“The Other 48 Days” (originally aired 11/16/2005)

They had to go back.

Once the writers of Lost introduced the Tailies, “The Other 48 Days” was inevitable. The new characters serve the practical purpose of energizing the storytelling and creating new conflicts to keep the show from having to hit the same survival beats over and over again. The easiest way to keep things fresh is to introduce new characters, but that’s challenging in an environment where we’ve come to know these characters so intimately. If you don’t want Ana Lucia, Mr. Eko, Libby, and Bernard to be perceived as lame ducks from the moment they’re introduced, we need to understand how their journeys compare to Jack, Locke, Hurley, and Rose.

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Without getting into spoilers, “The Other 48 Days” is as successful as a failure can be. On the one hand, I would argue that the Tailies can never escape the fact that they were introduced into this narrative 48 days late, particularly given the way their respective arcs are handled in the seasons ahead. In this sense, “The Other 48 Days” does not do enough to successfully gloss over any of the challenges associated with adding characters to such a distinct storyworld.

However, the episode is a success in that revisiting those events makes for fantastic television. Regardless of how successfully any of these characters integrate into the cast, Lindelof and Cuse take full advantage of the narrative potential of mapping out an alternate sequence of events in the same universe. What if there had been no flight manifest, and Ethan had been able to live among them for even longer? What if the crash site had been closer to the Others, speeding up the process by which they were infiltrated and eventually captured? What if there had been no guns with which the castaways could protect themselves? What if there was never a down moment where someone like Hurley could find levity with a makeshift golf course?

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Answering those questions takes some gymnastics on the part of Lindelof and Cuse, whose script has the challenge of reaching an inevitable conclusion. If you’re going to show the Tailies’ side of this story, you need to find ways to generate tension that extend beyond who survives, since we already know the answer to that question. The episodes leading up to “The Other 48 Days” were therefore a crucial space to build a set of mysteries into this side of the storytelling, with bits of information revealing Eko’s silence, the substantial loss of castaways since the crash, and the unfortunate business surrounding Goodwin.

The episode plays with this knowledge in interesting ways. On the one hand, if you weren’t paying enough attention during “…And Found” to remember that Eko had identified the body as Goodwin, the episode wants you to see things from Ana Lucia’s perspective and presume that Nathan is the guilty party. For these viewers, then, the reveal where Goodwin kills Nathan is meant to be shocking, a turning point in the episode as we shift away from the mystery and toward the grisly resolution. However, if you were paying close attention or reading online about what happened with Goodwin, the storyline still works. The reveal may not be as dramatic, but the mystery becomes more about capturing the tragedy of how the early invasion of their camp created a culture of paranoia in which Ana Lucia identifies the wrong suspect. All Nathan had to do was mysteriously disappear into the jungle for a couple of hours and he is marked for torture by Ana Lucia, and death by Goodwin. There were similar moments early on in season one—thinking specifically of the mystery of the missing water, and then of course Shannon’s inhalers—but the stakes were never so dire, and there was never the specter of abducted children hanging over the proceedings. There was also the pragmatic and level-headed Jack as opposed to Ana Lucia, whose leadership is less clearly articulated given there is only chaos to respond to.

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Ana Lucia is at the center of “The Other 48 Days,” and from the moment the tail section crashes into the ocean she emerges as the leader of this group. Like Jack in the “Pilot,” she’s there on the beach helping with the rescue, and then she’s in the jungle talking Bernard through escaping from airplane seats lodged high in a tree. Michelle Rodriguez gives a strong performance in the episode, particularly when she breaks down at the edge of a stream after the weight of the past 40 days catches up with her. However, at the same time, the episode doesn’t fully delve into why she became a leader, or why she responded the way she did after the crash. The lack of flashbacks means that “The Other 48 Days” both resolves the questions we had about this alternate survival experience and creates some new questions that keep us anxious to see the flashbacks for characters like Ana Lucia and Eko (more on that below).

All of this analysis, however, is really only true in retrospect. I found “The Other 48 Days” a tough episode to remove from the context of rewatching it with the rest of the series in mind, given how much the introduction of the Tailies defines this season and marks a key test of the writers’ ability to expand this universe. I don’t believe this analysis to be unfair, nor do I consider it to be inherently negative, but it does obscure how daring this episode was. Even if the narrative demanded it, to entirely abandon characters we’ve known for over a season to focus on characters we’ve barely known is risky. But from the moment that serene shot of the ocean is invaded by falling debris and the tail section slams into the ocean just before a seat flies into the camera, “The Other 48 Days” reactivates our memories of the terror that came with the series’ opening moments. Even if it does not successfully develop Ana Lucia or Eko into characters that can integrate seamlessly with the existing castaways, it creates a history for them that resonates as familiar in some ways and horrifyingly unfamiliar in others.

