January 28, 2009

Lost: "Jughead"

Back in the middle of Season 3, there was talk on the Internet that the producers of Lost were considering a flashback (remember that's all there were back then) centered around the island itself rather than on any of the individual castaways. This flashback would show things like the arrival of the Dharma Initiative and maybe the landing of the Black Rock. While the producers of the show never got around to doing this island-centric episode (preferring instead to tease us with tantalizing hints of island history), it is clear in "Jughead" that Season 5's wildly warping time travel adventures have finally given the producers the mechanism they need to play with this history while still telling stories that explicitly matter to the current narrative. The combination of revealing background and forward-moving narrative present in "Jughead" is a potent one, essentially taking the best aspects of Lost and combining them into one action/adventure juggernaut. Suffice it to say, I quite enjoyed the episode.

"Jughead" revolves predominantly on three plot lines which ultimately become two by episode's end. The first, that of Desmond tracking down Faraday's mother in England, takes place in 2007-2008, contemporaneous with the current adventures of the Oceanic Six (this is pretty definitively established through the introduction of a roughly two-year old Desmond/Penny love child named Charlie) . The other two take place in 1954 (exactly 50 years before the crash of Flight 815) and revolve around the various hostage situations the island-based survivors found themselves in at the end of the "The Lie."

At the end of last week's episode the island survivors were taken hostage by (in the case of Faraday, Miles, and Charlotte) or took as hostages (in the case of Locke, Sawyer, and Juliet) flaming arrow wielding warriors in American-looking garb. In this episode, we find out that the warriors in question are actually "Others" who have attacked our time traveling main characters because they believe them to be American army personnel responsible for the addition of a significant new island resident: an atomic bomb.

Though the fact that the island has an atomic inhabitant is certainly a revelation (and the one most explicitly referred to in the episode's title), the main through line between the Desmond plot line and that of the island's inhabitants can best be summed up as "The Life and Times of Charles Widmore." Desmond is the first in the episode to discover significant information about the secretive British magnate when he finds out that he had been funding Faraday's time travel research (the same research seen in "The Constant") throughout the 90's. When Faraday's experiments put a woman named Teresa Spencer into a coma, Widmore covered it up and paid damages to the family. Why did Widmore do this? Though the answer is not given to us in this episode, you can bet that it has something to do with taking back "his" island (as he proclaimed in last Season's "The Shape of Things to Come"). Of course it's never been entirely clear why Widmore considers the island to be his...until now.

The second (and more important) major revelation is made by the island-based survivors back in 1954. Towards the end of the episode, as almost all parties congregate at an American base camp taken over by the Others, one Richard Alpert (looking immortal as ever) chides one of his charges for leading the survivors back to their base. His name: Charles Widmore.
So many questions...

Did Widmore eventually become leader of the others? Was he asked by Jacob to protect the island as Ben was? Ben said in the Season 4 finale that after he had turned the frozen donkey wheel of fate, he would never be permitted to return to the island. Did Widmore get exiled in the same way? Is Widmore funding Faraday's research in an effort to return? Widmore was on the island in the 50s and suddenly not on the island in the 70s. Did he fund the Dharma Initative? Was Ben and Richard's rebellion against Dharma really a rebellion against Widmore?

With this episode, Lost really began filling in the gaps of the history it has been laying out for years, while still leaving open tantalizing questions. It confirmed Widmore's connection to the Island, while still leaving open the question of his origin as an Other. It explained at least one connection Faraday has to the Island, and implied the reasoning behind scenes last year in which Abaddon explained to Naomi that the science team on Widmore's freighter (including Faraday, Charlotte, and Miles) was essential to his employer's plans. It even "closed the loop" (quite literally, more on that below) on understanding the meaning of Richard Alpert's previously cryptic visits to John Locke in the 1960's (as seen in "Cabin Fever").

Background and plot development, two great tastes that have always tasted great together. Lost in its finest form.

Other Things to Think About:

H-Bomb-Hmmmmm, I wonder if the fact that a massive nuclear weapon is present on the island will ever come up again. While the episode never gets around to explicitly stating what the Others will do (did? Time Travel makes tenses hard) with the bomb, it seems highly likely that the bomb is still on the island, and was probably buried as Faraday suggested. Introduce a gun in the first act, and all that...

