Hey, we're back! In our Dharma parkas, flat on our backs, in the middle of the Sahara. And ready for an adventure that seems like it will–as promised– race headlong to the Season Four finale.
So what was the most badass part of tonight's episode: Ben getting a "Code 14J" warning and pulling a boomstick out of his piano bench, or him sucker-punching nomads in the desert? I thought I was all about Sayid: International Contract Killer, but now I'm loving Benjamin Linus: Time-Traveling Superman all the more.
After the general disagreement over the quality of "Meet Kevin Johnson"–an episode I thoroughly enjoyed, and was shocked to find made some fans angry–I'm not even going to try to guess whether the Lost community is feeling the love for this show at any given time. Instead, I'll just stipulate that I can see some of the kinks in "The Shape Of Things To Come." As Lost ramps up the action, the sight of our familiar stand-around-and-do-nothing heroes toting guns and barking orders can look, at times, faintly ridiculous; and the attempts to add elements of tragedy and sorrow don't always happen seamlessly.
At the moment though, I don't much care, because I thought this episode was a blast. Globe-hopping! The smoke monster! Ben's secret chamber! Random dudes dying by the score! A climactic confrontation between Ben and Charles Widmore in a London penthouse! To me, this was a Lost episode almost perfectly balanced between giving us useful, forward-progressing information and introducing new mini-mysteries to ponder. We know more than we did when the hour started, yet there's clearly enough story left to tell that there's no reason to expect we'll be spending the next two years watching repetitive shootouts in the jungle.
That said: How about that shootout in the jungle, huh? And more specifically: How about the twist of Ben letting Widmore's goons kill Alex? I didn't see that coming, and I was impressed with the way that whole scenario played out, with Ben sitting still, shocked that his gamble didn't pay off, while Sawyer and Locke and Hurley ran around behind him, arguing with each other over whether this now meant that Ben was expendable.
Meanwhile, back on the beach, there wasn't as much going on, besides a little incremental movement in the freighter storyline. The ship's doctor washes up on the beach, dead, and Daniel uses some 815 debris to McGyver-up a telegraph and learn that, back on the ship, the doctor is very much alive (for now). Oh, and Daniel finally spills the one secret that Jack, Kate and Juliet should've figured out long ago (especially since he told them when he first arrived): that no one from the freighter is planning to rescue them.
While all this is going on–and I think I mean that quite literally, though I can't say for sure–Ben is off the island in 2005, under the guise of "preferred guest" Dean Moriarty, meeting up with Sayid at Nadia's funeral (!) and planting the seeds for Sayid's recruitment into his anti-Widmore army. The burning question here: Is the Ben gallivanting around the Middle East the same Ben who flees the Freighties' assault on his compound in order to run into his hieroglyphic-strewn safe room, or did he go into that room for some other reason: like, say, to order the smoke monster to wreak divine vengeance on Widmore's commandos?
Here's the acid test for whether you can get in the groove with tonight's episode: Can you handle Locke saying, with a straight face, "You lied to me. You told me you didn't know what the smoke monster was?" Are you willing to follow Lost to that more literal sci-fi/fantasy/action place, or do you like it better when it's all about hints and shadows? Because as the episode title implies, I think this is where the show is heading for the near future. It's going to be superheroes and supervillains and ghostly cabins and super-powerful creatures made of black smoke. The biggest fear of Lost fans all along has been that when the answers start coming, they're going to seem goofy and mundane compared to what we've all imagined on our own. Well, we're at that precipice, it seems. Either this vision of the Lost universe as a place of where good and evil slug it out–in whatever ambiguous terms–will play, or it won't.
For me, tonight, it played like gangbusters, because in the midst of all the explosions and gun-slinging and supernatural visitations, something unexpected happened. The all-knowing Ben guessed wrong. And that matters for two reasons: One, because it's in keeping with the Lost that's about a group of confused people in over their heads, confronting forces they don't understand; and Two, because it opened a door to all manner of fascinating backstory that I for one can't wait to explore. Let's start with this line, from Ben: "He changed the rules." I don't know about you, but I'm looking forward to finding out what that means.
-Two great lines tonight:
*Hurley on Risk: "Australia's the key to the whole game!"
*Faraday on time: "When? 'When' is kind of a relative term."
Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:
-Anyone else getting a Star Wars vibe off of Ben's warning to Sayid: "Don't let your grief become anger?" I assume that there's a story behind that, too–likely involving his old girlfriend Annie.
