Thursday, 20 March 2008

Lost - Ji Yeon

I've tended to go on a lot about each of the episodes of season four (and probably would have done to earlier episodes if this blog wasn't so young), and I've been happy to do so. Absurdly happy, in fact. This week, however, I've been thinking of this post as a chore to get through, postponing it until so late that this will probably be kind of short, at least compared to the other Lost posts -- and no, it's not just because we only got a bit of Frank-time, during which he was a bit of a dick.

Partially it's because it was a Sun/Jin episode. If I'm ambivalent about Kate episodes, I'm downright bored by these, even though I like both characters and find the quick glimpses of Korean corporate life interesting. Sadly, there is very little forward motion in them, and even with two characters, it often feels like they don't have enough to do to justify a flashback episode (which is often the case with Kate and Jack as well).

Also -- and I could be wrong here -- I often wonder if these scenes are less an insight into Korean culture than they are a misapplication of preconceptions about Japanese culture. I've never seen any other film or TV show even attempt to portray that aspect of Korean life, and in Lost it seems very similar to the cliched scenes of salaryman who supplicate excessively when they meet corporate higher-ups. There's a strong chance both cultures share this unfortunate heirarchical reflex, and I shouldn't be so concerned about it. I'm afraid my many years as a stay-at-home nerd means my only real exposure to Korean culture comes from watching films by super-genius Park Chan-wook. Any information about whether my fears about this portrayal of Jin at work are justified would be appreciated kthx.

I will admit I got very interested in Sun and Jin's backstory when it turned out that Sun's life depended on the paternity of her child, and that was a very big part of why my admiration for the show went up about 100,000% last season. I love that the show took one of the things that gets criticised most and paid it off so well that only the most churlish of critics could have moaned about it. Of all the Sun/Jin episodes so far, D.O.C. was by far my favourite. This one, though? Not good. Not good at all.

Which is not to say it wasn't without some great moments. This is Lost, after all. There's always something of interest going on (I'll get to that in a bit). First, though, I will moan, and after feeling like the only person who liked The Other Woman, it's nice to feel a part of the mob again. It seems the odd commentator was okay with the big twist of the plot, but most weren't, and I have to side with them. I like twists as well as the next guy, and this show has had some real corkers (the best being in Walkabout, which is still talked about as being the best episode yet in some corners of the internet). My other favourite was in Exposé, which did nothing to further the overall plot, and was straight out of a Twilight Zone episode or EC comic, but was thoroughly entertaining nevertheless. And hey! Maybe the cameo appearance of Nikki and Mr. LeShade hinted there was a twist to come! (Yes, that is a screencap of the Lostverse TV show Exposé on Sun's TV.)

This episode was written by the Exposé team of Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis, and I've been a cheerleader for them for a while, but they lost me this time. Flashback/forward twists like the one employed here have been used to great effect so far. The end of Through The Looking Glass totally discombobulated us, and now that that new show format has been introduced, every episode begins with confusion, as we wait to see whether we'll be in the past or the future. In The Other Woman, there was a bit of clunky writing about Juliet being a celebrity that led us to believe she was one of the Oceanic Six, even though I would have been very surprised if the showrunners intended to use one of those six slots on someone who was never on the plane.

Well, if that was clunky, having Jin be shown in flashback and Sun in flashforward was not only kind of obvious (Jin's suit, hair, phone and generally hostile demeanour pretty much gave the twist away), but was done for no other reason than to screw with us. This is what many criticisms of the episode focused on. Most of the time, Lost is surprisingly rewatchable, considering it depends on slow revelation for dramatic effect. I've thoroughly enjoyed going back and seeing episodes from previous seasons, and AV Club writer Noel Murray is currently rewatching the first season while he recaps the current one.

They're not all good, though. The Ana-Lucia, Boone and Shannon episodes feel like a huge waste of time, as those arcs went nowhere (though the quick shout-out to Ana-Lucia during The Other Woman was nice). I often feel the same about Eko's episodes, although there was enough going on in those to make up for it. Same with Charlie's. This flashback episode, however, contained no new information about Jin's past, and what little tension it created was down to the strenuous efforts of first-time director Stephen Semel, graduating from the editing room after over 20 episodes splicing and Aviding and whatnot.

