March 10, 2010

Lost: "Dr. Linus"

"You had me fooled with the sweater vest. You are a killer."

I'm going to keep the general overview short for this one.

I didn't like it. Not at all.

The reasons I didn't like it have been exhaustively documented here, here, and here, but suffice it to say, there was almost nothing redeeming about this episode. The alternate timeline plot was a too-cute-by-half attempt to mirror the scenario Ben was faced with back in Season 4, only this time at a Los Angeles area high school. The fact that the figurative "gun to Alex's head" was, this time, barely more than a water pistol (more on that below), didn't seem to negatively impact the Lost writers, however, who apparently thought they were being quite clever in their scenario design.

Now, all that being said, the alternate timeline didn't seem so bad in this episode. Of course, that might have been because the action on the Island was so boring that trips to the alternate timeline seemed like a blessed reprieve from the tedium.

I am, of course, being too harsh...but not by much.

In this, the final season of Lost, the writers apparently thought it would be interesting for us to observe an entire hour of Ben being called out for killing Jacob only to be inexplicably forgiven at the end, thus leading us to a post-episode state that almost exactly mirrored the state of the characters prior to the episode's events. Now that's a good use of time. In the "B" plot (or the "C" plot depending on how you want to treat the alternate timeline) we then got yet another episode of the "Jack and Hurley Power Hour". Now with dynamite! It was nice to see Richard again, but answers have yet to be forthcoming even from our favorite immortal slave.

So it is with mild sadness but overall indifference that I bid adieu to "Dr. Linus." It's sad only because Ben episodes used to be something that I truly looked forward to. Now they are, like so many other aspects of Lost, simply hollow echoes of happier days. Here's hoping for nothing but Locke episodes from here on out.

11 hours remain...

Quick Thoughts

Touched by an Angel: So the scene with Richard Alpert and Jack was certainly interesting, but it was supposed to be tense right? Well, they kind of gave away the game by having Richard mention Jacob's touch, didn't they? I mean, if Richard can't commit suicide because Jacob touched him, then we know (from the events of last season's finale) that Jack can't commit suicide either. Now, I suppose Jack doesn't realize that (because he doesn't know that Jacob handed him a candy bar way back when), but still. There can't be any tension when we know what we know right?

Also, the whole Jacob's touch thing raises a lot more questions than it answers.

Does it mean that the candidates (whom Jacob touched) can't age? How then did young Kate and young Sawyer grow up to be the strapping and buxom young adults that they became? Or does Jacob's power "lock" someone in to their ideal age (late 20s/early 30s) for all eternity? And what of Michael? Since Michael was the only character on the show whom we saw share Richard's "no suicides" curse, it is safe to assume he was at one point touched by Jacob? Further, since the "no suicides" curse is implied to be a manifestation of Jacob's gift, what then are we to make of the fact that it was Christian Sheppard, not Jacob, who seemed to be shepherding (pun firmly intended) Michael about his appointed duties back in Season 4? That means that Christian was a stand-in for Jacob in Michael's plotline, but a stand-in for the Man in Black in Claire's plotline. Who or what is Christian?

Well, at least Lost still gives us these fun mental exercises, even if I am somewhat less than convinced that the show will ever adequately address them.

Diamonds in the Sand: Okay, so despite all my negative comments, I laughed out loud not once, but twice at this one, both times at references to my favorite of Lost's many season 3 missteps: Nikki and Paolo. The fact that Miles communed with my favorite misplaced international diamond thieves while standing in the Oceanic graveyard (How much fun would an episode where Miles simply talks with all of the survivors who died over the course of the series be by the way? Oh the stories they would tell.) was funny enough, but the blink-and-you'll-miss-it shot of Miles carefully considering one of the stolen diamonds in the final montage put me over the edge. Good show, Lost. I hope Miles gets to keep the money.

Slow motion Reunion: Just an aside, but how many slow motion reunions featuring some portion of the cast coming around that small tuft of bushes on Oceanic beach have we been treated to over the course of the series? 8? 9? This episode even featured some of the same dynamics as years past: Now playing the role of estranged outsider, pioneered by the lovely Juliet, please welcome Richard Alpert! The lack of people on the beach does serve as a constant reminder of just how many people have died over the course of the series, though. What used to be a scene filled with extras (the other, unnamed survivors of Oceanic Flight 815), now is populated by but a handful.

