Thursday, March 22, 2007

"We have two giant hamsters running on a massive wheel at our secret underground lair.": Lost

So after all these years, Terry O'Quinn's work as John Locke can still break hearts. In the first season, the character of Locke quickly became the show's most fascinating, thanks to O'Quinn's titanic performance and two flashback episodes that let him rip into his storyline with vigor. The dual punch of Walkabout (which closed with that "he was in a wheelchair all along!" reveal -- which I totally called) and Deus Ex Machina remains unmatched in the show's history, and the conception of the character as some sort of island voodoo witch doctor thing was the perfect goose the show needed when there had to be a character to go off and do the crazy stuff necessary to advance the plot. This was a man who discovered a hatch and came up with a dozen ways to open it. He taught a young boy to throw knives. He wanted the monster to take him, for God's sakes!

But in season two, he became an office drone, punching in numbers on a computer endlessly. O'Quinn was still mesmerizing, and he wrung the most emotion he could out of the two more meager flashbacks he got (the storyline of his breakup with his girlfriend thanks to his -- yes -- father issues was rather preposterous and verged on dull, but O'Quinn dragged it across the finish line). I think there was some sort of point in the whole storyline about how we allow our aspirations and dreams to carry us to places we don't really want to be inherent in the whole hatch storyline, but typing on a computer just isn't dramatically interesting.

Fortunately, the writers brought in the character of Henry Gale (later revealed to be an Other named Ben Linus) and, even more fortunately, hired Michael Emerson to play him. O'Quinn and Emerson had a nice, occasionally creepy chemistry, and the scenes between the two redeemed much of Locke's arc for the latter half of the year.

So it was dismaying to see Locke turn into a bumbler a few weeks ago (blowing up the communication station after being more thrilled to play a computer game than watch a prisoner). But the show has slowly revealed that to be his plan all along, and I salute them for playing (sort of) fair. While it's still preposterous that Locke wouldn't want to leave the island at all (much less let his friends leave), there's an attempt at emotional continuity just because he hated that wheelchair so much. So we can sort of see that he's afraid that he'll be paralyzed again (the magic of the island keeping him from being so) and that he's afraid if he lets others go, they'll bring back more who will swarm the place. Hence, blowing up a submarine.

Most of the episode was based around that Locke/Ben pairing that the show got so much juice out of in season two, and it was just as potent here, whether Ben was feeding Locke chicken or trying to manipulate him or playing an elaborate game of "What's in the box!?" While it's a little silly, I like the idea of the magic box, and I'm willing to go with it unless the execution is completely hamfisted. And it certainly ties in with the Others' interest in Walt and the fact that everyone has seen their greatest desires and their worst fears externalized on the island.

The other plot -- namely, what happened to Sayid and Kate when they came to save Jack and how Jack and Juliet dealt with this -- was also pretty good, though I never know why, exactly, Sayid always turns into a complete fool when the Others are around and ends up captured. I'm not invested in the Kate/Jack pairing at all, and I've ragged on Evangeline Lilly's acting before, but her moment where she first saw Jack and the tears brimmed in her eyes was pretty effective. And seeing Juliet again was nice. The character was bordering on over-exposed, but the show did the right thing by switching the focus from her, making her just as shady and fascinating as she was before (and seemingly reinforcing the idea that she's there under duress too).

The portrayal of The Others over the course of the series has been all over the map -- they've gone from supermen to ghostly presence to borderline zombies to supermen who were just faking the zombie thing to borderline benevolent yet pseudo-mystical scientists. I'm not sure there's a way to tie all of this together and make it satisfying (oh who am I kidding?!), but I do like the portrayal of the group as something like a cult, with Ben insisting that the illusion of escape must be maintained so that the other Others will fall in line and learn to believe. Learning more about The Others has made their sense of menace mostly go away (unlike the Cylons on Battlestar Galactica), but as a portrayal of a social structure barely held together by an ineffectual leader, I think the whole thing works.

Finally, we had THE Locke flashback, the one where we found out how he landed in the wheelchair. While it was yet another story about how he and his con man father were at odds, the final push his father gave him out a window and his eight-story fall (followed by the camera!) to the ground below was shockingly and brutally filmed, and O'Quinn's decision to underplay the sadness in the moment when he realized he would spend the rest of his life in a wheelchair was just as devastating as his choice to overplay Locke's frustrations in the season one pair. The flashback didn't add a lot outside of the answer of how Locke ended up in a wheelchair, but O'Quinn's general greatness made the medicine go down.

So there you go. The last big piece of backstory puzzle fitted into the grand scheme of things. Now, the only flashback we really need is one on Benjamin. How, exactly, was he born on the island? Curiouser and curiouser!

Next week: Nikki and Paolo get a flashback. I know you're as excited as I am.

1 comment:

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