“You gotta be a risk takah,” he growled while shaking his hand in the manner of former President William Jefferson Clinton. The rough edges of his enunciation both demonstrated the strain repetition had taken on his vocal chords and emphasized the importance of the statement to him. Clearly, though time had forgotten him as it does us all, he would not forget it through time. As all great men do, he held steadfast to sureties and was inequitably punished for it. Apparently, conviction is only a virtue for a prosecutor in a court of law.
The above paragraph is my initial reaction, column wise, to the third season finale of LOST. My initial reaction is represented by the quote at the beginning of the paragraph. “You gotta be a rish takah” is a phrase I randomly started saying a few years ago. I used it heavily over the first few months of the phrase. It may be a reference, but I am reasonably sure I am not. Regardless, the key to this voice is the delivery. The hand motion and the described tone of voice are essential to the meaning. One must convey the notion of a washed up and tired old man delivering crucial advice to a tentative youth in order for the phrase to have any entertainment value. It is also often delivered in a snide way, demeaning someone who took a risk and failed or demeaning someone who didn’t take a risk and failed. The rest of the first paragraph is a description that intentionally parallels part of this episode of LOST. However, you guessed it, we’ll return to that later.
The writers took a huge risk tonight. They not only flipped LOST on its head, but they flipped conventional television storytelling on its head. They also made a bold statement about LOST, confirming what the show is about, although it is one I have been saying since I started this column. I’ll get into some character discussion later, as for now, let’s chat about the subject on everyone’s mind: Flash Forwards. Some of you probably loved it, some of you probably hated it, but what we’re going to discuss is my feelings on the writing choice. Why? Because The Midside belongs to me.
It’s a giant relief to me that the flashbacks are done. I had been saying all season that the back stories seemed to be running out of steam. Most notably, I was critical of Jack’s Oriental Vacation, John Locke as a Pot Farmer, and John Locke’s previous nine days on the island. I also wondered how many other angles they could look at the Jin and Sun romance from. I don’t believe the writers were forced out of the necessity of the previous criticism to switch to flash forwards. No, rather, as always, I believe that this twist was the plan from day one.
Consider the sketches we now have of these characters? Did you not find it odd that some characters got so many flashbacks while others only received one or two a season? Take the characters of Rose and Bernard, Locke, and Sayid. Rose and Bernard are minor characters. The actors who portray they have never been, and may never be, series regulars. Still, they had a flashback episode. That episode contained their entire story as to who they were, what was unique about them, and how they ended up on the island. There is not anything relevant left to tell in the form of a flashback. Therefore, they only ever had one flashback episode.
Now turn to the character of John Locke. He is such an important and complex individual that out of all of his flashbacks, three per season, maybe one was unnecessary. Each episode revealed a part of his character that explained how he was acting on the island. Then finally, the scourge of his life is killed. There is nowhere left to go with his flashbacks. He is a changed man and his past is defeated. With him, they even decided to hold off the big reveal until Season 3.
Finally, turn to the character of Sayid. I am sure I am one of many that feel he was treated pretty poorly this season. However, now I understand why. In Seasons 1 and 2 had seemed to be a very important character. Then, he was absent from the first part of Season 3 AND had only one flashback. However, consider how important of a flashback it was for him. It was the moment he had to reconsider to make him no longer torture people anymore. He’s still a communications officer, but no longer a violent one.
What I am saying is, the writers sat down and decided what ideas they wanted to tell us about these characters. No, they didn’t come up with exactly how many flashback episodes to have about each character. However, each character presented three main things to be told: who they are, what makes them unique, and how they ended up on the plane. As each of these three things were explained, other stories became important to tell as well. Locke’s being in a wheelchair got him on the plane, but how did he end up in it? Kate’s crime got her on the plane, but what did she do? These stories were told to set the stage for the present and the future.
Take, for a final example, the character of Sawyer. I wondered why The Brig wasn’t his flashback episode. We now have our answer. There wasn’t any back story left to tell for him. We know who he is. His future story has been set up. He impregnated Cassidy and she was forced to raise the child alone making her feel like she fell in with the wrong guy. Will he do the same to Kate? Notice how Kate’s last flashback was also used to establish this story. Not so coincidentally, it was called “Left Behind”. What has Jack consistently done to Kate over the series so far? He has left her behind. What did Sawyer do to Kate for the first time in this episode (the complete opposite of how he’s always treated her)? He left her behind.
