Friday, 20 February 2009

Lost - This Place Is Death

::Disclaimer: Yet again my efforts to post this before the US transmission of the next episode failed due to work constraints, so this post about This Place Is Death (episode 5:05) is going out after the US broadcast of 316. I'm well aware that some of this may be already rendered moot, but for the benefit of UK readers, I'm posting it anyway. How committed am I to doing this post properly? Last night I could have watched 316 but chose not to so as not to contaminate this post. Instead, I played Rock Band with Canyon. OMG jumping to medium drums and then stupidly trying to complete Run To The Hills and Vaseline without preparation? Bad move.::

Last year popular internet opinion held that the Juliet-centric episode The Other Woman was a low-point for the show, with flashbacks detailing her time on the island, her affair with Goodwin, and the vengeful nature of Ben. Perhaps it was the melodramatic race-against-time plot that annoyed fans, or the Jack-Juliet love story, or just apathy towards the former Other. Whatever the criticism, it was super-wrong. The Other Woman was misunderstood; not as good as The Constant (which preceded it), but still delivering some fine moments and valuable insights into Juliet and Ben's relationship. In my humble opinion, last season's lowpoint was Ji Yeon, and again, even that wasn't without merit.

Funnily enough, considering some have branded This Place Is Death a disappointment and momentum-breaker just as they did The Other Woman, this episode was written by the Ji Yeon team of Kitsis and Horowitz, and this Lost fan reckons it's nowhere near deserving of the criticism, making up for their previous clunker with some bravura setpieces, great character work, and much-needed answers.

Not that it was perfect. The LA scenes continue to drag, even with Ben at his spikiest. Though the reunion of the Oceanic Six originally struck me as contrived, seeing them split up was equally frustrating. At first it was a pleasant "How will they resolve this fine mess?" frustration, but with Eloise Hawking's announcement that they hadn't needed them altogether after all, it seems the flapping about trying to get everyone together was for nothing. The best thing about these scenes was Desmond coming face to face with Faraday's mother, aka Eloise Hawking, and seeing his reaction. It was only a short scene, but the sense it gave me that seismic events were happening on the show, bringing things to a conclusion one piece at a time, was hugely important.

Actually, even taking that great moment into account, I shouldn't be too hard on the LA scenes. As I said, I've not seen 316 yet, so I don't know how events in that will affect these musings, but there's a possibility that the whole group was never needed to trigger a return to the island, but it was necessary for Ben to gain access. Now that it looks like only Sun, Jack, and Desmond will be returning, perhaps the island is sated but Ben will be left to seethe, exiled from the island forever. Frustrating for Ben fans, but it would at least save the show from looking like the past few weeks have been a waste of time. (More on that later.)

Even with some award-worthy fanwanking, these scenes were nowhere near as exciting as the island shenanigans, especially when the big reveal was hearing that Ms. Hawking really is Faraday's mother, as fans have suspected for a while now. That's fascinating stuff, and promises to make Faraday the most important character on the show, but it's not a surprise anymore. We're all beginning to tie the disparate story threads together now, and connections are being made between every newly introduced character and the established ones.

That doesn't matter too much, as the show still throws curveballs. Charlotte's revelation, that she had been visited by Faraday during her childhood on the island, was a headfuck, though it makes her affection for him seem kinda creepy. She didn't have a strong memory of it, so it must have been repressed until her time-jaunting wrecked her brain, but subconsciously she has been acting on it. On a show where characters are haunted by the people from their past, this makes sense. Ben has a fixation either on his mother or the mysterious Annie, which explains his obsession with Juliet. Kate has a problem with bad boys, hence her attraction to Sawyer, but also tried to overcompensate with good men (see her marriage to Nathan Fillion, as well as her post-island fling with Jack). Even Faraday's affection for Charlotte is informed by his guilt over poor Teresa Spencer, which makes Charlotte's death all the more tragic.

