Thursday, May 10, 2007

"Kinda hard to celebrate on the day you killed your mom.": Lost

(A note: I don't know if you noticed, but L.A. landmark Griffith Park is ON FIRE. Local CW affiliate KTLA devoted its Tuesday night lineup to coverage of the event -- sort of a more apocalyptic version of the Midwest's tornado porn. This kept me from viewing last night's Veronica Mars, but I'll try to get in a review before the end of the week. Sorry! If you want thoughts on it, Sepinwall has some.)

Tonight's Lost, "The Man Behind the Curtain," was sort of remarkable for how it smushed together both the awkward and the stellar aspects of the show, veering wildly from awful scenes (little Ben's father berating him about his mother, who died in childbirth) to excellent scenes (Ben and Locke's visit to the little cabin in the middle of the jungle). The episode had enough strong stuff to make it another solid entry in the series' recent run of good episodes, but it was the most erratic of this recent string by far, reminiscent of those season two episodes where nothing would really happen except for a few cool scenes full of portent and then at the end someone would get shot or something.

The episode was notable for just how creepy it was willing to get. I've long been a fan of EVPs, those totally bogus but compulsively listenable sound files that purport to be the dead themselves trying to communicate with us via our modern technology. The plaintive cry of "Help me" from the unseeable "Jacob" to Locke in a distorted, but obviously human voice shocked that cabin scene to life, turning what looked like a scene designed to make Ben into the island's resident loon into a horror setpiece. The little cabin became a terrifyingly haunted house for the space of about 30 seconds, complete with a flash of a strange man in a chair (one that was only really noticeable if you slowed the sequence down), a strange man we'd never seen before. The fact that the whole cabin was surrounded by a strange, ashy substance added to the weird, ghost story nature of the sequence, which proved that Lost can turn on the horror movie charms whenever it wants.

This was the long awaited Ben flashback, and maybe it was the fact that I had hoped the Ben episode would solidify a lot of things in the minds of viewers, but the flashbacks were a little weaker than I had hoped they would be, though the kid playing Lil' Ben was quite good at evoking Michael Emerson's portrayal of The Others' shifty-eyed leader, and it was nice to see that Samantha Mathis wasn't dead. Some of the sequences in the past worked (I liked the birth of Ben and the initial visit to the island), but the scene where Ben's father berated him for his mother dying in childbirth was just embarrassing. I'm sure that this has happened in the past to a kid whose mother died in childbirth, but usually this sort of thing stays subtext, a reason for the father to be mad at the kid for years to come that's never quite articulated. Even if it's not subtext, I doubt a father would be as blatant as Ben's dad was. The scene where Ben killed his father was nice in how grim it was willing to go (the shots of the dead Dharma folks laying all around their compound were chilling), but it stretched credibility when Ben simply pulled on a gas mask and gassed his dad to death without dad doing anything about it. He wouldn't even fight? Really? At least the question of what happened to Annie was left open, meaning that Ben might be back next season (having survived the rumored coming cast purge) to tell us more stories of his sordid past. Emerson has been a tremendous boon to the show, and I look forward to more of his work. The scene where he closed the eyes of the Dharma corpse, only his eyes conveying his sadness and fury, was impeccably acted and not self-consciously showy at all.

It was nice to get a better sense of the relationship between Dharma and The Others, and the flashbacks sort of clarified the timeline and started to explain why The Others have appeared to have supernatural powers sometimes while they appeared to be white collar scientists at others. I don't know that there's any way to satisfactorily resolve this tangle of a storyline, but it was nice to see the whispers return momentarily, and it was nice to get another hint that the island manifests the subconscious wills of its denizens (since all pregnant women die before their seventh month -- when Ben's mother died giving birth to him).

The final scene -- Ben shooting Locke and leaving him for dead in a mass grave -- was a good shocker of the sort the show used to pull out (again, in those largely uneventful season two episodes). I can't imagine for a second that they'll kill Locke, one of the pillars that makes the show work, but it was nice to see his return to the devil-may-care attitude of season one land him in danger. I'm also glad the show showed a group of people we've come to know and sympathize with effectively committing a genocide. It's a risky move, but it doesn't undercut the fascination of Emerson's performance for me.

I'm surprising myself by having so much to say here, but I must touch on the scenes at the beach. I was really, really hoping that Jack would be proven to be a traitor or at least a complete dolt who got used by Juliet. Having him be right again was irritating. The character's self-righteousness has become so evident this season that I assumed he was being set up for a downfall, but it doesn't appear one will be in the offing. Oh well.

Frequent 24 commentor Luke proffers this theory about Jacob (without having seen the episode or read any spoilers about it!): He's a slave to The Others. Given his dress, I wouldn't be surprised if he was one of the captains of the Black Rock, and therefore, his status as a slave to the people who worship him would be an interesting twist.

Anyway, much to talk about in re: the Dharma timeline and such, so when you're dissecting the episode's quality (or lack thereof) offer up your pet theories as well. It'll be just like season one again!


Moses McCluer said...

Ben's not going anywhere -- after all, we just discovered he has daddy issues!

Having said that, I liked that Ben's flashback suggested that this is why he felt that out of all of Locke's potential hang-ups, his dad was the biggest. He was projecting as much as anything. And then we saw what he did about it.

Benaiah said...

This was the second week in a row where the necessary action to become one of the "others" was killing your father. Considering the daddy issues on the island, this puts the others in the position of proto-Buddhists, people free of Earthly concerns, unburdened by their past.

Jack, who has evolved into the worst and most predictably smug character, is just the opposite. He is weighed down by a past that he won't let go of and he is a skeptic of the island's mysteries.

The religion of the island are the ruthless others, while the cold logic of Jack and those on the beach represent science, but not ethics or humanity. There are a few people who ably walk both lines (Desmond chiefly) but most of the active participants fall into one side or the other.

P.S. The fact that the Dharma people were able to just move to the island seems to point to this not being the afterlife. There is some serious mystical stuff going on, especially the subconscious manifesting itself through the island, but I think they are still on Earth.

Wally said...

This week's ep did just about everything right (you're right about the awful dad stuff though - yet another boring goddamn Daddy Issues sequence, check). And if I can't complain I've got nothin' to say! :) Loved that spooky cabin sequence - we rewound it slowly to rewatch, and even winding backward in silence it was creepy. Nicely handled. You're right: it feels like Season One right now. And that's no small thing. (But not Emmy-worthy either, let's insist.)