Thursday, April 2, 2009

LOST 033: Taking The Inevitable By The Horns

Here we go again, another Def Jam. Oh wait, no. Another Kate episode. OK. If we must, I suppose we must. She's pretty at least.

Let's do this.


But wait, this is odd. I actually wanted a Kate episode this time. Why was that? No, it wasn't the third tequila shot and the extra large bag of pork rinds, consumed pre-show, mixing in my stomach to form a large sticky wad with powerful hallucinogenic properties. It was the fact that Lost's near-magical story jiggering has brought back the old on-island present-day action / backstory flashback character flesh-out structure that we all knew and loved in the first three seasons. The magical thing is that now, "present day" means the past, and "flashback" means the present.

Woah, dude. Let's let Hurley and Miles chew on that one in humorous meta-textual fashion.

In any event, there are things that we simply don't know about these very familiar characters, and I love it. In Kate's case, the two large off-island mysteries are (very much in ascending order) what favor Sawyer whisper-requested of Kate before jumping out of the chopper, and where the hilly-O is Aaron anyway, huh, SHOW??

It turned out to be exactly what pretty much everybody expected in both cases. Sawyer wanted Kate to look after his darlin' Clementine, and Kate gave Aaron to Claire's mom. Oh well. This is a Kate ep, after all, and I'll forgive it because it actually provided Kate with a much-needed moment of accountability for her character. What I mean by this is that Kate, even more than Jack, has never really owned up to her junk. She wasn't a misunderstood and innocent fugitive. She was just a plain old fugitive. And she wasn't Aaron's mommy (though to Aaron's perspective she surely is -- more on this later). This episode was about Kate realizing that she had done what she did out of her need, not baby Aaron's need, and delivering him to the person she should have from the beginning: Claire's mom, Aaron's grandmother. The divine Ms. Littleton.

This also gives Kate a coherent motivation for the first time since ever. She's come back to the island to take accountability for her actions, and to try to reunite her "son" with his real mother. The fact that Kate is owning her error and doing her best to make ammends makes her so much more likeable, I'm not sure what to do anymore. However, I wonder if we are going to ever deal with the ramifications here for Aaron? I mean, to him, Kate was his mommy, and she just left him in the hands of some strange woman to go on a mission to go find some other strange woman to be his new mommy? That kid's not really going to understand that. So, admirable intentions, Kate. Questionable execution.

Perhaps we will deal with this someday. After all, it's all perspective, ain't it? That's the theme of Lost, if ever one there was. Perspective changes all.

Which brings me to some of the meat and potatoes of this relatively quiet little episodes. Jack's calm inactivity, so out-of-character for the man he was before, and the comic relief tet-a-tet between Miles and Hurley regarding the details of time travel.

Some of you may have hated this scene, but I really loved it, for a few reasons.

1) A bunch of you chat with me about Lost. Somewhere you got the idea that I am into the show. Not sure how. Anyway, Hurley is asking the exact same questions that you guys are, and I am giving the exact same answers that Miles is, though hopefully I am not being quite such a dick about it. Now, this show was shot before last one aired, so basically this means that the producers were anticipating our confusion and met it. Beauty.

2) Lost is not a show that relies on the shock twist, and this moment really underscores that. In fact, the whole episode does See, most people figured out what Kate had done with Aaron and what Sawyer's request was. But it was brought out at a moment that would be emotionally and thematically relevant. Furthermore, plenty of people have figured out what Miles is saying about (time and how it works in the context of this show if not in reality, though science is coming to the same theoretical conclusions in many ways). It's not shameful if you haven't, but it's not exactly entry into Mensa if you do. This show is much more about revealing information at the exact time that it will be most impactful to the story. It is about answering questions with action that implies the answer if you think about it. Basically, it is the utter mastery of "show, don't tell." I love it.

OK, you know what?

Let's really talk about the time-travel in this show. It actually is the opposite of confusing, and I'm going to prove it to you.

In fact, let me make a couple statements, and then we'll get to the proof.

1) This show has always been about time travel, and in fact has been time-traveling since the very first episodes.

2) If you've been watching, you have been subconsciously understanding all of this time travel / inevitability stuff all along, with zero confusion. I promise.

Let's unpack it.

First of all, consider the notion of time travel. Here you are, puttering about in the present, when suddenly -- whoosh! -- you are transported back 10 years, or 20, or five or three months. OK so far? What had been the present for you is now the future. What was the past is now the present. You check it out, see what you see, then -- whoosh! -- you are back to your old "present" day, and the past is past again. Future just became present. The whole thing lasted eight minutes. You are eight minutes older.

That is what a flashback is.

