Wednesday, 9 July 2008

Lost - There's No Place Like Home (2)

Yes, my Lost obsession will not let me rest. Forgive my indulgence. Continuing my previous witterings about a show that finished weeks ago...

Reason 5: Awesome acting

Forgive me for banging on about it yet again, but I really believe the secret weapon of Lost is Foxy Matthew Fox, an actor who has improved leaps and bounds since the pilot. He's lucky that his character is not the typical strong leader, but is in fact a guy with a fragile psyche, trying to be a leader not because he is the best person for the job but because the conch shell was handed to him early on and he's so used to being the go-to guy that he's accepted it even as he suspects it could be a bad idea. Whereas Locke and Ben both desperately want to be leaders, thinking that it is their destiny (which it might well be), Jack is repeatedly given the role of leader even though his doubt, paranoia, and self-hatred make him a terrible candidate.

This season saw him broken by the realisation that his belief in the benevolence of the Kahanians (for want of a better word) was naïve and deadly, that not only was his promise to the other islanders broken, but that perhaps he really wasn't the leader after all. Jack has yet to figure out his place in the world, but even worse (and this is central to his continuing debate with Locke about faith), he doesn't yet understand that the island is able to show him what he is meant to be. With Ben exiled from the island and Locke dead, perhaps Jack is next in line; I doubt Locke's successor will be Sawyer, even though he is already on the island and thinks he is better than Jack, in much the same way cool cat and charmer Hawkeye used to bicker with straight-laced Captain America about who should be the leader of the Avengers.

Okay, that confuses matters, as Jack has only been crowned proxy leader by those around him, and not by the island. Maybe he has been a crappy leader so far because it has not yet been his time. Now it will come, when he gets back there. Shame he seems even closer to insanity than ever.

So yes, I've thoroughly enjoyed the ever deepening desperation and existential terror of Jack, and think Foxy's portrayal of that has been superb. Canyon remains sceptical, even after admitting (with maximum grudge), that Foxy gave the best performance in Speed Racer. His arc, which could well go from faux-confidence to psychic misery and then peace and acceptance of his role in life, is slowly becoming as fascinating as that of Locke and Ben. Whereas they are equally confident from an early stage that they are the Chosen One, Jack is just as likely to be the one who eventually adheres to the strictures of the Monomyth, though so far the showrunners have used his arc to display what can go wrong with that hero's journey. In a classic version of the Monomyth, the hero returns to the world with a gift that can aid his fellow man, but Jack has returned to the world with nothing but his doubt. It helps no one. Except for shareholders in booze manufacturing companies.

Yes, Locke and Ben have had their moments of doubt, but they have been temporary, whereas Jack's fears go right to the core of his soul. That's one of the things I love most about Lost. While many viewers gave up on the show because the answers they sought were continually pushed to one side in order to focus on character evolution that seemed superfluous and dull, it seems that the fate of the world relies on Jack getting his shit together. He's like a drunk and paranoid Moses ignoring the signs from God, and then leading his followers off the island but not knowing how to lead them back when it turns out he should have been paying more attention. Thankfully, Foxy is excellent at dramatising that. At least, that's how I see it. Canyon maintains he's just a whiny cry-baby bitch and his hair looks stupid. To each their own.

Sadly, it seems the Emmy judges agree with Canyon. According to Tom O'Neil of the LA Times, Foxy has failed to get onto the longlist for an Best Dramatic Actor Emmy, which is an egregious snub. Still, it's not all bad news for Lost. In the Best Supporting Dramatic Actor category, Michael Emerson and Naveen Andrews both got nominations (though last year's deserved winner, Terry O'Quinn, hasn't), and Foxy did win a Saturn award for best actor, so the nerds have come around on him, at least (there were also wins for Emerson and Elizabeth Mitchell, all of which makes me very very happy).

I'll get to Emerson later, but I am glad to see my hardcore Hero Of Teh Awesome awardwinner Sayid get some props. Naveen Andrews has complained in the past that he doesn't get enough to sink his teeth into, but this season has been his to own. Not just by being a total and utter hardcore badass of the utmostest, but for having his emotions toyed with by fate to such an extent that he throws in his lot with the man he once saw as the devil. His battle between his darker impulses and yearning for peace were only touched upon in the finale, but still, he's done enough excellent work this season to more than justify some award attention.

