Wednesday, 11 February 2009

Lost - The Little Prince

With every new episode of Lost, my early concern looks stupider and stupider. The Little Prince might have been a Kate-centric episode (which means expectations are best kept low), and it might have spent too long going back and forth in LA between the miserable Oceanic Six, but even if you could happily write off 15 minutes of the show, it was still utterly magnificent. The travails of the Island Six are so fleet-footed, so odd, so suspenseful and loaded with dread and adventure, that I'm tempted to say these moments are the best thing that has ever happened to the show. Better than the reveal of Swan station's purpose. Better than Ben's arrival. Better even than Juliet's arrival (!!!!). When they're onscreen, the show flies.

Of course, The Little Prince also featured the long-awaited visualisation of Rousseau's backstory, and we finally see that she was indeed pregnant with Alex. Of course, this has long been established as fact, but after suffering through Ben's obfuscations and double-talk for so long, it was hard to say what was true and what wasn't. As happens a lot with this show, the audience was kept up in the air about this issue by having a terrible liar and a mad woman giving differing versions of the truth, meaning we couldn't figure out what to think, but now I can unequivocally say that Ben Linus is less reliable than a crazed woman. That's a hell of an indictment.

But that's not even the best thing about this amazing episode. I don't think it has ever made me yell as loudly as it did when the French characters (who I have been thinking of as Les Besixdouzers after their boat, itself a reference to The Little Prince) found a man floating in the island. Remember when I bitched about characters having these relentless slow reveals a couple of weeks back? Man, I really should just shut up, because this reveal was one of my all-time favourite Lost moments. Jin lives! Jin! His return surely deserved more of a musical sting than the pitiful "blurp" he got, compared to the Trumpet Fart of Doom that heralded the totally predictable Rousseau revelation at the end of the episode (it's a French woman with curly brown hair. I wonder who she could be?!?!).

Jin's return is so great I'm still reeling a week later. Canyon is totally vindicated after months of maintaining he wasn't killed in the Kahuna explosion. I just didn't see how it was possible, what with the enormity of the blast and the fact that the boat was so far away from the island, but obviously her theory (that being at the back of the boat meant the blast threw him into the boundary of the island's influence) was correct. I have been gorging myself on crow pie ever since.

This news is great for many reasons, mainly because we love Jin, but also because it makes Sun's move to the darkside way more interesting than it had been, not to mention a bit clearer. I wasn't sure whether we were meant to be rooting for her or not, but now I guess we all just want her to team up with the rest of the Oceanic Six and travel back with them so that we can get a big reunion, and forever banish Sun's terrifying Face Of Righteous Vengeance.

I say I didn't find the LA sequences interesting, but I'm merely exaggerating. I doubt the show could ever truly bore me, even if I'm not really bothered what happens to Kate and Aaron. Though Kate sitting in a car watching paint dry a lawyer go for a trip is not the best use of Lost's ever-shrinking supply of time, the reveal that her tormenter is not Claire's mom was nifty, if a little contrived. It also gave Jack a chance to get stressed out. I'm sure him and his martyr complex were thrilled.

Luckily, it wasn't all baby angst. In the final LA scene we find out that, shock of shocks, Ben is responsible for driving the Oceanic 6 to a fateful rendezvous at a dock, having manipulated them all into thinking they were under siege from Widmore or some other unidentified bad guy. His brilliance at manipulating the Oceanic Six is such that I wouldn't be surprised if he's helped Sun out, knowing she is trying to kill him but gambling on talking her out of it before she can do it.

The possibility of this manipulation was always likely, Ben being Ben, but it lingered in the back of my mind as a probable scenario more because it plays out the Sirens of Titan theory in microcosm than because Ben is a shady creep. If the island, or the forces that serve the island, have been manipulating the lives of the Oceanic survivors in order to do its/their bidding and thus keep time flowing correctly, it makes sense to see this play out in this manner, with a few weeks of traditional Ben Linus horseplay driving everyone to the same place. It makes me even more certain that that's where the show is headed.

That said, some of the events from Jughead concern me. As we saw, Alpert is given the instruction to visit Locke by Locke himself, which means Locke's life wasn't interfered with by Alpert. I had thought that Alpert's appearances were proof that he was involved in Locke's ascendance, but now that I think about it, this only happened indirectly. Young Locke didn't give a damn about Alpert's first two attempts at directing him towards the island, though perhaps his foster mother's insistence that he is special was borne of Alpert's interest. The only person who does get Locke to travel "towards" the island (in that he got him to try to embark on a walkabout) is Matthew Abaddon, and he seems to have more to do with Widmore than Alpert. Perhaps all of this talk of Widmore and Ben being opponents mean nothing, and in fact they are both pawns of Alpert. That would be amusing: two boys fighting over the time-lost estate of their "father".

