Friday, April 25, 2008

The Shape of Things to Come Leaves Me Feeling Flat

I haven't been very diligent about recording my impressions of the latest LOST episode in a timely fashion, but The Shape of Things to Come unsettled me so much, I figure I'd better get it out of my system right away. I did not like this episode. Well, that's not entirely fair. Even in the midst of all the carnage, there were things to love, but when it was over, I experienced the same soul-deadening sensation that followed Through the Looking Glass. Damon, Carlton and anyone else who worked on this episode, if you're attempting to depress the heck outta me, congratulations. You've succeeded.

So this was a Ben flash forward, which I rather suspected when it started with him off the island. Apparently he has been out on the mainland before, but I figured if it was a flashback it would be giving us the scoop on Annie. Or maybe I just hoped. Anyway, this gives us a better sense of the timeline of Sayid's flashback, and it shows how he got himself into that situation.

Sayid and Nadia are one of the great love stories of LOST, and something smelled rotten when she was absent in his future, so it makes sense that she's dead, and that her death would cause Sayid to sink into the depths of despair, which, as we've seen before, would be channeled into rage. Sayid is a dangerous man when he's angry, and Ben knew just how to work that to his advantage. What I'm not clear on is whether he was involved in her death. His reaction to the television footage makes me think he just happened to find out about it and quickly worked out a plan to use that as a way to manipulate Sayid into working for him, but that patented Creepy Ben Smile after Sayid offered his services made me wonder if Ben actually was behind the whole thing.

But I'm horridly depressed by Nadia's murder, after all that Sayid sacrificed first to save her and then to find her. Now we may get to see their reunion, but instead of being purely joyous, it will be tinged with bitterness (much like certain scenes in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince are bound to be). Reunited after all this time, and then torn apart. Just like Danielle and Alex, and possibly just like Desmond and Penny. But no, I won't go that far. They can't yank all my hope away.

But what a rotten thing, to wipe out Karl, Danielle and Alex all on the same day. If Danielle did somehow manage to survive, she won't be long for this world. The end of the last episode was terrible, but after all that I really didn't think Alex would get the axe this time around. The ironic thing is that Alex probably would have been better off if she'd stayed in the bunker, though if they'd taken off when Ben first told them to they surely would have made it to the Temple. So Ben did try to save her.

But doggone it, he didn't try hard enough, and how horrible that the last words she heard were her father's declarations of complete indifference to her. Did she know he didn't mean it? Does it matter? I so wanted to see Ben throw himself in front of Alex or do something comparably selfless to spare her life, and instead the standoff played out in the most heartbreaking way possible. I think he suspected all hope was lost when Miles informed him that Alex was the hostage; would Psycho Sniper really have let her go if he'd surrendered? I doubt it. But Ben is used to getting what he wants through manipulation, so it was one last desperate grasp at cheating his way out of the Kobiyashi Maru (yes, I'm drawing parallels to The Wrath of Khan again). Plus there are those mysterious "rules" to consider. When Alex died, Ben went practically catatonic, immobilized by shock and horror, and seeing him cry later was just as affecting. His grief was genuine, and I feel for him. If only he'd sent Alex to safety with Richard. But she probably wouldn't have gone anyway. What a terrible situation.

And now Ben plans to kill Penny. Yes, Ben, that will make everything better, won't it? It seems you really are Moriarty; might as well wear it on your sleeve. Sigh. I can't imagine Sayid would ever kill Penny, and though Ben tends to be a puppet master rather than a hands-on kinda guy, I think he would insist on doing this job himself, thinking he would derive some sort of visceral satisfaction from it. And that, I think, will be Ben's test. I think he will find Penny eventually, and when he does, he will have his last great shot at redemption. If he kills her... Well, I think I'll just have to wash my hands of him, which I probably should have done long ago. But there's no denying now he was right about the people on the boat, and the loathsome Mr. "We're Shooting Things" makes even Ben look like a pussycat. Ben's a villain, but hardly the worst of the bunch.

Charles Widmore is worse too, at least I think he is. But what does he mean about the island always having been his? Could he maybe be the captain of the Black Rock? Maybe his connection to the island goes much further than we suspected. He and Ben have obviously had dealings with each other before, beyond just knowing of one another's existence. What is their history? And why can't Ben kill him? And what are these rules they agreed upon, and why?

