LOST, “316” Review

Jin?!

Jin?!

That DHARMA van is parked outside where I work today.  Later this afternoon I will be handcuffed and forced onto a trans-Pacific flight. Maybe. Probably.  For the purposes of an easy breezy review, bullet points up top and the in-depth analysis/speculation tucked quietly below the fold.

*I don’t know why I enjoy this as much as I do but I’m officially declaring Jin the patron saint of running into random people under circumstances that make no sense.  The man just has a knack for it, and he handles the job with aplomb.

*Loved Desmond’s complete lack of patience with everyone, especially when he called out Jack for willfully ignoring the fact that Ben — and in Desmond’s past experience, Ms. Hawking too — pretty much exclusively uses people as pawns.  I also kept thinking of what would happen if he got whacked by the pendulum or gave it a push, just to be a dick. Would Ms. Hawking be like, “The FUCK, dude, that takes 50 years to reboot! Dammit.”

*Speaking of, I dread seeing what happened between Ben and Penny, but IF he actually killed her, I cannot wait to see Desmond become a supremely bad-ass righteous avenger. He and Ben could have a Princess Bride-style showdown. “My name is Desmond David Hume, you killed Penelope, prepare to die. Brutha.”

*Kate and Jack are really bad influences on each other, generally, but that kiss was hot as hell.

*This episode was a return to form for the show, literally, with the opening recreation of the pilot and the ceremonial restaging of Flight 815. It was also a return to form in that we got an hour of Jack stubbornly avoiding emotional progress while surrounded by characters making inexplicable personal choices we assume we will understand in upcoming flashback episodes. New School Lost feels pretty old school to me, and I for one embrace the future past.

(Where we’re going after the jump, we don’t need roads…)

Following up on that last bullet point, for anybody who was disappointed with last night’s episode (unlike me), Alan Sepinwall was too and backs it up with valid criticism, describing the hour as “an awful lot of narrative throat-clearing, punctuated with lots of teases for what I hope will be more interesting episodes down the road.” I can’t really deny that as an accurate description, but I enjoyed the way this episode’s weaknesses were Lost’s classic weaknesses. It was like returning to the house where you grew up and finding out the floorboards still creak the same way. I would also compare Sepinwall’s impatience with “narrative throat-clearing” to hearing musicians warm up right before they play: enjoy the anticipation.

In Seasons 2 and 3, repetitive character arcs and deliberate delays to the plot’s clarity and forward motion were killing the audience’s trust in the show. But with the show’s final end-date in place now, and coming off an insane flurry of On-Island mythology beats and a general drought of character beats, I found these familiar Lost tropes endearing since it meant we got a whole episode observing Jack struggle to take a leap of faith and trust his intuition. Yes this is like the 11th time he’s faced the same obstacle to self-fulfillment, but still, it was one character’s emotional journey, and all the Island-related agendas and traumatic manipulations were taking place behind the curtain, with only teasing glimpses made visible, which is very much Lost‘s traditional episodic formula, especially from Seasons 1-3.

Actually, season 4 worked the same way, but the subject behind the curtain was switched from the show’s premise question, “What is the nature of the Island?” to the specific issue of  “Who got off the Island, why does Jack think they have to go back, and how did they leave in the first place?” so that every flash-forward was another peek behind the curtain. Devin Faraci points out in this excellent editorial that the first flash-forwards we ever saw, in the Season 3 finale, were chronologically the same as the flash-forwards in the Season 4 finale. We even see the “We have to go back!” scene again and find out what happened right afterwards, just like the end of Back ot the Future II.  Every scene in Season 4 that was a flash-forward from the perspective of the Island was actually a closed loop of flashbacks from the perspective of that moment where Jack basically admits for the first time that Locke was right and he was wrong.

And because from the audience’s perspective Jack first admitted Locke was right over 20 episodes ago, Jack refusing to read the letter seemed weird at first. After all, it might mess up their ability to return to the Island, which Jack wants. But Jack’s fear that the note would confirm his sense of guilt makes a lot of sense, and when he stuffed the note back in the coffin I shouted “You idiot, this is exactly the kind of behavior that got you to fuck up the first time!” So it was definitely in character.

After all, on Lost many of the characters are obtuse and complacent until they are forced into positions of great personal conflict or receive a great personal epiphany, at which point they get a new shot at behaving like a smart person with less emotional damage, and pretty often they fail to mature even then. Cuz they’re LOST. Get it?  Jack stubbornly suppresses his intuition in order to feel like he can fix and control everything, and only now in Season 5 is he tentatively embracing it.  Locke has always felt such a yearning for meaning in his life that he has allowed himself to be conned over and over again whenever someone provides him with a sense of purpose; he must embrace his rationality if he isn’t to “mistake coincidence for fate,” as Eko once warned him. Kate is the worst of the bunch; her most reliable character trait is the impulse to run, and usually in the opposite direction of personal growth.  Locke is the scarecrow, Jack is the tin man, and Kate is the cowardly lion.  The characters’ inability to communicate effectively might play as contrived for the convenience of the plot most of the time, but it’s also an expression of their mental blocks and denial.  The high recidivism rate among the cast in matters of personal growth is one of the things that makes the show both frustrating and fascinating.

The revival of the classic Lost episode formula also revives a certain paranoid and ambiguous mood that was somewhat diminished during the Season 4 “fill in the Oceanic Six blanks” chapter of the show and the just-concluded “Island off its axis” chapter, as thrilling and novel as those arcs were.  Generally, within the formula, the cathartic existential trial undergone by an episode’s central character is inextricably linked to a general sense of unease and dread about the ultimate agenda behind the synchronicities and mystical experiences that the character faces during said trial. Are the signs a character receives a benevolent aid or a malevolent trick? Cynicism and naivete are equally dangerous.  In the example of “316,” how much is Jack a pawn of Ben and/or Hawking, mistaking coincidences they staged for fate?

No doubt we’ll get more clues on that next week, since we still have one more episode left to fill in the final major blank in the 2005-2007 time period depicted in the Season 4 flash-forwards: the life and death of Jeremy Bentham (also next week’s episode title). All of the obvious gaps in the story this week about Kate, Hurley, Sayid, Ben & Penny, the Islanders who got stranded in the DHARMA era, and the whenabouts/whereabouts of Flight 316’s other passengers, mark the next chapter of the show, the next set of blanks to fill in.  Mad Libs anyone?

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