parts mad and heroic. But Locke's final destiny has been to give the MIB what it saw in Locke from the beginning: a loophole. Traipsing around in Locke's likeness, the MIB's mission is now center-stage, while the real Locke's delusions of grandeur lay buried with his body. But can the John Locke we've known and loved for 5 seasons somehow find and fulfill his life's purpose after death?

We'll have to wait and see, of course - but here's what we learned this week:

The Altered Universe: The jury's still out on what the ultimate purpose of the AU is to the over-all Season 6 story and the Original Timeline (OT). We may have been thrown a major clue in the form of some of the MIB's accusations against Jacob, but more on that below in the "Fate and Free Will Factors" section. For now, let's just note that there were even more OT character appearances in this week's Locke story than there were in last week's Kate story. Helen still somehow found her way to Locke despite he and his Dad being on good terms in this timeline (recall that they met in the OT when Locke attended anger management classes). Randy (Locke's boss) still switched jobs even though that meteorite probably never hit newly-lucky Hurley's initial Chicken Shack (first referenced in 2.01 Man of Science, Man of Faith). We've had indication that Hurley owned Locke's box company ever since 1.18 (Numbers), so not too big a surprise to see him show up. But the wacky fortune-teller that Hurley's dad bribed in 3.10 (Tricia Tanaka Is Dead)? And Rose!? And Ben!?!?! A couple of these are clever cross-overs... More than a couple are contrived (albeit fun) writing... But this many is pretty clearly meant to set off warning bells in our heads. Even with the Island-based hand of fate removed from the equation, these characters certainly seem to congregate...

The Island: The mother of all LOST mysteries -- "What Is The Island?" -- has been on everyone's mind since Charlie asked this column's titular question in the series' pilot. This week, the MIB tells us something very important: Jacob thinks the Island needs protecting, but he doesn't because it's "just a damn Island." Say it with me together folks: "It's just a damn Island." Yeah. Freaking. Right. And LOST is just a TV show. The source of this information makes me instantly believe that the exact opposite is true. Be it simply the untapped time-bending potential of its electromagnetic stores, or the magic-box manipulations of its oft-implied semi-sentient will, this place is important. Perhaps so important that its protection even warrants all the Others' cold-hearted, un-informative, extremist tactics. Perhaps so important that finding it a new chief-protector warrants multiple lifetimes of searching for candidates and bringing people to its shores...

The Man In Black (MIB): We’ve watched the monster roam the island for five seasons, sizing up our heroes and sometimes attacking them. We’ve seen it take the form of Eko’s dead brother Yemi; we’ve seen it bounce of the sound barrier “walls” of the Dharma Initiative’s barracks; we’ve seen it respond to Ben’s underground murky-water toilet flush summons. We’ve applied animal instincts to it, and the basic rationale of a simple-minded agenda. When we met the Man In Black and saw him take the form of John Locke, the monster transitioned from an “it” to a him, and became the show’s new “big bad” – a seeming representation of darkness and evil. But this week, the game has completely changed.

First, just when I had begun to conclude that the MIB was responsible for all the crazy island visions and dreams our survivors have experienced through the course of the show – HE GOES AND HAS A CRAZY ISLAND VISION OF HIS OWN. I think so much about this show that even when surprising things happen, my mind tends not to be blown. But I’ll admit it: When the MIB – the monster itself - was shocked at seeing that bloody-handed Kid that Richard couldn’t see… my mind was indeed blown.

And second, as swiftly as surprise was brought into the monster’s repertoire, so is humanity. And the implications of this, are even greater. Sure he’s still the show’s current “big bad,” but he’s no longer just a floating cloud of “evil for evil’s sake” – he’s a living, breathing, emoting, fearing, plotting man. Just try and watch any Smokey scene from any season past in the same light you did before. This one episode has turned every previous monster encounter on its head. Our attempts to categorize animal-like behaviors over the years can now officially be replaced with honest-to-god character analysis. Let the Lit-majors rejoice: If you prick him, he may not bleed, but Smokey has become a villain with Shakespearian depth.

The MIB and His Agenda: So he wants to “go home,” he’s “trapped,” and he wants to be “free.” I think this much of what the MIB tells us, we can believe. I also believe him when he says he suffered betrayal and loss – probably at the hands of Jacob. What’s a little more muddy is what going home and being free actually means. He tells Sawyer that this involves getting off-island, but for all we know this is just a means of getting Sawyer’s assistance. After all, getting off-island wouldn’t necessarily require wanting “everybody dead” as Richard clearly believes to be part of the MIB’s agenda. More likely to my way of thinking is that the MIB wants freedom from whatever boundaries being a magic smoke monster brings. Maybe like Barbossa and the crew of the Black Pearl (In Pirates of the Caribbean), he longs for humanity again - the abilities to eat again, lust again, die again. Whatever he needed done to take Locke’s form, perhaps it’s given him a taste of this humanity (Just look at how joyously he ate that mango in 6.07 The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham), but I’m guessing he’s not all the way there yet. There’s a good chance Jacob himself is responsible for making the MIB what he is now, and for some reason (perhaps Jacob’s death?) he apparently can’t change his face anymore. If Jacob did “trap” the MIB in this way, perhaps he’s still trapping him from beyond the grave…

Jacob and His Agenda: Since 5.16 (The Incident), we’ve had pretty good indication that Jacob specifically chose many of our heroes and somehow “brought” them to the Island in the same way the MIB accused him of bringing that Piratey Ship that is probably the Black Rock. But now, we (along with Sawyer) have been given physical proof of Jacob’s tactics: He’s been writing names on the wall of that cavern for lifetimes, assigning them numbers for unknown reasons, and crossing them off one by one. The MIB says Jacob was looking for candidates to be his Island-protecting successor, and considering the tone through which the MIB belittles Jacob’s mission, I can’t currently think of a reason he’d lie about it. So here’s a major answer-chunk for you: the crux of Jacob’s Agenda was to protect the Island and find someone to carry on his work. Next we need to find out why someone apparently ageless needs a successor? Was he going somewhere else? Or was ALL of his searching in anticipation of Ben’s stabbing him? Time (and the writers) will tell.

Jacob’s Candidates: The revelation of the Candidates brings many new questions, but they all still fall neatly under the “Jacob” mystery heading. We first heard the term ‘candidate’ in 5.16 (The Incident) when Illana and Bram speculated that pilot Frank Lapidus might be a “candidate.” Did they mean in the word in the same sense that Jacob and the MIB use it? One name that was crossed off the Candidates Wall was “Goodspeed.” I wonder if this was Horace or Ethan. One name that was very conspicuously absent from the wall was Austin. All the other heroes we saw Jacob touch in 5.16 (The Incident) were listed… why not Kate? And why didn’t Jacob include all his candidates on whatever lists he sent the Others (re: Danny Pickett’s line “Ben just put his life in the hands of one of them! Shepard wasn’t on Jacob’s List!” in 3.06 [I Do] – incidentally, the show’s first time naming “Jacob.”)? Hopefully we’ll also learn all this, along with the significance of the numbers (The Numbers) that Jacob selected for our heroes.