Over the last few episodes, the writers have deftly transitioned us away from the past and into the future. The main question in my mind going into this episode wasn’t what happened on the island, but what will happen on the island. They used Locke and Sawyer to symbolically kill off the past. They used Ben to give us the back story of Dharma and the Natives (I know, I know, there’s more mystery, but what will happen will reveal what some people tried to have happen). Finally, they used Charlie to put a fitting capstone on the flashbacks.
Charlie Pace fans, do not bow your head. Do not feel mistreated or disrespected because your favorite character died. Not only did the character do a complete 180 in Greatest Hits and this episode (going from passive wimp to emboldened hero), but his send off was the send off for the first half of the series. Charlie had no flashbacks throughout Season 3 because his story was complete. We knew about his faith. We knew about his drug addiction. We knew about his family. There was nothing left to tell us to make us better understand him. Likewise, there was nowhere left for his character to improve in the long run. He kicked his drug addict. He found his family and took care of them in the ultimate way (both Claire and Aaron and the general Survivors). His actions will lead to their ultimate rescue. In many ways, he is more of a hero than Jack will ever be, although Jack certainly reaped the benefits of Charlie’s actions by making that call. Finally, Charlie’s faith was restored as only he, the musician, could have entered that code and thus he was meant to be there (at least in his eyes). If there’s any character that became iconic this season, it’s Charlie Pace for embodying what LOST is about.
Rarely in any story, but especially entertainment, do you see the entirety of the characters’ lives. Usually, one special moment is explicated and you are left to assume that their world will be changed forever from then on. It is true that prequels and sequels have become extremely popular as of late (but look how even Shrek is running out of steam with Shrek 3), but I would argue the one medium that gives such a holistic view of its characters is comic books. With the number of issues and stories they write, everything is known. Why do you think comic book junkies get so mad at comic book movies? It’s impossible to carry the entire story over from one medium to the other. Now return your thoughts to Charlie. We know what happened when he was young, when he was older, and when he ultimately died. We know who he loved. We know what was most important to him. There is nothing we didn’t know about Charlie Pace.
Most notably, with this episode, the writers finally took a stand and declared this show to be about the characters. Yes, the island is mysterious and has changed all of these characters, but it’s not important what the tools are, but what the affects of those tools are. It’s fun as heck to speculate and theorize about what the island’s nature is, but we may never know, and if we don’t, does that lack of knowledge devalue the journeys of the characters? If you answered that question with a yes, then I have to ask you if life is devalued to you because we may never know the nature of the world (especially not in our lifetimes)? See how LOST becomes a nice metaphor for life?
To sum up my initial reaction, I turned to the example of the Star Trek Voyager finale (which Jack’s flashforward really reminded me of). Voyager was stuck in the Delta Quadrant and the show was the story of the crew’s journey back to Earth. The final episode saw them return to Earth. However, Earth was the final shot of the series and what happens after the ship’s return is left open (save for a series of companion books). Something about that ending always sat poorly with me and now I know what it is.
The writers of Voyager tried to explain their ending by having the character who most wanted to get home Ensign Harry Kim reflect on their trip right before they knew they’d be getting home. He said, “Maybe it’s not about the destination. Maybe it’s not about the journey.” This line set the stage for the ending. The writers were putting forward the series as a whole rather than the final episode. I can see why they would make such a move, especially considering Star Trek is not as character based as LOST. Often the allegories, metaphors, and discussions are more important than the characters.
In contrast, this episode of LOST put forward the characters rather than the answers. Yes, the answers are important, but what’s more important is how they affect the characters. Take this episode for example. We were given the answer to who Jack was calling on his cell phone. Yes, it was nice to know who he was calling, but think about what that information told us about him. Likewise, the cause of Locke’s paralysis wouldn’t have been nearly as engaging if they hadn’t built up his relationship with his father.
Therefore, in honor of the new direction of LOST, and out of necessity to retire the old heading, the new heading for the first section of my column will be “Maybe it’s not about the answers. Maybe it’s about the characters.” This section will discuss the flashfoward from that episode and how what we learned affected the character.
