February 24, 2010

Lost: "The Lighthouse"

"Why didn't we see this before?"

Why didn't we see this before, indeed. From a four story edifice on the edge of the Island to an appendix scar "appearing" seemingly in the middle of the night, "The Lighthouse" is filled with instances where the show's main characters (and their alternate universe counterparts) have their eyes opened to the universe around them in new and varied ways. While it may not have been a classic episode, it was certainly an intriguing one.

Let's get this out of the way first. The alternate universe plot (aside from the one moment of intrigue in which alternate Jack asks his mother about his appendix scar) had, like the ones before it, the air of pointless filler. That's not to say that all of these "alternate" scenes won't mean something in the long run, it's just hard to sit through fake Jack (and believe me, I know that alternate Jack isn't really "fake", it's just seems that way when slogging through these scenes) watching his fake son play fake piano before eating fake pizza.

More mystical lighthouses please.

On that note, this episode offers us the first mystical lighthouse of the series (Or is it the second? See "A Light in the Darkness" below), a hugely tall tower on an exposed part of the Island that one could not imagine Sayid missing during his exploratory walks/sailing excursions earlier in the series. So it's an invisible lighthouse then, an invisible lighthouse that shows a beleaguered Jack his childhood home when turned to a setting where someone (presumably Jacob) has written his (or is that Christian's?) last name. Of course, who can say whether the mirror is seeing Jack's childhood home now, in the past, in the future, or...elsewhere (like in an alternate dimension?). The lighthouse portion of the episode is all questions and no answers, an ironic pose for a building that is ostensibly supposed to be shedding light on things.

Finally, the rest of the episode features a Claire thoroughly naturalized to Island life (was Claire even losing her accent at points?) as she interrogates Jin and an Other about the fate of her dear Aaron. While little happens in this portion of the episode, Locke's appearance at the end of it makes clear the sequence's purpose: Jin is going to help Smokey and Claire sneak into the Temple, presumably so that Smokey can have his way with the Others that call it home.

At the end of the day then, this episode was a good, not great, addition to the series, that despite ABC Marketing's claims to the contrary did more to ask questions than to answer them. That being said, things are very clearly moving towards an epic confrontation at the Temple, a confrontation I very much look forward to seeing. Let's hope it's next week.

14 hours remain...

Quick Thoughts

Altered Echoes: By far the most intriguing piece of the episode (at least for me) was in the very first alternate universe scene, in which a contemplative Jack has to do a double take to confirm the existence of an appendectomy scar on his abdomen. Regular viewers of Lost will surely remember Jack's emergency Island Appendectomy from Season 4. Alternate Jack, however, seems to be surprised by the presence of the scar. When his mother reminds him that he got his appendix removed when he was younger, Jack seems to acknowledge vaguely remembering something like that, but the whole scene takes on the air of one of Sawyer's con games. It's almost as if his mother is ad-libbing a reasonable explanation for why Jack would have such a scar. It's worth noting that the scene also bears a striking resemblance to the one last year in which a sleeping Desmond "remembers" being contacted by Daniel Faraday in his Island-bound past.

Alternate Jack "receiving" a scar that Island Jack had received three years prior (but maybe at the "alternate" time of this episode, sometime in 2004/2005) raises vastly more questions then it answers. Could the actions of the Island Losties somehow be influencing their alternate universe counterparts? Did alternate Jack not have an appendectomy scar until his Island dwelling opposite had his encounter with Juliet's surgical blade? Does the air of artificiality in the scene in which alternate Jack learns of his appendectomy imply that the alternate Losties are really our Losties, simply enduring a great lie about their past. Just what is going on?

The appendectomy question is, in my opinion, by far the most important thing to come out of "The Lighthouse." Even more important than mirrors that see things they very well shouldn't. But that really is another thought entirely, isn't it...

Mirror, Mirror: So what was Jack seeing in that mirror anyway? Was it a window to the past? (He clearly states that it is focused on his childhood home; a home he hasn't lived in for years.) Or did Jacob simply fail to adjust the lighthouse to follow his candidates-in-training? That seems unlikely. Perhaps the mirror shows only the versions of the candidates that could otherwise take Jacob's place. In other words, perhaps the mirror was actually showing the alternate timeline, a timeline featuring a far less broken Jack, a Jack capable of rightly being called a candidate, and we will see the lighthouse as a means for convergence as the show continues on. Perhaps our Jack will even have to sacrifice himself in some way for alternate Jack. Now that would be a mindbender...

Guess who's coming...: So Jacob claimed that Hurley and Jack needed to go to the lighthouse in order to aid someone in reaching the Island. Later, he seemed more than content with allowing Jack to smash the lighthouse's mirrors, seemingly because Jack now recognized how important he was to Jacob. Was there ever anyone coming to the Island? My guess is that there was/is, but that Jacob is satisfied with allowing that specific individual to find another way. In other words, Jacob's very willing to let things play out however they do. Now who's on their way? My guess is Desmond, though a case could also be made for Widmore. I guess we'll see...

Suicide Baby: When Jack was losing it up in the lighthouse, I couldn't help but think that he was going to threaten Jacob with his suicide. I mean we know Jack's thought about killing himself by jumping from a high place before (see the Season 3 finale, ironically enough named "Through the Looking Glass"), and now he knows that he is supremely important to Jacob. Why not threaten to kill yourself in order to get at the man behind the curtain? How does breaking the lighthouse mirrors help anything? For the first time in a long time, the mirror destruction scene felt like the writers deliberately obfuscating where clarity was called for. It felt like a step back.

Adam and Eve: It was nice to see Hurley and Jack back at the caves addressing one of the show's bigger questions, the presence of ancient skeletons (which, if I remember correctly, were clutching light and dark stones similar to the ones we saw on the scales in Jacob's cave last week). While the pair didn't find any answers regarding their origin, it seems unlikely that the show's writers would have included the scene if they didn't intend to address the issue before the series draws to a close, and for that I am very happy.

A Rousseau By Any Other Name: I couldn't quite make out many of the names that had been crossed off on Jacob's lighthouse candidates list, but one that did jump out was Rousseau's. It seems she was a candidate to replace Jacob. Guess that could have worked out better for her...

Through the Looking Glass: "Lighthouse" is just the latest in a long line of references that Lost has made to Lewis Carrol's famous "Through the Looking Glass." The most significant being Dharma's underwater radio base
, "The Looking Glass" (in which one Charlie Pace did meet his watery end in the similarly named Season 3 finale...at least in the primary timeline), but that is more metaphorical than literal. In this one, we get an actual looking glass, the lighthouse mirror, that shows another world. Whether that world is the past, the present, the future, or another reality altogether is unclear, but whatever the case may be, it is clear that the mirrors in the lighthouse are not showing what they otherwise should be. When combined with the fact that Jack picks up and comments on an anthology of Mr. Carrol's work when he is talking with his son, I think it is safe to assume that the showrunners wanted us thinking about Alice's trips to Wonderland when we watched this one.

How I Met Your Mother: In the alternate timeline, a number of references are made to Jack's son's mother, but she never appears. Is her identity supposed to be a secret? Are we just meant to assume that Jack and his wife from the primary timeline had a son in the alternate timeline? It strikes me that there's a big "aha" reveal coming on this score in the future, but I'm not quite sure.

You've Got A Friend in Me: It was clear half-way through the episode that the identity of Claire's "friend" would likely play into the "L O S T" ending, but I had thought that Christian (rather than Not Locke) would be making another appearance. Perhaps with Smokey being forced to keep Locke's identity (as stated without reason in last week's episode), we won't see Christian for the remainder of the series (at least in the primary timeline). That would seem like a waste of one of the show's most mysterious characters, however, so I would hope that the show's creators wouldn't go in that direction.