Visions and Whispers – The Kid: In my master mysteries list (which I’ll get around to publishing on here eventually), I group all Visions and Whispers together as one mystery under the “Wacky Island Happenings” category, even though I freely acknowledge that the various dreams and sightings our heroes have seen may have different sources and/or explanations. As I said earlier, however, I never expected The Monster itself to experience a vision! There’s a chance the Kid was Jacob – but I’m not buying it. Even if the Kid did indeed resemble a young Jacob, I don’t believe that was Jacob himself talking to the MIB. I think the MIB would know if Jacob had just come back to life in front of him, and would have had a much bigger/angrier reaction. Plus, the confidence with which the MIB continued to refer to Jacob in the past tense throughout the episode, as well as his confidence in chucking Jacob’s rock into the sea, lends at least a bit of credence to my theory. So what exactly was the Kid? To my way of thinking, he’s proof there’s more going on here than simply two powerful entities (Jacob and the MIB) duking it out on an electromagnetically charged island – proof that the Island itself is still somehow an entity in play. “You know the Rules,” the Kid tells the MIB. “You can’t kill him.” Whatever’s causing these visions, and whatever its “Rules” are (assumbly the same set, Ben, Widmore and the Others follow) – it’s clearly pissed at the MIB – and he’s clearly not free of it even after Jacob’s death. Why Richard can’t see the Kid, but Sawyer can is a topic for another day - these Visions and Whispers tend to be able to pick who they want to be seen/heard by…

Richard and the Others: Beneath the MIB and Jacob, Richard’s always seemed like the guy who knew the most about everything, so it’s fascinating to here that Jacob never revealed his Candidate Quest to Richard. What else has Jacob kept from Richard? What has Jacob told Richard that earned (and retains) his loyalty? The MIB, on the other hand, is probably “disappointed” with the Others for the same reason he’s disappointed with Richard. The MIB always wanted Richard to follow him, and Richard has always refused. It’s interesting that Richard was still the MIB’s first choice for a lieutenant, before Sawyer. And it’s equally interesting that he lets Richard live. Clearly Richard still has a part to play in his agenda.

Illana and the Shadow of the Statue Folks: I can’t wait to find out Illana’s backstory. She seems sadder than anyone that Jacob is dead – and movingly so. She seemingly knows about the Candidate Quest, she knows a good deal about Jin and Sun, and she knows something about the capabilities and limitations of the MIB. Hopefully Ben will quiz her more persistantly on her knowledge base in the near future.

The Fate and Free Will Factors: If “The Island” is the mystery that holds the spot of honor at the top of my master list, “Fate and Free Will” is the mystery that holds the spot of honor at the bottom. When all is said and done, when all the workings of the Island and the motivations of Jacob have been ticked away one by one, the ultimate theme of the show will lie here: in the shadow of the Fate Vs. Free Will debate.

Ever since 5.16 (The Incident), fans have been speculating that Jacob and the MIB have something of a disagreement over whether Fate or Free Will is the more prevalent force. In their beachside conversation, the MIB told Jacob, "They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same." And then this week, he went on to tells Sawyer that Jacob manipulated him, made his choices for him, and pushed him to the Island, denying Sawyer his Free Will. So even if MIB is in favor of Free Will, he certainly doesn't believe in its relevance for our heroes.

Jacob, on the other hand, claimed on the beach in 5.16 that "it only ends once" and the rest is progress. For him the behavior of Island visitors is an ongoing, growing effort that has slowly improved over time, and has yet to reach its conclusion. Here Jacob comes off believing in the power of Free Will - the power of our characters to choose to better themselves. Even if Jacob hasn't been quite as manipulative as the MIB claimed to Sawyer, these are odd opinions coming from someone who has clearly exerted some kind of force/influence on our heroes through their lives.

This being LOST, we're obviously dealing with a mixture of both Free Will and Fate here -- this show doesn't like dealing in absolutes, and I hope it continues to avoid them. The MIB sees Fate (and Jacob’s hand in it) as a burden that limits and wastes lives and is opposed to Free Will. Perhaps Jacob appreciates a more nuanced merger of the two. Perhaps for him, Fate is made up of the responsibilities people have that they cannot avoid: the character traits that are part of their nature and lead them to value/protect/uphold certain things. Meanwhile, Free Will in this view is comprised of the choices, motivations, and efforts that people make, both because of their Fated inclinations and that have led to their Fated inclinations.

It's a chicken/egg scenario. We fight for what we believe in because it's our nature to do so; but our nature is also built on the beliefs we have chosen. Our nature (Fate) guides us, but our decisions and experiences (Free Will) have been largely responsible for its definition.

Which brings me to that Alternate Universe clue I promised earlier! It's too early to say how things are going to pan out with the AU, but how they do will be major evidence in the Fate Vs. Free Will debate. The MIB accused Jacob of subverting our heroes’ Free Will, but the Altered Universe is showing us play by play how our characters lives would have turned out without Jacob's influence. Sometimes the changes seem huge, but other times the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same. Locke setting aside his "faith" may be the biggest character difference yet... but even his story might not yet be complete.

Maybe when the Altered Universe meets up with the Original Timeline, it will be as the evidence and answer to what was intrinsically part of these people of their own volition (Free Will), and what precisely was Jacob's and/or The Island's doing (Fate)…

CharacterWatch – Locke:
It was very sad, and very final feeling, to see Locke’s overseas-travelling body finally laid to rest on the same beach we’ve seen so many of our characters buried. But as Locke told Nikki before she and Paulo ended up buried alive in that same spot: “Things don’t stay buried on this Island.” His body may be gone, and this may just be wishful thinking, but I haven’t given up entirely on the John Locke we know and love somehow returning to some form of existence, having his revenge on the MIB, and somehow helping the rest of our heroes save the day. If the MIB yelling “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” is any indication, there’s still a lot of Locke left in that Smokey-fabricated body. Maybe more than memories… Maybe more than the MIB thinks…

And that’s where we are!

Monday, February 15, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - 2.14 - The Duchess of Mandalore

Duchess Satine pleads Mandalore's case before the Republic Senate as the usual suspects conspire to silence her once and for all.

While dabbling in deeper political themes on the Clone Wars is always appreciated, I can’t help but feel they ultimately came across as a muddle in this episode. The beat by beat story is clear enough: Duchess Satine wants Mandalore to solve its own problems. The Senate finds convenient evidence that claims Satine’s government would rather the Republic intervene. Satine finds evidence to the contrary, and the Republic stands down. End of story.

So where’s the muddle you ask? Notice how I summed up the story without mentioning the pacifism debate. If the central issues are Republic intervention vs. Mandalore silencing DeathWatch on its own, why is the only thing we hear debated over and over again Satine’s pacifist ways versus the Republic’s military violence? No one bothers to mention how Republic intervention might help DeathWatch until the deceased minister Jerec’s second hologram is played at the end of the episode. Both the Senate and the audience are kept at bay from this important central issue by nothing more than smoke and mirrors. And while these might be appropriate tactics coming from Palpatine, Satine herself is the greatest culprit. The more she continues to criticize the Republic’s methods and purport her own pacifism, the less anyone spends thinking about how sending troops to Mandalore might give DeathWatch a boost in the public opinion polls. In this regard, Satine becomes her own worst enemy – but that’s not what the story is about.