Well then, let’s get on with it and delve even deeper into The Midside…
(See what happens with a doublesized episode. You’re going to end up with a doublesided journey into The Midside. If only we had doublestuffed Oreos. Then we could take them apart and make quadruplestuffed Oreos.)
MAYBE IT’S NOT ABOUT THE ANSWERS. MAYBE IT’S ABOUT THE CHARACTERS.
(Note: It saddens me that I must retire the Duncan McLeod heading, but you gotta do what you gotta do.)
In this episode’s flashforward, Jack really reminded me of Admiral Janeway. When did Captain Janeway become an admiral? In the final episode of Voyager, of course. At the start of that episode, there was a reunion for the anniversary of Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant. Their journey had been successful. However, Janeway was not satisfied. The crew was not complete. Specifically, Seven of Nine had died. Due to Voyager being a Science Fiction show, Janeway then traveled back in time to bring Voyager home years earlier than it had originally gotten home. In other words, no matter how many years passed, Janeway was still the Captain of that ship. Actually, in the episode, part of the plot was Janeway coming to terms with the fact that she was no longer the Captain.
Jack was as troubled as Janeway was. He couldn’t let go of the past. Clearly, things went wrong, as Ben predicted, when they were rescued from the island. Jack was unable to be the hero he saw himself as. This failure in his mind was symbolized through the mysterious death of the person that no one went to his/her funeral. We were lead to believe that person was a Survivor, but all we really know is that something about him/her struck a chord with the ill fated doctor.
Jack was worse than Janeway. Heck, Jack was worse than House. He was addicted to pain medication and an alcoholic. As if those problems weren’t enough, he was severely depressed. The only way he could be who he thought he was is by accidentally causing a car accident and then saving the woman and child and offering to operate on her. His hero complex needed to be satisfied.
As already noted in this column through my discussion of Charlie’s demise, I am open to a change in a character. I thoroughly enjoyed Charlie over the last two episodes of this season. However, with Jack, I feel extremely satisfied with his condition in this flashforward. He’s made no progress as a character on this show. Now, I’m not someone who believes people need to change, but when you hate your father as much as he does why would you allow yourself to continue down the path you’re on which leads you to becoming your father. Make no mistake about it, Jack was the evolution of his father in this flashforward. The worst part about it was, he still believed his father to be out of his mind. We finally figured out why it seemed like Jack had been hiding something for the final part of the season. He’s gone off the deep end. He’s a nutcase. I enjoyed him flipping out on Ben, but it’s clear that in the future he loses even more of his marbles. The icing on the cake is that not only does he never get Kate, he stills pines away for her as she is his only semi-human connection still left in the world.
This eventuality of Jack’s character re-establishes my faith in the writers. If you’ve read any of my column at all, even just this column, you know I strongly dislike Jack. In fact, I have disdain for his characters. His hero complex is tiresome. No, belay that order, Mr. Kim. His hero complex is despicable. I love people who do the right thing at the right time. I once again reiterate my appreciation of Charlie over the past two episodes (although, my friend wisely pointed out that Charlie was so convinced of his own death, he caused it. He could have gotten to the other side of that door and shut it in time.). However, the problem with Jack has always been that he needs to be the hero so badly, that he acts like it at all times. He needs to be better than his father, better than everyone, to the point that he has take control and save everyone all the time. As long as Jack is around, no one can make their own decisions. His flashforward demonstrated this character trait perfectly. When Jack is on the island, he feels there is a need for him (when there really isn’t because everyone is replaceable…except Tom Brady). When he’s no longer on the island, no one needs him, not even his hospital where he is replaced by a new head of surgery who doesn’t even let him do operations anymore. The fact that the writers can identify this trait as so debilitating shows they’re above the members of the audience, the members of the American public, who exalt people like Jack. It shows that they are going to right this story in a way that isn’t unplatable because it is so dumbfoundingly misguided.
