Thursday, May 14, 2009
LOST year in review
"Just when they think they've got the answers, I change the questions." --- Rowdy Roddy Piper
I feel like this quote should be posted everywhere, Montreal Canadiens locker room-style, around the LOST shooting set. It so sums up the experience of watching this show that I almost feel like we'll see a future episode where Roddy Piper plays, I dunno, Desmond's father or something.
The trouble about writing a LOST season in review after the finale is that, for the third straight year, the status quo on the Island is changed in such a way that it makes it hard to predict what the next season is actually going to look like. The S3 finale introduced the concept of flash-forwards. In S4, the whole Island moved. And now, in S5, we've seen....what, exactly? The Island destroyed by a nuke? The timeline changed so Oceanic 815 can continue on its merry way in 2004 and all of the characters' lives will continue as if the crash never happened?
Doubtful. I honestly believe that after hammering home the "what happened, happened" mantra for a full year that the LOST writers would just throw it all away for a continuity-shattering explosion. I believe Miles' theory was the correct one (that activating the nuke into the magnetic energy field was the actual 'Incident'), and that Miles' dialogue was included as a reminder/hint that Jack/Daniel's grand plan wasn't going to actually change anything. There were too many hints left in the final sequence at the Swan that things were proceeding as they had in the past --- Dr. Chang suffered a major arm injury, leading to the prosthetic arm that he had in the Swan's orientation video. Radzinsky's continued life, since he was pretty much the only DHARMA guy that didn't die and we know that his eventual end comes when he commits suicide after a stint at typing in the Swan's number code. And, as well, there are still some loose ends to be tied up back at the Dharma Initiative, like the fate of Horace (who curiously wasn't in the episode), his shady wife Amy and their soon-to-be shady son Ethan.
On top of all this, I would've maybe believed that Jack and company would've been able to change the future had we not seen the future playing out parallel to the story in 1977. If the nuke had blown up the Hatch and changed things, thus causing Oceanic 815 to never crash, then Sun wouldn't be around in 2007 hanging out at the foot statue with the Others. Her very presence in that setting is a time paradox that can't be explained (well, as much as sci-fi TV time travel rules can serve as an 'explanation') unless the nuclear Incident was part of the past all along.
So yeah, there's two paragraphs about time travel logic, and there's probably more to follow. This whole season of LOST basically required the audience to keep a pen and paper handy to keep track of who was when, where was when and when did who show up. In the minds of some, this was a bit much. I have at least a few friends who felt LOST really stuck its head up its ass with all of the time travel elements and the show just got too confusing for its own good. A lot of casual viewers seemed to feel the same way, as LOST got routinely trounced in the ratings by American Idol and Criminal Minds, two programs that (to be polite) don't exactly stimulate the viewer's intelligence.
But I loved it. I loved every moment of this incredible, challenging and brilliant season. It might be my favourite season of LOST yet since it was the first one to feature the stream-lined, non-Writer's Strike interrupted shorter season that Lindelof/Cuse pushed for in 2007. Some episodes were better than others, but there wasn't an outright weak episode in the bunch. Every plot thread tied together, everything built up to a crescendo and the season answered a ton of questions.
That's what I don't get about the faction of haters who used the "time travel sucks" or "the show is too sci-fi now" arguments to express their displeasure about Season Five. Not to sound too much like Hurley, but....dude, what show did you think you were watching? LOST has been sci-fi from its very first episode. Time travel, I'd argue, has been an element of the show since the very beginning --- remember the "Adam & Eve" skeletons that the Losties found in, like, the fifth episode? I'd bet cash-money that those skeletons end up belonged to two of the main characters, who somehow get displaced to the 1950's and eventually die in the caves, only to be found by their own group decades later.
Since the very start of the show, LOST fans have been begging for answers, and have had all kinds of theories about what the key element of the show would end up being. Religious allegory? Ghosts? Military experiments gone awry? Aliens? Time travel? Well, guess what, it turned out to be time travel. That's not to say that the other elements won't play a part still to come (since I'm betting Jacob's story ends up being allegorical as hell), but for Season Five at least, time travel ended up taking the door prize. And it ended up being the perfect vehicle to show us, rather than simply tell us, the answers that we've been looking for for all these seasons. Some fans were turned off, but I was enthralled. We didn't just find out what happened to Danielle's crew, or the Dharma Initiative, or the 1950's-era Others via flashback --- the characters basically LIVED the flashback, and we saw things first-hand. For those of you who didn't like this storytelling format, how else would you have liked to have the multitude of blanks in LOST's history filled in? A talking, pipe-smoking ape?