While Canyon and I cannot see eye to eye on the talents of Foxy, we do agree on many of the other great performances on the show. Yunjin Kim showed off some mad skills over the course of the finale. Sun's intense grief over Jin's broke our hearts, and her steely confidence and seeming ruthlessness in dealing with her father and Widmore were two of the most pleasing scenes. All of a sudden that seemingly inconsequential episode with Sun dealing with the blackmail of Jin's mother appears to have been crucial in showing her inner steel. The thought that she might become an antagonist, trying to undermine Jack and Ben's mission, is a thrilling one.

One thing that did irk me was the underuse of Michael, and of course what seems to be his death (though who knows what the arrival of Christian Shepherd means). I was thrilled he was back on the show, but having him die after what was pretty much an hour and a half of screentime during this season seemed completely wrong. I'm not the only one, if that interview with Harold Perrineau is anything to go by.

That said, he did semi-retract it later, either because his agent phoned him up and said, "NOOOOOO!", or because there is a chance he will be back. See point 2 below for more on that possibility.

Cuselof seem to be as good as Joss Whedon at seeing the inner potential of actors, and playing up to it. At the start of the show there was little reason to believe Jorge Garcia and Josh Holloway would be able to show as much range as they have, something I've commented on before. The finale gave Garcia a real chance to shine, as we see how his experience on the island has made him doubt his own sanity, a heart-breaking consequence of what he has been through. His interactions with his family are edgy, his smile becoming a rare sight. It's fair to say he's not the comic relief any more. Hell, Locke and Ben are funnier now, though Foxy seems to disagree.

I think my heart broke a little during the flight to the Kahana, when Frank said they were a few hundred pounds too heavy to make it to their destination, and we got a quick shot of Hurley looking guilty. That no one else on the helicopter would blame him would never occur to him; just like everyone else there, his self-hatred consumes him.

Holloway had less to do here than most, which is annoying but understandable considering how he has become side-lined following his murder of Anthony Cooper, as well as more reserved and unhappy, though this could well change now he is the Alpha Male of the Oceanic survivors. I look forward to that, but here all we had to really enjoy was that heroic sacrifice, during which he was superdashing.

Also great was his increasingly panicked reaction to Claire's disappearance. Still, I can imagine some hearts soared at the sight of our hott hero wandering around the island with a baby in his arms.

What a guy. He's so goddamn hot that even Kate, seemingly still hooked on Jack, can't help but melt when she sees Sawyer emerge unscathed from the forest. Evangeline Lilly sadly had very little to do this episode, but this reaction was perfect, a mixture of excitement, relief, lust, love, coquettishness, and, well, more lust, I guess.

Having spent a little time looking at this EW article about the Emmy shortlist, it seems most of the anger about the Lost snubs are related to the non-nominations for Yunjin Kim or Henry Ian Cusick, who was staggeringly good in The Constant. His finale featured some highly dramatic moments, including what looked like his death (though thankfully not).

His resurrection on the floaty raft got the biggest sigh of relief we have ever expelled upon seeing someone cough up a mouthful of water. Those bastard showrunners had to put us through the mill before we got what looked for a moment like a happy ending, as Desmond is finally reunited with his long-lost love Penny, and then proudly and happily introduces her to his fellow survivors. I have no shame in admitting there were tears shed.

Of course, this isn't really a happy ending, as Ben is now gunning for Penny, but for now, it was perfect. Without knowing we were going to see darker days for the UK lovebirds, it seemed strange to be heading towards a reunion for them, but now it makes perfect sense, yet more proof that Cuselof are not idiots and know exactly what they are doing. It was also great to see Sonya Walger return, here playing the adorable Penny instead of being subjected to her Gupta-esque performance as Carolyn, whose behaviour was restricted to haranguing her husband and peeing on countless pregnancy tests for ten weeks on Tell Me You Love Me. Here is a picture of her with Kate. Just to increase the hits to this page, I would like to point out that, while blogging about the week in TV during the run of TMYLM, I commented on the number of times we got to see Sonya Walger's boobs. We still get a couple of image hits a week with that term, and no, before you go looking for those images, there were no picture of boobs, merely shots of her entertaining facial reactions to getting bad news.

