Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Of Mice and Me

Yeah, this is why I love Lost.

24-hours later, and after writing quite a bit of drivel already, I rewatched this latest episode, Abe Vigoternum, with my spouse.  And I saw a lot of things differently, as can often happen when watching any show that is made up of about a gazillion uni-colored jigsaw pieces which are all the size of an ant's testicles.

It it just made me giddy, because I do love the way that either missing or observing even the smallest detail in any given episode is able to then move me drastically one way or the other around the board of a theoretical game called I like to call Life: The Lost Version.   So it was exciting--especially once the embarrassment wore off.

And you can find out how exciting and how embarrassing right after the jump (might as well jump!)...

For one, the first time around, I never even heard Jacob say that he brought the Black Rock to the Island himself. That line sailed right by me, maybe when the dogs were barking, and all I got was that Jacob had been bringing other people there for a long time. It made me think that he was purposely not saying he brought the Black Rock itself, and thus a false theory was born. It wasn't a bad theory, as it was backed up by all sorts of other evidence that would have supported it had the original premise been correct, but that only makes my theory all the more silly in the end. The depth and complex subtlety of the show provides endless fodder for a mistaken mad monk of Lost theory to tie himself into an endless number of Gordian Knots.

So, with one goofy mistake such as that, an entire episode takes on a different cast. Huge chunks of pretentious analysis go straight down the tubes, and a lesson is learned about trying to do a quick take on a convoluted mythology. I once saw Doc Jensen make the exact same mistake--missing a crucial line of dialogue that drastically altered the mythology reading of an episode--and all it did was make me laugh. It never occurred to me to find his mistake to be anything but understandable, and I never thought twice about it after his humorous mea culpa. But when it happened to me, boy does it feel embarrassing! Even though intellectually it doesn't bother me all, emotionally I feel like a goof of epic snapperhead proportions.

So, I think I learned what I want from my first foray into the instant recap, which is that it's for the birds and those who are actually paid to do it. I think I'll think first, yak second from now on.

But I wasn't wrong about everything else. The one thing I still felt even more strongly about after rewatch was that it was simply far too late to tell Richard's origin story in that manner and expect to get serious emotional resonance out of it this late in the game. I have long felt they were missing an opportunity to make Richard a complex character about whom I could care (rather than just a cool narrative device of a character), and last night only confirmed that feeling which I've had for the last year or so. Things like the The Constant were the result of years of pipe laying, and I just couldn't bring myself to care about seeing ships at sea and long dead lovers that we don't even know.  Fifteen minutes or so of screen time required so many shortcuts as to end up making Richard's back-story still resemble a 19th century telenovela version of Dynasty--even upon a second viewing. There was zero jeopardy to Richard's story, because I knew ultimately where everything was going, and even many of the stops they would make on the way, so there was zero tension for much of it--at least emotionally.

So, ironically, a story that I thought got too much screen time suffered because it was a story that ultimately begged for a whole lot more screen time in order to get it right.

I was also bugged by Titus Welliver, of all people. I loved him in Deadwood, but both times I watched last night's episode, I just felt that Smokey was the worst damn liar I'd ever seen. Maybe that is how they wanted him to come across, and maybe they were duplicating the MiB jailhouse scene from The Stand on purpose in order to mislead us, but I can't buy into those ideas until they pull the rabbit out of the hat at the end and make me smack my head in amazement.

Which they will probably do. 

I mean, Smokey lied badly. He immediately stuck his foot in his mouth by blaming Jacob for taking Isabella, and he looked bad doing it, and he looked even worse when later admitting to Richard that he had. The awkward dialogue they had to resort to in order to gloss over that just didn't work for me at all, regardless of Richard's weakened mental state and battered soul. It was all just so nakedly a pack of lies to me, as the audience, that I thought Welliver should have grown a full Sindely Whiplash for the part. 

But if what Smokey said to Richard turns out to be true in the end, if Jacob really is the Devil (or some rough approximation thereof), then it would appear that they had Welliver play it cockeyed simply to throw us off Jacob's scent yet again.  And that wouldn't be quite cricket of them, would it?  Why would he have sounded like such a liar if he were telling Richard the truth?

