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.

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