Thursday, 13 March 2008

Lost - The Other Woman

Ever feel like you're totally out of step with everyone else? That while you maintain the sky is blue everyone else thinks it's not only red, but on fire and falling? That's pretty much how I felt after finishing The Other Woman and going online for my traditional post-viewing internet trawl to find much wailing, teeth-gnashing, and egregious bitching. I felt like Juliet in this picture.

Jeff Jensen called it ”the first truly subpar episode of the season”, and Noel Murray said it was “a little remedial”, while talkbackers rained derision on it. “Bad bad bad bad episode.” “Boring.” “Poor writing.” “Worst. Episode. Ever.” “Young and the Restless love triangle bullshit.” I seem to be in the middle of a bickering argument with an AV Club commenter who hates episode writer Drew Goddard. It’s a shame because I thought this guy was alright in the past, but that’s going too damn far! I guess I’m just going to have to weather this alone, because this episode rocked my socks off, and saying it’s the worst episode of Lost when Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moth (and this season’s Eggtown) are still in our memories just baffles me. To each their own, of course, but still.

This week Juliet was manipulated by Ben in the past and the future, with the help of a new character, Harper, and what might have been Smokey pretending to be Harper. We won’t know for sure for a while, but Andrea Roth was playing Harper in a weird, monotone way as she appeared to Juliet in the jungle, in much the same way that Yemi and Walt and Ben’s mom did when they appeared to the islanders.

As usual, it was a nice touch to have Harper be the one to twice try to make Juliet jump through hoops, each time supposedly for the benefit of Ben, but the first time she does this, during the confrontation with Juliet in the middle of a therapy session, she’s more worried about Ben’s feelings than her own. Is this a sign that the Others are scared of Ben? Or do some of them idolize him? It makes sense; Tom’s behaviour during Ben’s surgery was more than just the usual panicky actions you would expect of someone watching an operation go wrong.

Ah yes, Tom. One of the many things I loved about this episode is that we got a chance to see Tom again. Of all the brave and/or stupid things Sawyer has done, killing Tom is the only one I’ve ever been really really pissed off about. I mean, I understand why he did it, but I thought Tom was great, genial and deadly in equal measure, just like in Con Air where M.C. Gainey played Swamp Thing. It’s one of the reasons why I like Frank Lapidus so much, that they give off this air of working class normality, that they're guys who would usually be sitting on a lawnmower drinking a Bud but are now dealing with a smoke-monster-infested island hidden inside a tesseract or whatever the hell is going on.

The title of the episode relates to Juliet, who is (as explained by Lostpedia) the other woman in Harper and Goodwin’s marriage, the other woman in the Jack-Kate relationship, the other woman in Ben and Annie’s relationship (who knows what’s going on there), and a woman who was once an Other. That said, the visual template of this show seemed to have fun with the idea of people standing behind other characters, being the "other woman" in the shot. It happened way too often to be just a coincidence. Harper stood behind Goodwin when he was being sent off on a deadly mission by the duplicitous Ben.

CS Lewis liked to creep up on people and when behind them, smack them over the head. First Kate...

…then Juliet.

There then ensued a big fight that destroyed the Tempest station while Faraday ineffectually pleaded with them to stop even as he typed crazy code into a computer like the big computer nerd he is. While he did that, Juliet stood behind him with a gun trained on him, CS Lewis pretty much incapacitated on the ground.

In each case we have a triangle of characters with the dominant character in the background, and there was one other moment where this happened, with Juliet running towards Goodwin’s corpse, Ben standing on the top of the hill behind her.

We could say Ben is the other “woman” in Juliet’s relationships, posing a threat to all of them with his creepy delusions. OMG is that a big twist coming up? Ben is a woman? If he’s as omnipresent as Harper hinted, perhaps he is everywhere and everything simultaneously. Is he God? Or the Devil? Or am I just running off at the mouth and the "Other Woman" can be considered just a phrase referring to the third person in a relationship?

