Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lost: Final Season Report Card (Part I)

Well, we're halfway home. Nine episodes down, eight to go before one of television's most anticipated series finales in a long time. When I reviewed Lost's Season 6 premiere a little over a month ago my reaction to it was mixed, as I expressed concern that the flash sideways structure depicting the intersecting lives of the Oceanic passengers had the plane not crashed was repeating too much information we already received in the first two seasons while sidelining the show's best characters in favor of its least interesting ones. Now, nine episodes in, I'll say that while those issues linger and so far I've found the season to be uneven, we've at least seen signs in recent episodes that a compelling and satisfying final chapter could possibly be in sight.

Recently, huge chunks of information have started coming to the surface which in typical Lost fashion are answering some major questions while also posing new, intriguing ones. But the time left to continue doing that is quickly running out and it's inevitable that even after the show ends nagging questions will remain, discussion will continue and DVD's will be re-watched for years in attempt to unravel what it all means. That's why despite being a mixed bag for me so far it's hard to complain too much since we've been treated to two of the of the series' best episodes (and performances) this season and aren't sure how all the little pieces will fit together yet to complete the puzzle. In an approach that would surely make Dr. Linus proud, I've assigned letter grades to each of the episodes this season, along with a brief analysis.

[poster image via mbradyclark]

"LA X" (Episodes 104/105)

There's no sense repeating what I already covered in my original review almost two months ago but I found the season opener to be a shaky start. I am a fan of the flash sideways as a concept and it has provided this season with some of its best moments, but unfortunately also some of its worst. According the producers, these alternate flashes (which are ending soon by the way) have been "100 percent necessary to tell the story." Given the amount of Kate and Claire I've had to suffer through I sure hope that's true. The most intriguing question left is how the two timelines will collide.


"What Kate Does" (Episode 106)

Not to be confused with the second season episode "What Kate Did." And it would be easy to confuse the two since, you know, they both suck. Let's just say it: Kate's flashbacks or flash sideways or flash anythings are just plain silly. Her back story as a fugitive, plane crash or not, have always brought the series to a narrative stand still and this episode was maybe her worst outing yet, dragged down even further by the involvement of pregnant Claire. This relayed no new information about Kate as a character (not like we'd need any at this point) and other than the surprise appearance of "Other" Ethan Goodspeed (William Mapother) as a kindly physician, the storyline APPEARS to be a total wash. What saves the episode is the 2007 action at the temple with Dogen and his "translator" Lennon's unsuccessful attempt to kill Sayid. Jack is in full angry, bitter Jack mode which is always a positive. Could have done without Sawyer's moping, but who can blame him? Juliet's death was a devastating loss...for viewers. Now we're stuck with Kate.


"The Substitute" (Episode 107)

LOCKE = GREATNESS. Especially if it's tortured, wheelchair-bound Locke in flashbacks, or this case a flash sidways. He gets fired from his job, which leads to important, surprising interactions with temp agency owner Hurley and career placement counselor Rose. Katey Segal makes a welcome return as Locke's financee. The action on the island in 2007 is less interesting but moves the story forward a step with Locke's funeral and the alliance of the Man in Black (under the guise of Fake Locke) and Sawyer. But this episode is really about one thing: Locke's alternate back story and his decision to accept a job as a substitute teacher, which results in the season's best moment, and one of Lost's most memorable introductions when he meets his new colleague: "BEN LINUS, EUROPEAN HISTORY."


"Lighthouse" (Episode 108)

Surprisingly dull episode considering Jack's the focus. He has a son (named David) in the alt-verse. They have a rocky relationship. Who does Jack NOT have a rocky relationship with? 2007 Other, Dogen has a random but possibly important cameo as a parent Jack runs into at David's recital, which is about the only noteworthy event in a mostly uninvolving flash sideways. On the island Hurley continues seeing visions of Jacob, who we discover is recruiting "candidates" to replace him. Now that's info. Jack throws a fit at the lighthouse when mirrors reflect his childhood and he discovers his importance to the island (um..this is news to him?) The action involving the kidnapped Jin and crazy, poor man's version of Rousseau, Claire is painfully boring and, honestly, who didn't know Claire's "friend" would be Smokey? Sorry, but Emile De Ravin's acting is just dreadful. And no Ben?


"Sundown" (Episode 109)

Sayid isn't exactly someone you'd consider one of the more exciting characters but he definitely has his moments. This could have gone either way, but luckily enough was happening that this became a fast-paced episode that took some steps toward advancing the overall story arc. In the flash sideways he has to bail his brother out of a mess with a loan shark that results in him reverting back to his killing ways. His alternate path crosses with Jin (tied up in a freezer?) In the first genuine surprise to occur on the island this season Sayid kills Dogen and Lennon, aligning with the Man in Black. MIB turns into Smokey and attacks the temple. Battle lines are drawn. Team Jacob vs. Team MIB. Again, too much Claire for my liking as she rants, raves and whines while being held captive for much of the hour. Plus, we get even more Kate/Claire/Aaron nonsense. Aside from that, this action-packed ep gets the job done moving things along.


