Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Lost: "Meet Kevin Johnson"

Illustration for article titled Lost: "Meet Kevin Johnson"
Illustration for article titled Lost: "Meet Kevin Johnson"

Well, that should satisfy everyone, yes?

I don't want to dredge back up the debate over last week's episode, because I do understand where the naysayers are coming from. There was minimal forward plot movement, coupled with a twist that felt like a cheat; even though I thought that on its own merits, as an hour of TV drama, "Ji Yeon" was very good. Still, I can recognize the difference between a merely moving episode and one that's at once emotionally wrenching and explanatory, while still retaining enough mystery to keep us squabbling for the next month.

But first things first…let's meet Kevin Johnson.

As we learned last week–and guessed long before–Ben's "man on the boat" is our old chum Michael, now a miserable soul, cut off from his son Walt because he confessed to killing Ana-Lucia and Libby in order to get them off the island. In what amounts to an episode-long flashback (framed by some island business that I'll get to in a moment), we see Michael soon after his return to the mainland, desperate and suicidal. Then we see him run into Tom, ak.a.. "Mr. Friendly," a.k.a. the chummy gay Other, who explains to Michael that he's not going to be able to kill himself because "the island won't let you." Instead, he offers Michael the chance to earn redemption for his past misdeeds, by saving his island pals from the imminent wrath of Charles Widmore and his band of freighter commandos.

Which pretty much brings us up to date. Michael gets on the boat as a deck hand under the name "Kevin Johnson," and he embarks on the campaign of sabotage that has kept the freighter from completing its mission so far. Tom sends "Kevin" a bomb to blow the boat up, but our man wavers, because he's met the people on the boat, and some of them don't seem so bad. Still, he sets the bomb, and when the timer reaches zero, a message pops up: "Not Yet." Immediately afterward, Michael gets a call from Ben, who tells him that there are innocent people on the freighter, and even in "a time of war," Ben won't kill innocent people. When Michael reminds Ben about Ana-Lucia and Libby, Ben replies that no one told Michael to kill those two fine ladies. That was all Michael's idea.

Or was it? Here we see the return of some of tried-and-true Lost themes. First off: the question of free will. If Ben presents Michael with an impossible choice–to save Walt by betraying his friends, by any means necessary–then isn't Ben responsible for pulling the trigger, at least a little? Secondly, this episode is very much about the question of who is "good" and who is "not good." Is Ben a villain, or not? Are the freighties "bad?" As the show asks us to pick sides, it's really asking us, "Which set of morally ambiguous characters do you care about more?"

And then the Lost team pushes the latter question to the limit with a pair of ripping cliffhangers. After Michael finishes telling Sayid his story, Sayid drags him to the captain and spills the secret. Was that the right thing to do? The fact that Sayid will later end up working for Ben himself would seem to indicate that it was not. And yet, back on the island, Rousseau is in the middle of leading Alex and Karl to hook up with the rest of the Others, when all three of them are ambushed by a hidden cadre of blow-dart wielding somebodies. Did Ben send them into a trap? Or is there something else going on?

We'll have to wait until April 24th to find out. Don't even think about dropping Lost now. The island won't let you.

Grade: A

Stray observations:

-As I recall, Michael's last flashback was an on-island flashback, explaining his reasons for that shocking betrayal that kicked a moribund Season Two into high gear. (Or at least that's how I remember it; I'll start revisiting Season Two next week.) It's interesting how the creators maintain a consistent approach to how they tell each character's stories: Desmond's are mind-blowers, Kate's are overheated melodramas, Hurley's are wacky, and so on.

-Watching Season One, I've gained new respect for what a badass Sayid is, and what a good actor Naveen Adrews is. It's going to be fun to watch him come to the realization that he may have backed the wrong horse.

-Good to see Miles again this week too. He had one of this episode's best lines, defining Ben's power to manipulate: "Seeing as how a week ago he had a gun to his head and now he's eating pound cake, I'd say he's a guy who gets what he wants."

-The best line of the week though belonged to Hurley, standing in for impatient viewers who had figured out some of this episode's secrets already: "We kind of like, knew that, forever ago."

Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:

-Well, we finally confirmed Mr. Friendly's sexuality. Next question: How the hell does he get on and off the island?

-When Michael was imagining Nurse Libby in his room, was that a nightmare, or time travel? Contrary to fan speculation, Michael apparently didn't travel back in time when he sailed off the island. But does he still feel some of the same sense of dislocation?