What it Takes: As you might have guessed from the fact that I regularly make blog posts on the subject, I am a bit of a Lost fan. That being said, even I thought the connection to Jack "not having what it takes" was too tenuous to support the proposition that the mere invocation of the line by Hurley would cause Jack to once again go traipsing into the jungle. Now had Hurley told Jack to "sweep the leg" that might be a different story...

A Light in the Darkness: Interesting symbolism in the use of a giant, mystical, invisible "tower of light" in this one, especially when compared with the Dharma Initiative's "Lamppost" station from last year. That station was manned by Daniel Faraday's mother, Mrs. Hawking, and was used to track the location of the Island in time and space. Similarly, the lighthouse in this episode was apparently used by Jacob to track the candidates in time and space, and, more interestingly, was also apparently used to signal visitors to the Island in some way. In a way, both buildings are lighthouses, but in reverse. Since lighthouses were traditionally buildings of warding (warning ships of rocky outcroppings or just land in general) it is interesting to see that notion turned on its ear. With respect to the Island, a lighthouse (both the invisible kind and the Dharma Initiative kind) is a building that welcomes. It leads visitors to land (the Island) rather than warding them away. At least if we can take the ghost of a dead Egyptian god at face value...
More after the jump...

February 18, 2010

Lost: "The Substitute"

"What's the eight about?"

"Jacob had a thing for numbers."

Now that's more like it.

I still have major problems with the show spending so much time on an alternate reality that is essentially inscrutable even for the most ardent Lost fan, but I don't need to harp on that for my analysis of this one. Unlike "What Kate Does", "The Substitute" dealt almost entirely with the mission of one Man-in-Black, I mean "Not Locke", I mean Smokey, or perhaps I mean Randall Flagg, as he "recruited" for a battle the nature of which we can only guess at for now. Suffice it to say, the single-minded malice of what may be a revived Egyptian god proved much more interesting than Kate and Claire's adventures in maternity triage. Surprise, Surprise.

In the alternate timeline, we meet a Locke who is engaged to marry the love of his life, who still has a relationship with his Dad, and who winds up working as a substitute teacher at a high school employing one Benjamin Linus. Little happens (though the show continues to establish that the survivors are going to be meeting each other one way or another even in the alternate timeline), but that's not really the interesting part of the episode.

The interesting part is on the Island.

On Time Travel Island, circa 2007, Not Locke is a man on a mission. As the Jacobian cultist whose name I can never quite remember ominously states, he is "recruiting." And who is he recruiting? Everyone's favorite back-talking broken man: James "Sawyer" Ford. As I guessed in my post on "LA X":

Clearly the Man in Black is coming for the Others, and I think he's going to be assembling a team of cynical and defeated people to help him. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Sawyer (or Jack for that matter) winds up on the wrong team, before being redeemed in the end.

Basically, that guess now appears to be right. Not Locke is assembling a team, a team whose purpose is still unclear, but who the Others very clearly think is ultimately trying to kill them (a frightened Richard Alpert says as much to Sawyer). Why? All we are given in this episode is the notion that Not Locke/The Man in Black was once just a man, and he has been trapped on the Island for a long, long time. He simply wants to be free. Of course, he can also take the form of a pillar of black smoke, and is plagued by images of a golden-haired boy running through the jungle telling him that he "can't kill him." Who is that boy? Who can't the Man in Black kill? I have some guesses (they are really to specious to be called theories at this point) which I elaborate on below.

More interestingly, in attempting to win Sawyer's trust (or in attempting to kill him; the line is very thin you see), the Man in Black takes Sawyer to a cave he claims is Jacob's. On the walls of the cave are a series of names with all but a few crossed off. As Sawyer examines the walls, Not Locke explains that the names are those of the "Candidates", a select group of people who Jacob deemed to be worthy of being his replacements. The only names which have not been crossed off are very recognizable: Ford, Shepard, Locke (crossed off by the Man in Black in this episode), Kwon, Reyes, Jarrah (interestingly not Austen), and all are associated with a number - 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42.

Like the recruitment issue, I guessed that the show would make Jacob-replacement a priority in my post on "LA X":

In this conception, I imagine that towards the end of the season (or in the finale), Jack (or the survivors as a whole) will be asked to make a choice, between saving the Island and taking on some terrible burden (perhaps becoming the new Jacob, forever bound to the Island and its cosmic significance) or forgetting that any of their adventures ever happened. Not only would this choice illustrate one of the main themes of Lost, that of the importance of free will, it would also allow us to adjudge the ramifications of the "wrong" choice through the use of the alternate timeline.

Not that these guesses are anything special (most notably, I now think that the scenario I posited above is far more likely to occur in connection with a converging timeline rather than a divergent one, and more likely then not will fall on someone other than Jack; see below). One of the best things about watching Lost is that the show is generally very fair with its viewers. People like to complain that it asks more questions than it answers, but quite often the show answers questions in a very subtle way before it swings back around and answers them more deliberately. The term "candidate", for instance, was mentioned prominently in Season 5, so the fact that the show might wind up turning on the notion of who is or isn't a candidate (and a candidate for what?) could have (should have) put the notion of Jacob's replacement in play far before the definitive answers presented in this episode.

Of course, "definitive" might not be the right word for the answers presented in this one. To call the Man in Black an unreliable narrator would be to undersell the very concept. Interesting indeed.

15 hours remain...

Quick Thoughts

You Must Go and Make Your Stand: I've been down this road before, but this episode made it quite clear that Lost is hurtling towards an endgame that is going to share quite a bit in common with Stephen King's seminal work "The Stand". As in that book, we are now seeing in Lost a storyline focused on an "evil" entity preying upon cynicism and weakness to recruit an army to fight against the light (here, Jacob). Unlike in that book, we don't really see an army of light preparing to similarly make their stand against the forces of darkness. Jack may have been willing to swallow a poison capsule, but he's got a fair bit of growing left to do if he's going to lead the armies of God (or Jacob as the case may be). In "The Stand", after all, it wasn't a mere willingness to lead, but a willingness to die that was necessary to carry the day. I don't really see that coming from any of the Temple-bound Losties just yet.

Benjamin Linus: I feel like I've said this a lot already before (in truth, I have, but it was with respect to Gaius Baltar on Battlestar Galactica), but what is the plan with Ben? In this one, we see him admit to the murder of John Locke and appear to exhibit genuine signs of remorse. It's as if he regrets killing Jacob and unleashing whatever it is he unleashed, but, in truth, what side was Ben ever on? Jacob effectively goaded Ben into killing him, and there was clearly no "Linus" on Jacob's wall. Furthermore, we've seen Ben "control" smokey who we all assumed was working for Jacob at the time, but has since been revealed to be Jacob's arch-nemesis. We know that Jacob never spoke to Ben, and that Ben only faked being able to see Jacob in the Goodspeed Cabin. So what was/is Ben's purpose? Was Jacob just using him? Was Smokey? I suspect that even if they resolve most of the plot lines on this show in a satisfactory manner, that some of the earlier seasons are not going to line up quite right, and I think Ben's extremely fluid relationship to everything that's happened is going to be something that people are just going to have to ignore. I'll be happy to be proved wrong, though.

The Hot List: So, if the Others have been making lists all this time, and referring to them as Jacob's lists (a connection I still can't quite understand since we get confirmation that the Others were actually drafting the lists in Season 3), how is it that the Losties we know and love were only referenced on one such list at the start of this season, when we now know that Jacob has been keeping track of them all this time. Did the "Candidate Six" need to experience life out on the Island for a time? Did Jacob only recently identify them? More ominously, is the Man in Black just telling Sawyer a pack of lies while they are in the cave? Rather than candidates, do the markings on the wall instead show a kind of "Kill Bill" style hit list drafted by Smokey himself? We did see him cross off Locke's name in this one, and it's quite clear that we aren't supposed to take the Man in Black at face value (obviously the Island needs protecting from something, despite what he tells Sawyer). Questions, questions, questions, with barely an answer to glean.

