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Lost: "Man Of Science, Man Of Faith," etc.

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Rather than doing a strict episode-to-episode blog of Lost's second season–with grades and such–I'm going to continue what I've been doing, which is to take these earlier seasons in big chunks, to discuss how they hold together as serialized drama and how the series fits together as a whole. Then in the "Stray Observations" section I'll get into some mythology issues and the like.

My memory of Season Two was that it started strong, meandered in the middle, and then snapped into focus at the point where Michael kills Libby and Ana-Lucia. Turns out I was only partially right. The season opener, "Man Of Science, Man Of Faith," is still a stunner, taking us inside "the hatch" for the first time and introducing Desmond, the Dharma Initiative (if only in passing) and "the button" (though we don't yet know what it's for). But then Episode Two, "Adrift," establishes what would turn out to be a bad pattern for the first quarter of the second season. While we follow Sawyer and Michael's shrieky (and sharky) misadventures on the raft, we also get a largely pointless flashback to Michael's custody hearing, and a recap of our heroes' first trip into the hatch, this time from Kate and Locke's point of view. After the rush of new information in "Man Of Science," "Adrift" ends with us more or less where we were 40 minutes earlier. Only a creepy final shot of the Tailies coming after Sawyer and Michael with clubs and makeshift scythes really gives the episode any oomph.

Things pick up again with Episode Three, "Orientation,", though it too establishes what would prove to be a bad pattern. In a mythology-rich episode, with Desmond explaining the button-procedure, Jack and Locke watching the Swan station's training film, and Sayid racing to fix the computers that "save the world," the only real bummer is the increasingly shrill discourse between Jack and Locke, which makes both characters come off as pretty annoying. Much the same is true over at the Tailies' camp, where in "Orientation" we meet Ana-Lucia (posing as a prisoner alongside Sawyer, Jin and Michael), and in the episodes that follow we get a lot of disagreement between all concerned, expressed via shouting and sarcasm. As the situation on the island intensified, either the writers or the actors (or both) revealed that they were shakier at straight melodrama than they were at low-boil adventure and left-field weirdness. (As I recall, this problem would crop up again during the first six episodes of Season Three.)

There's something else about this first set of Season Two episodes that I think may have started the long cycle of frustration and forgiveness that's become part and parcel of being a Lost fan. After the nail-biting cliffhangers that ended Season One, we immediately met someone who's been on the island for years in Desmond (who never leaves the hatch), and a group of people that we at first are meant to assume are the much-discussed "Others," but turn out to be the rest of the survivors of Oceanic 815. In other words, just when we think we've been introduced to new characters who will tell us what's going on, we find that we've met a bunch of folks who really don't know much more than we do. And they've alllll got backstories.

Along those same lines, the flashbacks in this first set of six episodes seem, in retrospect, to be largely filler. "Man Of Science, Man Of Faith" is relatively meaty, with Jack encountering Desmond and Sarah for the first time, but "Adrift"'s Michael flashback (reportedly a last-second substitution for a Sawyer flashback) is a bunch of nothing. "Orientation" has a good Locke flashback, all about his ill-fated love affair with Helen, but no matter how poignant the "last 24 hours before Hurley cashes in his lottery ticket" flashback is in "Everybody Hates Hugo", or the Jin-meets-Sun flashback in "…And Found", or the "Shannon has feelings too" flashback in the Shannon-killing "Abandoned", all of them feel a little out of place alongside the gun-pulling standoffs and jungle cat-and-mouse games going on elsewhere on the show.

This of course is a byproduct of where the creators (probably unexpectedly) found themselves at the end of Lost's first season: piloting a hit show with one big story to tell, while unsure how many hours they were going to have to fill before they could spill the ending. So they moved the pieces along as slowly as they could, dropping in the occasional tantalizer–like "…And Found"'s brief encounter with the shoeless Others, shuffling through the jungle with their battered teddy bear–and telling some sweet off-island stories that work just fine as character-builders, even if they no longer seem to be as essential to overall story as the original flashbacks were.

And so I'm very interested to see where Season Two goes next, and if it indeed it improves as much as I remember it doing. I have a feeling that it will. I also have a feeling that we're going to have to rid ourselves of the instantly irritating Ana-Lucia before things start looking up again.