Yes, just as the Island Six becomes the Island Seven with the return of Jin, the team cruelly reverts back to six as Charlotte succumbs to the brain-melt that killed Minkowski. Just as I had started to like her, too. It's fair to say that Faraday will now be compelled to infiltrate the Orchid station to try to alter the timeline and save Charlotte, even though he knows this is futile. Here are Charlotte's tragic final moments, her mind skipping through time, with Michael Giacchino doing his traditional excellent job.

In the past, Lost fans have suspected that Les Besixdouzers were killed by the same brain-melt that killed Minkowski, as Rousseau's description of their death (from all the way back in season one) was vague enough to be explained by any number of things. This episode, we found out... Well, nothing and everything, really. In a bravura sequence that left us both gasping for air, Smokey returned and terrorised Jin and his French companions, dragging Montand into a group of ruins with such force that his arm is pulled off (a detail from Rousseau's stories that I had forgotten about), and then, from its shadowy lair (aka a Cerberus vent per the blast door map), imitates Montand's voice in an attempt to draw in the rest of the group. Here is the awesome scene.

Or is it an imitation? Jin leaps from that period to a later date to find Les Besixdouzers almost all dead, with Rousseau and her lover gripped with paranoia, convinced that somehow each is a threat to the other. Lindelof and Cuse have, in the past, said that we find out something new about Smokey each time it appears, but this time it's hard to be certain what is going on. Is Smokey imitating the group or possessing them? Rousseau kills her lover after he tries to kill her, but is his failed attack caused by Smokey possessing him, or is he just mistakenly convinced that it is Rousseau who is possessed? This is the type of mystery that causes schisms in the Lost fanbase, though at least that will be conducted with some semblance of courtesy, and not at gunpoint. Lost fans are better than that.

The attack by Smokey was a superb setpiece, opening with our favourite insubstantial otherworldly Rottweiler stalking Les Besixdouzers in long grass, burbling as it crawls into a flanking position. In previous encounter is has used brute force (or mere curiosity), but here it's a predator. Of all its appearances, this was the creepiest.

The sequence continues with much hectic violence, and a startling maiming, but that wasn't the most shocking moment of the episode. Locke's long-overdue descent into the frozen donkey wheel featured a shot of a compound fracture that upset us so much we had to pause the recording while we recovered. I have a serious terror of broken bones, so this was no fun.

How fucked up has Locke been his whole life? Shot twice, thrown out of a window, broken back, stolen kidney, bullied as a kid, compound fracture, and soon, somehow, death. All because he wants to be a leader of men. It's like he's been on twenty hero's journeys at once. Poor bastard. And then to find out that Jacob meant for him to be exiled from the island instead of Ben. Or was he? Does Jacob even exist like we think he does? Or is this further proof that Jacob is Future Locke, that his exhortation to move the island (by proxy through Christian) was Future Locke's attempt to alter time by getting himself off the island earlier so as to thwart fate?

Of course, Locke's trip down the well echoes Locke's descent into Swan station, not to mention his fall from the eighth floor, his drop from the cliff under Yemi's plane, and his close call many moons ago, when Smokey tried to drag him into a Cerberus Vent (at the end of season one), except this time he's falling into light and not darkness. Also, the time-sealed well was reminiscent of the burial of Nikki and Paulo from Kitsis and Horowitz' Expose. Even better, it was just a chilling visual.

So yeah, the island stuff has been golder than gold, which is bad news for the non-island scenes. The LA scenes have been especially annoying as we've spent a long time in murk, waiting for some clue as to what is going to happen next for the Oceanic Six. The scenes in Ben's van, though they feature a lovely moment with an exasperated Ben flipping his lid at Sun, have been too gloomy to enjoy. Seriously, I can't even see what's going on in some of these shots. Is Jack crying? There's not enough light to reflect off his many many tears.

Still, I can appreciate they're meant to be a mirror version of the scenes on the island. While Locke descends through light into a place of darkness and further confusion, Jack and the others go through gloom to end up in a place of light and, hopefully, revelation.

Certainly the otherwise expected news of Eloise Hawking's family ties is still more illuminating than Christian Shepherd's speech to Locke, with his cryptic comments about sacrifice (plus bonus snark about Ben's untrustworthiness).

