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

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.11 – Happily Ever After

Desmond has a history of mind-bending episodes with unique story-telling structures. In 3.08 (Flashes Before Your Eyes), the burst of electromagnetic energy that destroyed the Swan Hatch flashed Desmond's present consciousness into his past. In 4.05 (The Constant), the Island's time-disconnect barrier flashed his past consciousness into his present. Then, in 5.01 (Because You Left), Daniel Faraday was able to send Desmond a message in the future by speaking to Desmond's past self because the burst of electromagnetic energy that started all this for Desmond, apparently rendered him an exception to the rules of that limit everyone else. Now, in 6.11 (Happily Ever After), Charles Widmore has been made aware of Desmond's exceptional gift and -- having an as-yet-unknown need to send someone into the heart of an electromagnetic burst on the Island -- Widmore runs a test on Desmond to make sure he's truly electromagnetism-proof. Widmore's test is successful, but the test-burst is enough to flash Desmond's consciousness into his Altered Universe self, thus finally and officially closing the gap between this season's AU and Original Timeline story-telling.

The Altered Universe:
No more speculation: The AU characters can officially access their Original Timeline memories. And the link between the two universes seems closely connected with death: Since 6.01 (LA X), fans have speculated that Juliet's consciousness jumped into the AU briefly before dying -- inviting someone (most likely AU Sawyer) to coffee, and leaving Miles with the postmortem message that "It worked." This week, AU Charlie -- choking to death in the Oceanic 815 bathroom -- was given a vision of Claire and felt his OT love for her in full. He then woke AU Desmond up to the OT by granting him an underwater near-death experience that brought OT Penny to AU Desmond's mind. And, one MRI later, AU Desmond had experienced his OT love for Penny in full as well. It's important to note their gut reactions to these hidden memories: AU Charlie instantly determined that his vision was a window into a world more real, true, and important than anything in his current existence. Now this may just be AU Charlie's reaction to glimpsing a life better than his current crappy drug-addicted police-nabbed existence, but it also may be a hint at a "secondary" or "lesser" status being attributed to existence in the AU when compared to that of the OT. On the topic of the AU, Charlie may agree with naysaying fans that "none of this really matters," but if the general direction of this week's episode was any indication, both Charlie and those anti-AU fans are probably very wrong.

AU Daniel Faraday's OT wake-up call may have broken the "connection with death" chain that Juliet, Charlie, and Desmond forged, but it did share the "love connection" with the other characters' wake-up calls. AU Charlie flashed to Claire. AU Desmond flashed to Penny. OT Juliet may have flashed to AU Sawyer. And for AU Daniel, one look at Charlotte was all his subconscious needed to start whipping out complex physics equations from his subdued OT memories. Exploring the meanings of these equations further -- probably supplemented by further flashes of OT visions and memories -- AU Daniel actually figured out what his OT self had set out to accomplish, and offers at least his personal confirmation that the AU did indeed burst forth from the 1977 detonation of Jughead within the Swan site's electromagnetic center. Desmond listens, wide-eyed and disbelieving, but all it takes is one touch of his Penny's (his Constant's) hand and his mind is shot back into the OT.

Exactly how much of both universes' experiences the two Desmonds share is a matter for debate, but both seem to have arrived at an enlightened state. OT Desmond isn't frightened of Widmore; He isn't frightened of Sayid; He's seemingly "above all this" and ready to make whatever sacrifice the Island demands. AU Desmond is clearly gripped and thrilled by whatevever knowledge he now possesses of his OT existence, and most importantly: he's ready to spread the joy. He asks Minkowski to fetch him the Flight 815 manifest for the express purpose of "showing" the others what Charlie showed him: the truth. One-by-one, he's going to wake up the other AU characters to the existence of the OT, and the AU will NEVER be the same.

