Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Early Reaction To Lost: Poor Richard

Yeah, this will be interesting. I rarely watch an episode of Lost and know exactly what I think about it right away. Oh, sometimes I love it immediately and sometimes I don't, but to at least some degree my opinion of a given episode changes with time. The show is so good, so nuanced, that often my opinion about any given episode reveals as much about me as it does about the show. I change, so my opinion about a thing of depth and complex subtlety changes with me (as I think happens for most everyone over the course of a life lived well). Lost certainly has a great deal of depth and complex subtlety; thus in ways often minor (and occasionally major) I look at every individual part of it with a strange eye each time one passes by me anew.

This is what comes to mind as I endeavor here to write my first ever immediate reaction to an episode of the show. Over at the commercial sites (EW, Zap2It, The Watcher, Sepinwall) where I most often go to get my fill of gab-gab on one show or another, I am pretty sure they are under some pressure to get stuff up quickly. We live in the world of the 24-minute news cycle these days, and if you're late, you might as well not even be there.

I'm under no such obligation, as I currently write for an audience of one (new blog and all, you know), so I have a lot more freedom. I can cuss my brains out when I feel like it (which is often, but not tonight), and I can wait until next Tuesday to write up my "immediate" thoughts on this Tuesday's episode if I so desire. So, I have no idea how long or short this entry may be, but I do want to get something down right now, if for no other reason than to enjoy seeing for myself how right or wrong I am about anything in particular when more is revealed later, or to see how my overall opinion of this individual piece of drama changes as the days and weeks (and months and years) roll by. It tickles me to be either right or wrong about this show, which I have always taken to be a good sign about the level of its quality.

So, after the jump, here comes my initial reaction to the hours old episode of Lost that finally reveals the industrial accident Richard Alpert experienced while interning one summer for Maybelline.

(click below to cont.)
So, while I have yet to see any episode of Lost that I would actually call bad, for the first time all this season I was actually pretty disappointed with the overall quality and focus of this episode--although it definitely had moments were I went from disappointed to thrilled in the short span of time it takes for a demi-god to kick a Spaniard's dark eyed ass.

Still, I didn't expect to see Richard's backstory played out by primarily gazing through such a very small window into his very long life. Perhaps I should not have been so surprised--given how character driven this season has been so far--to see what appeared to be a much stronger focus on Richard's literal backstory over either his emotional or Island back story. But now that this episode is over, I am left feeling as if I mostly watched things I already knew being dramatized for the sake of sentimentality, rather than the fleshing out of a character about which I had previously thought I knew little.

Turns out I actually knew quite a bit about Richard already. We got a small amount of new (but sort of stereotypical and heavy handed) information about his pre-island life, and we got a small amount of information about his island related purpose confirmed, but not a whole lot of really new information about either Richard or his role on the island came out here. A good twenty of the forty minutes seemed to be the literal act of showing us what we had all already guessed long ago: that he came to the island on the Black Rock and in chains.

So, half the show seems as if it could be summed up by saying, "Richard was a poor snot who was made a slave." And ten of the other 20 minutes seemed to say no more than, "Richard loved his wife a really whole lot." Add in the reprise of Ilana's hospital stay, which didn't give us much that was really new (either emotionally or related to the plot), and that seems to leave just the conversations between Richard and Jacob and the Man in Black.

I say the word "seems" a lot in that last paragraph because often Lost is not what it seems. I could write a dissertation on all the things Lost has seemed to be about and hasn't been, or has seemed to be saying yet wasn't, or where it seemed to be going and then didn't (usually going elsewhere at a very convincing 90 degree angle). So, it's very possible that when is all said and done, I will look back at Richard's Excellent Slavery Adventure as being more fraught with meaning and emotion than the straight forward he got here on a slave ship after killing the doctor who wouldn't help his dying wife telenovela episode it appeared to be. But for now it reminded me more of the Latin Jack Donaghy episode of 30 Rock than it did a top ten Lost episode.

I mean, Penny and Desmond and The Constant was the result of years of back story being developed and revealed over time. It was the emotional culmination of seeds planted and watered with great care, if I may mix metaphors haphazardly, and the idea to me that we were supposed to get as wrapped up in Richard and Isabella in about fifteen minutes just because Richard has such hypnotically dark eyes didn't work for me at all. Ditto the crushing of his soul, which I took as read long before the priest visited him in his cell or he took his third-class cruise ship ride to Craphole Island.

But then there were those conversations with Jacob and the Man in Black, and the conversation between Jacob and the Man in Black. WTF where those all about? They deserve some dissecting, and for one of the few times with me the mythology was completely the saving grace in an episode. Definitely there was a lot of surprise there, especially with the way the Man in Black acted, and with the way that Jacob seemed to be opening up to the idea of actually doing something for the very first time. That was new information, and that explains quite a bit about the who and the why of the Candidates. Jacob was an absentee landlord until 1867, or so they seemed to be saying, until a Spaniard with dark eyes and very little accent to his English said, "Hey, dude, the Man in Black interferes when you don't."

