Friday, September 18, 2009

"Are You Sure This Is Where You Want to Be?"

House of the Rising Sun is one of the few episode titles that names a character in its title and one of even fewer to share its name with a song. A darn good one at that, and one I couldn't resist filking for a tribute to Jin's dad. But we don't meet Jin's dad yet in this episode. No, this is all about Sun, and the LOST writers really like to misdirect us with the perspectives of these two. By the time the fourth season rolled around, I was so used to getting an inaccurate picture of what was really happening with these two that I figured out their nasty little Ji Yeon trick long before it was revealed. This episode obscures as much as it reveals. But it's the first time that Sun and Jin feel like fully formed characters. Lowering that language barrier just a bit makes such a difference in our understanding of them and their ability to integrate with the group.

Once again, this episode beings with an opening eye. For a change, there is tranquility. Sun appreciatively smells a flower while Jin tries to catch fish. Jack and Kate squabble good-naturedly while Kate wonders about Jack's tattoos, which turns out to be one of the least compelling mysteries LOST has ever explored. Charlie's petty bitterness as he accuses them of "verbally copulating" is amusing. "You guys have an inside joke; how absolutely wonderful for you both," he sneers. At this early point, he may be jealous that Kate has chosen Jack over him; he likes Claire, but their relationship hasn't had much chance yet to develop.

This is a great episode for Charlie, a lead-in to his first centric episode. Mostly, we get a lot of him and John. "The great white hunter is on the move," he quips. That hunter is going to really get in Charlie's face here, trying to help him kick the drug habit, and to his credit, it's one of John's great Island successes. Charlie never does drugs again after this point, though he is sorely tempted. I love how John prefaces his heart-to-heart with "I know who you are and I know what you're lookin' for." We think he's going to say something about the heroin, but instead he confesses to being a fan of DriveShaft, which Charlie's been rather pathetically seeking since the plane crashed. But then he does launch into the drug talk and offers Charlie his guitar back if he'll clean up his act. It's a most appropriate exchange, since it was heroin that led to the band's ruination.

Of course, his line about knowing Charlie will get the guitar back because "I have faith" is a bit of a cop-out; he knows it because he sees the guitar hanging over his head. But he does have faith that Charlie can change. At the end of this scene, John tells Charlie, "Look up," which reminds me of "Lift up your eyes and look north," which is etched on Eko's stick and taken as sacred instruction by Locke, and Desmond's comment of "You have to lift it up" to Jack, which refers both to elevating his ankle and praying. I really like the John and Charlie heart-to-hearts. But both are present for perhaps the most horrifying scene in all of LOST. I refer, of course, to the moment when Charlie, he of the "irrational fear of bees", steps on an active bee hive. The stuff of nightmares? Absolutely. Shudder. And yet another brush with death for Charlie.

Sun looks very different in her flashback, extremely elegant and high-class; Jin looks humble and handsome, and though he doesn't come off too well in the latter part of the flashback, it's heartening to see how romantic their beginnings were, to know that at least at one point, they were genuinely in love. We finally get to see what a gorgeous smile Jin has. We also see the same scene from the last episode, when Jack argues with the airline employee, from Jin's perspective. LOST likes to show the same scenes multiple times, but they're almost always worth revisiting. It's interesting that Sun wanted to elope, but Jin didn't. By the fifth season, my inclination is to think of Sun as the more adventurous one, though since Jin had shunned his father, it isn't like he had any family to attend his wedding. The conversation they have regarding Sun's father mirrors Penny and Desmond's in Flashes Before Your Eyes. I'm still a little undecided as to whose father is worse, though I am inclined to think that Widmore's affection for his own daughter is deeper. It seems both have committed atrocities, and Sun is aware enough of her father's personality to be nervous about Jin agreeing to work for him.

It seems that everyone probably would have been better off if Walt hadn't found those handcuffs in the jungle. First it led to that ugliness between Sayid and Sawyer, and now they use to cuffs to chain up Jin, who's stuck with one cuff on his arm for the next month or so. Talk about unpleasant! Then again, who knows what would he might have done to Michael if he hadn't been restrained? The moment when Jin attacks Michael reminds me of Seth Rogen plowing into Paul Rudd in 40-Year-Old Virgin. But that was actually an act of friendship, and this is anything but, so it's interesting that such a rocky start could lead to Jin and Michael being such good buddies. Would it have happened if Jin had realized how chummy Michael and Sun were getting? Though it doesn't do much good at the time, I like the fact that Hurley tries to help by pointing out, "that Chinese dude's gonna get pretty crispy out here."