Consider a standard, Season 1 - 3 Locke-back. You are watching Locke in "present day" island action, he's helping Charlie find his guitar or something, maybe hunting a boar. Then -- whoosh! -- we are back ten years, and he is continuing his drama in the past with his con-artist maybe-dad, his girlfriend, his crap job, and the rest of it. So there are in effect two Lockes. Past Locke and present-day island Locke. Now, you have no problem with this. This happens all the time in movies and TV and books. It's fine.

But here's something else you have no problem understanding. Nothing is going to happen to this past Locke that will change present-day island. Locke. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. Anything that you see happen to past Locke, up to and including a possible life-ending injury, will and can only ever result in who and what present-day Locke is.

So, Locke can NOT die in the flashback. You know this. Why? Perspective. You've seen the future. Locke's alive in the future. Thus, he cannot die in a flashback, even if he seems to be dead even briefly, QED. What's more, I doubt any of you have had any problems understanding this on a very instinctive level.

This is exactly the position of our time traveling heroes. They are living a flashback instead of watching it, and that is the only difference. So, what had been the past for them is now the present. Since they haven't seen it before, these events are new to them. However, nothing is going to happen to change what they know the future was like. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. Anything they do, whether by action (Kate, Sayid, Sawyer) or inaction (Jack), will and can only ever result in the future that they've already seen.

Is it any wonder now that Jack seems resigned to fate? He's grasped this somehow.

The flashback structure that we've seen since the beginning is simply the illustration of the reality that was coming. Shadows on the walls of the cave, so to speak.

Now, let's flip it.

Imagine it is 2014, and Lost has been off the air for a while. Some enterprising young geeks have taken all the footage of the now-wrapped show and re-spliced it in precise chronological order. Now imagine that we are people who've never seen the show, and we watch THAT.

I don't know what is coming over the next 20 something episodes, but basically it would go like this:

We'd see some flashes of time jumping Locke/Sawyer/Juliet throughout island history. They'd be desperate, talking about people and places and situations with which we are unfamiliar. Interspersed with this we'd see whatever we are going to see of the origins of Jacob and Richard and the others. In the 50s, you'd see the U.S. Army come and the time travelers would appear again.

We'd start seeing events from the perspective of a very young John Locke. The first "flashbacks", though we wouldn't think of them as such. We'd see Dharma show up and whatever footage we are going to get of that.

We'd start seeing strange scenes of characters that we didn't know. A young Korean girl. A little Hispanic boy. Others.

Then the main action would get going in the late seventies. Some people would arrive. We'd recognize them from the time flashes. Time travelers. Sawyer. Juliet. Miles. Daniel. Jin. They'd have mysterious knowledge of the island inhabitants, and some strange knowledge of what was going on. They'd be waiting, but we wouldn't be sure what for.

Then, three years later, some more of them would just appear on the island. They'd claim they had been on a plane. They'd seem to think that they had been their before. Their relationships with the other time travelers would seem to be complicated and conflicted but generally friendly. A lot of things would happen (that's the rest of season 5 and perhaps season 6).

Then we would start seeing events from the perspective of these interlopers. Somewhat younger, strangers to each other, living their own lives . . . but in the mid to late nineties and up to and through 2004. Juliet will wind up getting recruited by the island people . . . who we would realize know her, even though they pretend not to, and even though she does not know them. We'd notice strange coincidences that seem to be drawing these people together, until they all wind up in Australia, and get on a plane from Sydney back to LA . . .

. . . at which point they crash on an island. They have never seen this island before. They know nothing about it. But the people that were on the island back in the seventies, they remember. And now, you have the perspective of Richard Alpert and Benjamin Linus. Of Ellie Hawking and Charles Widmore. They are the ones who have been watching this story in chronological order.

And they know that nothing can possibly happen to Jack and Kate and Jin and Sawyer and Locke and Juliet. Because these people haven't gone back in time yet. They will, because they have. They will do the things they are going to do when they get there, because they already did. But until then, it would be impossible for anything to happen to them that would change who they are going to be when they go back to the late seventies. In fact, it is exactly the opposite. Anything the "others" do, whether by action (Ben) or inaction (Richard, at least for a while), will and can only ever result in who and what Jack and Sawyer, etc. will become when they go back to the seventies.

Now, see the first four seasons of Lost through that prism.

I love it.

Random Thoughts

* Kate and Sawyer and Sayid and Jack are directly responsible for Ben becoming who he is. Again, not really surprising that these are the people he kidnapped way back in Season 2, and furthermore it is unsurprising that he didn't invite Sayid to the party.

* I really like the new Jack, even if Kate doesn't. He's a lot like Locke, ain't he?

* That supermarket scene? Terrifying. How many parents have had this happen. Oof. Oh, and I suspect that lady that was "just about to make an announcement" with the crazy eyes was in the employ of Ben Linus.

