Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Lost: Final Season Report Card (Part II)

As we inch closer and closer to the super-sized, two and a half hour series finale on May 23rd, I'm discovering things about Lost that didn't really occur to me before. For one, I'm realizing I like the show a lot more than I thought I did and even though now is unquestionably the right time to close this out, I kind of don't want it to end. I never would have thought that when the show premiered in 2004 it would have lasted six seasons, or if it did, that I'd still be watching. I seriously considered bailing at the start of the third season and didn't think it would see a fourth, much less a fifth or sixth. But here we are and I can now honestly say that the quality of the show is as good if not better now, than when it initially aired. Six years in, that itself is a major accomplishment, regardless of what happens on Sunday. The two and a half hours allotted to the final episode are not only earned, but likely necessary to provide the closure fans are looking for.

Lost has spoiled us and I'd love nothing more than to just sit back, enjoy the ride and pretend creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse haven't backed themselves into a corner where they almost have to deliver one of the greatest television episodes of the decade. I'd love to pretend that a disappointing finale wouldn't taint much of what's been done over the past six years and tarnish the show's legacy. But I can't. They've stated that after it airs they'll be going into seclusion and I don't blame them one bit, especially considering the unprecedented availability and access they've given to fans up to this point. Unlike some, I'm okay with certain questions being left unanswered. It's inevitable there's going to be mysteries still remaining from the finale just because it would be completely impossible to wrap everything up nicely in tight bow that satisfies everyone. What I am looking for is the saga to reach a satisfying resolution for its most important characters and what happens allows us to go back and view each episode and season in a completely different light. This would cement the longevity of the show and open doors for its continued appreciation for years to come. No pressure, right?

For me, this season's been the most uneven since the third so I'm hoping the issues I've had-- such as the overexposure of a seemingly purposeless Claire and Ben Linus being treated as an afterthought-- are at least addressed in the finale. This close to the end you don't expect any clunker episodes and there weren't, but there were some trouble spots and filler, as well as signs that they could deliver big. Whenever you write a series so dependent on answers there's always that risk of a huge let-down and that risk has never loomed larger than with Lost. In assigning episode grades to the season's second half I'm trying to zero in as much as I can on the creative decisions made because-- let's face it-- at this point, every little one counts. I'll be posting a detailed review of the finale after it airs, assessing how well it delivered and what it means for the series as a whole. And even then I still may not be done. Then again, will we ever really be done with this show?

"The Package" (Episode 113)

Well-executed, entertaining filler, but filler nonetheless. At least it wasn't as painful as "What Kate Does" from the fist half of the season. But I'd like to ask anyone who feel Sun and Jin were ever pivotal characters to explain how the series would have been any different without them. And I'm not sure devoting an entire episode to finding out why Jin was locked in a freezer was the best use of time or the flash sideways structure and it doesn't benefit from being sandwiched in between two of the strongest episode's in the history of the series ("Ab Aeterno" and "Happily Ever After.") That said, this was better than expected considering the focus and it's worth noting this featured the first of the timelines overlapping in some way. As per the the norm this season, it seemed the most interesting action took place on the island with the confrontation between MIB and Widmore. That's the real draw here...and of course the kidnapped Desmond's return to the island.

Grade: B-

"Happily Ever After" (Episode 114)

Without a doubt stands alongside "Ab Aeterno" as representing the best of the season. All the elements I've most enjoyed about this show for the past two seasons (specifically the time travel and alternate realities) came together. Like Richard, Desmond was a character bound to deliver in a stand-alone episode because he's so intrinsically tied to everyone else and the key themes on the show. It's safe we now have confirmation that Juliet's detonation of jughead "worked" as the timelines officially collided for the first time. I love that the actual universe is appearing as kind of a deja vu to everyone and the fact that Desmond and Faraday's memories of the women in their lives was strong enough to cross over. And how great a touch was it having Desmond see "NOT PENNY'S BOAT" scribbled on Charlie's hand? You know an episode's good when even Charlie and Claire seemed to have an actual purpose. The show is at its best when dealing with individual responsibility and destiny for its characters so the idea of Desmond obtaining the manifest and attempting to show everyone else what he sees is perfect. The island scenes with Widmore's Watchmen-like electromagnetic test were just as absorbing...and crazy. A flawless episode all-around, giving me confidence that there's a big payoff looming for the flash-sideways.

Grade: A+

"Everybody Loves Hugo" (Episode 115)

I'm tempted to give this episode an "A" just for the closing scene of Desmond shockingly hitting Locke with a car and the hilarious fact that Dr. Linus and Mr. Locke aren't even on a first name basis in the alt-verse. This juxtaposed nicely with Flocke (MIB) throwing Desmond down the well in the '07 island timeline. But what's with Pierre Chang showing up...and not aging? It's funny how Hugo really isn't all that important a character and doesn't play a key role in the mythology of the show, yet the episodes focusing on him still tend to work really well. I guess that's a credit to how entertaining and likable the character is. His reunion with Libbey, while expected and certainly not Earth-shattering, was one of those little dangling loose ends that needed to be addressed and it was done well. Plus it ties into Desmond's mission.

Grade: B+

"The Last Recruit" (Episode 116)

A lot of plot jammed into this episode with the characters' lives intersecting like crazy (and maybe a little too much at once) in the flash-sideways. Jack's reaction to Claire being his sister (in both realities) was about as enthusiastic as mine. He couldn't have cared less, which probably means it was just something the writers threw in that doesn't hold any significance at all, as could be said for nearly every storyline involving Claire for the past six years. The '07 on island action with the MIB/Widmore feud and Sawyer's double dealing remains the most interesting element, but even that was bogged down slightly by too much Claire. Will they ever give us a reason to care about her? I like the transformation Jack's undergone throughout the series from doubting, faithless cynic to embracing his destiny on the island. Him refusing to leave now is fittingly in complete contrast with his alt-verse counterpart.

