I met Kevin Johnson and this is what he taught me: a layer has been taken out of the show. I don’t mean that this show has only one thing going on at a time. Such a statement would be ridiculous to make. Every scene still has characters at different levels of understanding. As the viewer, we are a little over the middle mark of understanding in those conversations. We can easily identify the characters who think they have a clue and really only have a quarter of one, but we have a hard time distinguishing between the characters who are pretending to have a clue and who actually have a clue. No, these layers will always exist in LOST, perhaps past the airing of the final episode. When I say a layer has been excised from the show, I’m referring to the dualistic nature of the storytelling.
While this episode was certainly not the first extended uninterrupted flashback (Flashes Before Your Eyes first featured such an episode, although we could debate if it was actually a flashback or not), it was the first such episode where the shift in storytelling technique really hit home for me. No longer are the flashes being used to tell a separate story from the island tale. Instead, we now have one integrated plot. Yes, it was all always the same plot because it fits under the title of LOST, so let me explain my point a little further.
Part of what made Season One so magical is the way the flashbacks and on island scenes each told a separate story and then intertwined to make one even larger story. Each separate element surely could have aired on its own and still been entertaining, but what made them so much better, what made them a cut above the rest, was the way they combined. Yes, other shows and movies have used such a storytelling technique many times before. Highlander is an example, hence why I used the Duncan McLeod reference as a heading previously. However, I would argue that no show has done it as well. It takes a lot to keep me interested in a story that constantly flashes back or “Tarantino’s” (starts with a scene from the end and rewinds), and LOST has done more than keep my attention. It has captivated me more than any other piece of television or movie based fiction ever has. Now, the dualistic method of storytelling is no longer.
At the end of Season Three, I thought that when we traveled “through the looking glass”, we had simply flipped our dualistic perspective. I thought the future would act alongside the present the way the past has for so long. And to a certain extent I think the writers have tried, though not as hard as with flashbacks. The Economist was a strong effort in which Sayid conducted intelligence operations in order to protect his allies, but it still lacked that succinct point, that lesson learned in the flashback that the character adopted on the island (it was exchanged for the twist). Eggtown was a halfbaked attempt where Kate emoed (yes, I used it as a verb) over how she would deal with her past when she got off the island and we were shown how she did deal with it when she got off the island. There was also an attempt to create a parallel theme of “playing house” in her scenes with Sawyer and Claire and her mothering Aaron in the future. However, once again, the twist ending was supposed to carry the weight of the point. So, instead of the storytelling continuing as I anticipated, it has shifted. But I’ve discussed why it shifted in previous columns. What’s more important here is the use of the flashes.
The flashes are now simply another way to convey information about and progress the plot. The interesting point of contention here is that it’s possible that the flashbacks were always used to convey information about and progress the plot. In the loosest interpretation of the word “plot”, everything in the show is the plot of LOST. What I actually mean is the story after the Oceanic Flight 815 crash. The crux of this differentiation is when the influence of the island began on these people. Was it before they crashed? Was it during the flashbacks? If so, then yes, the flashbacks were always used for that purpose. However, I would say that purpose was never primary…until now.
Why am I writing about this use of the flashes? Well, for one, it interests me to learn different storytelling techniques. But, more importantly than my personal desires, noting this shift in the storytelling signals that we must also shift our storyviewing. No longer are we learning, now we are experiencing (yes, learning is always a part of experiencing). We are past that initial stage of a deep friendship where you ask the “tough questions” and bare your soul to the other person. Now, we are close friends and deal with life as it comes at us, our loyalty pledged. I can’t speak for you, but I’m an intensely loyal person and am going to stick with my favorites until the end. This week is a perfect example. I’ll be talking about what Michael did and will do, rather than why he did it, and what Ben did and will do (although I still think we’re going to get another flashback for him).
They took my boy!
I’m sorry. I had to get that statement out of the way. I mean, anytime you’re mentioning Michael it has to be noted: He’s not very smart. I’ve never seen a character, or even a person, who makes the least smart choice possible in every situation; at least I’ve never seen a character or person do it not on purpose. I don’t mean that people don’t make stupid choices repeatedly. What I mean is that someone’s instinctual manner could be to react so poorly. You need to free the trapped Alpha-Other and there is a woman holding a gun? Take the gun from her and shoot her. Another woman walks into the room and could identify you? Shoot her too. Forget about holding someone at gunpoint and then running away with the Alpha-Other. You try to shoot someone and he knocks you down with a powerful uppercut? Grab a wine bottle and hit him over the head with it. Forget about the fact that he could own you in a fight and offered you his hand in peace. You were given a mysterious package that turns out to be a bomb? Might as well arm it. Forget about figuring out what the boat is really doing and who the people are on it.