Of course, at the end of the episode Juliet seems to get over Goodwin's death and after revealing her feelings for Jack (in an open setting that is the exact opposite of the gloomy interior of the therapy scenes), which prompts him to go kiss crazy with her, which has annoyed several commenters as being out of character for Jack. I say thee nay. Earlier in the episode Kate reminds Jack that she is a murderous fugitive, and though he presses Juliet on the details of her past, she says that she cannot talk about it. We know she has already killed one person (Danny Pickett), and maybe she feels she is responsible for Goodwin’s death.

Jack probably doesn’t know any of this, and if his feelings for Kate were not already compromised by her apparent siding with Sawyer (which we know is not going the way Sawyer was hoping), they are further complicated by the belief that Juliet is a morally safe option. Add to that the whole “protector” element of his personality, and his newfound confrontational attitude when it comes to Ben, and his decision to kiss her seems much more believable. He seems conflicted after doing it, but then his act is more about being defiant in the face of Ben’s apparent omnipresence than it is about feelings. At least it appears that way. Nevertheless, we get one final shot of a triangle; Jack and Juliet embracing, but they appear tiny in the entrance to the Tempest station, the weapon with which Ben (maybe) planned to kill everyone. Jack may think he stands a chance against Ben, but he is just a tiny player in Ben’s huge invisible plan.

This is not the only foreshadowing in the episode. For the second time we’ve seen Locke preparing food, his hands covered with blood. There is an argument that this refers to his murder of Naomi, but I have a very strong feeling that he will soon be responsible for much loss of life on the island. How this will happen I don’t know, but I’m very worried about it. There’s a strong possibility this cast cull will include Claire, as she is framed in the shot with his bloodied hands in the foreground.

Another visual touch occurred to me while going through the episode again. In the therapy scenes between Harper and Juliet, the curtains are partially drawn and the lighting is somewhat gloomy, suggesting they are hiding from the rest of the camp (which would be normal procedure for a therapy session, but Tom coming in in the middle of it, as well as Harper’s antagonistic relationship with Juliet tends to suggest the Others have a conflicted attitude to psychiatry).

Later in the episode, when Ben takes Locke to the safe in the wall, the curtains are half-closed in the same way, and both characters are shot in a sort of half-shadow, as if underlit.

Therapy is meant to be about finding answers, revealing parts of yourself, and this visual connection between the two scenes might suggest that we’re meant to think of Ben’s revelations to Locke as something similar to an act of openness, but the therapy session is a twisted version of the actual process. This makes me wonder if Ben is still lying to Locke knowing that with the information he provides he will then be set free in order to arrange the payment to Miles, thus getting him off the hook with Widmore. Don’t forget, he says to Locke that he kept the identity of his nemesis a secret as it was “The only bargaining chip I had left.” By now I think it’s safe to say there is no way we can trust Ben on this point. More on that in a moment. Though we did definitively find out that Ben has some really dull taste in art, African masks notwithstanding.

One of the criticisms leveled at The Other Woman is that it didn’t offer any new information, but merely gave us stuff we could already figure out ourselves, and I guess you could say that, but there were little things that were deeply satisfying to see revealed or addressed. Ben thanking Juliet for looking after Zach and Emma, the two kids taken from the Tailies, was a nice touch, as they very rarely get mentioned. Actually, neither does their other babysitter, Cindy the flight attendant, who should be bemoaning the death of her boyfriend Gary Troup, but seems to have been Room 23’d into submission. This conversation made me wonder if the list is a lie concocted by Ben to justify his actions. Ben needs kids to fill out his shrinking band of acolytes? Kidnap some kids! Jacob says so! If this isn't the case and there really is a list, then Jacob is just as omniscient as Ben is now appearing to be.

I also loved that we found out that it was not just canisters of deadly gas that killed the Dharma Initiative, but venting of gas from the Tempest power station. On the commentary for The Man Behind The Curtain Darlton revealed that Ben’s father Roger was meant to die as a result of gas that covered the island, but it seemed unclear what was happening, so inserted a shot of Ben using a deadly smoke grenade. Now this seems totally superfluous following CS Lewis’ revelation (one of many moments during the episode that took me by surprise).