The brilliant part about using the flashforward technique is that no character’s story has to end on a tragic note. Sure, Jack is a tragic figure in this flashforward, but think of how much of his life is left. As my friend pointed out, this flashback was about three years in the future due to the cell phone he had. Therefore, let’s assume the flashforward occurred in our present day when the finale aired (May 23, 2007). Just as September 2004 was the start date for the LOST timeline, what if May 2007 is the start date for the flashforwards timeline. Season 4 can be all about what is happening to the characters in May 2007. Regardless, as I want to save some of this discussion for the LOSTology section, so many stories could be told about Jack with what’s left of his lifespan. He could sober up and go on to cure cancer. Of course, he could also commit suicide in his next flashforward. Who knows. I guess we’ll have to keep watching.
THE REST OF THE TRIBE
Upon the revelation at the end of this episode, I realized how belittling the title of the second section of this column. If this show is about the characters, then it’s not an “at least” thing when they have small scenes featuring character building moments. As for this episode, there were so many big moments for so many characters. I’ll try to address each as best as I can.
Juliet has officially crossed over into Survivor country. She is truly “one of us” now. This transition is confirmed by the fact that Ben basically declared her an enemy combatant and she was an enemy combatant when she helped Sawyer kill her former allies. With that one choice, she became allies with one of her staunchest opponents, Sawyer, and rescued the other one, Sayid. My only concern is she has the same flaw that Jack has (that Ben also shares). They feel the need to keep everyone else out of the loop because it is “better” for them. If she intended on allying with the Survivors all along, why didn’t she tell them the truth to begin with? By withholding the truth, she only made herself appear to be untrustworthy to the Survivors. Sadly, the reason she didn’t tell them is she believed they would only mess up her plans. She had the greater good at heart, she was just misguided about it. I mean, she learned from Ben and loves Jack (the kiss was a nice touch for her character in the finale and shows one of the major reasons she “turned”), what do you expect?
Sawyer took an interesting turn this episode. He is in complete self loathing mode and it shows why he was absent from Greatest Hits. Then he turns around and treats Kate like Jack always treats her. Jack pointed out that from his perspective Sawyer was trying to protect her. Considering that she may be carrying his child, he very well may have been. However, I also believe he was trying to distance himself from Kate. He knows treating her like a lesser person is insulting to her, so he insulted her. He also seems to be trying to discover “who is he” by no longer using the “Sawyer” persona (notice how he didn’t call Kate Freckles), which is a big mistake. Eventually, I bet Kate will convince them that he is who he is and that doesn’t change no matter the name he uses or profession he has and they end up together as he is the “he” Kate was referring to in the flashforward.
Hurley’s big moment was awesome and shows the direction the writers have been taking his character in. He is not a leader. He is not a major character, but he is a force to be reckoned with. Slowly but surely, he has been gaining the confidence that he so lacked off the island that put him in an aslum and he him working at a chicken shack. Then, he thought the answer to his problems was money. Well, everything was taken away from him and he is finally learning how to prove that he is worthwhile, actual curse or not be damned. Even though Sawyer told him he was useless, in an attempt to distance himself from his best friend on the island besides Kate, he used his street smarts to drive the van over some Others. It also shows how well planned this show is. A lot of people thought Tricia Tanaka is Dead was a pure fluff episode. Turns out it was kind of important, huh?
Ben got his comeuppance, huh? He turned into the Boy Who Cried Wolf. He’s lied so many times, and claimed he wasn’t lying, that the one time he was actually telling the truth (Naomi wasn’t sent by Penny), Jack refused to believe him AND punched the snot out of him. It was also a noble gesture that Ben reunited Alex and Danielle. However, the jury is still out on the second part of Ben’s claim. He and Locke both seem to firmly believe that rescue was a bad thing, therefore he could have been telling a half truth and a half lie. Yes, Naomi wasn’t from Penny’s crew, but the rescuers may not be a bad group. The guy seemed awful nice to Jack and Jack and Kate seemed unharmed in the flashforward.
Did anyone else pick up the parallels between what happened to The Others and what happened to Dharma in Ben’s flashback? Ben’s voice dripped with disdain when he told Locke Dharma couldn’t even coexist with the island’s original inhabitants and basically insinuated that problem led to their purge. Well, The Others couldn’t coexist with the Survivors and it led to their purge. I don’t know if they’re all dead, but they probably are. Season 3 was said to be about The Others and now that it’s over, they’re over. I don’t know how they could go on. Why intend on keeping them around and kill all the ones we have come to know, such as Tom? Of course, with the apparent immortality of Mikhail, who knows who’s really dead or not. I kind of hope Tom isn’t dead. He had some great lines such as, “It only took the bears two hours.”