-I hope you caught the answer to one of the trivia questions on the TV game show Michael was watching…"Kurt Vonnegut."

-Frank tells Michael that Widmore knows that the 815 remains are a fake, and that Widmore's trying to find the real survivors. So does Frank really not know that Widmore is behind the fake 815, or is Widmore really not the bad guy here? (I'm inclined to think that Frank's just being kept in the dark, based on Naomi's "need to know" comment, but I like that it's still being kept ambiguous.

-Ben says he won't kill innocent people. So how does that explain the Dharma mass grave?

-The next time you hear a small plane flying overhead, think about how much it sounds like the Lost horn-blare. Coincidence?

Flashbackin'…Season One, Eps. 19-24:

-After episode 12-16's batch of self-help mumbo-jumbo and wheel-spinning, Season One ended strong with its last eight episodes (or seven if you count the two-part, three-hour finale as one very long episode). The last batch includes the pivotal Locke flashback to his meeting with his con artist dad, the tragic Sayid flashback where he has to convince an old friend to become a suicide bomber, and the nail-biter in which Jack tries to save Boone's life while elsewhere on the island Claire is going into labor. And oh yes: all of that capped off by an action-packed season-ender full of wit (Arzt!) and grim surprises ("We're going to have to take the boy.").What I found interesting re-watching these episodes –especially given the debate here about the quality of "Ji Yeon"–is how most of the tension is generated by natural character conflict, with the island mythology really only entering the picture occasionally. I like the "answers" episodes as much as anybody, but when Lost starts to lose sight of who its characters are–which I believe happened at the start of Season Three–it becomes shrill and overheated. Every 108 minutes or so, it needs to vent.

-In the finale, Locke gives a little speech about playing Operation as a kid, and of course we've also seen him play Backgammon and Mouse Trap. Jack says to him, "You like to play games, don't you Locke?" Maybe a "game" is what this whole show is about: two sides, moving pieces around a big board. And not as a metaphor but, like, for real man. Wouldn't that be heavy?

-The Locke flashback episode "Deus Ex Machina" is full of all kinds of goodies: The introduction of Locke's father, for one, but also the introduction of his mom (who we learn spent time at the same institution as Hurley), and the scene where Boone talks to Bernard on the drug smugglers' radio, and Locke's final frustrated pounding on the hatch, which we later learn saved Desmond's life. Out of all that though, I was taken aback by one line, spoken by Locke's mom to her son: "I want to tell you that you're special." That's a word that gets used a lot on this show, and always very specifically.

-Another phrase that used to be said a lot: "Don't tell me what I can't do!"

-Sly foreshadowing: When Ana Lucia meets Jack at the airport bar, she says to him, "Not a drinker, huh?" And at one point, Charlie muses that when they get off the island, "We're going to be sodding famous!"

-Possible foreshadowing: We're told that Sayid's true love Nadia works as a lab tech in a chemical testing company. Also, when the rafting party is discussing which way to sail, they determine that the only piece of land south of them is Antarctica.

-I'd forgotten about the scene where The Smoke Monster grabs Locke and tries to drag him down a hole. Now what was that all about?

-Ah, Arzt. Like Nikki and Paulo later, he stands in for all the pointless questions fans ask, like, "What about the rest of the survivors?" It's like the writers' way of saying, "There is stuff going on outside the frame, but it's really not that important."

-The finale is our first glimpse of The Black Rock, which plays such a major role in the non-canonical Lost materials–the games and whatnot–but which has only been a factor on the show a few times. I keep waiting for an episode that begins in the 19th century.

-I keep waiting for a Rousseau flashback too. The lack of backstory-episodes for characters like Rousseau and artifacts like The Black Rock are surely what gives rise to complaints about the episodes where the flashbacks tell us nothing that adds to the plot (just the story, if you know what I mean). I'm sure the delay on some of this stuff has to do with when the writers want to reveal certain elements. I think a lot of fans hoped that the cut from 24 to 16 episodes a season would mean the end of "Jack's tattoos" kind of episodes. But it appears there's still some stall built into the overall structure.

-Do you think these actors ever get sick of wearing the same clothes week after week?

-Lost will be on hiatus for the next four weeks, but I will not be. Come back here next Thursday for a discussion of the first six episodes of Season Two, followed by the next six the following week, and so on. Ill be taking one week off (the week of April 17th) to go on a short vacation, but I'll finish Season Two right as we restart this season, on April 24th.