Thursday, 6 March 2008

Lost - The Constant

After finishing my post about Eggtown last week, I felt a bit bad about bitching about it, as I had managed to enjoy it even though it had not been perfect. I had considered editing it to make it a little less catty, and when I realised I had neglected to mention my biggest bugbear (that the shots of the Barracks featured no evidence of anyone other than our heroes living there even though Locke had managed to rustle up a convoy of panicky survivors to drink his Kool Aid), I figured I'd let it slide even though it irked me throughout.

Now that I've seen The Constant twice, I can safely say that the quality gulf between them was so large that I feel no further guilt, though to be honest that's as much because The Constant was a series highlight as it is due to Eggtown being below par. The latest mind-bending time-travelling adventures of Desmond were as great as hoped, though not for the reasons I expected.

Of course, I still had my fill of the cool WTF stuff that I love so much. Possibly the most startling moment came when we saw Charles Widmore bidding on a Black Rock journal put up for auction by the hitherto unmentioned Tovard Hanso, but this is only really interesting to Lost nerds, and is probably only a set up for something later in the series. That's if he shows up later. In my last Lost post I whined about Ken Leung disappearing from the show as he is signed to be in a play, but now it seems he's not the only one. Will Alan Dale's Grail quest ruin our show? If so, decorum prevents me from disclosing where I'm going to push that pram a lot.

So, it was cool to see Charles Widmore hunting down island memorabilia, and it was cool to see an episode that eschewed flashbacks altogether, with the show format replaced by a linear (to Desmond) narrative that just happened to move back and forth in time (though it's arguable that that is what the show has always done, in a manner of speaking), and it was way cool to see the scope of the show expand a little further, with the panoramic first shots of the freighter looking just gorgeous.

However, the meat of the episode, the stuff that made it so special, was the temporary pay-off to the Desmond-Penny love story. This has been building up for a couple of years now, and hopefully it will come to an even more satisfying conclusion later (i.e. one that doesn't involve any death, showrunners!!!!), but for now, this was exactly what we were after, and not just because Desmond never shuts up about her. Seriously, I'm amazed no one has thrown him into Room 23 for some serious reprogramming before now.

Desmond's desperation might have been a little wearing in previous episodes, but this week Cuse and Lindelof cleverly made his search for Penny a life-or-death quest through time, his life depending on finding her both in the past and the present. His consciousness zipping back and forth between two versions of himself, he sought her out in an effort to keep his mind rooted in time, a condition brought on by what I assume is his exposure to the electromagnetic forces unleashed when the Swan station imploded. That said, was the time travelling side effect triggered by the helicopter leaving the path Faraday gave Frank?

It certainly seemed like the storm blew the helicopter off course, even if it was by a few degrees. If this is the case, and if this is the same heading given to Michael in the season two finale, perhaps everyone on the island is similarly affected and irradiated, and all the hatch implosion did was temporarily unmoor Desmond's consciousness in Flashes Before Your Eyes. Perhaps all my conjecturising is futile, as it's not like we got all the answers we wanted this week (which is just fine for the hardcore fans).

Of course it also meant a return for Sonya Walger. I've never been crazy about the character of Penny prior to this episode, but it was good to see Walger back in that role again, after her appearances in Tell Me You're My Constant and Terminator: TSCC. In those she often comes off poorly, either as a baby-crazy beyhotch or second-best ladyfriend to someone still besotted with his soldier girl from the past, but here she got to be the spurned lover and the loyal soulmate hunting her true love across the planet. We've had hints of her proactive nature before now, so seeing her past fury at Desmond for deserting her was deeply unsettling at first.

As Desmond's brain approached boiling point, he found his true love in 1996 with the help of her evil dad, improbably enough, and got her phone number, despite her fears that he would just use it to start phoning her immediately, which was the last thing pastPenny wanted after being spurned so nastily on the South Bank of the Thames. Telling her he would call her in eight years, she turfed him out of her expensive London pad, and he disconsolately walked away, heartbroken by her rejection of him and probably convinced she was not going to wait around for his call.

