Tuesday, May 25, 2010

See You In Another Life, Brother

Let’s get something out of the way right at the start. Playing the “dog card” at the end of a long, emotional story is dirty pool. You all know what I’m talking about. I’m already barely holding it together and then Vincent shows up and lies down next to Jack to keep him company during his final moments. That was it, game over for me. Hand me the Kleenex! (Warning: sad picture included below!) And thus concluded an extremely satisfying and emotionally heart-wrenching finale to Lost. Let’s dig in and look at what happened, what it means, and what it means to me.

Desmond was wrong

Ever since Desmond returned to the Island and had his breakthrough with the sideways world, I thought that both versions of Desmond were working toward the same goal. But we learned that this was not the case and that the two Desmonds were doing two very different things. When Desmond was put in Widmore’s electromagnetic frying pan, he saw a glimpse of the sideways world. He thought it was an alternate reality and timeline, the by-product of “The Incident,” and he thought he could somehow usher his friends there as an escape plan. He was basically operating under the premise that Jack’s original plan to reset the timeline with a hydrogen bomb had worked and he just needed to help everyone get there. But he was wrong. He had not experienced a flash of consciousness through time and space as he has had in the past. What actually occurred was more of a near-death experience and what he had seen was the after-life (or whatever you want to call it, we’ll get to that later). This led to that great exchange with Jack where Desmond tried to persuade him that they could escape to this other reality. No, Jack told him. There are no cheats, no shortcuts, and everything they do matters. I loved this scene because it was the show telling us, the viewers, that this is for real. For so much of the show, fans have wondered whether the Island was real. Maybe it was hell, or purgatory, or a figment of Hurley’s imagination. The show has played with these theories with a wink in past episodes, but I feel like this entire season, and the entire existence of the sideways storyline, was intended to tell us once and for all that the Island is real and what happened to them there mattered. Jack definitively repeated Faraday’s axiom, “what happened, happened,” and he was right.

The Incident

I’m now personally convinced that detonating the bomb didn’t change the timeline at all. It is, in fact, what always happened. It was always a part of the Incident that led to the building of the Swan Station and the hatch and the button. But the Incident was still successful in that it returned our castaways to the Island present. It’s also still possible that the Incident served as the catalyst that led to the creation of the sideways world. Christian Shepherd told Jack that this was the place that he and his friends had created so that they could all be together again. Instead of a reboot of history, the sideways world was more of a metaphysical place of collective consciousness and memory where they could gather when their lives were over. I’m not sure if that’s what really happened, but I think it’s an interesting theory that is at least consistent with what we know.

Desmond was right

The sideways Desmond, in contrast to his Island counterpart, was operating under a completely different reality. Once he actually met and made contact with Penny in the stadium, he recalled full consciousness of his previous life and realized where he was. It then became his mission to reunite all of his friends from the Island and help them achieve the same total recall of their old lives so that they could experience the joy of being together again.

Jack and Smokey were both right

Smokey thought that Desmond would destroy the Island. Jack thought that Desmond would enable him to kill Smokey. They were both right. When Desmond pulled the stopper (the cork!), the life-giving water of the Island was drained. (Sidenote: I loved the shot of Jack and Smokey looking over the edge of the waterfall and the way it closely mirrored the shot of Jack and Locke looking down the hatch) This had the effect of literally draining the power from the Island. It started to fall apart. Richard had a grey hair! And Smokey was now physically vulnerable in the corporeal form of Locke’s body. After an exciting duel on the cliff and an assist from Kate, Smokey was defeated, but the Island was still crumbling. Fortunately, as we’ve been told a couple of times this season, nothing is irreversible. Jack believed that he could go back into the magic cave and put the cork back in and replenish the water of the Island.

Partings and Meetings

The last act of the episode was punctuated by a series of farewells and reunions. Jack and Kate said goodbye to each other, with each finally and sincerely professing their love for each other. When Kate lamented, “Tell me I’m going to see you again,” it was almost tragic. For anyone that cared about the whole Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle, it felt that we were given closure that the relationship between Jack and Kate was ultimately the real deal. Then Hurley and Jack said their good-byes, and that was also a heartbreaking. I really liked the symmetry of each telling the other “I believe in you.” I also think Hurley is a fantastic choice to protect the Island. In hindsight, his arc this season clearly prepared him for the role. Ben’s encouragement to Hurley was a very sweet encapsulation of why we love Hurley: “you can start by doing what you do best – taking care of people.”