During the first viewing, the dramatic Michael Giacchino score, fast cutting, and panicky performance by Daniel Dae Kim certainly made it feel like we were watching a mad scramble to get to hospital in time for the birth of his daughter (though I started wondering what was happening early on, as this was very obviously pre-island behaviour for Jin, and the thought that he would become a wimp after being so fighty was disheartening). Second viewing, while getting these screencaps, and the whole thing looked ridiculous. Jin needs a panda! Will Jin get a panda! Yes! But no! It's been improbably stolen! Hurry, Jin! Or Mr. Paik will be very angry! I couldn't give a fuck about Mr. Paik being angry with Jin, and even worse, this is two months into Jin's employment, which means that while his panic is justifiable (he was certainly this nervous when first employed), it serves no narrative purpose other than to be a plot device.

That the show had other good things about it has almost been overshadowed by the absurdity of these moments. It was as if Jason Bourne was buying a panda, not Jin. The only thing interesting moment came when an impassive stranger knocked his clunky phone out of his hand and it broke, and then someone stole his cab from him with the panda inside (the sort of thing that happens in bad movies set in New York), which led to another intense trip to the toy shop. For a moment I wondered if he was in hell, destined to eternally search for a panda toy, thinking he was missing his daughter's birth and not knowing he was dead. Perhaps a step too far outside the boundaries of the Lost mythos, but it would have justified all the drama over something that, in terms of the show, means nothing. Though Jin's anger face is always a joy to behold.

My only other hope for this season is that Mr. Paik will play a larger part in the show in future (he is in cahoots with evil Charles Widmore, after all). Maybe his daughter somehow figures into things. Or the panda had a virus in it. Or a bomb. Anything to make this bait-and-switch mean something! That said, though plotwise it was cheap and empty, of course the first time we saw the episode, it had an emotional charge, and though I'm mad at Kitsis and Horowitz for making this twist so mechanical and information-light, I have nothing but praise for Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim for selling it. And this panda plot did remind us of what Jin once was: a cog in a machine. Nothing like the man he became over four seasons of this show.

As usual, it was a joy to see the Kims together, but Semel (who did a good job first time out, though it was a shaky script to be working from) only put them in the same frame toward the start of the episode as they discussed what their baby would be called.

After that, as the flashback/forward separation progressed, we still saw them in the same frame, but distance was represented with the camera positioned far away (more on that use of distance in a bit).

How awesome is the island breakfast nook, btw? I'm beginning to think living on the island wouldn't be such a bad idea, as long as Smokey keeps to him/her/itself. Of course, at this point in the island plot, Sun and Jin are getting on okay, but after Kate spreads some gossip about her island nemesis Juliet, Sun worries enough to confront Faraday about his (nonexistent?) rescue plans, which doesn't quite go the way she expected. (Again the camera is positioned farther away.)

Sun is uneasy with Faraday's non-answer, and she chooses to go to Locke's camp. Jin acquiesces, and that's when Juliet provides the episode highlight, telling Jin about Sun's affair, something that came so completely out of nowhere that we wore this next face for the next five minutes. Wow, Juliet is cold. And awesome.

Special Bonus Screencap! Jin's not the only one with a magnificent fury-face.

At that point Sun and Jin begin to become separated visually just as they are in the flashback/forward narrative. This is probably the last time they are properly shown onscreen in the same frame, and this is where Jin separates himself from her.

Kudos again to Daniel Dae Kim. There'a lot of speculation about whether he's dead or just stuck on the island, and I really hope it's the latter. I've liked DDK since first seeing him as the useless Gavin on Angel, and watching him get minor parts in almost every show on TV (most notably bringing Jack Bauer the phone a lot in 24) was simultaneously heartening (Hey! It's Daniel Dae Kim in another show!) and frustrating (Oh, he's dead). We need Jin to survive because one, he's gorgeous and the ladies think he's a hunk (I have this on good authority), so he needs more screentime, and two, he's a good actor. Perhaps not Michael Emerson level good, but still, he really goes through the wringer in this one, selling a lot of the absurdity with his intensity. We need more DDK!

Of course, he comes to an understanding that the man he was in the past (that we're seeing in flashback, though we might not know that at that point) doesn't exist any more, and it's all down to the ever-wonderful Bernard, played by Sam Anderson, to point this out.

Of course, this is a special moment for Angel fans, as Anderson played Holland Manners, Gavin's evil boss at Wolfram and Hart. I'd like to think this was put there for us Mutant Enemy fans, and not just because Bernard is the only other husband on the island (at least, husband with wife present that we know of).

