Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

May 12, 2011

Back to the Island 1.18 – In Translation

Filed under: back to the island,fitter/happier — lexifab @ 6:03 pm

It’s Thursday [1]. If I am not mistaken, that is a day of the week that comes after Monday. Monday is one of the days of the week upon which I have promised myself I will post a Lost review.

That train of assertions is sure to lead to some logical conclusion regarding the timeliness of this review. I am much too trashed to think about it.

For the last few months I have stayed up past midnight more or less every night. Ostensibly that’s been about giving the baby Wombat her late feed, but if I’m honest the real purpose is to get some quiet time when I can write, play video games, read or watch whatever I want. Having the freedom to do more or less whatever happens to appeal becomes a rare and precious commodity when you become a parent, as anyone with kids will tell you. It’s the main thing I miss from the Time Before Kids (when I selfishly squandered it on worthless pursuits like reading books quickly or watching movies at the cinema, also pleasures now all but forgotten). I prize uncommitted time so highly that I’m prepared to forego sleep to obtain it. To my astonishment, there is a price to pay for many weeks of borderline sleep deprivation.

(Attention to fine detail is the first thing to go when you are knackered. So far I have had to retype every single instance of ‘the’ and ‘I’ – including both of those – in this post. I do not expect this trend to reverse just because I am aware of it).

This review is, I think, the longest one I have written so far, clocking in at over 1700 words. I guess that vague plan I had about succinctness and discipline I had is out the same window as the review release schedule. It is one of the more complex episodes of the season, so I think it warrants a little extra attention. All the same I think that when I get to the Season 2 reviews I will change up the format a bit to cut back heavily on the episode summary in favour of expanding a little on the elements I find interesting.

Any comments or suggestions on the format of the reviews are, of course, welcome [2]. Except from that spambot trying to sell me trucker-grade stimulants and other dodgy pharmaceuticals. That jerk is blocked until he starts returning my calls.

[1] And if I had my druthers I would be watching ‘Thur’

[2] Any comments at all are welcome, for that matter. They seem to have dried up this week. Is everyone else tired too?

Back to the Island 1.18 – …In Translation

“I do whatever you father tells me. I do it for us.” – Jin-Soo Kwon

Summary: Jin is surveying the gnarly Hawaiian Island surf when Sun arrives for a dip in a smokin’ bikini. He grabs a towel and tries to wrap her in a modesty-preserving improvised straitjacket. She’s having none of that and argues with him in Korean, attracting the attention of the rest of the beach campers, including Jack and Michael. (Come to think of it, none of the characters mentioned so far are beach campers: all four of them plumped for Team Caves with Fresh Water, which makes this scene somewhat contrived). When it looks like Jin’s about to lay in with some two-fisted spousal management, Michael intervenes, yelling at Jin to step off. Sun gets between them and slaps Michael right across the chops. The message is clear: “Hands off my man.” Perhaps she misinterpreted Michael’s advances all this time?

Sun finds Michael working on his raft and attempts to apologise – she slapped him to protect him from Jin. Michael just wants to get the raft finished so he and Walt can get off the Island. He washes his hands of her problems. Michael tries to enthuse Walt for the voyage, inexplicably appealing to the ten year’s old nonexistent interest in high-rise architecture. For some reason Walt would rather play on the beach with Vincent. Jack wants to know who Michael’s taking with him on the raft. There’s only one spot left – Sawyer’s already bought his way aboard. It becomes a moot point though, when later that night the raft is destroyed in a fire. Michael figures that Jin did it and shouts at Sun. She runs off to the caves, where Jin is trying to treat what might be burns. They argue and Jin stalks off.

Sawyer finds Jin and takes him captive, blaming him for ruining his escape from the Island. When a furious Michael demands to know why he torched the raft, Jin goads him into striking him. Sun screams at Michael to stop, revealing to everyone that she speaks English. Nobody’s too keen to believe her when she declares Jin’s innocence, but Locke shows up to point out the bleeding obvious – there are other people on the Island who have already demonstrated their hostility to the crash survivors. They must have burned the raft. They free Jin. Sun tries to explain herself to Jin, asking him why they can’t just start all over again. He tells her it’s too late and walks away without looking back.

