Thursday, March 08, 2007

"So. You really the number one draft pick, Grimace?": Lost

It's like I don't know this show anymore, what with the vaguely interesting flashbacks, the characters asking questions that might be relevant to their escape from the island of those who can provide answers and the advancing plot. I don't know what angried up the blood over at Lost, but the episodes since the return from the long break (aside from that deathly dull Jack one of two weeks ago) have been pretty great by the show's mad pulp standards.

Lost has always provided its "answers" so matter-of-factly that I imagine the people who continually cry out for those answers are probably blindsided by the new information. Granted, we still don't know what the island is or why the monster acts as it does, but those are the sorts of things we probably won't know until the very last episode. But the fact that the show wrapped up much of the backstory of the relationship between the Dharma Initiative and The Others in one long, expository scene (complete with Russian, this season's chic language) that was almost taunting in how casual it was, how out-of-the-blue ("Hi, strangers!" our Ukrainian friend seemed to say. "I'm going to trust you and tell you everything!"). Probably the biggest revelation was that The Others "purged" the Dharma Initiative. In addition, we got confirmation that the collapse of the hatch led to the Others being cut off from the outside world and that The Others have been on the Lost island for a long, long time. And Sayid seemed to have absconded with a collection of books on the Dharma project, so at the very least, he'll get some quality reading done.

If anything the denseness of the main plot was its biggest flaw. It zig-zagged so dramatically all over the place (Sayid gets shot! Locke plays computer games! Mrs. Klugh gets shot!) that it often threatened to veer well off the tracks. A friend was telling me that he thinks the scope of Lost has become too big for the show to encompass in a 40 minute program that needs to service a handful of island stories PLUS ongoing mysteries PLUS flashbacks. Maybe with the 60 minutes afforded to an HBO or Showtime show all of this could be crammed in, but it can lead to wheel-spinning on network.

Tonight, however, showed that the show can still do all of this at once when it really wants to. Of course they can't reveal everything all at once, but the writers can come up with the breakneck pacing that marked so much of season one when they want to.

Tonight's flashback was also a worthwhile one (finally), digging into the tortured past of Sayid. It told us nothing we didn't know, but Naveen Andrews has always been one of the show's best actors, and his final scene with the woman he tortured years ago as a member of the Iraqi Republican Guard was a powerful one, largely because of the performances of the two actors. I also liked that the show didn't skimp on its ambiguous relationship with torture -- Sayid has used it to extract information, but the human toll on him seems to be much larger than on, say, Jack Bauer. Most other series would have had the woman be mistaken about Sayid being her torturer, but this one went ahead and let us know that Sayid had, indeed, poured burning oil over her skin and damaged her for all time. Her act of mercy tied in nicely with the theme of the show (notice the repeated -- and not exactly subtle -- dialogue about the mercy rule in the ping pong subplot), and it provided a juxtaposition for why Sayid didn't kill the Ukranian when he had a chance. Plus, the woman's monologue about the kids trapping the cat in the box and torturing it was well-written and well-delivered. It was a bit obvious, but, well. . .this IS Lost.

Locke turned into kind of a dunderhead in this episode, but I mention him simply because he's exactly who I would be in this situation -- someone who sits down at the computer and plays games. I feel you, John.

The ping pong B-story was serviceable (and provided the quote above). It's nice that the show can mix the big mythology drama of the Sayid storyline with the goofier stuff, but something about Sawyer's behavior here came off as half-cocked, probably because the guy has always been kind of a jerk about people touching his stuff. He's absconded with the guns and held the camp hostage before, so now, he just. . .plays ping pong? Still, this was a nice tension reliever when the show needed one.

I like that the show feels free to do odder hours like last week's Hurley van adventure, but I also like knowing that when the show needs to advance its myriad plot lines, it can do an episode like this one or Not in Portland. This wasn't the absolute finest episode of the series (or the season), but it did so much heavy lifting for the rest of the plot, that I can't wait to see what's next.

Let's just hope Sayid keeps asking the questions.

No comments: