There are two recurring storytelling gimmicks that I’ve always liked on Lost. One is The Big Split. Early in Season One, we learned that the castaways were stranded on an island with “Others”... and the factionalism didn’t end there. Lost has often kept our protagonists at arm’s length from each other too—even separating them into different camps at times. (The cave and the beach; the beach and New Otherton; etc.) There’s very little in-between on Lost. This story doesn’t allow for much in the way of neutrality.
The Big Split also extends to the way some episodes are structured. For example: “This Place Is Death,” which jumps between Los Angeles, where Sun is holding a gun on Ben and threatening to kill him (until he promises to prove to her that Jin is alive) and the island, where Jin is witnessing the early days and quick downfall of Danielle Rousseau’s expedition (until he time-jumps away from there and ends up expedition-ing with the I6… now the I7).
I mentioned in passing last week that Jin/Sun episodes are almost always about the two lovers divided—by location, by time, and by intention. (Another "big split," in other words.) In “This Place Is Death,” the typical Jin/Sun division is heightened by the fact that both parties are being influenced by their highly motivated colleagues. Locke explains to Jin that he’s planning to go to the Orchid, stop the time-jumps, leave the island and bring Sun back. But Jin’s not so sure about this plan, because he thinks Sun is still pregnant, and he knows that she needs to be off the island in order to deliver a healthy baby. (Besides, a time-sick Charlotte has warned him, “Don’t let them bring her back”... just before shouting the title of the episode.) As for Sun, she starts out wanting revenge against Ben for the death of Jin, until Ben produces Jin’s wedding ring, which he got from Locke.
Oddly enough, Locke was carrying Jin’s wedding ring after he left the island in order to prove to Sun that Jin was dead, and thus keep her away from the island. But Ben—for whom down is always up—uses the ring for his own purposes.
I have to be honest: I found this episode frequently maddening. I’ve been willing to ride along with the vague science and mystical orders governing Lost’s freaky occurrences, but I’m hoping that next week (and in the weeks to come), we’ll get a little more grounding on whether there really are any rules to all of this. For example: Does everyone who left the island have to return, or not? When we finally meet Eloise Hawking at the end of “This Place Is Death” (and get confirmation, via Desmond, that she is Daniel Faraday’s mother), she grumbles about the fact that Ben couldn’t round everybody up, then she shrugs, “I suppose it’ll have to do for now.” Man, which is it? Will it be catastrophe if they don’t all return, or will the universe make do somehow?
(My hope is that just as it screwed everything up when Ben moved the island instead of Locke, so a partial return will be unacceptable. I’m starting to get the sense that a large part of the theme of this show is how messed up things can get when people don’t try to fulfill their destiny.)
But even if I wasn’t tearing my hair out over the constantly moving goalposts—like: who gets nosebleeds and why, and what exactly happens to them?—I would’ve been frustrated, because there’s a lot about this episode that didn’t really work for me.
For example: I was stoked to spend time with Rousseau’s team—in two different, very close points on the timeline—but ultimately all we got to see were parts of the story we already knew, from the loss of Montand’s arm to Rousseau shooting everybody after her mates went mad. (Granted, we didn’t know Montand lost his arm because of the smoke monster; nor did we know the smoke monster was guarding a temple at the time for some as-yet-unknown reason... but those weren’t really big reveals.)
I was also driven to distraction by Charlotte tonight. I was glad to see her facility with Korean come back—I re-watched “Something Nice Back Home” this past week, which introduced that particular part of her resumé—but I still don’t quite get her reactions to the time-jumps, which seemed a lot more like Minkowski’s and Desmond’s in “The Constant” than what’s been happening to Miles and Juliet and Sawyer. She seemed to be sharing consciousness with her past self, but only long enough to utter incongruities like “I know more about Ancient Carthage than Hannibal himself!” and “Turn it up! I love Geronimo Jackson!”… yet not long enough to indicate that her brain was really traveling for any significant length of time. And I thought it was incredibly awkward when she became Charlotte The Explainer (with her Loving Assistant Dan), and spilled details about growing up with Dharma and possibly meeting Daniel as a girl, where he warned (will warn?) her to leave the island and never return. (And with good reason, since tonight Charlotte The Mysterious and Charlotte The Explainer transformed into Charlotte The Bloody-Nosed Corpse.)
But I’m not going to get too upset by the frequent clunkiness of “This Place Is Death,” because I understand that sometimes Lost has to lurch a little in order to get to where it needs to go. I’m still bothered that a lot of the delays in getting the O6 together seem artificial, and I wish people could find ways to explain things to each other that don’t involve staying silent for weeks on end and then blurting everything out at once, but I can see some interesting places where the show might go from here—including a tearful meeting between the “you can’t change the future” Daniel and the “if you don’t change the future, I’ll die” Lil’ Charlotte—and I’m eager to see if and how they get to that point. Especially since the I7—now the I6 again, post-Charlotte—now might be stuck in the past, with no prospect for skipping.
