When we first started doing Inventory a couple of years ago, I pitched one about "Most Startling TV Deaths," for which I planned to write about Roz falling down the elevator shaft on L.A. Law, Kellerman shooting Luther Mahoney on Homicide (and later getting killed himself in a different role on The Shield), and Michael bumping off Ana-Lucia and Libby on Lost. I watched that episode ("Two For The Road") again this week, and it's still a stunner, because there's no real groundwork laid for it. Yes, when Michael returns to camp and gives his little speech about how The Others are small in number and pathetic in nature, it's obvious that he's either deluded or working an angle. But nothing in Harold Perrineau's performance or the scenes leading up to the shooting really give the game away. The way Michael reacts to his own misdeeds–and the way the action pauses for a beat or two before he sets Ben free and shoots himself–keeps the viewer in a state of disorientation. It's a great plot twist, masterfully conveyed.
So then, with the whole of Lost fandom on the edge of its collective seat, what did the writers do the next week, for the episode "?"? They sent Lock and Mr. Eko out into the jungle to find a mystery hatch, at the prompting of a dream, all while flashing back to Eko's days in Australia as a fake-priest/miracle-debunker. And yet, just like the time-wasting episode that precedes "Two For The Road"–the Bernard-and-Rose-centered outing "S.O.S."–"?" is an entertaining, thematically rich 40 minutes, even if it cools down a story that had been building up a pretty good boil.
Heading down the stretch of Season Two, Lindelof and Cuse and company found a pretty good groove, as they teased out the island action and the impending conflict between the castaways and The Others, all while distracting viewers with flashbacks that informed us about Rose's cancer, Ana-Lucia's relationship with Christian Shepherd, the unreliability of Claire's psychic, and Michael's three-minute reunion with Walt (relayed in the on-island flashback episode "Three Minutes").
That's why it pains me to report that contrary to my memory, the endgame to Season Two is sloppily played–starting with "Three Minutes," and continuing through the ungainly two-hour finale "Live Together, Die Alone". At the time, watching Michael get dragged to The Others' fake camp, and following Sayid and Jin/Sun on their sail around the island (complete with four-toed giant statue!), and learning what happens when Locke stops pushing the button, and the big finish with the two dudes at the icy station sending word to Penny all of that was jaw-droppingly exciting. And some of it still is. But the second time around, Michael's visit with The Others looks more pointlessly vague, and Michael's angst veers from heartbreaking to annoying, and Locke and Eko's button-obsession comes off far too goofy and shrill, and most jarringly, the way Jack and Michael convince Hurley to come along on their trek to The Others' camp feels completely phony.
This I think is a pertinent question about Lost in general: Why does Hurley have to join the hunting party? I mean, in a practical sense, his presence is explained: Ben wants to him to carry a message back to the beach. But let's be honest: That's a lame reason to put him on the list, and Hurley's reason for playing along–because he's so grief-stricken over Libby–is a pretty big stretch. No, the real reason Hurley goes to see The Others is the same reason that Charlie helps Mr. Eko try to dynamite open The Swan: Because these are major characters on the show, and they need something to do.
In my interview with Lindelof and Cuse (going up next week!), Lindelof repeated something to me that he's said to other interviewers about the occasional logical lapses on the show: that all TV shows do this, and at that when it comes down to storytelling versus plausibility, storytelling comes first. And I'm sympathetic to that point of view. Like I said, when I watched these Season Two episodes as they originally aired, I was suitably shocked and delighted by all the twists and turns. But I also asked "Darlton" about whether they see Lost as one big story (like a novel) or a bunch of little stories (like TV), and I probably didn't pursue that line of questioning enough. Because on a second viewing, some of the storytelling decisions that make sense for a TV show--meant to be seen by people once a week for an indefinite amount of time--don't make as much sense for a complete 100-hour movie that people can sit down and watch in big chunks. example: The way The Others' disguise themselves as ragamuffins. That's more for the viewing audience's benefit, to keep us guessing, more than for the castaways'.
Understand that I'm really just nitpicking here. I enjoyed Season Two, and really like a lot about how it ended. There's some delicious tension when the gut-shot Libby turns out to still be alive, and Michael has to sweat out whether she's going to spill the beans; and I love the haunted look on his face when he cleans up the blood of the people he killed. But the piling on of irony and in-jokes–combined with the rushed attempts to satisfy fan complaints though awkward bits of dialogue like Sawyer musing, "So do you think The Others are ex-Dharma, or .?"–really doesn't play so well on repeat viewings. As I recall, some of my Lost-watching friends bailed on the show at the end of Season Two, and while at the time I couldn't see where they were coming from, now I kind of get it.