The raft is a goner but Michael decides to start again – nothing’s going to stop him from getting his kid off the Island. Jin shows up with a load of bamboo offering to help with the rebuild. “Boat” he says, taking the first tiny steps towards Daniel Dae Kim not having to speak exclusively in Korean for the entire series. Later, Locke asks Walt why he burned the raft – Walt admits that he likes the Island and doesn’t want to move again.

Now kind of divorced, Sun goes for a swim in her smokin’ bikini.

Flashback: Mr Paik is clearly a powerful and important businessman, because he’s happy to keep Jin waiting while he signs some stuff. He casually demands to know why Jin wants to marry his daughter, interrogating him about his ambitions. Jin wants to run a restaurant or a hotel or both. Paik wants to know Jin’s father’s opinion – Jin tells him that his father is dead. Paik grants his blessing but Jin will work for him. Jin mistakes this for a good thing. Jin and Sun get married, but Jin wants to impress Mr Paik with his loyalty and work ethic, so they can’t have their dream honeymoon for six months. Paik assigns Jin to deliver a message to a troublesome government minister that he is unhappy. Jin duly does precisely that, but Paik is not satisfied – he sends Jin along with a goon to do the job properly. Realising that the minister is to be assassinated, Jin gets in first and beats the man unconscious, saving his life. At home, Sun confronts him. Jin tells her he does whatever he’s told, protecting her from the truth about her father. A guilt-ridden Jin later finds his father, a poor-but-alive fisherman and admits that he was ashamed of his roots. His father forgives him and advises him to save his marriage by ending his work for Mr Paik. Jin just has one more job to do – to deliver gifts of watches to Paik’s business associates in Sydney and Los Angeles.

Highlights: Mirrors feature a few times in “In Translation”, which is fitting. The flahback in the episode is basically a reverse of that in “House of the Rising Sun”, showing the tragic backstory of the Kwons from Jin’s point of view. There are frequent parallels within the story as well:  Sun slaps Michael to stop Jin from killing him, which is what Jin did to Minister Han to save him from Paik’s assassin; Jin humbles himself and receives forgiveness from bother his father and Michael; learning to speak English marks a major turning point for both Jin and Sun. There are more examples – the episode is a fine piece of craftsmanship, with virtually every scene reflecting either something from the earlier Sun episode or reversing or paralleling another moment within the episode. Even Boone and Shannon get minor scenes that form a companion piece.

We finally get the inevitable release of the tension that has built up over Sun’s English skills. Michael and Kate have kept Sun’s secret because she is certain that it would destroy her marriage. She’s right. Mind you, any casual observer should have suspected something’s up much earlier in the episode: every single time Michael gets mad about something he turns straight to Sun and demands answers, as if she understands every word he says. Do not confess your sins to Father Michael, children. Discretion is not his middle name.

Locke’s great speech on the beach to stop Michael’s lynch mob from blaming Jin is a terrific moment – and utter self-serving misdirection on Locke’s part. “Why would any one of us block an attempt to leave the Island?” he asks. Uh huh. “We’re not the only people on this Island and we all know it!” he yells. Blaming the still-pretty-hypothetical Others for the arson attack conveniently diverts attention from the real culprit Walt, with whom Locke has formed a bond. It also gets Jin off the hook, which makes one more person who’s somewhat in his debt.

Shannon and Sayyid finally decide they’ll get together in this episode. He tells Boone that it’s going to happen, at which Boone tries to put him off. Later Shannon shouts at Boone-substitute Locke, who bluntly tells her she should get a life and stop giving Boone’s neediness so much oxygen. If I express a certain admiration in the way she just blinks, shrugs and takes his advice, I daresay it sounds hypocritical. Haven’t I been demanding more substance from Shannon and Boone? Well, yeah, but I’m also starting to get over their incessant bitching at each other, so anything that moves them past each other’s baggage at this point is welcome. High time they both started seeing other characters and developing some new relationships.