The point I’m trying to make is that if I’m supposed to have some sort of sympathy for Michael, that possibility was thrown at the window a long time ago. While I think the character is actually masterfully acted by Harold Perrineau Jr. (He adds depth that wouldn’t otherwise be there), he has always been a one note song. Even in the video game the first words he says are his “screaming Walt” cry. I do understand how the character fits into the whole twisting of archetypes as well. Here is a single black father and rather than avoiding his paternal responsibilities, he is accepting them. Michael is the antithesis of a stereotype. In the very very beginning, he was a likeable character. Then he degenerated and did what he did.
To reintroduce him, rather than sending him on a mission to atone for his wrongdoings, the writers made him suicidal. That perspective means that rather than him being aware of what he did, taking responsibility for it, and looking at the world outside himself, he is still trying to duck responsibility and acting like his pain is of paramount importance. What is he, a teenager? Tom summed it up best when he was disgusted that Michael handled his guilt so poorly that he had to tell his ten year old son. How am I supposed to like this character? How am I supposed to have sympathy for him? I don’t even pity him. I just want him removed from the equation.
A friend of mine asked me why Sayid turned in Michael and what I thought of it. I paused for a second to think. The pause speaks to the strength of the writers muddying the waters, but the truth re-emerged for me. Sayid was right. Michael is a traitor. Sure, there was a certain amount of irony to Sayid turning in Michael for working for Ben, but being a traitor isn’t about who you’re working for, it’s what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. What do I think of Sayid turning Michael in? I would have done the same exact thing. Get him out of the way so he stops messing things up. Is the freighter on a rescue mission? Who knows, but Frank certainly seems to think so and Sayid is already building a relationship with him. There’s no need for rash judgments and decisions.
The flashback allowed us another brief glance at Walt, emphasis on brief. Seeing him through the curtains makes me wonder if we’ll ever actually see Walt again. With the whole puberty issue with Malcolm David Kelley, he would have to be inserted back into the story in the future. Is the story intended on going that far into the future? It could be argued that Walt could appear in a flashforward, but is that time period even believeable? The mention of flashforwards brings up another interesting issue.
It was my original belief that Michael was the last member of the Oceanic Six and was the mysterious person in the coffin. Now it would appear that he is not. This appearance raises some questions: What happens to Michael? Does he stay on the island or get his death wish? What happens to Walt? Does he get back to the island? Is he in the coffin? And: Is Aaron the last member of the Oceanic Six? My inclination is still to say that Michael is the last member of Oceanic Six and in the coffin, especially considering his death wish. However, it is possible Aaron is the last member of the Oceanic Six. In that case, I would think Walt would be in the coffin, having killed himself after realizing his father’s fate.
My problem with Aaron being the last member of the Oceanic Six is it carries with it too many unexplained considerations. Does Aaron count as one of the eight in Jack’s story of the eight survivors of the plane crash, six survivors of the island? If not, who is the eight person besides Claire who survived the fictional plane crash and how exactly did a pregnant woman get out of that wreckage in that trench? Also, if Aaron is one of the Oceanic Six, does the world know that Kate is not his birth mother? If so, how did the government allow a federal fugitive to have parental rights of him? Also, didn’t it seem like Kate’s mom was under the impression that Aaron was her biological grandson? I mean, the Oceanic Six is a world known (probably media created) name, right? Everyone would have to know who all six people are and obviously a federal prisoner wasn’t carrying a newborn baby with her.
I don’t care what ABC says. The last member of the Oceanic Six is still unknown. And I’m ending this section.
THE REST OF THE TRIBE
This week this section is going to focus on one character and the tension surrounding him. I’m only going to focus on him because the debate is one of the main points of contention this season (and perhaps over the rest of the series) and his involvement was the only interesting part of the episode besides Michael. I will begin though by saying that it was nice having an entire episode without Jack, wasn’t it? Believe it or not, my LOST knowledge does not include how many episodes each character has appeared in. Something is telling me though that this episode may be one of the first, if not the first, that Jack didn’t appear in. I know, I know, I just exchanged my Jack hate for Michael hate, right? I think the writers are more aware of our disdain for Michael though and that’s why they made him so pathetic. Jack, on the other hand, is pathetic of his own accord. But this subject is tired. Let’s move on, shall we?
I’m not buying the whole “Ben is the good guy” thing. First off, his being the good guy assumes that he is at war with Widmore. We have been shown that Ben is at war with someone in Sayid’s flashforward. Are we to assume that person is Widmore? Yes, but that assumption is dangerous. Although, with the series in its back nine, the divide between Widmore and Ben may be as it seems, a war between two factions over the island. Assuming this battle is as it seems, I still don’t buy Ben being good.
Recently, the writers have been walking the line between Ben being good and evil, but leaning more towards the good side. Every time they show him in a positive light, they are always sure to counterbalance it with something negative. For instance, in this episode, they tried to vilify the crew of the freighter to make Ben look good. The captain beat the crap out of his own crew in order to protect them and is an overall gruff and no nonsense individual. In contrast, Ben, though he doesn’t like the freighter and its crew, was shown telling Michael not to kill anyone on the boat, as to not kill anyone innocent. This command is essentially the conservative view of war. It’s a necessary evil, but sometimes you have to, and when you do, you should innocent casualties to a minimal. Besides espousing this apparently rational point of view, through his command Ben was toning down the command of killing everyone. He’s being perfectly reasonable, right?
