February 27, 2009


Hey, all. Just a head's up, I will be spending the next ten days at Mickey's vacation home in central Florida. As a result, I will unfortunately not be blogging for that time, and will miss three scheduled entries (2 Galactica's and one Lost). I intend to catch up once I'm back on the 9th, but until then feel free to add to the comments. See you soon. More after the jump...

February 25, 2009

Lost: "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham"

"There's a war coming, John."

Wow. What an hour of television that was. I think that only the creators of Lost could take an episode featuring 80-90% information we already knew (or thought we knew), and make it as twisting and riveting as anything else on television. From the very start (Where are we? When are we? Is that Locke? Is he...resurrected?), this episode fires on all cylinders and never looks back. And as the icing on the cake, the performances are fantastic. I haven't been a fan of Locke as a character for some time, but the look of utter despair on his face at the very end, after the way the Oceanic Six treated him...heartbreaking.

But before we got to that emotional endpoint, we got a whole lot of back story on what happened after Locke turned the wheel of fate but before the "crash" of fated Flight 316. Because this episode is, at the end of the day, very similar in style to the "answer dump" I described in my coverage of Galactica's "No Exit", I think it's probably useful to do the same thing as I did there-summarize the new information we learned about the show's timeline before delving a bit deeper into the important bits in my "Quick Thoughts" section.

Without further ado, here is what we now know (or think we know) about Island life after witnessing the events in "Bentham":

-1950s: Widmore takes over the island to lead his people, the Others.

-1980s: Widmore is exiled from the Island through Ben's trickery. (As we have seen no real evidence of this move (the Dharma purge?) and because the information comes from Widmore's mouth, this should be taken with a grain of salt.)

-2004: Ben spins the frozen donkey wheel of fate.

-2004 (relatively speaking): Locke spins the frozen donkey wheel of fate.

-2005: Ben awakens in the Tunisian desert (from Season 4).

-2005-2007: Widmore sets up a camera to monitor the Island's "exit point" in Tunisia.

-2007: Locke (2004 edition) awakens in the Tunisian desert.

-Widmore tells Locke his story and promises to help him. He gives Locke the "Jeremy Bentham" passport.

-Locke hooks up with Abaddon. He recognizes Abaddon as the man who gave him the idea to go on his Australian walk-about.

-Locke approaches Sayid, Walt, Hurley, Kate, and Jack in various manners in an effort to get them to return to the Island (the bulk of this episode).

-Jack buys a round trip ticket to Australia (in an effort to crash on the Island).

-Having "failed" in his mission, Locke prepares for his suicide before being talked down by Ben.

-Ben, upon hearing some important bit of information from Locke (either about Jin or Mrs. Hawking, see below), alters his approach and murders Locke.

-Locke is resurrected after the crash of Flight 316.

As you can see, there is a lot to take in here, and the pieces are disparate enough that I think my "Quick Thoughts" section is better suited to giving each piece a proper discussion. Suffice it to say, I thoroughly enjoyed the episode and have absolutely loved this season so far. If there is any regret I have about the way "316" and "Bentham" lined up, it is that we have been far too long without seeing Sawyer, Faraday, or the rest of the Team Time Traveler. Judging by the ending of "316", however, that seems likely to change in the very near term.

My Quick Thoughts:

Supernatural - Unless the writers have an out that I'm not thinking of (a distinct possibility given the apparent intelligence of the show's writing staff), I think Locke's miracle resurrection and the magical disappearing Six means it's about time to talk about whether or not Lost is, at the end of the day, science fiction or high fantasy. I mentioned this a little bit last week, but the show's mysticism quotient has been going up fairly steadily ever since the ghost of Jacob was introduced way back in Season 3. I, for one, prefer my Lost with a more steady dose of science fiction rather than with apparitions, resurrections, and other supernatural occurrences, but Locke's revival certainly seems to have taken us down a mystical road from which we may never return.

Truth be told, the introduction of amateur ghost buster Miles might also be correctly pointed at as the moment when Lost exchanged its regular robot shark jumping for something more of the ghost variety, but if not then, than certainly now. I mean, how can Locke's resurrection be explained through "natural" means? A really convincing coma? And what about the "why?" Why was Locke revived? What makes him so special? How did the Island accomplish so miraculous a task? Even time travel seems unlikely to yield a satisfactory answer. I recognize that the show's writers wanted us to ask these questions, but I just don't see a scientific way for the show to answer them. That being the case, my hopes for a satisfying resolution to the show, though still high, took a significant hit with this one. I suspect they will continue to take significant hits as the show becomes more and more obviously supernatural in its leanings. I hope I'm wrong.

Landing on Hydra Island -One of the most disorienting aspects of this episode was its very beginning. Despite the fact that we could immediately recognize the man we would soon call "Caesar" from his brief cameo in last week's "316", the introduction of the woman who was escorting Sayid in that same scene threw things for a loop. At least for me. My mind immediately began jumping to conclusions. Is this a flashback? Did they know each before Flight 316? If this is the Island, are we seeing scenes from the past in order to show us that these people were also on 316 in an effort to return? If it is the Island, why can we see Locke looking off at a major landmass off the Island's coast?

Speaking of Locke, the addition of the one man who we were pretty sure was dead in the last episode made it even more difficult to see the scene for what it was: The 2007 crash of Flight 316 on "Hydra" island (where the Others held a captive Jack, Kate, and Sawyer prisoner at the start of Season 3) combined with the miraculous reappearance of John Locke. It's a testament to the show's producers that they continue to make scenes like these interesting ones when the same would most assuredly be quite a bit less so in the hands of a more tentative crew.

Putting the Pieces Into Place - Finally, we get a main character (Abaddon) admitting to having manipulated the lives of the Flight 815 survivors (or at least John) for his own "nefarious" ends. It's been evident for some time that the survivors have lived lives of shared destinies (this has been the case ever since various players in the castaway's back stories began making regular appearances in the back stories of other castaways). The only question has been whether, narratively speaking, we were meant to assume that this was all intended as a meditation on coincidence or whether or not shadow players were manipulating things behind the scenes.

Now we know of at least two factions (Widmore and Mrs. Hawking (who herself may or may not be beholden to Ben)) who have been manipulating the lives of the castaways in an effort to get to a certain endgame scenario. The question is why? If the future is as immutable as Faraday suggests, there should be no "game" here. Either Locke is ruler of the island in 2012 (or whatever day the "war" is won) or he isn't. Nothing that Ben, or Widmore, or God himself does to try to change that fact should have any effect. And yet we see both sides in this power struggle investing unfathomable resources (a permanent camera fixated on a small piece of Tunisian desert anyone?) in an attempt to win it. Something more must be going on here.

Can Locke Walk? - One question which the show deliberately avoids answering is whether Locke can walk when he's off the Island. Because of the leg injury he sustained in his fall in the well of destiny (not to be confused with the wheel of destiny, it's in the next room over), it's plausible that Locke simply has a broken leg throughout this episode's events. That being said, it's also plausible that he simply can't walk once off the Island and that he's using his broken leg as a "crutch" (pun intended) so as to not reveal that fact to the Six. Just something to ponder.

Dead Men Tell No Tales - Perhaps my favorite scene of the episode began with Hurley's nonchalance upon Locke's arrival. "Didn't make it, huh?" Of course Locke has no idea what he's talking about, but to Hurley, John must be just the latest in a long procession of recently deceased visitors. One wonders though, if the scene can't be viewed as having a greater meaning.

Hurley's reaction to Locke's arrival implies that at least he thinks he has been getting something like "dead person" updates from the Island. In other words, he may have been visited by Charlotte or any other recently killed Islander who he wouldn't otherwise know to be dead. What makes this even more interesting is the possibility that Hurley may be privy to some "future" events on the Island. Remember, to the Six the year is 2007, but assuming that we aren't just going to skip over years of the Islander's lives, when the Six return to the Island the year will be 2004 (at least relatively speaking). If someone died in the three years between the two points, (Juliet as an example), could Hurley have already been visited by that person's ghost when he arrives on the Island? Wouldn't a plot line featuring Hurley and a person he is sure will die be an interesting one?

A Christian Shepard Indeed - It's interesting to note that the only reason Locke "succeeds" in Operation Island is because he receives information from the "ghost" of Christian Shepard telling him to say hello to his son. And also because Locke's smart enough to figure out the identity of Christian's progeny. (Though I don't understand why Christian couldn't be Hurley's father. What, he couldn't just have a Hispanic mother? Christian's too good looking? That's racist, man. Or why Locke assumes that Christian's son has to be one of the Six at all? I digress.) Without that little piece of information, Jack would never have realized that his father was still "alive" and the events we have seen this season would never have occurred.

Permanent Exit - Another interesting tidbit is the fact that the wheel of destiny does not randomly spit out people (or polar bears) to parts unknown. It spits them out at a very specific (specific enough to be watched by camera) spot in the Tunisian desert. Why Tunisia? I have a theory on that. Tunisia is literally on the other side of the world from the likely South Pacific home of the Island. Nice symbolism isn't it? The Island literally can't send someone any further from its confines without also sending that person off the Earth entirely. Exile, indeed.

The Stand - Though I know I've mentioned Stephen King's literary masterwork,The Stand, when discussing Battlestar Galactica, I think it bears examining again in connection with the morality play which Lost is quickly becoming. In the book, Good and Evil (capital letters both) famously fight for the fate of humanity in the remains of an Earth ravaged by the superflu. After the apocalypse, those few who are immune from the disease split into groups based on their decision to align with the forces of Good (in virtuous Boulder, Colorado) or Evil (in less virtuous Las Vegas). The decisions made by these innocents decide the fate of mankind, and it is implied throughout King's work that although virtuous characters have a destiny, that destiny could just as easily be shaped by Evil if allowed. The creators of Lost have often said that they have been influenced by The Stand in creating their own masterpiece, but no where is that more evident than in Widmore's claim
in this one that a war is brewing and that it's result will ultimately be decided by one John Locke. Widmore's "call to arms" even echoes the warnings made by The Stand's own Mother Abigail that "there's a storm coming" though whether or not this was an intentional reference by the show's writers (or simply a case of similar ideas requiring similar language) is anybody's guess.

