I grew up in Nashville, and still have a lot of friends and family there, so I’ve been a little preoccupied these last few days by the reports coming out of my hometown. A significant percentage of the people I follow on Twitter and Facebook are Nashvillians, which has led to an odd disconnect as I get status updates from far-flung acquaintances talking about music or kids or what they had for lunch, followed by a post from an old friend saying that her parents just lost the house they’ve lived in for 50 years, or a woman I went to school with saying that her husband’s parents drowned. And then I flip through the cable news channels, and hear a lot about oil spills, immigration reform, and botched terrorist attacks, and next-to-nothing about the devastation of one of our great American cities.
I bring this up not to make y’all feel guilty for not thinking about Nashville more (though if you wanted to donate to flood relief, that would make me very happy), but to note how some real-life dramas are bound to hit us harder than others, just because of who and where we are in our lives. We’re each moving through our own individual narratives, and at any given point on our stories we could be idle and bored at the exact same time that others are living through some of the worst moments of their lives, wishing they were having our dull, samey day.
That’s always been one of Lost’s less-showy themes: the idea that the show’s characters each have their own stories playing out, side by side. Part of the whole point of Lost’s one-character-story-per-episode approach has been an explication of Jack’s “live together or die alone” speech. When our heroes get preoccupied with their own personal journeys, trouble tends to ensue. When they work in concert—as they always tend to do towards the end of a Lost season—they can accomplish amazing things.
In tonight’s episode, “The Candidate,” we see both versions of our Lost heroes on display. In the Island universe, we open on Hydra, where Sayid and Not-Locke have transported an unconscious Jack in a boat after Widmore bombed their group. Not-Locke wants Jack to help him free Sawyer’s bunch, who’ve been polar-bear-caged by Widmore’s Nerd Squad. So the the trio hits fast: Sayid de-powers the anti-Smokey pylons, Not-Locke monsters his way through the Nerds, and Jack unlocks the cage, promising to help the group get to the Ajira plane, even though he insists once again that he has no plans to leave The Island with them.
When they get to the plane though, Not-Locke is already there, and shows them the bricks of C4 that Widmore had wired to explode Ajira. So he suggests they go by sub instead, and Sawyer—in one of the most unconvincing lies in the history of lies—thanks Not-Locke, saying, “That’s twice you’ve saved our asses. Guess I was wrong about you.” Then Sawyer pulls Jack aside and explains his real plan: Jack is to distract Not-Locke at the sub-dock while Sawyer gets his people on the boat and they chug away to freedom. (Horrible, horrible freedom.)
It was fun to watch everyone make plans and execute them as a team, and fun to watch the various kinds of ass-kicking on display. But look a little more closely, and you can see why Sawyer’s scheme—and Not-Locke’s for that matter, and Jack’s too if we’re keeping score—was bound to fail. Each of them were really working for themselves. Not-Locke’s dispatching the people standing in everyone's way, but only to suit his own agenda, and Sawyer’s so focused on his sub-hijack that he doesn’t consider all the angles. (Bad strategy for a long-con-man.) Meanwhile, Jack’s shifting his trust around situationally, following anyone who’ll help him achieve his ultimate goal: to be left alone by all these maniacs so that he can finally figure out his Purpose In Life.
The second half of “The Candidate”—from the moment our heroes reach the sub-dock—is edge-of-the-seat suspenseful, and then heartbreaking. While Michael Giacchino’s music cues get faster and faster, we move through several rapid turns of fortune: Sawyer gets most of his people on the sub, but in the process Kate gets shot, which leads to Jack having to help her on the sub, unaware that he’s carrying a pack of explosives rigged up by Not-Locke, who means to blow up all the remaining Candidates and free himself. Sayid, in his element at last, explains how the bomb can be defused—maybe—but Jack asks for a little faith from everyone, arguing that since Not-Locke can’t really kill them, the bomb won’t go off unless they do something to make it go off. Sawyer, faithless, pushes Jack aside and pulls the wires Sayid suggested, and because this is a TV show, Not-Locke’s timer stops for a moment and then starts going extra-fast. (A corny cliché, but I’ll allow it.) Sayid then grabs the bomb and runs as far from the group as possible. The bomb explodes, Sayid dies (again), and Sun gets pinned under a metal bar, so that while everyone else is making their escape to the surface, Jin—who promised never to leave his wife—stays with her as the sub sinks to the bottom. They die, and once Kate, Hurley, Sawyer and Jack reach the beach, they break down in tears. And elsewhere, Not-Locke fumes alongside the perpetually left-out Claire, because he knows instinctively that three Candidates are still alive.
“The Candidate” was hampered by some weird actorly moments and some awkward lines of dialogue, and though it brought a lot of this season’s main Island action to a head at last, it also revealed just how much of that action has been wheel-spinning. This is one of Lost’s most consistently bothersome storytelling gambits: giving characters big farewell scenes or big reunion scenes and then rendering them moot a week later. Jack makes a big play of leaving, and now Jack is back. New people get introduced, and then killed for no apparent reason. Characters spend a whole episode walking across and Island, and then have to return from whence they came. It’s all busy-work.
But that busy-work can still be entertaining, as it mostly was tonight. I got a kick out of the look on Sawyer’s face when Jack looked back at The Smoke Monster and said, “I’m with him.” And I was both energized and moved by the headlong tumble of action beats and tragic loss down the stretch.
As for the sideways-story, I was a little disappointed that it focused mainly on Alterna-Jack and Alterna-Locke, but I can’t complain about the arc of the story itself, which begins with Jack insisting again that Locke is “a candidate” (!) for a new spinal procedure, and Locke refusing the surgery for personal reasons. Alt-Jack, like Our Jack, believes he can fix things, and so he does a little research into Locke’s original accident, tracking down Locke’s brain-damaged father, and subsequently getting Locke to confess that he’s responsible for Anthony Cooper’s condition, because three years ago he crashed an airplane with his dad as a passenger. Once again, Terry O’Quinn nails this confession scene, putting a button on the sideways that made it worthwhile.
