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

June 1, 2016

Back to the Island 3.8 – Flashes before Your Eyes

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: — lexifab @ 10:37 pm

“How did you know she was drowning?” – Charlie Pace
“I’ll tell you how he knew. That guy sees the future, dude.” – Hurley Reyes

Summary: Desmond declines to tell anyone what happened to him after the Dharma Swan Station blew up, probably because it involves weird consciousness-shifting time travel. He does, however, predict Charlie’s impending death.

The Best Bit: Charlie’s middle name is Hieronymous. Charlie Hieronymous Fucking Pace. No wonder he was so screwed up.

The Real Best Bit: Well, well. So Lost is a time travel show, is it? That was a bit unexpected. Desmond’s adventure in his own past is a disorienting flashback-within-a-flashback, but inceptionized time travel aside, the *really real* best bit is Fionnula Flanagan’s terrific guest appearance as Eloise Hawking. Eloise is a pawn broker who not only knows an unsettling amount about Desmond’s past, present and future, but is also perfectly aware that he is currently time travelling and is only there to make sure he does everything he’s supposed to. “And if you don’t do those things, Desmond David Hume, then every single one of us is dead. So give me that sodding ring!”

Eloise is great, is what I’m saying.

In a series that does its best to throw absolutely mystifying curveballs at its characters every so often, this is the mid-series pivot on a par with replacing the entire cast with animated cats.

The Worst Bit: I felt bad for Desmond Hume. Alan Dale’s guest appearance as Des’ prospective father-in-law Charles Whidmore is an almost comically villainous turn, as he conspicuously declines to pour Des a glass of stupidly expensive Scotch, and instead serves him some brutal classist shade. Whidmore is a huge jerk.

The Real Worst Bit: Look, the framing scene with Charlie and Hurley deciding to get Desmond drunk so he’ll reveal his ESP secrets is necessary, but that doesn’t make it good. Though I’ll grant that Des’ final declaration is a pretty (and upsetting) great character moment: “I wasn’t saving Claire, Charlie. I was saving you. You dove in after her. You tried to save her. You drowned. When I saw the lightning hit the roof, you were electrocuted. I tried twice to save you but the universe has a way of course correcting and I can’t stop it forever. No matter what I try to do, you’re gonna die, Charlie.”

The Mythology: “Flashes before Your Eyes” is an unsettling glimpse at the middle of some other story (one that won’t be cleared up for a while yet) and throws the whole Island mystery firmly back into the foreground. What *is* this place? Who are these people who seem to be able to go anywhere and do whatever they like with a clear picture of what should and/or will happen. Why is *everything* connected? Example: Whidmore’s office has a painting with a polar bear and the word “Namaste” written on it that I guarantee you won’t spot without freezing the image.

And when Desmond arrives back in the past, the Numbers show up again. Here they seem like spontaneous harbingers of Island weirdness – a side-effect rather than significant in themselves. The difference here is that Desmond, who spent three years typing the Numbers into a computer, recognises their presence and is suitably wigged out by them.

The Episode: I remember being riveted by “Flashes before Your Eyes” when I first saw it. It changes the tenor of the show in ways that both heighten the wonder and – I don’t doubt – deepen the frustration for any viewer who just wants everything to make sense. It doesn’t yet, and instead “Flashes” doubles down on the bewildering mystery. As a first time viewer, I was absolutely on board for Lost expanding its weirdness borders into time travel territory.

In retrospect though, this episode is all setup for stuff that won’t pay off for ages. It advances the plot a half-step at most, from “he sees the future” to “he sees Charlie die in the future”. Bad news for Charlie, but the episode is 100% leaning on Henry Ian Cusick’s befuddled charm to carry the audience through what is, when seen in isolation, a nonsense plot. He’s up for it – as of this episode he became one of my favourite actors on the show – but it’s a risky balancing act.

