Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Thoughts on He's Our You...

One of my few complaints with Lost is that the show doesn't always successfully combine character development with mythological revelation in the same episode. We've reached that part of every season where wrinkles in spacetime take a backseat to Claire's pigeons and the love tesseract of Jack, Sawyer, Juliet, and Kate. I realize not every episode can be the Constant, but just a spoonful of sugar (e.g., another shot of the four-toed foot) helps the medicine go down.

He's Our You definitely fell into the character-driven category. And as such, the episode frustrated me initially. We learned that Sayid was a stone-cold killer even as a child, but fresh insights into his motivations as an adult were lacking. I kept waiting for some revelation (e.g., that Ben had tricked him into killing innocents) that would explain his bloodlust for little Ben. But the flashbacks simply reiterated what we already knew about Sayid working for Ben as an assassin.

Then it hit me. While ostensibly Sayid-centric, the episode didn't aim to explain our ersatz Iraqi's behavior at all. This was really the continuation of Ben's tale. Over the next few episodes, we'll learn all about why he acted the way he did as an adult. And even if it's looking less likely that Ben is the good guy he claims to be, such horrible childhood traumas -- his mother's death, the abuse by his father, getting shot by Sayid -- also make it hard to peg him merely as a villain.

I believe Ben's story is building to the revelation that he's been trying to break the causal loop that deposited our Losties in the past. The catch is that the law of course correction prevents him from making drastic changes like killing Sayid before he travels back in time. So Ben has been following the general pattern of events, making whatever minor alterations he can in hopes their cumulative effect will destabilize history just enough to reboot his so-called life.

Remember what Ms. Hawking told Jack? She warned that he must recreate the circumstances of the original crash or the results would be unpredictable. Desmond said something similar about following his visions as closely as possible or risk changing the picture on the box. I think that's why Ben turned the Donkey Wheel despite knowing that Locke was supposed to be the one who did so. The substitution was Ben's last gambit to change the picture on the box.

Unfortunately, last night's shooting seems to suggest that Ben's efforts to change history have failed. As Daniel Faraday would say, whatever happened, happened. In that regard, fans of Sayid can take heart. At first, I was worried that the lack of new information in his flashbacks meant that his story was nearly done. Now, however, I have to wonder if it's Ben whose end is near. With the effort to change his history a failure, all that may remain is for Ben to accept his fate and be judged by Smokey.

Here, in the spirit of Herb Caen, are some three-dot thoughts on the episode:

I BROUGHT YOU A BOOK. The book little Ben brings Sayid is A Separate Reality by Carlos Castaneda. It's actually the second in a series of three purportedly describing Castaneda's studies with a Yaqui Indian tickle-, uh, sorcerer named don Juan Matus. There are lots of Lost connections, including the notion of drawing energy from the universe, which could refer to vacuum or zero-point energy from the fabric of spacetime itself. Over the course of his studies with don Juan, Castaneda learns to perceive reality in ways most people don't, another very Lost-like concept. Part of this process involves psychedelic drugs like those given by Locke to Boone and by Oldham to Sayid. I also wonder if little Ben's reading suggestion refers to the controversy surrounding the veracity of Castaneda's works, which many believe are sheer fiction. That fits well with the recurring theme of the long con on Lost.

RADZINKSY, I GOT THIS. My friend MB once told me an hilarious cautionary tale he heard from a Hollywood executive about the evils of expository dialogue. The exec described one particularly bad example that ended with one character asking another: "And what do you think we should do, Mr. Water Commissioner?" I thought of that story as the names of new characters like Radzinsky and Oldham kept getting emphasized in dialogue in totally unnatural ways. I understand why Lost does it -- they're worried we'll get confused otherwise. But I sometimes wish the writers would take a page from the Wire and pander a little less to viewers, who already understand that watching Lost will require some attention and reviewing. I think this would also help ease the introduction of new characters, which the show sometimes has trouble doing -- e.g., Locke's awkward introduction of Nikki and Paulo in a scene that seemed solely designed to give an excuse to say their names...