Even more significant though is the scene between Jack and Claire, about halfway through the episode. He offers her an Apollo Bar (just like Jacob once did for Our Jack), and she shows him a box willed to her by their father. Inside is a mirror, and for the second episode in a row, two characters share a mirror-moment in the Alternaverse. Shortly afterward, Jack asks his sister to come stay with him for a while. And why wouldn’t he? Because if they don’t live together….
-Okay, everybody buddy-breathe.
-It sucked to have a commercial set on a dock right after the sub sank. Momentary confusion (at least for me) though not the show’s fault. Also, this was not a night in which I was inclined to find people trapped by rising water entertaining. But that’s not the show’s fault either.
-There was another awesome new (I think) Giacchino cue in the opening scene, as Locke wakes up. Almost celestial. Also, unless my ears deceived me, I heard a note of Smokey-horn in the score a few times, whenever people talked about Not-Locke.
-Still waiting on Ben, Richard and Miles to swoop in and save the day.
-Nice that the writers gave the Kwons a chance to catch up before killing them. A quick confession though: As moved as I was by the Kwons’ demise, when Jin said, “I love you, Sun,” I turned to my wife and said, “I say it in English because I really mean it.”
-Another confession: I’m kind of tired of giving grades as we near the end. Next week will be a little different because it’s a stand-alone (and likely a doozy), but for the most part, last week and this week and the weeks to come are more like one long episode, and thus harder to judge as individual components. I went with “A-” because the second half of the episode delivered like crazy, with suspense, action, and emotion. But don't think I’m blind to the show’s failings. I still have qualms—about the fate of the sideways universe, and about everyone’s moment-to-moment motivations—and my ultimate opinion of those elements will depend largely on where we end up. But I’m not one of those who thinks my six-year investment in Lost will have been wasted if the show doesn’t have the most mind-blowing end-game of all time. I expect to be frustrated in the final weeks, and I expect to be thrilled in the final weeks. I’m hoping for more of the latter than the former, but it’s been a great ride regardless. I guess what I’m really saying is that while I’m going to keep on analyzing themes and digging as deep as I can in the Lost reviews to come, I’m disinclined to be nitpicky from here on out. I’d rather just enjoy the final hours of a show that’s been such a huge and diverting part of my recent life. Maybe that makes me a sucker, hypnotized into liking something fundamentally flawed. But I always reflect back on what Alasdair MacLean of The Clientele told me once when I asked him if if he felt like he’d convinced himself to enjoy an album he initially hated. He laughed and said, “Well, that’s not exactly the crime of the century, is it?”
-Or to put it another way, I’m operating on the Miracle On 34th Street principle here. If the show sticks the landing in an amazing way, then hey, it’s Santa Claus. If not, it’s just a nice man with a white beard. But there’s nothing wrong with that either.
Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:
-So Alterna-Jack sees Alterna-Bernard, who helps him find Cooper. Jack seems surprised that Bernard would remember Cooper three years after Locke’s accident, but Bernard replies, “Of course I do, Jack,” in a way that—to me at least—indicated that he knows more about what’s really going on than he’s saying at the moment.
-Alt-Jack and Alt-Locke toss around a bunch of familiar phrases: “Push the button,” “I wish you had believed me,” and “What happened, happened.” Are they starting to see through the world they’re in to the pattern underlying it?
-The Man In Black shows his facility with technology in rigging the bomb.
-You can’t shoot Smokey, Nerds. Widmore should’ve mentioned that in your orientation.
-Widmore claims that he can kill Kate with no compunction, because she’s not a Candidate. So why is she still here? Why isn’t The Island done with her yet?
-I liked Not-Locke’s justification for killing Widmore’s men: he claims that Widmore put them there to be killed. So it’s really Widmore’s fault, right? That’s completely in keeping with The Man In Black’s character. He’s all about putting people in situations where they can be killed. And if they actually do ending up getting killed in those situations, well… that was their choice.
-Boats blowing up, dural sacs being severed, repeated phrases, people trying to leave and then washing up on shore… to quote Sawyer, “Feels like we’re running in circles.” But it doesn’t bother me. I know some of you will think I’m giving Lost too much credit, and maybe I am. Maybe the writers really just don’t have that many new ideas. But I’ve always seen these recurrences as thematic more than lazy. What happened before happens again. Over and over. Until they get it right.
SPOILER REMINDER - PLEASE READ!
As I’m sure a lot of you know, during our mini-hiatus some minor but annoying leaks occurred (maybe), resulting in a call sheet and a handful of script pages from the finale showing up on-line. Of course these might be fakes, and from what I’ve seen of them, they reveal information unlikely to ruin anyone’s finale experience—though there is an unexpected twist or two that I myself would rather not have known in advance. So consider this a reminder/warning: I allow discussion of anything officially released by the network or the producers, up to and including episode titles and “next week on” previews. But anything from the spoiler sites—set reports, casting notices, script-leaks and the like—are out of bounds. I will be as vigilant as I can in deleting posts along those lines, but if I were you, I’d exercise extra caution, both as a commenter and a reader. If you’re speculating, say you’re speculating. If you post something like “so-and-so will die” and I’m unable to tell if it’s a guess or a spoiler, I will delete it. But I’m bound to miss some posts too, so I’d suggest you skim before reading, to make sure the coast is clear. And if you actually do want to talk about the spoilers, my pal Sean O'Neal has provided a convenient place for you to do so. Go nuts.