For those of us viewers who stuck around to see the story unfold, we were treated to a season that took place on four fronts. For the first half of the season, we saw the Oceanic Six try to get back to the Island, while the Sawyer/Juliet/Jin/Daniel/Charlotte/Miles/Locke group went through the time flashes as a result of Ben's half-assed job of turning the frozen wheel. The second half of the season then focused on Sun, Ben, Frank, the mysterious Ajira 316 passengers and (ahem) "Locke" on the Island in 2007, while everyone else was back in 1977. We kept expecting a full-on reunion to happen at some point, probably in the season finale, but to no avail. In LOST season terms, what's left of the original Oceanic 815 group hasn't been fully together since the first episode of S4, when the group split in half to follow Jack or Locke, respectively. A reunion still might not be in the offing for a while...unless the first scene of Season Six is everyone back on Oceanic 815 in 2004 like nothing happened, which would be a real mindbender. Jack sitting next to Rose, Nikki and Mr. Eko chatting it up, Libby watching the in-flight movie....yep, that would leave a lot of dropped jaws.
I'll admit, the time spent in Dharmaville did drag a wee bit, largely because the show returned to its traditional one character-centric episode format in the latter half of the year. Sayid's episode, "He's Our You," probably could've been streamlined a bit, and the Miles episode ("Some Like It Hoth") was a fun diversion but maybe a trifle unnecessary aside from being our first real look at Miles' background. But other than that, this season flew by at a cracker of a pace. Tons of ground was covered on all sorts of different LOST-mystery fronts.
Stuff we learned......Charles Widmore's background. Ms. Hawking's background. What happened with Danielle's crew. More hints about the nature of the Monster. More hints about the 'rules' that seem to govern the ongoing conflict on the Island. Loads of background about Dharma and its relationship with the Hostiles. How Locke ended up in the casket. Daniel, Miles and Charlotte's connections to the Island. Why each of the Oceanic Six decided to return to the Island. THE FOOT STATUE~~~!* Why you should never piss off Sun and then turn your back on her while she's carrying a canoe paddle. More about the mysterious Temple. And, oh yeah, we met Jacob.
* = my friend Adam, who has been obsessing over this damn statue for two seasons, will be in seventh heaven after last night's episode. I think the foot represented Adam's general fear that LOST would never be able to really explain everything, and the fact that the statue was introduced in the S2 finale and then never mentioned again just galled him to no end. But, all things are explained in the end.
The Jacob storyline is one I'll focus on specifically, since it took me by surprise in a big way. First of all, I would've almost bet my house on Jacob being revealed as one of the main characters we know and love. My suspicion was that the 'Incident' would launch someone into some kind of time limbo that would result in their being in the semi-corporeal state that Jacob seemed to be in when we saw him in the cabin. My roommate and I even made joking predictions about who Jacob would end up being --- "Jacob is Jin!" "Jacob is Paulo!" "Jacob is Vincent the dog!" My hunch was that Jacob was either Locke himself or Jack. A couple of days ago, my pal Mitch actually posted "Jack = Jacob?!?!" as his Facebook status, and I thought he had gotten ahold of a spoiler and had now ruined the finale for me, which would've caused me to go to his house and beat him senseless.* The one thing that I really didn't expect was that Jacob was actually the guy who pissed on the Dude's rug, and just happily living (!) under the foot statue and going about his business of weaving and catching fish. I also didn't expect to see Jacob pop up at various points of the main characters' lives, so that was three 'holy shit' moments for me in the first 10 minutes of the episode alone.
* = actually, Mitch once beat me in an arm wrestling match by comically pretending to bend his wrist down as if I was winning, and then summarily dispatching me in about 0.2 seconds. It was almost cartoonish. It was like arm-wrestling a post-spinach Popeye. I think me trying to beat up Mitch would go about as well as Mr. Eko's last encounter with the smoke monster.
Like in S2 with Desmond, the finale episode focused on a virtually unknown character. Whereas Desmond's backstory taught us about the Hatch's history, I can't help but feel that the story of Jacob and his mysterious rival --- the message boards already seem to have taken to calling him 'Esau,' in a nod to the Biblical tale --- has basically taught us the key to the entire show. It's all just a battle of good vs. evil, light vs. dark, just like how Locke explained the rules of backgammon to Walt back in the very first episode. Jacob represents free will and change, while 'Esau' represents destiny and fate, or (given how he coerces Ben into killing Jacob), maybe how to pervert free will. It looks like these two have been battling it out for centuries within the rules, until Esau finally found the loophole to kill Jacob and win the game. Or, at least, this round of the game.