Good and Evil - As I mentioned when talking about The Stand above, it is very clear that Lost is slowly but surely being turned into a type of morality play of epic proportions. Unlike Stephen King's work, however, there are still substantial questions in Lost about which side is actually playing on the side of the angels. Throughout the first few seasons of the show, we were led to believe that Ben was Evil incarnate. And truth be told, he is as manipulative a character as has ever appeared on prime time television. But is he Evil? At the end of Season 2 Ben did claim to be one of the "good guys." Ever since, we have been slowly but surely led around to his way of thinking. After all, Widmore sent a group of armed men to take back the Island and kill the survivors didn't he? Well, what if, as Widmore suggests in this episode, Ben is and always has been the root of Evil as it relates to the Island? Is it an act of evil to remove him from his perch? Of course not.

But the truth is that we simply can't know which side of this fight to root for at this point. Both men seem to have virtually unlimited resources, and both seem to be capable of committing atrocious acts (Despite Widmore's protestations in this episode, I don't believe for a second that he didn't authorize the murder of Alex last season.) Indeed, if one man is the Devil and the other is an Angel, we have received no evidence about which is which at this time. As a matter of fact, I think, and have thought for a while, that neither Ben nor Widmore is playing the role of Good here. Instead, I strongly suspect that the Six (or at least Locke) will have to protect the Island themselves to prevent it from being exploited by either man. In other words, the choice between Ben and Widmore may well wind up being the show's biggest red herring.

Separating the Wheat from the Chaff - An interesting question surrounding the magic of the time traveling Losties has been what exactly is causing them to "flash" when none of the people around them (like a young Charles Widmore) are traveling along with. What makes the Losties so special? Well this episode gives us a little greater insight into that, if only because Flight 316 contains some people that "flashed" and some people that didn't. (We'll disregard for the time being that according to the show's rules Jack and company should have "flashed" in mid-air with everything they were touching at the time (like their airplane seats)).

Jack, Kate, and Hurley...all flashers. Lapidus, Ben, and Locke...no flashing. Sun and Sayid...still open questions, if only because they weren't seen in one timeline or the other during the events of "316" or "Bentham". What separates the two lists? I have no idea. Both contain people that had been on the Island before, and the later list contains people that were on the Island for fewer, more, and exactly the same number of days as the Six. (Of course, maybe the Island should have "flashed" Locke but it had to choose whether to send his dead body back into the 70s or simply resurrect his tired butt. Decisions, decisions.) Whatever the reason (and I hope there's a reason), the distinction certainly seems to be an important one.

"Some Woman" - Despite previously setting foot on the Island throughout the whole of season 4, one of the many people who didn't "disappear" during the crash of Flight 316 was apparently Mr. Frank Lapidus. We don't get a lot of information about his whereabouts in this one save for the notion that he escaped with "some woman" and one of Island's three longboats. Who is the woman? Could it simply be the plane's stewardess? That answer seems almost too inconsequential to merit mention. If it's one of the Six (Sun?) why didn't she "disappear" with her fellow Flight 815 survivors?

As a side note, the presence of the longboats themselves essentially confirms the notion that the survivors of 316 at some point in the future (and probably at Locke's suggestion) take the two remaining boats over to Flight 815's beach. It is here where the time travelers stumble upon them and steal one of the boats for themselves. The only question now is whether Locke or Ben is one of the figures shooting at Sawyer and friends during the events of "The Little Prince".

Helen of Santa Monica - While it's simply another sad footnote in the practically continuously sad life of John Locke, the death of Locke's one true friend, Helen, is used by the show's writers here as a poignant touchstone to discuss what it means to have a destiny. When Abaddon tries to allay Locke's sadness by telling him that Helen would have died with or without him, one can't help but be struck by the simpleness of Locke's response: "Would she?" I couldn't help but be reminded of all the many stories we hear about long time spouses following their newly departed mates off the mortal coil in relatively short order. Sometimes relationships can be destiny too, and the reminder of that in an episode brimming with other more "important things" is the type of thing that truly elevates Lost above the rest.

Locke's Motivation - Ever since the end of Season 3, I had assumed that the suicide that so affected Jack (which, at the time, I also assumed was either Locke's or Ben's) was some kind of ruse. Primary characters don't usually commit suicide on prime time TV. When, earlier this season, Richard informed Locke that he would have to die in order to convince the Six to return, I assumed that was the key. Locke really was going to commit suicide, but it would be with the knowledge that his death would save the Island. It would be a noble sacrifice, like Michael's. Of course that's not how the scene played out. Instead, Locke's suicidal desires were played as being very, very real. Locke viewed himself as a failure, and he intended to kill himself for being incapable of saving the friends and Island that he loved. As I mentioned, this was a surprise to me, if only because Locke had at this point been told of his "need" to die. I would think a man like Locke, a man so tied up in his own fate, his own destiny, would have viewed his suicide as a tool. I guess Jack's angry speech really got to him.

(The fact that Jack's speech actually did lead Locke over the edge, before being talked down by an inscrutable Ben Linus, also helps to explain why Jack takes the news of Locke's "suicide" so poorly in Season 3. He did, in a very real way, cause Locke to become suicidal through his words.)

Why did Ben Kill? - Though I don't believe we can yet know the answer to this one, it's worth discussing just what happens in the scene between Ben and Locke. At first, Ben seems very honestly concerned about saving Locke from his own suicidal desires. This makes sense, because there is simply no reason for Ben to save Locke if he was just planning on murdering him and making the murder look like the very sucide he had just spent so much time preventing. What then makes Ben change his mind? It's difficult to say, but it appears to me that it is the moment he learns of Jin's survival that he decides to kill Locke. (As an alternative theory, it could also be the moment he learns that Mrs. Hawking has the key to returning to the Island, but I think his gaze turns sinister before that revelation). What then is Jin's importance to this story?

As I said above, I don't think that we can know what this scene is all about at this point. If I had to hazard a guess, I would bet that Jin wasn't "supposed" to survive the explosion on the freighter. Like Ben's previous warning to Widmore about "changing the rules," perhaps the fact that Jin's alive means that whatever knowledge of the future Ben had been working with has somehow been irrevocably altered. Maybe Ben had, at the beginning of the scene, accepted that he had to help Locke, but Jin's survival meant that everything was essentially up for grabs. All of this is, of course, rampant speculation on my part, but that's part of the fun, isn't it?

WAAAAAAAAALT! - How about seeing good old Walt again? The fact that Locke goes to visit him at all implies that there's some benefit to having him come back to the Island (or rather Abaddon's acceptance of the trip implies the benefit). What could it be? And if Walt's vision is correct (as we are almost certainly supposed to assume), in what kind of trouble does Locke find himself on the Island (after wearing the suit that the show's producer's used as code for his death). Could the Others be rallied against him? Or does Ben awake and convince the Flight 316 survivors that Locke is not to be trusted (which would of course be true irony from Mr. Linus)? Hmmmmm...
More after the jump...

February 20, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: "Deadlock"

"Any mythic revelations? Nope, nothing to report sir."

Well that's perhaps the understatement of the year.

After the monumental answers provided in last week's "No Exit", the show's producers apparently thought that they deserved a week off. I hope that whatever the Canadian equivalent of Atlantic City is was kind to them, because it certainly wasn't as nice to the show. Really guys, I hope you struck it big.

To begin with, practically nothing happens in this episode, "mythic" or otherwise. Sure, Ellen arrives and stirs up trouble (interesting to see that the "real" Ellen so nicely matches the brainwashed human version, though I could have done without the deliberate baby killing), Adama oversees the Cylonification of the Galactica, and Baltar, dear Baltar, finally gets a plot line. Unfortunately, that's about it.

With four episodes remaining, "Deadlock" puts us no closer to anything the show has been building towards. Whether it's the discovery of a "home" for Humanity (and the "good" Cylons), what Starbuck is or how she led the fleet to Earth, the nature of any one of about three prophecies ("Dying Leader", "Truth of the Opera House", "You must not follow her", etc.), the location of Cavil and the endgame between the "good" and "bad" Cylons, how and why the Final Five were "triggered", or anything else, nothing in this episode moves the major plot lines of the show forward at all.

(As a side note to the above, isn't it interesting that the show should have so thoroughly established in this one that we are to see the Six model as "good"? Perhaps it's just me, but I didn't see Cavil holding a gun to any of the other models' heads when they were all doing bad acts on Caprica. Isn't this a bit like forgiving soldiers for war crimes because they were just "following orders." Nobody made Caprica or any of the other models commit the atrocities they did (at least not that we know of), and yet we, like the members of the fleet, are just supposed to forgive and forget. Despite the mutiny arc, not enough attention has been paid to how incredible a request this is and how it is being perceived by the less militaristic members of the fleet. I can't imagine that it's going over well.)

Perhaps the worst thing is that this episode makes me feel that I might have been too strident in my criticism of the "mutiny" plot line. It was Shakespearean in comparison. Had I known at the time that the show's producers felt so good about the number of episodes remaining in the series that they could afford to take an episode off, I wouldn't have made such a big deal about the show "spinning its wheels." If the writers otherwise only had 5 episodes of plot than we could do worse than spending three of the other episodes on a cool little mutiny story line.

But wait, wasn't I just writing about the way in which the information given to us last week seemed rushed (If it seems like I've been complaining about this show a lot lately, it's only because of how much I've enjoyed it over the years. I just want to see it end with a bang.) There were so many "answers" given last week and the method of delivering them was so mechanical and inorganic that I just assumed that the show's writers had so much plot to dispense that they simply had to give us a talking heads episode to "catch us up" to where we needed to be. Given the fact that outside of the death of Caprica Six's baby, nothing of any importance actually occurs in this one, I can't imagine that the real estate of a second hour couldn't have been used to better effect to realize the "answer dump" in a more organic way.

Quite frankly, I have no real desire to delve any further into the minutiae of this one. The whole thing just disappointed me. As always, it was very well acted, with particular credit to the scene in which a tearful Colonel Tigh tries to convince Caprica Six that he loves her, but superior acting alone simply can't cut it when the stakes are so high. Bring on next week, it can't come soon enough.

My Quick Thoughts:

A Blended Population - As a little bit of insult to injury, even the "big points" in this episode had the tendency to fall flat. The ship is blending together, Cylons and Humans. We get it. The real question is why the Admiral hadn't gotten it before the end of the episode. Are we really expected to believe that he didn't understand what the mutiny was all about? The mutineers certainly did. Baltar's incredulity at Adama's obliviousness towards the end of the episode was a nice touch (and stand-in as an audience proxy), but it doesn't explain how Adama could have missed the obviousness of it all in the first place. His arc in this one is completely based on his being less than intelligent, something that we know he's not. As such, it seems completely artificial all the way through the episode's end credits.