If they are stuck, it’s because of Locke, and an admittedly cool scene where he descends down a well at the future location of The Orchid, then busts his leg when time flashes to a pre-well point and his rope breaks. There he meets the ever-helpful Christian Shepherd, who explains to him that he’ll have to turn the wheel and sacrifice himself, for real this time. (Funny exchange between Locke and Christian when the latter asks the former to say hi to his son: “Who’s your son?”)
Which brings me to my other favorite recurring storytelling gimmick on Lost: the flashback structure, which has gained in significance the more we’ve discovered how much time-travel is a factor in the overall plot. The flashbacks used to be a way of filling us in on necessary bits of backstory (and some not-so-necessary), then from the end of Season Three to the start of Season Five, the flash-forwards became a way of showing us where the story was headed. Throughout, if you think about it, Lost’s fragmented narrative has been about showing the ways the past impacts the present and the future. All these characters are on a line, heading towards a fate that’s apparently—according to Faraday—inevitable.
Generally speaking, I’ve been pleased with the accelerated pace of this season, if only because it means we probably won’t be puttering around L.A. with the O6 for much longer. But I hate that the writers are apparently going to abandon this new time-skipping island concept so soon. In interviews, Darlton and the cast have mentioned that they’re taking a lot of chances early in the season, and then stabilizing in the back half, where “it all pays off.” Still, given how much time we spent with the original flashback structure, I still hope we can spend just a little longer with the time skips. They’ve been so much fun—and I’d like to explore how they speak to Lost's theme of predestination.
But I am looking forward to the ultimate reunion scene between the I6 and the O6. The wonderful Jin-Sawyer hug tonight reinforced something I’ve always felt: as good as Lost is at tearing its characters apart, the show is even better at reunions.
-Jin’s English has gotten pretty good, huh? Maybe too good?
-It’s interesting that the writers are maintaining the character-focus for each episode, by and large. Last week was a “Kate.” Tonight was a “Jin/Sun.” What will next week be? (Better than this episode, I hope.)
-Rousseau’s team is only on the island a few hours, and already they don’t trust strangers. What is it with this island that makes people so hostile? (Or is it just Montand who’s a big jerk?)
-I loved the music cue for Jin The Solo Adventurer.
-Some good Ben business tonight, including him excusing his failure to meet his 30-minute guarantee to Sun with a mumbled, “I didn’t account for traffic,” and him getting (rightfully?) pissed at how whiny everyone in the O6 has been, given how hard he’s worked to save their friends’ lives.
-Miles, after Sawyer asks him to translate for Jin: “He’s Korean; I’m from Encino.”
Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:
-There’s been some speculation on why the I7 skip exactly to the times they do. Is the island guiding them to specific points on the timeline, so they’ll learn things they need to know (and do things they need to do)? I think that’s a reasonable theory, but I tend to be more practical about these matters. I think the island is telling us what we need to know. (As to why the island skipped a bunch of times tonight, without us ever learning where the I7 were landing… well, that was one of the episode’s irritating parts.)
-When Jin makes his short time-jump, he sees a column of black smoke through the trees. I was sure that he had jumped to the day before Alex was stolen by Ben, since Rousseau had told the story of the black smoke and the abduction back in Season One. But alas, no.
-Robert thinks Danielle is having a boy, to be called Alexander. Danielle thinks it’s a girl: Alexandra. Wouldn’t it be cool if time was altered slightly and she gave birth to a boy? (Never going to happen, I’m sure, though given how loose the rules have been getting, who knows?)
-Even before this episode, I’d been thinking a lot this past week about “the rules” (as in: Widmore “changed the rules”). Why was killing Alex against the rules? Is it because Ben has seen her alive in the future? What if Ben and Widmore knew about the crash of Oceanic Flight 815 because they’d jumped ahead in the timeline, but they didn’t know exactly who was on the flight, so they manipulated events to get the people they wanted on there (to get their pieces in play, in other words)? After all, as Locke has reminded us throughout this series, much of what has gone on in Lost is just a big game. And is often said about games in our modern steroid era, “If you ain’t cheatin’, you ain’t tryin’.” (By the way, right after I had these thoughts, Doc Arzt posted some similar ideas.)
-So how will Ben resurrect Locke? By altering the timeline, perhaps? Or is Locke just going to be a ghost from now on?
-I’m starting to think that the image of Daniel weeping in his chair at the beginning of last season’s “Confirmed Dead” is a flash-forward to events after what we’re seeing now.
I was surprised to see Charlotte die tonight in part because I had convinced myself—based on a re-viewing of last week’s episode and a re-viewing of “The Shape Of Things To Come”—that she was already dead, like Claire. (Assuming Claire is dead, of course.) Here was my logic: When Sawyer first retrieves Claire after the explosion at New Otherton, she looks at him in a haze and says, “Charlie?” And after Daniel awakes the passed-out Charlotte in “The Little Prince,” she looks at him in a Claire-like fog and says, “Who are you?” I figured that for a clue. But I guess it’s just a motif.