A Hole in the World: Alright, so here's my weekly diatribe on the state of Lost post the introduction of the alternate universe flashes. As I mentioned last week, one of the problems with the alternate universe is that the characters we are watching are clearly different from the ones we have been following for the five previous years. Let's look at the questions Locke's "flash" leaves us after this episode:

(1) What is Locke's relationship with his Dad?
(2) If his relationship with his Dad is good (as is implied by Helen's suggestion that Locke invite his dad to their wedding), what events have transpired in Locke's dad's past which causes him to not push his son from an apartment window?
(3) Did Locke's dad steal his kidney?
(4) If Locke's Dad didn't push him from a window, how was Locke paralyzed (and for how long has he been that way)?
(5) How did Locke meet Helen (remember they met in a support group related to Locke's abuse at the hands of his father the first time around)?
(6) If Locke wasn't pushed out a window, then was he ever in the hospital at the right time to have Abaddon tell him he needed to go on walkabout? If not, why did he decide to go on walkabout?
(7) What did Locke do for a week in Australia? (In the original timeline it was at least strongly implied that the ticket the walkabout company purchased for Locke was very soon to depart after he was rejected from participating in the tour.)
(8) If Locke's Dad is a nice guy now, what effect does that have on Sawyer's alternate story? Are Sawyer's parents alive?

I am sure there are hundreds more that could be asked about Locke or any of the other alternate versions of the castaways, but therein lies the problem. We don't know who alternate Locke is any better than we know who, for instance, Cindy the stewardess is. There's a hole in the narrative that makes it impossible to be certain what things actually happened in the story we are being told. I don't see any way around this for the show's producers and it's becoming more and more troublesome.

Ashes to Ashes: Is it possible that in Lost, like Galactica, "this has all happened before and it will happen again." We are talking a lot about rites of succession in this one, after all. And note the seeming importance placed on Jacob's ashes in this episode. Is it possible, for instance, that the ashes of Jacob can be used to keep Smokey at bay, just like the ashes of previous Island protectors? I wonder.

Useful Narrative Constructs: It is clear now, four episodes in, that the alternate timeline Losties are to be of the same general archetype as their original recipe counterparts, but that the details that got them there may or may not be different. Kate is a fugitive in both timelines, but she may or may not be innocent in the alternate. Locke almost certainly was not thrown through a window in the alternate timeline, but that didn't stop him from becoming a paraplegic. While the show's creators seem to enjoy this bit of cleverness, I can't help but think that it's simply a useful narrative device. After all, if the alternate versions of the characters weren't of the same rough type as the version we've already met, then we would have absolutely no basis on which to relate to them.

I think the usefulness of such a device is limited, however, and may even be damaging, because it's too easy for a viewer (including myself) to forget when watching alternate Locke in the bathtub, for instance, that he may or may not have the capability of reflecting on that time his kidney was stolen, because he may or may not have experienced that in his life. It creates ambiguity and uncertainty where none existed before, and it risks making the whole darn enterprise impenetrable. We simply don't know what we don't know.

Combined with the fact that apparently the Man in Black can no longer change his form (he can change into a pillar of smoke, but not into another human shape, that makes a lot of sense), presumably because the brilliant Terry O'Quinn would otherwise have nothing to do on the series, and I can't help but think that the writers are taking easy outs when they should be pulling out all the stops.

Wasting Away: I know I promised not to harp on this, but it's clear now that the alternate timeline is actively conspiring to deny us forward movement in the main storyline. Last week we were denied any follow-up on an evil god taking an immortal slave into the jungle. This week, we see no mention of an aboriginal Claire or any of the other Temple-bound Losties. This makes every episode feel like it contains so much filler, even when large portions of it are interesting. This too is troubling.

To Err is Human, to Converge, Divine: I think it's pretty obvious now that the name of the game in terms of the alternate timeline is convergence. That even though these people didn't otherwise meet in a terrible plane crash, the universe and its constant course correction will bring everyone together in the end. The only problem with that, of course, is that the notion of course correction was pretty firmly established throughout the events of Season 3. Why is it so important now? (And how do the two universes co-exist, anyway?)

Who is that Boy I see?: This episode's contribution to Twin Peaks style weirdness took the form of a young blond boy who appeared in the jungle, but only to Not Locke and Sawyer (notably, Alpert can't see him). Who was he, and why did he tell Not Locke that according to the "rules" he couldn't kill "him"? I don't have any idea, but it's worth noting that this is not the first time we've heard of the "rules." In Season 4, we saw a grieving Ben Linus confront a sleeping Charles Widmore with the claim that Widmore had broken the "rules" when he had ordered the murder of Ben's "daughter" Alex. At the time, it was difficult to say whether the "rules" applied simply to a compact between the men, or to something more cosmic in significance. In this episode, though, we have a clearly supernatural entity (whether or not he is divine is up for some debate), telling an Island dweller, what they "can't do." Interestingly, the person being told this has otherwise appeared to be a god in the context of the show's narrative, a personification of darkness (the Man in Black), against Jacob's light.

That "godhood" is thrown into sharp relief, however, by the reaffirmation in this episode that he has to play by some form of rules (the first time rules were referred to for the Man in Black was in the Season 5 finale, in which it was implied that the Man in Black wanted to kill Jacob but couldn't, and that through Ben he found a loophole in the cosmic laws). So who is the boy? He's someone (or a representative of someone) who has greater power than the Man in Black (and, I would posit, Jacob). In my estimation, that leaves only one possibility: he's God (or a representative), or more precisely in the conception of god that the show contemplates, he's the essence of the divine (whatever that may be).

A Prison for Your Mind: Now, I know that I said that convergence is the name of the game up above, and I believe that in the macro sense, but allow me to take a small step back. In this episode, the Man in Black intimates that the Island is his prison. Now Jacob may or may not be his prison guard, or simply another prisoner, but ask yourself this: If the nuclear detonation in 1977 destroyed the Island (or otherwise led to the destruction of the Island), was the Man in Black (or Jacob, or both) freed as a result? If he was freed, is there some great evil at work in the alternate timeline that we just aren't privy to at this moment? Might the purpose of the alternate timeline actually be to show the viewer just how unintended, unintended consequences can be? Ominous.

Ladder, Ladder: I thought the ladder bit in this episode was utterly pointless. It was patently evident that Sawyer wasn't in any real danger, and the sequence just seemed to go on and on. Was the episode running a little short, guys?

Let the Right Kwon In: One of the more interesting things that the Man in Black says in this episode is that he doesn't know which Kwon (Sun or Jin) is a candidate for Jacob's replacement (we even see a flashback to Jacob touching them both to add to the ambiguity). It's possible that this is the Man in Black's weakness. If the candidates hold some sort of power over the Island and its inhabitants, then the Man in Black's inability to identify one of them may be of supreme importance. I can see this playing out to some significant effect in the show's endgame.

The Jacobian Candidate: This may simply be the "gun in the first act" rule on an epic scale, but I can't believe for one minute that, with the concept of replacing Jacob introduced, we won't see one of the Losties taking up that mantle. Now the most obvious candidate (no pun intended) is Jack, if only because he is the centerpiece of the show and the entry point for the audience, but I think things might take a different direction. If I'm right, taking on Jacob's responsibilities will be accompanied by some form of significant burden. Maybe it's simply being trapped on the Island for so long, maybe it's something worse, either way, like in "The Stand", the person willing to take on Jacob's role will also have to be willing to make a major sacrifice. A sacrifice that could redeem a person's soul. To my eye, it's Sawyer's story, not Jack's that is setting up best for that kind of redemptive arc. Sawyer will play on the side of darkness for a time, but mark my words, when it comes time to save his friends (or simply Kate, blech) he will step up to the plate. That's my guess anyway.