I CAN'T JUST LET YOU GO. Like Sayid, I initially found it odd that Sawyer seemed to prioritize his loyalty to Dharma over his fellow crash survivors. Then Sayid reminded us that they were only together on the Island for 100 days, as compared to the last three years Sawyer spent connecting with the Dharma folks. It's only natural that Sawyer at least feel torn. I have a feeling this difference in perspective will create some interesting conflicts over the rest of the season. None of the Oceanic 6 feels any loyalty to Dharma. Even more importantly, they haven't had time to internalize Faraday's rule of time travel that whatever happened, happened. We saw how quickly Sayid fell prey to the temptation to try to change the future by killing Ben. In previous recaps, I've speculated that someone will try to alter the timeline by sabotaging the Swan station. I wonder if it will be Jack, as foreshadowed by his clash with Sawyer in Namaste...

HE'S OUR YOU. The casting of William Sanderson, probably best known for playing Larry (brother of the two Darryls) on Newhart, was a nice touch. Along with the music blaring from the old-time record player and the teepee, it helped create a super creepy vibe that fit with warnings by Sawyer et al. that Oldham was a maniac. Unfortunately, the payoff where Oldham doses Sayid with LSD, was totally anticlimactic -- far less disturbing than when Sayid tortured Sawyer in Season 1. I was reminded of the letdown when we learned that the aliens in Signs could be defeated by water... I was surprised to learn that LSD is actually used worldwide as an interrogation drug. I liked that aspect of the scene, I just wish they had sold Oldham differently, maybe as a mad scientist who also invented the brainwashing film in Room 23... How long before Radzinsky connects Sayid's plane references to Jin's frantic questions in Namaste? ...So Karen and Gerald DeGroot are still in Michigan?

Does Sayid drinking MacCutcheon make him a great man like Widmore? ...Ilana's outraaaaaaageous accent sounds fake to me... Who do you supposed hired her, and what was the real motive? I'm increasingly convinced the answers to these questions are the keys to unlocking a much larger mystery. In my recap above, I suggested that big Ben was trying to reboot his life by preventing Sayid from killing him. After rewatching, however, I find myself wondering the reverse. Was big Ben trying to train Sayid to be the kind of cold-blooded killer who wouldn't hesitate to shoot a child? Perhaps that's why the writers made such a point of emphasizing Ben's abuse -- they wanted us to feel the difficulty of Sayid's task. Maybe Ben's not disrupting events, but rather effectuating them, with his manipulations. Ilana claims not to know Ben, but he still strikes me as the one most likely to have hired her. The only other candidate I can see is Widmore -- or perhaps Ms. Hawking.

WHO WILL SAVE LITTLE BEN? A number of you speculated quite plausibly that Jack will be the one who does the deed. Such a scenario would parallel well Jack saving Ben as an adult, sort of like how Sayid killed for Ben as an adult before attempting to kill him as a child. But if I were a betting man, my money would be on Juliet to save little Ben. I think that's why Ben worshiped her as an adult, and why he was so insistent that Juliet stay on the Island. He remembered her saving him and wanted to make sure she would be there to do the job...

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Thoughts on Namaste...

I like to describe Lost as the sci-fi equivalent of Memento because both are stories told in reverse. They establish mysteries at the outset that are then answered by moving viewers backwards in time. Memento is actually a linear narrative structured in non-linear fashion to create the mystery. Time travel serves the same basic purpose on Lost. For the past few seasons we've puzzled over strange coincidences involving our Losties and the Island. And now, as that talking boar who peed in Sawyer's tent might say, it's all finally coming back around.

I believe Namaste is the beginning of some major revelations that will totally recontextualize our understanding of certain characters' relationships to each other and the Island. I have a number of whackadoo speculations in this regard, but I want to highlight a few given the introduction of Radzinsky, the return of young Ben, and the naming of Horace and Amelia's baby as Ethan. Let's start with Radz, who I suspect is really Leonard Simms, the mental patient who obsessively repeated the Numbers and admonished Hurley for "opening the box."