We meet Adam and Eve, so named by John, in this episode, one of those little Island mysteries for which I fully expect resolution in the sixth season. Jack says they died 40 or 50 years ago, though he could be off. It seems likely to be someone we know. Rose and Bernard would make some sense, especially with the black stone and white stone, though they're not situated particularly near the caves, and who would have buried them? Jacob, maybe? It seems likely that they had a little help from someone in achieving their cozy retirement. Everyone who stumbles upon Adam and Eve also knows about Rousseau, which means they know that there have been people on this Island in the recent past as well as the not-so-recent past. The first season only drops occasional hints about other inhabitants, with only two face-to-face meetings before the last episode. But it's becoming increasingly clear that the Island holds many secrets.

Seeing the skeletons first probably increases Kate's misgivings about moving to the caves. She doesn't want to hunker down for the rest of her life. Of course, it stands to reason that if she ever got back home, she would wind up in prison for the rest of her life, so given the choice, I'd think she would choose the Island, even if it is more dangerous. But Kate seems anxious to leave, to keep running somehow, even though she's found the perfect hiding place. She can't stand to stay in one spot for too long. There's a lot of tension among Charlie, Jack and Kate here. This seems to be the episode in which Charlie relinquishes his designs on her, but he does a lot of whining first. He's especially annoyed that Jack and Kate sprint off ahead of him after he steps on the hive, leaving him to be stung "hundreds of times".

Of course, he doesn't do much to ingratiate himself by making that dumb joke about Kate's chest size. ("I found your shirt." "It was full of bees." "I would have thought Cs, actually." Classy, Charlie.) Kate is clearly smitten with Jack, but he seems too married to his work, whether it's performing life-saving surgery or leading a ragtag group of castaways, to properly nurture a relationship. Her attempt to flirt with him while he tries to work out the logistics of living at the caves is painfully awkward. Jack has more important things on his mind. He could be more attentive, while she could be less self-involved. These two can't ever seem to find that perfect balance, at least not for any significant length of time.

Michael and Walt's relationship is slowly improving. One thing Michael has to learn is that Walt is a sponge. He hears and remembers everything, so if Michael says something, he'd better be ready to back it up. It's sad to realize that not only did Walt's mother separate him from his father, she never even told him about Michael. She really denied him a major part of his life. But now that they're together, it's time to try belatedly building that bond; Walt asking Michael when his birthday is shows that he is ready to give it a shot.

In these early episodes, when there's so much left to learn about the survivors, every episode contains pretty big revelations. Kate is a fugitive. John was in a wheelchair. And now, Sun speaks and understands English. We find that out 31 minutes in, and though at this point, nobody but Michael knows, it completely changes how we see her in relation to the castaways, while isolating Jin even further. Jack, John, Kate and Sayid all assume leaderly roles here, the latter leading to one of my all-time favorite Sawyer nicknames: Captain Falafel. Just rolls right off the tongue, doesn't it? We finally get to see musician Charlie playing his guitar, and as many of the survivors migrate toward the caves, everyone seems to be hunkering down for the long haul, trying to make this place feel like home. The Willie Nelson song on Hurley's CD that poses the question, "Are you sure this is where you want to be?" is one of my favorite uses of popular music in the series. I'd never heard this particular song before, but it's such a perfect fit for the situation. That's a question each castaway has to consider very carefully; it will make a big difference in the decisions they make from here on in.

Monday, September 14, 2009

"A Leader Can't Lead Until He Knows Where He's Going"

The final season of LOST is starting to loom, so I'm finally getting back to the grand re-watch I'd planned to have ongoing for months. White Rabbit is the first Jack-centric episode; it's also the first time we see a reference to Alice in Wonderland, though I was more reminded of Shore Leave, the episode of Star Trek in which everyone's thoughts spring to life on a strange planet. Of course, Alice in Wonderland came into play in that episode too. And while we're talking of rabbits, this is the episode when we see Sawyer reading Watership Down and he offers the helpful summary "It's about bunnies." The phrase "white rabbit" is uttered by John in conversation with Jack about 28 minutes into the episode.

This is the first time we see one of the castaways as a youngster. Jack is a valiant kid, though he's not particularly strong. The scene with him standing up to the bully reminded me of Pay It Forward, with the conflict between safety and loyalty. While Christian stays detached, Jack gets very involved. He cares about people, and though he sometimes might be better off if he didn't, it's one of the traits I'd hate to see him lose - and season five Jack does seem to be veering away from that to some extent. The opening shot of young Jack mirrors the opening shot of the series; we seem to get a lot of Jack opening his eyes on this show, and he still has a long way to go in his enlightenment process.

I feel sorry for him here, since he's so exhausted and stressed out, but he frustrates me as well. Joanna's drowning is aggravating because it seems like Jack hindered rather than helped when he jumped into those waves. Could Boone have saved Joanna? He seemed to be floundering, but maybe he could have made it, or at least he could have gotten back to shore while Jack kept going. But it was a split-second decision on Jack's part, and he was doing the best he could. I like how it's Charlie who alerts Jack to the situation by informing him, "I don't swim!" I'm guessing Jack forgot that little nugget in the next three months...

