Posted by Jesse May 19th, 2010 at 12:57pm In Lost
I’m not sure if it’s awesome or kind of bizarre that the most delightful aspects of last night’s Lost came from the alterna-world rather than the “real” island action. Sure, there were plenty of doings a-transpirin’ on the island in 2007 (or whenever it is “now”); the story moved forward, there were at least two deaths, and Jack assumed the role he’s been training for all season as Jacob’s replacement, the island protector. All in all, lots of exciting scene-setting for the now solidly feature-length series finale on Sunday.
But what I really loved in “What They Died For” were the alt-2004 moments, mostly trading on our affection for familiar Lost characters and situations, and cashing in for a lot of poignancy and hilariousness. I loved Desmond waiting in the parking lot at Locke and Ben’s school, revving his engine to run Locke over one more time; I loved it even more when sneaky, slimy Ben defended Locke with such earnestness, and then, after getting his ass kicked, as happens in any of Ben’s realities, going on sort of a surprise family date with Alex and her mom — hey, a non-crazy Rousseau! Well, mostly non-crazy; she did seem just about ready to marry Ben after spending a couple of hours with him and his sexy (?) bug eyes.
Back in 2007, Ben’s sneakiness got a second or third or tenth wind; I loved the weirdly quaint image of him sitting on his little porch, waiting for the Smoke Monster that he now realizes he wasn’t so much summoning with his secret room as inadvertently cooperating with Smokey’s destructive plan. Now, I guess he figures, might as well actively cooperate, and if his enemies die in the process, all the better. His chilling follow-up question after shooting Widmore — who else are we going to kill? — could be a particularly convincing ruse (again, with the side benefit of vengeance against Widmore), or it could be a pledge of actual allegiance. One of the most fascinating aspects of Ben is his refusal to be redeemed — if his (non-alt) character does have some redemption, it’s almost incidental. Even in the endgame, he’s still angling to get what he wants, even if he doesn’t seem entirely sure of what he wants (that he’d still like Penny to die is almost as chilling as the idea that, well, Penny could die, although the writers have to know the wrath they’d engage if that happened).
So yeah, heavy stuff in 2007; excitingly silly stuff in 2004, with Desmond’s Zen prison break, aided by the corrupt Ana-Lucia (not ready yet to get punched into letting go), bringing most of the important cast members to an awesome Faraday-led classical-meets-rock concert, a concept as ambitious and dorkily prog-sounding as Lost itself. It’s kind of a neat trick, the way the writers have let us enjoy rebooted versions of these alt-characters, including (more than) a wink and a nod to the early days as Jack and Locke once again arrive at a (more benevolent) discussion of science and faith, as death and despair and mystical baptisms reign in the 2007 version of their lives.
Oh, and of course the writers can’t stop raising questions; I can’t decide if this is a sign of good storytelling or just bad habits. New (or newly revived) questions from this episode include: how is Desmond going to serve as a failsafe? Who is Jack’s ex-wife in alt-2004 (probably Juliet, right?)? How long will Jack last as protector? How can you kill a Smoke Monster? Is Ben back to his evil ways, or is he doing a long-con on Smokey? Were Richard and/or Lapidus actually given ignominious semi-off-screen deaths, or are they being saved for later? I was ready to guess the latter for Lapidus, but now, I don’t know, it looks suspiciously like house-cleaning. Again, it’s hard to tell if this is shrewd storytelling or not until we get a look at that finale thing.
Basically, this episode was a lot of fun given that it was occupying the standard piece-moving and set-up-heavy penultimate-episode slot, times a million since it leads into the series, not just season, finale. Episodes like this, enjoyable as they are, make me wonder why the producers wanted to set an end when they did. That is, the last three seasons of Lost have been shorter runs designed to stretch two seasons and change worth of episodes across three seasons to satisfy ABC while not spreading the show too thin. But in retrospect, it seems like they could’ve used the extra ten or fifteen episodes that could’ve come with full-season orders. Then again, maybe the faster pace of seasons four and five would’ve been sacrificed. Maybe it’s just this season didn’t have quite the time/plot management skills I would’ve liked to see, even with a lot of entertaining installments.
I was going to do a list of best and worst Lost characters, but that seemed a bit redundant, as producers have essentially composed their own list consisting of who’s been left alive going into the finale. But maybe I’ll throw that into my finale recap on Monday morning, if the internet hasn’t broken by then.
Your thoughts, as always, are welcome below.