Both are obviously bald, but that hardly narrows it down. The glasses aren't the same, but they're awfully similar. Maybe Radzinsky developed a preference for the same general type of frame the way some people pick a style of dress upon adulthood and refuse to deviate from it. Bottom line: I could see Lenny plausibly being an older version of Radz.

For this to work, however, a lot of what we think we know -- Radzinsky's suicide, how Lenny and Sam Toomey overheard the Numbers, etc. -- would be lies. Here's my alternate version of events: Radz got wind of the Purge from his vantage point in the Flame. He made radio contact with military liason Sam, who promised to send help. Radz then went to secure the Swan button, which he pushed until relief arrived in the form of Kelvin. Radz escaped by conning Kelvin into assuming the button duty much as the Kelvin would later try doing to Desmond.

Speaking of the Purge, the return of its perpetrator as a boy has inspired a whackadoo speculation about Ben and Juliet. I believe she's the subject of the painting that will hang in Ben's house as an adult.

The woman in the painting is blonde like Juliet, and she could be holding a field mouse, which was the subject of Juliet's fertility research. As Capcom perceptively notes, the two women share the same Mona Lisa smile. I suspect young Ben will develop a huge crush on hippy Juliet. (I know I have!) She will convince the boy to spring Sayid and take him to Ricardus Alpert. This act will prove Ben's loyalty to the Others and start him down the road to becoming their leader. In this way, Juliet will play a pivotal role in effectuating the future we know.

The last example I'd like to highlight is Amy, who I believe is actually Amelia, the elder Other we met A Tale of Two Cities . Admittedly, Amy and Amelia don't look very much alike, and it's hard to imagine Amy joining the people who murdered both of her husbands. Then again, I've seen shots of Reiko Aylesworth, the actress who plays Amy, with straight hair like Amelia's. And if Ethan can forgive the Others for killing his father, maybe Amy can, too. I know it's not much, but my gut still tells me the older and younger woman will turn out to be one and the same.

Okay, enough with the over-analysis of photographs. Here, in the spirit of Herb Caen, are some three-dot thoughts on Namaste:

YOU'D BETTER FASTEN YOUR SEATBELT. Notice the change from night to day after Ajira 316 gets hit by the flash. They apparently jumped in time like Ben and Locke did after turning the Wheel... Was it my imagination, or did the plane's radio pick up the Numbers transmission as they were landing? Perhaps that transmission came from 1977 through whatever window Jack and Co. traveled through to land in the time of Dharma. It's almost like they hit a fork in time when they entered the wormhole -- Jack and Co. went one way while the rest of the plane went another... Interesting to see the effect of passing through the Island's wormhole on an airplane minus the effect of the Swan station. The instruments failed like Oceanic 815 but the plane remained otherwise intact unlike its predecessor... In a recent podcast, team Darlton suggested that Jacob told Ben to build the runway. I can buy that, though I find myself wondering if Jacob, like Dave, is a mental manifestation of the character of the Island, which goes by many names.

YOU'VE BEEN ASSIGNED TO THE SHED. Like many of you, I found it hilarious how Jack seemed miffed by his assignment as janitor. But what really struck me was Dr. Chang's explanation that Jack scored low on the aptitude test. I think this was primarily meant to evoke the tests participants took in the most recent ARG, the Dharma Initiative Recruiting Project. Yet the assignment of jobs based on aptitude also struck me as almost Platonic, albeit minus the noble lie. Despite all the flowers and peasant blouses (a great look for Kate, BTW) this was no hippy commune. Dharma seems to have dispensed with any egalitarian or democratic pretense -- it was clear who gave orders and who took them. That realization has me wondering once again just what the Initiative's purpose really was. In posts like Catastrophe, I've suggested that the Dharma was devoted to studying life in the aftermath of planetary catastrophe. We know there's a nuclear bomb (i.e., the Jughead) on the Island. What if the plan included eventually exposing this prototype community to actual nuclear explosion? ...By the way, how perfectly cast is Patrick Fischler as security agent Phil? He positively radiates suspicion and brilliantly toes the line between ridiculous and menacing...