Oh but isn’t it, you ask? After all, Obi-wan does accurately point out that she’s rushing into the debate in a hysterical state of mind all while pushing her friends away when she needs them most. So perhaps the story IS that Satine’s stance is flawed and that Obi-wan is a voice of reason – but – oh – wait – no - if Obi-wan’s the voice of reason then why is he arguing that she calm down and make the wrong decision by letting the Republic authorities intervene? So ultimately what we have is this: Satine’s arguing the right thing (Mandalore Helps Itself) poorly by using unrelated ideology (Pacifism) as her trump card while Obi-wan is arguing the wrong thing (Republic Intervention) poorly by using unrelated psychology (You’re Cutting Out Your Friends) as his rationale. So regardless of the merits of pacifism, and regardless of whether Satine is pridefully denying assistance, neither of our heroes is ultimately arguing anything relevant to their problem, and both are completely missing the central matter at hand: that Republic troops arriving on Mandalore will give DeathWatch something to rally against.

So while there are some nice little character beats here -- such as Satine learning she can trust Obi-wan’s assistance (even if she can’t trust his opinions), and Obi-wan learning to appreciate Satine’s rigid determination (even if it’s motivated by irrelevant ideology) – these beats are ultimately mismatched to a plot which would have run the same course even if Satine had confided in Obi-wan from the beginning or even if Obi-wan had agreed wholeheartedly with Satine’s pacifist ways. Those things have trouble vying for relevance when the day is actually saved by a holo-recording of a dead guy who points out the actual problem that everyone else has somehow avoided putting into words.

So now that I’ve stuck it to this episode hard for its hopeless jumble of messages, themes, arguments, and ideological rhetoric – let me say that if you were able to take a knife to that jumble and pare it down into something more manageable and more relevantly inter-related, you’d actually end up with a damn good episode.

Having a guest character play the starring role in an episode is a welcome change, and Duchess Satine made for a likeable lead, despite constantly arguing pacifism even at times when simple logic would suffice. Following her as the Republic and its allies failed her at every turn was affectively frustrating, and even if her survival in the Coruscant streets was a bit too luck-and-convenience-based, once Obi-wan arrived as her protector, the tension amped up considerably and there was more then one sniper-aiming shot when I worried her time may have come. That’s a testament to how strong a character they’ve built with Satine. We lose guest characters very often on this show, and it’s nice to get a solid new reoccurring heroine we can look forward to returning again.

And speaking of reoccurring characters, the ensemble of appearances this week was another of this episode’s great strengths. Palpatine was appropriately two-faced. Sidious was appropriately creepy. Dooku got to play both pious servant and wisdom-toting master. Mas Ameda was given form for the first time on The Clone Wars, and given a personality for the first time anywhere. Pre Vizsla had far too little to do, but his outburst to Dooku at the end was powerful and bodes well for his future in this series. And, finally, it was great to see Padme play a relevant role and be a character in her own right apart from Anakin.

Rounding out the positive side of things, I have to say that I love Coruscant as an environment. Building off of what we saw in 2.11 (Lightsaber Lost), we’re given more of the planet than ever in this episode and the busy streets, eerie courtyards, and regal cityscapes made for a tense, cool, and realistic sci-fi environment. Major kudos to the Clone Wars team for constantly outdoing themselves in the setting and atmosphere departments.

If only the DeathWatch themselves had been given such rigorous attention. My final complaint is not one against this episode in particular, but against this first Mandalore trilogy as a whole. By trilogy’s end, I feel like we know as little about DeathWatch (their character, their values, and their motivations) as we did at the end of its first part. It was tantalizing to see Pre Vizsla standing before so large an Army – and I hope the implications of DeathWatch’s size and reach pay off in future episodes – but for now we’re left wondering where exactly a band of honor-based warriors are meant to belong in this conflict.

I wasn’t particularly impressed by how quickly Vizsla gave up against Obi-wan in 2.12 (The Mandalore Plot) and I’m even less impressed by how quickly the DeathWatch assassin ran from his charge of killing Satine in this week’s installment. By running away from his mission as soon as the going got tough, this so-called warrior became single-handedly responsible for spoiling Dooku and Vizsla’s plan. There was more than enough going on in this episode to cover for DeathWatch’s lack of involvement, but in the future I hope these guys are able to truly rise to the occasion as formidable villains – both by the uniqueness of their motivations as well as by the merit of their actions. No more running, please.

The Rub: While I appreciate a lot of what was attempted here -- including both the very real-world Republic intervention debate and the very hard-boiled conspiracy cover-up -- it’s an absolute shame that neither of these plots were capable of being carried through to even a logical conclusion since they ultimately slammed into each other and a deus ex machine ending fell out. Lofty ideas, great ensemble character-work, a brilliant environment, and some truly tense action were marred by the incoherent crisscrossing of incongruous thematic material with disparate character points-of-view. Still, it’s nice to see a depth to the proceedings not even attempted in the first season of the show. 3.5 stars.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.03 - What Kate Does

A solid episode with more characterwork in it than action or mystery-busting, but fans crying foul on this one would do well to remember there was a time (yes, even last season) when not every episode had to provide major answers as long as it progressed the story. Yes, this is the final season, but if LOST stopped making room for its elaborate character archs, then it would lose it's identity. Episodes like this (and many more character-centred ones before it) will be thought of more kindly in the time-preserved DVD viewing cavalcade than they are now with everyone clamoring for answers. My stance? You can't do anything about it, so just sit back and enjoy what you're given! Personally, I didn't even notice this was a "slower" episode until I went online afterward and viewer comments informed me that it was. (Of course the ABC marketers aren't doing the writers any favors any by promising globe-shattering answers in ever commercial.)

But what did we learn?

The Altered Universe: We still don't have enough info yet to know where the writers are going with this, so all bets are off. But two varieties of clues appeared this episode that might help us start thinking in the right direction. Like Jack looking in the Flight 815 mirror last week, we were given a few more Recognitions - moments where characters seem to identify with people/things they wouldn't normally had it not been for occurences in the Original Timeline. First, while escaping from the airport in the taxi, Kate's focus lingered just a bit too long on Jack standing in line out the window. And, second, I'll be darned if the name "Aaron" didn't ring a dozen bells in Kate's head when Claire first spat it out. Of course Claire was surprised to have pulled the name out of nowhere as well, but she did this previously back in 1.23 (Exodus, Part I) so perhaps that's just something that can be chalked up to fate. Which brings me to the other clue variety: some things just seem to be destined, no matter what timeline we're in. Claire's destined to decide to keep Aaron as much as Kate's destined to set aside her selfish/criminal tendencies for their well-being. The Island might be on the bottom of the ocean in the Altered Universe, but you know what they say about "the more things change."

