Taking into account the two-hour premiere and the two-hour finale, this sixth season of Lost runs 18 hours, which means that as of the end of tonight’s episode, “Sundown,” we’re a third of the way through. Are you happy with it so far? Do you feel like we’re moving at a brisk enough pace, and that we’re moving towards a big finish worthy of the hundred-plus hours you’ve invested in the show?
Me, I do. But I know that others don’t. I’ll get into some of the complaints about this Lost season in the “Flashbackin’” section below. (And at great length, so feel free to skip when you get down to that part.) For now though, let’s talk “Sundown,” an episode which brought a lot of the characters on The Island together, for a confrontation weighted with choices and—despite all the talk of “good” and “evil”—a lot of ambiguity.
Outside The Temple, Not-Locke and Crazy Claire are approaching, with the former promising the latter that he’ll only hurt the inhabitants who “won’t listen.” Claire storms into The Temple (“acting all weird,” according to Miles, but “still hot”) and tells Dogen that there’s a smoke monster outside that would like to have a word. Dogen begs off, and chooses to send a substitute: Zombie Sayid. Which is funny, because mere moments before, Dogen was trying to kill Sayid, before suffering an attack of conscience and settling for exile instead. (“Apparently, I’m evil,” Sayid says to Miles, by way of explanation.) Now though, “things have changed” according to Dogen, and so he offers Sayid a chance to prove that there’s still some good within him—ironically, by breaking out his murderin’ skills. Dogen wants Sayid to walk right outside to Not-Locke and plunge a magic dagger into his smokey chest. Which Sayid does. And in return, Not-Locke looks at Sayid quizzically and asks, “Now why’d you go and do that?”
Meanwhile, three years ago and in a whole other reality, a different Sayid—or is he?—has arrived in Los Angeles to visit Nadia, who in this universe is married to his brother Omer. And shortly after Uncle Sayid delivers his Australian presents (boomerangs!) to his niece and nephew and experiences some uncomfortable unresolved sexual tension with the sister-in-law he used to love, Omer pulls Sayid aside and tells him that he’s been having some trouble with some very bad people who loaned him money for his chain of dry-cleaning establishments. Omer would like Sayid to get the bad guys off his back, torturer-style. But Sayid insists, “I am not that man anymore.”
Like “What Kate Does” a few weeks back, I thought “Sundown” was pretty shaky at times, though it ended so strongly—and offered so much to ponder along the way— that I didn’t mind that it was light on incident and heavy on Temple moping. I also didn’t mind that “Sundown” was a Sayid episode that defaulted back to the same set of questions and concerns that have driven nearly every Sayid episode lately: Is this dude a stone a stone-cold killer or what? I didn’t mind it because I thought “Sundown” was one of the most bravely unforgiving episodes yet when it comes to dealing with the question of free will versus fate.
Towards the end, we hear a moving anecdote from Dogen about his baseball: about how it reminds him of his son, whom he nearly killed in a drunk driving accident. Jacob came to Dogen in the hospital and offered to heal his son, but only if Dogen would agree to come to The Island and never see his son again. So Dogen had a choice… which was really no choice.
Similarly, in the Alterna-815 world, Sayid decides to heed Nadia’s advice and not get involved with Omer’s business troubles, even after Omer gets mugged. But then Omer’s tormentors come after Sayid, and take him to meet their boss—Martin Keamy! And while Keamy’s still in mid-threaten, Sayid goes all Sayid on his ass, clearing the room of scum. Again… really no choice.
And then there’s Not Locke’s offer to the denizens of The Temple, which he offers via Sayid. They all need to clear out by sundown, or Smokey’s going to destroy them. He very expressly tells them that the have a choice… which is no choice.
As I mentioned, I thought “Sundown” ended strongly, with Sayid drowning Dogen and slashing Lennon’s throat, clearing the way for Smokey to rush into The Temple and wreak havoc. In the midst of it all, Ilana, Frank, Sun and Ben arrive and spirit Miles away, though not before Ben can try to convince Sayid to come with them. Instead, Sayid gives Ben a creepy “too late” look, kicking off a disturbing slow-motion sequence where Sayid and Claire leave The Temple and join up with Smokey and his not-so-merry men, while “Catch A Falling Star” plays distantly on the soundtrack. And in with their group? Kate, who’s like the Final Girl in a body-snatcher movie, trying to go along with the rest of the pod people. If Lost really is going to be about the battle of good versus evil, then friends, at the end of “Sundown” I think we got a good look at Evil’s Army.
