Well, I nearly made it six months without a single entry in the world’s least essential recap of history’s most-recapped television program, but here we find ourselves once again. There are various reasons why I’ve not been more regular in maintaining this series, but if I’m honest one of the big ones is that we have come to one of the least-rewatchable parts of the series. That is, the sequence leading up to the infamous 2006 Hollywood writers’ strike, during which, according to legend, the producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindeloff actually sat down and figured out where the hell they were going with the series, which was by this point among the most popular forms of entertainment on the planet.
On the one hand, I sympathise with them having to make the tough transition from discovery writers, working out what the story is through the process of telling it, to being architects who have to plot out the story in minute detail. I’ve been there, albeit not with a production employing hundreds of people, watched by many millions more and costing hundreds of millions of dollars.
The strike came along at more or less the last possible minute to save the show from collapsing under the weight of its own unaddressed mythology (though there are plenty of critics out there who would argue that it sailed well past that point somewhere around the third act of ‘Pilot’). Unfortunately it came too late to save the first half of Season Three from being a hopeless dog’s breakfast of new characters (some better-judged than others), new manifestations of Island-magic craziness and some very bad character decisions made for plot-advancement purposes.
This is one of those episodes, and as you’ll see, I didn’t care for it so much.
Back to the Island 3.3 – Further Instructions
“Yeah, I know, I get it, you’re going to go into your little magic hut and I’m going to stay out here in case you devolve into a monkey.” – Charlie Pace
Summary: Locke, inexplicably struck dumb by the explosion of the Swan Station, goes on a vision quest to rescue Mr Eko from a polar bear.
The Best Bit: This episode marks the first appearance of third-season-rescuing new characters Nikki and Paolo, who are – wait, no, that’s not the best bit at all. Well, instead we’ll celebrate the return to the polar bears in a stunning bit of visual effects that – oh, no. No they’re not.
Huh. Well, look, Desmond gets around naked for most of the episode, so I imagine there must be someone who’s happy about it.
The Worst Bit: In expanding the character of Locke, this episode massively diminishes him. “Psych profile said you’d be amenable to coercion,” undercover cop Eddie tells him in the flashback. Pretty sure they meant “deception” or “transparent lies”, but the incorrect word is a script editing problem. The problem for the show is that it’s one thing to have Locke doubt his interpretation of events and the decisions he makes, but it’s another to hang the character trait of “gullible nitwit” on him.
There have been cases on inconsistent characterisation on the show before, but this one finally marks the point at which Locke is basically no longer a viable protagonist. In establishing his vulnerability to being conned by anyone with a convincing-sounding story, it’s at this point that we can give up the concept of reliable narration for any scene in which Locke is the POV character. From now until the end of the show, the only times we know Locke understands the situation correctly is when he is screaming about being cheated or tricked or taken advantage of yet again.
On the other hand, drugging up and going on a sweat-lodge hallucinogenic dream-quest is *totally* consistent with Locke’s character. What a pity it’s such a tedious (and cheaply-filmed) dream sequence back in the airport. (Hi Boone! Nice to see you again! Still nobody cares that you’re dead).
The Mythology: The Island plays its regular trick of appearing as a dead character in order to impart wisdom or guidance to the living, albeit in this case Boone’s appearance gets a non-magical makeover as a heatstroke-induced hallucination. More interesting is the first hint that something is up with Desmond’s perception of time, with his precognition about Locke’s speech. Like everything else in the episode, though, this revelation is slathered with so much significance that it sacrifices any subtlety or meaning.
The Episode: Some episodes are about moving the plot along, and some episodes are about setting things up for later. This one is almost the latter, but it’s treading water so hard it’s practically levitating. This episode is so obvious and plodding that it borders on the crass – Ghost-Boone’s narky, timewasting name-check of each of the Oceanic survivors in the airport dream sequence is an insult to the clever, layered uses of dreams that have gone before in the series.
Locke’s usefulness as a character is thrown under the bus in order to reposition him as a useful stooge for whichever bad guy next pops his head up out of the Island, and a potential antagonist for anyone with any sense. If Locke is the avatar of faith in Lost’s central philosophical debate, this this episode looks remarkably like it was a fix on behalf the “rationalism” side.
Basically, it’s garbage, even if they did let Dominic Monaghan get in sly references to Altered States and The Lord of the Rings. Two out of ten fingers smeared with trippy homemade peyote.