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Wednesday, February 03, 2010

LOST: LA X (parts 1 and 2) ~ You bet your Frogurt there are spoilers

This may have been the best episode of Lost yet. That's an ironic thing for me to say, considering that my first reaction to Flight 815 not crashing was, "Holy crap, they've really jumped the shark, haven't they?" But the show's creators stayed true to their formula of injecting plot leaps jarring enough to make weaker viewers faint into a dizzying haze until our brains' timing mechanisms can recalibrate. If, like Charlotte before you, you're experiencing mild nose bleeds, headaches, and dizziness, I'll do my best to fix your sense of time and stop the flashes.

So let's talk plot, themes, and theories for a moment, shall we?

Plot (aka What the crap is going on and when is said crap taking place?)
Having not watched the recap episode and failing to catch up on the last dozen episodes of season 5, I was worried I wouldn't gain my bearings on the first viewing. Despite misplacing my notes from last season's finale, I was surprised to find my Lost legs almost immediately—this show has a way of drawing me into its spell all too quickly.

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I'm not sure how many seasons or episodes have begun with Jack on that stupid plane, but there we were, reliving his experience in the moments leading up to the crash. We knew we were about to learn whether Juliet's atom-bomb bashing had worked the way the Losties all hoped. This scene would also tell us what the show's creators' theories on changing the future would prove to be—up to that point, they had been preaching a pretty consistent you-can't-do-it gospel. Jack's behavior seemed to give it away; it appeared as though Jack, at least on some level, knew he would be getting answers, as if he had some subconscious connection with his future self's intentions to redirect the course of time.

And then, the rattling. The shaking. The exchange with Rose. Then . . . nothing. Everything was fine (and yet so very messed up).

Just to prove they weren't pulling our legs, the cameras went ahead and descended upon the island below—the island below water, that is. They focused on the statue of leg to let us know that a) the island had been destroyed to some degree and b) that place on the island was still important to our story.

An Aside about Time Travel
Unlike the show, I'm going to stick with the flight that didn't crash before heading back to the island, but I will stop to say this about the direction the show took when it allowed the story of Flight 815 to change direction while also continuing the story of the survivors remaining on the island.

This is awesome.

I'll admit, most of my time-travel theories come from two of my favorite movies of all time: Back to the Future, and Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure. Now, BTTF told us (via Doc Brown) that messing with the future could cause a rift in the space-time continuum that would cause the fabric of the universe to unravel. If Marty's parents never met because Marty went back in time and prevented their union, a change would have been effected by a cause that would have ceased to exist because of the change it caused. That chronological and grammatical paradox could have erased Marty McFly from existence and possibly done the same to the cosmos as we know it.

The second installation of that trilogy, though, introduced us to the phenomenon of an alternate timeline. Doc's theory was that the future was changed, but instead of replacing the future entirely, a new reality was formed, a branch off of the original tree of time. Somehow, this preserved the space-time continuum while also allowing for the unthinkable evil of a world ruled by Biff.

In B&TEA, things are a bit different. That movie (and 12 Monkeys as well) blends time-altering events together into perfect harmony. The threads of time run continuously, interwoven into a tapestry of reality that remains steadfast without precluding the possibility of free will and human decision. The future of now never stops, while the timelines of years gone by always remain intact. The changes worked in the past are immediately evident in the present. If you think that made no sense, I'll grant you that, so let's just move on.

The point I'm going for here is that some time-travel stories allow for alternate realities: the future can change. Others argue that the present we're experiencing now, by default, includes everything that has taken place in the past, whether a time traveler has become involved or not. But all of these stories choose one road, one point of view on which to focus. This episode of Lost took things into a new realm. Here, they allowed us to experience the alternate reality (the "what if" scenario) and the unmitigated reality for those who initiated the future-changing event. This is genius.

Did the atom bomb go off and prevent the domino effect that led to Flight 815 crashing? Yes. Did that get the Losties off the island? No. Their future didn't stop. The paradox was avoided by skipping their needle back to the appropriate part of the record. We'll come back to this later, but for now, back to What the crap is going on and when is said crap taking place?