Not so fast, fellow LOST fans, the writers were sure to bring back crazy Ben at the end of the episode. In order to quell his own jealousy and own what is his, he sent Alex, Karl, and Rousseau into a trap. Marksmen took out Karl and Rousseau, shooting them in the chest on the opposite side of their hearts (would someone die so quickly from being shot there?). Alex, in her fear, then gave Ben what he wanted, standing up and screaming that she is his daughter. Alex, sweetheart, did you see how accurate the shooters were? They shot Karl and Rousseau in the exact same spot! If they intended on killing you, you would have been dead already. There was no need to scream what you did. It did give us another opening season arc ending character screaming moment though. “I’m Ben’s daughter” meet “Kate, damn it, run!” Anyway, the point is, Ben was lying (duh) in the sense that he does kill innocent people. We could delve into a discussion here about if he was lying to himself or to Michael to get Michael to do what he asked, but I won’t. What I will point out is that the first major action of, possibly, Ben’s entire life was to kill all of Dharma, including the innocent people. Here is where someone chimes in and says Dharma is evil, so anyone associated with it was guilty. Maybe Dharma was evil, but weren’t the Nazis evil? And was every person associated with them evil? Didn’t some people have to acquiesce in order to save their own skin? Hold on there hippie world peace advocates, don’t get all indignant. There is nothing morally wrong with protecting your own skin in such harsh times. Holy crap, I just talked about the Nazis in a LOST column. Anyway, the point is, Ben began by, has always, and will continue to kill innocent people. I can’t buy him as good.
Ben not being good also calls into question Widmore as well. What has Widmore done that has been so bad anyway? Ok, so he was a touch arrogant when dealing with Desmond, but he is British. Jokes aside, is his arrogance worse than Ben’s? No. Also, he was shown kicking one of Ben’s operatives. Do we know what the operative was going? How do we know he didn’t deserve to be kicked? Finally, we’re supposed to believe Widmore wants the island for himself just for profit. Yeah, um, so? Is doing something for profit so evil? No. Go read Atlas Shrugged and learn something.
What saddens me the most out of this entire discussion is the offing of Karl and Rousseau. I will admit to being shocked at Karl’s death. I legitimately liked the kid. He and Alex worked together. However, I was so shocked by his death that the immediate impact of the demise of Rousseau was lessened. I was still trying to get a hold on the end of Karl and the future of Alex when, Bam, Rousseau hit the deck too. I understand that her story was over and have come to terms with it now, but, wow. I just hope that these deaths were done as more than an excuse to keep Ben walking the line. I hope they really were planned from the beginning.
Ok, this show has officially crossed the line into science fiction. Sorry all you drama loving regular viewers, when the island becomes the anti-Final Destination and stops people from killing themselves, then the realm of reality has been exited. Personally, I don’t care. I love science fiction. Heck, I just finished watching the first three seasons of Sliders on DVD. I just hope that the rest of you that have been told this show will be based in reality or on “pseudo-science” will stick around for the rest of the ride. What’s the difference between science fiction and “pseudo-science” anyway?
Michael not dying in the car crash and the gun jamming raise some interesting questions. Is the island sentient? My first instinct in order to explain these events is the course correcting a la Flashes Before Your Eyes. The guy in the pawn shop could have sold Michael a faulty gun on purpose. However, how does this idea explain the car crash then? It can’t really, can it? Thus, I am inclined to believe that the island is sentient. It can take human form through the people that have died on the island or perhaps just dead people in the memory of the people on the island. Ben saw his mother and she didn’t die on the island, right? The smoke monster would be the physical appendage of the island, and Jacob would be the way it manifests itself to Ben. The island being sentient would also explain why Ben thinks he is so good for protecting it. He thinks he is protecting a good creature. But sentience does not equal being good or value, even though a lot of people seem to think so often in science fiction. Take the ending of Land of the Dead or the alternate ending of I Am Legend. Somehow the zombies are life to value on an equal scale with humans. Give me a break.
Well, with the death of Rousseau, my guesses for the end of the season proved incorrect. Let me put forward a finalized list for the remaining five episodes of the season (as we’ve now seen the first eight). I’d like to point out as well that we’ve seen more than half of Season Four as well. I’m kind of sick of all the rankings the media does, especially ESPN, but I think this season has been the worst season of LOST so far. Anyway, in order, here’s what I anticipate seeing:
-Locke flashforward (on island)
-Sawyer flashforward (on island)
-Claire flashforward (on island)
-Jack flashforward (off island, trying to get back on as they get off in present time)
I'll see you in a month. Breaks are all just part of being a LOST fan. And if you disagree with that, well then:
Shut up, you’re wrong.
Jayemel can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.