In the sideways world, Desmond’s project was gaining traction and we were treated to multiple reunions of friends long-parted. The grin on Hurley’s face when he first saw Charlie melted my heart, but the reunion between Claire and Charlie and between Sawyer and Juliet really cranked up the waterworks for me. I was deeply moved in a different way by Ben’s contrite confession to Locke and Locke’s offer of forgiveness. By the time we reached the church with Jack, I knew we were close to resolution. Jack’s reconciliation with his father was brief, but still touching and cathartic.

Turned Sideways

I’ll be honest, I didn’t completely grasp that everyone in the sideways world was dead until the same moment that Jack did. I don’t know whether to properly designate this place as heaven, or the after-life, or purgatory. I think I like Christian Shepherd’s description the best: it’s a place where they can all be together again. Beyond my half-baked theory above, I don’t want to worry too much about what the sideways world actually is. I’m more interested in what it means.

The thing I loved the most about the finale is that the show found a way to bring back all the characters that we’ve loved and lost without negating or diminishing all of the tragedies and sacrifices we’ve experienced over the last six seasons. The ending wasn’t a cheat; it was an earned reward for both the characters and the audience. I think that’s why we spent a whole season exploring the sideways world with the characters before we knew what it really was. They didn’t want the ending to feel cheap and tacked on. They wanted this to be an authentic part of the journey. It was also just another fun mystery to explore during the final season. Here’s a new question to explore: why did Jack have a son in the sideways world? My theory is that he was a projection of the kind of relationship Jack wanted to have with his own father. I think you could go through each character’s experience in the sideways world and explore what it tells us about him or her.

Where they left things

For people keeping score, we know that Sawyer, Kate, Claire, Miles, Richard, and Lapidus made it off the Island. We know that Hurley, Ben, Desmond, Rose, Bernard, and Vincent are still on the Island. It’s possible there are a few other survivors still on the Island too who scattered after Smokey’s purge of the temple and Widmore’s mortar attack on the beach. I’d like to think that Hurley found a way to get Desmond home to Penny and Charlie. I’d also like to think that Claire had a happy life with Aaron and that maybe Sawyer even established a relationship with his child. I imagine that Hurley and Ben had a long and successful reign on the Island full of great adventures with new Island visitors (Do I want to see any of those adventures? Okay, sure!).

The End

When Jack emerged from the other end of the cave and started wandering through the bamboo forest, I realized where we were headed. I knew that they were recreating the opening scene of the show. I even guessed that Vincent would probably show up, just as he did in the beginning. It did not matter that I knew, I was still a mess. It was a beautiful scene, and I loved that he got a glimpse of the plane flying overhead so that he had the comfort of knowing he really had saved his friends. Jack had fulfilled his purpose, and he was at peace.

What did you expect?

If you are someone who was frustrated by the finale, I neither share your disappointment nor understand it.  I acknowledge that the show didn’t answer every single mystery. Why was Walt so special? What was up with Jacob’s cabin? Why do women die during childbirth on the Island? Why was there a Dharma supply air drop in 2004? What makes Eloise Hawking so creepy?

This is what I say to that -- So what? Yes, I was hoping for a few more answers to some of those questions too. But having those answers now would not change the way I feel about the finale or the way I feel about the series as a whole. I was more invested in the characters than I was in the questions. Life is full of mystery, and sometimes we don’t get all of the answers. I think the audience has taken for granted just how many questions the show did answer. Furthermore, part of the fun of Lost was debating and theorizing about the unanswered questions. Think of the unresolved questions as a parting gift that allows the discussion to continue. Fittingly, the finale focused firmly on the characters. Isn’t that they way it should have been? Didn’t you want a happy ending? One reason I was so delighted by the episode is that I didn’t actually think we would get a happy ending! Now that the story has been told, do any of those unanswered questions still matter?