Like I said, before examining the events on the island, I want to stick with this alternate "better" reality storyline so we can look at what changed by imploding the island. Let's take it character by character.

Jack's dad still died. He's still got issues. For him, the only significant thing we can tell is different is that he doesn't crash on the island. But there is one change: his dad's coffin isn't found on the plane. In the original sequence, Jack was able to find his dad's coffin . . . just not his body. So why would the island disappearing cause a switch here? I'll try to answer that with this next character we didn't even see . . . directly.

Charles Widmore
One thing I'll still hold onto is that in the alternate reality (AR from now on) you can pretty much equate Oceanic Airlines with Charles Widmore. If the island did go kerplunk in 1977, that doesn't necessarily mean Widmore was on it. He had been known to leave the island from time to time during his times as Chief Other, so my assumption is, the dude's alive. My guess: he's still working to find the island again, and he's using Jack and his father's body as a tool, possibly under the direction or influence of Jacob's Unknown Foe.

Rose and Bernard
They looked so happy on this episode, so it breaks my heart to have to say that Rose is sick. She's dying. And if she never visits the island, she never gets better.

Boone (sans Shannon)
To me, this is one of the more disturbing twists, because everything I've searched offers very little information. Boone went to Australia to get Shannon to come back with him, to persuade her out of another bad relationship. In the original reality (OR from now on), Shannon swindled Boone out of a lot of money, was then taken advantage of by her boyfriend, Bryan, and then had a drunken, step-incestuous hookup with Boone before leaving on Flight 815 the next morning. So why would the island's demise change that story? My only guess is that somehow Bryan, a previously frivolous character, might prove to be connected to the island's story somehow. Could he be an Other? A former Other? A descendant of an Other? Pure guesses, but something has to account for the change. Stay tuned.

Poor John Locke. Not only did he never get to go on his walkabout, he never received the ambulatory healing powers of the island. He's still a guy who thrives on multiple realities, though the only ones he really enjoys are the ones he imagines. His encounter with Jack is much more touching in the AR, but it also introduces an unmistakable twist. Locke's suitcase full of knives was on the plane in the OR. This meeting with Jack has been carefully orchestrated (or at least expertly predicted/manipulated) by some very powerful people.

I know a lot of people were double-you-tee-effing at the sight of Desmond on Flight 815 since he wasn't originally a passenger. Was Jack imagining him? (Maybe.) Was he a figment of Jack's OR-aware subconscious? (No.) How did Jack recognize him? (I'll tell you.) Don't forget that Jack had met Desmond before the island, when Jack was doing his little Tour de Stade thing and Desmond was outdoing him while training for his global circumnavigation yacht race. But in the AR, the island never drew Des off course, there was no hatch to lure him into the field of world-saving data entry, and there's no reason for him not to be on a flight from Australia to LA.

He did sort of appear and disappear abruptly, though, didn't he? I won't eliminate the possibility of supernatural forces at work here, but my money is still on Charles Widmore here. I'm guessing Desmond got tossed into the plane's underbelly luggage storage, but that's just me. I will give Desmond this: he was most definitely right when he told Jack, "I'll see you in another life, brother."

Hugo still won the lottery, still bought Mr. Clucks (and, presumably, the box company employing Locke), and still loves to listen to the headphones, but without the numerical insanity. There were no numbers being broadcast ad infinitum. He may have been in a mental institution, but Leonard, his connect 4 buddy, didn't know jack about 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, or 42. Hugo won big, and his luck changed. Most notably, his plane didn't crash. He was, however, still naive enough to inform Sawyer of his easily swindled millions.

Sawyer is still Sawyer, though his ability for generating hilarious nicknames may have been a product of the power of the island. He made his intentions for conning Hurley smirkingly evident, and then he helped Kate beat the heat. Yeah, he hasn't changed a bit, for which I am strangely glad.

Kate's still on the run, and still really good at it. Poor U.S. Marshall still gets his head beaten in, only it's a bathroom counter instead of a Halliburton briefcase. As far as I can tell, there's really not a thing different about Kate or her situation.