In every previous episode the flashbacks have followed a steady format, with whooshy music and a cut at the crescendo, but as this episode had linear flashbacks that were part of the plot, Desmond's timehopping went unheralded by editing tricks. We saw his jumps become more frequent, until he was skipping back and forth, waiting on the phone in the present, walking away in the past. After turning away from Penny's house he hops back from pastDesmond to 2004 to begin his call to Penny (thus making her prediction about his immediate calling come true, in a way), and in possibly the most poetic time travel moment since the final scene of The Terminator, future Desmond hears Penny pick up the phone, and in the past he realises that his terrible mistake in running away from Penny has been resolved.

Earlier tonight a colleague commented on how Lost is often misinterpreted as a clinical show with no real emotion behind it, and cited the season one finale with Sawyer telling Jack about his father as an example of how stupid that criticism is. That was a moving scene, and I'm sure if I had more time I could think of others. There's never been anything like this moment before, though.

While the Jack-Kate-Sawyer-Juliet quadrangle has its charms, and while Sawyer's longing has made me tear up before, Penny and Desmond's ill-fated love has been the most "sappy" arc on the show, sometimes veering too close to Hallmark sentimentality to convince me on an emotional level. It's a different story now. I have no idea where they're going with this arc, and I fear the worst (why else give Desmond a final book to read, other than to copy John Updike?), but this incredible finale obliterated all of my doubt. I cried a bit when I first saw it, and watching it again yesterday I was a blubbering mess. As Desmond said, it was perfect. Well done, Darlton/Cuselof. Well done.

I had a moment of worry in the middle of the episode, though, as did Canyon, who groaned audibly when the concept of The Constant was introduced. Coming so soon after talk of lasers and consciousnesses traveling through time, it seemed awfully soppy one, and more than a little contrived. However, it did inspire a burst of fanwanking from myself (that it makes sense that the human mind can take control of its reaction to time travelling), and an observation from Canyon that in the end it doesn't matter because it worked so beautifully within the episode and gave us some emotionally cathartic drama with Desmond's large-scale goal (find Penny) reduced to a break-neck race to save himself (and don't heartfelt old romantics often think that failure to pursue the object of their unrequited love is of more importance than anything else?).

I also like that as the scene cut back and forth between the two of them gabbling promises of love and fealty to each other, they finished on a moment of synchronicity, saying "I love you," at the same time. Throughout the episode there were other dualities. It was only a few minutes ago that I noticed pastDesmond has short hair thanks to the dress code of the army, and futureFaraday also has short hair (though he retains his beard), whereas futureDesmond, naturally, has long crazy hair, as does pastFaraday. It's all tonsorially topsy turvy!

Some of the characters have reflections or dopplegangers, though I'll admit they're a bit of a stretch. Juliet faced off against CS Lewis, snottily complaining about the rescuers' treatment of the islanders, conjuring up some classic bitchface in the process (this is the most we've seen Juliet do so far this season, so I'm grateful to Darlton and show director Jack Bender for giving us this).

It got thrown right back at her by CS, who not only has the same brand of caustic sarcasm when affronted, but has similar hair and a similar build (though of course pretty much every woman on the island, bar Rose, is as skinny as a rake, so that's not a surprise). Also, she's awfully keen on Faraday keeping his secrets from the castaways, which is how Juliet behaved in season three, convincing Jack not to reveal their Otherkilling plan to Kate.

A new character, Keamy was introduced on the freighter (the name seemed potentially relevant, but the only vaguely Losty name I could find on the internet was this mime and massage chap who performs a work called Namaste). Played by a former comedian called Kevin Durand, he did nothing to suggest evil, but it poured off him anyway. He seriously creeped me out, even as he calmly stuck Desmond in the sick bay with easy platitudes and an imposing physical presence (i.e. he is enormous).

Meanwhile, Desmond's consciousness was flashing back to his time in the army, being bellowed at by an imposing sergeant played by Graham McTavish, who was recently seen bellowing at everyone in earshot in Sylvester Stallone's gizzard-shredding insane-athon Rambo. Typecast much?

Jack Bender also made sure to frame Desmond and Minkowski in a similar way, in order to draw attention to the similarity of their fates. While Minkowski is strapped down like this...

...Desmond is similarly "bound" by duty in the army, with the blanket echoing the straps on his fellow time traveller. Don't forget, only fools are enslaved by time and space.