That seemed to genuinely take Jacob aback, and that either means Jacob was really, really naive up until 1867, or else the Man in Black wasn't supposed to be interfering either, and that he wasn't. Since I've always taken Jacob to be a smart cookie and up on current events, I took his surprise at Richard's words to mean that was the literally the first time the MiB really had interfered, which in turn Jacob took as giving him license to violate at least the spirit of those rules we keep hearing about by enlisting Richard to interfere for him. Definitely I felt that conversation between Richard and Jacob on the beach was the beginning of everything we've been watching to date. This Island War obviously started on that day, and all the more ancient ruins we see around the Island were made by people Jacob had never interacted with on any level other than to bring them to the Island to settle a bet between him and the MiB. (And, hey, I'm not sure whether that makes Jacob the Universe's worst travel agent or its best, but it definitely makes Jacob and the MiB the Lost equivalents to Randall and Mortimer from Trading Places.)

So, it all started with Richard's arrival, and before that it was status quo apparently for as long as Jacob, in his current form, had so far been there. Before that, the MiB may have been out there messing with the people Jacob brought to the Island (by eating them, either physically and/or metaphysically, and/or by just messing with their heads until they ate each other), but now it looks to me like he wasn't ever messing with Jacob. And certainly I took it all as meaning that the MiB never sent anyone to kill Jacob before. I got that not just from his reaction to what Richard said to him, but also based on Jacob's apparent true surprise at both the fact of anyone coming to kill him and at Richard's reason for making the attempt.

Curiouser and curiouser, said Alice.

Also, there may have been previous Jacobs, as Jacob said flat out that there would be another to replace him should ever he die (which isn't really new info, but was at least confirmation of something about which we've been told but never knew whether to believe). Not sure if that means the MiB has killed any previous Jacobs, if there were any, but I don't think so; else why would Jacob have been so surprised to learn that the MiB had sent Richard to kill him? Sounds as if there was a plan in case Jacob were to die, but not definitely that he had ever died before.

So, the whole of this war is confined merely to the last 142 years. And, for Jacob, that is a mere blink in the eye to the amount of time he and the MiB have been horsing around with each other on the Island.

Ok, well, all of that is not something I expected, and that was an awful lot of to get out of maybe 5-10 minutes of screen time, which is always the way it is with Lost even when the episode appears to me on the face of it to not have been about much. Of course, it could also be that it wasn't about much, and I am consequently reading a shit-ton into it that is isn't really there.

We shall see.

In any case, I enjoyed it, but it didn't blow me away. I am probably focusing more on the mythology here (which I rarely do) because I find myself wishing that poor Richard's journey to the Island and his sweet Chiquita banana love story hadn't eaten up quite so much screen time. Nestor Carbonell, whom I have always appreciated before, did not have a lot of nuance to him, but I cut him a pass because I felt his story had zero nuance to it. We learned nothing new of consequence to the story, and Richard's one time only love story was less than compelling for many reasons, not the least being that I was not enamored to find that nearly the whole of Richard's back story would be played out as simply a generic star crossed lovers tale combined with a shipwreck story that we basically already knew about.

Finally, I do say that nothing here made me doubt for a second that the MiB is pure unadulterated evil. In fact, we had it confirmed as far as I am concerned. And I felt the Stephen King influence very heavily telling us that too, as King's MiB picked up his first second banana in exactly the same way that Lost's MiB did--by waiting until a locked up man was at his most desperate and offering him freedom in return for servitude. And King's MiB was pure frakking Evil, folks. The last two percent of doubt I had regarding Lost's MiB has been torn to shreds.

So, I think the show is being straight on with us on that one, and I don't see that they are all really in Hell as we think of it. I don't think they are dead. They may be alive and able to come and go from Hell, if that is what the Island really is (and I don't think it is), but they aren't dead (well, except for, you know, them who is actually dead-dead and buried in the ground and all, and also except perhaps for Sayid and Claire, who still seem a lot like zombies to me).

Hell ain't a beach, is it?

Nope, now I think the Island is sort of a weigh station, which is also a very Dark Tower-ish reference. It's positioned somewhere on Earth, but sort of off to the left six inches. It's both on Earth and in the realms of Good and Evil, and it is sort of a bridge between them. It's there so that Man can be influenced by both Good and Evil, and it's because of that fact that it is so dangerous. Evil doesn't want to stay put, so the price to be paid for using the Island as a testing ground for Man is that Evil might escape and lay waste to all that Good has been trying to nurture.

More later perhaps, but this is certainly more than enough snapper head judgment for one evening. I don't know how Mo Ryan, Jeff Jensen, et al. do it. I bet I am dead ass wrong and looking like a fool before the season is out. Maybe even before the week is out.

Maybe even before the night is out.

But that is Lost, and that is why I love it even when I think it might be sub par. It always gets me to think, and no episode that could prompt this many words before breakfast could have actually been bad; just sub par.

EDIT (Wed afternoon): Everything from here on has been added in to touch upon something that just occurred to me after sleeping on it all, writing that extra little bit of nonsense about Doc J. above, and then reading a load of other people's recaps and comments. If you came here from a comment board, you may have already read some of what follows.