Why it matters

To me, Lost has been the best television show of the past decade, and deserves a place as one of the great television shows of all time. The trippy narrative structure, the great cast, the mind-bending mysteries and the cool sci-fi elements all contribute to its greatness. But I think its real greatness lies in the themes and issues it explored. Destiny, free will, faith, redemption, renewal, forgiveness, sacrifice – has any other show explored all of these themes so deeply and intimately? I’m glad that the finale embraced the spirituality of the show.

I’ve been a fan of Lost from the very beginning. Although I still consider the first season to be the very best of the series, the last two seasons of Lost have been particularly resonant for me. We’ve watched as Jack has evolved into a Man of Faith. As he began his quest to return to the Island, he never understood exactly what he was doing or why he was doing it, but he took a leap of faith and believed that there was a purpose behind it and that he was fulfilling a calling that was entrusted only to him. In the last 18 months, I’ve experienced circumstances in my own life that have led me to grapple with the same questions that Jack faced. Do things happen for a reason? Do we have a purpose? Will these present trials be woven together like one of Jacob’s tapestries into a greater whole? I’ve always believed that the answer to these questions is “yes,” but watching Jack’s journey has been a great source of comfort and encouragement. I’ve seen online multiple stories of others who have faced their own life struggles and have found the same kind of consolation.

I will miss many things about Lost. I will miss Sawyer’s nicknames. I will miss Michael Emerson’s alternately creepy and hilarious portrayal of Ben Linus. I will miss the love story of Desmond and Penny. I will miss the amazing music by Michael Giacchino. But most of all, I will miss the current of hope that consistently ran through the show. Whether it was the hope of rescue, the hope of redemption, or the hope of chasing destiny, the show was at its best when the characters looked beyond their present tribulations to the promise of something beyond. Perhaps nothing embodies this sense of hope better than the launching of the raft in the first season, one of my all-time favorite scenes from Lost. As the survivors celebrate the raft’s departure and the music swells, the emotion is palpable. They believed in each other and in their collective ability to overcome. In a small church somewhere in the beyond, their hope was realized.  They were no longer lost, because they had found each other.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The End is Nigh

At the end of 2008’s The Dark Knight, Commissioner Gordon states that “sometimes people deserve to have their faith rewarded.” And after this week’s penultimate episode, “What They Died For,” I believe that my faith has been rewarded! This was another great, eventful episode that has me giddy with anticipation about what the finale will bring.

Although he’s been so passive on the sidelines for much of this season, I was ecstatic to see Ben step back into the fray. The painful reminder of Alex’s death, followed so closely by his encounter with Widmore, the man Ben holds responsible for that death, clearly set him off. I have no idea what his true motivations are, but I want to believe that ultimately Ben will find some sort of redemption. How fantastic was his story in the sideways world? The new suburban, single-mom Rousseau was a delight and a genuine surprise for me. I’m also completely hooked on Desmond’s quest to draw everyone together. Of all the things I’m looking forward to in the finale, I’m perhaps the most excited to see what happens to the sideways world. Also, who do you think Jack’s ex-wife and David’s mother will be (assuming that we will get to find out)? A lot of people think it will be Juliet, but I’m personally hoping that we’ll get to see Sarah (Julie Bowen) again.

Back on the Island, the remaining candidates dealt with the aftermath of the submarine. Josh Holloway has played grief really well this season, and Sawyer’s conversation with Jack about his culpability for the deaths of their friends was heartbreaking. I was very satisfied by the candidates’ confrontation with Jacob. I spoke with a fellow fan who was disappointed that they didn’t ask more questions about, well, everything. But I found their conversation to be very natural and believable. At this point in the story, I don’t think they’d be very interested in bombarding Jacob with a laundry list of questions. I did enjoy part of Jacob’s answer to Kate as to why her name was crossed off. “It's just chalk on a wall, you can have the job if you want it.” It was a nice reminder to the audience that not every mystery on the Island has earth-shattering significance. And then came the moment that so many of us have anticipated, when Jack embraced the mantle of Island protector. Again, I liked the understated way they handled this scene. A lingering question: How did Desmond get out of the well? Was it Jack and the gang or someone else (Miles? Rose and Bernard?)?