And it wasn't enough to kill poor Alex and Nadia. Three redshirts bit the dust; it was starting to look like the Purge again. And the doctor washed up on shore with a slit throat. Did the snipers kill him? Maybe he was standing lookout and they overtook him and then took a lifeboat and high-tailed it to shore. The island and the boat aren't on the same time, which is confusing to say the least. How long has the mercenary party been on the island? And do Daniel and Charlotte know about them? Daniel lied point-blank to Jack, who was pretty clever to get Bernard to listen in on the Morse Code message. Why lie about that? Jack already knows about the time differential thanks to the Desmond incident. I thought Daniel's "no" to Jack's query about their rescue was both forthright and apologetic. "We're not here to rescue you" isn't the same as "We're here to kill you." I'm still not sure he's in on the plot. I hope not.

I did like the Risk game. Yeah, it was pretty much the same as the fake-out with the golf game way back in Solitary, but it was much more effective here. The situation is so dire already, the confrontation seemed entirely possible - and indeed, it foreshadowed the end-of-the-episode argument. So I laughed with relief when I realized they were just playing a game. Didn't last long, of course, though I thought their reaction to the phone was funny, and I enjoyed seeing Ben play the piano. We needed a bit of levity to offset all the calamity.

I also liked Smokey, and I'll even give him a pass for committing yet another homicide, since it prevented several more. The funny thing is that during the second or third commercial break, I said, partly jokingly, partly thinking of the now-open barrier, that it would be a really good time for Smokey to show up. So when he did, I cheered. Too bad Ben didn't summon him a little earlier, but I guess there wasn't time and anyway, he probably would have posed a threat to Alex too. It was like Aragorn busting in with his scrubbing bubble mountain men in Return of the King. What an adrenaline rush! Smokey saves the day!

But what really kept the episode from being completely depressing for me was Sawyer, who absolutely put himself on the line for Claire in a show of heroics that I'm sure he couldn't have imagined of himself a few months earlier. Putting aside all my complaints with the episode, that sequence is sure to stand as one of my all-time favorite Sawyer moments. Would he have done what he did if he'd really known what he was up against? I'm not sure, but I'd like to think so. It's a miracle he didn't get himself killed, but the selflessness of his adrenaline-soaked, desperate search for Claire was a miracle in itself, and the absolute compassion and concern etched upon his features as he found her really touched me, as did his devotion to Hurley, even though it was wrapped up in a death threat to John. "If you harm one hair on his curly head..." You care, Sawyer. You really care.

And the beauty of those moments is enough to sustain me until next week, when I fear things will just get worse as Jack wrestles with appendicitis and Frank issues dire warnings. And if Claire doesn't make it to the end of the season, I'm revoking my already shaky acceptance of Charlie's death. Honestly, I can't see how it's done anyone much good. He never should've gone down there in the first place. The show has certainly gotten darker in his absence. I wonder what they're going to do about the last two seasons. They're going to have to change the format if we're going to see what's happening both on the island and off. In any case, I imagine we'll be seeing a lot less of Kate, Jack, Sayid, Sun, Aaron and Hurley, scattered across the globe as they are. Hurley's going to hit me the hardest. It's going to be hard going without him for possibly several episodes at a time, and not having him on the island to make everyone feel better. The one upside: Maybe Rose will finally get the chance to gain a prominence she's been denied up until now. Another reason for optimism. I need those...

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Michael Seeks Redemption and Tom Crashes His Flashback

Tonight, LOST finally returns, and I get to squeal for joy. Maybe. Though the previews look rather dire. Ah, well; I guess the castaways in peril is better than no castaways at all! At any rate, it's high time I weighed in on Meet Kevin Johnson, the cliff hanger I had to cling to for a month while I contemplated what would befall our friends next. It follows the same format as Flashes Before Your Eyes, the only other episode thus far to do so. I'd rather spend the better part of an episode with Desmond than Michael, so this one doesn't quite compare, but it was still interesting to see what happened to him since we last saw him in Live Together, Die Alone.

Poor Michael. Things really haven't worked out for him, have they? His wife separates from him, takes his kid and does nothing to let little Walt know that he has a father who cares about him, even confiscating the cards he sends. Then he gets stuck with a seething pre-adolescent Walt when his ex-wife dies suddenly, and just as they're finally starting to reach an understanding, Walt gets kidnapped. So he goes on a desperate quest to find him, eventually leading him to kill two people and betray several others. And after all that, when he gets his son back, Walt is so disgusted by his dad's actions that he doesn't want anything to do with him. And then Tom comes calling...

Now, Tom is probably about the last person Michael would want to see in his situation, but it sure was a kick for me when he emerged from the dark alley, swooping by in his trenchcoat. This was almost as much Tom's flashback as Michael's. We finally got to see him off the island and get some idea of what he's like when not living entirely in Ben's shadow. He's sort of a cross between menacing Mr. Friendly and congenial Tom. He looks a lot different in this episode in his posh surroundings and preppy clothes.