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In other words, “The Other 48 Days” is about perspective. All of Lost is about perspective, mind you, what with the Flashbacks, but this episode in particular is invested in actively giving the audience perspective in order to move forward with the narrative as planned. And while it remains evocative and engaging when put in perspective of returning to the series in the context of this column, I couldn’t help but wish that I were returning to a point of complete ignorance. Imagine if you had neither seen a promo, nor read a TV Guide, nor seen a Netflix episode description, nor learned to the episode title, nor had any other indication that this episode would be focusing on what it was. And then imagine the episode began with that serene image, and you wondered where it was from, and then the debris started falling, and you saw it was the tail section, and the pieces—literally—fell into place?

It’s nearly impossible to recreate this scenario now, but the possibility speaks to the episode’s strengths, even if the future speaks to its futility.

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Stray observations:

  • Look, I know that the geography of the island never makes any sense and pointing out issues of continuity is pointless, but I had a whole lot of trouble tracking the location of the Tailies at any given moment. Specifically, weren’t the trap Ana Lucia built for Nathan and the Arrow Station some distance from one another? I know it’s not worth it to obsess over it, but I wish there was a map to consult.
  • I was struck by Goodwin’s comment about someone Ana Lucia’s age knowing about the Peace Corps, as it reminded me that I never really think about the adult characters’ ages in the show. She’s 29 according to Lostpedia, but I don’t know if I ever would have said she was 29, just as I’ve never thought all that hard about Claire, or Hurley, or Charlie’s ages. Not entirely sure why that is, but it happened.
  • Speaking of Goodwin, Brett Cullen does such a nice job switching on the “Others” persona during his back-and-forth with Ana Lucia. The knife adds a nice element of tension, even though we at that point know how the scene has to end.
  • We knew the other side of the radio conversation was coming, but we didn’t know why the conversation didn’t continue: I would say Ana Lucia’s paranoia that it was the Others attempting to get their location justifies stopping the transmission.
  • Cindy the Flight Attendant’s survival may have been for other reasons, but I’m presuming it was primarily so that there would be someone on the other beach who could replicate the pilot’s knowledge that the flight was well off its intended route.
  • I would say more about Mr. Eko, but given that he doesn’t talk for 40 of the 48 days after killing two of the Others who invaded the camp on the first night, we’re definitely meant to be anxious for a clear sense of why. Plus, we didn’t get a good look at what he was carving into his stick, so there’s another mystery to add to the pile.

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“Collision” (originally aired 11/23/2005)

Returning to Lost has, to this point, been a walk down memory lane: through the first season and the opening episodes of the second season, these reviews have activated distinct recollections of seeing and responding to the series in real time.

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This stops dead in its tracks in “Collision.” I knew from perusing Wikipedia that this was an Ana Lucia episode, but I had absolutely no memory of what her flashback contained. I obviously knew that the Tailies were going to be integrated into the core group, but I had limited memory of how this happened. It was as though the basic fact this episode occurred had replaced any specific memory I might have had of it, leaving the content of the episode a mystery such that I felt closer to a “new” viewer than someone who has seen every episode of a television show should.

Going into the episode on these terms created two different responses to the episode, which is the weakest of the season thus far despite strong moments. The primary response was one of frustration, as Ana Lucia is saddled with a lumpy, overstuffed flashback that works way too hard to construct a tragic backstory in a short period of time despite the fact the episode doesn’t need one. Michelle Rodriguez does some good work on the island, struggling to reconcile her guilt over shooting Shannon with the survival instincts that have allowed her to survive to this point. As much as she is panicking, and as much as Libby and Bernard are right to consul her to tell the truth and acknowledge it was all a tragic mistake, she has every reason to be paranoid in this context. “The Other 48 Days” clearly mapped out the logic for why Ana Lucia would tie Sayid up to give herself time to think through what just happened, particularly given how her snap judgment in regards to Nathan resulted in his death.

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Taken on its own, Ana Lucia’s on-island journey remains compelling, particularly as her pain becomes paralleled with Sayid’s. These are both people who have made decisions on the island that they regret, decisions that they carry with them, and decisions that have had distinct consequences. When they each speak of their willingness to embrace death, they speak to the challenge of retaining humanity in an inhumane environment, and speak to the core of the show in a way that resonates with the series’ larger trajectory.

“Collision” is not content with this, though. It instead constructs an elaborate backstory in which Ana Lucia is “explained” so wholly that there’s barely room for the character to breathe. Why was she so panicked after shooting Shannon? Because she had a loose trigger finger in a similar situation shortly after retuning to duty as a police officer following being shot during a burglary. Why was she so concerned about the kids in “The Other 48 Days?” Because she was pregnant when she was shot. Where does she get her particularly harsh sense of justice? Probably from her decision to allow the man to shoot her to go free so she could hunt him down and kill him herself.