So is this further proof that the SoT theory is correct? Or not? Alpert's frustration with Locke, and belief that he is on a mission when in fact he's following dubious words from a man with a weird God complex, tend to suggest the web of time and space that has been woven is accidental, that there is no thought behind it. That would be similar to the SoT theory, but deeply ironic. Vonnegut would approve.

So, Lost continues to give my brain a workout, but for the first time this season it also went all out to ravish my eyes. The first three episodes were as beautifully made as ever, but this week was something special. With my favourite Lost director Stephen Williams back behind the camera, this episode was even more beautiful than ever, daytime island scenes featuring lovely sharp colour contrasts... compositions...

...and even a shot that Sergio Leone would have approved of.

The night scenes were particularly interesting. The Island Six have no means of lighting their way, and neither do Les Besixdouzers, so those scenes are as dark as they can be without being black. The scene where they rescue Jin was as close to blackness as I've seen a show get.

All of the island characters are barely visible in these scenes, coming across as dark blue shapes within the murk. With the situation of the Island Six (now seven) becoming progressively worse, it's an apt lighting scheme.

Ah yes, the terrible illness of our heroes. All of these nosebleeds are turning the island into a verdant Royston Vasey. With the amount of time on the island being the thing that determines who gets ill and who doesn't we're given a vital clue as to Miles' background, as he falls sick after Charlotte and before Juliet. Those internet theories about him being Dr. Pierre Chang's son seem more plausible by the minute.

At first I thought this explains how Faraday could be healthy enough to be sneaking into the Orchid station in the season opener, as he is the last person to get to the island, but of course he should be immune to all of this as Desmond is his Constant, and has moored his brain in time even as his body flips back and forth. The question of what he will do once he is there is one of the ones I want answered most this season. Does Faraday's interference with the exotic matter in the frozen-donkey-wheel chamber bring about the incident that Swan station holds in check? (Looking at that ridiculous sentence makes me realise how much I love his show.)

That said, even if I do love the show, I find it really really hard to muster any enthusiasm for Kate's arc. It's not that I don't like Evangeline Lilly; I think she's just fine, but she rarely gets anything interesting to do. In the first season she was like the cranky Spock to Jack's grumpy Kirk, busting asses in his name while he took the moral high ground. Now she just sits in a car for the majority of an episode, and when action is called for Jack rushes off for her, though that's got more to do with him needing a quick heroism fix.

Her passiveness also makes a mockery of one beautifully composed shot early on in the episode, with her staring at a giant metaphor for her life, and the crossroads she finds herself at.

Will she even be able to muster the energy to make a decision about her life? She's been played so completely by Ben by now that she's not even consciously doing anything about her fate, and is just going through all of her old behaviour patterns. Her rush from her house a couple of weeks back was just reflex, and barely even qualifies as a choice.

Dang, I'm being hard on Kate. It's unfortunate that, of the main characters, her arc is the least interesting, especially now Claire has gone. There is one thing Kate does very very well indeed, however, and that's give Sawyer someone to pine for, and anything that gives Josh Holloway a chance to do his thing is fine by us. Though Kate's flirting with Jack annoys me greatly, that love triangle remains interesting simply because Sawyer's yearning is so damn heartbreaking. The Little Prince showed that pain at maximum strength, as the Island Six took a trip back a few months to Aaron's birth. Not only did it elegantly remind us of the bond between Kate and Aaron (momentarily making me feel something for Kate and her fears for her adoptive son), it also made Sawyer's sense of loss even more acute.

I have no shame in admitting this, but Josh Holloway's performance here made me blub yet again. Sawyer's heartbreak, his desire to break the already bent laws of time to be with the woman he loves, was conveyed with full force. As I said earlier, the reveal of Jin is one of the greatest moments in this show's history, but this scene, from Sawyer's discovery of Kate and Claire to his flustered avoidance of nosy Locke, is right up there as well.

Luckily for all of us, he still manages to get all of the best lines too. His reaction to their narrow escape was priceless.

Love Sawyer, love Josh. Anyway, enough of the gushing. Usually I have more to say about the latest episode, but this week I have to admit all I could squeeze out after seeing it was, "Jin! Sawyer! Jin!", so I'll move onto the obligatory "Putting comments on my leftover screencaps" thing.

Love Stephen Williams, and love his terrific work on the show, but Williams should have learned that if Michael "Super" Mann couldn't make a rowboat chase exciting in Last of the Mohicans, he's not got much chance here where there are no waterfalls, homicidal Wes Studis, or hotshot colonial battle heroes from "Kan-tuckee" to liven things up.

I know that it is standard for life-rafts to have an octagon shape, but I'm equally sure it's no coincidence that the life raft used by Les Besixdouzers resembles the Dharma logo.

This is easily the most relaxed Sayid has ever been. Of course, this is merely a ruse. Underneath this calm exterior is fury incarnate, seething like the stormy seas from which Jin is rescued.