Of Mice and Men: A pretty obvious callback to Season 3 in having Sawyer reference Of Mice and Men while traipsing through the jungle with Not Locke. Thematically, I'm not sure it worked other than to set up the moment when Sawyer pulls his gun on Not Locke (in so far as I haven't been able to identify any commonality between Ben's interrogations of Sawyer in Season 3 and Sawyer's "broken man" persona in Season 6), but that doesn't change the fact that I always enjoy when the show references itself rewarding long-time viewers.

More after the jump...

February 10, 2010

Lost: "What Kate Does"

"Are you kidding me?"

Well that didn't take long. While I was impressed with the novelty of the alternate universe last week, a small part of me was concerned that flashes to it would feel very much like wasted time when placed in an ordinary week-to-week setting. I think "What Kate Does" unfortunately proves that concern correct.

In the episode, the action pivots between a "primary" plot line in which the survivors deal with the aftermath of Sayid's unlikely resurrection and Sawyer's self-loathing, and an alternate plot line in which Kate frees herself from handcuffs and befriends a very pregnant Claire. Neither plot line really advances the ball down the field, and at the end of the episode, all we really know is that the Others think Sayid has been "claimed" by darkness (by Smokey? by the Man in Black?). More interestingly, in order to prove their point to Jack, the Others claim that Claire was claimed by that same darkness at some point in the past (presumably when she left with Christian in the middle of Season 4).

Other than that, the episode served no apparent purpose.

Sure it's nice that Kate, despite being in the middle of running from the law, stops to pick up the pregnant Australian girl whose cab she had just hijacked (very realistic by the way), but what do the events of that timeline even mean? The creators of Lost have a real problem the longer they fail to explain just what we are supposed to take from the alternate timeline scenes.

Back in Season 3, there was much talk about the fact that the show was losing momentum because the flashback mechanic had been played out for so long. All anyone really wanted to see was more Island adventure, and taking time out of an episode for flashbacks which failed to illuminate any interesting characteristics of the survivors felt like a waste of time. Unfortunately, the alternate timeline appears to have the same problem as the Season 3 flashbacks, only this time writ large.

Unlike Season 3, in which the flashbacks at least colored our understanding of the characters to some degree, we have no idea what to do with the alternate timeline, because the showrunners have failed to tell us what they mean. Said another way, an episode of Lost in this, its final season, tends to feel like a 20 minute window on the Island we care about accompanied by a 20 minute dream sequence/tone poem which really doesn't mean anything.

To put it mildly, this is a problem.

The good news is that this problem can be, at least in part, retroactively corrected. If, at the end of the season, we find out, for instance, that the show is adopting some type of "wheel of life" explanation, that the alternate timeline is actually a representation of where the characters go when they die (or any of an infinite array of explanations that give meaning to the alternate timeline), at least we could give some internal weight to the proceedings occurring in "fake" 2004, even in the episodes we are seeing now. In my humble opinion, however, it is a mistake for the show to try to maintain a mystery around the alternate timeline, as it seems intent on doing, as that mystery is essentially unanswerable at present, and creates a show that feels disjointed and oddly short for a prime time hour long.

Now, I trust the showrunners, and I believe that this retroactive course correction will occur. I, however, do not enjoy the show as much as I should in the manner in which it is currently being presented, and the blame for that falls squarely on those same showrunners. In other words, I think everything will be fine, but that the alternate timeline, for so long as it continues to play out as the world's longest dream sequence, is a mistake.

16 hours remain...

Quick Thoughts

Moments of Recognition: Similar to last week's Jack/Desmond encounter, this week's episode lingers on a shot of Kate seemingly recognizing Jack as she drives by him at LAX. Seeing as this is the second time we've seen such a shot, I think we are meant to assume that there is some recognition there; that the alternate timeline Losties have either already lived the primary events (making the primary timeline a flashback of sorts) or they are in some small part aware that they are living a different sort of life in an alternate universe. Throw in the fact that Kate's acts of kindness towards Claire make little to no sense unless she views Claire as something more than a stranger, and I think a sense of recognition has been fairly strongly implied at this point.

What Kate Did: Obviously the title of this episode is a reference to the episode in Season 2 where we found out that Kate murdered her father to protect her mother ("What Kate Did"), but it illustrates another problem with the alternate timeline. At one point in the episode, Claire asks Kate what the cops want her for. In response, Kate asks Claire if she would believe that she's innocent. Claire said that she would, and I guess we have to too, considering we have no idea who this Kate is. Did she murder her father as she did in the primary timeline? Did she murder someone else? Is she innocent? Since the show's producers have decided that the alternate timeline could have changed all manner of things (Shannon getting on the plane, Locke being allowed to go on walkabout, Charlie's suicidal tendencies), what are we to believe? How are we supposed to root for or against people that we barely know? As I said above, I think this is just one more reason the alternate timeline needs to get resolved sooner rather than later.

Real Adoption?: One of the fringe debates from the early seasons of the show was whether or not Claire was actually going to visit an adopting family when she was in LA. A little background: In Season 1, Claire visits a psychic that tells her that she must raise her child on her own or great calamities will befall the earth (this last part is more implied than said). He hounds her with this "prophecy" before seemingly giving up by telling her that he's found a couple to adopt her baby in Los Angeles. Of course, the flight she'll have to take to get to Los Angeles is Oceanic Flight 815 and it's strongly implied that the psychic knew that flight's fate. In other words, there would be no need for an adopting couple in LA, because the psychic knew that Claire would be raising her baby on her own on the Island. That interpretation of the episode's events was thrown into a small amount of dispute, however, when a later episode in Season 2 featured Mr. Eko investigating a miracle claimed by the psychic's wife. In one scene of that episode, the psychic admits to Mr. Eko that he is a fraud, a fake psychic that preys on people and takes their money. Presumably, in that episode we are meant to reflect on Claire's situation, and whether or not the psychic was defrauding her or whether, just once, he was touched by the supernatural (you know, like Whoopi in Ghost).

Now, I have always been of the opinion that the psychic was telling Claire the truth, and that he really saw terrible things happening if she gave the baby away. Of course, that interpretation implies that there was no family in LA for Claire to give her baby to. In this episode, however, we find that in the alternate timeline there was a family ready to adopt Claire's baby. What does that mean for everything I wrote about in the above paragraph? Nothing, and that's the problem with the alternate timeline. Like I said in my comments about how it's impossible for us to know who alternate Kate is, it's similarly impossible for us to know who alternate Claire is. Who is the baby's father? Did she visit a psychic? Did the psychic warn her of the baby's fate? Did the psychic buy her the ticket on Oceanic 815? Did the psychic arrange for her to meet with the adopting family in Los Angeles? Since we don't know what, if anything, changed in Claire's past, we can't ascribe any meaning to the events of the alternate timeline. This is a problem.

Take the Green Pill: Perhaps the best turn of events in this episode was the fact that Jack "cowboyed up" and stopped feeling sorry for himself, at least a bit. When Dogen (the name of the Asian leader of the Temple Others), told Jack that he could redeem himself for the deaths or injuries that occurred on his watch by giving Sayid an ominous green pill, I simultaneously thought that redemption was a stupid reason to give a friend an unknown pill and that Jack would fall for it. Imagine my surprise when he called Dogen's bluff (a few scenes later, but still). It was a good moment for Jack, and hopefully a sign of things to come.

Fear and Loathing in New Otherton: Sawyer has a number of good lines in this one, most of which relate to his new understanding of the Island as some type of hell. (This was first seen last week when he said that Jack should be allowed to suffer on the Island "just like the rest of us.") In this episode, Sawyer's state of mind was reinforced early on when he seemed nonplussed by Sayid's resurrection: "Of course he's safe. He's an Iraqi torturer who shoots kids, he definitely deserves another go-around." It's no surprise then that Sawyer separates himself from the group to take a wander down to New Otherton. What is a surprise is just how effective Josh Holloway is at portraying the character's sense of loss and heartbreak while sitting on the docks telling Kate of his planned life with Juliet. I've never been much of a Sawyer fan, but that scene alone deserves specific mention.

