Sunday, July 24, 2011

LOST Redux: S3E09 Stranger in a Strange Land

(At the request of a reader, I will be reposting old editions of my LOST column as they no longer appear on the internet. I will not be making any edits to them, so please be aware that they represent a moment and time--my thoughts and analysis after watching an episode's initial airing.)

You hated the episode. I know. You don’t need to tell me. I knew you hated it about halfway through the episode. You know what I have to say though? Yes, you know. You’re venturing into The Midside, there’s only one thing TO say. “But Jay, it really was that bad.” No, that response isn’t correct. “It was the worst episode ever.” No, that’s not right either. Here, let me help you. Say it along with me now. To all you reactionaries, self obsessed viewers, and internet blowhards alike that skewer any product that doesn’t turn out exactly as you had envisioned it:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

The Midside is always a fair place. We don’t brand people. Well, we might make them wear scarlet letters (or perhaps clocks around their necks…YEAH BOY!), but never, never, do we not give our honest opinion. What’s my honest opinion? I’ll keep it short and simple.

This episode was a good episode. Of course there were flaws in it. There are flaws in every episode. There are flaws in every series. There are flaws in every person. There are flaws in humanity. Wake up, walk outside. Three spots down from you someone is parked crooked. On the road, someone hits their brakes a little too soon (or perhaps a little too late). Which mistakes are you going to criticize? Which are you going to ignore? Rather than answering that question, how about you just let me tell you? The only mistakes you’re going to respond to negatively (perhaps even notice at all) are the ones that you believe have a direct negative impact on you.

Plain and simply, you’re reacting so harshly to this episode because you feel as if a “better” episode has been taken away from you. The producers said in an EW interview that the magic number they’d like to end at is 100. Well, there is now one less chance to have what you consider to be an amazing LOST episode. Since this episode was so far away from what you consider to be an amazing LOST episode, you react extra harshly to it. Let me explain the phrase “so far away from” a little more.

Do you remember S.O.S.? No? It was the Rose and Bernard flashback episode. It’s pretty much as universally disliked by LOST fans as, oh, say, I don’t know, Rush Limbaugh is by feminists. The story stepped away from the mythology driven fervor for an episode to allow us to take a breather before the fast paced end to the season. You can’t deny that the season two finale was insane. Could you imagine dealing with it if you had mythology stuffed down your throats for weeks beforehand? I know I wouldn’t have been able to. So, rather than send us into information overload, the producers delivered us a well written, romantic, character based episode with hints of mythology. This week’s episode that you are ready to send back to the studio for good is the same type of episode.

Last week was one of the most insanely mythological episodes of the series. A flashback technique was used that will never be used again. Thus, this week, the producers gave us a character driven piece that tugged at the strings of mythology and hearts alike. Was a lot revealed? No, but enough was revealed to remind us of the old days. Something we didn’t know about a character was revealed and it was seemingly relevant to bits and pieces of mythology. For those of you yearning for the idealized days of season one (as EW claims), look no further than this episode. Oh wait, you don’t really want that season back, do you? You want to know what’s in the hatch NOW, summer break be damned. In the beginning, you just had no idea what was going on and accepted that this show wasn’t your story to tell. Well, accept it, because this is The Midside and it’s my story to tell, so we’re going on.

WHAT WOULD DUNCAN MCLEOD DO?

The major problem with this episode was not the writing or the flashback, but the placement in the season. Was it really another Jack episode already? Yes, and that means out of nine episodes in season three, there have been two Jack episodes. If I’m not mistaken, seasons one and two had three Jack episodes each. So, to be fair, if there are 24 episodes in a season, there would be a Jack episode every eight episodes. Episode one and episode nine were Jack episodes. That break is an eight episode break. It would seem I have proven my claim incorrect, but mathematics and storytelling aren’t exactly known for being congruent. Unfortunately, I’m going to have to fall back upon emotions and say the episode just felt too soon.

True, my disdain for Jack is obvious. It bleeds all over these columns, but how many other characters have we seen development for this season? Jin, Sun, Sawyer, Kate, Desmond, Locke, Eko, and Juliet have all had screen time. What about the rest of our favorite characters? Is Charlie’s flashback being saved for his (hypothetically) inevitable death? What have Jin and Sun been doing since returning from their rescue attempt? I mean, when Charlie killed Ethan (Jack Version 1.0), a big deal was made about taking a life changing you for ever, but Sun took a life and little has been made about it. And Sayid, he was such a key character all the way through the first two seasons. He always sat in the background and laughed at Locke and Jack’s dichotomy just as we did. Now what is he, depressed? Are we not seeing his story because the producers don’t want to show him turning Emo? Oh, and Sawyer, he may have had a flashback, but does the guy ever do anything besides trek across the island to get back to camp anymore?

The most devastating part about having another Jack episode so soon is that we still haven’t learned anything about Nikki and Paulo. Paulo likes to golf and Nikki can point out really obvious things. Gee, that’s, um, great? Where did they go after the whole Pearl Station journey? Didn’t Locke want to not tell them about Eko’s death or something? Isn’t there a fat guy on this island too? Oh right, Hurley, I don’t think he’s anything other than fat and na├»ve anymore.