The Unused Triumverate: When the female Jacobian cultist took Ben off to dig his own grave, was I the only one left looking at the remaining beach dwellers, Sun, Lapidus, and Miles, and thinking: "Look, it's the three most underserved characters in the history of the show." I mean, Libby had a better character arc then either Lapidus or Miles and that's saying something.

Broken Scenario: As I mentioned above, I have no doubt that the Lost writers thought they were being quite clever in making Ben's alternate scenario into an exact mirror of his confrontation with Keamy in Season 4, but they failed in the execution. In this episode, Ben makes a play for power by threatening to blackmail his school's principal. The principal responds by threatening to withhold (or presumably write a negative version of) a letter of recommendation for Ben's favorite student, Alex Rosseau, thus destroying her young life. This whole situation was designed to present Ben with the same decision he faced in Season 4: Power or Alex. However, as we find out at the end of the episode, the principal eventually does write Alex a letter of recommendation and Ben is presumed to have backed down. Why?

Once the principal has written his letter, he has no leverage over Ben. Writing the letter is the equivalent of Keamy letting Alex run free in the jungle before then asking Ben to come out of New Otherton. Why wouldn't Ben simply blackmail the principal after Alex is "free?" Some might suggest that the principal could still contact Yale even after he gave his letter of recommendation, but once Alex is accepted (or attending the school) I would think that ship would have sailed. Surely a man as smart as Ben would know this. Thus, the decision would be an easy one: back-down now, but take the principal out later. This failure in scenario design completely upends the meaning of the alternate timeline plot. It's easy enough to see what the writers were attempting to get at, but by failing to put together a competent scenario, we are left wondering if alternate timeline Ben is simply a stupider version of the Ben we've come to know.

French Connection: Maybe it was just me, but did it bother anyone else that Alex Rosseau was speaking English in this one? Presuming she was raised by her mother, why would she not be speaking French (or at least sounding a bit more like English was her second language). Seems like a missed opportunity to have some more fun with the whole "butterfly effect" question.

The Widmore Effect: If there was anything that was nice to see in this episode, it was the last second "L O S T" reveal of one Mr. Charles Widmore. Despite being a significant presence in the middle seasons of the show, Mr. Widmore, I was afraid, would be forgotten before all was said and done, even after I guessed that he was the individual coming to the Island in my review of "The Lighthouse". Like I said in my comments on Jack and Hurley's visit to the survivors' old cave in that one, I'm just happy to see some of the older plotlines get featured at this point in the final season. Every question may not get answered, but at least they aren't forgotten.

Missing in Action: Not much to add here except to note that this was another week where we were left wondering just what happened to Sawyer and Jin over the course of the last few episodes. Makes their absence in last week's episode seem all the stranger.

This Week's Cameo: In this week's episode we got to spend a little extra time with our favorite exploded high-school scientist: Artz. Of course he was substantially less exploded in this one, which made him substantially less interesting. Go figure. Special mention also goes to William Atherton, aka "that guy", who many of you may know from his memorable stints as various forms of annoying government/media administrator in 80s classics Ghostbusters, Real Genius, and Die Hard. He may be type cast, but he plays that type well.
More after the jump...

March 3, 2010

Lost: "Sundown"

"Welcome back to the circus."

Lost has a problem (I feel like this has been a theme this week).

I don't want to harp on this, because I feel like I already covered this ground quite completely here and to some extent here, but it must be said that as the action on the Island heats up (and it really was quite compelling this week), the alternate timeline dream sequences become all but impossible to bear. In this week's episode, the alternate timeline doesn't even contain a fully-cooked story, instead ending in Sayid's mysterious discovery of Jin trapped in an industrial refrigerator. Since it is unlikely that the "Jin in a fridge" plot is going to be picked up anytime in the near future (or ever, depending on how the show treats the inevitable Kwon family flash episode), the whole thing can't help but feel like an incomplete waste of time. When combined with the fact that we still don't know what the alternate timelines are even supposed to be, let alone mean, yet another episode passes feeling like it only contained 20 minutes of real Lost-like substance.

But what a 20 minutes they were.

After being all but promised a knock-down, drag-out temple showdown for the past few weeks, in this one we were finally granted our release. Sure, that release primarily consisted of bearing witnessing to a murderous rampage headed by our favorite smoke cloud and his newly "en-eviled" (technical term) Iraqi torturer buddy rather than any kind of evenly contested battle, but it was release none the less. In an episode that spent many ponderous minutes on such monumental topics as proper etiquette when escorting your brother's children to the bus and the minutiae of pottery repair, it was nice to spend time on the Island watching an enigmatic Asian businessman be drowned by the resurrected ghost (zombie?) of a fallen friend.