HE SAW THE MODEL OF THE SWAN. I'll be curious to see how accurate Radzinsky's warning proves to be about the need to keep the Swan secret from the Others. Team Darlton have led us to believe in podcasts that Radz survived the Purge because the Others didn't know about the Swan until after Oceanic 815 crashed. But the elaborate precautions he took to hide the Blast Door Map suggest he was worried somone might be watching him over the cameras. Then again, if that were the case, why not just disable the cameras? ...Were the Others really the cause of the Incident? Even if they were, I continue to believe our Losties will play a role, as well. As I described in my recap of La Fleur, I suspect that one of them -- possibly Daniel -- will try to sabotage construction of the Swan. In my most whackadoo moments, I worry the Incident will be caused by detonation of the Jughead, and that Dan will die trying to protect our Losties (and young Charlotte) from its effects... Speaking of the Swan, was it just me, or did its blueprints show a much larger structure than the station we saw back in Season 2?

IT'S PROBABLY JUST AN ANIMAL. In this episode, we go the monster, the whispers, and Zombie Christian, suggesting to me these are all manifestations of the same force (i.e., the Cerberus security system)... I find it interesting how Christian continues to refer to himself as such. Clearly, the dead resurrected by Smokey retain some sense of memory and identity. I wonder if they have a choice whether or not to serve the Island's interests... Othersville looked pretty devastated, presumably due to the attack by Keamy's crew and subsequent appearance of Smokey. Has the latter been hanging out there since repelling Keamy and Co.? ...Zombie Christian first mentions the year 1972. Can we assume that this was the start of the Dharma Initiative as we've seen it? And how does Christian know our Losties are in 1977? ...Speaking of '77, I wonder if Sun wasn't taken back in time because she failed to bring her daughter. I'm guessing both Ji Yeon and Aaron will end up on the Island, and that Desmond will be the one who brings them...

ONE LAST THING. A number of you with more eagle eyes than mine noticed a woman crouching in the shadows behind Sun. I watched the scene again in HD with some tweaks to enhance the brightness. It could be Claire, but I'm skeptical for a couple of reasons. First, you can see the woman put on what appears to be a pair of headphones, suggesting to me she was a member of the sound crew. Second, an even more importantly, I can't imagine them including Claire without mentioning or at least showing her clearly. For that reason, I think any future appearances by Ms. Littleton will be played by Emilie de Ravin herself.

As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

What I Meant to Say...

One minor frustration of blogging about Lost is that there's no easy way for commenters to "bump" old posts like you can on an internet bulletin board. Sure, I could just repost a speculation or recap, but I would lose all your comments, which defeats the purpose. I particularly think this discourages folks from discussing episodes that have already aired.

So, at the excellent suggestion of Wayne Allen Sallee, I'm opening the discussion up this week to your comments about anything and everything that's happened on the show thus far. Forget to mention something really cool after your favorite past episode? Let us know! Have a question about some prior speculation advanced on this blog? Fire away!

It doesn't even need to be completely serious. For example, here's something that I meant to say following the Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham. I frankly found it amusing the way Locke rolled over and vomited after landing in the Tunisian desert. Disturbing...but also kind of funny the way spontaneous barfing can be. See, e.g., Monty Python.

I couldn't help wondering if this was a college football reference. Last season, Kevin Barnes of Maryland hit California Golden Bears receiver Jahvid Best so hard that the latter barfed a bizarre neon-green substance. Within hours, clips of the hit were all over the internet with titles like "What Did Jahvid Best Eat for Breakfast?" Answer: "we called it Gatorade."

The puking parallel strikes me as deeply significant and a potential game changer. There have been other sports shoutouts -- e.g., the writers have joked that the name Kevin Johnson was a reference to the former Cal and Phoenix Suns point guard of the same name. I wonder if anyone on the staff is a college sports fan generally, or alum of U.C. Berkeley specifically...