Now it’s time to predict what happens next. What are your grand predictions for how it all ends? Here is my half-brained prediction: Fake Locke will pursue his mission to destroy the Island…and succeed. But the castaways will turn the tables on him so that he is trapped and destroyed too. Meanwhile, Desmond will “rescue” everyone by bringing them over to the sideways world, with one significant exception. Because of Jack’s status as Island protector, he will be unable to cross over and will have to sacrifice himself to defeat Fake Locke. I also have a high level of confidence that I am probably wrong.

What else do I want to see on Sunday? I want to see Vincent again! I’d also love for them to solve a few more mysteries, such as why women die during childbirth on the Island and why Desmond’s vision of Claire and Aaron getting rescued off of the Island (recall that this is why Charlie chose to embrace his death) never happened. But I’m pretty much okay with whatever they choose to answer or not answer.

I do know one thing: I’m going to be sad. It’s hard to put into words just how emotional the end of Lost will be for me. Check back on Monday (hopefully) for some final, concluding thoughts about the finale, what I think it all means, and what this show had meant to me for the last six years. In the meantime, what are your predictions for the finale? What questions do you still want to see answered?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Keeping the Faith

When a show has been on the air for six seasons like Lost has, it’s inevitable that there will be a few episodes that just flat-out disappoint you. I don’t know about the rest of you, but last week’s episode, “Across the Sea,” was exactly that kind of episode for me. I even tweeted that I considered it “The Midichlorian Episode.”

For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have regularly compared the audience’s demand for answers to all the various mysteries of Lost to the midichlorians of Star Wars. For those who still have no idea what I’m talking about, in the 1999 Star Wars prequel The Phantom Menace, George Lucas came up with a extraordinarily lame explanation for what “The Force” is and how it works. Their point was that they could give you answers to all of the Lost mysteries, but you probably wouldn’t like them and the questions are more fun than the answers anyway.

So with last week’s episode, depicting the origins of Jacob and the Man in Black, I felt that the show crossed over into the territory of trying too hard to come up with answers that weren’t really necessary. Some of it was cool, but a lot if just didn’t work for me (the faux-mythic melodrama, the occasionally cheesy effects). It almost felt like a bonus episode that you would find later on the DVD. I was perfectly content with the information that we got from “Ab Eterno,” where Jacob explained to Richard that the Island was a cork. I also didn’t like the placement of the episode. We’re really at the end of the show now. Smokey/Fake Locke is waging war on the candidates and has killed half of them and so now we’re going to take a time out for an Island history lesson? It really disrupted the momentum of the show. We’ve been told all along that the focus of the show is the characters, not the mythology, and this episode, coming so close to the end, contradicted that.

But I’m not writing to just dump on the show I love. And I genuinely do love this show, even if this final season has occasionally left me frustrated. I knew going into this season that I had to let go of my expectations and let the producers tell the story they want to tell. I’ve listened to a couple of podcasts this week where the Lindelof and Cuse have discussed the polarizing response to “Across the Sea.” They’re general response is that they were pleased with the episode and that “this is what answers look like on Lost.” So I’m choosing to trust these guys and trust that there is a reason why they wanted to tell this part of the story at this point in time. There are only three and a half hours left in this story, and I want to enjoy them to the fullest. I’m still invested in Jack and Kate and Sawyer and Hurley and everyone else who’s left, and I want to know what happens! I still have faith that these last few hours will be thrilling, satisfying, and yes, probably a little perplexing too.  I can’t wait.  What are your thoughts on this season as we reach the end?  What questions do you still want answered?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Accidental Wisdom?