I mean, do these plot lines even compare?

As I (and everyone else on the internet, I'm sure) had surmised after "The Substitute", the game in Lost land at this point is really all about setting the stage for some kind of epic, apocalyptic final conflict. After the events in this one, Not Locke now appears to have his team together, notably consisting of Candidates Sawyer, Sayid, and possibly Kate (there is apparently some debate about whether "Austen" appeared on the lighthouse last week, thus making her a Candidate), though I think with respect to the latter that she is far more likely to serve as a mole then fall to the dark side (see below). Presumably Team Faux Locke will eventually be facing off against Jacob's troops, likely to be lead by Jack and Hurley. Other major players like Ben, Lapidus, the Kwons, and that cultist woman whose name I can never remember still have time to choose their sides. Now all we need is something for all these folks to fight over.

And that's what makes this whole alternate timeline nonsense hurt so very much. In a show with less than half a day of material left to show us, it really doesn't make sense to cut that time period in half to show us things like Sayid fixing a vase in his brother's kitchen. Not when there are wars to be won and ancient evils to be put down. Something's got to give, and for the sake of the show, I very much hope it's soon.

12 hours remain...

Quick Thoughts

Last Stand: Okay, so I've talked about this before, but there can be no doubt at this point that the Lost showrunners have effectively taken on the task of reassembling Stephen King's "The Stand" for the grand finale of the show. The Man in Black (which is an icon and term used throughout "The Stand") has assembled his team of broken and defeated men and women (and Cindy), and is ready to fight Jacob's troops for whatever it is they will be fighting for. Will it be the fate of the Island? The World? Multiple Worlds? I have to say that as a major fan of "The Stand" I am happy to see things building up to such an apocalypse. I just hope the show can deliver on the epic conclusion my overactive imagination is starting to envision. We shall see...

A Mole in the Making: This is my last "Stand" reference, I promise (at least for this week), but it really is worth mentioning Kate's presence on team evil, and how closely it comports with the closing acts of King's magnum opus. In "The Stand", the citizens of the Boulder Free Zone (the "good guys") determine that they need eyes and ears in the camp of their evil counterparts (in Las Vegas). Much of the conflict in the middle and end of the book is shown through the stories of the three spies sent to Las Vegas by the citizens of the Free Zone. Like in "The Stand", we now have what very much appears to be a mole in the Man in Black's camp in Kate. She surely does not seem as broken or as crazy as Not Locke's other followers, and I suspect a good deal of the tension in the coming weeks will stem from Not Locke's sussing out of the traitor in his ranks. No doubt this will also be good fodder for Kate's sometimes lover, Mr. Ford. Which raises a good question...

Where's Sawyer?: As a Chuck fan, I'm all too familiar with the notion of keeping regular cast members out of given episodes in order to control a show's budget, but in a story as serialized as Lost is, the showrunners often don't have the leeway they need when making budget cut decisions of that type. Case in point, even budgetary reasons can't really explain what happened to Sawyer in-between hanging out at "Jacob's" (big quotes around that one) cave and Not Locke's storming the temple. Where is he? Playing with Jacob's scales? Crossing names off the cave wall? More interestingly, what role will he play with respect to Kate's presence on team Emo? Will he save her? Will he out her? These questions could be the source of some of the best conflicts of the middle part of the season, and I would have very much liked to have gotten a jump on them at the end of this one. Oh well, I guess.

Where's Jin?: As I mentioned with respect to Sawyer, budget reasons can often keep fan favorites out of specific episodes. I originally thought that this was the case here with respect to Jin. He should, after all, be with Claire for the action of this episode so his lack of appearance didn't make much, if any, sense, unless he was being held out for budget reasons. Of course, as it turned out, he was the cypher at the end of alternate Sayid's non-story in this one, so he actually did make an appearance in the episode. Why then was he not a part of the temple invasion squad? Your guess is as good as mine.

The Cowardly Linus: Nothing big, but I couldn't help but enjoy Ben's reaction to crazy Sayid in the Fountain Room. After everything Ben had done to make Sayid evil over the past three years, it was interesting to see him take full account of the monster he had helped create. And a wide-eyed Ben backing out of any room is amusing enough in its own right. Well played, Lost.