"Dying Leader" Report - As mentioned last week, the show's continuing emphasis on what is happening to the ship has only strengthened my belief that the Galactica herself is the "dying leader". Nothing in this one really changed my perception on this one way or the other, except to note that the numerous mentions of the Galactica becoming Cylon does leave the writers with another "out", narratively speaking. If, as was suggested to me by some other fans, there simply is no way to adequately convey that the Galactica is the dying leader (I don't believe this for a second, by the way, given the abilities of the Galactica writing staff) then the whole plot line has to mean something else, and the Cylon transformation may just be that "something".

In this scenario, the Galactica was never the "dying leader". The cracks were simply a plot device to get Adama to authorize the Cylonification of the ship: a transformation that, in the most literary sense, could serve as a mirror for the transformation occurring in the composition of the ship's crew. While this is a fairly clean reading of the plot line, it still seems too trifling for the show's producers to have spent this much time establishing. Still, the existence of an inconsequential hour like "Deadlock" gives me pause. If the show's writers can waste so much time on this nothing, who's to say that they couldn't have created the whole "cracks in Galactica" plot line simply to point out the transformation that was obvious to everyone in the fleet (save for Bill Adama, see above) weeks ago.

A Love to Last Forever - Perhaps it's just me, but the major problem I had with the Caprica Six baby story line is that I never bought into the fact that Colonel Tigh loved Caprica, and certainly not to the extent that he loved Ellen. Knowing that the audience was aware that Cylon women could only conceive in love (as was established in the Athena/Helo plot lines many years ago), I think that the mere fact of conception was used as a bit of a proxy by the show's writers for the love that Tigh was supposed to feel for his knocked-up Cylon girlfriend. In Hollywood parlance, the whole relationship seemed to me to be a case of the writers "telling" rather than "showing." "Tigh must love Caprica," they seem to be saying, "otherwise he never would have conceived a child with her". Never mind that outside of a few tearful scenes in this one (all practically post-baby), we never felt like we really got to see Tigh internalize that love.

After Ellen - As mentioned above, it was really interesting to see Ellen return to her "human" ways as a conniving, manipulative, ahem...witch. The Ellen in "No Exit" seemed almost calm and aloof by comparison, sparring with Cavil as she did. One could be forgiven for thinking after watching "No Exit" that the mind wipe voodoo worked on the Final Five by Cavil changed their personalities in fundamental ways, but the return of Ellen as Galactica's own Lady Macbeth pretty quickly dispels that notion. Apparently even the brain washed Final Five were still inherently themselves, they just thought that they were human. As I said, interesting.

Wall of Shame - Maybe it's just me, but I thought that having the Cylons put pictures of dead "skinjobs" on the wall of memory was far too distasteful. And this coming from a guy who hasn't even had 99.5% of his species exterminated less than five years ago by the very "people" that now seek to remember their fallen comrades. Perhaps more to the point in terms of fleet dynamics, are we even on the same ship that almost rose up to take control from Adama for being too much a Cylon-sympathizer? You mean to tell me that no angry Galacticans tore those pictures off the wall? It's one thing to ask Humanity to silently and graciously move past the differences that define the species. It's quite another to ask them to allow their own memorial to be co-opted by pictures of the very people that required them to create it in the first place.

More after the jump...

February 18, 2009

Lost: "316"

"We're not going to Guam, are we?"

Well, that was unexpected.

Despite the fact that I generally know better then to guess at where Lost is going in the long run, I really felt I had this whole Season 5/Season 6 thing worked out. Season 5 had to be about getting the Oceanic Six back to the Island. It had to involve different missions taken on by Jack and Ben to convince the Six to come back together. It had to find the Six back on the Island, probably mimicking the results of the original crash, and feature a major character saying something like "we're back" to mirror Jack's cries from the end of Season 3. So far, so good, right? Except for one small additional fact: the return had to happen in the Season 5 finale.

What then do I make of the producer's move to put the Six back on the Island so soon into this young season?

In a word: Genius.

First, the negative. The rapid return of the Oceanic Six would seem to undercut the importance of the show's fourth season. If the Six were going to return to the Island so soon after they left, why were we made to spend an entire season (more if you count the end of Season 3) establishing the epic nature of their flight to freedom? It seems like wasted time in retrospect. The fact that the Six even left the Island seems like it may be little more than a footnote in the history of the show before too long. A footnote that took a full season and some episodes to resolve.

With that small bit of negativity weighing on the proceedings, why then do I still think of the episode as "genius?" First, it truly was unexpected, at least by me. I mean who really thought the Six (minus one) would make it back to the Island so soon. With the mission of what I thought to be an entire season accomplished in little over a month, the possibilities for the remainder of the year seem endless, and that's a really good feeling to have about one's favorite show.

More importantly, at least to the standing of this particular episode, the producers did something really smart. By embracing the ridiculousness of the episode's premise (and really, if this was always the way the Six were going to return it was going to be at least slightly ridiculous) the producers were able to grapple with the very same questions of faith vs. reason that so fueled the show during Season 2.

Let's face it. The "plan" in this one is ludicrous. The Oceanic Six are told that in order to make their way back to the Island they must recreate (at least some of) the circumstances of Flight 815. This includes bringing a dead body (Locke as proxy for Christian) and, as if to add insult to injury, making that dead body seem as much like its Oceanic 815 counterpart as possible. As Faraday said in last week's episode, when it comes to the return of the Six, the show is really leaving the science behind.

But unlike other episodes of the show, where otherwise smart characters (like Jack...most of the time) ignore the very reasonable questions that would flitter through the mind of any sane person in the same situation, here the very theme of the episode is the "leap of faith" being asked of the Six, particularly Jack. Neither Mrs. Hawking nor Ben give Jack or any of the other Flight 815 survivors any reason to believe in the power of Locke's corpse. Or further, why in the world that same corpse having Christian's shoes should in any way impact their fate.

It is this very lack of information that so noticeably distresses Jack (who had, until this point, jumped into the "faith" pool with both feet) throughout the course of the episode, pushing him to the point of scrounging for booze in his darkened apartment (though thankfully Ms. Austen proved to be a more alluring alternative). When combined with the notions of providence that are introduced into the mix (Jack just so happens to stumble into a pair of his father's shoes shortly after being told that he will need such an item in order to make the trip), it's no wonder that he begins to lose it.

But Jack's doubt is the very reason why so ridiculous a plot line actually works to the benefit of the show. Had Jack, and Sun, and Hurley, and the rest simply embraced "the crazy", the creakiness of the premise would have been exposed for the world to see. But instead, by having the show's main character (and audience proxy) balk at what's being asked of him, the show is able to turn a liability into an asset.

As I said: Genius.

Now, in no way am I trying to excuse the episode for being, well, rather mechanical in its attempt to get the point across. In one of the episode's more clunky scenes, the writers have Jack verbalize his doubts to Locke's corpse. Scenes where one person essentially talks to themself are always difficult, but at least here, the show somewhat earned the monologue by earlier showing Jack as tortured by the ridiculousness of the task at hand. Another scene, again with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, features Ben all but calling Jack a "doubting Thomas" as he relates the tale of the famous Christian apostle. These are not the episode's high points, but (and I'm sure Locke would approve) they all work together to serve a greater purpose.

As a result, the fact that the scenes in this episode are somewhat clunky does very little to dissuade me from my belief that the episode is one of Lost's best. Very rarely does episodic television (or mainline movies) deal with the nature of what it means to have faith, particularly in this most metaphysical of contexts. Lost has grappled with this territory quite often during its run, and each time I think the message it tries to deliver is a bit more focused and a bit more powerful. While you'll see below that I am of two minds about just how "mystical" I want my Lost, I think that, without a doubt, "316" is a step in the right direction.

My Quick Thoughts:

Echoes of the Past - This episode features a very provocative opening, with Jack appearing in the jungle much as he did way back in 2004. While this was no doubt the reason that the show's producers elected to include the sequence, I do wonder about whether or not the loss of tension in the plot was worth it. I suppose since we knew that the Six were going to make it back to the Island one day that it wasn't a huge reveal, but it did pretty clearly establish that they'd be making it there in this week's installment.

Lost hasn't used the "X hours/days/weeks earlier" conceit as much as some other shows I could name (cough...Galactica), but I have always thought that if it isn't used for a very specific reason (giving a glimpse of the characters in a chaotic situation, for instance, and showing how they got from some tranquil starting point to their own personal mayhem) the use of the device runs the risk of taking all dramatic tension out of the proceedings. In this one, the vision of Jack's arrival on the Island served no real purpose save to provide a nifty callback opening. I suppose one could argue that it also served to add a sense of importance to the rest of the episode, but that all seems pretty artificial at the end of the day doesn't it?

Raised by Another - As far as intrigue goes, there is little that could match the words of warning Kate gives to Jack when he asks about Aaron's whereabouts. What happened to the little guy? Did Kate give him away? Was he taken from her? Were Ben's lawyers waiting for her when she got home (or to wherever she was going)? And what is Aaron's importance in the grand scheme of things, anyway? The psychic that Claire visited so many years (and seasons) ago was pretty specific on that point. Or is that simply another plot line that fell down the memory hole to sit alongside mentions of Walt's "special" abilities?

Lamppost Station - So the Dharma Initiative wasn't limited to setting up Octagonally marked base stations solely on Skipping Record Island. And somehow the Initiative knew of the Island's existence before they had ever been to the Island itself. Hmmmmm...could a post-Island Charles Widmore somehow be responsible for the whole Initiative project?

Neither the Time nor the Place - Is it just me, or does the scene in which a tearful Kate throws herself at a booze-ready Jack seem more than a little bit out of place? I mean, as far as we know, Kate has either just given up Aaron or had him forcibly taken from her. And Jack, he's having so many doubts that he's ready to turn back to drink. Yet despite this, both are apparently in the mood to do a little something extra. Struck me as odd. I'm sure we (or the show's writers) could justify it in the "two desperate people, desperately clinging to one another" school of character motivation, but it just didn't feel right to me. Anyone else?

John 3:16 - "And God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son..." It would be hard to have a discussion of this episode without making note of the most obvious element of its religious symbolism. While the show has occasionally delved into Christian theology in the past ("Christian Shepard" anyone?) rarely has it name checked anything as well known as this perhaps most famous of Bible passages. In the greater scheme of things it's difficult to put the verse in context within the whole of the show. Is Locke intended to be Jesus? Ben, Judas? Jacob, God? My guess is that no so literal interpretation was intended. Instead, the show's producers likely simply wanted to highlight the theme of sacrifice that was at the core of Locke's mission, and do so in a way that highlighted the concept of faith in a broader context.