The Others and Who They Protect: As I mentioned last week, we'll know what these guys are up to when we understand the full agendas of Jacob and the Man in Black (MIB), but we did get a few more clues to cracking the code of their behavior this week. They may want Resurrected Sayid dead, but they seem pretty hell-bent on protecting the rest of our Temple-visiting heroes. Yeah, the Others are notorious liars, but I fully believed Dogen (the Japanese Temple-master) when he said he wanted to keep Sawyer at the Temple to protect him, and look at how quickly he jumped to protect Jack from the effects of that poison pill. Maybe it's just 'cause their names were on Jacob's note (from Hurley's ankh-filled guitar case), or maybe it's just 'cause they don't want them joining up with the MIB, but Jack and co. are clearly on the 'Good' list at the moment, or at least on the 'Keep Safe Until The Moment We Can Best Use Them" list. This was highlit near the end of the episode when overly-helpful Other Justin shouted "He might be one of them!" in protest to douchebag Other Aldo's attempt to shoot Jin. Someone must have neglected to give Aldo the memo.

The Others and The Free Will Factor: The other major answer-chunks we were given on the Others' methodologies were two examples of their needing our heroes to CHOOSE to do something rather then forcing an outcome on them. Dogen sent Kate after Sawyer because he needed Sawyer to choose to return. Likewise he wanted Jack to offer Sayid the "medicine" because Sayid need to choose to take it. Odd behavior from people who don't need to ask permission to torture someone. The survivors were like insects to these people ("shoot them.") until they found Jacob's note and realized they needed something from them. As soon as the Others need something from someone they have to ask. They don't play nice about it mind you - they're willing to set you up, lie, and use duped intermediaries to request something from you, but the Free Will Factor is somehow important. Part of the oft-mentioned "Rules" perhaps? Certain behaviors of theirs from past seasons follows this line of thinking: In 2.22 (Three Minutes) they couldn't just go free Ben from the Hatch -- they needed Michael to want to go free Ben. And they couldn't just kidnap Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley this time - they needed Michael to convince them to come of their own free will. In 3.06 (I Do), Ben needed Jack to want to save his life (through spinal surgery). And of course, the big one, in 5.06 (316) Ben and his off-island Others needed the Oceanic 6 to choose to board Ajira Flight 316 - though an intermediary (Illana) was once again needed to trick Sayid into allowing it. Determining why and when this free will necessity rears its head in the Others' actions should prove a significant part of solving their (and Jacob's) agenda - and perhaps even the way the Island itself works.

The Island and The Fate Factor: In what may have been the most important moment of the night, Jack asks Temple-master Dogen how he came to be on the Island, Dogen tells us he was "brought here like everyone else". When Jack asks what he means, Dogen says "You know exactly what I mean." Jack does know exactly what Dogen means. So does Michael. When Mr. Friendly told Michael that the Island wouldn't let him commit suicide in 4.08 (Meet Kevin Johnson) it was because the Island wasn't finished with him yet. We can infer from this that the same Island-hold was on Jack when his suicide attempt was serindipitously thrwarted in 3.22 (Through The Looking Glass)'s first flash-forward. Before this, the Island haunted Jack into a broken man through Hurley's comments, visions of his father -- as seen in 4.10 (Something Nice Back Home) -- and Locke's pleas -- as seen in 5.07 (The Life and Death of Jermey Benthem). The Island doesn't let people go easily, but apparently it selects them from the beginning -- much as Locke argued as early as Season 1. Thanks to 5.16 (The Incident) we know that Jacob touched many of our heroes at various points in their lives. We also know that the MIB accused Jacob of having "brought" the distantly seen pirate ship (presumably the Black Rock) to the Island in the opening of the same episode. So whether it's the Island's doing or Jacob's, our heroes have something in common with all the Others (and apparently "everyone else" on the Island) -- they were brought here. No indiginous inhabitence about it.

The Sickness: This one's exciting. Two mysteries I defined last week -- "The MIB and Possession" and "Sayid's Ressurrection" can now be lumped together under the heading of a very old and early mystery: the Sickness, dating back to 1.09 (Solitary) when Sayid first met Danielle Rousseau who claimed to have shot her fellow French scientist because they got sick. We then got to see this first hand through time-travelling Jin in 5.05 (This Place is Death). It seemed directly associated with the Smoke Monster... but perhaps it wasn't. Yes, we still need the answers to what the Sickness is and where it comes from, but at least we're pulling all these loose threads together finally. Dogen's best explanation of it is that Sayid has been "claimed" - I think it's important to note that he did not use the word "possessed" - there is NOT another entity/being inside Sayid's body (in the same way the MIB is dressed up as Locke), but Sayid is losing his self. Is this the same thing that happened when Richard warned Kate and Sawyer that there would be consequences if the Others healed Little Ben in 5.11 (Whatever Happened, Happened)? I think not. The Others seemed to rate Ben's recovery as a success. Sayid's Ressurrection has clearly been viewed as something entirely different. We did end this topic exploration with one last revelation-bomb, however: Dogen tells us that what's happeing to Sayid -- happened to Claire (referred to as Jack's sister). This is frightening news for our favorite Australian mother, though it does throw the "What Happened to Claire?" mystery neatly into the same pile as the others mentioned above. And some people complain things aren't coming together!

Miles' Power: Miles has a very different power than Hurley's. Hurley sees visions; Miles reads minds -- dead minds, mosty -- from which he extracts their final thoughts. But Miles has given us reason to believe his ability can also tap into the minds of the living to some extent in 4.08 (Meet Kevin Johnson) when he told Michael on the Freighter that he knew Michael was lying about his name being Kevin, and that "80% of the people on this boat are lying about something." Maybe he doesn't know what precisely, but he's clearly got connections. So when Miles stares intently at Ressurrected Sayid in this episode with a look of worried consternation, you know something's up with Sayid - and it ain't good. And I'm sure it's no coincidence that the last time we caught Miles staring intently at someone like this was in the side-plot of 4.10 (Something Nice Back Home) when he, Sawyer, and Claire were journeying back to the beach from the destroyed Dharma barracks. Sawyer comedically puts a "restraining order" on Miles when he catches Miles staring at Claire. This is shortly before Miles becomes the only person to have witnessed Claire walk off into the jungle with her ghost-dad, Christian Shepard (The MIB?). Some people actually speculated if Claire were already somehow dead at this point. Now we know she had somehow contracted the Sickness. But Miles knew right away that something was up with then, and Sayid now. Watch for Miles to be an important player in figuring the Sickness out.

Jacob's Agenda: This is a vast mystery topic, of course, but I do want to raise attention to a single curiousity. The Others (Jacob's Followers) clearly want Sayid dead now, but it was under Jacob's orders that Hurley brought Sayid to the Temple in the first place. Were the Others simply too late in helping Sayid, or did Jacob predict, expect, and want Sayid to become "claimed" by the Sickness? Hopefully, we'll know soon.