But is that what Lost is? I’m still not convinced. When I did my short-form Lost re-watch late last year, I noticed a recurring phrase that even Lostpedia doesn’t have in their database, perhaps because it’s only recurred twice (as near as I can tell). The phrase is “That’s it.” In the Season Four finale, Kate and Ben say it to each other when Ben agrees to let her hop on Frank’s helicooter and leave The Island. “That’s it?” Kate asks, incredulously. “That’s it,” Ben replies, with a typically shifty look that implies he knows far more about what’s in store for Kate than he’s letting on. Then, in Season Five, Juliet resignedly says “that’s it” to Sawyer shortly after the Ajira group arrives, in much the same tone of voice she uses when Roger Linus finds out Lil’ Ben is missing. Here, her “that’s it” isn’t inquisitive, it’s conclusive—even elegiac. It’s a way of saying “all is lost… this is the beginning of the end.”
You could look at “Sundown” and say that the whole episode was one big “that’s it.” It was straightforward, simple, and sad in that way. Everything’s falling apart, because contrary to Sondheim, there are villains in the world. But I keep thinking about Sayid’s response when Dogen tells him that “we think it would be best if you were dead.” He responds that he believes himself to be a good man. And I think The Man In Black believes the same. I’m certain that there are two sides in this game—one black, one white—but am I certain that the whole series comes down to which one is good and which is evil? No, I do not. I could be wrong, but I’m pretty sure that’s not it.
-I think one of my problems with The Temple action this season has been that John Hawkes is something of a weak link. Which pains me to say, because I love John Hawkes. (I can’t wait for you all to see the movie Winter’s Bone, which I caught at Sundance and which features a terrific Hawkes performance.) Lennon had a neat vibe when we first met him, but the character hasn’t been given much to do since, and Hawkes has seemed a little at sea about how to use his limited screen time. And now Poochie’s dead. Oh well.
-One more eye-rolling element in “Sundown:” the machine that can tell whether you’re good or evil. I can roll with smoke monsters and lighthouses full of magic mirrors, but the evil-testing machine? I’m just going to shrug and look past that one.
-On the upside, I thought it was a really nice shot when Zombie Sayid chokes the life out of Dogen and Dogen lets go of that oh-so-meaningful baseball. There’s a clean visual metaphor for you: Dogen can finally let go of his personal baggage, but only when he’s dead. Like I said... this was a dark episode.
-The other big business this episode had to do with Kate arriving back at The Temple to find Claire, and making the mistake of telling her about what happened to Aaron. I suspect that’s going to make for some uncomfortable conversations in the weeks to come. I also liked that Kate talked to Claire while Claire was imprisoned in a pit, which gave the Lost creative crew to set up the looking-down-the-shirt shot that they seem to favor with their actresses.
-Miles seemed genuinely delighted to see Kate return, goading her with the line, “Sawyer sent you packing, huh?” And she seemed happy to see him too. Can I become a Mater?
-I laughed out loud at one of the commercial breaks during this episode: the one with the line, “Imagine if it was this easy to spot the good guys.” Did y’all have that commercial where you were? Seemed very apt for this episode.
Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:
-So what do we make of Not-Locke offering Sayid a chance to see Nadia again. (Or at least asking, “What if you could?”) Between that and Jacob’s offer to Dogen, I’m starting to wonder if those two actually have the power to bend reality, or if they just have the power to suggest what an alternate reality might be like. Either way, it reminds me of two things: 1. Ben’s metaphorical “magic box,” and 2. Ben (acting under Jacob’s indirect orders, presumably) making a deal with Juliet to get her sister cured.
-Another, related thought: Is Dogen’s son a player in this drama? Is he a Candidate? We saw Lil’ Dogen last week in 2004. He’d be in his late teens by now, right? (Assuming it’s the same son from Dogen’s story, of course.)
-Do we really think that Alterna-Sayid’s job is “translating contracts for an oil company?” And what do we make of the information that after he was dunked in the Temple pool he was “dead for two hours?”
-A quick glimpse of Jack in the hospital where Omer was taken after he was mugged. I don’t recall though: did Alterna-Sayid look into a mirror at any point?
-And, of course, Sayid stumbled across the bound, bloodied Jin after killing Keamy and his men. I look forward to finding out how Jin ended up there a few weeks from now.
-Zack and Emma and Cindy… still hanging around. Still not relevant to the story. Yet.
-Everyone’s been comparing the Aaron-less Claire with the Alex-less Rousseau, but with what she was wearing tonight, do you know who Claire reminded me of? Eloise Hawking, from Dharma times. Another woman who lost her child—sort of.