Dogen's Backstory: So Dogen wasn't a Samurai, he was just a businessman with a sick son who was lured to the Island with promises of medicinal Valhalla. Not altogether unlike the way a lovelorn Benjamin Linus would force the hand of his lady love, Juliet, three years prior. Still, we didn't really get told who or what was "the man" that brought Dogen to the Island. That might just be a hint as to one of the very last tricks Lost has yet to play...

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil: Since Ben's claim in Season 2 that he was one of "the good guys" the show has continually flirted with the idea that who we think of as "bad" might just be "good", and vice versa. While the appearance of smokey and his willingness to kill would seem to have settled the issue, it's worth noting that the only evil so far espoused by the Man in Black is ultra violence, and, for the sake of argument, isn't violence against evil itself a good? Said another way, if we were later to learn that Jacob was a sadistic torturer hell bent on the destruction of mankind, wouldn't opposition to him justify ultra violence? I'm not saying that Lost is going to flip this particular script once again, but I am saying that we, the audience, are so used to narrative cliche that we are reflexively referring to the Man in Black's side as evil without much more to go on then his violent acts. It seems to me the identity of "the man" that convinced (coerced?) Dogen to come to the Island is something that should probably inform our understanding of the powers in conflict on the show, and since we didn't get a clear indication in this one as to who that "man" is, it is possible, maybe even probable, that his identity will change the shape of our understanding. Something to think about, in any event.

This Week's Cameo: If the alternate timeline is good for anything, it's for having unexpected faces show up in unexpected places. This week's donation to the Lost veteran character fund: Martin Keamy, last seen terrorizing the Losties with a "dead man's switch" that exploded the freighter and really, probably should have killed Jin in the process. This time he's some kind of loan shark (who still finds time to make Jin's life...problematic) who meets his end (presumably) at the hands of alternate Sayid.

Sayid's Resurrection: It may just be me, but it sure seemed like Sayid's accent (the primary Sayid, not alternate Sayid) was different in this one. Now I know that his portrayor, Naveen Andrews, himself sports a fairly strong British accent, but that hasn't been evident on the show until now. If the accent change is intentional, as I'm almost sure it is at this point, I believe it was designed to show us that the person (thing?) that came back in Sayid's body is not really Sayid at all. Some have guessed that Sayid came back as Jacob, but that hypothesis now seems incredibly unlikely. Instead, Sayid seems to be something else entirely. Whatever he is, he certainly is not happy with the Others, and seems more than happy to be part of Not Locke's merry band.
More after the jump...

March 2, 2010

Chuck: "Chuck vs. The Fake Name"

"I hate those will they or won't they things. Just do it already."

Chuck has a problem.

In watching last night's episode, "The Fake Name", I realized that I was not at all invested in the show's characters. For a show that I had touted to my friends as one of the most entertaining on TV last year, for some reason, this year the show just hasn't connected in the same way. During last night's episode, I found my mind wandering, and after getting up several times with the show running (something I never do when I'm really interested), I began to think about how such a bright show began to lose its luster. The answer, in my opinion, is what some may still call the "Moonlighting" effect, the artificial drawing out of sexual tension between two leads past the point where anyone actually cares, emphasis on "artificial". The same tension that is rightly ridiculed by the mobster character's quote at the top of this post.

The problem is that I don't think that Chuck's writers are following their own advice to "just do it already."

After "The Mask" (in which seemingly half the internet became enraged at the prospect of a Chuck/Hannah, Sarah/Shaw combo platter), it was apparent that the show had moved into territory where the obstacles between Sarah and Chuck no longer seem reasonable. After all, Sarah's ostensible reasons for avoiding a Chuck/Sarah relationship rest almost solely on the fact that by choosing the life of a spy he has chosen a life where Sarah and Chuck can't be fully fulfilled as a couple. What sense does it make then for Sarah to fall for yet another spy, a spy who, in this case, is so transparent in his come on attempts that he might as well be asking Sarah if it hurt when she fell from heaven. If Sarah is losing her feelings for Chuck because he is taking on the characteristics of a spy, it doesn't make sense from a narrative perspective for the obstacle to their love to be someone who is more a spy then Chuck is ever likely to be.

This artificiality is only exacerbated to the tenth degree in this one, in which a lovelorn Sarah tells superspy Shaw (who she has known for, like, ten minutes) her real name, a secret she never shared with the man she was supposedly ready to flee the CIA for. The whole thing feels artificial, artificial, artificial. And while the show can bear that to some degree in that it is still slickly produced and has fun, if not meaningful, spy caper type plot lines, it can never rise to the level of what it was in Season 2 if the audience no longer cares about the characters.