Eloise Widmore/Hawking:
Of course the biggest jaw dropper in the AU -- even bigger than characters finally recalling their OT memories -- was that good ol' Eloise STILL seemed to know EXACTLY what was going on. Is there any universe where this woman is as confused as the rest of us? This had me totally flummoxed at first, bringing back good memories of her first time-altering appearance in 3.08 (Flashes Before Your Eyes). But after thinking about it, I'm pretty confident that she's getting the majority of her apparent universal omnipotence from the same source now in the AU as she did then in the OT: Daniel's Journal. If you'll recall in Season 5, Daniel had the Journal on him when he travelled back to 1977 and was shot by Eloise on-Island. The Journal contained all manner of notes on the the Dharma Initiative, Daniel's experiences and conclusions (the results of his own dabbling in consciousness time travel), and of course that all-important note: "If anything goes wrong, Desmond Hume will be MY constant." We saw Sayid use the journal after Daniel was killed to help dismantle/prepare Jughead, but after that, chances are that OT Eloise kept the book and used it all through her life in order to manipulate both Daniel and Desmond (and maybe even the Oceanic 6) to allow history to repeat itself and allow Daniel/Jack to go forward with their detonation of Jughead. Perhaps all for the single purpose of giving her son a posthumous chance at changing the future and finding a life for himself in an altered universe...

So if the two universes ONLY differ at the point when Jughead was detonated, and share a prior "Whatever Happened, Happened" history... then maybe AU Eloise has OT Daniel's Journal. She could have easily had it on her in 1977 when Jughead detonated, and maybe she has kept it ever since. This would make her fully aware of what her son and Jack accomplished with the creation of the AU, and fully ready to keep Desmond Hume away from the one thing that could definitely wake him up to the reality of the AU: his Constant.

The Importance of the Incident & The Ultimate Course Correction
So if Faraday was right, then when Jughead detonated, the Altered Universe was born. But if Eloise was right (in 3.08 [Flashes Before Your Eyes]) then fate has a way of course correcting so that no matter how you try and change the past, things work out the same. At the moment we know that this process of course correction is at least somewhat underway: afterall, even though the AU was created, the Original Timeline still exists. So if fate/time is attempting to make the ultimate course correction of Jack and Faraday's explosive causality violation, then perhaps only one of the two universes will be able to survive in the end if time/space is to be prevented from collapsing. And if so, then either one universe is going to have to do the noble thing and sacrifice itself for the sake of time/space, or else then it's every universe for itself. In the latter case, then perhaps the two Eloises are both at odds with each other, each the keeper of her own timeline and willing to do whatever it takes to make sure her timeline is carefully preserved (even if, for OT Eloise, this means sacrificing her son). I suspect this week's episode title, "Happily Ever After," will ultimately prove either prophetic or ironic. If prophetic, then the AU is the future for which our OT heroes will nobley and heroically sacrifice themselves. If ironic, then the seemingly "better lives" that many of our characters are living in the AU are doomed to be obliterated for the preservation of the OT, held aloft on the altar as an example of why the Island and its cork-function are so important to the preservation of life as we know it. Either way, the stakes are clearly bigger than just the agendas of either Jacob or the Man In Black.

And that's where we are!

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Star Wars: The Clone Wars - 2.17 - Bounty Hunters

Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka join a group of bounty hunters in defending a group of farmers against a group of pirates.

Before delving into the episode itself, I'd like to register a quick gripe against whomever is coming up with these titles. "Bounty Hunters"-!? Really? At least with "Senate Murders," as dull as the title was, it was specifically applicable to the episode that followed it. Aside from not being the introduction of bounty hunters to The Clone Wars, nor being the definitive bounty hunters episode, "Bounty Hunters," could have just as aptly been titled "Farmers," or "Pirates" or, "Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Ahsoka" and had relatively the same impact. Get a bit more creative, titler(s)!

Title-gripes aside, this was almost a near-perfect Clone Wars episode. If it weren't for a single bungled story element, I might just be hailing "Bounty Hunters" as the most well-rounded, best-executed Clone Wars episode yet. So what worked? Foremost, the Characters! All three of the featured Jedi were given moments to let their personalities shine both heroically and comediacally, and (even better) worked well together as non-dysfunctional team. This was a breath of fresh air from a group who usually can't seem to stop bickering amongst themselves despite being purported friends - and it went a long way toward rendering the on screen viewing experience as something cheer-worthy. The combination of both "cool" and "likable" is a potent one, and while the former has been an effortless hurdle for Anakin and Obi-Wan over the course of the series, the second has been more of stumbling block. The trick to avoiding it is clearly letting their camaraderie overshadow their frustrations with each other. I'm not saying the writers should ignore the mentor/pupil angst, but letting it punctuate a routinely functional and effective partner/friendship is plenty more dramatic then letting Anakin and Obi-wan devolve into one-note sourpusses, the way they remained for much of Season 1, not to mention the prequel films themselves.