-Since Lennon and Dogen were killed in the pool, will they come back to life in some way? Or does the murky water preclude that?
The TV critic community was pretty divided about the quality of last week’s episode “Lighthouse” and about the direction this sixth season has been headed in general. I was moved and amused by “Lighthouse” and I’ve been enjoying the heck out of S6 so far, but a lot of writers I respect—including Alan Sepinwall, Maureen Ryan, Daniel Fienberg and James Poniewozik—aren’t fully on board, and have leveled complaints about this year’s Lost ranging from a lack of emotional engagement with the “flash-sideways” to irritation that the on-island story has followed the nobody-asks-questions/walking-from-here-to-there-to-here-again patterns that the show usually employs when it’s stalling.
I’m sympathetic to these arguments—to a point. I’ve wondered myself whether I’ll be able to properly assess the parallel universe business until it’s all resolved. The problem with the flash-sideways as I see them are twofold: 1. Because of the subtle changes in the Alterna-815 universe, it’s hard to see these characters as the same people that we’ve been following for five seasons, even though they look the same and have mostly similar lives; and 2. Because we know that something’s off about this new reality (judging by the characters’ occasional moments of disconnection, as well as comments made by Lindelof and Cuse), it’s hard not to want to skip ahead and solve the mystery.
This second problem hasn’t been mentioned as much by this season’s nay-sayers, but I think it may be a more significant part of their dissatisfaction than even they realize. Think about all the tightly serialized, mythology-heavy series that flamed out quickly in the wake of Lost. What most of them missed was that while Lost was steeped in mystery, those mysteries tended to be external to the characters. We discovered the island as our heroes discovered it. And when we got their backstories via flashbacks, those backstories were fairly straightforward; we rarely got the sense that we were being shown something about the characters that was misleading or untrue. By contrast, shows like The Nine could only give us fragments of the whole week after week, with each fragment revealing so little of the big picture that the individual episodes were largely unsatisfying. Lost’s sixth season is hardly The Nine, but we have been spending an awful lot of time with people and places that are foggily defined, and there’s been no indication that the fog will clear until close to the end of the season.
But while stopping short of saying, “Just shut up and enjoy the ride”—which would be awfully presumptuous and rude of me, especially given how perceptive my critic friends are—I do feel that a certain amount of faith is required here. For one thing, it would seem strange in a way for Lost to stop being Lost just because it’s the final season. Teases, red herrings, inexplicable behavior—these have always been a part of the show, right along side the spine-tingling reveals, white-knuckle action and amusing character moments. (All of which have been in ample evidence this season too.) For another, it’s not like we have no investment yet in Alterna-Jack, Alterna-Locke, etc. We know a lot about their lives already—even if they’re not exactly like the lives we know—and the contrast between the different versions of these people, while subtle, is still fairly poignant. To me, anyway.
But then I’ve come to the conclusion of late that what I find compelling about Lost isn’t the same as what others are looking for. I won’t fully rehash what I’ve written about so many times before, but to me Lost is about multiple competing philosophies, all of which inform what it means to be a leader, a hero, or even just a person content with his or her lot in life. With that in mind, I find the alternate realities pretty engaging, because they offer still more examples of how to be. And I’m not bothered by the sudden dominance of the Jacob vs. Smokey storyline because I’m pretty sure that Lost isn’t really their story; it’s the story of how Jack et. al. are guided by (or rebel against) their parent/God/leader figures.
Last week, Poniewozik asked, “What, now, is the objective? What, exactly, are we rooting for Jack et al to do?” I know what he’s asking here: Before we wanted them to get off The Island, or get back to The Island, or move The Island, or stop The Island, but now what are we supposed to be hoping for our heroes? That they’ll be selected by Jacob or The Man In Black as a pawn in their centuries-old game? (A game that’s got about eight hours of airtime left to be explained and brought to a conclusion?) When you put in those terms, I can see how Lost would seem to be a little less than thrilling right now.
But I believe Lindelof and Cuse when they say that Lost has always been about the characters we’ve been following all along, and not about The Island or its mythology. And I believe that the story of these characters won’t be defined by how much or how little they help Jacob—a guy we barely know. If I have to answer, “What is the objective?” I'd fall back on my meta-fictional reading of the show and say, “The objective is for the characters to figure out who they are, as characters in a story.” And in that context, I’m finding a lot to enjoy here in Season Six.
I don't know if that’ll good enough for my colleagues or not, and I certainly won’t hold it against them if it isn’t. Mostly I just feel bummed that they don't seem to be having as much fun as I am.