The final scene between Jin and Sun, with Jin explaining that he understands why Sun cheated on him, was simple and moving, but we don't see them together, even though they're in the same room.

At first we see them in profile, looking at each other from one shot to another.

Then we get third-person shots over their shoulders...

...but we can barely see the person in the foreground. (Sun is actually in this shot, but the way it's lit means you can't even tell it's the back of her head taking up half the screen.)

They reconcile and hug, a powerful emotional moment, and beautifully played by both, but still we don't see their faces together.

The next time we see Sun, she has a daughter, and then we find out that Jin isn't coming (that silly contrived twist!), but we do find out that he has or would have had a daughter. The birth goes kinda okay, especially considering in an earlier scene, there's a possibility that she might have to have a C-section. When her doctor give her the news, she freaks out and starts calling out for Jin, which is just another way to trick the audience prior to the twist. At the end of the scene, after the writers have put Sun in enough distress with the threat of surgery to call out Jin's name, the birth gets back on track, and the C-section is forgotten. A low point for Lost in general. But look! Baby covered in ick!

Even though I didn't like that narrative silliness, that birth, and Sun's reconciliation with Jin, is made heartbreaking as the twist is revealed and we see that Sun is alone in the future, with only Hurley to keep her company, and only then so they can go and visit Sun's grave. (And what's with Hurley's relief that only Sun would be there? Is this linked to his guilt over joining Locke's group?)

And yes, I was annoyed with a lot of things in this episode, and yes, this scene contained no forward-motion information and some pretty simple dialogue, but my God it made me cry, and watching it again to get screencaps made me cry even more. As soon as you see the gravestone, and Michael Giacchino's music rises up, I was finished off. I'm mad at Kitsis and Horowitz for the sloppiness earlier, but the final scene was so great it almost doesn't matter.

Though really, how much did they do at the end? Any writing is going to shine when you have an actress as talented as Yunjin Kim involved. The scene's simplicity was what made it work, and it made up for a lot of contrivance. Good job, too. But is Jin alive or dead? I'm hoping he's alive, but bear in mind that the music that moved me so much is a theme from the first season called Win One For The Reaper. It might not count, but I'm not hopeful. I gather someone dies in this week's episode. Maybe we'll find out right away. ::sniff:: I know how you feel, Sun.

So, with the show in low-info mode, what did we learn this week? Precious little, really. I don't think we even still know what the boat doctor's name is. For now, as he's played by Marc Vann from CSI: Classic, I'll just call him Ecklie until I hear differently.

We also learned that that breakfast nook is seriously great. I got obsessed with it, and figured I would probably go on about it in this post. I was right!

I liked that they're getting some use out of the boat that Kate and Sawyer stole from Other Prison Island, though it made me anxious that going too far out will trigger the time-travelling that affected Desmond and Minkowski.

Also, we discovered that Kate's stinksheen cannot be banished for long, if this picture is anything to go by (and how catty can she be when one of her hunky fellas is being seduced by former cohorts of Ben? That was another episode highlight).

Most importantly, Sayid doesn't like beans, apparently.

I'm forgetting something pretty important: this was the week we found out who Ben's spy was. Frank had an important job to do; the task handed to him by Keamy, who approached our aviator hero from the shadows. Was Keamy the spy?

Not long after that we finally got to meet Regina, played by Death Proof superhero Zoe Bell. When we first see her she's at the end of a corridor, her face obscured by her hair. Was Regina the spy??!!!?!

Erm, nope.

Or if she was, working for Ben was not much fun. Nice to see Cuselof made the most of having a stunt hero in the cast. The fact that you can see her face as she plummets into the ocean really sells that moment. Superb stuff. Of course, this event finally brought Captain Gault out of hiding. We first see him at a distance as well. Was Captain Gault the spy?

Seeing as how the spy has been warning Desmond and Sayid not to trust the captain, he would have to be playing a really convoluted game, even for someone working for the patron saint of convoluted plans. He takes our dishevelled heroes to his cabin, and shows them the black box of the fake Oceanic 815, and sticks the death (or exhumation) of 324 people on Ben's shoulders. Okay, definitely not the spy.

