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Lost: "Ji Yeon"

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Illustration for article titled Lost: "Ji Yeon"

Maybe it's because I just watched Season One's Jin/Sun episode "…In Translation" yesterday, but I was especially primed for "Ji Yeon," if only to see Yoon-jin Kim and Daniel Dae Kim get another showcase. I haven't been a huge fan of Jin/Sun episodes in the past, because they seem so far removed from the world of crazy coincidences and dire foreshadowing in which the rest of the Losties live. But a second pass through "…In Translation" reveals it as one of Season One's strongest episodes, showing Jin's desperation as he gets deeper into the muck with Sun's dad, and contrasting that with Sun's revealing to everyone on the island that she can speak English. Both actors are at the top of their game in "…In Translation," revealing nuances of pride, fear and deep emotional pain that really set up their characters for the rest of the series.

And with "Ji Yeon," the seeds sown in Season One flower beautifully.

I haven't read through all your comments yet because I wanted to write this review while remaining relatively unspoiled, but I did glance across the page last night and this morning, just to make sure there were no jackass trolls about, and it seems that you all are pretty divided over whether this was a good episode of a waste of time. I can understand why people might think the latter. Outside of revealing that Sun is one of the Six, Jin is dead (?), and Michael is Ben's man on the boat, there wasn't much forward motion in the master-plot. And the split between the two staging areas for action–the beach and the freighter–was fairly disjointed. (If you have other complaints that I'm not acknowledging, I'll deal with them in the comments section later.)

But I can only be honest about how I felt watching "Ji Yeon," and the truth is that I was incredibly moved by it. Juliet spilling the secret of Sun's affair in order to keep Jin and Sun from trekking to Locke's camp was a heart-sinking moment, and Jin's halting, "Is…the baby…mine?" was a heart-breaker. And then Jin's off-island rush to the maternity ward, where we discover that he's not heading to see his own baby born, but to woo a potential client for his father-in-law…well, given how much of his own desires Jin has suppressed to make a better life for Sun, that scene is just devastating. And then, the final punch in the gut: the big reveal that Jin didn't make it off the island with Sun to see his baby born. Is he dead? Or just caught up in the machinations of whatever deal the Oceanic Six struck? Either way, it seems that once again he's getting cheated out of the good life by his higher sense of duty.

I know that a lot of that stuff is Pulp 101, and maybe especially clichéd given the characters' Asian origins. But Daniel Dae Kim and Yoon-jin Kim are arguably the best actors in this cast–well, outside of Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson–and there's an unshakeable conviction to the way they bring these clichés to life. I ache for them, truly.

Really, my only qualm with tonight's episode is that the action on the freighter could've been more…action-y. We met the captain, he told us what we already knew, we learned that the freighter crew is going madder by the day, and then we "met Kevin Johnson." End of freighter stuff. This episode might've been better off ignoring the freighter altogether, except that then we probably would've been even more pissed at being denied freigher action for the second week running. And meanwhile, what's going on back at Locke's camp? And with The Others?

The fundamental problem with the format of this show is that they've got the pieces scattered so far and wide that it's hard to keep track of them all, especially when we're only moving forward a day or two at a time. (It's like playing a game of Risk; while you're mounting an assault on Greenland, you're losing Kamchatka.)

But as I've written before, I've resigned myself to the fact this show is never going to be a smooth ride. It's not a "novel on film," it's a serialized TV show that couches its insane narrative ambition in smaller moments of mystery and drama. "Ji Yeon" was all about the drama. And, like I said, it moved me.

Grade: A-

Stray observations:

-I woke up this morning to over 250 comments on an episode I hadn't even reviewed yet. I don't know whether to feel flattered that you all enjoy coming here to talk Lost, or depressed that you don't really need me.

-Maybe it's a parent thing, but did anyone else smile and whisper, "Hey, Ji Yeon!" when you saw her wriggling around in her cradle? She's so cute! Yesh she is, yesh she is…

-Is the simultaneous flashback/flash-forward thing a cheat, or indicative of the show's thematic concerns? After all, from the beginning, Lost has existed in a universe where the past and the present (and maybe the future) all co-exist. I did just glance at your comments and it seems that some of you are complaining because the flashback/flash-forward was inconsistent with comments made by Lindelof and Cuse. To which I would ask this: If you weren't paying attention to what the creators say in interviews and such, would that bit of timeline trickery still bother you, or would you think it was a neat bit of structural gamesmanship? As much as I enjoy reading up on Lost as much as I can, I'm only treating the show itself as canon. Extra-curricular stuff aside, the twist worked like gangbusters.

-Is Juliet trying to help Sun, or does she just like fucking with people's heads, Ben-style? (Or–again, Ben-style–is there really no difference?)

-I guess Michael never met Desmond, did he?

-The Voice Of Zoë Bell is dead. R.I.P., The Voice Of Zoë Bell.

Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:

-With Fisher Stevens and Zoë Bell both dead of "a heightened case of cabin fever," it's obvious that we're heading towards a freighter flashback episode at some point, because it's hard to believe that the Lost creative team would just waste two known actors. I didn't see a "next week on Lost" teaser at the end of this episode, but I'm assuming that next week's "Meet Kevin Johnson" is when we'll find out what's what.

