Quote: “You haven’t thought this through, Jack. Your plan’s not going to work.” – Juliet Burke
Summary: Everyone argues about the dangling plot threads from the previous episode: Will Jack let Ben die in surgery (and will it be deliberate or another screw-up)? Will Kate and Sawyer escape and or will Danny finally get to kill someone in revenge for Sun shooting Colleen? Drama!
The Best Bit: The reckless desperation of Kate and Sawyer’s escape is exciting and features a very unexpected diversion down one of the series’ weirder rabbit holes. But nothing quite tops the fact that Ben wakes up during his own surgery and successfully negotiates for his own life despite the fact that virtually everyone involved would be happier with him dead.
The Worst Bit: Jack does a lot of treading water in this episode, loudly and angrily restating his previous positions while other things happen. He manages to outdo himself in the final scene by arrogantly browbeating Juliet into telling him what Ben said to convince her to save him. It’s aggressive and arguably bullying, though Juliet’s weary but calculated response – “I’ve been on this Island for three years, Jack. Three years, two months and twenty-eight days. He said that if I let him live and helped you that he would finally let me go home” – is delivered with real emotional punch.
The Literature: There’s no time for anyone to pick up a book in this classic run-through-the-jungle shoutfest. The closest thing to a literary allusion is the A Clockwork Orange scene, about which more in a moment.
The Mythology: Well. Doesn’t “Not in Portland” open up a can of worms? First of all, in the Juliet flashback we get our first introduction to Richard Alpert, played with slightly-goofy-terribly-sinister charm by the wonderful Nestor Carbonell. He’s pretending to be a recruiter for a Portland biotech startup, but he’s really one of the Others and also a bus murderer. It’s not everyone who gets to write that on their resume. Oh, and Ethan’s there too, but more or less only so that we know straight away that Alpert’s up to no good.
The other key new element is Room 23, where Alex’s boyfriend whatsisnamewhocares (aka Karl) is being torture-programmed by weird visual images and a genuinely unendurable industrial metal soundtrack. This is apparently where recruits go to get indoctrinated into the gun-toting jungle fetishist cult of the Others. The blipverts on Carl’s giant TV screen announce “God loves you as he loved Jacob”. They also make pronouncements like “Everything changes!” and “We are the causes of our own suffering”, which sounds like the take-home messages from a particularly vacuous TED talk.
The Episode: So. This is the first episode of Lost after a long hiatus caused by the infamous 2007 Hollywood writers’ strike. During their down-tools, the senior writer-producers of the show are alleged to have got together to map out the rest of the series. Everything after this point, we are told, is driving the series towards its climactic episode. I’ll have stuff to say about that when we get to Season Six, but for the moment it’s fair enough to take it at face value.
In terms of moving forward, they come off the blocks pretty hard with “Not in Portland”, laying plenty of pipe for the rest of the series in between the gun fights, tense negotiations and sudden betrayals. Juliette’s back story is sad – Elizabeth Mitchell performs crushing, unbearable sadness as well as anyone in the business – but feels artificially manipulative to me. It’s mainly constructed to make the Others looks ruthless (we knew that) and to establish that she has good reason to hate Ben.
It’s good, but except for the bit where Juliet’s ex is bus-murdered, it’s not that memorable. Call it seven botched spinal surgeries out of ten.