Stray Observations

-Some other strong memories of watching Season Two came rushing back as I started re-watching it this week. Specifically, I remember wondering how they were going to integrate the Tailies into the story–because I already knew from the off-season publicity that they were coming–and thinking before Season Two's first episode premiered that it would be a bold move for the creators start the season with the crash of 815 again, and tell the Tailies' story, while keeping the show's main cast off the screen for a few weeks. That of course didn't happen. (And after re-encountering Ana-Lucia this week, I'm grateful for that.) One the season began and we met the decidedly high-strung Tailies, and heard that there "used to be" 23 of them, I imagined another direction the show might go in: setting up the Tailies' experience as a cautionary tale about what happens when people fail to work together. Before Ana-Lucia angrily told the story about the Others coming to take them away, it seemed like the writers were implying that the Tailies had torn each other apart. That's an idea that Lost keeps stepping up to and then backing away from: good versus evil, science versus faith, live together or die alone, Dharma against "the hostiles." The same island, experienced and exploited in a variety of different ways. That's still where I think the show is going, but at the same time they keep defying expectations when it comes to the question of who's good and who's bad, so….it's curious.

-Speaking of matters of right versus wrong, this block of six episodes effectively begins and ends with the ramifications of a choice made by Jack back in the past, in the emergency room. Faced with two accident victims, he chose to save Sarah, whom he'd later marry and divorce, rather than Adam Rutherford, Shannon's father. That choice leads to a miserable marriage for Jack and loss of family fortune for Shannon..

-When Desmond flees the hatch after the computer gets damaged, he grabs a stash of injections, to ward off the disease that he's been told affects the island inhabitants. Given that our heroes seem relatively unaffected by any sickness–accents on the "seem" and the "relatively"–the vaccine is probably a placebo of some kind. On the other hand, it's popped up again and again in different storylines, so chances are we're not done with that wonder drug just yet.

-For all the complaints about Lost continuing to cover and re-cover well-trod ground in its master-plot, sometimes the creators dispose of things too quickly. I know that by the end of Season Two, I'll probably be as sick of The Swan as I was the first time around. And yet, there are some aspects of The Swan that remain under-explored, like the mural Desmond painted just inside the entrance, which contains all kinds of imagery related to the storyline–including things that Desmond shouldn't know anything about. I'm hoping that we'll have a Swan-visiting flashback or two at some point.

-For all that the first part of Season Two got wrong, Lost hooked me pretty much permanently with the Swan orientation film. Until I find out more about the Dharma Initiative, Alvar Hanso, Karen and Gerald DeGroot, "Marvin Candle" and "the unique electromagnetic fluctations" of the island, I'll suffer through as many Jack/Locke smug-offs as the writers want to throw at me.

-Let's talk about "the Others," as we've encountered them in these first six episodes and in Season One. Okay, so they kidnapped Walt. And several Tailies. And Ethan kidnapped Claire, hung Charlie, threatened Jack, and may have killed Scott (or was it Steve?). But by this point in the series, there's not much to dispute Ben's later claim that they're "the good guys." Even the one piece of evidence that Eko and Ana-Lucia offer of the Others' violence–the bloody body of Goodwin–we're about to find out in Episode Seven isn't exactly as it appears. So here are some questions I'd like to see answered about the Others eventually: Why did they take so many Tailies, while the survivors on the other beach were left relatively unmolested? Who were the barefoot Others we glimpse walking near the Tailies' camp (and where were their shoes)? And was stewardess Cindy with the Others from the start? She gets abducted in "Abandoned," and will be seen living happily at Otherton in Season Three. What's her deal?

-I was going to write a little smart-ass comment about Jack and Desmond remembering each other after one chance meeting years earlier, and how it always amazes me what good memories people have on Lost. (I mean, I have a pretty good memory for personal details, and even faces to a certain extent, but names completely elude me.) Then just this morning I got a call out of the blue from a former classmate who remembered me from first grade. He heard me interviewed on NPR, and looked me up. I went to that school for one year before my family moved (again), and yet he remembered details about my time in first grade–like my name–that were really impressive. So from now on, I'm giving Lost the benefit of the doubt.

-"Are you him? … What did one snowman say to the other snowman?"

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