Another criticism of the episode is that there was no suspense during the big fight at the end, where Faraday is trying desperately to render a deadly gas inert, but the siuspense wasn’t whether he would be able to do it (it’s obvious he will, otherwise the series is over), but whether Ben was lying again or not. The showrunners have managed to keep his motives so unclear for so long that any time he says something, or something is attributed to him, the show becomes all about whether it is a lie or not. The moment in Through the Looking Glass where Ben’s comments about the freighter were dismissed by Jack and his fists is one of my favourite moments in the show because it made perfect sense that someone exposed to his games would just snap at some point. I mean, look at how smug he looks while eating fries. Punch his face in, survivors of Oceanic 815!

He is a total conundrum, and I bow to the showrunners for making him such a confusing character. We’re all still debating whether or not he really is one of the good guys. His actions are murderous and shady, but for all we know he really could be trying to save if not the island then the world. Until we know what Widmore is after, Ben’s actions will remain indecipherable.

Further to that confusion on the part of the viewer, it was deeply odd to be watching the show and rooting for Goodwin, who just a couple of seasons ago was a murderous child-stealing son of a bitch, but then Ben's not the only contradictory character on the show. The flirting between Juliet and Goodwin was soooo adorable that it was hard not to root for them, even knowing what we know about Goodwin. He's lucky. I doubt Ethan Rom will ever get a flashback appearance that casts him in a positive light.

The showrunners have been playing a game with our perception of the Others for a while now, and this is part of the moral confusion about Ben. That confusion was almost eradicated in this episode as we realised that although Ben is certainly the smartest person on the island, if not the planet, and is plotting moves so far in advance of everyone else that we can never count him out, there is another side to him that's only been hinted at. The batshit crazy megalomaniacal side.

Even if I were to think that this episode was poorly written or boring or a waste of time (which I don't), it is justified by the moment where Ben brings Juliet to Goodwin's corpse just show what he is willing to do to keep her. His reading of this line was heartstopping.
You're asking me why? After everything I did to get you here? After everything I've done to keep you here? How can you possibly not understand that you're mine!

Screw it, I'll just go right out and say it. It's one of the great moments of the entire show, and possibly his Emmy/Golden Globe nomination scene. We'll see what happens later this year.

As I said before, Ben is fascinating because his motives are so mysterious and so confused by his layers of obfuscation that his could conceivably end up being justified in our eyes. This moment, however, shows that he is capable of evil for personal reasons. With that fantastic moment, as his pissy superior mask dropped for a moment, he became terrifying. He also hinted at far worse actions than we have thought possible.

What he did to get her to the island? I don't think that was just manipulating evidence to make her think her sister was dying. I think he somehow made the bus kill her shitty husband (Edmund Burke, played by Zeljko Ivanek). As for what he's done to keep her on the island, other than lying to her, the only thing he could have really done is arrange for all of her patients to die. That's the most chilling thing I can think of. Ignore the cutesy Ben here. The man is a genius with the personality of an aggrieved teenager, like the omnipotent kid in Joe Dante's section of Twilight Zone The Movie.

The best scene in the episode came with Locke's momentary triumph over Ben as he reveals he knows about the deal with Miles. Though a second viewing made me wonder just how surprised Ben really is, first time around it was fun. While I might have started to worry about Locke's erratic behaviour over recent weeks, his frustrating but in-character inability to just shut the goddamn door and walk away as Ben toyed with him simultaneously delighted and annoyed me.

Of course, Ben is either outplotted by Locke (unlikely) or pretending to be (far more likely), but this shot...

...was only half as good as this one...

...and this moment, with Locke smugly handing over a dollar, was the ace in the hole.

I cannot begin to tell you how much I enjoyed that. We need to see Locke seem to regain his footing, because I'm sure that when Ben's new plan clicks together, Locke's confidence will be wrecked. Ben has the time to plot something truly cunning to take down his new nemesis, far better than his kneejerk shooting of last season. I dread it (because I love Locke) at the same time that I look forward to it (because I love Ben).