* Given how this episode left off, I'm guessing we are going to see a Locke N Ben episode next week. Hang on, I'm guessing it is going to be HUGE. If it is a Ben-back, I must imagine we are going to see what it means for him to become an Other, and I can't help but think that that answer will inform most of the remaining island mysteries, such as smoke-monster, island ghosts, Jacob, etc.

* How is LaFleur going to explain his long absence? I doubt he can. I really like that he made it clear that he was helping Kate for Juliet's sake.

* The biggest reveal this episode really was the whispered suggestion to Richard that he first converse with Ellie, and make sure that Charles doesn't find out, followed by Richard's terse assertion that he doesn't report to them. This throws a bunch of my assumptions off-kilter, as it pretty clearly presumes that Charles and Ellie are still part of the "hostiles" while Dharma was on the island. I'm not sure how this jibes up with Charles sending a Dharma-logoed folder on the freighter last season, but I guess we'll wait for it to play out.

* "No, you're free to go. But I'll shoot you in the leg." Miles is awesome.



Mike Maloney said...

Quality time travel explanation. I have thought about for forever the idea of being able to watch the entire show in chronological order. It's kind of like watching Star Wars in chronological order, only with far less sucking involved.

I'm totally on the same page as you with Kate. I was quite taken aback at the end of the episode at how much I liked and approved of her actions for once.

Anonymous said...

If you ever tried to leave me, I would tell you, "You can go, but I'll shoot you in the leg."

You know some tech nerd is going to splice together Lost in chronological order some day and you're going to watch it.

Your Wife

HighOnPoker said...

How could you fail to mention one of the best lines in the show: Hurley to Miles: "Then why didn't Ben recognize Sayid as the guy who shot him when he was a kid?" (paraphrasing). Miles: "Good question."

It is a good question. Either Ben did remember him and was playing coy OR there is more to this time travel business than inevitability.

Julius_Goat said...

Maloney, thanks for the shout out on your blog.

Wife, as though I'd ever leave. Pssh.

Jordan, I didn't mention it because a) I though it was pretty apparent that Ben is a liar who OBVIOUSLY would never mention that he remembered any of them if he in fact did, and b) Richard said at the end of the episode that Ben's transformation, whatever it entailed, would involve him "not remembering any of this".

So either he doesn't remember because of whatever happens to him at the temple (very likely), or he does remember and isn't saying anything (also very likely). Either way, I see it as a dead end.

Hammer Player a.k.a Hoyazo said...

I'm sure that Ben remembers the Sayid stuff from his childhood, they could not have set that up more clearly last week. Whether Richard Alpert knows that Ben remembers through all the brainwashing, etc. is another matter. But like you, I'm not sure it matters a whole lot other than for interest's sake.

No mention of how incredibly much the woman who "found" Aaron in the grocery store looked exactly like Claire? I thought it was the same Claire actress at first, though eventually Hammer Wife forced me to admit upon slow-mo DVR review that it was probably not actually her. But the similarities were striking.

And I'm with you 100% on the new Jack. I liked seeing him do what he wanted instead of what Kate wanted, and I enjoyed him just rolling with the flow and reveling in being guided and restricted by the fate he already knows happens. If only Jack could have acted like this for the past few years this show!

You make a valiant attempt to make all this time travel bs sound simple, but in the end it's just an attempt. The bottom line is, you need to write entire posts just to explain to people how to understand what is happening now on Lost. That fact right there is the problem. Great job with the analogy of flashbacks to time travel, and you hit it right on the head as far as not worrying about Locke dying in the flashbacks since we know he is alive in the future, that is exactly the point Miles was trying to make and you nailed it.

FYI if we watched this entire show in true chronological order from start to finish, I suspect it would be about 85 times suckier than it is the way it's been presented to us.

Julius_Goat said...


But I LIKE writing big long posts explaining, so for me that's a plus.

Chronological LOST would suck horribly and would only be interesting to die-hards like me as an oddity. Though I do find it interesting to note that it would almost certainly reverse the dynamic, in which our heroes become the mysterious "Others" whose secrets we are waiting to discover, instead of Alpert and Ben and Co.

But it would be a show that would have been cancelled about 5 episodes in. That's why they tell it the way that they tell it. Maximum impact.

Gunslinger said...

Meh, talking about watching the show in chronological order, everyone knows that would suck. I'm trying to convince myself that I'll wait a few years after the show ends to watch the whole series again. You know, to see how many little things TPTB put in way ahead of time that we probably didn't even notice. But I'll have such massive withdrawal when the run is over I'll probably only last a few weeks.

lj said...

your wife is funny too? neat.

no doubt someone is going to re-splice, pls post link once you find it next year.