May 14, 2009

Lost: "The Incident"; Bombs Away

Well, I have to say, after recommending to everyone I know a Battlestar Galactica that basically went up in flames at the end, I'm getting a little tired of spending my social capital on shows that seem to do their best to make me regret it in the morning.

Said another way:

Sorry for the TERRIBLE finale.

Let's put it in perspective, shall we? Way back in Season 1, when Lost was still riding high off its almost 30 million viewers and spending its days wistfully looking forward to receiving a first (and likely only) Emmy Award for best dramatic series, the powers that be on the show decided to end their historic first season with one of the most unsatisfying finishes in recent television history: A shot of a ladder. Now, in the seasons that followed, Desmond, the button, the Dharma Initiative, the Others, flash-forwards, Jacob, the smoke monster, and everything else would all be introduced and serve as wonderful plot devices on a wonderful show, but during that first hiatus all the writers deigned to leave us with was that "The Hatch" had a ladder in it.

And the Lost fanbase (at least in number) never really recovered.

To be sure, ever since that fateful day it appeared that the Lost showrunners had learned their lesson. The finales of Seasons 2 (failsafe), 3 (flash-forward), and 4 (island exodus), all answered significant, long-asked questions in packages that were both narratively satisfying and mysterious enough to sustain the fanbase during the long break between installments. The crippling anticlimax that was "The Incident", however, unfortunately proves that no such lesson was learned.

Last night's episode essentially revolved around three plot lines: Locke's journey to murder Jacob; Jack's journey to murder everyone (okay, okay change the timeline); and Jacob's journey to influence the 815ers at critical moments in their past (presumably to bring them to the Island). Unfortunately, none of the three plot lines really resolved in any reasonable way, especially not when one considers that it will be almost nine months until we come back to any of them.

Let's take them one at a time.

Jacob's Journey

By far the most interesting portions of the episode revolve around the show's reveal of Jacob in the flesh (if that is an accurate description for an apparently immortal ethereal being), and the revelation that there is another entity on the island, essentially Jacob's dark opposite, who has apparently wanted to kill Jacob for a very long time (the opening of the episode shows these two "men" looking out at an old Galleon, presumably the Black Rock, though the omnipresent hieroglyphs and statuary imply a far older connection).

While this relationship is interesting (and proves to be critical in the closing moments of the episode), the bulk of Jacob's remaining appearances revolve around making appearances in the pasts of the 815ers. He pays for a lunchbox (New Kids on the Block!) that young Kate tries to steal, he gives Jack a candy bar after his infamous "angel hair pasta" surgery, he (apparently) sets up Sayid's love Nadia to be killed by a passing car, he (again, apparently) heals Locke after his "fall" from the apartment building, and he outright tells Hurley to get on Ajira 316.

Why, does he do these things? Who knows. For our purposes he's simply a ladder in a hatch for the time being. Do I think that the producers of Lost are building towards a battle of the righteous against the evil and that sides will be taken and lines will be drawn? Yes, I do, and Jacob's journey implies that the ingredients are all there. But I am reviewing this episode, today, and for a finale, Jacob's story left very little for even the most dedicated Lost viewer to hang his hat on.

Locke's Journey

Okay, so I haven't been blogging in a while, I admit, but if I had, I would have pointed out that the "reasons" given prior to the finale for Locke's resurrection were never satisfactory. When combined with the fact that in "Dead is Dead" Locke never appears at the same time as the smoke monster, I have been pretty sure for a while that what we were dealing with with Locke was in fact an apparition of the Yemi or Christian variety.

What I hadn't been expecting is the revelation in this episode that Jacob, the Island, smokey, etc. are not necessarily playing on the same team. Indeed, the "shadow" peoples' expressed concern that others had been using Jacob's cabin implies that the dead body apparitions are very different from Jacob. This implication is only strengthened, I would imagine, by the fact that Ghost Locke talks Ben into "killing" the man, after revealing (in choice of dialogue) that Ghost Locke is, in fact, Jacob's long lost antagonist.

While I enjoyed coming to the realization that Ghost Locke had apparently been manipulating Ben solely because he was incapable of murdering Jacob himself, and that Ghost Locke had essentially ordered Ben to follow him by taking on the guise of Alex in "Dead is Dead", there really was no general resolution to the plot line. Was Jacob good? Bad? Other (pun intended)? Why did he let himself die? What's Ghost Locke's end game?

Sure we have the ingredients: A set up for a garden of Eden tale, ala Paradise Lost, featuring Jacob in the role of God, unnamed antagonist guy in the role of Lucifer, and Ben and Locke (and presumably Richard) serving as unwitting pawns, but in the end those ingredients haven't been formed into any kind of cogent whole. And we know that they won't be for a very long time.

Dr. Stangelove's Journey

By far the worst aspect of the finale, Jack's plot line fell apart on about 1,000 different levels.

