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.


  1. That episode had me spinning numerous times. I am still somewhat a "LOST Virgin" as I started watching from season one a few weeks ago. I am currently in Season 3, but have a pretty good grasp on what is going on as I watched bits and pieces of season 4 last year. One question I keep asking myself is can Ben ever be trusted????? Everytime I think he may show an inkling of human traits, he goes back to his satanic ways. Your point about his scheme in this most recent episode is right on target, how could anyone arriv eat such a plan. I guess that's what makes me coming back for more.

    Great blog Rick.

  2. Hey TV Flick Guy--WHY is it significant that Ben is the client? It is MUCH MORE significant that he can prove Jin is alive...crazy!!! I like your sections on "your thoughts" the best. Is it just me or is Ben possibly more creppy in "real life" than on the island?

  3. My current theory is that the six must return to the island because they are the constant for those left and will stop the time jumping. After that all bets are off.

  4. I have continued to contemplate your thoughts about Lost (I have yet to watch BSG this week) and am intrigued by your Rousseau's sickness comments. That will keep me interested enough to watch next week...and to all you reading comments let me just say that I am not a LOST fan, I never have been, and it has taken me this long to get into it, thanks mostly to this blog keeping me interested as most of the time I have no idea what is going on.