On this week's episode of Glee, there's a fascinating scene where Sue Sylvester confronts Kurt about his sexuality.  In short, she tells him that he's only sixteen and that liking show tunes doesn't mean you're gay.  Since Sue followed this with her typical ugliness, and since Kurt responded to this confrontation by unsuccessfully trying to act straight, I guess the show wants us to see Sue's behavior as some kind of intolerance.  But does she kind of have a point?  Are kids who are still struggling to get through puberty and adolescence capable of fully understanding their sexuality?  Does modern society and popular culture force kids into adopting sexual labels and identities unnecessarily?  And can a guy still be effeminate and straight?  Watch the clip below:

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lost recap: KABOOM!

Oh, fellow Losties.  Only an incredibly frustrating episode like last night's "The Candidate" could push me out of blogging hibernation.  So let's get right to it.

Sayid, Jin, Sun.  Dead.  (And apparently Lapidus too!)  Sayid's death felt appropriate and earned.  He has spent the last two seasons wrestling with light and darkness, and with his final act he decided once and for all that he wanted to be one of the good guys.  I had no problem with that.  I would still like to know what the "infection" was that Dogen referred to, but I guess that mystery will remain unresolved.

Sun and Jin's deaths?  I had three major problems.  First, (and this applies to Sayid as well) the show has spent the entire season trying to get us to believe in this sideways world that was apparently created when Juliet detonated the bomb.  It finally clicked for me during the Desmond-focused episode from a few weeks ago.  I'm invested in it, I believe it's real, and I believe it's relevant and even critical to how the grand saga of Lost will end.  So now that they've won me over on the sideways world, they have created a real dilemma.  How am I supposed to take these deaths seriously?  They're not entirely dead!  In fact, moments after Sun and Jin's watery demise, I saw Jin alive and well in the hospital on his way to visit Sun!  I think I'm of the mind that unless you die in both realities, I'm just not going to accept that you're really dead.  Second, their deaths were not in any way emotionally satisfying.  This poor couple has been separated from each other since season four.  They were finally reunited as almost an afterthought at the end of the last episode.  And now they've been killed off.  If the show doesn't even care about the Kwons anymore, how am I supposed to care?  Third, did they suddenly forget that they were parents?  "I'm going to die with my wife" is a noble sentiment, but it simply doesn't ring true when there's a child back in South Korea.  Did you notice that neither of them mentioned Ji Yeon in their final moments?  I think it's because the writers knew it wouldn't be believable if they talked about her!  As tragic as Sun's death would be, they would BOTH want Jin to escape to take care of their daughter.  I just don't buy it any other way.

The only other thing I can say about it is this: over the last six seasons, this show has reduced me to tears and puddles of emotion on numerous occasions -- Charlie's death, Desmond's phone call with Penny on the freighter, Sawyer losing Juliet, Jin telling Sun why he has to go on the raft to save her way back in season one -- but last night's deaths did not move me.

Unfortunately, I have one other significant frustration with last night's episode.  The episode finally confirmed that Fake Locke/Smokey is a real bad guy.  But I always thought he was a bad guy, so why did they spend so much narrative energy trying to trick us into thinking that he might be morally ambiguous?  It just seems like they wasted alot of time.  At least now Flocke's agenda is out in the open for the last few hours of Lost that we'll ever see.  Here are a few lingering questions to ponder going forward: what have Richard, Ben and Miles been up to?  What role will Desmond and those pockets of energy play in the endgame?  Will Sawyer now feel the weight of responsibility for the deaths of Sun, Jin and Sayid the way that Jack does for Juliet?  Sideways Jack and now Sideways Locke keep flirting with an awareness of the Island reality but they haven't quite broken through -- what happens when they do?  For my sake, can we please get a Sideways reunion of Claire and Charlie?

I really like what's going on with Jack.  In Sideways World, he is confessing to Locke that he has to work on letting go, and in the previous episode we saw how he was reaching out to Claire and how his relationship with his son is already blossoming.  On the Island, he admitted to Hurley that he is learning to trust other people and that he doesn't have to try and fix everything.  I think that while other characters will choose to "cross over" to their sideways life, Jack is going to have to make the tough choice to forsake this alternate life where everything is pretty good to take his place as Island protector.  Remember Sayid's last words, "Because it's going to be you, Jack."  There are just 4.5 hours left of Lost.  Despite last night's hiccup, I'm still looking forward to a satisfying conclusion.