That's it for mysteries, but here are a couple "CharacterWatch" items in which I'll track the motivations, behavior, and story-archs of the central characters:

CharacterWatch - Jack:
I wanted to cheer for Jack last night: this is the first time he's stood up and said "NO, I WILL NOT PUT UP WITH YOUR BULLS**T, ISLAND" since he's returned. He took a bullet for Sayid here by refusing to accept Dogen's "medicine" pill and risking his own safety to discover the truth -- and that's the Jack I remember and love from Seasons 1 - 3. Season 4 Jack was unable to look reality in the face and doggedly pushed to get off Island no matter what ugly truths came to surface about their would-be-rescuers from the freighter. Season 5 Jack bitterly realized what a blinded jerkface Season 4 Jack had been and after a lot of drinking and pill-popping set off on a "wherever the wind blows me" faith-in-the-island-centered return. Since then he's been apathetic toward everything (including the wellbeing of his fellow survivors) except the Farday-given, destiny-fulfiling mission to blow up the future in 5.16 (The Incident). But something's changed in our doctor: I think Juliet's death has woken old Jack up again. And, no, he won't lose the component of faith he gained, but nor will he remain the wind-blown apathetic jerkface of yester-season. Welcome back, Jack!

CharacterWatch - Kate:
Kate seems to get a lot of flak from LOST fans. This is probably a combination of two things: Her story-arch often seems removed from the mythology elements of the show, and her flip-flopping of feelings between Jack and Sawyer drives anyone who prefers a single one of those pairings mad. And of course those people drive everyone else mad, so everyone else tires of hearing about the "Love Triangle" plot at all even though it only takes up a small amount of actual screen time in the scheme of the show. Yet other fans go on and on ceaselessly about how selfish she is. It's not that the other characters aren't selfish at times, too, mind you, it's just that they're far better at being "Super Cool" while doing it.

While Kate's far from my favorite character on the show, I DO enjoy her storyline quite a bit, and don't find it to be as much of a muddle as some who claim there's no rhyme or reason to why she'll favor Sawyer or Jack at any given moment. The answer to this is simple: she favors them both. She loves Jack for the ideals and heroism he embodies; She loves Sawyer because she identifies with him. She shies away from Jack at times because his ideals can be oppressive; and she shies away from Sawyer at times because she doesn't LIKE the part of herself he embodies - the selfish, born to run part. This dynamic is set up very clearly in 2.09 (What Kate Did) and she has followed it very consistantly ever since.

She constantly goes out of her way to "save" both of the men she loves - an action that never seems to be fully appreciated by either, frustrating her and sending her ping-ponging back and forth between them. Once the abandoned Aaron is dropped in her lap, however, she's given new purpose and refocuses her devotions from the guys to Aaron. But the Island beckons, and she soon realizes her motherood is a lie and devotes herself to rescuing Claire as presented in 5.11 (Whatever Happened, Happened). Sure her feelings for both Jack and Sawyer are still in play when she returns to the Island in Season 5 (such things never go away completely), but her ultimate goal has new definition and displays impressive heroism.

Which brings us to Season 6. She's the same Kate -- she's still "born to run," she's nice to Jack, and she once again tries to "save" Sawyer -- but she's also still focused on her central goal of rescuing Claire, and this weeks' outing was named "What Kate Does" for a reason. By episode's end, she made a decision -- a difficult one, and what felt like a very final one: she walked away from Sawyer. After a heartfelt cry for Juliet, for Sawyer, and - yes - for herself. There comes a moment in all impossible relationships (or potential relationships) when you realize that it's finally, truly, completely OVER. There can be no going back. The end of an era has arrived and what remains... is emptiness. Kate breaks down under that reality, but after letting it out, she fills up her canteen, puts her torch for Sawyer to rest, and sets out after Claire, accepting that, as Sawyer said at the dock, "Some people are meant to be alone." The rest of the season may prove me wrong, but I think this episode will prove to be a pretty important climax to Kate's "love triangle" and "attachment" character archs. Hopefully she can find redemption in helping Claire somehow.

And that's where we are!

Monday, February 08, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - 2.13 - Voyage of Temptation

How nice to be able to kick off my full episode reviews with handily one of the top five installments yet!

Obi-wan and Anakin defend Duchess Satine from spider-bots and a snivelingly traitorous senator all while the debate between the merits of violent and pacifist methodologies rages on.

This was a fairly simple outing, plot-wise - but then the majority of Clone Wars outings seem to revolve around simple action-based defend/attack/protect/retrieve premises. What the show is getting better and better about doing is filling in the nuance of these stories with ramifications that muddy the moral/ideological value of these seemingly simple objectives. We keep getting more and more cracks in the Jedi methodology as Season 2 proceeds. These often come from Ashoka questioning things, but it's even more powerful to watch a character like Obi-wan (usually a veritable rock of Jedi integrity) taken through the ideological ringer.

While there can be no simple solution to Obi-wan and Satine's argument over Jedi peace-keeping methods, I do wish the back-and-forth hadn't been quite so one-note. There can be compromises on these matters and to hear only black and white opinions stated repeatedly kept things from getting as interesting and/or meaningful as they potentially could have been. But then to hear the debate presented at all is a breath of fresh air for this show (reminiscent of Season 1's "Defenders of Peace"), and even if words didn't lead the debate into as many gray areas as I'd have liked, the characters' actions certainly did. Evil Sniveling Senator Guy may have been a bit too delighted to find himself being threatened by a purported-pacifist, but the question of whether Satine would/could have gone through with shooting him was presented with raw honesty.

It's a bit of a shame that Anakin gave Satine the easy way out... but then his brutal heroism, followed by his splendidly candid simplification of the situation into "Oh, come on, he was going to blow up the ship," was absolutely priceless and one of the best Anakin character moments yet -- a seamless merging of his roguish hero's charm with his darker tendencies high-lit beautifully by a musical hint at John William's Imperial March. Where was this Anakin in the Prequel Trilogy!?

But the jaw-dropper of the night was Obi-wan's honest admission that he would have left the Jedi Order for Satine if she had only asked. Um... wow? I mean, we all know love is the great equalizer -- making all people capable of all things -- but these are strong words from the Jedi usually tasked at keeping Anakin in place. There's a part of the critic in me that would like to be cynical and say this was out of character for Obi-wan and that it wasn't properly led-up to in the series, but the viewer in me bought it entirely and there are times when things that maybe shouldn't work theoretically just work entirely.

It's a testament to the voice-acting and dialogue given to Satine and Obi-wan that they make a believable couple against all odds. That they're both characters who breathe (and are wholly devoted to) their own moral codes and ideologies is what simultaneously makes them a perfect match while making it impossible for them to unite. They both have an adherence to order and principle, sharing the same ultimate goals and values, but the difference in their methods keeps them apart as much as Obi-wan's Jedi vow to remain unattached. Yes, love is the one thing Obi-wan would break his code for, but Satine can never ask him to do so -- he wouldn't be the man she loved anymore if he willingly ditched his values and beliefs. Deep stuff from a show that so many have written-off as kids' entertainment.

So, what else was cool? The ritzy setting. Hyperspace outside the dining room window. Spider probe droids. Spider probe droid babies. Spider probe droid clone puppetry. Anakin and Obi-wan ACTUALLY behaving like buddies (gasp!). R2 getting some quality screen-time. Hunting the cargo bay in the dark (though why exactly it was so dark in there was a bit cheesy/dubious). An on-going story arch that gives its ideas and characters some breathing room.