Guitar Hero - Though we are never explicitly told how Hurley winds up booking some 70 odd tickets on Flight 316 (a really nice touch by the way, showing Hurley as someone who is trying to save as many people as possible from death or Island doom), we are given a rather big hint in his carrying of a guitar case throughout the episode. Don't we know someone who was good friends with Hurley and prominently carried a guitar? Hmmmm...I can only guess as to why Charlie would have asked his friend to return his guitar to the Island (or maybe it was necessary to "recreate" the circumstances of Flight 815), but I think it's clear that that he paid another visit to our favorite cursed lottery winner. This of course raises the question of who or what Hurley's ghost visitors really are. If they have real outside knowledge of current events (such as the location of the Island and the flight that passes through the window necessary to get there), then they can't simply be figments of Hurley's imagination. Are they truly spirits from the beyond? Smokie somehow made manifest off the Island? The Head Cylons from Battlestar Galactica? Time will tell.

Ben's Enemy - As an intriguing aside to the main events of the episode, Ben is forced to ask Jack to recover Locke's body due to the fact that Ben was otherwise incapacitated running an errand the night before. We are never told what the errand was, though we get to see the byproduct of its completion in Ben's bruised and battered face. What happened? Since I think that Hurley's guitar case basically answers the question of how he found his way onto Flight 316, I think the answer to Ben's injuries lies with the remaining mystery guest on the doomed flight: Sayid. When we last saw Mr. Jarrah prior to the flight, he was busy abandoning Operation Island for parts unknown. When we next see him, he is in the custody of what we can only assume is a U.S. Marshall (though why he would be being extradited to Guam is a mystery). My best guess is that Ben somehow framed and called the cops on Sayid before "detaining" him until he could be taken into custody. There is no question that Sayid could have inflicted the physical harm we saw on Ben's face, the only question is why he wouldn't have finished the job if given the chance. Maybe the Island is protecting more than one ex-Island inhabitant...

Now I'm Bathed in Light - I think the most interesting decision the show's producers made in this episode is with respect to the actual mechanic that puts the Six (minus one) back on the Island. Flight 316 doesn't really crash per se, its simply that the Six experience a white flash and arrive on the Island (in Jack's case in a circumstance almost identical to the one he found himself in after Flight 815). The whole thing takes on the feel of the divine, dovetailing nicely with the theme of questioned faith pervading the entirety of the episode. Still, what makes a good theoretical discussion on the show (the concept of faith) does not necessarily make a good plot point. Are we just to assume that the hand of God returned the Six to the Island? Is Mrs. Hawking's previous statement that the universe has a way of "course correcting" to be taken as literally true?

I like the mystical elements of the show as much as the next guy, but only in so far as they can be serviced by the very real rules that the show's producers have so far put down. That's what makes the show's slavish observance to the "closed loop" theory of time travel so interesting. If the whole of the show winds up being encapsulated in Faraday's previous warning to Charlotte that we were going to "leave science behind" I am going to be mighty disappointed.

A Score to Remember - In truth, I have very little to add on this point, I simply wanted to make mention of the absolutely wonderful score put down by Michael Giacchino in this one. A beautifully themed score is a weakness of mine, and I will generally feel quite differently about a show or movie with excellent musical themes than I will about one with without. As a matter of fact, the Lost score is perhaps one of the first things that I really loved about the pilot back in 2004. As in the past, the producers of the show really let Giacchino soar in this one, particularly in the scene where we get to see the faces of the Six (minus one) taking off on fated Flight 316. It without doubt adds an air of gravitas to the proceedings, really heightening the notion that "epic things" are afoot.

Future Imperfect - With the presence of the Ajira water bottle in the longboats earlier this season, we can now be all but certain that the Island's time travelers found themselves in a post-Flight 316 future during the events of "The Little Prince". This leads to the inevitable question of why the survivors of Flight 316 were shooting at the fleeing Islanders. Were they simply mad about the stolen boat? Do the non-Oceanic Six members of Flight 316 harbor some grudge against the current Islanders, or perhaps a deeper connection to the Island? One thing's for sure, given the fact that the show's producers love to "loop" time to show us known events from different perspectives, we can be pretty confident that we will again see the boat chase, this time from the other side.

More after the jump...

February 13, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: "No Exit"

"It's in her bones, Admiral. Her bones are rotten."

And so the final season begins in earnest.

As I said last week, while the "mutiny" arc was rousing good fun, I couldn't help but view those episodes with the eye of a terminally ill hospital patient: things that would have seemed so important just a few short months ago simply weren't when faced with the encroaching certainty of the end. I hyperbolize, but it's nonetheless difficult to imagine an episode that could be more different from the mutiny arc than "No Exit."

To begin with, "No Exit" features virtually no action of any kind. Where the halls of the Galactica had just recently been filled with the sounds of small arms fire, here the only sounds are those of Chief Tyrol and his crew inspecting the creaking innards of the once proud ship. The rest of the episode's "plot" is essentially relayed in the form of two stories: one being told by the injured Anders, whose brain trauma has apparently allowed him to remember his life as a Cylon before the war, the other being told as the interplay between a near-psychotic Cavil and the newly-revived Ellen Tigh over the course of the 18 months after she was murdered by her husband, Saul.

As a result of the lack of action, "No Exit" can best be thought of as what I call an "answer dump" episode. We've seen these before, whether as an attempt to appease mystified network executives (Season 3 of Alias), or as an attempt to appease a dwindling and confused fan base (Season 6 of X-Files). (While I'm sure that there are more examples of the form, these were simply the first two that sprang to mind. Interesting side note: both episodes share the same name, "Full Disclosure".) While Galactica certainly doesn't have to worry about either of these factors this late in its run, it has to worry about something else - expediency. Otherwise there really is no reason to have an entire episode of television devoted to background exposition, but with the end looming, I imagine the producers of Galactica felt as if they had no other choice.

Fortunately, the questions themselves are interesting enough that the show can survive an hour-long stint of mere talking heads. Here's a quick summary of what I think we know after this episode (please feel free to correct me in the comments if you think I missed or mischaracterized anything):

- In the beginning, the Humans lived on Kobol.

- They invented the race of Cylons.

- The Cylons rebelled ("All this has happened before...").

- The Kobol Cylons invented resurrection (but not faster than light travel).

- Humans and Cylons went their separate ways after the war, Cylons to Earth and Humans to the 12 colonies.

- At some point, the Humans begin referring to their rebellious Cylon children as the "13th Tribe."

- Earth Cylons then learned how to procreate without resurrection. The secrets of resurrection were lost to them.

- Earth Cylons invented a new race of AI.

- The new race of AI rebelled (The results of this rebellion are the remains of Earth that we see in "Sometimes A Great Notion").

- Prior to the Earth AI rebellion, Tigh, Ellen, Tyrol, Tory, and Anders were tipped off that a revolution was coming. They began work to restore the resurrection program and prepared themselves to be resurrected in a ship orbiting Earth once the bombs fell.

- After the destruction of Earth (2,000 years before the beginning of Galactica), the Final Five traveled to the colonies at sublight speed to tell Humanity to be respectful of any AI progeny it created. They arrived after the first Cylon war, too late to prevent any rebellion.

- The Final Five then elected to counsel the centurions, themselves having developed a religious belief in one true god. Thinking that this belief was critical to preventing the cycle of war, Ellen and the rest of the Five became leaders of the Cylon people, creating 8 model "skinjobs" to move the Cylons towards humanity and religious salvation. "John" Cavil was the first.

- Cavil, resentful of being created with the limitations of a human and jealous of Ellen's love for the other models, "poisoned" the DNA of model number 7, Daniel, who, we are led to believe, never came online as a Cylon (I do suspect, however, that the show has at least one last secret in store for us on this score.)

- After the "poisoning" Cavil takes command of the Cylon people and "boxes" the Final Five, removing their memories and forcing them to live among the 12 colonies as Humans.

- The Galactica mini-series begins.

- The Colony at which the Five produced the skinjobs remains "still there."

As you can see, there is a lot to take in from "No Exit", and that's skipping any description of the limited "action" that makes up the episode (namely Tyrol's convincing Adama to make the Galactica part Cylon, Anders becoming brain dead after having the bullet in his head removed, and Boomer freeing Ellen from the clutches of the vile gangster John Cavill). While this is exactly the kind of thing I've been looking forward to ever since the show raised so many mythology-based questions in "Sometimes a Great Notion", I still can't help but think that there was a better way to get all of this information across, one that didn't involve a full third of the season being used to tell a pretty traditional coup narrative.

That being said, an "answer dump" episode really lives and dies on the answers which it provides. Though I will always believe that there was a more organic way for Ron Moore and company to present the information, I can't deny that the answers themselves are incredibly thought-provoking and have me ready and raring to go to see next week's episode.

Some Quick Thoughts:

A Dying Leader - I almost did this as a separate post last week, but given the fact that, in my view, the hypothesis was only strengthened in "No Exit", I thought I would mention that my thoughts on the Galactica as "dying leader" where certainly received very differently by certain members of the fan base, particularly on Alan Sepinwall's blog.

Here are a few excerpts:

Anonymous said...

"How could Galactica be the dying leader if the "dying leader will know the truth of the opera house"? The hybrid is clearly talking about Laura Roslin."

I said...

"Judging from the five figures waiting in the wings in those scenes, I think one could argue that the "truth" was in fact the identity of the final five Cylons. If that is the case, who knew better than Galactica the identity of those five? All five were on Galactica for significant periods of time, and perhaps more importantly, remember what the trigger for the final five was: a song coming from within the ship.

Looking at it from that perspective, I think it's more than plausible that Galactica "knew" the truth of the opera house and conveyed that truth in the nebula at the end of season 3.

It may not be the most obvious reading of the "opera house" prophecy, but in my experience the most obvious reading is usually not the right one. (For instance, I don't think that Starbuck will be leading humanity to its "end" in the most literal way (death). Instead I think she will lead them home.)"

This analysis went over well with some people...

"Richard Hoeg - though I'm not entirely convinced they are going in that direction or would be able to play out that metaphor for mass consumption easily enough, you do present one of the best theories about how/why Galactica being the dying leader would be the case."

"First, I agree with all of Richard Hoeg's post"

And not so well with others...

"And to Richard Hoeg: keep your blog to yourself. You are wrong."