Outside the Church of the Sinister Old Physicist is a large statue of Jesus, which is apt considering it follows one of the most religiously resonant moments in the show so far. Inside the frozen donkey wheel chamber Christian doesn't help Locke walk to the broken donkey wheel, but convinces Locke he has to do it himself. Obviously this is typical religious allegory, making the lame walk (and not for the first time). However, this time it's Locke using his willpower to do it, after prompting by Shepherd. Just to drive the point home, Locke's struggle with the broken wooden wheel echoes Christ's struggle carrying the cross.

No mysticism is necessary to make this allegory work. Locke triumphs because he has to, with the added plot point that it's probably because Christian can't touch him. That seems to be implied, especially as he is unable (or unwilling) to touch the donkey wheel. That doesn't explain why he can use a lantern on the wall...

...but I'm sure there's some fanwank that can resolve that. Special kudos go to Terry O'Quinn, who has been given less opportunity to shine in recent episodes, partly a consequence of the focus falling on the many other characters. For us Locke fans, that was frustrating, but his scenes at the well - bargaining with a terrified Jin, accepting a deal with him to lie to Sun, and generally being resigned to his pretty crappy fate - were wonderful.

Even better, his acceptance of the price he has to pay to do the right thing was beautifully played, realising that he was never meant to inherit all of the things he thought were his, and that his legacy, as wretched as it was, was stolen from him by Ben. Yet again Locke realises he is not the man he hoped he was, just in time for Christian to tell him he believes in him.

So, according to Christian, Ben was lying when he said Locke was supposed to stay on the island. Why would he do that, considering he obviously dreaded leaving it? Admittedly he wanted to terrorise Widmore after he killed Alex, but I suspect Ben always knew he could get back to the island with the help of Miss Hawking, and thus took Locke's place. This would explain how he can get back to the island and thus sate my Ben fandom (this, in particular, is liable to be proved wrong by 316).

Of course I really want all of them to get back to the island, because seeing them mope about LA is trying my last nerve. The gulf between the incredible island scenes and the prosaic real world stuff has never been wider. When people bitched about the flashbacks in the previous seasons, I guess this is what that felt like. It's a bit harsh, as the previous off-island was rarely this devoid of incident (at least now Sayid's not periodically killing people with miscellaneous objects). It will pick up, I'm sure, but for now, it's becoming a real drag on the show's momentum.

That said, there was a very interesting moment when Desmond arrives, and Ben's reaction was one of what seemed to be genuine surprise. This leads me to believe that, yet again, my Sirens of Titan theory is being strengthened, albeit only slightly. In the past Ben has seemed to have been completely on top of everything, but here he is seemingly caught out. Considering this is a man who has only been surprised once in his life (when Bastard Keamy killed Alex), he seems to have an amazing knowledge of what events are going to happen in the future. I've always believed he has been able to manipulate people so well because he has seen the future and knows how to move people into position using the things they care about as leverage.

For a long time this has worked, but in the last couple of episodes it has seemingly gone awry. Kate and Sayid leave in a terrible huff (has Sayid discovered that Ben killed Nadia, which is looking more likely with every week?), and Sun looks ready to kill. Only Jack is following him willingly at this point, but then he is on the verge of insanity by now. Unless 316 proves me horribly wrong, has Ben lost his mojo because now he's off the island he has no way of finding out how best to manipulate people into position?

Then again, this season appears to be about things falling apart. Ben's plan's are going awry, and time itself has become a maze for the Island Six. The worst consequence (so far) of this terrible temporal disaster is the sad death of Charlotte. Funnily enough (well, not funnily, but you get my meaning), this week I finally started reading Slaughterhouse 5, by Vonnegut, aware that this season was referencing that book far more directly than before. It is, of course, superb, but one passage in particular made me smile. Last week I talked about Alan Moore's Watchmen, and Dr. Manhattan's comments about time being a crystal. Seems he cribbed that from Vonnegut. This passage, from a letter written by Billy Pilgrim concerning his encounters with denizens of the planet Tralfamadore (also featured in Sirens of Titan), is obviously one of the main inspirations for Lost.