Themes: Jin arguably has more Daddy issues than anyone else, considering he has problems both with his own father – whose poverty and simple life are a source of shame – and with Sun’s, who is a monster. Jin believes he serves his marriage best by serving Paik, but that ends up destroying it. Mind you, his old man is a bit of a sweetheart and really doesn’t deserve to be dealt with so shabbily by his son, so Jin earns a least a slice of his discomfort.

This week’s flashback crossover is a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it appearance of Hurley on television at the Minister’s house. It’s not really a tangible link like the previous couple of crossovers. It’s less of a narrative intertwining and more of a random easter egg. It does ensure that keen fans will scrutinise and talk about every single frame of every single flashback from here on in, which makes it very smart television production, if nothing else.

Verdict: “In Translation” is a rich and carefully structured piece that actually answers as many questions as it raises. The catch is that it answers questions from Sun’s flashback rather than from previous incidents on the Island, but nonetheless answers occur. I give them extra points for not turning “who burned the raft” into another unanswered question, both because one more needless minor mystery would threaten tedium, and because it adds some new dimension to a Michael-Walt relationship that’s still a little light at this point.

Jin has finally stepped off the bench and become a full blown character in his own right. “In Translation” takes all the elements of Jin that have been obvious already – his pride, his temper, his stubborn resolve – and shows us a side to the character that could easily have remained two dimensional. His choice not to accept Sun’s offer to rebuild their relationship is on the one hand cruel but on the other liberating. By rejecting her, he finally rejects what his relationship with Paik turned him into. It’s a terrible choice, but making it frees both of them to begins new lives. As if it were that simple.

A revealing character portrait wrapped in a superbly crafted frame, “In Translation” is perhaps a little more interesting to me as a study in story construction. Nevertheless it has great moments – Jin’s decision to damn himself in order to save the Minister, Locke’s speech, the terrific gag at the end with Hurley’s walkman batteries. Between this and the previous episode I get a real sense that the writers are hitting their stride and beginning to understand what they can do with these characters and with the interplay between the Island and flashback story threads. I think I am more impressed with the episode now than I was at first viewing. It’s more layered and complex than I gave it credit for, as were the performances by Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim. Eight out of ten.


  1. I guess I feel inhibited because I haven’t actually watched the whole thing to the end… I am interested in discussing things like “Why was Ben reading VALIS?” and “What was the point of introducing all the characters from the tail section only to kill them off except for Bernard?” but (a) you haven’t gotten to those bits yet, and (b) I have this feeling maybe most of the data shedding light on these questions is in the episodes I ha’en’t seen, so I could only comment in an ill-informed way.
    I don’t have anything interesting to say about nicely-crafted character portraits, all I can do is emote foolishly along the lines of: ‘I liked it too.’ A big thumbs-up for 1.18 from my corner… 🙂

    Comment by The Former Dr Clam — May 13, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

  2. Hmm, I’d forgotten about ‘Valis’ actually. I must reread it before I get to that episode (which I think is in Season 4, so I have a little time).

    I do have theories about the tail section characters, but they can wait until I get to those episodes. Although I don’t think it’s going too far to say that it was not the characters themselves that were the problem.

    Out of curiosity, how far through the series did you get? And were you watching them on the Seven network broadcast? I’m interested in that because I have a feeling that sometime during late season 4 or early in 5 it became basically impossible to guess when they were going to show it next. I’m curious as to whether that affected your viewing habits, or if you just lost interest when it got…a bit weird (he said vaguely).

    Comment by lexifab — May 14, 2011 @ 12:56 am

  3. We watched it on discs that my father-in-law burned for us, maybe in 2009? We haven’t seen any broadcast TV since 2005, when we moved the TV to a different part of the room and couldn’t be bothered getting a longer cable to attach it to the aerial. I *think* that about a quarter of the way into season 4 we started a wildly exciting new campaign in our regular evening role-playing sessions and stopped watching TV for a while.

    Comment by The Former Dr Clam — May 14, 2011 @ 10:04 am

  4. Ah, then my theory must remain untested . Well, I am trying not to make more than vague allusions to future events with these reviews, so I won’t spoil anything. But obviously I do endorse any urges you may have to resume watching. I would love to hear what you think about the bits you haven’t seen yet.

    (Do you have the whole series available?)

    Comment by lexifab — May 14, 2011 @ 6:42 pm

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