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...
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!
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