The most important thing I learned on Tralfamadore was that when a person dies he only appears to die. He is still very much alive in the past, so it is very silly for people to cry at his funeral. All moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist. The Tralfamadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are, and they can look at any moment that interests them. It is just an illusion we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and once that moment is gone it is gone forever.

When a Tralfamadorian sees a corpse, all he thinks is that the person is in a bad condition in that particular moment, but that the same person is fine in plenty of other moments. Now, when I myself hear that someone is dead, I simply shrug and say what the Tralfamadorians say about dead people, which is "So it goes."

Though we're about to see something like that as Faraday goes into Charlotte's past to give her that futile warning, I doubt that Billy Pilgrim's comments about time will be any comfort.

Right, time to wrap this up, by going on and on about a bunch of disparate things, as is tradition.

Jin's trip through the island interior with Les Besixdouzers brought us to what could be a new location, or one we've seen before but not like this.

Are these the Ruins that the Others talked about? What with Smokey hanging out there, surely not. Who would want to go here and risk being yanked about?

Smokey's hiding place, an ominous split in the ground, looks like it was created by some kind of earthquake. Or maybe I'm just mouthing off.

At the end of the first season, when it tried to suck Locke into the ground, it seemed to make the ground open somehow. That was what I assumed was a Cerberus Vent, the mysterious features listed on the blast door map. This looks nothing like that. Did something happen to release Smokey from the depths? Or should I say, Underworld?

At least, that's what I thought these heiroglyphs on the side of the building were saying, as that was what the countdown timer in Swan station said. This set of heiroglyphs seems to be saying something else. Something about health. Irony! Speaking of mysterious symbols, what is this on Jin's t-shirt?

Maybe that's just what it looks like, but it's weird anyway. Is this the tinest reference to Communist Russia ever? For what purpose? Someone on this board suspects it's a costume department thing, and then they make comments about Communism. Yet again I'm way too slow.

Another anagram, a bit more Hoffs-Drawlar than Ethan Rom. Canton-Rainier becomes Reincarnation.

It also become Air Train Nonce. That doesn’t sound so apt. Mind you, it also becomes A Creator In Inn, which is ironic, as it's sitting next to a big statue of Jesus (obviously a more direct reference than Locke's imitation earlier), the son of a creator who was born next to an inn. I’m sure that’s what they were getting at.

Is this the first time Jin has smiled like this? I don't remember him smiling this much when Sun announced she was pregnant. My God, the pretty! It dazzles!

Mind you, even Wrathful Sun could crank out a smile of her own prior to her very short rampage.

See previous comment about dazzling. Are they the most photogenic couple on TV? I cannot even begin to explain how happy I am now that Jin is back. It means there will be a lot less of this nonsense...

...which, while dramatically interesting, shrank Sun's future plotlines into, "Avenge Jin." Okay, I'll admit part of the reason I didn't want that to happen was that it would rob me of my beloved Ben, but also because Sun was one of the few characters who had managed to survive with no blood on her hands, even if she had seen some terrible things (her lover's death and Jin's moral compromise spring to mind).

Yunjin Kim has been great, but I miss the old Sun. Seeing her soften upon receiving Jin's ring from Ben was wonderful, especially as this deceptively happy moment was in fact a betrayal of Jin, as Ben uses her affection for her husband to manipulate her into doing his bidding against Jin and Locke's wishes. Oh Ben, you delightful bastard!

Daniel Dae Kim got a couple of lovely scenes as well. His panicky realisation that Locke's plan would jeopardise his wife who, as far as he knows, is still pregnant, was brilliantly played. Even better, the downcast expression on his face as Danielle and Robert Rousseau discuss their unborn child was heartbreaking. Kudos to the showrunners and writers for engineering that parallel, and also to episode director Paul A. Edwards for the image.

Speaking of lovely images, this establishing shot of poor Charlotte in her final moments was breathtaking.