Let's talk about Esau for a minute. (I feel like this name will soon become as outdated as when we all referred to Ben as 'Henry Gale' throughout the second season.) From what was inferred in the last few scenes of the finale, Esau is the one with the power to pose as or simulate dead people on the Island. Whereas Jacob was constantly shown touching items and people, such as all of the LOST main characters in the flashbacks, I'm guessing that Esau can only become corporeal in the form of a dead person. This is why he took so much obvious pleasure in eating that mango in the form of Locke after Ajira 316 had crash-landed on the Hydra Island. I'll also go so far as to say that Esau has been the one behind all the other walking dead images we've seen on the Island --- Christian Shepherd, Yemi, Ben's mother, etc. This would seem to put Esau in league with the smoke monster, since we've also seen Smokey apparently morph into Ben's daughter Alex, but I still have a hunch that the monster is a wild card that isn't taking sides in this eternal battle. Or, Esau actually is the Monster. Who the hell knows by this point.
But I think it's semi-clear at this point that Esau, or whatever his name is, is the actual big bad of LOST. He's succeeded in manipulating Ben, Locke and by proxy Richard and the Oceanic Six into all setting in motion the chain of events that allowed Locke's body to get back to the Island so he could pose as Locke and convince Ben to kill his eternal nemesis Jacob once and for all. Under this interpretation, Charles Widmore and Ben were both technically good guys, but ended up corrupting each other and getting distracted by their rivalry, thus allowing Esau to sneak in and use Ben's thirst for acceptance as a weapon. The Others, as Ben said back in the S2 finale, were actually the 'good guys,' trying to fight on Jacob's side in this battle. Jacob, as we saw in the opening scene with the Black Rock approaching, was happy to have new blood on the Island, which is why we also saw him seeking out the LOST cast and subtly influencing their lives. It might be a stretch to call Jacob a 'good guy,' per se, since he did allow Nadia to die and there is the somewhat larger question of what the hell he's been doing all this time besides chilling out at the foot statue. But whatever Jacob is up to, it's got to be better than what Esau Smokey has in mind for everyone now that he seemingly has control of the Island all to himself. Maybe the real story of the show is how Jack, Kate, Sawyer and company stand up against both of these controlling forces. The series has shown these characters as lost on a remote island, lost from each other, lost in their personal lives, lost in time and now apparently lost as stones on this big-ass backgammon game between the god-like Jacob and Esau. Maybe the final season will show the characters finally "finding" themselves and seizing their own destinies. As Daniel Faraday put it in a somewhat schmaltzy way, the humans are the variables in the equation.
Three casting notes for next year that may be spoilers....
* Emilie de Ravin will allegedly be back as Claire. The producers signed her to a holding contract for Season Six, essentially meaning that he could do whatever the hell wanted for a year, but when the next LOST season starts shooting, she has to be there. So it looks like we'll get an answer as to what was up with Claire in the cabin last year and if she might be a manifestation of Esau/The Monster, or what the hell was going on.
* Elizabeth Mitchell will be starring in a new version of the 'V' science-fiction series starting next fall. So, it's quite possible that Juliet's last hurrah outside of a cameo or flashback may have been using her last breath to detonate that bomb. We didn't see a Juliet-centric episode this season, but Mitchell sure gave it all she had in that last scene. If she's actually leaving the show, she'll be sorely missed.
* Throughout the entire finale, I kept asking myself, where's Poochie? No, wait, that's not it....I mean, I kept asking myself, where's Desmond? All season long I wondered how the LOST team would bring him back into the story, given that he was living it up with Penny and little Charlie back in the real world and had vowed to never return to the Island. At first I worried that he'd come back in search of vengeance against Ben for killing Penny and/or Charlie, but no, they both survived Ben's attack and Desmond only had a minor bullet wound. Hell, I half-expected that Jacob would be Desmond, as part of the aforementioned 'Jacob is one of the Losties unstuck in time' theory. But yeah, ol' Des just didn't show up, capping off a season where Henry Ian Cusick only appeared in seven of 17 episodes and was never really a major factor in the story at any point.
Now, I almost hate to bring this up since I love the Desmond character so much, but it's quite possible that Cusick himself isn't quite in Desmond's league as a good guy. Cusick is currently being sued for sexual harassment by a former ABC employee. On a show that has fired two cast members already for DUIs, this is the kind of thing that doesn't go over too well. Not to cast dispersions on Cusick without knowing any of the evidence, since this could very well be a cash-grab by a disgruntled employee, but given that Desmond's storyline could be considered finished, by all intents and purposes, maybe ABC will find it prudent to just release Cusick from his contract. Time will tell if we've seen the end of the Desmond/Penny story.