Later on, Dr. Ecklie Until I Find Out The Character's Actual Name finds a room for our hunky protagonists, but it's all gross due to cockroaches (which Sayid seems to hate more than beans) and a big bloodstain on the wall. I mean, come on, someone blew their brains out in there? Seriously, there's cabin fever, and then there's Jack Nicholson in The Shining. Luckily there's a janitor at the end of the corridor.

He approaches from a distance, his face obscured by shadow, and OMG IT'S MICHAEL!!!

Who would've thought it? Other than pretty much everyone who follows the show, who would have heard about Harold Perrineau's return, either through the really big announcement last year or by seeing his name in the credits for the past six weeks. Still, it's great to see him back as "Kevin Johnson", and at least now we know who Ben's spy is, though hopefully Michael the spy won't go nuts and blow his brains out. With him gone, who would clean it up? Desmond and Sayid look like they're in no mood to sort it out, though Dr. Ecklie has almost certainly seen worse.

Or do we really know for sure? We know Ben has a spy onboard, and know Michael is onboard (or that he's an older Walt, if some of the online theories are to be believed), but that doesn't mean they're one and the same. Does Michael owe any debt to Ben? He only helped deliver Jack, Kate and Sawyer to Ben because of his debt to Walt, and not because he felt any fondness for the Others. For all we know Michael is just there because he feels the same pull toward the island that Beardy Jack and Hurley feel in their flashforwards. That could be enough to make Michael go to the trouble of hiding his identity and figuring out a way to get back onto the island.

Considering how Keamy and Regina were introduced this episode, it could be one of them. Certainly Regina was looking pretty tortured, either by island-generated brain-craziness, or guilt over working for Ben. As for Keamy, who knows what he's up to. Actually, all of this is massive conjecture. It's almost certainly Michael. Now we get to find out how he came to be involved with Ben in tonight's episode. Or not, as is often the case.

Also in tonight's episode, more Captain Gault!

More Desmond and Sayid yay!

Less Hurley in a suit boo!

And a lot less of another character, who will die tonight. Who will it be? Join us in our weekly chant: NOT SAWYER NOT SAWYER NOT SAWYER!!!!!!


sjwoo said...

Don't be surprised if there's an angry mob of Korean nationals waiting for you with pitchforks and torches for even daring to mention any sort of commonality between K and J! There are still folks back in the peninsula who refuse to eat Japanese food, buy Japanese cars, etc. It's what happens when you have another country occupy you for years and years as they attempt to eradicate your culture from the face of the earth.

Having said that, there are of course similarities between Japanese and Korean culture. (Ha!) It happens -- we are neighbors, after all, even if Japan happens to be an island. There are similarities in all three cultures (including China), and supplication for people in power is certainly one of them. Another one is the automatic courtesy given to older folks, much more so than here in the U.S. So to have Jin act like the way he does in front of Mr. Paik is AOK.

I think I was much more interested in the Sun/Jin episodes earlier in the series...there was that great scene when Jin is in a restroom and an American guy starts speaking Korean to him -- a real bone-chilling moment.

At this point, the only episodes that I enjoy wholeheartedly are the Desmond ones. You just can't go wrong with them, even if the last one (The Constant) echoed the wonderful endgame two-parter of ST:TNG.

sjwoo said...

By the way, it's entirely too funny you mention Nicholson and the Shining. You'll see what I mean when you see tonight's ep. You must have some sort of a mental connection to this show. Scary!

The ep was good, by the way. Not great, but good. Better than last week's, that's for sure.

sjwoo said...

You know what -- I take that back. Tonight's episode was actually pretty damn good. It was almost great. Loved, loved the ending.

Admiral Neck said...

Thanks for the explanation re: Korean corporate life, but I really hope I don't get pitchforked to death over my curiosity. One of the few things I know about Korean history is that there is bad blood with Japan, which is why I thought it would be horribly insensitive of the Lost showrunners to inaccurately portray one of their main Korean characters in a way that was so reminiscent of portrayals of Japanese characters. You have allayed my fears that Cuselof screwed up horribly. Though, as you say, Sun and Jin were a lot more interesting in the first season.

As for The Shining thing, I know! Weird, huh? What a fantastic episode. Whereas I didn't relish talking about Ji Yeon, I'm going to go nuts over Meet Kevin Johnson, especially all of the Tom stuff (so glad Cuselof delivered on their promise to show a gay Other, and so glad it was my second favourite [after Ben, of course]).

Oh, and thanks for reminding me about the ST:TNG finale. One of the all-time great show endings.