He wouldn't of sounded like a liar in that case, so for now I have to assume they were hammering home for us that Smokey is lying, which is a bit sad to me, as Lost has always trafficked in subtlety.  Maybe they are feeling the pressure of expectations and of time running out and felt they needed to finally make it very clear to us who was good and who was not.  But if they did so at the expense of allowing Welliver to play Smokey as the smooth con man he should be, and that we have seen him be as Smocke, then it just doesn't seem quite cricket. 

And if it turns out that MiB was lying, as they definitely tried to make us believe, then we are just back to him being the worst liar I've ever seen on Lost, which makes no sense at all.  I guess they could play that out as his lying to Richard was Smokey's clumsy first attempt to manipulate after spending eons obeying the rules, but that's going to need to be explained--and explained well--to fly with me.  It was only a few minutes of screen time, but it really took me out of the show.

In fact, the whole damn thing was set up to make to make the MiB so blatantly a liar and Jacob so blatantly a truth teller--and in such a hyper-real manner--as to revive that 2% doubt I had two days ago about just who we should be rooting for here, if anyone. That is fine with me in theory, but in practice I don't like how it came about through off putting line readings by Welliver. Seems really late in the game for red herrings, if that is indeed still going on.

But that's why I love this show. I can misread it terribly, or not like some particular aspect of an episode, and all it does is excite me to think about new variations and possibilities.

It may just well be unique amongst television shows in that particular respect.

So, who is good and who is evil, and who is Good and who is Evil? No idea for certain anymore, but I have nice little mini-theory that relates to Robert Heinlein's 1984 novel, Job: A Comedy of Justice.
Heinlein's book is one that I've never seen anyone put on a Lost reading list, but it's one that I would highly recommend after last night. In it, Heinlein posits a theory of the universe in which all religions are valid, yet they are never equal. Each religion is real, with each set of gods (or God) being informed and empowered by the strength and volume of the belief emanating from, as Conan O'Brien might put it, the People of Earth.

In other words, at one time Zeus and Odin and Ra reigned supreme in the heavens, while now Allah and Yahweh are the co-king of kings. But all still exist, their power fluctuating in response to their follower's numbers and level of devotion, and--surprise, surprise--each of them has less than free reign to does as they please, especially when it comes to messing about with another's flock.

They also each have a purpose themselves beyond their ruling over our devoted behinds. They each have a part to play in a grand scheme; a scheme as grand to them as they are to us. In other words, they each have a boss to which they must answer. It's never explained who that boss is, or whether there are different bosses for different deities, but that is sort of the point: everyone has a boss. Infinity is infinite, and it infinitely applies to the infinite number of entities in an infinite number of Universes.

The focus of the story is on Christianity, with the main protagonist being a Christian minister of devout faith but with an open mind and the requisite number of human frailties. Lucifer and Yahweh are portrayed as being much more nuanced than simply Evil and Good (with Lucifer coming off slightly better than Yahweh during the time of the story---hence my hedge on the MiB, who has turned out in other stories by other writers other than Stephen King, praise be his name, to not be such a bad guy in the end), and, as with Lost, much of humanity's plight in Heinlein's tale ends up being as a result of a bet between the two Judeo/Christian Beings (hence the title's including of the word Job, with the main character filling the role of a modern day Job in a modern day tale).

I likened Jacob and the MiB to Mortimer and Randall from Trading Places in my recap, and one reader rightly mentioned to me that particular story goes back to Mark Twain's The Million Pound Bank Note. He was right, but I was merely referencing the precursor that made me laugh the most in comparing it to Lost, because the real origin story for this idea goes all the way back to the Bible and Job's test of faith by God over a bet with Lucifer. Twain, and later Heinlein, and now Lost perhaps, are merely referencing a tale as old as recorded time. I'm sure many other religions about which I know little have their own metaphorical equivalent.

Anyway, back to Heinlein's Job. There is much fascinating dissection of religion, with humanity shown to have gotten equal measures right and wrong in their respective books of religion and law. Turns out that religion really is the word of God(s) interpreted by Man, and sometimes Man got the interpretation wrong (because, you know, man and fallibility go together like a horse and feathers). And there is a war over Earth at the centerpiece of everything, with the some real Sideways World parallels broached along the way, especially in the end.

I've always felt that Heinlein was right up there with Stephen King in influencing Lost, but I always looked more at Heinlein's Many Worlds Stories than I did at Job, which is the only book he wrote in the last 20-30 years of his life that did not directly tie into the Many Worlds Stories. But now Job seems more relevant than anything else, because like Lucifer in Heinlein's story, the Man in Black appears to have been stuck with a pretty crappy job. It's the original Dirty Job, perhaps, and the Discovery Channel may want to sign him up for a season or two if he lives through Lost.