The producers and writers are well aware that we’re all getting sick of Jack too. Maybe it’s a precursor to them finally killing him off. I can only dream, right? He did receive his first massive beating of the series this episode (I say massive to differentiate from the one his fellow surgeon Ethan delivered to him). The dinner scene with Thai Bo was pretty much an acknowledgement of our feelings on Jack. At least, it felt like one to me because it addressed what I’ve been saying all along.

When Thai Bo asked Jack a question and he started talking about his father, all I could think was “Here we go again.” I thought that at the beginning of the episode as well. Much to my surprise, she shot back with a, paraphrased, I don’t care about your father. I couldn’t have agreed more. It’s time for Jack to get over it. The whole teen angst because Daddy didn’t love you because he was an alcoholic thing just needs to end. We get it. Jack doesn’t realize his full potential because of the self doubt he is riddled with because of his father. I enjoyed this episode because it tried to moved BEYOND that character trait and show that there are deeper flaws to Jack’s character.

Thai Bo had the gift of seeing into people’s souls and knowing who they are. She saw that Jack was a great man. If we’re going with the “all the flashbacks are manipulated points in the character’s past”, she would be the manipulator in this episode, a la Desmond’s Oracle. What her actions force Jack into doing is getting his butt kicked because he refuses to play by the rules of Thailand. He is a stranger in a strange land and continues to act strange rather than trying to assimilate. In turn, this even makes him attempt to assimilate into the Good Guys world by playing their power games. He learned from his experience and acted differently. That sentence, my friends, is called character development.

Supposedly, according to the season two premiere, Jack is moving from a man of science towards a man of faith. He has always needed answers. That need is why his father’s lack of approval crippled him so much. To him, the answer to being a good surgeon (arguably a good person) existed in his father. Notice how he waited so diligently for his father the night before his wedding. Now, as he moves farther and farther from his father’s death (that’s was an awesome clause), his need for answers is slowly dissipating. Thai Bo saw him as a great man. She told him that in the tattoo shop. He was a leader, but it made him lonely and two other adjectives I can’t remember. She thus treated him as a great man. Like it our not, guys, women want to be with someone special. It makes them feel special. I now interrupt this column for a very special excerpt form I Am Charlotte Simmons by Tom Wolfe:

“‘I can tell you’re a nice girl. Why do you do this?’
‘Do what?’ she whispered.
‘Well—’ He didn’t know how to put it… ‘Wh…be so nice and obliging to somebody like me. Like…make yourself available and everything. You don’t even know me, and that girl—she don’t know Mike.’
‘You’re serious?’ She said it in such a way that obviously he was either making a little joke or was a little dense.
‘Uh…yeah. Why?’
‘You really don’t understand?’
‘No.’
‘You’re a star.’ Most obvious thing in the world.
‘And therefore?’
‘Every girl wants to…fuck…a star.’ She said it in the same sweet, sincere voice she said everything else. ‘Any girl who says she doesn’t is lying. Any girl.’
Try as he might, Jojo could not think of a cogent reply.
A moment later she added, ‘And every girl.’”
-Pages 594-595

Now Jack, in his ever-quest for answers, followed Thai Bo around the streets of Thailand to discover the secrets she was hiding. He didn’t understand his good fortune. He didn’t understand why she was so, hmm, forthcoming towards him. Like Jojo in the excerpt, he had to ask why. Like the viewing audience, he most likely thought she was a prostitute. In hindsight, it should have been fairly fucking obvious she was a tattoo artist from the beginning. I even said during the episode that they wanted us to believe she was a prostitute, but she clearly wasn’t. I don’t know why I didn’t put two and two together, probably because I hate math.

Having cornered Thai Bo in her tattoo parlor, he demanded answers. He was as physically violent as we’ve ever seen him. He wanted to know why she chose him and then why he was a good man. Beyond those demands, he even needed to be tattooed as physical representation of how he was a great man. After that night, the answer was tattooed on his arm. However, as he learned, there were consequences. He broke protocol of the culture and got his ass beat for it.

At the beginning of the episode, I said it was stupid for Jack to refuse to help Prince Ben. The Good Guys only keep you around if you are usual. That fact is their culture. By refusing to use his skills, Jack made himself expendable. Thus, he would be killed (or beat down as in the flashback). However, he learned his lesson and, as I stated earlier played the game again. Maybe Jack is finally changing. Maybe he’ll become a worthwhile character. It’s all ok by me, as long as he doesn’t end up with Kate.

The infuriating thing about the entire episode was that we only learned what a few of the tattoos meant. What about the number five? What about the $20,000 pyramid?

HEY, AT LEAST IT BUILDS CHARACTER

Though there weren’t very many minor characters in this episode, quite a lot was actually developed. We met two new characters. Well, we met one new character and the other became a full fledged character. The creepy judge lady was interesting because she is clearly UNDER Prince Ben in the power structure, yet somehow acted as if she knew a lot. Notice how, once we got to know them, none of the other Good Guys acted as if they knew much. Gay Tom is pretty much a lackey at this point.