As a middle-chapter of a multiple episode story-arch, "Voyage of Temptation" served to clarify/strengthen the Obi-wan/Satine pairing while simultaneously revealing just how deep Deathwatch's influence has been planted. If even Mandalore's senator prefers the culture's old warrior ways over Satine's pacifist standing, we have to wonder just who exactly IS Satine speaking for? How many of the common people on Mandalore are behind her abstinence from the war? I feel Satine's side of things has been well-explored now, and hope in future Mandalorian installments that we can get a strengthened sense of just how deep wartime honor is ingrained in the culture. This would go a long way in framing the Mandalorians as a unique set of villains in the future of the series, rather than just another bunch of typically-devious Separatists. I could see them being an X-factor in the war, switching sides on occasion depending on where true military honor lies in a given situation.

The Rub: A great combination of action and intrigue infused with deep moral issues and refreshingly solid characterizations. I like Satine as a character, but even better is what she's brought out in both Obi-wan and Anakin. I don't think I've ever liked these guys more, and in a show where they're vying for attention with other Jedi, far more complex Clone characterizations, and the compellingly naive and open-minded outlook of Ahsoka... they really needed an episode like this. If I have any niggling complaints they only lie in the simplistic repetition of the arguments presented by Obi-wan and Satine's pacifism debate, along with a need for further clarification, embellishment, and definition of Deathwatch as a unique group of villains. But there's still time for that in future Mandalorin-centered episodes. What was here was great. 4.5 stars.

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - Season 2 So Far

I'll FINALLY jump into my full episode reviews this week, but first - because I haven't completely set aside my idiosyncratic completist tendencies - here are my thoughts on the first 12 episodes of Season 2.

Episodes are rated on a scale of zero to five stars.

2.01 - Holocron Heist: Cad Bane gets all Ethan Hunt on the Jedi Order's posteriors. Exciting intrigue, great villain characterizations, and a surprisingly well-choreographed (if short) lightsaber duel between Ashoka and not-Jocasta Nu. I wish the Jedi didn't come off as quite so incapable of protecting their own home, though. I'm happy to see Cad Bane win here - but I'd have liked to see our heroes put up a bit of a better fight. 3.5 stars.

2.02 - Cargo of Doom: Anakin and Ashoka confront Cad Bane on a Separatist cruiser in an attempt to retrieve the stolen Holocron. The time skip from the end of the previous episode to the beginning of this one was a bit startling, and I didn't like seeing the usually creatively-resourceful Cad Bane reduced to being the commander of a Separatists ship and droid army, but the action beats here were stellar enough to make up for those things. The zero-gravity sequence alone earns a spot in this series' action-set-piece hall of fame. Landing the troop carriers on the Separatist ship was great as well, but too short-lived of a sequence to live up to its potential. Anakin being manipulated into unlocking the Holocron made for a tense sequence and a good character beat (Ashoka having become just as much a liability to his conscience as Padme) -- but I do wish they'd do a better job (perhaps in editing) of showing exactly why our heroes can't just "use the Force" to solve all their problems. Only after Bane moved his arm away from the trigger was Anakin willing to make a grab for Ahsoka... but this could have been better and more clearly played. When dealing with heroes who can seemingly "do anything," extra special attention must be paid to explain clearly why they choose not to in a given time/situation. That said, this installment was otherwise exquisitely paced and delivered. The subtle tip-off of Cad Bane's escape method was also a nice touch. 4 stars.

2.03 - Children of the Force: Obi-wan, Mace, Anakin, and Ahsoka take us on a universe tour as they chase down Cad Bane and foil Darth Sidious' plot to steal and corrupt Force-sensitive children. This is a tough one. There is SO much cool stuff in this episode: the story idea is great, Cad Bane's trickery is great, Darth Sidious' truly evil plot is a nice break from the usual Separatist invasion antics, the Jedi's patented triple-mindfreak was cool, Ahsoka's worried look in reaction was even cooler, the multitude of locations was visually dynamic, et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. BUT -- and this is a big "but" -- slow. the heck. down. This episode's greatest achievement is also it's greatest failure: it could have and should have been feature length. So much happened so fast, that nothing is fleshed out as much as it should have been, and the audience is given no chance to appreciate and/or feel the true impact of anything. Also, that baby Gungan was one of the most hideous thing's I've ever seen. Give me Rotta the Hutt any day over that thing! 3.5 stars.

2.04 - Senate Spy: The Jedi send Padme to spy on an old flame who has begun dealing with the Separatists. Anakin's jealousy ensues. Woah - they slowed down! It's like they knew we needed a moment to breathe after jamming two hours of content into twenty minutes last episode. The Anakin/Padme dynamic on this show could still use an injection of personality, but 1) it's a huge-improvement over the sickeningly bad dialogue of the prequel films, and 2) I truly, truly appreciate them taking the time to focus on it properly. Padme and Anakin's love for her are clearly at the center of Anakin's future downfall, and while it never felt like enough of a real/believable motivation in the films, this show is giving it the second chance it deserves to win and break our hearts. It still needs work, but that they're working on it at all is VERY impressive for an action-based show and I look forward to more character-centered episodes like this one. Also I love how coldly and easily Anakin leaves Padme's Separatist-collaborator ex-lover to his fate. Nice to know Padme is already bringing out the worst in him! 3.5 stars.

2.05 - Landing at Point Rain: Anakin, Obi-wan, and Mace land... at Point Rain apparently. Okay, if the last episode was all character and no action, then here we have all action and no character. It was damned good action, mind you - some of the best general scope and cinematic flavor we've seen on this show - but absolutely nothing else. If it weren't all so consistently entertaining (and if they hadn't just shown us how character-rich they could be last episode) I'd complain about this more, but as it stands the execution of "Point Rain" is truly impressive on a level of scale we haven't yet encountered. Still, rather handing us episodes that are all either action or character-work, I'd find a seamless blend of the two to be far more praiseworthy. 3.5 stars.

2.06 - Weapons Factory: Ahsoka and fellow padawan Barriss Offee join forces to infiltrate the new Geonosian weapons factory while their masters (Anakin and Luminara) provide a military distraction. Ask and you shall receive, apparently! "Weapons Factory" offers the best mix of action and character-work yet in Season 2. We get to see the Jedi worldviews of Anakin and Luminara butt heads, and even if nobody believed Ahsoka and Barriss were actually goners, the fact that they were ready and willing to make the ultimate sacrifice was a great character moment for the two apprentices of differing styles. It's nice the technical know-how Anakin has passed on to Ahsoka has come in handy (would have been nice to see him teaching this), though it's ultimately Anakin's unwillingness to give up that keeps Ahsoka going here while Barriss is busy accepting her fate. It's too bad Luminara's "oh well" attitude comes off as mostly lame and not as a legitimate opposing view to Anakin's never-say-die gruffness. 4 stars.

2.07 - Legacy of Terror: Obi-wan and Anakin dive into a world of Geonosian catacombs, zombies, and one big ugly bug in order to rescue Luminara. Wonderfully creepy, great imagery, worthwhile use of the Geonosians (for the first time in my opinion), and some truly funny banter among the Jedi once they reach the Queen's chamber. Like the previous episode, a solid blend of action and character, but also like the previous episode, I wish Luminara was a more likable character. I'm happy to see some of the other Jedi finally GETTING character, but I'd enjoy her a bit more as something other than a stick-in-the-mud with the survival instinct of a side of roast beef. Maybe if they'd give us a chance to understand her point of view a bit more it wouldn't be so frustrating. 4 stars.