"Richard Hoeg: are you being obtuse on purpose? Kara Thrace is the harbinger of death! Not some nice happy "end."Galactica is not a dying leader. It is not a cylon. It is antiquated old battleship. Get off it - if the writers meant what you are suggesting, the show would be completely stupid."

I had the last word (but only because I took it.)

"First, with respect to Kara's "harbinger" prophecy. I know that the way it's presented implies that Starbuck is bad business, but let's look at each statement individually.

"Kara Thrace will lead the human race to its end."

As I've already stated, this doesn't mean anything independently. She might be leading them to death or to their final home. Could go either way.

"She is the herald of the apocalypse."

One reading: Following Starbuck will destroy the fleet. Second reading: Starbuck led the fleet to Earth, a planet that had most definitely experienced an apocalypse.

"The harbinger of death."

As I stated before, she enabled the fleet to end Cylon immortality forever. In a very real way she was the harbinger of death. The prophecy was even highlighted during this episode. (In the alternative, as mentioned above, she also was mainly responsible for bringing the fleet to Earth, where the Colonials, including Starbuck, found little else but death.)

"They must not follow her."

Admittedly, I don't know what to do with this one except to note how the statement specifically uses two general pronouns to hide its true meaning. Who are "they?" The Colonials? The Cylons? Who is her? Starbuck? Perhaps, but remember we have just been introduced to a new Cylon who is expected to "claw toward the light". Could the "her" be Ellen? I'm sure we'll find out.

Finally with respect to Galactica as "dying leader" I note only two things. First, there is no reason to believe that the category of "leader" is limited to living beings. Think of "loss leaders", or "leading economic indicators" (so often in the news today) for examples of when leadership is not specific to a given individual. Second, note that the concept of dying is also not limited to the living. "My car just died." In a universe with a "disease" that affects only machines (Cylons), it seems odd to limit the definition of "dying leader" in the way you suggest."

Suffice it to say, I feel that my positions were only strengthened by the lengthy scenes in "No Exit" discussing the deteriorating integrity of the Galactica. Look at the quote at the start of this post. Tyrol twice refers to the Galactica as female and discusses with Adama the fact that "her" bones are rotten. Some might even say "wasting" away. I think the facts speak for themselves.

New Intro - I loved the new intro with all of its focus on Ellen and the fact that "all of this has happened before." I just wanted to point out to all those that suggested that the "mutiny" arc didn't involve at least some amount of stalling for time, that the presence of a brand new introduction to a show with only six episodes remaining is a highly unusual step for the show's producers to take, and one which I think reflects the added importance of this episode and the episodes to come. As always, these comments are not intended to overly critique what I thought was a very good trilogy of episodes. My intent is simply to point out what I believe is becoming ever more obvious, that the true "final episodes" skipped straight from "Sometimes A Great Notion" to "No Exit" with nary a stop in between.

Said another way, I have absolutely no problem imagining a scenario in which Tyrol hears something funny in Galactica and Anders has an unexplained stroke in a hypothetical episode immediately following the events of "Sometimes a Great Notion." Would anything in "No Exit" really have to change to accommodate this revised scenario? The scene in the dead quorum's chambers, sure, but anything else?

Cavil Knows Best - If you're anything like me you had long assumed that the reason the "skinjobs" were not permitted to think of the Final Five (though we saw how effective that programming was) was because the Five themselves had programmed the skinjobs that way (or, in the alternative, the skinjobs had placed the block in their programming out of an extreme sense of piety). In this episode, we find out (though induction rather than by exposition), that Cavil must have been the one to program the other skinjobs to not think about the Five.

The show's producers really took a number of steps in this episode to personify Cavil as the evil that had previously been attributable to all Cylons, but the realization that Cavil knew who the Five were all along has to be one of the most significant (particularly since we have no present connection to the murdered Number 7). As Ellen points out, Cavil knew their identities and still he tortured Tigh on New Caprica, still he took advantage of Ellen, and still he hunted Anders. Cavil is the very definition of evil and a useful antagonist for the end run of the series. I wonder, however, whether or not his evil sufficiently absolves the rest of the Cylons for their part in the genocide of Humanity, though it certainly seems to be the producers' intent.

Boomer's Gambit - The fact that Cavil introduces a resurrected Ellen to Sharon "Boomer" Valeri well before the events of this episode casts an entirely new light on the Cylon rebellion which occurred during the first half of this season (or last season depending on your point of view). During that rebellion, the deciding vote to "lobotomize" the Cylon raiders was made by Boomer, marking the first time that an individual Cylon had ever voted against their model number.

Of course, what we now know is that Boomer was given significant information that the rest of her line didn't have when she was introduced to and got to speak with a resurrected Ellen Tigh. The rest of the Eights wanted to prevent the lobotomization because they didn't want the raiders to fire on a member of the revered Final Five. Boomer, on the other hand, had a name to put with at least one of their faces, and when Ellen refused to apologize for the hurt that she had inflicted on Cavil, the die was cast. Boomer would eventually change her mind in this one, but not before starting a full scale civil war.

Humans Only - It was a small moment but an interesting one when Adama ordered Tyrol to fix his ship with a crew that was "humans only." Despite his willingness to work with both Tyrol and Tigh, it's clear that Adama doesn't really think of the two as Cylons. In contrast, the look on Tyrol's face was perfect, telling us all we needed to know about just how aware Tyrol is of his new status, as well as his thoughts on the inherent "racism" of the Admiral's request.

I'm a PC - Just as an interesting type-casting aside, I felt it necessary to note that the brain surgeon who was assigned to work on Anders was none other than the "PC" from Apple's famous "I'm a Mac" ads. I guess we can assume that the Cylons aren't running Leopard. Perhaps they prefer Linux?

Glowing - Really good staging in the scene where Anders sees all of the people at his bedside as glowing angels. It was easy to see that everyone the producers put in the scene was a known Cylon except for Starbuck. Does the glowing aura around Starbuck indicate that she too has a Cylon secret to share? Or was the glowing simply a side effect of Anders having a bullet lodged in his skull? You can read the scene either way, though I think the fact that Anders didn't have any information to give Starbuck in this episode tacks away from the theory that she is a Cylon. It's all too obvious an answer at this point.

The Leeward side - Perhaps one of the more cloying and artificial plot lines on the show has always been Lee Adama's. The show's producers never really seem to know what to do with him, and this episode is no exception. So when, in his one significant scene, he has a heart-to-heart with President Roslin in which she tells him that he will essentially be serving as president of the colonies because he was always "the one", pardon me if I gag a little. While I certainly have enjoyed many of Apollo's scenes throughout the years he has been fighter pilot, lawyer, presidential wannabe, quorum delegate, "john", husband, philanderer, mutineer (so often forgotten in the excitement of the past few weeks), and basically everything except for "the one." Just seems a bit too pat to me.

No Baltar - Nothing much to say here, just noting that a character who had seemed so important as few as five episodes ago once again got short shrift in this one (He didn't even appear). Oh well.

More after the jump...

February 12, 2009

Lost: "This Place is Death"

You know, for an episode with seven time flashes, three pulled guns, one "major" character death, and yet another appearance by an apparition of the main character's dead father, it didn't really feel like a lot happened in "This Place is Death." The plot of the episode just didn't seem to move many of the show's story lines forward.

Off the island, Ben succeeded in convincing Sun to come with him and Jack, but he lost Kate, Aaron, and Sayid in the process (He never had Hurley) . I guess two for six (or three for seven...I'm still unclear on the status of Desmond) isn't bad? It certainly seems that way given Mrs. Hawking's (Oracle Lady) apparent willingness at episode's end to proceed with Operation Island despite Ben's poor batting average.

On the Island, the Losties met up with Jin in the jungle, and seemingly nonplussed by the sudden appearance of their dead Asian friend, continued their procession to the Orchid station. Once there, Locke received a pep talk from ghost dad/Jacob and spun the wheel of destiny, departing the Island for parts (and times) unknown.

Meanwhile, Charlotte died in the jungle from time flash fever, but only after delivering a great deal of exposition about living with the Dharma Initiative and being told that she would die on the Island by a time-traveling Faraday who visited in her youth. Interesting, to be sure, but since the show already established that Faraday was doing some time travel moonlight work in the very first moments of the season (when he was revealed to be working on the Orchid station as a member of the Dharma Initiative in the 70's), the fact that a future version of him (i.e. one who knows about Charlotte's death on the Island) visited in the past is not altogether surprising.

What is surprising is the fact that this future version of Faraday apparently believed that he could prevent Charlotte's death despite knowing that the death had "already" occurred. The closed-loop theory of time travel espoused by Faraday so far on the show simply doesn't allow for events to be altered. This is because changing such events would cause an irreconcilable paradox. Said another way, pursuant to the rules the show has so far established, Faraday can't change events he knows to have occurred because the reasons he would take steps to stop the event from occurring would be based on his knowledge of the event in question. If the event doesn't occur, he has no reason to take the preventative steps, and thus the event is not prevented.

In the world of Lost as presented so far this season, Faraday knows that he can't change past events. Does something change Faraday's view on this, or does he simply find himself with Charlotte at some point in the future and can't resist the "opportunity"? If it is the former, then the implication that past events can be changed could have profound effects on the final seasons of the show. If that is the paradigm, then all of Season 6 could very well consist of the newly empowered Losties "striving to put right what once went wrong." I don't think that this is the direction the show is going, but the fact that Faraday, knowing what he knows, even tried (and failed) to change the past, speaks to something more going on behind the scenes.

And that, truth be told, is really all I have to say about this relatively uneventful episode. Like Rousseau before her, I believe that the character of Charlotte was, in many ways, the victim of the show's having too many story lines without adequate time (particularly in light of last season's writer's strike) to service them all. Fortunately, since we are now regularly bouncing back and forth through time, Charlotte may very well wind up as a character in future episodes, also like Rousseau before her. Heck, given the nature of the show this season, both women could wind up in every episode for the rest of the year without the audience so much as batting its collective eyelash.

So seven time jumps, three brandished firearms, one major death, and a Jacob sighting later, things are basically where we left them at the start of the episode. Such is the nature of serial television, I guess.

Quick Thoughts:

Credit Where Credit is Due - This is a really small item, but one of the things I have always liked about Lost is the way in which they present their opening credits. Always tasteful and non-distracting, the show often "moves" the credit sequence out of the way if major events are set to occur at the top of an episode. In this one, the credits don't start rolling until the monster has stopped having its way with the French research team. It's a small point, but it's these little touches which really add up to create a professional product, and it doesn't go unnoticed.