It’s an interesting artefact of the show in retrospect – an absolute lynchpin in terms of orienting the series towards its ending – but it doesn’t move the story forward in any meaningful sense. It’s almost pure infrastructure, wrapped in a charming Scots accent.

Call it six Mancunian buskers belting out Oasis covers out of ten.

April 18, 2016

Back to the Island 3.7 – Not in Portland

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: , — lexifab @ 10:58 pm

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.

October 15, 2014

Back to the Island 3.2 – The Glass Ballerina

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 2:21 pm

Back to the Island 3.2 – The Glass Ballerina

“You said this dock was abandoned” – Sun-Hwa Kwon

“That would be part of the lying you mentioned” – Sayyid Jarrah

Summary: Sayyid, Jin and Sun try to ambush the Others but lose their boat instead

The Best Bit: While the focus of the episode is on Sun, and particularly exploring the fractures that have always existed in her relationship with Jin because of his willingness to use violence, which is a rich, rich vein to mine, that’s not the best bit of this episode. The best bit would be a shirtless, grubby Sawyer attempting an impromptu breakout from the Others’ chain gang, getting thwarted because Juliette pulls a gun on Kate, and then using the resultant brutal kicking to assess which of the Others represents a real threat when the time comes for a *real* breakout. It’s a classic Sawyer moment, combining his charming, sleazy opportunism – he instigates his half-hearted getaway by planting a showy, unsolicited kiss on Kate – and his cunning eye for the long game. Oh and something new is revealed for the first time: “Why did she call you James?” asks Kate. “Because that’s my name,” he replies casually.

The Worst Bit: Nothing about the episode is bad at all, though it feels more like a loosely-connected set of scenes than usual. Sun’s backstory is a clean through-line: she has an affair with her English tutor, her father finds out about it and orders Jin to kill him without mentioning why, Jin baulks at murder but Jae the translator kills himself anyway, and Sun’s dishonour has now made mutual the ill-feeling between herself and her father. None of the rest of it quite clicks into that narrative. Crucially though, Sun officially joins the list of killers among the Oceanic survivors, after she shoots Colleen (one of the Others). Admittedly it’s pretty much self-defense, but still – that doesn’t leave too many characters who have yet to murder someone. Maybe just Hurley and Claire.

The Mythology: The final scene, in which Benjamin Linus introduces himself and reveals to Jack that the Others are in contact with the outside world by showing him the winning hit of the baseball World Series, is purely there to touch base with the mystery. Who are the Others and why are they on the Island? “If you could leave this island, why would you still be here?”, asks Jack, to which Ben replies “Yes Jack, why would we stay?” It’s shameless place-marking, but thanks to the way Michael Emerson plays his fish-eyed delivery off Matthew Fox’s exasperated intensity, it’s a compelling scene to watch.

One question that occurs in this episode that is never clearly resolved is – who are all the other slaves on the Others’ work gang? Since an explicit answer is never provided, I choose to assume that they are other passengers from the plane crash or other castaways who have arrived at the Island over time and have declined to join in the Others’ as-yet-unspecified cause.

The Literature: Pretty sure nobody touches a book in this episode. In lieu of that, I will note that subtitles translating Jin and Sun’s Korean dialogue makes unambiguous that Jarrah’s first name is spelled “Sayid” with one Y. I note that only because I intend to keep defiantly spelling it Sayyid because I like how it looks. So there.

“The Glass Ballerina” doesn’t establish much that’s new, but it’s a showcase for Jin and Sun, whose relationship is one of the most compelling of the pre-crash storylines for my money. Sun’s willingness to use people is clearly shown as a weakness of character – she knows that she puts people in harm’s way for her own advantage or to avoid the consequences of her own actions, and she feels acutely guilty for it, but she does it anyway. The fact that she crosses a rubicon in this period of the story by killing someone feels like a significant milestone, either it’s the crash before her first steps towards redemption or it’s a point of no return on the road to self-destruction. At this point in the show that is absolutely one of the most interesting questions being asked: now that we are starting to get a handle on where these characters came from, where are they heading?