2.08 - Brain Invaders: The creepfest continues as Ahsoka and Barriss find themselves alone aboard a ship of Geonosian-worm-infected-zombified Clone troopers. Easily the best of the season, and one of the best of the series. The Ahsoka-Barriss pairing shines here with the two padawans discussing (and questioning!) Jedi methodologies and Ahsoka ultimately having to find her own answer to the question of when it's time to sacrifice a friend. Add to this rich character base, Anakin's first force-choke (backed by the Imperial-Freaking-March!) and his growing willingness to break rules to save Ahsoka, and "Brain Invaders" becomes perhaps one of the best outings for both Anakin and Ahsoka yet. Finally they can start to contend with those well-developed Clone trooper characters that seemed to hog the spotlight last season! Oh, and did I mention that the action beats, horror veneer, and disturbingly cool Alien-esque vibe all worked beautifully? 'Cause they did. The only thing I would have liked to see here was a bit more drawing of lines between points A and B character-wise. Ahsoka starts questioning some Jedi tactics with Barriss and is forced to put them to the test here... but how does this impact her? How about Barriss, did she learn anything? It's true that to draw these lines by spelling things out too obviously could border on overkill, but nuanced writing can convey such things without overstating them. On The Clone Wars, however, whenever character or thematic lines aren't clearly drawn, it's usually the fault of not enough being said at all. This might seem like a harsh criticism, but that I'm even making it means this show has just jumped to the next level. It's brought it's A-game - I now know what it's capable of - and I'm going to start holding it to higher standards! I want to give a 5-star rating, dammit! 4.5 stars.

2.09 - Grievous Intrigue: Anakin and Obi-wan rush to the rescue when General Grevious kidnaps Jedi Eeth Koth. It was a bit odd to see the entire Jedi Order rally so quickly behind a rescue mission after the whole Geonosian episode arch seemed to establish (through Luminara and Barriss) that attachments and rescue attempts of their own were not the Jedi way... but this is a good example of what I said last episode about unclear character/thematic through-lines on this show. Needs work! But other than that we got some solid if fairly standard stuff here. Exciting and fun action sequences ruled the day. It was nice to see two new Jedi characters introduced (Eeth Koth and Adi Gallia) and I look forward to seeing them given personalities, but the real character-work that shined here was Grevious himself. Clearly the same snidely ruthless character as always, but this time around he seemed well-motivated and, dare I say, WHOLE as a character. Is his attitude toward the Jedi the result of last season's defeats? I'd love to see more establishment on this, but still, the insults he and Obi-wan exchanged while dueling went a long way to firm up his character and distinguish him from the Separatist crowd. I hope Assaj Ventress is given the same treatment soon! 4 stars.

2.10 - The Deserter: While chasing the escaping General Grevious, Captain Rex meets up with a Clone trooper who has ditched The Republic and adopted a family. This episode was hurt a bit by its two plotlines never quite gelling well, but the farmhouse/clones plotline was so strong that this wasn't a major issue. "The Deserter" is the latest in the great Clone character development episode series, following in the footsteps of Season 1's "Rookies" and "The Hidden Enemy." Rex and Cut's points of view were both well-argued and the compromise of defense and honor being in their blood brought them to a mutual respect and understanding. A great character arch for a story that only took up half an episode. Add to this the Signs-esque farmhouse raid by the always-cool Commando droids, and there's some classic stuff here. Top notch, but I wish there'd been more of it. The standard Grievous battle scenes didn't do much for me on the heels of the much better Grievous material in the last episode. I love that the writers are willing to continue storylines across mutli-episode archs, but it isn't ALWAYS necessary. The farmhouse/clone plot could have handily carried the whole episode - and should have. 4 stars.

2.11 - Lightsaber Lost: Ahsoka teams up with ancient Jedi Master Tera Sinube to hunt down her stolen lightsaber. Wow - another well drawn character story with a clear through line! That's two in a row, and this one was even given the full episode to develop! This was a great stand-alone story, introduced a fun new character (Jedi Columbo), featured mystery, intrigue, our best journey yet into the sleezy Coruscant underworld, and some on foot chase sequences in the style of Casino Royale's inspired free-running footfest. The crime story here wasn't the deepest of endeavors, nor were the two femme fatales particularly inspiring or intriguing, but this was mostly alleviated by the character strength of the Ahsoka/Sinube pairing, great setting, and great chase sequences. 4 stars.

2.12 - The Mandalore Plot: Obi-wan journeys to the once warrior-driven world of Mandalore to address allegations that their pacifist leader, Duchess Satine, is secretly making deals with the separatists. While the narrative through-line of this episode wasn't the strongest, a strong blend of character, intrigue, and action beats carried the day. The banter between Satine and Obi-wan was satisfying and fun, hinting at a past relationship between the two, and over-powering anything we've seen between Anakin and Padme in this franchise. THIS is how romantic tension is done, people! The Mandolorians themselves were cool, but other than their leader, Pre Vizsla, they don't seem much more formidable than your average Clone Trooper. Hopefully they'll prove me wrong in coming episodes. Vizsla himself was cool as well, offering a hint at a different kind of ruthless, honor/glory-bound, warrior race - but the fact that he ultimately hid behind his men when the going got tough in his duel with Obi-wan was eminently disappointing. I really, REALLY want these guys to distinguish themselves from the host of cowardly Separatist villains we're used to seeing. Likewise, I hope we can get a better grasp on how Mandalore as a culture is influenced by its warrior roots (as opposed to just these Deathwatch guys). At least the darksaber was awesome. 4 stars.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.01/02 - LA X

I'm naming my weekly LOST episode column "Where Are We?" both in acknowledgment of the show's primary question, as well as this column's mission: to analyze where we as viewers are in understanding this crazy, wonderful show. I hope to do this by breaking down the multitude of questions and mysteries into as few bullets as possible each episode, clarifying what about a given topic has been confirmed/answered by an episode, as well as what has been confirmed and/or introduced as a legitimate mystery. Here goes:

The Altered Universe: The world "alternate" seems to denote a subordinate status, so let's call this the "altered" universe until we know what exactly it really is and where it belongs in the pecking order. There are of course a bajillion niggling little questions about what's going on in the AU (Desmond's sudden appearance and disappearance, slightly remixed versions of characters and their back stories, moments where characters seem to know there's something odd going on and/or some connection to the Original Timeline) -- but all of this pairs down to the single broad question of: What is the Altered Universe and how is it connected to what's going on? I don't feel we have enough info to soundly approach this yet (though we can speculate 'til the cows come home), so I'll abstain at present. Suffice to say: it's cool, it's intriguing, it's sentimental, and I hope it pays off big-time with a nifty connection to the Original Timeline (hinted at by Juliet's Charlotte-like, possibly-time/reality-jumping, last words and message from beyond-the-grave.