I Told "You" to Move It - It was nice to get some confirmation in this one that Ben was essentially blowing hot air with Locke in last season's finale. Ben's logic in that one never really made sense to me. In Season 4, if you recall, Locke was tasked with "moving" the island by Jacob/Jack's dad. When Ben and Locke arrived at the Orchid, however, Ben took the task upon himself, telling Locke that had Jacob wanted Locke to move the island he would have told him how. In this episode, though, it's clear that Jacob/Jack's Dad never intended for Ben to attempt to move the island. It was always meant to be Locke. What that revelation means in the grand scheme of things is unclear, but it certainly puts forth just one more reason to have little faith in the motivations of one Benjamin Linus, even as he seems to have taken his place off-island on the side of the Losties.

The Sickness - As I mentioned last week, Rousseau told Sayid and the rest of the Oceanic survivors in Season 1 that she had killed her research team when they had come down with the "sickness." In this episode we get to see a small portion of that, as Rousseau ends the life of her fellow research scientist and baby daddy after he attempts to shoot her with an unloaded/jammed rifle. Since earlier in the episode it was established that at least one member of the research team had been captured by Old Smokie, is it safe to assume that the sickness has something to do with our favorite incorporeal Island antagonist?

We know that the smoke monster can take human form (see Mr. Eko, death of), but if Rousseau was shooting at an anthropomorphic Smokie, would the bullets have had any effect? Perhaps the "sickness" is merely some kind of cultish belief in Smokie or the Island that otherwise causes right thinking people to hurt those that don't share such belief. It still doesn't explain why the Oceanic survivors are not affected, but perhaps they simply haven't been exposed to the Island for long enough. The "sickness" has always been an interesting background element on the show, and it looks, based on the Rousseau plot line, that the producers may be bringing it more to the fore in episodes to come.

Numbers on the Radio? - Like the rest of the show's callbacks this season, seeing the French research team actually hear the numbers being transmitted from the Island was very, very cool. Even cooler was the potential that the numbers may have been being recited by someone we already know. Did anyone else think that the voice on the radio sounded like Hurley's? If it is Hurley's, it opens up the possibility that the universe of Island events is a much smaller one than we have previously been led to believe. A similar situation already occurred at the end of Season 3, when Charlie, having no prior knowledge of the inner workings of the Looking Glass station, was able to decipher a necessary passcode because it matched the melody line of "Good Vibrations." A musician must have programmed this, he posited. At the time it was interesting to hypothesize that the original programmer was Charlie himself, but at that time we had no reason to believe that time travel would make up so large a portion of the fabric of the show.

Now, however, not only is it a possibility that Charlie was the original programmer (though, admittedly, the show would need to revise its understanding of close-loop time travel in order for that to be the case), but it is also a possibility that it was Hurley that was reading the numbers that were overheard by the sailor who then relayed those same numbers to Hurley in the mental hospital, ultimately leading Hurley to the Island and to where he is now. I can certainly see a point in the future where the Losties realize that in order to prevent whatever calamity the show is hinting at, they needed to be drawn to the Island on Oceanic 815 in 2004 and back to the Island by Locke three years later. What could be a more sacrificial act then the Losties deliberately creating the circumstances of their own fateful crash? Knowing all the pain and trauma it put on him, wouldn't it be a great scene to see past-Hurley reading the recording that would ultimately lead him to Oceanic 815 and the Island.

Of course, it may not be Hurely's voice, in which case disregard the mad ramblings above...

Proof? - This is probably a function of plot expediency as much as anything else, but why does a ring prove that Jin's alive? Couldn't his body have simply washed up on the beach? Isn't establishing that he died on the Island essentially why Jin gave Locke the ring in the first place? When Ben promised to deliver proof to Sun, I expected something a bit more dramatic, and quite frankly, more significant than merely his wedding ring.

Faraday's Mother? - While not definitive, the fact that Desmond showed up to meet with Mrs. Hawking ("You're looking for Faraday's mother, too?") at the same time as Ben, Jack, and Sun lends strong credence to the hypothesis that Mrs. Hawking is Faraday's mother. I'm always hesitant to say something is certain where Lost is concerned, but it certainly seems far more likely than not at this point.

Security System - When Ben "called" the smoke monster in Season 4, he mentioned the fact that the monster essentially served as the Island's security system. In this episode we see (and are told) that the security system is in fact expressly connected to a "temple" on the Island. Whether or not that temple is the same one Ben tried to have Rousseau and Alex escape to last season (and the one towards which the rest of the Others were fleeing during Season 3) remains to be seen, though it seems unlikely that the show's producers would use the term "temple" to refer to multiple locations. If the "temple" is the same, then the Others and the smoke monster have some kind of special relationship, and the temple has some objective significance as something more than a simple hiding spot.
More after the jump...

February 6, 2009

Battlestar Galactica: "Blood on the Scales"

"This was a hell of a ship, once."

Ladies and Gentlemen, I was wrong.

Not about the show's overall lack of forward momentum mind you, but about something a bit more significant, at least to the show's overall mythology. But more on that later. First let's discuss my overall sense of "Blood on the Scales", the final episode of the civil war/mutiny arc started in "A Disquiet Follows My Soul" and continued in "The Oath." As last week's episode showed quite clearly, Ron Moore and company certainly know how to stage a rousing action sequence. This week's episode is no different, and, if possible, the action continues at an even more furious pace.

With the mutineers in control of both the military and civilian governments as the episode begins, much of the early conflict relies on the difference in philosophy between head mutineers Felix Gaeta and Tom Zarek. While Zarek sees the coup for what it is, a power grab, Gaeta sees the mutiny as a means to pursue the much more elusive concept of "justice". This difference is most apparent in the way the two men deal with their enemies. Whereas Gaeta seeks to justify his actions by trying Adama for "war crimes", Zarek delivers his message to the Quorum through the more definitive method of summary execution. Though Gaeta's "trial" is nothing but a sham, it does give the show's producers the opportunity to bring back fan-favorite (and lover of phantom cats) Romo Lampkin as Adama's defense counsel. Unfortunately the appearance is largely wasted save for one scene where the character (as is becoming habit in the Galactica universe) gets to prove the old adage that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword (or assault rifle as the case may be).

The larger conflict takes up much of the episode's second half, with virtually every major character taking at least some small part in taking back the ship. From Lee and Starbuck's military invasion, to Chief Tyrol's "Die Hard"-esque run to the Galactica's FTL drive, the show does a good job in giving everyone a role to play. (The sole exception to this is Baltar, who I discuss in greater detail below). Even Roslin gets to convey her rage while lamenting the thought of losing her dear Adama. Though this is the sole note that she's been allowed to play over the last two episodes, it's a note she plays well.

And all this plays out like the conclusion to a great action movie. Unfortunately, in some ways it's an action movie that we've all seen before. The execution fake out, the freeing of captives, the deadly writing utensil, heck, even the lead "bad guy" having a crisis of conscience right before the end. But the episode does deliver. As an action piece separate from anything else in the series, I would have to say that the "Oath"/"Blood" combination ranks right up there with the best the show has to offer. That being said, I am most definitely of two minds on this one.

On the one hand, everything I said above is true. The episode is a standout both in action and in tension, and the beats played by both Zarek and Gaeta seem true to the characters we have come to know over the years. On the other hand, however, my concern that the show was using this "civil war" arc to effectively stall for time seems to have been vindicated. As I stated last week, the show could have avoided this sense of stalling by making sure that there was a real impact to be felt from the mutiny. While one could argue that this episode features just such an impact with the loss of Gaeta, Zarek, and the Quorum, I feel quite differently.

In the middle of this episode, there is a scene where Roslin manages to communicate with the fleet and tells them not to spin up their FTL drives but instead to stay with the Cylon baseship. We are told that 10 of the 35 remaining ships in the fleet follow Roslin's instructions and are prepared to stay behind. Gaeta's response to this is essentially to say "good riddance" and leave the problem ships for dead. Aha, I thought. This is the impact I have been seeking. This mutiny is going to split the fleet, and the world of Galactica will never be the same. Humanity will be down to it's last, precious few, and the stakes will be higher than ever. Alas, Chief Tyrol made sure that that was not to be.

So what effect did all this have? None really. Roslin and Adama maintain their positions of power. The fleet remains the same. Sure, we're down one political body, but I suspect that it will be easily replaced. At the end of the day, the mutiny arc served exactly the purpose I had feared. It certainly feels like the fleet is in exactly the same position it was in at the end of the stellar "Sometimes a Great Notion." Next week, play this little game as you watch. Outside of a few instances which I would expect will address the events of these past few episodes, see if you can't imagine the episode taking place immediately after the Ellen reveal at the end of "Sometimes." My bet is that it won't be that hard.

So at the end of the day, Galactica delivered a tremendously fun and exciting mutiny plot line that didn't advance the plot of the show much if at all. Was it worth it? I strongly suspect that Ron Moore and company wanted to pay off the civilian/military plot lines that had been simmering for the entire run of the show, and they felt that now was the only time they had to do it. Truth be told, they might just be right. I just wish that they could have made the arc seem less like treading water. In my humble and completely un-expert opinion an opportunity was missed by not having the events of these past few episodes bear a greater impact on the fleet or any of the main characters.

Now, didn't I say something about being wrong...

Quick Thoughts:

A Dying Leader - "And the lords anointed a leader to guide the Caravan of the Heavens to their new homeland...the new leader suffered a wasting disease and would not live to enter the new land." Back in my review of "Disquiet", I made reference to the fact that I have never believed that Laura Roslin was the "dying leader" foretold in prophecy to lead her people to the promised land. She was just too easy an answer. For the last little while I had believed that leader to be Baltar, a religious man who would be persecuted and killed just before leading his people home. With the new emphasis on Baltar being a fraud
(more on that below), he would seem to be out of the running. So who is the leader? Or should I say, what is?

First, a step back. Over the course of the summer and winter, many Galactica fans were having fun with the question of just who was the final Cylon. Names like Gaeta, Cottle, Zarek, and, yes, even Ellen were bandied about in an effort to identify a secondary character who could serve the role. One of the more interesting hypotheses during this time, at least to me, was the notion that perhaps Galactica herself was the final Cylon. No one could really make the theory fit, of course. The Galactica, after all, is just a big aircraft carrier in space, but the symbolism of having the title "character" of the show serve such an important function stuck with me. As it turns out, the symbolism was right, it was just applied in the wrong place.