First, the motivations of the characters throughout this episode felt patently false. Jack's gonna blow up the world because he has a messiah complex? Nope, it's because he lost Kate, and he'd rather never have met her if he doesn't get to tap that every night.

Kate, Sawyer, and Juliet? They hijack a fricken submarine in order to stop Jack's absurd plan, but all three wind up providing cover fire during project trinity. Why? Well for Juliet it's because Sawyer looked at Kate with those big puppy-dog eyes earlier in the episode, and well, she would rather never
have met him if she doesn't get to tap that every night. Sawyer? Well I guess it's because he couldn't beat Jack hard enough to make him stop, and because he's mopey because Juliet doesn't want to ever have met him. And Kate? You know, the one who will be going directly to jail without passing Go if Jack's plan is successful? Well, she agrees to help because Jack asks her to again, albeit a bit more softly this time. Don't even get me started about Hurley, Miles, Jin, etc. The show doesn't even bother to address why they might be okay standing on top of a nuclear detonation.

In short, the characters move along throughout this episode like so many chess (or perhaps more appropriately, backgammon) pieces, and the writers barely bother to make their motivations any deeper than the average episode of One Tree Hill, despite the presence of a large-scale nuclear weapon in one of their backpacks. Since the Jacob/Locke plot line (never mind the motivations of the "shadow" people) is all but indecipherable without one's own time travel device as well as an expert-level grasp of both classical Latin and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, this finale could only be saved by at least resolving what happens when the bomb finally goes off.

Of course, the show doesn't bother to do that.

Instead, like the hatch of yore, we are left pondering a season in which, for large chunks of time, the producers built up to mythic revelations (Jacob, the bomb, etc.) that never really paid off. How is anyone to know where the show goes from here? Maybe the real secret is that it's a backdoor pilot for a new Star Trek series from J.J. I mean, didn't the Enterprise fly through the Lost logo a few weeks back. Did anyone check for a Dharma logo?

Sarcastic asides aside, nine months is a long time (time enough to have a baby!). After that finale, how can anyone be expected to care?

Other random thoughts:

Promises, Promises - My wife actually caught this one, but did anybody notice that a number of the Jacob-tinged flashbacks involved one or more (in the case of Jin and Sun) 815ers making promises of some kind. Kate promises to be good, Sawyer promises to "let it go", and Jin and Sun make promises to love one another. I don't know if there's anything to it or not (Locke and Jack notably don't have any similar dialogue in their flashbacks), but its worth noting all the same.

Locke's Death - Well, I guess the presence of Ghost Locke (and of Corpse Locke for that matter) means that Ben really did kill Locke at the end of Season 4 (or 3, or in the middle of this Season depending on how you want to look at it). What a sad way for the character to die. It puts forth the question: If Lost is, as I've posited, truly a story about redemption what, if anything, redeemed Locke before the end? If the answer is (as I suspect) nothing, than either his is the great tragic story of Lost, or we should be on the look out for a true resurrection before all is said and done.

Reckless Driving - Jacob's flashback with Sayid is perhaps the most ambiguous of the ones presented in this episode. Did Jacob save Sayid from being run over by a reckless driver, while simultaneously allowing Nadia to die? Did Jacob cause Nadia to die by holding back Sayid, thus causing Nadia to stop in the street? Was the car accident really an accident or was something more nefarious at play? I suspect it will be up for interpretation for quite some time (if not forever), so it basically comes down to what one chooses to believe. I believe Jacob caused Nadia's death, but that's because I'm like Frank on this one: you can usually count on the people that insist they are the good guys to truly be bad in the end.

Count to Five - Interesting to see the infamous count to five scene as (we presume) it actually happened. Especially interesting since Jack notably did not mention that his father was so instrumental in his "count to five" philosophy when he was imparting the same to Kate way back in Season 1.

Man of Science - Was anyone at all disturbed by the ease in which Dr. Shepard shot up the various Dharma compounds visited in this episode. I mean, even disregarding the implausibly accurate shooting of our favorite spinal surgeon, is it really heroic to shoot up a bunch of hippie scientists? I guess when you really want to get over your ex-girlfriend you don't really care how you get there.

White Flashes - Despite the apparent nuclear detonation sending us off on the long hiatus, it's worth mentioning that all we really saw of the explosion was a white flash. Why is that significant? Well, since "Flashes Before your Eyes", and very prominently throughout this fractured Season 5, Lost has been using the device of a white flash to indicate time travel on the Island. In the absence of evidence of an actual explosion, why should we assume that the Island didn't simply time travel, perhaps as a result of Dharma tapping into its electromagnetic energy. If that is the case, perhaps the losties jumped back to 2007 and left the bomb behind them. Maybe the explosion still occurred in 1977, or maybe the Dharma Initiative created the Swan hatch and hooked up the unexploded nuclear core to some kind of a device, we'll call it a failsafe, that would only utilize the nuclear energy if certain Scottish yachtsman were to one day turn a failsafe key. Maybe...

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