Dr. Ethan: I suspect that the powers that be are just playing with us in putting cameos in unexpected places, but what are we supposed to do with the fact that a seemingly benevolent Ethan (perhaps the most infamous of the Others) was just some random doctor in a Los Angeles area hospital?

A Real Christian Shepard: Ever since it became apparent that Smokey could take on the forms of the dead, the one apparition that didn't quite fit was that of Jack and Claire's dad, Christian Shepard. See, we know that the smoke monster can take the form of persons who left a corpse on the island, but Christian's corpse has never been discovered. Thus, there was some thought (at least by me) that the appearances of Christian were different in kind than those of the other "ghosts" on the Island. If, however, the Others are to be believed in this one, and Claire really was consumed by a certain darkness, it seems likely that Christian's appearances are the work of Smokey (or at least the Man in Black). That is because, when last we saw Claire she was at the side of a ghostly Christian sitting in the rocking chair in "Jacob's" cabin. If Claire was turning towards the dark side, then it seems reasonable to assume that Christian was her guide. To the extent this helps us place Christian's loyalties, I think this revelation is the most important of the episode. One of the things I had really hoped that this Season would answer, is just who or what was on whose side during the events of the previous seasons. This goes a long way towards sorting those things out. Of course, it all depends on whether or not you can trust the Others...

Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder: If you had asked me last week what the most interesting or important continuing plot line of the episode was, I would have told you it was Not Locke's taking Richard Alpert out into the jungle, with an impotent Ben following close behind. How wonderful it was, then, to see on my DVR a Kate-centric episode that was completely devoid of Locke, Ben, and Alpert. The show most certainly suffered for their absence.
More after the jump...

February 9, 2010

Chuck: "Chuck vs. The Mask"

"So if I have to see you with someone else, it might as well be a hero."
"What can I say? I have a type."

"Chuck vs. The Mask" presents an interesting conundrum for me. On the one hand, it is a perfectly competent, enjoyable ride. On the other hand, it doesn't strive for too much, and thus, never rises to the level we know the show is capable of. "Mask" is an average episode of Chuck, which means it's a fun hour of TV, but it's never quite more than that.

The main thrust of the spy world plot line in "Mask" revolves around a sequence of museum robberies orchestrated by Team Bartowski to steal an artifact (the mask of the title) that is being used by the Ring to smuggle in elicit material. Now, I love a heist movie, whether it's objectively good or not. I love the Ocean's movies, I love The Italian Job (both iterations), I even love misfires like Heist and The Score. So the cold open of "Mask" (which was more like a first Act given its length) was very exciting for me. Unfortunately, "Mask" turns out to be far more about the relationships that Sarah and Chuck have with the Superman substitutes (Agent Shaw and Hannah) than about stealing much of anything.

By the time of the episode, Shaw has decided that he is going to stalk Sarah into liking him (more on that below), and Hannah has gotten sick of being as ignored as she was in "Nacho Sampler". Thus, they both begin to put the moves on their respective targets (with Hannah facing significantly less resistance than her "super" counterpart) and both face death as a result of the events of the episode. When both wind up finding comfort in the arms of their newly impassioned targets (or at least in massaging their target's arms), who could be surprised? Yet another roadblock in the Chuck and Sarah relationship. Ho hum.

Like I said, it's a good episode, it's just not a great one. The Ring plot is almost entirely unnecessary, and even the potential Shaw reveal at the end is so cryptic as to be almost unanalyzable (which doesn't prevent me from analyzing it; see below). I had hoped the show would have a stronger lead in to the Olympics-imposed three week hiatus, but it will be interesting to see if it loses any viewers as a result of this average effort.

Quick Thoughts

Superman Returns: If there was any singular image that defined the failure that was Brandon Routh's Superman Returns, it was the sight of superman hovering in the bushes outside Lois Lane's house, effectively using his super senses to stalk her and her family. Now, that scene wasn't Brandon Routh's fault. He didn't write the screenplay. Still, it's troubling to see him in exactly the same scenario here.

Sarah Falling: Okay, so Sarah's falling for Chuck has always been a bit of a stretch, but are we really expected to believe that she is attracted to a man that obsessively observed her coffee habits and all but molested her while on a mission. I know her admission to Shaw was at least partially influenced by the fact that she was reasonably certain she would die, but still. Also, how does the CIA ever place Sarah? She falls in love with whomever her partner is. Now that's a liability.

Extra, Extra: The best part of adding "special guest stars" or whatever other title is given to non-regular cast members on a show, is that there is always a palpable sense of danger in scenes that might otherwise lack tension (the show isn't going to kill Sarah or Chuck, but they might just kill Hannah). This episode actually has a very good act break in which both of Chuck's lady loves (the "blonde" and the "computer girl") are put at risk at the same time. While we know that Sarah is at relatively little risk (and to be honest both Yvonne and Brandon treat the scene as being somewhat less than tense), Hannah is a real mystery. That tension serves the show well, and makes an otherwise mediocre scenario significantly better.

Pairing Off: As I said above, the focus of "Mask" was really on pairing Chuck and Hannah and Sarah and Shaw, the plot line about the mask was almost extraneous to that goal. That being said, I thought that Chuck had a lot of nice moments with Hannah. Though I didn't enjoy Shaw's obsessive stalker act, or buy for one minute Sarah's acquiescence to it, Yvonne and Brandon also had a certain amount of chemistry together, so I suppose not all is lost.

The Problem Solvers: At the end of "Nacho Sampler" the team of Morgan and Ellie was formed to sniff out just why Chuck had been behaving so strangely over the past few weeks (I guess they though things have been "normal" over the past few years). While this turn of events promised to be interesting (and potentially to bring one or more of Ellie and Morgan into the spy world fold) this episode turned the team into real life cartoon characters. I mean, I enjoyed Sarah Lancaster's performances in the first two seasons of Chuck, but this season has been all over the place. From "You were attacked by a bear?" to raising her head over the DVD racks at the Buy More like she were still on Saved by the Bell, she just seems to have leaped completely over the fence that separates the comically implausible from the straight up ridiculous. This is not a good development.

Further complicating matters, Ellie's and Morgan's discovery that Chuck was sneaking off to be with Hannah could derail their efforts to find out more about Chuck, in so far as they decide that they have discovered Chuck's secret. If that is the case, the promise of one or more of them becoming more fully featured on the show all but falls by the wayside. Given Ellie's recent turn for the (comically) worse, this may or may not be a bad thing, but it certainly feels like the show is spinning it's wheels if it takes both characters back to square one.

And the End Times Shall be Marked by Pong: As a regular video game player, it always bugs me when video games are vilified as the end of western civilization. Unfortunately, TV and movies give me the opportunity to be bugged on this point quite a lot. In "Mask" we get a number of discussions between Ellie and Morgan regarding the risk that Chuck might revert to the antisocial pastime of playing video games (the horror!). While I understand that some might succumb to video games as a private retreat from the troubles of the world, it would be nice if a show like Chuck, which so revels in the more nerdy qualities of much of its cast, could acknowledge that games aren't the destructive force that the media so often claims them to be. (And no, Chuck's using Morgan's Call of Duty strategy to save the world in Season 2 doesn't count.)

Ring, Ring: By far the most intriguing scene of "Mask" was the final one, in which the shadowed heads of the Ring execute the lead terrorist of the episode seemingly merely for having the temerity to recognize Shaw as the leader of the joint CIA/NSA operation against him. Following closely on the conclusion of a scene in which Shaw tells Sarah that she will always be safe with him (which scene lingers on Shaw's face long enough to add an air of ominousness to the proceedings), the meaning of the scene with the Ring is unclear. Certainly, we are meant to assume there is more to Shaw than meets the eye. As I indicated before, it may not be coincidence that one of Shaw's lingering obsessions is a lost operative with whom he shared a set of rings. Could Shaw have turned on the government and actually formed the Ring? If so, was the terrorist in this episode executed because his discovery of Shaw would otherwise disrupt some master plan? The Ring leader (no pun intended) does indicate to the terrorist that he intends to do the same thing to Shaw (i.e., execute him), but why, then would the terrorist need to be killed? And why would the show include the ominous hold on Shaw's face immediately prior to the scene with the Ring? As you can see, I don't have answers, only questions.
More after the jump...