Essentially, Chuck has become Human Target.

Now the plot of this episode wasn't actually so bad, though I thought it once again veered into lunacy where the show has before achieved a smarter balance of action and comedy. The mobster characters in particular were over the top, and we were never given an adequate reason why The Ring would be using them as a go between in any event. Throw in more than the usual number of plot holes (more on that below) and you have an episode that is well below average for the series.

A disappointment on all counts.

Quick Thoughts

The Plot Holes have Plot Holes: So, it almost goes without saying that one should not be watching Chuck for the taut plots fueled with airtight reasoning and ironclad logic, but this episode might take the cake for having characters take ridiculous actions just to fuel the plot. Let's take, for instance, the climatic scene of the episode, in which Casey ultimately snipes Rafe while he wields Sarah as a hostage against Chuck and Shaw. Now this is a rousing conclusion to the scene, and one which Casey pays off well in his gruff and sarcastic manner, but how did the characters arrive at this point?

The scene begins with Shaw and Sarah in the hotel room, with Chuck and the mobsters watching from afar through the lens of a sniper scope. So far so good. Chuck then convinces the mobsters that he is so hurt by Shaw's stealing his woman that he needs to kill him in person. Also, so far so good. Chuck arrives at the hotel room and starts fighting Shaw, at the same time Rafe has escaped from CIA custody and has arrived at the mobster's sniper perch. Rafe then assassinates the mobsters (without revealing his identity) for no better reason than to serve the needs of the plot. More egregiously, he then forgoes the use of the "fully operational" sniper rifle (remember, he's a sharp shooter) to run over to Shaw's hotel room to engage in fisticuffs with Chuck, Sarah, and Shaw.

Why does he run over to the other room? At this point he doesn't even know Shaw is the target (or if he does, that point isn't made clear in the episode), and further, he wouldn't know Shaw is in the hotel room unless he examined it, THROUGH THE LENS OF THE SNIPER RIFLE. Why not just shoot him dead, then and there? Because it serves the climax of the episode. Rafe's oversight/unexplainable character inconsistency, of course, leads Casey to be able to make the fateful shot that ends Rafe's life, and it is indeed rousing. It's just unfortunate that the actions that led up to such a scene aren't remotely plausible even in Chuck's world.

Sam I am: I touched on this above, but it's just insane to think that a woman as guarded as Sarah (Sam?) would reveal one of her most intimate secrets to a man she barely knows when she wouldn't reveal that same secret to a man she desperately wanted to become a fugitive with not six months prior. From a story perspective, this turn of events (and of course the Shaw romance on the whole), must be completely infuriating for those who consider themselves Chuck and Sarah "shippers." I've never fallen into that boat myself, but it's easy to see how this kind of rudimentary character manipulation could severely turn off some of the most ardent Chuck fans. That's probably not something that the showrunners should want to do for a show that desperately needs to prove itself to its network.

The Fake Name: Perhaps the most clever thing that the writers did in this one was revealed in the title of the episode itself. While Chuck does, in fact, assume a fake name in the episode, the true conflict, the one at the heart of the show, is Chuck's continued acceptance of Sarah's fake name, a name he knows is fake, and a name that Sarah allows to fall by the wayside when faced with Agent Shaw's shirtless machismo.

Hannah's heading to Montana: And the award for most meaningless multi-episode arc goes to Smallville's Lana Lang in a role where she accomplished little more than to accentuate the character plot lines already highlighted by members of the main cast. I mean, what did Hannah's presence accomplish other than to highlight the fact that Chuck was getting too good at this whole spy thing, a fact covered most adeptly by Sarah's continued statements regarding that very fact. If the cost of Kristin Kruek was anywhere near the cost of Anna Wu, I would have much rather maintained the Nerd Herd status quo rather than get such a meaningless aside.

What a Crock: Without Morgan, the Buy More side of the plot really had no where to go but the land of meaningless comedic asides. That being said, I did like that the writers elected to use the islanded Buy More staff to comment on the crazy slate of women Chuck has so far been able to snag during the course of the series. I could have done without the now obligatory reference to the fact that Sarah is his one and only soulmate, but if that message had to be delivered, better that it be done through Jeff's inherent creepiness, rather than through yet another sequence of the pair looking longingly at each other from across a crowded room.
More after the jump...