So yeah, that was that for the 2009 LOST season. Quick hits....
Best episode: The Incident, followed by LaFleur and Jughead. If Kyle and I ever do another best Lost episodes list, those three will be making it.
Best performance: Josh Holloway. Sawyer came back in a big way after being given almost nothing to do in Season Four. Also kudos must be given to the always-great Terry O'Quinn, since I have a feeling that his performance in the second half of the season will seem a lot more nuanced now that we know that he wasn't really playing John Locke.
Funniest moment: Dr. Chang questioning Hurley about being a time traveler in 'Follow The Leader' That scene will be high in the running for funniest moment of the whole series. Hurley brought the funny all season long; his "uh, what?" when James told he, Kate and Jack that they were in 1977 was also perfectly timed.
Best fight: Sayid cleaning house on the two assassins in the premiere was pretty cool, but the Jack vs. Sawyer battle in 'The Incident' was five years in the making. And Jack ended up getting hoofed in the nuts, so it was very much worthwhile.
Biggest plot hole: Two years ago, the show made it seem as if Jack had been flying over the Pacific for weeks trying to crash on the Island again. But this season, we learned that Jack's mental crack-up and drug abuse was caused by Locke telling him that Christian said hello. Locke was then killed by Ben in the motel room no more than a week later, and assuming that the LAPD wasn't totally lax about coming to investigate the case, we can presume that roughly 8-9 (knowing this show, it was eight) days passed between Locke telling Jack about his dad and Jack reading Jeremy Bentham's obit in the newspaper. So Jack had a total nervous breakdown and made a bunch of cross-Pacific flights in just eight days? The other major gaffe was the apparent fact that Dan Faraday was apparently just 27 years old this whole time, given that Ellie was apparently pregnant with him while she was in the Others camp in 1977. Charlotte, even more confusingly, was at least 34. Jeremy Davies, btw, is 40 in real life and Rebecca Mader is 27, so I'm thinking that the writers may have not quite thought the ages through.
Best character arc: John Locke. It might seem like an odd choice for a guy who was dead for most of the season, but Locke's story ended in the most sadly appropriate way possible. Here was a guy who always thought he was special and just wanted to be part of a community, but he was manipulated pretty much his entire life. If it really was Esau posing as Christian in the cabin, then Locke's instruction to move the Island was just another ruse. To top it all off, that scene in the premiere when a wounded Locke is told by Richard that he has to bring back the Oceanic Six and sacrifice himself? We later learned it was really FakeLocke Esau who told Richard to say that. So poor John sacrificed himself for nothing, just to have his corpse brought back to the Island and then usurped by Esau. Talk about a tragic ending. It kind of blows my mind that the real Locke that we've known and loved for all these years is gone and apparently not coming back, since 'dead is dead' on the Island.
Best random cameo: Michelle Rodriguez as Ana Lucia in "The Lie." Boy, I did NOT suspect that, given Rodriguez's allegedly checkered history on the show. Also, Rose and Bernard randomly popping back up in the finale was a fun surprise.
Best new character: Not 'new' characters per se, but I really enjoyed what we got to see of Dr. Chang and the younger version of Eloise Faraday.
Best death: Phil, who I'll always know as Jimmy Barrett from Mad Men. He gets crushed by a tower a la Shooter McGavin, and then is impaled by metal poles? As they say in France, le ouch.
Worst death: You know, for an all-powerful spirit/god, Jacob sure went down like a bitch, eh? Also, for a character who the show seemed to spend a couple of episodes building up, Caesar really down like a bitch, eh?
Biggest eye-roll of a moment: Pretty much any reaction shot of Jack staring longingly at Kate, or Kate staring longingly at Sawyer, or Sawyer staring longingly at Kate, or Juliet pensively staring at Sawyer or Kate wondering if her return will ruin she and James' relationship.
Most embarrassing LOST-related moment of the year: The climax of 'The Little Prince,' when the sea-faring raft finds a man adrift at sea, takes him aboard, and rolls him over to reveal that it's Jin. Even though Daniel Dae Kim's name was in the credits all year, seeing him surprisingly pop up made me actually yell "Jin! Fuck yeah! Woo!" while watching the episode, and then...I gave myself a self high-five. For real. A completely spontaneous, non-ironic self high-five. It was mortifying. Seriously, who gives themselves a self high-five in this day and age? I felt like administering a self five-across-the-eyes for that.