Electromagnetic Explosions: If LOST is overly mysterious, at least it's consistent in its presentation of some of the more major mysteries. What the hell happened that allowed anyone to survive the crash of the 815 Fuselage in 1.01 (Pilot)? What the hell happened that allowed anyone to survive the Swan Hatch implosion in 2.24 (Live Together, Die Alone)? What the hell happened that allowed anyone to survive the H-bomb detonation that was the Incident in 5.17 (The Incident)? Whatever the specifics are, the answer is: the same thing. This is primarily suggested by the presence of a large burst of electromagnetism at each of these occurrences (usually accompanied by blinding light), as well as the manner in which the survivors of such incidents awaken: on their backs in the jungle (accompanied by extreme eye close-ups) with a touch of hearing-impairment. Jack got this wake-up treatment after the plane crash in 1.01 (The Pilot), Locke got it after the hatch implosion in 3.03 (Further Instructions), and now Kate gets it after the H-bomb in 6.01 (LA X). The Will of The Island or Island Magic or The Hand of Fate (whatever you'd like to call it) can clearly rip people out of immediate peril and time jump them whenever it likes (often perhaps only seconds/minutes later) to save their lives. Many 815 fuselage crash survivors clearly benefited from this, the quartet down in the hatch benefited from this, and now our A-Team characters have not only been saved but returned to the present. In all likelihood it's this same Island ability that ripped four of them off the Ajira 315 and into 1977 to begin with in 5.06 (315), accompanied - of course - by flashes of light and waking up in the jungle an eye close-up (Jack again).

Hurley's Power: "Can he really speak to the dead or is it just the Island/Jacob sending him visions?" has been a question since Charlie first popped up at Santa Rosa in 4.01 (The Beginning of the End). Here we get confirmation for the first time that he CAN speak to at least one dead person: the dead Jacob. But there's still a chance that it's been Jacob in different forms the whole time anyway, so maybe his power is just that he can speak with Jacob, alive or dead, on-island or off.

The Man In Black (MIB): Next to the AU, the MIB is the other Big mystery (yes, with a capital B!) of the Season 6 premiere. We now have confirmation of the very largely hinted at and implied revelation that the MIB is both Fake Locke as well as Smokey the Monster. We also have the second piece of his agenda: to go home. (The first piece being, of course, to kill Jacob). All the gazillion questions about the MIB can be summed up under the header question: "Who Is The Man In Black And What's His Story?" When we know this - and I have confidence that we will - we'll know why he's up to the things he's up to, what his relationship is with both Jacob and the Others (he's "disappointed" in them), and why getting into Locke's body and killing Jacob has so clearly turned the tables for him. Judging by Richard's expression at his identity-revelation, the MIB has been dormant for quite some time, so what measures did the Others previously take in trying to prevent the MIB from gaining the current corporeal power he seems to now have. They've evidently always known how to repel Smokey (with ash circles), but they've never seemed quite this afraid of him before. Ben even actually called on his aid during Keamy's raid on the Ex-Dharmaville in 4.09 (The Shape of Things to Come). What's changed exactly? Could they not have known he was the Smoke monster? Perhaps Jacob's mere presence on the Island had been enough to keep him in check before...

The Others: Season 2 established them as the Island's original inhabitants and protectors. Season 3 refined them into the followers of Jacob. As we now slowly learn more about Jacob and his Nemesis, their role comes further into focus and most of the questions about who they are, why they employ such strict/cruel methods to carry out their mission, why they choose only very specific outsiders to join them, and what their group structure and goals are -- can all be lumped into the single question "What Is Jacob's Agenda?" and the related question of "How Did the Others Come to Work For Him?" When we know these things, everything else that's weird and inexplicable about the Others should fall into place. Hopefully this will include "the Rules" that Charles Widmore apparently broke, as well as how the Others are intrinsically connected to the Island (unaffected by the Season 5 time skips that affected the outsiders), and what it means to be banished from their ranks: was Widmore literally branded for his crimes with the same way Juliet was in 3.09 (Stranger in a Strange Land)? Is this physical mark and banishment the reason Juliet suffered the Season 5 time skips with the rest of our outsider heroes?

Illana and the "What Lies in the Shadow of the Statue" Folks: We have yet to be given a simple name for the team of pro-Jacob enthusiasts that arrived via Ajira 315, but they're pretty clearly NOT directly connected to the others. Richard doesn't know them, even though the MIB address them dismissively as "Jacob's Bodyguards." So where do they fit into all this? This is an open mystery.

The MIB and Bodies: In 5.08 (La Fleur), 1970s Richard made a big fuss over wanting to collect that dharma dude Paul's body. Are the others so concerned about leaving dead bodies around the Island because they know the MIB can use them as avatars? (Christian, Yemi, Now Locke). If so, this is a bit inconsistent. Richard didn't seem too worried about letting Ben leave his dad's body in the VW van. Also, they left the entire Dharma Initiative in an open mass grave, but perhaps that was filled with magic ash. Also someone ought to let them know there's a whole buffet of avatars available on the 815ers beachfront village...

The MIB and Possession: Related to the "Bodies" matter, but a good bit different. Now that we know there's still a body around when Smokey/MIB takes the form of the dead (Locke's body carried to the beach by "Jacob's Bodyguards"), we have to wonder what different "power" of his allowed him to take possession of the living. I'm referring of course to "the Sickness" that Rousseau's team endured when they entered the walls around the Temple as seen in 5.05 (This Place is Death). They were pretty clearly not dead when they emerged since Rousseau was subsequently able to kill them. So what exactly did MIB do to them and why? If it was just a matter of wanting the French science team killed off, this seems a bit extraneously circuitous for a monster that can smash people into trees.

Sayid's Resurrection: The Season 6 premiere's cliffhanger deals closely with these matters of bodies and resurrection since Sayid has now undergone some kind of change. This is pretty clearly not the MIB's doing, since we've never been given reason to think he can be in two places at once. Plus we're given every reason to believe that his resurrection is the will of Jacob, not the MIB. Has he been possessed by Jacob? Or is his resurrection more akin to whatever the Others and Jacob did to young Ben in 1977? Reborn but somehow changed... We shall see.

And that's where we are!

Oh, Screw It!

As you can tell by the copious amount of Season 2 Clone Wars reviews below this post (read: none), I haven't really been able to get in the groove of this whole "blogging" thing. I mean, they tell me you have to post more than two times a month for a single month in order to call yourself a "blogger." Normally I'd say "pfft" to this kind of negative attitude, but something tells me they're probably right.

So I'm officially saying "oh, screw it!" to the notion that I have to catch up on reviewing past episodes in order to write about new/current ones. It's been so much of a chore to think about finding thoughts on the old when my mind is on the new that I haven't succeeded in writing anything at all. Seriously - look at me. I decided if I wanted to review a single Clone Wars episode, I had to first write an entire expose' on the whole damn franchise! What a lunatic!

So now that LOST is back and I can't even imagine trying to go back and catch up on logging my thoughts on seasons 1-5, I'm going to switch mentalities and just blog on "the new."

Expect current LOST reviews, as well as current Star Wars: The Clone Wars reviews. And if you're wondering what I've thought of The Clone Wars Season 2 so far, let's just say the steady rate of improvement the show has sustained on all fronts this season is impressive -- most impressive.