Karl is our angsty teen for show. Although, I think you could argue that every character, especially Jack and Locke, is riddled with teen angst. However, Karl fits the role perfectly. Maybe he’ll find a boom box and bring it to Alex’s backyard. If they play Peter Gabriel on LOST, I may quit watching. I don’t know why I typed that sentence. I don’t hate Peter Gabriel or anything.

Alex is interesting to me as well. She looks so much like Rousseau, but they treat her like a regular Good Guy. She seems to have a lot of say. I mean, they could obviously catch her if they want, so why do they let her run around the island? It doesn’t make much sense. What exactly is the deal with her?

The most pressing concern to talk about in this section is, of course, the triangle and that bothers me quite a bit. For about two episodes series wise (and a few months real time wise), we were led to believe Sawyer and Kate were finally together. Now I am forced to begrudgingly consider what some fans have said from day one: Kate will be with Sawyer briefly, but end up with Jack. There isn’t need for much analysis of Kate’s actions in this episode. She clearly cares for both Jack and Sawyer. I would argue in different ways, but one has to wonder, will she end up with Jack, or does she just need to get the “star fuck” out of the way, as Jack is clearly the “star” of the island and she looks up to him whereas she sees Sawyer as an equal.

At which point, we are brought to Sawyer. At the beginning of the episode, I didn’t think the writers were good for Sawyer. They didn’t seem to get his dialogue right. Maybe they just aren’t witty people, because what they did get right is everything else. The scene with Karl demonstrated his hopeless romanticism (and provided a life lesson: you have to decide if you want to waste your time on all the girl that aren’t worth it or not). I have to wonder if Karl will become his sidekick. The final scene with Kate was brilliant as well. You could totally tell that she was shocked by what Sawyer was saying. She didn’t expect it. It is the one side of him she doesn’t yet understand and that lack of understanding is exactly why he reacted the way he did.

Ever since their, shall we say, moment, all Kate has done is talk about Jack. They have to wait for Jack. They can’t leave Jack. They have to go back for Jack. We, as viewers, know that her emotions and statements are a factor of the situation. Why wouldn’t she want to go back for Jack? The problem is, and I can attest to this situation from personal experience, when you’re on the inside, you don’t have the viewers perspective. People want to save and protect the star. It’s natural to flock to people with charisma. Kate has a special and unique bond with Jack on the island. Of course she would feel connected to him and want to go back and save him. The problem is that Sawyer, with his lacking perspective, can only see Kate’s allegiance to Jack. While she doesn’t think she has anything left to prove to Sawyer, he still does not trust her.

I know, I know, all you ladies out there think Sawyer is a star to. Yes, he is a star to us, but look at the island, look at his life. He is an outcast. And yes, outcasts can be stars in a unique way too, but that possibility is not the way he envisions it, it is not the way he forces it to be. Rather, he takes Kate’s words and actions as a slap in the face, not realizing that she too is also an outcast. Besides Jack, Kate isn’t close to anyone on the island except Sawyer. He seems to have forgotten that little tidbit of information.

Let this storyline be a lesson to us all, the bad boy isn’t always the star. Yes, the Sawyer character is the typical American hero, but think about why we can say that it is. America is the only country in the history of the world where that type of a character has the possibility to rise to the top. He can go from the outcast to the star. To avoid a political debate, you must concede that America is at least designed that way. Think about John McClane in Die Hard. He was the outcast. His wife didn’t want anything to do with him (she even went feminist and changed her last name). No one in the building would listen to him? But what did he do, he Cowboy Upped and saved the day. He made himself the star and what makes him a true American hero is he didn’t do it to be the star, but because it was the right thing to do and thus he had no other choice. I’m sorry LOSTpedia, but Sawyer doesn’t just represent capitalism, Sawyer represents democracy, Sawyer represents America. Yippee-ki-yay, motherfucker.

LOSTOLOGY

I’ll say the following about mythology: If you’re upset we didn’t learn more, blame it on Jack’s psychotic anger. We did learn a little bit though. There IS another group of others. They are the ones that take the majority of the kids (shown through the teddy bear). The Good Guys take some kids to find out why the Other Others take the kids. Also, by combining the facts that Ethan kidnapped Claire and that Juliet is a fertility doctor, it is safe to say there has never been a pregnancy or birth on the island before.

Claire (and Sun) just became ultimately important again.

(By the way, on two more EW notes, the father of Sun’s baby COULD be the Golden Child and the two bodies in the caves are the producers “concrete proof” in season one that they have an ending planned for the show. Here’s hoping those two bodies are Kate and Sawyer, rather than Kate and Jack.)

FREDDY ADIEU

Really, the most pressing thing I want to know at this point is, is LOST tragic or romantic? I can’t keep track of whose relationships are up and down anymore…

I’m tired
This column has gone on too long.
If you think this episode sucked:
Shut up, you’re wrong.

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