The Galactica herself has always been "a leader" guiding the caravan of the heavens (the fleet) towards it new homeland, but it wasn't until this episode that we had any inkling that it might also be suffering from a "wasting disease." After Chief Tyrol succeeds in disabling the ship's FTL drives in this episode, he notices something. In one of the episode's stranger moments, the camera pans up the side of a wall torn to pieces. The shot lingers for more than a few meaningful seconds before cutting away with no further explanation given. What are we to take from this? I don't know for certain, but I think it's a good bet that whatever caused those cracks in the engine room evidence a "wasting disease" that will ultimately bring her down. Ladies and Gentlemen, we have our dying leader. Expect to see her lost before the end.

A View from Afar - It's interesting to think about the perspective that the average ship of the fleet must have had on the events of these past three episodes. As I pointed out last week, I didn't think that Roslin's appeal was all that persuasive to a miner floating between the Galactica and a Cylon baseship. In this episode, that same miner gets hit with multiple wireless calls from Galactica and the baseship with the leadership of the fleet coming apart at the seams. What's happening, and why? It can't be clear on the average ship. I would have liked to see the show deal with this angle a bit more, but admittedly the more important action was taking place on Galactica.

Loyalists - The scene where Adama is freed from his executioners is an interesting one, as is the scene where he takes command back from Gaeta and Zarek. Both scenes feature "mutineers" who knowingly went along with the coup because they felt that Adama was leading the fleet into danger. What should Adama do with these people? He can't rightly depend on them to follow his orders, particularly when he instructs them to escort the Cylons around the fleet. But he can't summarily execute all of them either. It's a quandary, and one that I suspect is a very real one in our world where these kinds of transitions of power occur. I would love to see how this is handled by Adama and the senior crew, but I expect that this will fall somewhere in the cracks between this episode and the next.

An Army of His Own - Now, far be if for me to criticize a really cool set piece scene like the one where Adama and his army of loyal followers take back command of the Galactica, but where in the world did these people come from? All through "The Oath" the show's producers made special effort to show that Adama was essentially on his own. In fact, his solo escorting of Roslin and Baltar with only Tigh, Starbuck, and Lee makes no sense if he has this much support on the ship. Even if I accept that this support existed, which I am willing to grant for a little bit of TV magic, how did these people find out exactly when Adama was "taking back the night." We didn't see any scenes in which any of the main cast were tasked with drumming up support across the ship, so how did these people know? Ah well, I'm just nitpicking. It was a cool scene.

Baltar, Baltar, Baltar - Well, this was not the direction that I had hoped the powers that be would take my beloved Baltar. He was faking his religious devotion the whole time? Really? Like when he offered to give his life to God if that random cultist's boy might live? Like then? Oh well, perhaps Baltar's desire to stop running in this episode evidences some real growth for the character. Growth that actually does result in him believing his religious teachings. I just don't know what to do with him anymore (and I don't think that the show runners do either).

Frantic Roslin - I know that many out there will praise Mary McDonnell's performance in this one, so I may have to be the lone voice of dissent. Outside of the very end of the episode, I found her shrill, almost frantic portrayal of Laura Roslin to be verging on the edge of hysterical. This was not at all the strong female president that she had embodied over the past four years. Instead, it was a frantic woman on the verge of losing her man. The problem is that I just don't think that's the way the part was written. When Roslin tells the Cylons to move their ship into the fleet, and later when she talks about Adama, these are scenes in which she should be conveying all of the vast reservoir of strength that we know that her character possesses. Instead, her line reading of "Do It!" when trying to convince the Cylons to move their baseship exhibits nothing but hysteria.

Whither Anders? - Now, this might have gotten left on the cutting room floor, but didn't anyone else find it odd that with as much time as was spent on the fact that Anders got shot, we didn't see him ultimately rescued or killed? It just seemed to be an odd editing artifact in an otherwise really well produced episode. I suppose we can assume that he was rescued when Romo went back to help Starbuck, but that seems like an odd assumption to make. Since the rest of the plot lines of the episode were pretty neatly resolved with the execution of Gaeta and Zarek, it seems unlikely that we'll ever see Anders' trip from that hallway to Doc Cottle's. Oh well.

It's my Deus in a Box - What was the box Leoben used to break the wireless blocking? Were we supposed to recognize it? The show certainly seemed to be highlighting it in a way to indicate recognition, but if I've seen it before I certainly don't remember it.

Risk of death - This is almost certainly a function of the fact that we know that the show only has a certain number of episodes remaining, but wasn't the sense of tension in this one palpable? I mean, I spent the middle section of this episode trying to determine whether the show could finish its run without Admiral Adama. The strange part is that I came to the conclusion that it could. With only six episodes remaining, I could totally envision an Adama funeral, the rise to power of Lee (or perhaps more symbolically, Tigh), and the impact that such a death would have on the fleet. In my opinion, this just further establishes the benefits of having a set time frame for a show.

For a long time I have been espousing the adoption of the kind of short-form series that is so popular in Europe and Japan. These shows tell a complete story over one or two seasons, and if they continue it is usually with "sequel" seasons taken place with entirely new characters in the same universe. This has many advantages including allowing the producers of the show to tell a complete story, and the one we see here, allowing the producers to make the audience feel that even main characters are in mortal peril. With they manner in which Galactica was "canceled", and the deal ABC struck with Lost, I think we are beginning to realize some of those advantages here in America. It's been a long time coming, I say.
More after the jump...

February 4, 2009

Lost: "The Little Prince"

"No, I needed that pain...get to where I am now."

Lost has always been an interesting show. From the very beginning, there were some who questioned exactly how the concept could make for anything longer than a mini-series without becoming some kind of dramatic Gilligan's Island, always repeating the same plot line or delving into uninteresting minutiae (or cameo appearances by the Harlem Globetrotters). Admittedly, part way through Season 3, when the show elected to spend an entire hour explaining the origin of Jack's tattoos, it did seem like things were moving slowly but inevitably in that direction. Amazingly, however, as Locke says to Sawyer in this episode, it was that pain that got the show to where it is now.

From Alan Sepinwall's brilliantly informative interview with Lost co-creator Damon Lindelof:

"[I]f "Stranger in a Strange Land" -- which, universally, is (considered) the worst episode we ever produced -- had not been produced, we would not have been able to convince the network that, "This is the future of the show: how Jack got his tattoos. Everything we've been saying for two years about what's to come, is now all here on the screen. You argued that an hour of Matthew Fox in emotionally-based conflicts, it doesn't matter what the flashback story is, it'll be fine. But now that we're doing his ninth flashback story, you just don't care.

We can't go back and apologize for the creative mistakes that we made, because we had to make them. If that episode hadn't been made, we weren't able to get a notes call that said, "We don't like this episode," and where we could then say, "We don't like it, either, but it's the best we can do if we're not moving the story forward. And we're now at a point, guys, where we can't move the story forward." And they asked, "Well, what would you do if we allowed you an end date?" And we said, "Give us an end date, and we'll tell you what we'll do." And the conversations then reached a new pitch.

Everything has to happen the way it happened."

Like Locke in this episode, the creators of Lost realize that they wouldn't go back and change the past even if they could, because it was the mistakes of the past that got them to where they are today. And thank God they made the mistakes that they did, as the show's strong run continued with "The Little Prince."

Focused on two of the three plots currently cycling through the world of Lost (Desmond, the Oceanic Six, and the Island time travelers, with Desmond getting left out of the mix for this one), this episode was largely one of transition. The Oceanic Six moved closer to a full scale reunion at Marina slip 23, while the Island-bound survivors of 2005 bounced not once, not twice, but three times through time and space on their way back to the Orchid station. Neither the Six nor the Island survivors met their goals in this one, so the episode as a whole can only be seen as one portion of a grander storyline.

Interestingly enough, I find myself not minding that this episode didn't have a true beginning or end, despite being bothered by the same fact in Galactica's "A Disquiet Follows My Soul". I think the reason for this is the way that Lost wound up being constructed. In its early years, Lost was a show built almost entirely around the concepts of character development and revelation. Now, however, as the show steams towards its ending, it focuses almost exclusively on plot developments without needing additional character exposition. Jack, Kate, Locke, Sawyer, and the rest are who they are, and we know who they are thanks to the foundation laid in the earlier seasons. This gives Lost the luxury of powering ahead with almost 45 minutes of story momentum each and every week. Whereas Galactica's "Disquiet" was transitional and seemed to stall the show by focusing on character developments at the expense of plot, "The Little Prince" does exactly the opposite. In many ways, Lost is becoming the "novel" that it had always claimed to be, with exposition taken care of on the front end (Seasons 1-3) and plot being handled at the back (Seasons 4-6). To me, this makes the entirety of Lost seem more cohesive, more whole, but to play the devil's advocate for a moment, I can see where the change might cause problems.

As some of you may have noticed, the ratings for Lost are way, way down since even the premiere of Season 4. Since that season was generally heralded by fans and critics as a resurgence of the show's story telling, the question is "Why?". Much ink has been spilled over the past few weeks blaming the show's precipitous rating decline on the show's move towards science fiction (particular blame is placed on the show's more recent usage of time travel, though why this is more problematic for mass audiences than an omnipotent and omniscient "smoke monster" has never been made entirely clear to me). I, on the other hand, think something else is to blame.

As I mentioned above, at its beginning Lost was a show solely about people surviving in a hostile environment. It was deep, it was meaningful, and, pardon me for saying so, it was slooow. Since the transition to flashforwards at the end of Season 3 (and even more noticeably now in Season 5) the show is lightning quick, focused not on explaining the minutiae of character beats (which, thanks to earlier seasons, have likely already been thoroughly explored by the show), but instead on plot mechanics, moving the various chess pieces towards May 2010 as quickly as possible.

I personally love the new pace of the show, but I can certainly see how someone who signed on for Emmy-award winning Lost circa Season 1 could be dismayed to see the show turned into a weekly action-adventure. While the ever increasing role of science fiction no doubt plays a factor (though again I say, "smoke monster"), I believe the continuing decline in the show's ratings can more easily be attributed to this change in the show's style. Because the serial nature of the show prevents people who might prefer the faster pace from joining now even if they wanted to, the end result is the decline in ratings which we are currently seeing. C'est la vie, I suppose.

On to my miscellaneous thoughts:

The Client - I have to say, making Ben "the client" responsible for terrorizing Kate was a true masterstroke. I mean only a genius could have come up with so nefarious a plot. I will admit, when they introduced Claire's mother, my sense of the the producers' collective genius wavered but for a moment, but ultimately I was rewarded for my patience... What? You knew I had to take credit for this, right?