-So when Ben confronts Widmore in London, he implies that Widmore can't be killed. Given the recent revelations about how life and death works off the island, I'd say there's a serious clue there.
Flashbackin' Season Three, Eps. 1-4:
-Now to some more unpleasant business: I've been trying this week to pinpoint where the much-maligned first batch of episodes from Season Three went wrong, because as I recall, the first time around I started out the season pretty excited, and it took a while for me to realize the extent of my disappointment with how things were going. In retrospect, I was probably buoyed at first by the unfamiliarity of The Others and their off-island prison/lab/hospital, and the novelty made those episodes seem–at first–more exciting than they were. Which isn't to say that these first four episodes don't have their moments. The season opener "A Tale Of Two Cities" is still a kick, with its startling flashback to the plane crash from The Others' perspective. Ben's reveal of the Red Sox series win in "The Glass Ballerina" is good too, and I still like the flashback to Locke's days on the commune in "Further Instructions," in part because of Terry O'Quinn's performance and in part because of the way it deepens our understanding of what a sweet-natured fuck-up Locke is. But the on-island action in that third episode–involving another corny Locke spirt-quest, and him saving Eko from the polar bear cave–looks even more silly now than it did then. And the flashbacks in the first two episodes–one to Jack's post-breakup paranoia, and one to Jin's ill-fated affair–are informative without being, you know, interesting. And then there's the fourth episode, "Every Man For Himself," a Sawyer-centered tilt that I remembered being pretty amazing at the time, what with its "exploding pacemaker"/dead bunny fake-out and its reveal of the second island, but which the second time around came off as overheated and fairly pointless. I know better days are ahead with Season Three, but at this point in the game, I can see why Lost was starting to lose fans week-to-week. I've figured out some of the reasons, too. Join me at the next bullet-point, and I'll run them down for you.
-Hi! Welcome to the second "Flashbackin'" bullet point! None of these observations I'm about to make are necessarily brilliantly original–in fact I made some of them in a blog post back in January of '07–but watching these episodes again, so soon after watching Seasons One and Two, all the problems came into focus. In a way, Season Three starts off like an entirely different show. There's more music–oppressively so, at times–and all the romantic subplots are foregrounded, mainly proving Josh Holloway, Evangeline Lilly and Matthew Fox's difficulty with playing straight-up melodrama as opposed to mystery-adventure. (Although Lilly's humiliated expression when she gets thrown into the bear cage in that cocktail dress is one of the series' acting highlights.) Scattering the cast across different parts of the island diffuses the drama too much, the flashbacks feel increasingly tacked-on–honestly, Locke's aside, I could barely remember any of them before I watched them again–and the ambiguity about what's really going on with the Others, Dharma and the island seems forced beyond reason. I'm willing to give the writers credit that one day all the show's dilly-dallying will be explained as "orders from Jacob" or "the sickness" or something, but given what's happened on the show since–most of it positive, mind you–the hours spent on Ben's tumor and his not-so-comprehensible manipulations seem, for the moment, wasted.
-All of that said, here are a few stray observations and questions about Season Three's first four episodes:
*There's long-been fan speculation about the participants in Juliet's book club–and especially Amelia, who may well be a very well-known lost pilot–but I'd like to see the writers deal with pre-815 "Other culture" at some point. That's part of why Juliet's flashback episode this season was so frustrating. The idea of an another Juliet on-island flashback wasn't a bad one, but there were so many more compelling bits of backstory that could've been filled in there.
*Interesting throwaway line from Juliet, regarding the disapproval of Ben–who at that point still wasn't directly associated with Henry Gale"–towards her book club selection. "Here I am, thinking that free will still exits," she says, before the ground starts to shake due to Desmond's hatch-bound negligence.
*By the way, did Ben know this crash was going to happen? He seems awfully prepared.
*I'd like to see the characters–or at least the story–of Locke's pot-farming commune enter back into the mythology in some way. Given the hippie origins of The Dharma Initiative, I wouldn't be surprised if it does.
*I'm not as opposed to the existence of Nikki and Paolo as some–and I am looking forward to re-watching "Exposé" in a couple of weeks–but the best way to handle their introduction to the cast would've been to make them a one-off. Awkwardly shoe-horning them into the early Season Three episodes as if they'd always been there just did not work.
*Is it me, or are The Others kind of hapless, all things considered? No wonder Ben could take charge of them so easily.