February 3, 2010

Lost: "LA X"

"It worked."

If the big mystery at the end of Season 5 was whether or not detonating a hydrogen bomb on the Island would change the timeline, "LA X", the first episode of Season 6, in true Lost fashion did little to answer the question. That's quite impressive given the fact that setting off a nuclear device, I would assume, usually settles most things one way or the other. Not in Lost world.

Now, I had a vested intellectual interest in seeing that the timeline did not reset (see here and "Paradox Prime" below), so the opening sequence of this one, featuring Oceanic 815 circa 2004 NOT crashing on Paradise Island, was basically terrifying for me. You know you're into a show when your thoughts begin to border on the fevered: "Jack's dreaming. That's it. He hit his head on a rock back in 1977 and he's dreaming. It must be a dream, right? I mean Desmond definitely wasn't on that plane. Oh good, it's definitely a dream. Wait, well, wow, that's an odd thing to dream. Why would the island be underwater? Doesn't that mean...? Oh no... LOST."

Never before have I experienced a show like I was watching a live sporting event, rooting for team "Consistent timeline" to beat back the favored "Reboot" squad. Fortunately, despite apparently losing the match-up in the episode's cold open, Lost was able to snatch victory (or at least a tie) out of the jaws of defeat in the very next scene.

That is because the very next scene takes place not on Oceanic Flight 815, but on the Island, probably around 2007. (This is just pure speculation on my part, but I'd be willing to guess that the time travelers are now on the same timeline as Ben, Not Locke, Sun, and the rest. Hence the 2007 date.) The time travelers' plans have failed, though they have time traveled to the present (as I guessed was a possibility last year - hey you have to get it right sometimes). Antics ensue, from a dead Jacob asking Hurley to take a dying Sayid to the "Temple", to the rest of the crew moving parts of the exploded Swan station in an attempt to extricate a mortally wounded Juliet. Despite the randomness of the time jump (which was at least implied by the white flash at the end of Season 5) this is the timeline that I can accept. So what exactly is the deal with the Oceanic 815 footage?

The meaning of the alternate timeline is the real question now. Throughout the rest of the 2 hour premiere we see various flashes to this timeline showing the survivors interacting with each other in new and interesting ways. Boone becomes friends with Locke. Hurley tells Sawyer he's the luckiest man in the world. Sun passes up a chance to save her Husband from the TSA. Kate escapes the U.S. Marshall and hijacks a taxi with a frightened Claire inside. Jack shares a moment with the once-again crippled John Locke. And so forth, and so on. What isn't explained is just what this alternate timeline is intended to represent.

Narratively speaking, I can see how the new timeline is useful: seeing Boone and John interact, remembering Kate as the fugitive she was, seeing Jin and Sun revert to Jin's misogynistic conception of marriage. All these things remind us of the characters as they were back in Season 1, and echo the choices we know they would make on the Island in the future. These echoes resonate for us and give the "primary" proceedings weight. If that was all it was, then we could view these looks at an alternate timeline as being a useful narrative device and nothing more. The alternate timeline would lack importance in so far as it would be a complete fabrication, but it would be similar in its ability to illuminate specific characteristics to the flashbacks used in Seasons 1-3 of the show. All that being said, a useful narrative device is most definitely not all that these views are intended to be. That fact is made clear by Juliet (or rather by Miles).

When a tearful Sawyer finally frees Juliet from her metal prison, she states what is no doubt obvious to Sawyer at the time: "It didn't work." The nuclear device did not reset the timeline, did not save the survivors from their Island-bound fate. As she inches closer to death, however, she tells Sawyer that she has something important to tell him, a message which she fails to deliver before her end. When Sawyer confronts Miles in the jungle and forces him to find out what Juliet intended to say, he says simply: "It worked." The only thing this could be in reference to is the nuclear detonation, the timeline reboot. A fact known by Sawyer, and which clearly puzzles him seeing as he is standing on Craphole Island at the time.

We the audience are privy to something Sawyer is not, however: images of an alternate timeline. Since Juliet claimed that "it worked", in other words, that the nuclear detonation prevented Oceanic 815 from crashing, we know that, in the framework of the story, the alternate timeline is now something real, something tangible. The primary versions of the survivors may not realize what it is yet, but it is most definitely going to influence this final season of the show. How can something both "work" and "not work"? How can a nuclear detonation change the timeline without changing the timeline? Now that's a question worthy of Lost.

Once the show establishes that we will be visiting the alternate timeline on a regular basis, flashback-style, the rest of the episode becomes fairly routine, at least by Lost standards. Hurley leads his crew to the Others' Temple where, after proving themselves with Jacob's Ankh (don't ask), the Others lead them to where they've been stashing a Fountain of Youth. It figures. Unfortunately Jacob's death has apparently limited the ability of the Fountain to do its job, and so Sayid dies, at least until the very least shot of the episode.

All in all, a fantastic night of television, if only because Lost provides what no other show really does: mental stimulation. I love Chuck, and Friday Night Lights, and 24 (mostly), but none of those shows make you think the way Lost does. It's good to have it back, and it will be sad to see it go.

17 Hours remain...

Quick Thoughts

Paradox Prime: Okay, so I know I've been over this before, but I think it's worth doing again. My objections to the concept of a timeline reboot aren't based on the fact that I think it would hurt the characters or because the producers wouldn't be able to find a way to make it interesting. I object because it doesn't make any sense in the world of time travel the show has set up. Putting aside that the entirety of Season 5 was based on the notion of "Whatever Happened, Happened" and that a timeline reboot would betray that notion (despite what a crazed Daniel Faraday has to say), the simple fact of the matter is from a logic perspective, the one thing in a time travel story that can't change, is the thing that causes the time travelers to begin their time traveling in the first place.

In other words, why were Jack and company able to time travel? From a broad perspective, it was because they crashed on Time Travel Island. If, in 1977 they detonated a bomb causing them to not crash on Time Travel Island, how then did they make their way to 1977? And if they don't make their way to 1977 how did they detonate a bomb to prevent themselves from crashing on the Island? It's a paradoxical loop. If they crash on the Island, they prevent themselves from ever crashing on the Island. If they never crash on the Island, they can't prevent themselves from crashing on the Island, and thus crash on the Island. Logic cannot exist in such a scenario. That is the primary reason I was rooting against a timeline reboot, and why I'm willing to accept (for the time being) the effective tie that the show's producers have so far put in place. Time (no pun intended) will tell...

A Hint of Recognition: Okay, so if we are to assume that the alternate timeline is (as Juliet intimated) somehow real, it's worth analyzing the little things that the show's producers have put into these scenes. Most notable to me was the fact that Jack appeared to recognize, in some small way, Desmond Hume when he sat down beside him. Now in September 2004, this would have been the second time he met Desmond (if we are to assume that his encounter with Desmond at the stadium before his wedding would remain unchanged in the rebooted timeline), but I sensed that there was some greater form of recognition there. And, of course, what was the meaning of the welt on Jack's neck? Was it a syringe mark? Had he been drugged? Do the other survivors also have welts on their necks? I really have no idea on this one.

Man of Faith: I thought it was a nice bit of character acting by Matthew Fox when Hurley demanded that Jack help him take Sayid to the Temple. In almost all other contexts I would have expected Jack to rail against the idiocy of that plan and Hurley's talks with the dead, but here, after utterly failing in his attempt to reboot the timeline (as far as he is aware), and after justifiably feeling that he caused Juliet's death, he effectively steps down completely from his leadership position. You can almost see it in his face: "Who am I to argue with Hurley's plan? How has my leadership been any better?" Jack is a completely humbled and chastened man. Perhaps just the kind of man who is finally ready to be redeemed.

