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...