Eight out of ten shards of shame and dishonour for “The Glass Ballerina”.

September 3, 2014

Back to the Island 3.1 – A Tale of Two Cities

Filed under: back to the island,reviewage — Tags: , , — lexifab @ 2:42 pm

Back to the Island 3.1 – A Tale of Two Cities

“I don’t think you’re stupid, Jack. I think you’re stubborn.” – Juliet Burke

Summary: Jack, Kate and Sawyer are prisoners of the Others, who live in a nice Dharma Initiative village

The Best Bit: In an episode centering on how much of a stubborn, obsessive arsehole Jack Shepherd is, the best bit is, as you’d expect, something Sawyer does. Specifically, Sawyer’s cranky struggle with the weird Skinner-box animal cage he’s been put in, his triumph at ingeniously solving it using lateral thinking, his disappointment that his reward is a Dharma fish biscuit, and his utter deflation when Tom Friendly tells him that “it only took the bears two hours” to solve it.

The Worst Bit: Okay, at this point, do we really need yet another insight into how Jack is a stubborn, obsessive arsehole? He single-handedly destroyed his own marriage and, for an encore, drove his recovering-alcoholic father back to the bottle that eventually killed him? Bra-fucking-vo, heroic leading man Jack!

The Mythology: This episode is all about the tease – the Others’ were all minding their own business, baking muffins, reading books and fixing plumbing when Oceanic 815 crashed. They live in a Dharma facility but “that was a long time ago”. They seem to have access to impressive resources – Juliet had Jack’s life story in her file, which they seem to have put together in just a few weeks despite being on some uncharted island in the South Pacific. Just what exactly do they do all along, and why have they been pretending to be murderous ninja-hobos all this time? Mysterious! Oh, and it turns out that “Henry Gale” is really a guy called Ben, who is probably the Others’ leader.

The Literature: Juliet’s book club is reading Stephen King’s “Carrie”, which one member dismisses as trash that, intriguingly, “Ben wouldn’t read on the toilet”. It’s Juliet’s favourite book, so the other club members must have been disappointed to be robbed of a good literary stoush by the sky turning weird and a plan exploding overhead. The other literary reference is the title, but for once I’m stumped. Is it referring to LA and Sydney? They are hardly mentioned. And there’s the Oceanic survivors on one side and the Others on the other side, but that’s kind of a long bow to draw. I hereby accuse the producers of wedging a gratuitous literary reference in for no reason whatsoever.

The Episode: It’s all setup, from the flashback of Jack being a destructive, life-ruining arse to the present where Jack is being a destructive, life-ruining arse. Juliet is introduced as a smart woman with a lot of very strong emotions she is working hard to suppress. Weaselly manipulator Henry Gale is reintroduced as Ben, a ruthless manipulator and the leader of the Others. Tom Friendly is reintroduced as, well, a friendly guy who doesn’t mind administering the odd clinical beating. And Kate, we are stunned to learn, wears a summer dress well and has a great line in upset stares when Ben tells her that “the next two weeks are going to be very unpleasant”. We also meet Carl, but it’s safe to say it will be some time, if ever, before we care about Carl.

The episode is okay. The opening scene with Juliet popping open a CD and having an unsettling emotional breakdown to the tune of Petulia Clarke’s “Downtown” is a nice callback to Season 2’s opening scene with Desmond. With only three of the principal characters present, and spending most of their time in cages of one sort or another, it’s not the most action-packed episode, but it does have some nice psychological drama elements. Juliet is presented as someone who has learned to survive in Ben’s company by controlling herself carefully and playing some of the same mindgames we’ve come to love from him. Sawyer is concerned with living in the moment and surviving, reflected by his incarceration in an animal cage. Kate is required to do nothing, literally, but to look pretty in this episode. And Jack is, as always, an arrogant, self-obsessed arse.

Seven fish biscuits, and we really need to cut Jack out of this diet.

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