Thirty seconds later, and he's throttling this guy with the IV cannula he just pulled out of his arm.

This goes on the list of most badass Sayid moments ever. Just the thought of pulling an IV out of my arm makes me want to vomit, faint, and go into a coma just to not think about it anymore, but Sayid does it, chokes a bitch, and then let's him have it point blank with two tranq darts.

And what's Jack up to this week?

That's not sweat from exertion like the last time we saw him, believe me. He's just wet. From the rain, I mean. Does he have penis envy when Sayid is around? Okay okay, Sayid is a former Republican Guard ninja, and Jack is a spinal surgeon, so you'd expect Sayid to be more of a hardass, but hey, Juliet is a fertility doctor, and she is a mean gun-toting mama and no mistake.

Jack has no excuse.

Speaking of Juliet, I get the feeling that her and Sawyer aren't getting together after all. Her treatment of our rugged romantic hero was particularly tetchy this week.

Though yeah, he wasn't at his most charming either. Let the doctor inspect the haemorrhaging lady without yelling and being all sexy and that, James.

Excellent visual callback to season one episode Deus Ex Machina.

Even better is Locke's admission that he realises that his belief in the light as some kind of sign was a big mistake. Perhaps meeting Alpert and realising that his destiny turns out to caused by his time-travelling and not by some supernatural force has not disappointed him. After all, he got what he wanted (control of the Others) even if it was only for a few minutes before they all got unstuck in time.

Earlier in this post I made out that I suspected that Ben was behind the tribulations of the Oceanic Six, but even so, bringing Claire's mom back as nothing more than a contrived red herring still worked.

For a little while after seeing her in the previously, I really did suspect she was involved in terrorising Kate. Kudos, showrunners (yes, even co-writer Brian K. Vaughan, who is still on my shitlist after the last five issues of Y-The Last Man made me sob like Jack Shepherd jonesing for one woman or another).

How far into the future is the trip taken by our heroes that left them at the mercy of a bunch of gun-having, camp-wrecking bastards? It can't be that far, because surely far in the future we're rid of damnable non-degradable water bottles.

And what is Ajira, other than a cool viral thingy.

Fun fact: the sign that the guy is holding up in the quick flash frame at 0:05 says John 3:16, Easter Egg fans!

Sticking Hurley in jail seemed like an insurmountable obstacle to reuniting the Oceanic Six prior to returning to the island. I entertained visions of prison breaks, usually featuring King Badass Sayid creating his special brand of Jarrah-Havoc, but no, it's all resolved with a quick lawyerly intervention. So, this was just a way to keep Hurley out of the way for a couple of episodes?

At least it worked, I guess.

Tonight, on US TV, airs the fun-sounding This Place Is Death. Here's hoping it maintains the high-quality of the last two episodes, and keeps that rocket-like momentum going.


Masticator said...

If this show gets any more awesome, I honestly don't know if I'll be able to handle it. Even when you think you've got it sussed, the writers still manage to smack you in the head. This week I almost literally went, "Oh, it's the French shipwreckees – I bet that woman is Rousseau. Yes, I always thought we'd be seeing this lot sooner or OMG OMG JIN!!!"

I didn't blub though: I saved that for Roslin's reaction to finding out Adama was still alive after Gaeta's failed coup. "Bill…" Wah!

sjwoo said...

Hear, hear. The minute the show is over, I start my week-long vigil for the following Wednesday to arrive. I agree with you 100% -- the time-hopping is the best trick yet in a show full of great tricks. Ever since the flash forwards, I don't know if there's ever been a show this good.

And FYI -- I heard that Daniel Dae Kim will be coming to London for The King and I!

Douglas said...

Hello, Lost really is excellent, one thing that has been bothering me is the epidode where Jin buys a panda for someone's baby that is being born, yet Jin wasn't part of the Six that made it off the island. Have I missed something? Would you enlighten me?

Admiral Neck said...

Hello Douglas. That episode, Ji Yeon, was actually split between the usual on-island happenings, a flash-forward to Sun giving birth after leaving the island, and a flash-back to Jin trying to buy a panda for his employer, Mr. Paik (Sun's father), back when he had first started to work for him as an enforcer. He didn't leave the island, and we were tricked into thinking he did with some silly editing mixing the past, present, and future.

Ji Yeon was the only episode from season 4 that I didn't like, simply because that narrative trickery annoyed me after the first viewing. The writers of that one, Kitsis and Horowitz, have redeemed themselves with the latest episode, This Place Is Death, which was screened on Sky just a couple of hours ago. I'll be writing about that soon (as ever), and I'll be defending it against internet criticism that it was a weak episode. How anyone could say that about an episode showing Smokey, Christian Shepherd, and the mindblowing scene with the well, is beyond me.

DDK is going to be in The King and I?!?!?!?!!?? OMG I totally have to see that (and Canyon is even more excited than I am)!