Grade: B

"The Candidate" (Episode 117)

In case you didn't get the memo, Flocke is EVIL. That the issue is even up for debate at all is a testament to how strong the writing is and how well Terry O' Quinn has settled into the role. Hopefully he got a raise just given the amount of screen time he's had this season. I did get one wish checked off my list already with the return of Locke's dad, Anthony Cooper, in the flash sideways, (albeit in a vegetative state). Why do I have the feeling Locke letting go and agreeing to let Jack fix him will become very important later on? Some interesting reverse psychology going on in this episode in how Flocke tricked the gang onto the sub and telegraphed Sawyer's hotheaded stupidity, which lead to the deaths of Sun, Jin, Sayid and Frank.

Can't really understand how anyone can be upset over the deaths of Sun and Jin given it's a miracle those two lasted as long as they did and their final moment was handled so well. Like Charlie, it was probably the only time in the entire series' run that I actually cared about them. They weren't given much to do this season, or at any other, so it's hard to argue they should be kept around ahead of Jack, Kate, Sawyer or Hurley. Sayid's slightly more important but he's been a walking zombie lately so his demise isn't a huge loss. But poor Frank "Chesty" Lapidus....killed by a door! And no one even cared. But how funny is it that he made it this far into the show? I can't stand Kate but even I'll admit she deserves to be there for the end game and killing her before then would have been anti-climactic. I don't think any of these deaths were as "major" as everyone seems to think but they were overdue and handled perfectly. The focus is on exactly who it should be heading into the final stretch.

Grade: A

"Across the Sea"
(Episode 118)

Oh boy. Here we go. This episode has caused a passionate, divisive reaction amongst fans and for good reason. The truth is that it isn't nearly as bad as its detractors claim, nor as great as diehard Lost loyalists think it is. It's somewhere in between but the more I think back on it the more things I like and a second viewing helped. But I do seriously question whether this was the most productive use of time and storytelling at this late point and whether it's wise to keep all the main characters on the sidelines (with the exception of a clever flashback) for a week to dispense island mythology that could have easily been distributed earlier. It's double-edged giving away so much back story because you risk some of those revelations being anti-climactic or not fully living up to expectations, which some of these didn't. So while important questions concerning smoke monster, the donkey wheel and basically everything you want to know about the Man in Black and Jacob were answered (none too surprisingly), more questions arise as to how this relates to the current situation on the island.

Taking a break from all the momentum built up in "The Candidate" at this crucial juncture to focus on two characters who up to this point have only been presented as shadowy mythological figures was extremely risky. They're just not going to have the same interest level as a Richard or a Desmond, who each had much stronger stand-alone eps this season. As a result, an episode that had its moments also dragged at times, nearly rescued by the outstanding performances of guest stars Titus Welliver, Mark Pellegrino and Alison Janey. The whole "island has secrets" mythology aspect of the series has always been my least favorite unless it's presented in a way directly relating to the characters we care about NOW. I'm being wishy-washy in my grade, hoping that the finale ties that together.

For me, the crux of this series is how the main characters' lives have been affected and changed by the crash and their experiences on the island so hopefully the focus returns to that soon. In any event, it's no "Ab Aeterno" and only the most hopelessly devoted diehards would try to convince themselves that the episode didn't have issues. It's faint praise but Lindelof and Cuse delivered a better Star Wars prequel here than George Lucas, showing how to conceive and present a compelling backstory for a multi-dimensional villain. Yet it's still emblematic of how gripping, but immensely frustrating this show can be. Its placement before the penultimate episode of the series is unfortunate because airing it at any other time would have insured it a better reception. That I'm (generously) giving out a barely respectable "B" this late in the game is alarming to say the least. Whether the finale comes through will go a long way in determining whether this hour will be looked on with greater respect than it is now.

Grade: B

"What They Died For" (Episode 119)

Welcome back Benjamin Linus. That alone is reason enough to feel optimistic heading into the finale, even if I don't believe for a second that he's aligned himself with the MIB and will kill the remaining "four candidates." Nor do I believe he has much of a chance of making it through the finale. But I really hope I'm wrong there. With Widmore dead we can cross Ben settling his feud with him off the "to do" list. But is Richard Alpert dead? Can he die? After what seemed like a really lengthy break Ben (and his alt-verse counterpart) was all over this episode as Desmond completes his plan to reunite the passengers of Oceanic 815. But once he does, then what? Something tells me whatever it is it'll heavily involve Daniel Faraday. And congrats to the writers for having the patience to hold off on the big Juliet return until the final episode. The nature of her involvement at the end is what I've been looking forward to most the entire season.

It's of little surprise that Jack is the candidate replacing Jacob, chosen to kill MIB and protect the "heart" of the island but is that really all there is to it? And if it is, is that enough? All these characters just being pawns in a game between disgruntled twin brothers seems too easy, not to mention disappointing. Everything's in place for a big payoff, it's just a question of whether the writing can get there, or the extent to which it can. At least Jacob finally stated his purpose to everyone and they can take it from there but I think it's a safe bet that Jack Shephard is NEVER leaving that island...EVER. And that he'll be in the series' last scene. And like many, I have my theories as to exactly what that final scene will be.

Grade: A

Season and Series Grade: To Be Determined After Finale

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