Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lost: The Incident, Parts 1 and 2

“The Incident,” written by the two-headed monster of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and directed by Jack Bender, consisted of one hour and 50 minutes of pure, concentrated awesome and ten minutes of boring, nonsensical love quadrangle bullshit. That’s a pretty good ratio, but let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first so I can stop being critical and start being all OMG TEH FUCKING AWESOME!1!1!!

In general, the romantic relationships have always been the iffiest aspect of Lost. Remember, for example, that time in the second season when the writers briefly tried to build a love triangle around Charlie, Claire and Locke? Good times. Of course, Lost has gotten romance right every now and then: Desmond and Penny, Bernard and Rose, even Nikki and Paolo. (As horribly annoying as Nikki and Paolo were as characters, their relationship was sort of interesting as an example of two people who brought out the very worst in one another.) But you’ll note that the writers tend to not know what to do with these relationships once the characters actually get together. Nikki and Paolo destroyed each other in short order, while Desmond and Penny and Rose and Bernard have become tertiary characters.

It’s not too surprising, then, that the writers have kept the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle they set up in the first season in a constant state of flux. They clearly don’t feel that they can write these characters out, and yet, at the same time, they don't seem to trust themselves to write a happy couple for any lengthy period of time. So we get annoying plot machinations like Sawyer and Kate fucking in a polar bear cage while Jack watches on a security camera.

The third season had already added Juliet to the mix, giving us not just the Jack-Kate Sawyer triangle, but also the Jack-Kate-Juliet triangle, which was, for the most part, just as stupid. This season’s “LaFleur” took those two triangles and combined them into what everybody on the internet is calling a quadrangle. And the thing about the quadrangle is, it wasn’t actually terrible. It existed mostly in the background, as subtle and unspoken tension between the characters.

Until the first ten minutes of the second part of the finale, that is, when the writers decided to have the tensions bubble over in absurd and unrealistic ways. Why was Jack so gung ho on blowing up the island? Because of Kate. Why was Juliet suddenly prone to bizarre and out of character mood swings? Because of Kate. Why was everyone so willing to talk about all of these feelings as Sayid bled to death in the back of a Dharma van? It’s hard to say, for sure, but probably because of Kate.

What makes those ten minutes so frustrating is that the rest of the finale was so, so good. There’s no show on television today, and maybe no show on television ever, that’s more capable of making its audience as outright giddy as Lost is. And that was mainly my reaction throughout the episode. Here’s a list of just some of the things that were awesome in the finale:
  • Jacob and Esau (as everyone on the internet is calling Titus Welliver’s character) on the beach.
  • The title card informing us that the show had jumped ahead thirty years.
  • Jacob showing up in all but one of the flashbacks.
  • Juliet kicking everybody’s ass in the submarine.
  • Both of the shoot-outs.
  • Hurley driving the Dharma van.
  • Everything having to do with Lapidus.
  • Everything having to do with Bernard and Rose.
  • Locke’s body falling out of the container the crazy cult people were carrying around.
  • Esau-Locke slowly convincing Ben that he ought to kill Jacob.
  • Jack throwing the bomb down the shaft and everybody bracing themselves, only to have nothing happen.
  • The return of the electromagnetic pull like the one at the end of season two.
  • Dr. Chang getting his arm crushed.
  • Miles saving his father.
  • Elizabeth Mitchell and Josh Hallowell acting the living fuck out of Juliet’s death scene.
  • Ben actually killing Jacob, who seems to pretty much be God himself, and throwing his body in the fire while Esau-Locke watched on.
  • Juliet exploding the nuclear bomb by pounding on it with a rock. I'm just going to repeat that because she exploded the nuclear bomb by pounding on it with a motherfucking rock.
  • Fade to white.

So, yeah, just about everything.

All that said, as awesome as the episode was (and to be critical again), I’m still not entirely convinced the show has a whole lot to say about anything, really. It might, though, and I am definitely convinced that I underestimated the show’s ambition. The Jacob and Esau thing we saw in this episode is far more mythic, in the ancient sense of the word, than anything Lost had even hinted at before.

The themes of the earlier seasons of the show were never particularly complex, and what happens in the later seasons isn’t going to change that. But in the last couple of seasons, the show has developed a thematic complexity it didn’t previously possess. At this point, we are dealing with ideas of fate and morality that the show paid mere lip service to before. In the second season, for example, the characters crossed paths constantly in flashbacks, but it never really added up to anything. “The Incident,” however, gave us a very similar set of flashbacks in which Jacob met up with younger versions of Locke and Kate and Jack and so on, and it worked in a way season two’s flashbacks never did.

While this new knowledge doesn’t make the second season’s themes any more complex, it does give the viewer the sense of a show that’s building from something simple to something not so simple, and that’s almost as exciting to watch as all the awesome plot twists it throws at us.

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