Wherefore art thou, Juliet?: Interestingly, falling down a tunnel and detonating a hydrogen bomb with a rock had left me under the impression that Juliet essentially died last year. So when she was alive in this one, I was intrigued, but all too ready for her to be killed off mere minutes after she was re-introduced. Why bring her back at all? I think the show's producers were setting up some strong motivation for a very intense conflict between Sawyer and Jack this year. Clearly the Man in Black is coming for the Others, and I think he's going to be assembling a team of cynical and defeated people to help him. It wouldn't surprise me one bit if Sawyer (or Jack for that matter) winds up on the wrong team, before being redeemed in the end.

Also, I believe they needed someone near death to deliver the message to the audience that the alternate timeline was something tangible. I don't know what proximity to death has to do with perception of the alternate timeline, but it seems important. We shall see.

Pet Cemetery: It goes without saying that a Fountain of Youth that can effectively restore the dead would be an attractive thing for many of the Oceanic survivors. Add to that the fact that we got a very deliberate showing of Juliet's grave in this episode, and I think it sound to assume that Sawyer may just become a man on a mission very soon. Be careful they don't come back changed, Jim.

Two Roads Diverged in a Wood: As I stated above, the alternate timeline provides at least one useful narrative device in so far as it provides the long-term Lost audience with a good way to reflect back on the beginning of the show as it nears its end. Since Juliet's words strongly imply that the alternate timeline is something real, however, the timeline needs to be something more than that as well. For that, I see the alternate timeline as doing one of two things. It will either converge with the timeline we are seeing as the "primary" timeline, leaving the various versions of the survivors in the same position with or without their Island adventures, or it will show that without their journey to the Island the survivors' lives would be left to utter desolation.

If convergence is the game, then notions of fate and predestination come into play. For many years the show has given voice to certain characters' theories that they "are all there for a reason" and that they have a "destiny." If that is the case, then with or without the Island they should all arrive at the same place. The universe has a way of course correcting after all.

If the alternate timeline is meant to show us how the survivors' lives would be destroyed without the Island, however, then my guess is that the device is being used primarily to illustrate the negative ramifications for the world if Jack and company refuse to do what is asked of them by the Island (whatever that may be). In this conception, I imagine that towards the end of the season (or in the finale), Jack (or the survivors as a whole) will be asked to make a choice, between saving the Island and taking on some terrible burden (perhaps becoming the new Jacob, forever bound to the Island and its cosmic significance) or forgetting that any of their adventures ever happened. Not only would this choice illustrate one of the main themes of Lost, that of the importance of free will, it would also allow us to adjudge the ramifications of the "wrong" choice through the use of the alternate timeline.

At this point, my guess (judging by the number of interactions between the survivors at the alternate LAX) is that the timelines will converge, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the opposite.

Little Things Mean a Lot: Again, since we are to assume that the alternate timeline is basically real, the small changes in Oceanic 815 that are not obviously addressed by the lack of an Island may have significant meaning down the road. For instance, how does the lack of an Island change Boone's adventure in Sydney so much that Shannon does not accompany him back to LAX. How, if there is no Island and there are no numbers, does Hurley win the lottery? What was Desmond doing in Sydney and why was he traveling to LAX? Finally, why did Charlie swallow the bag of Heroin rather than just taking a hit? The Charlie we knew from Season 1 was an addict but he wasn't a drug mule and he wasn't suicidal. How does the lack of an Island affect him so?

Time Contraction: This is a very minor observation that is probably as much about keeping the audience from getting bored as anything else, but did anyone else notice how short Oceanic Flight 815 felt. We see Jack experience turbulence (which should put the plane somewhere near Fiji), then be called up to help Charlie Pace (which should have been at or around the time of the turbulence unless he was in the stall for hours). Shortly thereafter, we see Jack return to his seat and the plane is announced as coming up on Los Angeles. Seemed like a short flight...

The Fountain of Youth: I've never liked it when the show delves too far into the mystical, from Miles, Ghosthunter, to Jacob's cabin, but all in all I think the fact that the Others have a fountain of youth makes a modicum of sense. After all, we've been aware for some time that Richard Alpert doesn't appear to age, so the fact that there is something on the Island allowing him to retain his youthful splendor is not altogether surprising. Since we're already expected to accept that the Island (through it's magnetism or what have you) has the power to cure cancer and heal the paralyzed, it doesn't seem too far afield to assume that the fountain is just a concentrated version of that. Now, what does the fountain actually do to the people that are submerged in it? That's an entirely different question. Richard, remember, warned the survivors that if he took Ben to the Temple, Ben would never be the same again. I assume the same is true for Sayid (and did you see the Christ pose he struck as he was being exhumed from the water... I'm just sayin').

Always a Day Late: This has as much to do with keeping conflict on the show as anything else, but isn't it interesting that whenever the survivors have been shown a particularly cool part of the Island's abilities or technology it is inevitably broken down or out of order. Other's communications, submarine radar? Nonfunctional after Desmond turned the failsafe key. Freighter equipment? Saboteur. Frozen Donkey Wheel of Fate? Came off its grooves from Ben's unceremonious handling. And now the Fountain of Youth is running fallow (or at least unclear) after the death of Jacob. The Losties appear to always arrive just as all the cool bits cease functioning.

I See Dead People: Why can Hurley see dead people? I know it's been established for some time, but now that it's definitively not just his latent craziness, what makes him so special? Is this just a matter of some latent Lost-style mysticism (like Miles) or is there something else there?

Ankh You Very Much: So the guitar case that Jacob gave to Hurley at the end (or the beginning, depending on your "point of view") of last season contained a wooden ankh which itself contained some kind of note to the new leader of the Others. The ankh is a fairly common symbol, at least in pop culture, for the kingdom of ancient Egypt, and so should be looked at in the same way as Jacob's living in the foot of what appears to be an ancient Egyptian statue. Is Lost merely a stage for two ancient Egyptian gods to do battle?

Jacob's Last List: What was actually on the note Jacob enclosed in the Ankh? The Other that speaks to the survivors indicates that it says that they need to save Sayid, but I think he was just playing coy with the note's true contents. Just before the Others take Sayid, they make the survivors state their complete names. The Others then go find Sawyer and Miles in the Jungle. Throughout the series we have heard mentions of mysterious lists being created by the Others for Jacob. Presumably these lists indicate who is worthy to be a part of the Others (Cindy the stewardess' name was on one of the first lists, for example). For the longest time we were told that the survivors we were following were not on any of Jacob's lists (this fact was even used by an Other in Season 3 as a reason to not trust Jack before Ben's spinal surgery). The note in the Ankh, I would guess, was Jacob's last, posthumous list, and it contains the names of most if not all of the survivors. Finally, they are worthy to be Others, though I don't know what caused a change in their status, other than Jacob's need to counter the Man in Black.

A Third Faction?: For a while, I was thrown by the presence of the people at the Temple. Their dress did not match that of the Others we had seen in seasons past, nor had their leader been previously introduced. Even more confusing was the fact that Cindy, who was last seen as a relatively happy looking Other, was part of the Temple crew. I was moderately upset by this turn of events, because I thought the show was introducing a new faction at a very late stage of the game. After Kate told Sawyer that the Others (i.e., the Temple crew) were protecting them, however, it all became clear. I had forgotten that these scenes likely take place in 2007, and that both Ben and Locke had effectively abandoned the Others back in 2004 (with Ben telling them to head to the Temple). In the absence of Ben and Locke, the Others must have taken this new person as a leader. These were the Others, just dressed slightly differently, and now having a throughly asian flair.

