Friday, February 29, 2008

"I need a minute.": Lost

One of the best things I can say about Lost is that it's almost frightfully earnest, to a point where it can be so over the top that you have no recourse but to mock it. I realize that in our modern age, the sort of swooning romanticism that Lost sometimes overindulges in can be a real turn off, but I've been over irony since before it was cool to be over irony. I realize that it's occasionally a mistake to think that Lost's attempts to play at these sorts of grand emotions (love, loss, hope, faith) completely work (the show can flail around), but the series has at least two terrific love stories buried inside of it, and it returned to one of them tonight in an episode that was probably the best of the young season, unless you're one of those folks who waits on the edge of their seat for new plot revelations (and, honestly, the ones you got tonight were more of the inscrutable variety than anything else).

When the season premiere rolled around, I said that I found Desmond and Hurley to be the show's soul. Indeed, I don't think the show would work without Hurley, and Desmond has certainly kept the show tamped down in the last two seasons, offering a dose of the mystical that went out the window when Locke became an Office Drone for the Island and also offering a healthy dollop of emotion. There's something inescapably sad in Henry Ian Cusick's eyes, and the show's producers have made the most of it by making him the Island's resident Cassandra. The interplay between Desmond and Charlie in the back two thirds of season three was almost always good, even though Charlie was one of the show's weakest characters, just because Cusick so gave this story the weight it needed.

Naturally, once the producers realized what they had in Cusick (which seemingly happened by accident somewhere in season two -- remember how he later popped up on 24 out of nowhere?), they saddled him with the usual cliched back story, but something in the way Cusick and Sonya Walger played off each other really clicked, and the show earned the deeply tragic romance it wanted for them. In particular, season three's "Flashes Before Your Eyes" was one of the more impressive hours of the show, wrapping all of that swooniness into a fairly classical Twilight Zone narrative.

Now, as stated, there's no way this works without Cusick and Walger, but on a show where the writers seem to have occasionally let down coherent character arcs just because their actors could handle bizarre, unwarranted shifts, the story of Desmond and Penny and their troubled romance (not least troubled, that is, by Desmond becoming unstuck in time, Billy Pilgrim-style) has mostly followed a coherent arc. True, this is just more or less the story of the romance beset by troubles and perils on all sides that's been played for all its worth in epics of all sorts, but it really FEELS epic here (that moment when Desmond said he wouldn't call for eight years? Classic). The moment when Penny finally picks up the phone and Desmond unloads years of emotion on her and she on him is one of the best moments in the show's history, and that final few seconds of the two of them talking over each other was well-nigh perfect.

What was also nice about the episode was that it used the flashbacks as a legitimate time travel device. The show had already done this to similar effect in Flashes Before Your Eyes last season, but it really seems like this is a well that the show can go back to a few times, with Desmond especially. What was great was that the time travel mostly held together and didn't create any obvious paradoxes, so far as I could see (one of the great joys of the time travel story is finding the paradoxes inherent in the concept). Desmond pinging between 2004 and 1996 made great use of playing against and with our expectations for the flashback structure (particularly in moments when his time travel would cut off Sayid in the present or something). It was also fun to see Faraday finally delivering some answers on how the island twists time. I kind of half suspect that the time paradoxes were cooked up when someone realized that, hey, Malcolm David Kelley would grow up awfully fast, but they've sure made the most of them.

The episode was not without fault. I'm definitely hoping that Fisher Stevens isn't dead for good as Minkowski, because his work here was nicely unhinged, and I'd like to see Desmond or Faraday run across another time traveler in their wanderings. And after such a good episode the final beat -- where the previous four episodes have all had terrific cliffhangers -- just felt sort of perfunctory (so Faraday is also time traveling? You don't say!). Furthermore, while I often enjoy the episodes where a small subset of the cast is focused on specifically (weren't only six regulars featured in this episode?), there are some characters who have been gone for so long that I miss them. Last week's episode did a good job of working in Sun and Jin or Claire or any of a handful of others that might not have a bearing on the story but were worth catching up with. This episode didn't do as well, so dedicated was it to playing out its tricky reversals.

But I'm willing to go along with any episode that features moments as great as the closing beats between Desmond and Penny or moments that featured Sayid (rapidly becoming my MVP for season four) as the one-man Radio Shack he was in season one. And you know that any episode that made mention of it being Christmas (something some friends and I joked about back in season two only to find that Lost sort of DID do a Christmas episode) and tying in to the hoary old idea of the ghosts we've forgotten ringing us up on the eve was going to get my heart pounding. Lost isn't always this good (indeed, it's probably the least consistent show I unabashedly love), but it's episodes like this that make all of the Bai Ling flashbacks in the world acceptable in my eyes.

1 comment:

Muffin said...

Also, if it's currently December 24, 2004 on the island, it puts us two days away from the tsunami that ripped through Southeast Asia...