Think about whether or not the Man in Black is a merciless killer under protest or not. We know he wants to escape, and so we see his wanton slaughter as reprehensible, but last night suggested to me that perhaps his wanton slaughter is actually the main part of his job requirement. Perhaps that is exactly why he wants to leave in the first place.

In my missing Jacob's claim that he brought Richard's ship to the Island, just as he had brought many others before, I was able to explore the idea that the MiB brought the ship, and it made sense for one big reason: why in the hell would Jacob bring a ship to the Island in that reckless of a manner? How would crashing it into the jungle, killing half its inhabitants in the process, and allowing all of the those left alive to be slaughtered by the MiB, give those people a chance to prove anything to anyone? How does that win him his bet?

Well, maybe that is because Jacob brings these ships into port for his bet, and part of his system is that the MiB, who apparently is under Jacob's control, is required to judge each and every man and woman and immediately kill any whose souls tip to the dark side of the scale. The rest, those judged on the right side of the scale, or those whose souls are in balance, tipping neither one way nor the other, are then set free to live on the Island and prove which way their souls will tip under duress. For after killing those who fail the initial test, the MiB is then required to reign down torment upon their heads until they either crack or reach some unknown state of grace--a state which apparently none have so far met at the time Richard washes ashore in chains.

That's a pretty dirty job.  For a man tricked into taking it eons ago, no matter how necessary the reasons may be, madness and a blinding desire to escape would be a logical result.

This is not to say that the Man in Black is safe to let loose, however.  Even if any of the above doesn't turn out to be just as much a piece of horeshite as some of what I have posted below, the Man in Black may well now be corrupted beyond repair, and his essence may very well contain a pure evil that would infect the entire world should he ever escape.

But maybe not, too.

Heinlein pulled a switcheroo with Lucifer is his tale, and it worked out pretty damn wonderfully--at least as far as storytelling goes. It was logical, and it worked dramatically, and it led to a satisfying and surprising conclusion. Lost will have to go a long freaking way to make that move with the MiB, but I again reopen the door to that possibility.

Oh, and, "That wasn't your wife."

And with that line, Jacob opened up a whole host of possibilities. If he was telling the truth, then what does that say about the Isabella who interacted with Richard through Hurley? Either it wasn't really her, or, for some reason that  we can only hope will be explained later, she could now suddenly appear on the Island after previously being unable to do so. Either that or she could always appear to someone such as Hurley (who saw her before Richard dug up the cross), but she could not appear to someone without the aide of Hurley's unique, I-see-dead-people gift/curse (which, of course, opens up a new plot-hole containing the how of Ben's mom appearing to him after she died off-island, since Ben has never been shown, before or since, to in fact be Haley Joel Osment).

And if Jacob was lying about whether or not that was Richard's wife on the Black Rock, then that opens up a whole can of worms about everything else Jacob said. So, whether Jacob's words were either a lie or the truth, as many questions as answers come out of Isabella's literal grace note at the end of the episode.

But in the end, even with the shortcut filled and far too compressed love story that served as the centerpiece of a sometimes frustrating episode, there was one whole hell of a lot going on last night. It was sub par for Lost, but there has yet to be a Lost episode that I have ever felt was remotely sub par for television. I don't even really have a problem with Jack's tattoos, in the final analysis. It wasn't great, but it was still Lost.

Even bad Lost is still great television, and last night wasn't even bad Lost. With 111 episodes in the can, being one of of the lower 55 makes you sub par. 55 episodes HAVE to be described as sub par just based on simple mathematics alone, yet not even #111 is actually bad by television standards. Whether it be Jack's tattoos or Kate's ennui, Locke's sixteenth flip-flop, or Sayid's endless struggle with his dark heart, whatever #111 is, it's probably a damn good show.

So was last night. And it was better than I first thought it to be (as I believed it would end up being when I announced I would making a foolish attempt to analyze it immediately), even if another look and one day's reflection still makes me question the technical construction of the drama and the tardiness of an emotional storyline that didn't quite work for me.

And with that, I cannot wait for episode #112.  And I still believe, as I do each and every week, that another entry into the top ten could be just around the corner of next weekend.

What other sentiment could be more appropriate for a show about faith and love?

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