But just kind of. While I'd probably bump "Live Together, Die Alone" down now from the "A" I would've given it two years ago to a mere "B+," that "B+" is in the context of a series capable of an episode as good as "Two For The Road." The purpose of this return visit to the old Lost seasons was to see if the show holds up as an extended narrative. So far, the answer is "not quite." But as a collection of stories grouped around one big theme, Lost works just fine.
-I'm off on vacation right now, so I'll make the CC&CAT; section pretty brief again:
*"S.O.S." Isaac the healer looks into Rose and gets frightened, just like that hack psychic looked into Claire and freaked out. What did these guys see? (Or are they both just big fakes, part of this show's overarching "long con?") Does anyone know the timeline between Walt's arrival at The Others' camp and Ben's arrival at the castaways'? I couldn't piece it together from Lostpedia. I'm mainly wondering whether Ben came with the rest of the fake Others, or if he stayed back at the barracks. If the writers were looking for a good Ben/Juliet flashback for "The Other Woman," one that showed how and why Ben got trapped by Rousseau would've been a fine idea.
*"?" When I watched Season Three the first time, I recall being annoyed that Jack, who took a Hippocratic Oath, would be willing to let Ben die in order to get what he wants. But here in Season Two he does much the same thing, gambling with Libby's pain in order to get Sawyer to lead Kate to the gun stash. New theory: Jack Shepherd is a dick. Eko dreams things that he couldn't possibly know, and Locke dreams as Eko–two facts that lead me to wonder if those two characters had a psychic connection that the writers had intended to explore further. Has Darlton (or anyone) ever explained how Michael shoots Ana-Lucia in the daytime, then stumbles out of the hatch at night, then Jack sends Sawyer and Kate for medicine during the day? If that was really all continuous time, what the hell did Hurley do all night, while he was waiting for his picnic? The revelation that The Pearl monitors The Swan's "psychological experiment" (or more likely vice-versa) leads me to wonder what exactly The Dharma Initiative was designed to do.
*"Three Minutes" Locke sure gets knocked out a lot. (And people on this island seem to have a knack for knowing how to hit each other in just the right spot to force unconsciousness, but not death.) The aging of Walt means we're probably never going to get a full accounting of what The Others did with him for weeks on end, and why they deemed it okay to let him go.
*"Live Together, Die Alone" So what exactly did Desmond do during his two weeks of sailing around the snowglobe? Did he travel through time at all? Is the title of Dickens' Our Mutual Friend as much of a clue as its plot? And speaking of Desmond's "final book," one of his jailers notes that his plan to make Our Mutual Friend the last book he reads before he dies is pretty cool, "as long as you know when you're gonna die." So, does Desmond know? How come Desmond heard Locke pounding on the hatch way back when but made no effort to contact him? Will we ever get the story of Radzinsky? And why Kelvin lied about the quarantine? And what Ben thought when the sky turned purple?
-For all my nitpicking questions above, I have to say that I've never quite been on-board with one constant fan complaint: The "How come they don't ask any questions?" gripe. In fact, I wish the writers had never even tried to address it, via the "What is the monster?"/"I don't know" kind of exchanges. People make a mistake if they assume that the only action occurring in a story is what occurs on-screen. For all we know, Jack has grilled Juliet about the Dharma Initiative repeatedly, and Juliet has either told him what we already know or told him nothing. My feeling is: When we need to know, we'll know. What the characters know or don't know is–in this case at least–not as important.
-As much as the designated end date and the shorter seasons have helped focus the writers on outcomes, I have to wonder if the shorter seasons ahead of us will feel as satisfying as the lengthier first three? For all their dips, Season One and Season Two do have a heft to them, such that when you reach the end, you feel like you've seen something. With Season Four, I find it hard to believe that it's almost over.
-I'll be starting on Season Three next week, when Season Four resumes, and I'll be taking it in smaller chunks four or five episodes at a time, rather than six. I'm really looking forward to it; I think that Season Three was kind of unfairly maligned (including by me), so I want to see how it looks the second time around.