Who is that girl I see?-While I didn't discuss it much above, its clear that Teresa Spencer and her relationship with Daniel Faraday will be a plot point revisited later in the series. At a bare minimum, Teresa's coma is clearly meant to remind us of "The Constant" and the time-sickness which was at the heart of that episode. Did Faraday start practicing on humans, with Teresa's coma as the result? It certainly seems likely. Adding to this mystery are Faraday's comments to the female Other who escorts him to the "Jughead" bomb in 1954. When he comments that she seems so familiar to him, it's unclear whether we the audience are simply meant to assume that he is thinking about Teresa (thus connecting the two narratives of the episode), or whether there is something more. Knowing Lost, my bet is the latter, but it's not at all clear from the context of the episode what that might "something more" might mean.

On a side note, while it seems likely that Faraday practiced his time travel technique on himself in addition to Teresa, note that time sickness alone does not explain Faraday's presence in the Dharma cave at the start of the season. Time-sickness, remember, just involves the traveling of one's consciousness into a past version of themselves (allowing a Quantum Leap, if you will). Faraday was physically present in the Dharma Initiative 70s in a way that he shouldn't have been. Faraday was time-travelling (or is a distant relative of Richard Alpert).

No Oceanic Six-No big revelation here, it's just interesting that what would seem to be the most important plot line of the season did not make an appearance in this episode. While you could argue that Desmond is also a member of the Six (at least for purposes of Ben's "bring everyone back" mission) he's separate enough from the rest of the crew that their absence in this episode was felt.

No Time Like the Present-I love Lost there's no question about it, but the producers are really taking a big leap in the way they are presenting this season. Let's summarize (focusing on this episode). Desmond escaped from the Island in early 2005. His baby was born in (probably) late 2005 (What? He missed Penny...), and his adventures in this episode take place in late 2007/early 2008. On the island, the action takes place immediately after Desmond's rescue. To the version of Locke, Sawyer, Juliet, etc. that we are watching, the year is early 2005. Remember that: when cutting between Desmond and Locke, for instance, Locke has physically lived three years less than Desmond. In addition to this, the island action in this episode takes place in 1954. So, in this episode alone we have intercuts between 2008 and 1954, except that a number of characters in the 1954 scene are from 2005 (not 2008). And the show is now eschewing time cards. Look at that description of events! I think as we move along, this great show is unfortunately going to get even more unapproachable for people. If there's anyone you want to bring aboard, now is the time.

Flaming Arrows are Fun-There was some speculation last week that there were in fact two groups of people who attacked the island survivors during the midnight flaming arrow fun-run. This was dispelled in this episode by two factors. First, the episode took explicit steps to show us a uniformed Other holding a long-bow. Second, from a narrative perspective, once we as the audience know that the uniformed attackers are not some regular army, but are instead Others, the notion that they could be in uniform, have (some) British accents, and fire flaming arrows (as well as rifles), doesn't seem so far-fetched. The survivors were attacked by just one group-The Others, 1950s edition.

"My People" -At the time, Locke's reluctance to shoot at an escaping Other was odd, but easy to chalk up to Locke's strange affinity for the island and the Others. Looking back on it after the Widmore reveal, however, it's clear that Locke couldn't have shot Widmore even if he wanted to (at least not to death). Whatever happened, happened, right? And Charles Widmore did not die on the island in 1954. At least I don't think he did...

Widmore Delenda Est? - Latin's a funny language. All at once it is both a language of high culture as well as a language of ancient history. It is a so-called "dead language" but it's words appear everywhere from diplomas ("Summa Cum Laude") to legal contracts ("pari passu") and form the foundation of many of our own as well. Why then do the Others speak Latin? The simplest answer is that they needed a code language and Latin was still in vogue in the 50s. The harder answer, and certainly the one with more possibility, is that the Others as a group are far more ancient than we have heretofore seen. The age of culture on the Island has been hinted at by things like the Island's four-toed statute, but here we have our first connection between the Others and the Island's apparently ancient origin. What if the Others speak Latin as a vestige of the group's roots in the actual Roman Empire? What if Lost becomes a period piece in its sixth season? I'm sure that could never happen...right?

