Friday, January 30, 2009

Time Keeps on Skippin'


I haven't figured out how to do folds yet in Blogger so you'll have to excuse me if I spoil the hell out of the new "Lost" episode. Come to think of it, I don't really care if I do, because at least it means I have readers.

I don't have much in particular to say about "Jughead," the third episode of Season 5, that wouldn't have been covered in my general comments about the direction of the new year after the first two episodes. Actually what struck me as more intriguing was the one-hour catchup documentary "Lost: Destiny Calls," which aired before the premiere last week but I didn't get around until watching until tonight. What was fascinating about this little series summary, which had unusually high production values and showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse on-camera together explaining their plot points in revealing detail, was the massive amount of stuff they all but admitted (by omission) was now irrelevant. Basically all of Season 2 except the bookending episodes with Desmond and the hatch, and the introduction of Ben, was a complete waste of time. Not to mention the first third of Season 3.

Characters who were never mentioned or seen except in group shots in this doc: Charlie, Boone, Shannon, Libby, Ana Lucia, Eko, Bernard and Rose, (most significantly) Michael and Walt. Stunningly, Paolo and Nikki received no recognition. In fact, Ben's dad from the Dharma Days flashback episode got more clips than all those folks combined. Could Mr. Linus, senior, turn out to be a lot more important than we thought? Could be if he had a relationship with Charles Widmore, whom we now know for sure was on the island before the Dharma folks showed up (and that is a mild spoiler from "Jughead," although Season 4 dialogue between Widmore and Ben suggested it).

On the other hand... the special did make a very clear point of titling one section "Jin and Sun," rather than merely "Sun," and when Lindelof and Cuse were bringing us up to speed on Sun's status they were extremely cautious with their wording. Sun believes Jin is dead, they said, or words to that effect. I guess this would qualify as more of a bombshell if Daniel Dae Kim's name wasn't still in the main credits for Season 5. I didn't bother to freeze-frame the scene with Jin's monument in it, but did anyone more obsessive than I check to see whether they put the date Oceanic 815 went down on the marker? If Jin is dead (and I think it's pretty obvious that he isn't, or if he is, not permanently) the actual date of his death would have been about four months later. But the Oceanic 6 claimed that everybody except eight people (the five adults of the 6 plus Libby, Boone, and Charlie) died in the crash itself.

OK, I found it. The monument (not gravestone, as there would have been no body to put in the grave) does indeed say September 22, 2004. That's the date of the crash, and also the date of the premiere of the show.

I heard in a promo for next week's episode that the season premiere this year was the highest-rated "Lost" offering ever, seen by 20 million viewers. That's neat, but I hope for the sake of all those added millions that they're coming in because they got hooked on the DVD's and not because they heard the hype that the show was firing on cylinders again and thought they'd catch up as they went along. Guided-tour recap specials notwithstanding, there's no way that anyone who hasn't absorbed the whole run of the show, even the long slack bits, is going to have any clue what's going on now. Locke, Sawyer, Juliet, and the non-murderous freighter contingent are skipping around in time, just like Billy Pilgrim and more recently, Desmond. This happens frequently, and is intercut besides with those survivors off of the island in their new situations, which are also unfamiliar and disorienting to the viewer. If you can't immediately recognize the difference between the first, second, and third Other camps, or don't know offhand exactly when the Swan station blew up, or haven't been keeping a detailed chronology of Nestor Carbonell's hairstyle changes, you're just going to be super lost. And yes, I do realize that that is the name of the show.

Another thought inspired by the "Destiny Calls" summary: There's a waft of Islamic philosophy in the succession methods of the Others. The series' dual fascination with Enlightenment rational humanism and eastern religions, usually played out onscreen in conflicts between Jack and Locke, has another layer in the outwardly irrational decisions made by Carbonell's Richard Alpert to hand over control of the island to first Ben and then Locke. Muslims believe that there were a great number of inspired prophets through history, including Abraham and Jesus, leading up to the perfection of their god's message in the person of Muhammad. This concept of the ongoing revelation of purer truths plays large in Middle Eastern history -- for example, it went a long way towards legitimizing the rule of the Ottomans over much of the Muslim world even though they were Turks rather than Arabs.

Who are the Others, really, but an indigenous people suffering through the years (or centuries, or millennia) waiting for a destined leader to keep them safe from their enemies and free to do whatever it is exactly the Others do when they're not terrorizing newcomers? This belief in the one who is yet to come, less in a Judeo-Christian Messiah sense than a mortal man with a divinely inspired message, explains a lot about the Others' strange behavior throughout the run of "Lost." They're murderously xenophobic, but they kidnap babies. They are connected to the island to the degree that it causes them pain to leave, but leave they do and they seem to have many full-time operatives all around the globe. At the end of Season 2, Ben's deal with Michael was for him to bring a specific group of people -- Hurley, Jack, Sawyer, and Kate -- in exchange for Walt. Jack they needed to fix Ben's spine. But some sort of test was being done on the others. The island doesn't approve of some people. In the Season 3 premiere Ben had Hurley sent back to the beach -- a miscalculation, quite possibly, because Hurley has a better connection to the island than most. Remember, Ben and Locke needed him to find Jacob's cabin, late in Season 4.

The thing that I am still trying to link up, along with a lot of other fans, is the smoke monster. Does it only kill bad people? It certainly took care of the freighter commandos in short order. Mr. Eko was unquestionably a man who had done great evil in his life. But how come the smoke never caught Kate? She's a murderer. And what about poor pilot Greg Grunberg, in the second episode? What'd he ever do to anyone? I think there is something to this concept of the Others having to evaluate each alien presence on the island in turn and decide then whether to kill them or put them in charge. The added, crazy wrinkle is the time travel element. If Locke goes back in time to tell Richard he's pretty awesome, after (in the future) Richard told Locke the same thing -- only, from Locke's perspective, it's the past -- well, I don't know what it all means, except for drugstores to expect a big bump in aspirin sales late Wednesday evenings this spring.

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