The "Real" Smoking Man: I think the show has been relatively honest about this since "Dead is Dead" last year, but this episode provides definitive confirmation that Not Locke, the Man in Black, and the Smoke Monster are one and the same. Why the Man in Black acts like a raving lunatic when in Smoke Monster form (throwing himself at sonic walls, and what have you) is anyone's guess. Perhaps more interestingly, what is the implication of having the Island's Prime Evil (as we are clearly meant to see the Man in Black) also be it's agent of judgement? Throughout the previous seasons of the show we had been lead to believe that the smoke monster was judging people's lives by looking into their pasts. Was this actually the case, or was smokey simply sparing those that it felt would be most helpful in its plans to murder Jacob?

Black Rock: A small bit, but worth a mention, Not Locke's telling Alpert that it was nice not to see him in chains, all but confirms that Alpert was an original slave on board the Black Rock back when it crashed on the Island in the 19th century. This had long been hinted at, but it was nice to get some more definitive confirmation.

Locke's Redemption: If anyone got absolutely screwed in the primary timeline, it was John Locke. The man of faith consistently looked to the Island gods to direct him and was time and time lead astray both by his own doubts and the manipulations of Benjamin Linus and the Man in Black. He died not understanding what any of this was about, at the hands of a person who was himself being manipulated by what is an apparently greater evil. If the alternate timeline offers hope for any of the survivors it is John Locke. It was striking to see just how nice and personable he was in his scenes with both Jack and Boone, especially when contrasted with the Island-obsessed survivor type we know he would have become.

E.T. Phone Home: And of course, what is Not Locke talking about when he says he wants to go "home"? The Temple? Tunisia? Egypt? The world at Large? This question will likely have a major impact on events to come.
More after the jump...

February 2, 2010

Chuck: Chuck vs. Nacho Sampler

"He's turning into a spy. It's a good thing."
"Is it?"

I'm definitely going to have to be pretty careful in my review of Chuck's latest episode: "Nacho Sampler". Now, that may be because I was having some difficulty formulating my thoughts (owing to how loud someone I was with was laughing at every scene), or it may be because I thought the episode had some pretty major flaws. Who can say? What there can be no question about is that "Nacho" had some pretty terrifically funny moments. If the last two episodes where comic spy capers of the Spies Like Us variety, "Nacho" was Spies Like Us had it been written by people addicted to Looney Tunes, or perhaps The Three Stooges.

Not (as the cast of Seinfeld would say) that there's anything wrong with that. Some of my favorite episodes of Chuck feature some absolutely ludicrous plot lines: from a class of super spies at Stanford to a drive-in movie theater turned FULCRUM super base. For goodness sakes the whole show is premised on a supercomputer being incorporated into the brain of a Best Buy/Buy More employee. I have no problem with ludicriousness.

The problem, however, comes from the fact that Chuck has been, and hopefully forever will be, grounded by the emotions of its primary cast as they navigate the travails of their many zany or insane obstacles. There was a noticeable absence of this in the bulk of "Nacho Sampler".

Instead, the episode was largely one broader-than-life comic scene after the next: from Jeff and Lester's (and Morgan's) stalking of Hannah, to Awesome's inability to lie to Ellie, to new asset Manoosh's repeated tranquizations, to his coming out a changed man at (ugh...) Weap-Con, to Chuck's being forced to use his mouth to extricate a Japanese laser sword/pen from the "inside pocket" of Casey's jacket.

The whole episode was absolutely teeming with comic asides, which turned it into something of a farce. Now, there wouldn't be anything wrong with that if that was all there was. As my wife will attest, the episode was very funny, and there can be no doubt that the Chuck writers can hit these comic beats when they want to. If it was a simple farce set in (or at least proximate to) the Chuck world, then we could look at it as a very amusing aside and move on. The problem is that the producers wanted to have their cake and eat it too. (Fitting since "cake" is referenced prominently in the episode not once, but twice.) They wanted to have emotional relevance and major game-changing plot developments, but all based on the elements of comic farce. It just didn't work.

Let's take a look at the three major plot lines created or advanced in this episode that will have (or could have had) a profound effect on the ongoing nature of the series.

First and most obviously, we have Chuck's becoming hardened to the ways of spy life by turning on his first asset, Manoosh. This could have been the potent and sobering decision the producers evidently wanted it to be if placed in the context of another episode, but here, since the events of "Nacho Sampler" (most notably the Weap-Con and its insipid "announcer" character) were so out there, it is difficult to believe that Chuck (or any human being for that matter) could be so affected by them. As I said to my wife last night, it was like the last act of a Three Stooges episode got replaced by the cloyingly poignant bits of a Grey's Anatomy. It simply didn't work.

Second, the main plot of the episode is that Manoosh freaking created another (apparently mass produceable) Intersect! In an episode that featured craziness around every corner, the writers apparently thought it a good idea to bring into the fold the single most mythological aspect of the entire show. In any other episode (say a season finale, etc.) this would have been a major revelation. Here because of the tone of the episode, we the audience, know that it can be nothing more than a blip on the radar screen. Not to mention the damage it did to the "specialness" of what was Orion from season 2.

Finally, in what is the least offensive mistaken plot line, the universe of Chuck's friends and family started to be brought into the fold based on the events of this episode. This has been a long time coming so it's inclusion is not all that problematic, but still it seems absurd that the comic events of "Nacho" should be the thing to finally put Ellie and Morgan over the edge.

So in short, "Nacho Sampler" is a very funny episode that is best treated as a comic aside in a universe even more bizarre than the one Chuck usually inhabits. Unfortunately the plot revelations and character moments effectively prevent me from treating the episode as the "one off" that it should have been, and that, I feel, was a mistake by the show's producers. Not a fatal one, but not an insignificant one, either.

Quick Thoughts

A Little Light on Shaving Cream?: The comic nature of this episode makes it a little difficult (read: silly) to take a look at the plot in any hard, analytical way, but I couldn't help but wonder whether Manoosh knew of Chuck's secret identity during the entire Weap-Con sequence. I mean where did he think his shaving cream device ran off too? I suppose it doesn't matter since Chuck comes out to him in the very next scene they share together, but it seemed an odd oversight for Team Bartowski to make.

Hannah's Sticking Around: Now, for my money Hannah is still too nice to Chuck for all this flirtation to be accidental, but I still stand by my opinion from last week that at some point the writers have to stop making everyone that crosses Chuck's path into a spy of some kind. Still, something is definitely up with her character and it does seem odd that an IT technician valuable enough to be regularly shipped across the world should have to make due at the Burbank Buy More. For the time being, however, she is sticking around and she is definitely worth it (if only for the Jeff and Lester dialogue).

The Princess Suite: Could anyone tell what room of Castle was converted into the very girly Walker apartment? Was it one of the interrogation chambers? I have to say, I never would have pictured Sarah in a room that...well, pink, so that was interesting.

Frak Off: Nothing really to add here. Sarah's "Frak Off" shirt in the bar was just a nice shout out to one of the better sci-fi television shows ever produced. No doubt, the CIA was sure that a Galactica reference was just the thing to turn the head of our engineer turned Ring puppet. Not that they would be wrong...

Awesome's Still Awesome: Devon spent the better part of two years being the perfect, ever-so-slightly arrogant brother figure to Chuck, so it's been really interesting to see him out of his element and looking up to Chuck this season. Even more, the inability of Awesome to be awesome in the context of lying to his wife has provided the opportunity for him to be funnier than I ever knew he could be. Credit belongs to the writers for recognizing a comic asset when they had one.

A Little Jealousy Perhaps?: Like I said above, the tone of this episode should basically rule out most thoughtful analysis, but I couldn't help but notice that Casey was particularly prickly in this one, throwing out cutting insults in both the direction of Sarah and Chuck with almost reckless abandon. Now, for the most part his lines were very, very funny, so I know why they were included, but still, even in a full on farce like "Nacho" the writers have to be a touch more careful to ensure that the characters don't lose whatever minimal emotional center they have. The jokes were good though, so what do I know?
More after the jump...