Is Faraday Bad?-While I personally think that Daniel Faraday was only a victim of his own scientific curiosity when it comes to the small matter of Teresa Spenser, the fact that he was working for Charles Widmore when it happened essentially forces the audience to question Faraday's loyalty. Is he a spy for Widmore? At the end of the day will he turn on his "friends"? Stay tuned, as they say. There are no doubt many more revelations to come.

Baby "Charlie"-The makers of Lost sure know how to play with our emotions. Since the very first scene of this episode established the existence of Desmond and Penny's offspring, what longtime Lost viewer could stop themselves from guessing as to the name of the adorable baby Hume. Since I figured "Telemachus" was a bit too on point (see Odyssey, The), my next guess was someone related to the Island. But who? Charlie, of course. A namesake for the man Desmond lost half a season (and seemingly more than half his mind)to trying to save from death. Between the touching score and the reveal of the baby's name, even I was touched. Of course we should not forget that Mr. Pace was not the only Charlie on the show. How could Penny and Desmond name their child after the man that tried to kill Desmond on at least two separate occasions (yacht and freighter)? Charlie, indeed. You mean "Charles" perhaps. I am not fooled Lost...

City of Angels-When towards the end of this episode Desmond discovers that Faraday's mother is in Los Angeles, all the pieces begin to fall into place. First of all, judging from the speed in which Ben appeared at Oracle Lady's (formally Mrs. Hawking, though I'm sticking with Oracle Lady) place of business in the previous episode, she is most definitely in Los Angeles. Don't anyone be surprised when she is revealed to be the elder Faraday. Perhaps a greater question, however, is whether or not there is any significance to the city of Los Angeles in general. It was the destination city of Flight 815 after all. And now all of the Oceanic Six find themselves in or heading to the City of Angels. Is this simply a convenient plot device (Sun's presence in LA, in particular, has yet to be adequately explained)? Lost doesn't usually dabble in conveniences, though I'm willing to grant them one given the strength of these opening three episodes.

Importance of Name Recognition-Just a little follow-up to the point I made last week about time-travel looking a bit like omniscience. It's a fairly common scene to see in movies or TV: the protagonist, blocked from entry or some important piece of information, suddenly gains the needed access through the fortuitous mention of a simple name. Did you notice, however, that this device was used not once, not twice, but three times in this episode? Juliet uses Alpert's name to gain the trust of the Others, Desmond uses Faraday's name to gain the trust (so to speak) of the Spencer family, and Locke uses Jacob's name to explain himself to Richard Alpert. It just goes to show you how important information is in the grand scheme of things. Even if these people weren't time-traveling, simply having information could have a profound effect on future events. I mean just look at Richard Alpert...

Who is Richard Alpert?-Though this episode leaves open the possibility that Richard Alpert is a traveler like the rest of the island time-jumpers, it's becoming increasingly unlikely. Simply put, because Richard is absolutely everywhere (or should I say everywhen)-1954, 1956 (Locke's birth), early 1960s, 1970s (end of the Dharma Initiative), 2000s, etc.-it seems far more likely that he is immortal, or very old, or something beside a "simple" time-traveler. Just what he is and what he represents is an open question, but one I feel will have profound implications on the rest of the story.

Cabin Fever-One of my favorite revelations over these first three episodes has been the slow explanation of Richard Alpert's mysterious test of John Locke in last year's "Cabin Fever". As I mentioned in last week's post, Alpert's giving John the compass in the Season 5 premiere hinted that the compass was the correct answer to the question of "Which is yours?" Alpert posed to the young Locke. Here we see the loop closed, as John gives the compass back to a bewildered Richard Alpert, telling him to find him when he is born on May 30, 1956 (anyone know anything significant about that date?). We know that after this sequence (to Alpert) Alpert attends Locke's birth, and tests young Locke about the compass. Seeing things from Alpert's perspective, things finally make sense. This sequence gives me great hope that even the most inexplicable elements of Lost will ultimately be explained. One question, though, if Alpert understands that only Locke from the future has the compass (and that Alpert himself gave it to him), why does he expect young Locke to recognize it at all? Maybe something more is going on here...

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