I was a little confused by some things, though. Did Minkowski lose his memory too, or was that just Desmond and Faraday? Has Faraday been time travelling too? It stands to reason considering he has been exposed to a lot of radiation and has travelled through the disturbance surrounding the island. Does Desmond's appearance in the past mean his own memory has come back? It seemed likely, but again, it's hard to theorise about this as we don't have enough information yet. It also raises questions about Faraday's motivations thus far. Were the coordinates he gave Frank correct? And why do I not trust CS Lewis and think she's a bad egg? Perhaps the next episode will clear that up. I mean, clear it up as much as anything is cleared up on this show.

Further notes on this magnificent episode. If you're going to travel by plane and are at risk of crashing on a magnetised island, be sure to pack a pocket Sayid. That guy can do just about anything.

Good to see Marc "Ecklie from CSI" Vann playing a shady doctor, though due to the lack of computing power I have no way to get screen captures and YouTube clips didn't seem to find his presence worthy of inclusion in their library. So you'll have to take my word for it.

My favourite echo of the episode was Faraday telling Desmond that he can't change the future, which was the stern lesson given to him by Mrs. Hawking, Time Cop. At least this time no one got crushed by a building, Wicked Witch-style. I also liked Faraday bitching about the possible prank being played on him with, "Time paradox. How uninspiring." Another instance of Darlton playing with the audience and their critics. That said, as delightful as I found that, I screeched in frustration as Penny, mid-phone call, began to explain how her search for Desmond had involved some research when a burst of static covered her explanation. You teasing bastards! I take back my earlier praise.

When Minkowski died from the brain aneurysm, was anyone else reminded of Mikhail's "death" when he walked through the sonic fence? Will this death prove to be as temporary, or did they really cast Fisher Stevens just so they could kill him off straight away? Seems odd.

Or maybe it was punishment for playing the "comedy" Indian in the Short Circuit movies.

Not that he is entirely to blame, of course, but John Badham and Kenneth Johnson's careers aren't exactly in full bloom, and I'd like to think it's karmic in nature. And if you think I'm misremembering the horror of his "Oh dearie dear!" performance, Short Circuit 2 was on Five just a few hours before Lost aired on Sky One, and we watched a bit of it, our faces slack with horror. And that one didn't even have Ally "Best character in The Breakfast Club" Sheedy in it to make up for it! Pisspoor stuff.

When Desmond arrives in Oxford (nice of his time travelling to stop working during a long train journey from Glasgow), we see Faraday treating one of his students like total crap. For some reason that made me really happy, knowing that even a meek and put-upon physicist like him can be a pompous bully when necessary. I also noticed the campus for "Oxford" looks a lot like the monastery from Desmond's previous flashback episode. Were they filmed in the same place?

Pink laser! A nod to PKD's Valis, which I didn't pick up at first.

Of course, Philip K Dick was once hit by a pink laser fired by God (or a sentient satellite) and gave him the information that saved his son's life from a inguinal hernia. There are hints and tributes to Dick's work throughout the series; that super-relevant intonation "Only fools are enslaved by time and space" is derived from a Buddhist text, but it is reminiscent of some of Dick's writings. At least to me.

Loved the scary scene with the helicopter being buffeted by what looked like a bad storm on the way off the island. At last we see the rough ride we've been promised for so long.

The effects for this episode were supervised by Mitch Suskin, taking over from Kevin Blank, who appears to be working on other stuff following Blankscreen's superb effects work on Cloverfield. A quick IMDb check shows Blank worked on Tsui Hark's Legend of Zu, which is on my to-watch list. Cooler than that, Suskin worked on Predator and Poltergeist. In my capacity as an effects nerd, I am impressed.

Sad to see Sayid and Frank not getting on, especially with the bitchy comment from Frank about phoning Baghdad. Don't be a dick, dude. That said, even though we've not spent much time with him, it seems in keeping with his character that he would be a bit of a reactionary ass about such things. So yay for fleshing Frank out realistically, but boo to the jerkiness. More Frank awesomeness soon, please.

Apologies if this sounds bitchy, but what was up with Desmond's eye?

I really thought it was an effect of some sort, like a contact lens, to show that his brain was distorting due to the time travelling, but I don't think it is. Perhaps I should look back on previous episodes and see if there's anything else at play there.

It's like Steve Bell's cartoons of Tony Blair or something.

There's no need for that.

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