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Thoughts on LaFleur...

One perk of living in Los Angeles is hearing the legendary Vin Scully call games for the Dodgers, a local baseball franchise. I hate the Dodgers, but Vin is perhaps my favorite announcer of any sport, ever. It's not just his objectivity and lyrical delivery. What also sets Vin apart is his knowledge of a wide variety of subjects besides sports. When, for example, pitcher Osiris Matos takes the mound, Vin loves to launch into a discourse on Osiris, the Egyptian god of the underworld.

I thought of Vin and his ancient Egyptian obsession last night as we saw not one, but two, offspring of the mythical Osiris referenced on Lost. The first was the four-toed statue, which I'm guessing was Anubis, the jackal-headed guardian of the afterlife. The Egyptians believed that Anubis was responsible for weighing the hearts of all souls seeking entrance to the underworld. The Greeks (e.g., Plato) called Anubis the "dog god" and associated him with Cerberus.

I'm reminded of one of my all-time favorite speculations, first articulated by Lost blogger lacenaire. The Island is based upon myths and legends concerning Amenti, the Egyptian land of the dead. Much of what we know about Amenti comes from the Book of the Dead. This acient Egyptian funerary text contains many striking parallels to Lost -- e.g., references to recovery of the use of lost limbs and trial before the 42 divine judges of Osiris, to name just two.

At some point in the distant past, Egyptians found the Island and began worshiping its security system as Anubis. Their reports of the Island's miraculous powers became the basis for the accounts of Amenti in sacred texts. Interestingly, the Book of the Dead also describes an eternal battle between the two opposing forces of nature, light and darkness. This battle will supposedly rage until the birth of a new baby Horus, who promises to restore the divine order of the Cosmos.

And that brings me to the second nod in last night's episode to an offspring of mythical Osiris. The name Horace Goodspeed is a reference to his son Horus, the Egyptian sky god and leader of the aforementioned forces of light. I've touched before upon the messianic pun of the name Horus/Horace. At first, I figured it was a clue to some secret objective of the Dharma Initiative to scientifically engineer a new messiah. After last night's episode, however, I have to wonder...

Obviously, the identity of Horace and Amy's baby is big question mark. We know it's a boy, and I'll bet he's a character we've already met as an adult. I also suspect that, since he was born on the Island, he's someone with a strong connection to it. I know that doesn't narrow it down much, so this is probably premature. But if you're willing to follow me down the whackadoo well, consider the possibility that we just witnessed the birth of an Island messiah named Jacob.

Sorry for the delay in updating. Here at long last, in the spirit of Herb Caen, are some three-dot thoughts on La Fleur:

YOU WERE AMAZING TODAY. Judging by your comments, this episode really touched a nerve. It seems that at least part of what determined whether you loved or hated it was whether you bought Sawyer and Juliet settling down together in Dharmaville. As M the Alien kindly reminds me, I've been a proponent of those two kissing in a tree since as far back as There's No Place Like Home, Parts 2 and 3. I feel their chemistry has only improved throughout this season, so it's no surprise that, like a lot of you, I loved this episode.

But Skaters take heart! Sawyer's choice of alias -- i.e., La Fleur, which is French for "the flower" -- may be a clue that his relationship with Juliet is merely a dalliance. I suspect it refers to the alias (i.e., Flower) chosen by Leopold Bloom to correspond with his mistress in Ulysses, the novel Ben was reading on Ajira 316. That episode of Ulysses parallels the Land of the Lotus Eaters in the Odyssey, where Odysseus and Co. meet a people who feed them soporific lotus flowers that cause the Greeks to lose their desire to return home.

The implication may be that Sawyer and Juliet's relationship and the last three years generally have been a kind of fantasy for the Lefties. Like the phone jarring Sawyer and Juliet from their sleep, the Lefties' dream existence as members of Dharma is about to end with the return of Kate and the rest of the Oceanic 6...