"Dr. Linus" (Episode 110)

Or, why Michael Emerson is the best actor on television. I couldn't wait to see creepy Ben completely out of context and off the island attempting to function as an actual member of society. How does he act at work? What does he do when he gets home? What books does he read? What's his favorite TV show? Will we see him grocery shopping? Will he still be as weird? So many questions. Somehow this episode managed to exceed even the wildest of expectations. It took everything we knew about Ben as a character and completely repositioned it in a fresh and interesting way making it by far the best flash sideways of the season.

How his daughter Alex was re-introduced as a student he was mentoring was brilliant and the storyline involving his blackmailing of the school principal played like an island situation brought into a real world setting of high school politics. It's outcome suggests he would have become a very different person had he and his father left the Dharma Initiative years ago, but maybe not THAT different. The action with Ben digging his own grave and begging for forgiveness for killing Jacob is equally exciting. Ricard Alpert's suicidal tendencies foreshadow the incredible game-changing episode we're in for with him. Charles Widmore returns! Hey, when Lost ends (and assuming Emerson and Terry O' Quinn aren't busy) wouldn't it be great if we could have a classroom drama spin-off with Ben and Locke as inspiring teachers?


"Recon" (Episode 111)

A worthwhile Sawyer-focused episode that saw the return of some familiar faces. While I can't say I'm thrilled he's reverted back to his angry, rebel without a cause character from the first season (this time as a detective instead of a crook) I liked how the flash sideways was focused on his loneliness and obsession with tracking down Locke's father. If what they're doing with Sawyer seems like a huge step down now it's only because anything would after the creative high the character reached last season. There's just no topping that for me. Miles as his LAPD partner was a clever idea as was him setting Sawyer up on a blind date with the returning Charlotte. Nice surprise there--even though Faraday won't be happy. In '07 Sawyer's double-dealing like crazy to leave the island cutting deals with Widmore and MIB. He wants out. Everything was going so well until....fugitive Kate. Again. Ugh. Tight episode anyway.


"Ab Aeterno" (Episode 112)

We always knew the ageless Richard Alpert was a fairly interesting character and it's safe bet many fans were eagerly awaiting an episode that would finally explore his back story. But it's a safer bet that nothing could have possibly prepared anyone for the emotional journey we were taken on. Should we just go ahead and give Nestor Carbonell his Emmy now?

If this series can manage to make it past the finish line without tripping up the producers should throw Carbonell a parade because his tour de force performance will be looked back on as what sealed the deal. It was all him the entire hour and he delivered. It's also only the second time the writers were able to craft a compelling romance...and they did it in 40 minutes. None of Alpert's previous appearances on the show can be viewed the same way again, which is what the most effective flashbacks should do. We found out why Alpert doesn't age, how he arrived on the island as a slave in 1867 and his true relationship to the MIB and Jacob.

Then there's the big shocker that likely that likely had fans wetting their pants. For the first time since the show's inception the possibility that everyone's dead and the island could be Hell or Purgatory is at least suggested, but far from confirmed. Thanks to the infamous wine bottle analogy, the roles of Jacob and MIB have come into much clearer view as has the purpose of the island as a "cork" containing the darkness so it doesn't spread. MIB wants to leave. Jacob won't let him. It's suddenly becoming more and more important who Jacob's "replacement" ends up being.

This was a series defining episode that bodes well as we head toward the final stretch. I can see it being remembered as not only a turning point for this season, but the entire series. Much like Season 3's "Through The Looking Glass," the episode plants the seeds that something HUGE is on the horizon and dispenses groundbreaking information concerning the overall mythology. As much as I hate to admit it this is an even better episode than "Dr. Linus" and probably one of the ten best in the show's six-year history.


Overall: I tend to respond better to the sci-fi elements on the show more than the supernatural and quasi-religious/spiritual aspects so that could help explain why seasons 4 and 5 are so tough to top. That'll always be the meat and potatoes of this series for me. But there's still A LOT left. Important recurring and/or regular characters like Desmond, Faraday and Juliet (!) are still scheduled to return and according to producers, make major contributions. I'm expecting much of the momentum built up from "Ab Aeterno" to temporarily come to a halt when an upcoming episode shifts the focus to Sun and Jin, who's reunion I couldn't care less about.

I am looking for the writers to justify some of the screen time given to characters who on the surface seem unimportant and just filler, like those two and Kate and Claire. That's always been my lingering issue with the entire series, dragging it down a notch. But it's important not to judge too harshly because these episodes have painted the previous seasons in a new light and it isn't until the second hour ends on May 23rd that we'll be able to accurately determine the quality of this season (and the series) as a whole. So, for now....


[image by jimmygoose via fuckyeahlost]


Craig said...

What did you think of tonight's Desmond episode, Jeremy? Anything with him and Penny is great in my book. You're right, though, the recurring focus on Claire is just plain weird.

jeremythecritic said...

Loved the Desmond episode. Will probably do a write-up on it when I cover the last half of the season. It was also the only time I found Charlie (and Claire to a lesser extent) tolerable as they actually seemed to serve a necessary story purpose for a change. Last night the pieces really started coming together and it reminded me of season 4 and 5's best episodes.