Michael and Walt
Logistically, I understand why we didn't see Walt on the flight. Unless they were smart enough to film some scenes of him on board (or unless they actually have this time-travel thing down) Malcolm David Kelley would be a tad too aged to make the scene convincing. But still, these are pretty important characters to the story, and it wouldn't have been too hard to show they were on the plane.

The only explanation I can muster is that Walt's animal-summoning skills were influenced somehow by the existence of the island. He seems connected to that force in some way, so I wouldn't be surprised to find that the course of his existence changed remarkably enough that he didn't make it on to Flight 815. Maybe his mom didn't die. Maybe he just didn't weird out his step-dad so much. I don't know.

I feel for my boy Charlie. His life was cut short by the island, improved by his experiences there, and then, in AR, it was extended into unknown misery by the life-saving efforts of Jack Shepherd. I wish him luck in the AR.

Ben (for the fun of it)
Ben's most likely dead in the AR. Somewhat ironic since he was carrying a book called, "Separate Reality," when, as a boy, he approached Sayid with a sandwich and an earnest desire to become an Other.

Back on the Island, Life in the OR
So the bulk of the action in this episode took place on the island in the original reality and back in the original time slot, so to speak, three years after the Oceanic 6 and friends left the island. What the crap is going on in this story? Let's address a few items.

Juliet and Sawyer
Sawyer blames Jack for the explosion attempt not working, but he's wrong. Juliet dies from the injuries she suffered from falling down the shaft, but not before she has a chance to reconnect with James "Sawyer" Ford. Everyone will be talking about her posthumous declaration through Miles ("It worked"), but we might learn just as much from her nonsense ramblings about grabbing a cup of coffee and going dutch. Here is where Juliet's consciousness is even more important than Jack's. I believe, on the precipice of OR death, Juliet tapped into her AR consciousness, by which she was able to see herself meeting Sawyer for the first time . . . again. At that point, I'm guessing, she realized that it worked. I don't know if she was right; we'll spend the rest of the season finding that out.

But Sawyer doesn't think so. He's, per usual, mad at Jack. At least he doesn't want him to die any more quickly than the rest of them. 

Living Locke / the Man in Black / Jacob's Unknown Foe / the Smoke Monster / Christian Shepherd / Maybe Every Dead Person We've Ever Seen on This Show / the Dude . . . and Hurley
In the flashback to predate all flashbacks, when we saw Jacob and his frenemy talking on the beach about the state of human existence, the Dude (that's the name I'm gonna stick with till we have something more definitive) said he was trying to find a loophole to kill Jacob. Last season ended with the Dude using Ben to jab a knife repeatedly through that loophole into Jacob's nebulous chest. I'll cover this more when we get to the themes, but for now I'll try to stay on what we learned about this character and his relationship to Jacob.

First off, this guy is the smoke monster. That's messed up. He also, for whatever reason, can't go through the sonar fence or a circle of strange powder (gun powder? human ashes? pixie dust? dunno.) though he's quite adept at finding workarounds for that little gimmick. 

Second, this guy has the capability of taking the form of dead people whose bodies are on or around the island, though, as evidenced by John Locke's remains chilling outside Jacob's lair, he doesn't indwell the bodies per se, but he does appear to know about the person's personality, feelings, and memories (he was able to tell Ben what John was thinking when he died). This is even more significant than you might realize at first, because he also seems to possess some M. Night Shyamalan tricks to fool you into misinterpreting what you see or controlling who sees him and who doesn't. This is particularly important when it comes to Hurley. 

I don't think Hurley can see dead people. I think the Dude has been appearing to Hurley in the form of people who died on the island and timing his appearances in such a way as to make Hurley think he's the only one seeing them. Maybe the Dude is capable of hiding his appearance from some while revealing his existence to Hurley, but I don't think that's the case either. From what I can remember, Hurley's visions of the dead disappear when other (living) people approach or regain consciousness. Either way, I think Hurley is being tricked by the Dude into thinking he possesses an ability he does not.

The strongest evidence is that Miles can commune with dead spirits, but he doesn't actually see them or dialog with them (at least not in the way that Hurley does). But the real give away is the trust that Hurley has in these visions. Throughout the course of the past few seasons, Hurley has been easily manipulated by the advice given to him by friends he lost on the island. I believe that to be the work of the Dude.