Other things that occurred to me this week: I'm always glad to see Brett Cullen on a show, though he never seems to be around for long. Fingers crossed there will be more flashbacks on the island. Ben and Rousseau definitely need them.

I get the feeling it's hard to whip around in falling rain with a gun and a torch in your hand. Foxy looked like he was trying not to burn his face off.

Though I rail against the internet hatred aimed at this episode, it wasn’t all great. My new Lost bugbear, the thinning of the extras cast, continues to irk. When Jack enlists Jin, Juliet and Sun to look for CS and Faraday, we see the beach camp is empty except for them. And hey, why is Jack getting the pregnant Sun to run through the jungle anyway? Dick.

We also see the Barracks seemingly empty except for the main actors. Why is everyone hiding? In the flashback we see Others everywhere, but at the moment Locke’s followers appear to be hiding in their cabins. Perhaps it’s for budgetary reasons, but it wrecks my enjoyment of these scenes.

Another complaint about the episode was that it tried too hard to fit everyone in even while hiding the extras, and certainly Claire's appearance seemed out of place (since when has she cared about island maintenance?), but it was still good to see Sawyer and Hurley playing yet another time-wasting game, even though yet again Sawyer forgets to put his glasses on and therefore fails terribly.

Plus, Sun and Jin and Vincent, getting a big belly-rub whooosa good doggie yesh you are! Funny that Jin has seemingly adopted Vincent, considering how he and Michael hated each other for so long.

I'm torn as to which character I disliked more in this episode. Was it Haughty Harper, with her perpetually angry face?

Or was it CS Lewis, with her equally catty expressions and duplicity?

It's worrying that of the new characters this season it's the two women that annoy me, but I'm hoping the imminent appearance of Regina, played by the awesome Zoe Bell, will set that straight. At least Kate was fun this week, getting all vengeful with a gun in a mirror of the previous scene where CS Lewis clonked her on the noggin.

Who looked worse this week? Jack with his bizarre eyebags? (The actors on this show are all beginning to look pretty tired and old at this point, which, you know, fair enough.)

Or was it Juliet in her bizarre big hair / crazy make-up phase?

That's harsh, actually. I mean, seriously, how cute were Juliet and Goodwin? This shot of her reacting to Goodwin's arrival in her lab broke my heart, knowing the pain she would go through later, made worse when you realise that it wasn't fate that caused it, but some machination of Ben's.

Besides, she got to impersonate Daniel Craig, so yay for her.

Consider this my efforts to balance out the shot of Sawyer's balls that I had to post previously. Of course, this might be considered a pic too far, so I'll screw the balance up more with a shot of Daniel Dae Kim's absurdly handsome face.

In the next episode of Lost to be screened very soon after the posting of this post! Sun and Jin and probably Michael I mean seriously it's been obvious for a while now he's on the boat! Who will be among the Oceanic Six? I'll wager it's Sun, but I doubt it will be Jin. In which case, enjoy the pic above. He will very probably not be on the show for much longer. ::sniff:: There goes Canyon's dream of a Hurley / Sawyer / Jin spin off show.


sjwoo said...

Remember, Lost actors -- don't drink and drive. Unless you want to leave the show, that is. Then you should absolutely get plastered and take ol' Tin Lizzy for a spin.

Admiral Neck said...

Apparently we lose someone else this week. NOT SAWYER NOT SAWYER NOT SAWYERRRRRR!!!!!!

sjwoo said...

Not Sawyer! I mean isn't there some sort of a Josh Holloway Estrogen Brigade? Nobody has the cojones to mess with the JHEB.

I'm eagerly waiting your verdict for last week's ep, Admiral, since there seems to be a 50/50 chance of love or hatred. I'm afraid I'm with the "cheap trick" party, so thumbs down for me.

Of course, thumbs down for Lost this season is still really a thumbs up, but you know what I mean. Even when an episode pisses me off, it seems to piss me off just in the right way.