It wasn't all pretty foliage and hotties smiling, and not just because Charlotte's death was so drawn out and traumatic. Rebecca Mader is already pale, but the makeup experts managed to make her look even more deathly. It was horribly upsetting to watch her deteriorate in Faraday's arms.

On top of that horror, was this the most bloodthirsty episode since the pilot? We're still not sure how many of the Losties died in the season opener (though it did seem like almost everyone), but this week we saw Charlotte die, Montand ripped apart, Robert Rousseau shot in the head, and two corpses with the same problem.

And poor Nadine died and fell out of a tree. Poor Nadine, whoever she was.

Smokey's last rampage, when he went to town on Keamy and his bunch of evil mercs, was less deadly than this. Maybe Smokey has mellowed since the 80s?

It's no secret that I think Juliet is a terrific character, but is she an angel? Her tolerance of Sawyer's (highly entertaining) meltdowns makes her seem like a saint, but this week her benificent smile prior to Locke's descent was the calmest thing that happened throughout the episode.

And then, just to seal the deal, she glows!

Is she an angel (by which I mean an actual messenger of a higher being)? Is she dead and we just didn't realise it? There's something going on here, I'm sure. Didn't Cuse and Lindelof say they were going to have a Juliet-centric episode soon, or at least give her more to do after she got sidelined last season?

Speaking of sidelined, is Miles ever going to get to do anything interesting again?

Sure, I get that with the large cast, some characters are going to be sidelined (see also: Juliet, Jack, Kate), but someone as mysterious as Miles needs more to do. It's a waste of Ken Leung. Of course, having him be bitchy with Sawyer around would be redundant, but then Sawyer has become far more cuddly just lately. If you don't believe me, check this out.

From grumpy (but secretly lovable) asshole, to the Prom King. As I was saying to someone the other day, every time an episode ends and he hasn't died, I offer a prayer to Jacob. May my lovely Sawyer get everything he wants, even if what he wants is Kate, this week seen having a real snit just because Ben convinced her she was going to lose Aaron.

Oh God stop overreacting! Ben had good reason to totally con you into a state of huge panic. I think someone needs to head back to the island to get some of that sweet sweet Sawyer-Sugar. They can totally have polar bear sex again! I think we can all get behind that possibility.

In his testy AV Club review Noel Murray complained that the time-jaunting was not used to show us more of the island's history. It's rare I disagree with him, but he's way off here. To be honest, the convenient "landings" will only be forgivable if something is guiding them, so a break from that was a relief. Anyway, the jumping in this episode was obviously meant to show how quickly the situation was deteriorating for our heroes, with the slowly brightening white light now a torrent of crashing imagery and agonised reactions.

Surely this is self-evident, especially when we see that the frozen donkey wheel is obviously flapping about off its axis (and even though this concept seemed to be verging on ludicrousness before, I now totally accept it. Weird).

That said, we still got some sense of how things were progressing early on. The first time we see poor Robert Rousseau, he's clean-shaven.

The next time we see him, after Jin has jumped away, he's got a beard. Or is this Smokey disguising itself as face fuzz?

How long was the jump? A couple of weeks? And everyone is dead? In the words of Ron Burgundy, "Boy, that escalated quickly!" And how far into the future have they gone here, with the Orchid station broken down and dilapidated?

Twenty years? Thirty? Will we see interlopers on the island with Gauss guns and jetpacks? If not, can we please?

Not much Sayid this week, but we did get this.

Even in the murky darkness of Hawaii LA, you know you don't fuck with The Jarrah.

Now that the Island Six have leapt to a new time period, I guess this is the last we'll see of the young, non-grungy Danielle.

The Melissa Farman fanclub, the one that sprung up very very quickly through the internet, is in mourning, I'll bet.

At last! I'm calling that done. Now I can watch 316 and see just how far off the mark I am. Rock Band will have to wait.

ETA: Having now seen the excellent 316 (a good Jack-centric episode; a real rarity), I'm considering renaming this as "Lost - This Post Is Wrong." I really was off the mark, wasn't I.

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