I also believe the Dude is working in concert with Charles Widmore (and Oceanic). Think about it. Remember when Widmore crony and professed Oceanic rep Matthew Abaddon visited Hurley at the mental asylum? Hurley refused to listen to him. But shortly after, Hurley was visited by Charlie, who essentially completed the same task. The Dude.

So when Jacob appeared to Hurley, shortly after the murder of the former, he told him to take Sayid to the Temple. I don't think that was Jacob. I think it might have been the Dude. It's hard to say for sure. Part of me thinks Sayid's return to life is actually an inhabitation by the Dude . . . but we've already established that the Dude doesn't inhabit dead bodies, he's just able to recreate their likenesses.

Anyway, the Dude has said he wants to go home. I don't think that means he wants to go off the island. As the Others seem to expect, I think he views the Temple as his home, and I don't think he's been allowed there in quite some time. Yes, the Smoke Monster has appeared in the catacombs leading toward the Temple, but I attribute that to a connection I'll explore later.

The Others
These people are so weird. That's all I can say.

Everyone Else
The angry mob outside the Leg Statue/Jacob's Lair, I believe, was trying to stop the Dude from harming Jacob. Richard apparently used to be a prisoner of the island (maybe before his wild long-hair days). Ben feels used and manipulated, which is perfect retribution. Locke is dead. Sayid's status is in question. Jack is still Jack. Miles is Miles. Jin and Sun need to reunite and quick. And Frank Lapidus is just there to fly planes and choppers as far as I can tell.

Developing Themes
Okay, here's where I ramble on about some big-picture stuff to watch for. The main one is the battle between the Man of Science and the Man of Faith. We've seen that struggle epitomized on many levels. Jack (science) vs. Locke (faith). Widmore (science) vs. Ben (faith). Dharma (science) vs. the Others (faith). And the Dude (presumably science) vs. Jacob (faith). If you want to get biblical, I'd say you can trace this theme all the way back to Cain (science, gardener) vs. Abel (faith, shepherd). The interesting connection there is that it was Cain, the murderer whose sacrifice to God was the fruit of his own industry, who was granted immunity by God. His death was never recorded (as far as I know) and God proclaimed that anyone who took his life would be avenged seven times over (Genesis 4:13-16). It's a flimsy connection, but it reminds me of the loophole the Dude mentioned.

Anyway, the show is filled with disputes between those trying to improve their situation by their own efforts (science) and those trusting in some higher power to effect change (faith). But the connection between those two parties is sometimes stronger than the conflict. Widmore and Ben were both intent on bringing the Oceanic 6 back to the island. Jacob (appearing to Hurley before Jacob's death and off the island) wanted Hurley to return just as badly as the Dude did. Jack's and Locke's interests weren't always diametrically opposed. And the Others' Temple is connected via their faith-based-looking tunnels to the Dharma base. I don't think this is an accident.

The Dude and Jacob, Dharma and the Others, Widmore and Ben (or Charles and Linus, if you prefer) are all clamoring for the same prize: control of the island, its power, and its inhabitants in some way, shape, or form. It's particularly confusing because the difference between the parties is so indistinct. It's like Satan vs. God. Satan doesn't bludgeon the followers of God with blatantly opposing propaganda. He disguises the message to resemble God's reality as closely as possible. The most evil people (in science and in faith) are the ones who mimic the truth most effectively.

So I think the recurring theme or motivating force behind all the action on this show is the question of whether there is some overriding benevolent force, be it divine or human, acting on behalf of humanity, or is it up to humanity itself to work to bring about good and joy and peace? Something tells me, the show is leading us to an answer of . . . both.

The other thing that keeps showing up is just how adept both parties are at abusing their power and manipulating their subjects. People of faith and scientific minds alike can be turned into pawns by their respective leaders or by colleagues they either trust or fear. It's really fascinating.

I can't wait to see how the rest of the season plays out. I'm sure there's more I could say, but I've lost the will to compound my words any further.

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