Sunday, February 17, 2008

"Oh, awesome. The ship sent us another Sawyer.": Lost

"The Economist" is probably the best example yet of how the new flash-forwards can enliven the storytelling structure on Lost. If this episode had just featured another set of flashbacks where we learned about Sayid's sadness at losing his love or his cat or something, it would have made the on-island action seem more ridiculous (and, let's be clear, some of the stuff that happened in the on-island A-plot had some vintage Lost oddness in it). As it was, though, the flash-forwards had us hanging on the edge of our seats, keeping us in that position through the on-island stuff. This was pretty standard spy action stuff, perhaps left over from the days of Alias (specifically that episode where Peter Berg was Sydney's beloved ex-boyfriend but was also the assassin she was sent to kill), but the soulful work of Naveen Andrews and the great fun of seeing twists like Sayid whipping out a gun on a golf course or going to meet his boss (whose identity, honestly, was completely obvious, dudes) in a veterinary clinic.

To some degree, Lost is still trading in on the general excitement and shock we get from the notion that these are flash-forwards -- on the queasiness between the moments where you think this is just going to be a boring flashback where Sayid enjoys golf and the moments where you realize that this is the future, and Sayid is killin' folk. The very first flash-forward, from last season's finale, ENTIRELY relied on retroactive tension. The whole reason it existed was for that last five minutes (terrific as they were) and how those moments painted everything that came before in a different light. It was more or less designed as a way to make the earlier flashback stuff, the stuff that no one was really paying attention to (as the tension before the reveal had more or less to do with whether we really thought the writers would end the season with a flashback so lame). The Hurley flash-forward from the season premiere was structured similarly to this one (the "I'm one of the Oceanic Six!" moments fall almost exactly in the same places in the script, structure wise), but it, too, traded more on the novelty of having a flash-forward.

The Sayid flash-forwards sort of showed how the flash-forwards could work as a storytelling device similar to the way the flashbacks were utilized in season one (or somewhat similar to the use of same on The Nine last season). The Sayid story still trades on the tension of what happens between the island action we're seeing now and the flash-forwards (leaving lots of intriguing gaps), but it's also fascinated by the ways these people have been warped by the island experience, how Sayid went from a mostly principled torturer (yeah, I know) to a frustrated soldier for a cause he daren't subscribe to. When Sayid said to Ben that he'd only work for him if he sold his soul, you kind of knew that the last reveal would be that he was, indeed, working with Ben, but it still managed to work in spite of itself.

Furthermore, the flash-forwards are succeeding at telling succinct little narratives in the way the flashbacks used to and just hadn't for a while. As mentioned above, the "Sayid among the assassins" subplot is hardly original, but Andrews sells the hell out of it, and his chemistry with Elsa (played by an actress with more than a passing resemblance to his previous love, Shannon, played by Maggie Grace) felt genuine, even as the two were pumping bullets into each other. The flash-forwards also really open up the KINDS of stories this device can be used to tell. Previously, when you got a Jack flashback, you could be relatively certain you'd get a little watered-down ER. Now, the show can indulge in having Sayid be an international mystery man. I'm pulling for the first flash-forward that also pulls in flashbacks, so we can compare characters before, during and after the island, in some sort of weird Christmas Carol structure (also, technically, isn't Christmas coming up on the island? Shouldn't we get a wacky holiday episode?).

The stuff on the island was interesting, but interesting in that mid-season way, where it seems like a lot is about to happen, but nothing really is. We got some fascinating trifles out on the margins (like the experiment with missiles and time that makes my brain hurt to contemplate too much), but the centerpiece of the story involved the same old double-crossings and missions between camps (and would it kill the show to show us the Jack gang that's hanging out down on the beach? I miss Jin and Sun). While the show almost got away with having Hurley be a double-crossing spy (especially with how much information he let slip), the very nature of the program (where everyone keeps information tightly to their chest) made his behavior somewhat suspect. I admire the attempts to have everyone share important things with each other, but it's going to be a hard habit for me to break to stop finding it suspicious.

That said, I like the way the show continues to draw parallels between effective leaders like Sayid and the jackassery of Jack (especially when Sayid pointed out that Jack might not be who Locke wanted to see). If we're going to buy that Jack made a tragic mistake (as certainly seemed to be hinted at), we needed to get more foreshadowing of that than the simple sense most fans had that Jack was a self-righteous bastard. And I am intrigued to see Sayid and Desmond go off onto the freighter. Since I'm not betting on Desmond being one of the Oceanic Six (too much, I think, is riding on a final season reunion with Penny), it'll be interesting to see which pretzels the writers twist themselves into to get him BACK on the island. (Side note: At this point, are the writers the true protagonists/antagonists of Lost?)

All in all, the hour was a solid one, and it has the flash-forwards to thank for that, mostly. I don't think that the flash-forwards are always going to work, but as they work right now, I hope Lost milks them for all they're worth.

1 comment:

Cengiz said...

I don't think Desmond would be considered the Ocienic 6 because he wasn't on the flight to begin with. But I think he gets off the Island anyway.