I would like to point out that Richard disappeared after the first 20 minutes of the episode. When the fighting was imminent, he disappeared. It makes me wonder if the writers were just trying to make me believe he is very important or if he actually is very important. If he wasn’t, I think they probably would have killed him. I hope to see more of him next season and figure out who he exactly is and what makes him so important. I grew to like him over the last few episodes. It seemed he was allied with Tom though.
Hmm, that’s all I can think of for other character thoughts. If I forgot your favorite characters, I’m sorry, but Claire, Sun, Jin, Sayid, and Bernard were largely props in this episode. OH, I do have to say I have a new favorite LOST quote and it wasn’t spoken by Sawyer, it was by Rose. “If you say the words 'live together, die alone' to me Jack, I'm going to punch you in the face.” Words to live by.
The use of flashforwards opens up some interesting possibilites for the show. I already addressed one in the discussion of Jack’s flashforward. The pure amount of story there is left to tell is ridiculous. I don’t think the flashforwards will ever run out of steam the way the flashbacks seemed to.
Another interesting idea is the relativity of time. Commonly in time travel movies and shows, the present is considered to be the time the traveler begins his journey in. However, realistically, the present is whatever point the character exists in. In other words, time is relative to where you exist. For instance, presently, I am writing this column and presently, you are reading this column. However, my present is your past and your present is my future, get it? This notion raises an interesting quandary for the way the LOST story could be told. What is the present? Is it on the island or is it the flashforwards? By the use of the term flashforward (which should be considered canon because the name of the funeral home Jack visited was an anagram from flashforward), the writers are stating that the present is on the island. This claim makes the most sense, as it stays consistent with what has happened over the first three seasons of LOST. The problem exists for us. I’m sure some people will have trouble with the fact that they know the Survivors will be rescued and that Jack and Kate don’t end up together. Seriously though, did you ever think they wouldn’t be rescued? The suspense was never in what would happen, but how.
The other interesting idea is that of time travel. While it is arguable, Desmond apparently time traveled in Flashes Before Your Eyes. What if, knowing he has such a dismal future, Jack makes like Admiral Janeway and travels back in time to change what happens? Maybe the last episode of the series will be Jack getting back to the island or traveling back in time to either “save the day” or possibily “save the day.” Regardless, the important question is: Can the future shown in the flashforwards be changed? I’m sure debate over the answer will be rampant until something changes with the fabric of LOST (if anything changes at all), so I am going to firmly throw my hat into the “No, the future can’t be changed” group. While I don’t intend to settle the debate over determinism and free will, all fictional characters do NOT have free will. The writer controls them. You can say that, “I let my characters do what they would naturally do as I write” but you are still setting in stone what there actions are like creating a prophecy. Their past, present, and future is a fictional subset of our present. In other words, it doesn’t hurt the story of LOST that these characters futures are determined, it’s just being honest about the nature of fiction writing and using it in a ballsy and realistic way. It would make sense that such a self referential and meta show as LOST would be the one to make such a move and that’s why I love it.
-It’s been such a hardcore season and I can’t wait to watch it all again. Good thing I have all the episodes on my computer. I still miss Eko, I miss Nikki and Paulo, and I even might miss Charlie a little, but anyone who denies that we’ve been on one heck of a worthwhile roller coaster ride is out of their ever loving mind. This season has been mind boggling, emotional, revelation laden, and, most importantly, well plotted. It sucks that we have to wait until February to see where it goes next. Hey, if I can stand the wait for 24, I can stand it for LOST, right?
-I’ll be seeing you all here next February, but if you miss me before then, you can check out my official MySpace at www.myspace.com/themidside and my official blog a themidside.blogspot.com. And don’t tell anyone, but if you poke around on youtube, you might find a special treat.
And if you STILL think this show isn’t planned, then there’s only one thing to say to you:
Shut up, you’re wrong.