The Trouble with "Previously on..." - One difficulty that a serialized show like Lost regularly faces is reminding even loyal fans of what happened during the show's previous run of episodes. In "The Little Prince" the producers made what I considered at the time to be a classic error. They included a scene in the show's "Previously on..." segment that showed Jack meeting Claire's mother. The scene had no obvious connection to any current show plot line.

When the opening scenes of the episode made it apparent that the show was going to focus on Kate's story, I immediately assumed that the producers had given the game away regarding the mystery client hounding Kate. When the third act break then introduced Claire's mother as a client of Kate's lawyer antagonist, I was doubly upset. On most shows this is where the story would end, with the show's producers having given away to much in the opening, thus relegating their plot "twists" to mere expected plot points. Here, however, the producers of Lost used their audience's eye for detail against them, as Claire's mother was but a red herring. Since Ben was my original choice for "the client" (What, you didn't know?), I felt vindicated, but further I respected that the show's producers had essentially played a trick on the most attentive portion of its fan base. Touche, Lost producers. We'll meet again next week.

"Who do you work for?" - As Sayid continues to kill any and all assailants the world throws at him, the question he asked in this episode becomes all the more prevalent. Who do these people work for? Surely we are to assume at this point that Widmore is sending armed assassins to stop Ben's re-gathering of the Flight 815 dream team, but we know what happens when you assume, especially with Lost. As a matter of fact, when thinking about Lost it may be more productive to assume the opposite of whatever seems most obvious at first. Like his manipulations as "the client", maybe Ben has been engineering the attacks all along. After all, in this episode the attacks both spur Jack into calling Kate and convince Sayid to join Team Back-To-The-Island despite his misgivings regarding Ben. Would it really be so surprising to find out that Ben is behind it all? (Quite frankly would it really be so surprising to find out that Ben is the real bad guy in this plot? What has Widmore done really?)

Ariso - As a brief aside, the person who calls Jack away from Sayid identifies herself as Dr. Ariso. Ariso means a "rocky shore or beach" in Japanese. Nothing truly important here, I just like to take notice of the special care the producers of Lost use to make things interesting for the truly attentive. Jack in this scene is in essence getting called away to the beach.

Objects in Motion - Ok, Lost has been so good at following the rules of its own time travel that I feel justified in making one small complaint here. In the future scenes, where the Island's time travelers discover the long boats present on Flight 815 beach, I remember thinking that it was a bad idea for the survivors to take that boat out onto open water because it would disappear at the next flash. Prior to that point, the only items that had been physically transported by the survivors were those that had transported with them at the time of the initial time travel event. Based on those rules, I assumed that they essentially got to transport what they brought with them and would fall into the water when and if the Island flashed while they were out at sea. This proved not to be the case, but for the life of me I can't figure out why.

It seems now that the producers are saying that any man made object which the survivors are physically touching will transport with them upon the occurrence of a time travel event. If this is the case, would the Jughead bomb have transported had Faraday been touching it at the time of the flash last week? How about Charles Widmore? Whatever happened, happened, is a nice philosophy for the creators of the show to try to live by, but if the Island's time travelers can start transporting anachronistic items across the centuries, then it might be even more difficult to uphold than it originally appeared.

Miles "Chang"?- We already knew (or posited based on the finale of Season 4) that Charlotte was born on the Island. When Faraday explains that the nose-bleed phenomena is likely based on how long one has been exposed to the Island, our knowledge about Charlotte's mysterious past agrees with this explanation. When Miles' nose starts bleeding, however, it's a different story. We had no reason to believe that he had been on the Island before. Since Faraday can largely be seen as a trusted source for time travel information, it seems likely that his island exposure hypothesis is correct. This is further backed up when the symptoms hit Juliet (who has been on the island longer than Faraday, Sawyer and Locke) next. Who then is Miles Fraum and when did he previously visit the island?

We know that he was on the island for a shorter period than Charlotte (who we believe to be born there), but longer than Juliet (three years). Could he be the son of Dr. Marvin Chang (Candle/Wickman/Haliwax) and the sole remaining heir to the legacy of the Dharma Initiative? It seems likely to me. After all, Dr. Chang did not have to be introduced as having a child in the opening moments of this season. His fatherhood status played no part in the revelations of his scenes. Perhaps Miles developed his ESP powers from some form of exposure on the island. Interesting...

Because They Left - I'm going to say this as simply as I know how, I really don't understand how "this" could all be happening because the Oceanic Six left. Though Locke seems positive that all the problems of the Island are a result of the escape of Jack, Kate, and the rest, I remain unconvinced. Ben, after all, was going to turn the frozen donkey wheel of destiny regardless of whether or not the island had any escapees. He was turning the wheel both to protect the island from Widmore and because Jacob told him to. If Jack and the rest of the team had remained on the Island, time warping antics would still have ensued, so in what respect can "this" be blamed on them. Furthermore, in what respect can their return be expected to stop "this" from happening. As this consitutes a main premise of the show at this point, I can only hope that the producers have good answers ready and waiting to go.

Whatever happened, happened - While its cool to see scenes from old seasons play out from different perspectives (Was that footage from Season 1 they showed for the birth of Aaron?), since we know that future Sawyer didn't jump out and surprise anyone in Season 1 don't we also know that now-present Sawyer won't do any jumping? This is the inherent difficulty in telling closed-loop style time travel stories. If whatever happened, happened, then we already know the full extent of what the Island's time traveling castaways can accomplish in the past. The only exception to this may lie in the previously unexplained phenomena that the Flight 815 survivors have been dealing with since the very beginning. Which brings me to...

Whispers in the Dark - As mentioned above, due to the show's insistence on a theory of "closed loop" time travel, the only way that the time travelers could have had any impact on the events of prior seasons (at least events of which we are aware) is if we somehow didn't know that the time travelers were responsible. This could take many forms (for instance, Sawyer could have distracted Ethan Rom back in Season 1 offscreen, thus allowing the survivors to rescue Charlie), but the most likely would seem to be the currently unexplained phenomena of the jungle whispers.

Originally, whenever the Flight 815 survivors found themselves stranded in the jungle or about to meet the Others, the scene would be precipitated by their hearing strange inaudible whispers in the background. While these could still be explained as a form of Other intimidation tactic, I believe that the presence of the whispers now gives the producers a way for the time travelers to "influence" past events without changing anything. For instance, perhaps a Season 2 scene featuring the whispers was in actuality one featuring a time traveling Sawyer who needed to stop Kate from running headlong into an ambush. Whether or not the show elects to use the whispers in this way, if the producers want to allow the time travelers to "influence" events in the past they will need to be thinking of instances where the travelers could have done it without our knowing about it years ago (Whatever happened, happened, and all that). Since the idea that the time travelers actually influenced events in the past seems almost too good to pass up, expect something on the order of the above to come up before the season is through.

Longboats of the Future - By far the most perplexing scene of the episode involved the island time travelers arriving at Flight 815 beach apparently at sometime in the future (Where are Rose and Bernard by the way?). Upon discovering that the beach is deserted, our intrepid castaways stumble upon a pair of longboats containing bottled water from an Indian airline that regularly services the area. Are we meant to assume that sometime after Flight 815 there is a second passenger jet crash on the island? That all this has happened before and it will happen again? That the castaways are Cylons? I digress. I think it's far more likely that the future scenes somehow involve the return of the Oceanic Six. If that is the case, the only question would be why the Oceanic Six, or their affiliates, would be shooting at our favorite time travelers. Still, like the Lost of old, this scene presents many more questions than answers.

Rousseau versus the Sickness - When Rousseau tells Sayid her story back in Season 1 she includes mention of a "sickness" that took over the minds of her fellow castaways. It was this sickness that ultimately forced her to kill the rest of her crew. Now that we know that Jin's alive and with Rousseau's team (at least for time being), is it possible that he is somehow responsible for the "sickness"? He was very near a rather large C-4 detonation, though its unclear how that would cause anything like a sickness. Or perhaps the sickness has something to do with a large, leaking radioactive bomb buried somewhere beneath the surface of the Island. If Rousseau and her team accidentally stumbled upon it, then the radiation poisoning might look to her like a sickness. Hmmmm...in any event it's worth remembering Rousseau's story as we delve deeper into her past.

How long was I out? - Admittedly, the many and varied time travel flashes on the Island have made it difficult to keep track of just how much time has passed from the perspective of the time travelers, but exactly how long was Jin on that piece of freighter? It sure seems like a long time. I guess I can forgive the producers for wanting to hide Jin's survival for a few episodes, but still, wouldn't it have been easier to have him be alive but injured on some remote corner of the Island. That way, the French team could discover him, but it wouldn't look like he survived unconscious for days in the open ocean. Also, why is Jack so sure that there were no survivors from the freighter explosion in last year's finale? It seems like Jin's body wouldn't have been that difficult to spot from the air. These are all nits, of course, as I'm thrilled to see Jin's return. The scenario in which it was presented, however, is just one of the few in which I think there could have been some improvements.

Sayid's Season Five Kill Count (first in a continuing series) - Three (Four if you count the guy outside the mental hospital in this season...he's mentioned in this episode).

Thank you for flying Oceanic? - It's worth noting that the scene with Claire's mother in this episode could serve as something more than just a useful red herring here. In the scene in which Jack explains to Kate what Claire's mother is doing in LA he states that she was apparently receiving a settlment from Oceanic. She receives this settlement from Mr. Norton, apparently serving as Oceanic's lawyer, and who we later find out to be Ben's lawyer. At the very least, this implies a connection between Ben and Oceanic. Just what that relationship might be remains a question, but if Ben is affiliated with Oceanic then a whole new can of worms might open up. After all, if Ben has some control over Oceanic, could he have not somehow played a role in the events which originally brought Flight 815 to the Island? Interesting...

Here's a Little Story 'bout Ben and Sayid - As I mentioned in my previous recaps, it is clear that Sayid and Ben had a falling out sometime between the events of "The Economist" and "Because You Left". But what happened? And how could whatever it is be simultaneously bad enough that Sayid tells Hurley to do the opposite of whatever Ben says, but not so bad that it would prevent Sayid from being willing to join him and Jack on a (frankly) ridiculous request to return to Time Travel Island. Like Jack, does Sayid too have some need to go back to the Island? I strongly suspect that we will be getting some backstory on the relationship between this pair in the very near future.
More after the jump...