If you are so desperate to see Sonya Walger nude, internet surfing people, buy the HBO DVD. Hopefully you'll indulge for the nudity and stay for the deepening character arcs and variable-though-mostly-excellent performances. And now I will stop trying to artificially bump up hits with these terms. Honest.

Reason 4: The quirky mystery

With much of the finale showing us how the Oceanic Six left the island, and what happened to the island once they were off it, much of the off-kilter weirdness of previous episodes was lacking, but even so, we still got some pleasing Dharma Initiative moments. More and more we are told that the Dharma Initiative is not central to the plot, and to make things worse, Cuselof insist that the show has nothing to do with time-travel (which makes my Sirens of Titan theory seem like a total failure). More on how their off-show comments relate to the relationship between the audience and the writers in a bit, but for now, if we take Ben at his word, the Orchid station orientation video (documenting the Dharma Initiative's "silly experiments") never actually says definitively that organic objects placed in the Vault will be displaced in time. The tape stops before that, and when Locke asks Ben what the tape was referring to, the former head Other's response ("Time travelling bunnies") is dismissive and sarcastic.

So what is the Vault? Were the Dharma scientists really moving rabbits through time? Considering that later in the episode Ben moves the island and is displaced in time and space by ten months and several thousand miles, it's obvious the wheel chamber is a place of immense power, which could easily have leaked into the Vault. However, it could still be nothing more than another Skinner Box trick invented by the Initiative, testing the psychological responses of unwitting test subjects to bizarre criteria. The Vault could be nothing more than a big microwave that cannot handle metal.

Okay, so the presence of the wheel chamber definitively proves the existence of unnatural properties in that area. The only other possible proof (and this too could be subterfuge) is the existence of Dr. Marvin Candle and Dr. Mark Wickmund, one of whom could well be a time-displaced clone of the other, and as one of them has only one arm, perhaps he was the one to discover the negative effects of wearing a metallic watch in the Vault (this is purest conjecture, but makes some sense).

So what does this confusion tell us about the show? I've been mulling it over tonight, and I'm beginning to wonder if the Dharma Initiative have unwittingly tapped into the Magic Box aspect of the island that Ben once discussed. Perhaps the Vault and the numbers in Swan station started out as Skinner Box experiments, but the belief of the participants made them real. Maybe there was no magnet behind the wall, at least not until a test subject willed it into being. Same thing with the Vault. It could also explain the existence of the Pearl station. If the Dharma acolyte stationed in that station was monitoring the button-pressing activites of the Swan station inhabitants, perhaps his/her scepticism was what was really stopping the Swan anomaly from blowing up. It's a battle of belief systems; the Swan operative's belief in the imminent electromagnetic charge creates an electromagnetic charge, and the Pearl operative's disbelief in it (triggered by the recording of the number-punching information) dispels the charge. Though, of course, that expansion of the theory relies on someone still being in Pearl after the Oceanic crash, and we know that's not the case, so I'll shut up now.

This power to manifest physical representations of the imagination would certainly explain why everyone is after it, which made me remember the quest at the centre of Umberto Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, as various sects of conspiracy theory-believing cultists search in vain for the Navel of the World, a place of enormous power. In that book (this description from Philip Coppen's Da Vinci Code website)...

the Knights [Templar discover] secret energy flows – telluric currents – during the Crusades. The currents’ mother lode is the so-called umbilicus mundi, or “navel of the world”. By placing a special valve in the umbilicus mundi, they will be able to control the currents, to disturb and interfere with life anywhere on Earth, with vast blackmailing possibilities against entire nations. However, they cannot utilize the currents due to insufficient technology.

A cabal of ancient warriors safeguarding a vast power and using it to manipulate the world? I'd say that sounds similar.

Okay, we're not getting any answers to that big stuff any time prior to the sixth and final season, but what about the most pressing non-Orchid question of the finale; where did Juliet get her hair done? Here she is with wind-blown locks...

...and here she is with straight, styled hair just a little while later.

Is there a Dharma branch of Toni and Guy on the island?

And now I end this part of the finale pondering, to finish the rest at another time. Terrible though it is to drag this out even longer than I already have, I am currently using a computer so utterly useless and knackered that trying to make it do anything other than blink at me is futile. Once I am in front of a computer that is not begging to be thrown out of a tenth storey window onto an exploding bonfire, I shall complete this and put my Lost musings to bed until next year(ish). Apologies for the obsession.

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