And, of course, LOST finally confirmed my long-held Tom Is Gay theory. His boyfriend doesn't seem to know anything about the island. Is this someone Tom just met, I wonder, or someone he meets up with whenever he gets off the island? I can't imagine that's too often, and with Ben's tight security, that would mean no communication, which can't be good for a relationship. I'm guessing he and Arturo haven't been together long.

Mostly, Tom seems like a pretty good guy here. I was happy when he offered Michael that shot at redemption - until he said it involved killing everyone on the ship. Not cool, Tom. Haven't we learned by now that killing one person (let alone many) to save another usually only leads to anguish? And it seems to me that murder is murder, no matter who is being killed. But then, Michael's already a double murderer, so I suppose he figures his soul is in major jeopardy already. But redeeming yourself for killing by killing again seems pretty shaky to me.

Michael clearly isn't crazy about it either, especially once he gets to know some of the people on the boat. One guy we don't see him befriend is Daniel, who I'm convinced is a good guy. It was nice to hear Ben say the same thing - not about Daniel specifically, but about certain members of the crew. Not that Ben's motives are necessarily trustworthy, but it at least seemed that he genuinely wanted to avoid killing innocent people. Maybe feeling a little guilty about the Purge? Michael's got a lot to repent of, but Ben... If he ever went to Confession, he'd be in there all week. The fact that Ben stopped Michael from setting off that bomb could mean both that Ben isn't wholly evil and that not all the boat people are up to no good. I like both ideas very much. And Ben does seem more sympathetic in this episode than most, once again desperately warning Alex to get away for her own safety. That doesn't seem to have worked out so well. I'm really bummed about Karl; I really dug the mentorship vibe between Sawyer and him, and of course you hate to see young love snuffed out like that. I'm not convinced Danielle is dead, though, at least not yet. I think we still need to get her story in greater detail. Maybe, like Eko, she'll stick around long enough for a flashback. I have a strong suspicion, though, that she won't make it to the end of the season.

There are some interesting parent-child parallels going on in this episode. Alex and Ben have a very strained relationship, as do Michael and Walt, and it's largely because of the nefarious things the parents have done. There was something bone-chilling about the part of Michael's conversation with Ben in which Ben told him that he never asked him to kill those women, that their blood was entirely on his hands. The thing is, it's kinda true. Michael took a bad situation and made it worse with an awful solution to his problem. It seemed to him like the only course of action. Was it? I can certainly understand why Walt would be scarred by the idea that his father is a killer, and that he did it for him. I'd think Walt would feel guilty about it and lash out against Michael as a consequence. But when Michael became Kevin, not much time had passed after they arrived in New York. I would think that Walt would be ready to reconcile before too long.

We didn't see much of John's gang in this episode, but the little bit we got was intriguing. Shame on Sawyer, though; kill Tom for stealing Michael's kid, and then kill Michael for killing AnaLucia and Libby. Will the chain of revenge never end? Sayid, too, seems to want revenge against Michael, or at least wants him in a position where he can't work for Ben. Maybe this has something to do with why Sayid winds up doing Ben's dirty work; he replaces Michael, after realizing he should have just left Michael alone. Desmond doesn't have much to do in this episode. He's really out of the loop on the whole Michael saga, so he doesn't have the emotional engagement Sayid does. He's got a grand total of three lines in the episode, all of them pretty pointless. Better luck next time, Des!

So Captain Gault implies that Ben staged the plane crash, while Tom says it was Widmore. Who do we believe? Is Tom more trustworthy, or is the captain? That may not matter, because both of them could be misled or mistaken. So who is more trustworthy, Ben or Widmore? That's a tough call, but I'm going with Ben. I think he ultimately is one of the good guys, despite all his diabolical deeds. I understand he has a flashback coming up. Will we get to see what happened to Annie? I really want her to be alive somewhere, but I'm getting the feeling that she probably is dead, which is very upsetting. Maybe she died during pregnancy and he kidnapped Alex as a replacement baby. I think Annie is incredibly important to our understanding of Ben, so it's bound to come up sooner or later.

I saw a longer than usual preview for tonight's episode yesterday, and Alex shrieked "Daddy!!!" which really struck me, since in that moment of supreme terror, despite all that has happened between her and Ben, she is still his little girl, crying out for his protection. At this point, the fact that she was abducted as an infant is almost moot. Ben is the man she knew as her father, and he's probably all she has left. We know Ben survives, so he can't lay down his life for the sake of his daughter, but I hope he tries. I hope he does something. Alex's life has taken a major turn for the worse, but I don't want it to end entirely. Oh, the nail-biting anticipation. What will tonight bring? Who are those snipers in the jungle? What have Richard and the rest of the Others been up to? Will Daniel allay Jack's concerns? Will we be spared more carnage for a while? I can't wait to find out!