YOUR BUDDY OUT THERE WITH THE EYELINER. Sawyer's reference to Richard wearing guyliner was a joke -- Nestor Carbonell's eyelashes are naturally dark. Still, it's hard to ignore the timing in an episode filled with Egyptian references. I'm with those who think it's a hint that Alpert, like the foot of Anubis, is a living relic of the Island's ancient Egyptian past. Someone eventually would have played this role -- the faith equivalent of Faraday. The failure of Carbonell's other project Cain (the Lords of Kobol heard my prayer) made him the natural choice in so many ways...

An immortal Richard also fits with the aforementioned Ulysses reference. Many Joyce scholars have noted the way main character Leopold Bloom combines elements of Odysseus with the Wandering Jew, who taunted Jesus on the road to cucifixion and was cursed to wander the Earth until the Second Coming. I've suggested before that Richard's agelessness might refer to this medieval myth. This could also explain his role as a kind of Panchen Lama. Did Richard somehow deny the Island its messiah by refusing to take Locke as a young child?

DID YOU BURY THE BOMB? I loved how Sawyer turned the tables on Richard with inside references like the Jughead. What compelled me was the way Sawyer, usually the consummate bluffer, put all his cards on the table. For some reason, that act of authenticity helped me to believe his transformation from reviled con man into respectable figure of authority ala Han Solo in Star Wars. I think another big factor in whether people liked La Fleur was whether they bought that character arc. And, for the foregoing reasons, I really believed it...

Speaking of the Jughead, I've got a whackadoo speculation of how that part of the story will play out. The Swan Orientation film mentions an Incident, and Kelvin suggested that it involved a leak of the Island's exotic engergy. What if detonation of the Jughead is what causes the Incident? The explosion may be a mistake -- the result of Dharma drilling unwittingly where the Others buried the bomb. In my more whackadoo moments, however, I think someone (Daniel?) will detonate the Jughead in an effort to sabotage the Dharma Initiative...

THAT FENCE MAY KEEP OTHER THINGS OUT.... I was struck by Richard's comment, which presumably refers to the Cerberus security system since we've actually seen the fence repel Smokey. What continues to mystify me is why Dharma needed protection from Smokey when there was a control room located right underneath a house in Dharmaville. Was the access tunnel some later modification by Ben? Or does its presence imply that Dharma once operated with blessing of, or even controlled, the Cerberus security system?

I think part of the answer may relate to the nature of that truce Richard mentioned between Dharma and the Others. Were the latter always hostile to the former? If not, what sparked the hostilities? And most importantly, what drove the parties to their truce? Considering the ease with which Richard entered Dharmaville, as well as his comment about the fence not keeping "us" out, I get the sense the Others could have purged Dharma almost any time they wanted. What authority restrained them from doing so much sooner? Was it...Jacob?

I'M NOT GOING TO DO IT. When the rest of the Lefties found Daniel, he was muttering this line. Many of you, myself included, interpreted him to be talking about little Charlotte. Despite Dan's conviction that whatever happened, happened, he seems determined not to tell Charlotte to leave this time around. By virtue of her new memory before dying, Faraday now faces the same basic dilemma as Desmond did with Charlie. Dan has received the equivalent of a flash of future events that may be linked to Charlotte's death. Can he resist the urge to change things?

I say he'll try, but that fate will intervene. As 80sPro notes, Dan has already become the babbling madman who will scare little Charlotte. He may simply be unable to resist the urge to save her. Indeed, if you watch the scene in slow motion where he sees her skipping across Dharmaville, you can actually pinpoint the second when his heart rips in half. I'm guessing, however, that some threat to the Island will force Faraday's hand. Hence my aforementioned Jughead speculation. Even if Dan doesn't detonate the thing himself, he'll have to save Charlotte from the threat...

That's all for this episode -- let me know what you think! As always, you're welcome to post anonymously, but please identify yourself somehow, so I can distinguish between anonymous posters. Thanks!