"Lost": Movements Toward Atonement

lostportland.jpg[A special dedication and salutation up front to the citizens of Curious People for a Curious America. This has been a long time coming.] O "Lost." Things have been going pretty poorly for the castaways for a long time now, and though the show isn't out of the woods (or jungle) yet, it just might be headed for a turnaround. Might. • The biggest problem facing the show is that very, very little happens in each episode. Since half of each weekly installment is devoted to a flashback (the merits of which are also up for debate), only 20ish minutes per eipsode are used for actual plot progression. It's like watching one season of "24" stretched over three years, and it's more than little trying. The narrative boredom is compounded by the fact that this season, instead of sprinkling in repeats with the new episodes, the show took a 13-week break between its fall and spring segments. "Not in Portland," the most recent episode, feels so far removed from last fall's events I can't remember anything but the last few minutes of the fall "finale." (To be addressed shortly.) As for what's happening with the rest of the islanders: Who the hell knows. • Juliet's ex-husband is Edmund Burke, apparently named afer this guy. This is not in any way deep or significant or a sign of writerly skill. The Wachowski brothers weren't brilliant for naming their hero the prefix for "new" and the anagram for "one," either. "Lost" already has Locke, Rousseau, and Hume. Adding Edmund Burke to their roster is neither original nor meaningful. • Edmund is played by Zeljko Ivanek. You should all learn his name. • Juliet is also one of the few hot grownups on TV. (Most women are in their 20s playing 18 or in their 30s playing 26.) I don't really know where to go with that. I'm just saying, if she made a movie with Diane Lane ... boy howdy. • This is probably one of the better episodes of this season. The six episodes last fall had sporadic moments of greatness — the opening of the season premiere that revealed the second island was right up there — but on the whole, the best part of those half-dozen installments was the final moments of the previous episode, "I Do," which was a Kate-centric episode showing how she kept on breaking hearts and running from her problems back in her old life (this is easily the billionth time that's been pointed out to us). But it ended with a spectacularly taut sequence that recalled the show's heady early days: The stakes were high, the choices were clear, the consequences were unknown, and something big and bad was about to rain down. • Jack's decision to use Ben's life as leverage to free Kate and Sawyer was a strong one, and Juliet's complicity in planning the murder finally gave her character some depth beyond the ice cold schoolmarm vibe she was putting out. "Not in Portland" picks up in that heated moment of balance, with Jack screaming at Kate over the walkie to run and escape with Sawyer. • Juliet's backstory, though it follows the same pattern as everyone else's — get involved in something bad in the real world, look for similar situations on the island, attempt to right past wrongs, repeat — is rewarding because it actually has a bearing on the overall story and the reasons the island(s) exist in the first place. But for every sly hint the show makes at the details, it also beats the viewer over the head with meaning. • For example: Juliet tells Shady Hispanic Doctor (Nestor Carbonell) that she can't go work for his creepy-ass experimental hospital without her husband's okay, and that will never happen, so unless he gets hit by a bus, she's stuck in Miami. SHD laughs it off, but sure enough, not too much later, Edmund is steamrolled like that kid in Final Destination. It's pretty clear that SHD arranged the vehicular manslaughter, which is driven home by the fact that he shows up atthe morgue to pass on his condolences, and he just so happens to have Ethan in tow. The shock of recognition as Juliet puts the puzzle together is wonderful, but it's completely undone by the fact that she keeps telling SHD about how she'd mentioned the bus thing before, and then SHD has to deny this, and blah blah go on already. The scene would have been stronger if she'd figured things out and then internalized it and gone right to "Why are you here?" The series wants to be a smart mystery, and that won't happen until it respects its viewers enough to expect them to keep up with the emotional changes of the characters and not spell out every little thing. • What the hell happened to Walt and MercutioMichael? Oh, that's right, they sailed off into the sunset and were promptly forgotten by everyone. I haven't seen a series so spectacularly blunder characters since "The West Wing" phased out Ainsley. • I strongly identified with Jack's mix of what could be called bemused indignation when Juliet informed him that yes, he would have to go back to his cell until his fate could be decided. That look is the look I usually have when watching "Lost" now: I just can't quite believe this all still happening. • I've written before that "Lost" feels like two shows trying to co-exist in the same space, with one show following the medical conspiracy of Dharma and the other connecting the castaways through unbelievable interpersonal contrivances1. The series is straining under the weight of its breadth, which is why "Not in Portland" could herald good things to come in that it represents a small but marked attempt to streamline the two warring shows-within-a-show. The relevance of Juliet's backstory provides welcome hints at the kind of genetic hijinks the Dharma folks have been up to, as well as explain why she's on the island and how she relates to its inhabitants. Granted, "Lost" still has a long way to go if it ever wants to come close to recapturing the fiery brilliance of its first season, which blended mystery and action in a kind of pop art/comic book mix that is poorly imitated to this day, most notably by "Lost" itself. But the show seems like it might finally have gotten the crap out of its system, and could be once more returning to its roots. I'm hopeful. 1. I stole that phrase from JMW's latest review. Just so you know.