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The facts of the flashback lack subtlety in and of themselves, but the flashback is also full of scenes where Rodriguez is saddled with exposition to pair with her actions. “You’re doing this because you’re my captain? Or because you’re my mother?” is like something you’d hear in a parody of a cop show, while the reveal that she was pregnant is spoken aloud to her attacker like she’s in a parody of that parody of a cop show. When you have a series of events that are already working overtime to establish a crowded backstory (shooting victim, lost pregnancy, and revenge murder), you can’t also have that backstory established through on-the-nose dialogue, a mistake that apparently led me to block this flashback from my mind entirely.

I spent my time watching “Collision” stewing over this response, making notes of the adjectives to describe just how much of a failure Ana Lucia’s flashback is both dramatically and in the context of the episode. That frustration extended to the return of the love rhombus, a necessary development with Sawyer’s return but nonetheless something that works more in moments—like Kate seeing Sawyer and Eko before Jack—than as a concentrated storyline. The show does a decent job of bringing Eko into the hatch—which we notably haven’t seen for a few episodes now—and starting the process of integration, but Ana Lucia’s flashback did a lot to sour me on the way the rest of the episode was playing out.

And then we got to “The Gathering.”

Whereas “Collision” works too hard to underline Ana Lucia’s characterization, the montage that brings the episode to a close explodes with emotion based on long-term development. There’s Vincent as the last vestige of Walt for Michael to hold onto; there’s Rose and Bernard as the couple ripped apart in mid-air and brought back together just as she always knew they would; and there’s Jin and Sun, separated on uncertain terms and brought back together having each gained new perspective on their love for one another. The second this montage began, and Michael Giacchino returns to the themes from the raft’s launch in “Exodus,” the show pulled me out of my frustration and delivered the kind of emotional moment that reaffirms how compelling the show has been to this point.

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“Collision” struggles under the weight of introducing a new character through flashback, working too hard to parcel out character details that would have worked better over three flashbacks instead of one. For as much as flashbacks where nothing happens are problematic, flashbacks that try to cram everything in are more debilitative, and nearly bring the episode and the season to a grinding halt. And yet the benefit of the flashback model is that they’re easy to look past provided the “results” of the flashback are moving in a productive direction. In this way, “Collision” combines Lost at its best and worst, and showcases its skill at managing the latter with the former to keep from entirely losing the plot.

Stray observations:

  • The choice to have Sun learn from Michael that Jin is both alive and nearby is an interesting one. It makes her reaction at the reunion a different kind of reunion, as at this stage both clearly knew the other was fine, and this was just them finally getting a chance to see one another. It also makes things awkward if you think that Sun learned Jin was alive, and nearby, and just went back to doing laundry instead of looking for him. It just doesn’t track.
  • I really love the way the episode drops us back into the hatch, and reminds us that they’ve settled into a routine: Locke has his crossword puzzles, and Jack’s appearance outside of the hatch surprises Rose enough to presume he’s been spending plenty of time indoors as well.
  • I ultimately think it’s defined well enough for the show to get away with it, but sticking Eko in that room with Jack and Locke is really just kind of cruel when you think about it. They just wanted exposition, and he’s not the man to give it to them.
  • Mommy Issues Alert: The fact that Ana Lucia’s mother was her captain ends up being pretty insignificant, but it definitely frames her story as one defined by family, both in terms of herself as a daughter and herself as a mother.
  • As though Jack and Kate flirting over golf wasn’t already hitting my buttons in regards to Lost’s somewhat unsubtle efforts to rekindle the love triangle and turn it into a rhombus, there’s the added—intentional—awkwardness of doing it while Shannon is lying dead in the jungle. Priorities, people!
  • I had forgotten Michael Cudlitz, now on The Walking Dead and best known recently for playing an L.A. cop in Southland, played an L.A. cop on Lost.
  • I know Jack and Ana Lucia’s meet-cute played a crucial role in “Exodus,” but I’m still not sure they earned that cliffhanger staredown.

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Spoiler Station (only read if you’ve seen the entire series):

  • We’ll debate this more as we move forward, but in hindsight it’s hard not to see the Tailies as the least significant of the season arcs. As great as “The Other 48 Days” is, and as much as I would argue it provides some good space for the writers to test out what does and does not work in this universe, I feel comfortable calling them a failure. I’m curious to know how everyone else feels, without pulling the comments too far forward into spoiler territory.
  • In the end, they needed to speed through Ana Lucia’s flashbacks given she would only ever have two of them. What’s interesting to me is how much this backstory was designed to soften the character, but they do so in such an overbearing way that it never feels genuine. When she is eventually written out either because of legitimate story reasons or because of the drunk driving charge, she never felt like part of the show, which is productive on some level but makes the time spent here seem that much more pointless.
  • Hearing Sayid speak about death in such certain terms makes that character’s arc more compelling for me. I don’t know if I would have put Sayid’s later arc in the context of his scene with Ana Lucia here, but it fits with his eventual fate, and the journey he takes in between. I’ll be curious to revisit later seasons in light of this.

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Next week: Episodes that promise closure on one mystery, and the start of another, respectively.