EDIT OF AN EDIT (Weeks later): I'm leaving this all intact, because there are some interesting things in it, and because I don't believe in deleting mistakes (yet), but you should know it comes because I missed a line while watching the show the first time.  Jacob said he brought The Black Rock to the Island, and I didn't hear that the first time through, so I wrote a lot of shit that I would never have written had I heard that one line of dialogue.  You have been warned.

So, after spending some time reading those other posts and recaps, and after spending even more time writing up some thoughts of my own here, I've come to the conclusion that Jacob didn't bring the Black Rock to the Island; Smokey did. He brought the slavers there looking to jump start his loophole plan, and I think there were a number of things last night to support that theory.

1. People wonder about the difference in the weather during the Jacob/Man in Black scene we saw last season and the weather during the Black Rock's arrival. Well, perhaps that scene at the end of last season was a much earlier time and a different ship. That would account for the very different weather. Jacob was bringing in that earlier ship much more gently than the MiB choose to do with the Black Rock. Jacob is all serene and calm waters underneath, for the most part, while the Man in Black is filled with a roiling, boiling tsunami of rage and hate. So, you know, metaphor alert when it comes to the difference between how those two ships arrived and who actually brought each one in to port. Also, on a literal level Smokey likely thought it necessary to both scare the bejesus out of any passengers he would later be attempting to corrupt, and to keep the ship far away from the shoreline where Jacob hung out.

2. That would explain the tetchy, frustrated, ass-kicking Jacob we saw last night, as opposed to more calm and controlled one we have always seen before. Between the scene we saw last season and the one we saw last night, Jacob had not yet been able to win his bet with the MiB, nor made really any "progress" of any kind in demonstrating humanity's essential goodness, and so that would account for the very different Jacob we witnessed last night. Jacob's been failing and failing and failing, and it obviously is putting a serious bee in his bonnet.

3. And it would account for why he was so surprised to see Richard. If Jacob had really brought Richard and the Black Rock to the Island, then I think it would have been dramatized differently. Jacob genuinely seemed to have no idea who Richard was or what he was doing there. That was the first time we've ever seen Jacob mystified, and that has to have to serious significance. Ergo, Jacob had nothing to do with the wave and large ship that wrecked his statue and muddied up his pretty beach front hacienda.

4. This idea would change the white stone gift from Jacob to the MiB from a minor and somewhat thuddingly obvious piece of plot point symbolism to one loaded with a much different and more subtle (and funny) meaning. The MiB brought the Black Rock to the Island in order to launch his Loophole War with Jacob, and so Jacob was using the white rock to rub Smokey's nose in his first defeat in this brand new war. So, the white rock wasn't so much a portentous symbol as a joke Jacob was playing on Smokey. It was Jacob getting back some of his equanimity and sense of humor after having reached an epiphany, and it made me laugh a lot when I looked at it that way. "Hey, Smokey, thanks for the Black Rock, my new personal assistant, and the kick in the pants I needed to get me to start going all proactive on your medieval ass. Here's a white rock in return, you douche."

4. Jacob was also likely pissed at the destruction of his statue home when he met Richard, which would also account for his totally tetchy and hands on attitude. Nothing we saw last night would explain even remotely why Jacob wanted to destroy the statue, for he had yet to decide to take any active role in anything, and there was no one on the Island to which the destruction of the statue would mean anything, anyway--unless it was supposed to mean something to Jacob. The show definitely made more sense if you accept that the destroying of the statue was the MiB's first symbolic shot at Jacob in this war. It was a message from Smokey that the game was frakking on, while the white rock was Jacob's more symbolically subtle shot right back at him.

Ok, that's it. I cannot wait to see if this idea turns out to be completely and utterly off base or not.


  1. I couldnt agree with you more - with 7 TV hours left til the finale i couldnt for the life of me figure out why they chose to spend a half hour filling in the blanks on a backstory i couldnt care about and already basically knew. Appreciate your detailed breakdown of the mythology...i'll look forward to reading your ruminations next week.

  2. Thanks, Eric. As usual with Lost, I have already fleshed more things out in my head and changed my mind about a few minor things that I thought I believed last night. Can't wait to watch the episode again tonight with my spouse and find out if I enjoy Richard's story more or less the second time around. I am hoping it will grow on me as time goes by, but I guess I will just have to wait and see.

    Probably put up a new post in a day or so with a more detailed theory of everything and everyone.

  3. Thanks, Schmoker. You nailed it as far as I was concerned: I got tremendously irritated with the FORTY MINUTES of Richard! Who cares? Basically, I want to see how the characters that we know and love play out this hand that they have been dealt, you know?
    I seriously doubt watching it again tonight will make for any change. What a waste of time. And EVERYBODY except you and me feels totally the opposite. Sheesh. Oh well, thank heavens it is now followed by Justified on FX! I can get my Timothy Oliphant fix :)

  4. Justified (along with The Pacific) is still sitting untouched on my DVR. I'm dying to get to both, but have not yet had the time. Maybe I should write less crap online and watch more stuff on the tube.

    Can't wait to watch both, however, as they are both filled more than a few of my favorite things.

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