Jack regrets that he never said a word to Joanna. How many others has he not spoken to? There are 40-some fuselage survivors at this point; are we to assume he's interacted with several others whom we haven't met or that he's stuck mostly to the core group of characters? What do these nondescript people do all day anyway? If I were an Oceanic 815 survivor, methinks I would be one of these Island wallflowers. But hopefully I'd be smart enough to stay out of the water.

This episode is as much about Christian as it is about Jack. In five seasons, he's been in 17 episodes and two mobisodes, even though he was dead before he landed on the Island. Or was he? We see here that Christian was a rather harsh man and that he had a drinking problem. He's a good doctor, but his interpersonal skills need some work. And Jack is supposed to fix him, just like he does with everyone else. I love it when his mother tells him to go fetch Christian, and Jack asks where he is, and she answers, "Australia". Gee, not asking too much here, are ya?

In this episode, is Christian a hallucination that Jack is having? Is he somehow resurrected, or a ghost? Or is he Esau, either shapeshifting into Christian's form or using his body like a puppet? Some strange things happen with him in this episode. It seems like he led Jack to falling off that cliff; was he trying to get him killed? Then again, it seems like he led him to water, so was he trying to help him survive? Seeing the empty coffin on the Island creates even more questions. Is there a chance that his body was never even in the coffin to begin with? What happened to it?

We start to see a division of loyalties in this episode. Charlie and Hurley trot along after Jack like a couple of eager puppy dogs. They want him to take charge, and though Hurley notes that he doesn't look so good, he can't understand why Jack isn't telling them what they ought to be doing. Of course, Jack does rally, thanks in part to John, who both saves his life after he tumbles off the cliff and strengthens his spirit, which is a bit ironic, since John becomes a shadow leader standing in opposition to Jack. "What if everything that happened here happened for a reason?" John asks, igniting the key debate between these two characters.

Boone, who's fed up with Jack's go-it-alone hero complex, will soon join forces with John. Which doesn't work out so well, but I can't really blame him for getting tired of Jack being dismissive toward him - though at least Jack sticks up for him here, and at a strained point in their relationship too. I do think that John has a knack for helping others on an individual level. But when it comes to leading a group, Jack is just especially gifted, whether he likes it or not. John knows that as well as anyone. And that "If we can't live together, we're gonna die alone" that Jack finally lets out 39 minutes into this episode is perhaps the best single-line summary of the show that the writers have given us.

A lot of great stuff in this episode isn't centered on Jack. We see Sun looking defeated and miserable and Jin insisting they keep to themselves. We get our first indication that Sawyer might not be as rough and uncultured as he looks. Walt makes a nuisance of himself with an endless string of questions, while Claire proves herself useful by sorting through clothes. She complains at one point that she can't find a hairbrush, which leads me to the question of why there don't seem to be any cameras on this plane. I would think almost everyone would have one. Claire reveals her interest in astrology and bonds with Kate, who is there for Aaron's birth and eventually decides to raise him. It's not a relationship that's focused on that much, but Kate's friendship with Claire is in some ways her most important relationship on the Island for how it will affect her future.

Along with Walt's inquisitiveness, we have his observational skills, as he's the one who alerts everyone to Claire fainting. Sayid shows how practical he is by noting that they shouldn't have left water all in one place. John seems to demonstrate his mysterious Island mojo when he says, "I know where to look" for water - though given what we see later, it's not so much a matter of "where" as "how". John has an interesting relationship with water; I always think of him in connection to rain because of his habit of knowing when it's coming and exuberantly accepting it when it does. It seems fitting that he's the one to bring water back to the others. There's something almost sacramental about it.

Charlie hangs out with Claire, which makes her feel better about herself and more comfortable while also suddenly giving him a sense of purpose. While Claire's Island experience improves, Sun's worsens when she and Jin trade their fish for Sawyer's water. Did Sawyer do it because he was hungry but lazy? After all, we see in season three that after several months on the Island he still hasn't bothered to figure out how to provide food for himself. Or did he do it to be covertly nice? Or to throw the rest of the survivors into a tizzy? Any of those possibilities seems likely. When Sayid interrogates Sun, Kate tells him that she doesn't speak English, but Sayid says she understands, which sets us up for the big revelation in the next episode.

Win One for the Reaper is introduced in this episode, in the scene in which Jack, surrounded by wreckage, finds water and the caves. It's one of the loveliest variations on the Life and Death theme, which you might say is the musical equivalent of "live together, die alone" - summing up LOST in a few notes. No matter how often I hear it, the melody does not lose any of its emotive power. If it doesn't turn up in the last episode, I will be sorely disappointed. By then, we ought to know exactly what the deal is with Christian and whether "the eye of the Island" is a "beautiful" as John claimed. Here's hoping Darlton focuses more on "live together" than "die alone"...