-Hurley was awfully relieved not to have to see anyone else at Jin's grave. The members of the Six must really feel uncomfortable around each other. By the end of this season, will we know why? (According to Lindelof and Cuse, the Six will get off the island by the end of the season…but like I said above, only the show is canon.)

-I liked Bernard's speech to Jin about how he needs to stay away from Locke because "Locke is a murderer"…little realizing the thug that Jin has been in the past. "It's all about karma, Jin," Bernard says, adding "We must be the good guys." And yet, as far as we know, neither of them make it off the island. What does that say about karma?

Flashbackin'…Season One, Eps. 13-18:

-Remember last week, when I talked about how great episodes 9 through 12 of Season One are, and how the show really found a good groove right around there? Well, episodes 13 through 15 are, by and large, pretty awful, and put the lie to the idea that Lost was at its best in Season One, and that it's all been downhill since then. This show has always been up-and-down. Some weeks are charged with mystery and packed with action and drama. Other weeks are filled with pointless pieces of backstory and abstract spiritual quests. Episode 13 wastes time with Locke's attempt to break Boone of his Shannon addiction by busting his head open and smearing a hallucinogen on the wound. Then 14 heads back into the wild with Walt and Michael and a stupid-looking polar bear. Then 15 recounts Charlie's amazing adventures in the world of copier sales. The incremental forward movement in the Ethan/Claire kidnapping storyline and the Walt-has-magic-powers tease isn't worth all the mumbo-jumbo and wheel-spinning.

-But hey, things start taking a turn for a better with episode 16, which despite more more vison-quest-y bullshit–with Sawyer and Kate hunting the boar that Sawyer feels is stalking him–features one of the more compelling flashbacks in the series' run, as Sawyer meets Jack's dad, kills the wrong man, and remembers witnessing his parents' murder-suicide from underneath his bed. Then comes episode 17, an emotional powerhouse in which Walt burns Michael's raft, Jin gets blamed, Sun reveals she can speak English, and the flashback details Jin's reluctant introduction to his father-in-law's criminal enterprises. And finally, the fan-favorite episode 18, "Numbers," the first Hurley flashback and the introduction to his crazy luck. (And oh yeah, and intro to 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42…some of Lost's best-loved characters.)

-Here's a rundown of people/incidents referred to in these six episodes that haven't really come up again on the show, as near as I can tell: Michael's father (named "Walt," by the way), Hurley's institutional acquaintance Leonard Simms (who provided "the numbers," which he discovered along with the also-AWOL Sam Toomey, a suicide), Locke's dead foster sister Jeannie (who broke her neck in a fall), Charlie's rich girlfriend Lucy, the "Tampa job" that soured the friendship between Sawyer and Hibbs (another AWOL character), and Boone's mysterious reference to Shannon as being "special in a lot of ways" (one episode after Walt was also described as "special"). Aside from Shannon's specialness, all the other items have their own pages on Lostpedia, which is proof again of the total awesomeness of Lostpedia.

-Great scenes from these episodes: Sawyer and Kate playing "I Never" in the jungle, sharing pieces of backstory in a warm, intimate, funny scene that's very well-acted and directed (thank you, Jack Bender!); Sun finally revealing her ability to speak English in front of Jin and the whole beach, in the middle of a nail-biting melee that has to be broken up by a lying Locke; and the bit where Hurley's CD player batteries finally die (in the middle of Damien Rice's "Delicate"), signaling a shift in his role in the action.

-Bad scenes from these episodes: Hurley's diarrhea, which answers some practical questions about how the castaways have been eating, but seems representative of the way the show tried to turn Hurley into broad comic relief in the middle of Season One; and any number of pre-boar-hunt scenes in which all Sawyer does is sit on the beach smirking and guarding his hoard–a real waste of Josh Holloway's talents.

-Moments of foreshadowing: Neither the compass Locke gives Sayid nor the one Sayid rigs for himself will point towards where north should be; the characters routinely refer to anyone who's not in their immediate clique as "the others" (looking toward the eventual division of the survivors into opposing camps); and when Hurley tells Leonard that he used his numbers to play the lottery, Leonard freaks out and yells, "You opened the box!" (A now-familiar phrase.)

-Speaking of Hurley's numbers, there's a good quote Damon Lindelof gave to EW's Jeff Jensen this week, talking about whether the numbers will come back to play a significant role in the series, or if the whole "Vanzetti Equation" thing from The Lost Experience had closed the door. Lindelof said, "There will be more ON the Numbers, yes. But explaining WHY and HOW they are magic is like trying to explain why some magic kids are born to two muggles. The Valenzetti Equation USES those numbers, but trust me, they were around LONG before the early '60s. But for fans waiting for an advanced dissertation on the mythic significance of the numbers, I direct them to Qui-Gon Jinn's speech to Shmi Skywalker regarding midichlorians and pose the following question: Happy now?"

-Next week will be our last Lost for a while, and my goal is to wrap up Season One next week too. Then, during the hiatus, join me here each Thursday night as I continue "Flashbackin'" through Season Two. If all goes well, I'll be able to run through Season Three while we watch the final 5 episodes of Season Four together. That's the plan, anyway.