The trio's functionality alone would have been a boon to the episode's character score, but we're given two other reasons to cheer: the titular bounty hunters themselves and the return of Jim Cummings' Hondo Ohnaka. The squad of hired-to-do-the-right-thing bounty hunters was a well-oiled machine of interesting character concepts and execution. Their leader, Sugi (clearly from that distant planet "Russia"), embodied well the concept that not all bounty hunters in the Star Wars universe need to be corrupt and dishonorable. She wouldn't allow her team to renege on their deal with the Farmers when offered more money by the Pirates, and she developed enough regard for our Jedi heroes to offer them a ride off Felucia. Seripas (reminiscent of the alien prince from Men In Black) had a nice little story-within-the-story about gaining confidence to be strong despite your size. While short and to-the-point, it was nice to see such economic character story-telling work successfully within the greater scope of the episode's primary conflict. And Embo, the total bad-ass with the deadly hat, was so impressive to look at and so expertly animated in combat, that his moves instantly stood out as some of the coolest this series has seen. On the other side of the conflict, bringing back a previously-established pirate enemy was a great move from the writers. Obi-Wan and Anakin having history with Hondo gave the pirate threat (as well as the episode's stand-offs and conflicts) a welcome higher degree of gravity than the usual villain-of-the-week encounters. While Hondo's previous episodes (1.11 [Dooku Captured) and 1.12 [The Gungan General]) were some of the lowest points of Season 1, his character's concept and execution were sound, and Hondo instantly seemed like he could have been very engaging given better material. This proved to be correct in "Bounty Hunters," and I'm glad that it looks like we'll be seeing him again in the future.

The only sour note on the topic of characters this week were the Felucian Farmers themselves. Their design was functional at best, their character development minimal considering how central they were to the conflict, and the one frequently-voiced Felucian character was whiney and obnoxious every time he piped up. Considering how effortlessly the Clone Wars team managed to make Seripas likable and cheer-worthy in only two story beats, you would think these Farmers could have been a bit more memorable/worthwhile even without any more material and/or space to breathe in the already jam-packed episode. Curiously, however, this is almost a non-existent complaint in an episode featuring an otherwise off-the-charts character score.

So what else worked? The action. The battle for the farming village, which rounded out the episode's third act, was by far one of the most well-executed land battles this series has seen. Apart from great moments involving the speeder bikes, and Hondo and Anakin's duel, the entire sequence was made up of one cool "bit" after another, yet flowed extremely well from one segment to the next. The trap the farmers set for some of the bike's was reminiscent of the Battle for Endor in Return of the Jedi, but what this battle really emulated from 'Jedi' was the perfect mix of having many things happening at once, but all parts being both easy to follow and equally gripping. We follow Obi-wan and Suji, Ahsoka and Seripas, Anakin duelling Hondo on his own, Embo kicking butt on his own, Hondo's Kowakian Monkey Lizard mannig a tank, and multiple groups of unnamed farmers and pirates, and it all seagues perfectly with one "hell yeah!" moment following the next. This was exquisite action planning, and even better execution. It was expertly cinematic, a ton of fun, and quite possibly the best extended fight sequence I've ever seen in an animated television show. Add in the usually goofy-looking Felucian environment looking beautiful for (in my opinion) the first time, and "Bounty Hunters" was a corker to watch.

So, about that bungled story element that keeps this from getting highest marks: The story itself was tight enough, consisting of a fairly good spin on the classic "teaching the helpless natives how to fight" narrative, but there was just a bit too much time waisted on Obi-wan going on about how he and his fellow Jedi didn't have time to stick around and help the farmers. This COULD have been an interesting dilemma, and it was presented as such, but it went nowhere and actually disappeared from the story without so much as a farewell nod. The Jedi were stuck on the planet, and if it was so important that they get off ASAP, you would think there'd be a scene of Obi-wan attempting to lead his compatriots away on foot. Or a scene of Anakin and Ahsoka convincing Obi-wan that staying to fight is their best course of action. Or some sort of point to this line of thinking other than providing an uneccessary dose of the usual stick-in-the-mud Jedi order attitude. The Jedi order's policies causing conflict is a potentially interesting plot device and source for drama and character development, and has been in the past, and hopefully will be again in the future, but here it is just thrown out to make Obi-wan seem stodgy, and to provide a false lead for internal conflict that disappears as quickly as it appears. It doesn't harm any of the other awesomness this episode routinely doled out, but it does serve to add a bit of a head-scratch moment to an otherwise smile-inducing experience. 4.5 stars.