Wednesday, February 24, 2010

From the Archives: Lost's Last Call: The Other Side of the Mirror

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The island is Wonderland and Jack has been Alice, chasing after the unreliable white rabbit (Christian), which he can never quite catch. And in “sideways” world, where the characters are forced to take a good look at themselves and be conscious and aware of their flaws, it’s only fitting that Jack be surrounded by mirrors in this episode.
“Lighthouse” starts with “sideways” Jack coming home from work to his apartment, and it’s a very different apartment than the one island Jack inhabited. In previous views of Jack’s place, we’ve often seen him pouring himself a stiff drink after getting home from work. But in sideways Jack’s apartment, the writers make the views of his bicycle, golf clubs and exercise bike very prominent. This is the apartment of an active person, someone who’s interested in living a healthy life.
After changing out of his work clothes, Jack looks in the mirror and spots an appendectomy scar on his torso, something he strangely does not remember. This seems to be another example of the writers winking at us, giving a sideways character a déjà vu experience. This Jack is somewhat aware of his life in Wonderland, on the other side of the mirror, just as Kate seemed to recognize Jack as she escaped from LAX.
And in case we still weren’t sure who the white rabbit is, the writers put a photo, front and center, of a younger Jack posing with his parents at the beginning of the episode, and Christian is noticeably dressed in an all-white tuxedo. As if his white hair wasn’t enough of a tip-off.
But it’s strange to see Jack repeating his father’s mistakes in this episode, becoming his son’s own white rabbit. Let’s take a look at his angsty son, David (yet another Biblical name, by the way, and this David sure does have a “Goliath” of family history to overcome). David lives a double life just like his father does, although his double life is a bit more commonplace than Jack’s (considering that Jack’s double life involves time travel, course correction and crashing onto a mysterious island).
It can hardly be denied that one part of Lost that really draws in viewers is the father issues each character has. When a person develops an estranged relationship with his father, he often has a harder time finding his own identity in relation to the rest of the world. Jack hasn’t had an easy time of it by any means. And his son hasn’t either.
Although he seems totally unaware of it early in this episode, Jack has passed down some of his issues to his son, a pretty common occurrence, and his son lives in two worlds — his time with his mother and his time with his dad.
And the time with his dad is something he just wants to “get through.” I loved the scene with the headphones. David wears them so he doesn’t have to listen. Then Jack gets a call on his cell phone and he can’t talk to David. Talk about a modern lack of communication.
It was nice to watch Jack grow a bit on this episode, to say something to his son that he always wanted to hear himself. He tells him that he loves him no matter what he does, and that in his eyes, he can never fail.
In this new, altered reality, Jack’s pain can finally make sense to him because he is “making it right” as a father — he is making it so his son doesn’t have to go through the same thing he did. He is ending the cycle.
But back on the island, the version of Jack we are most familiar with still has much to learn.
Hurley provides a great deal of comic relief in this episode and serves as a major voice box for the audience — one of the things he does best. In only a few minutes, he references Indiana Jones, samurais and Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Jack had been sitting around, pensive and despondent, ever since the castaways showed up back in present day (2008) on the island. He seems to feel responsible for lives lost, for failing at exploding the Swan station. He is acting out his father’s prediction from when he was a young boy: “You don’t have what it takes.”
Island Jack has to prove that he does have what it takes. And that’s what Hurley has to tell him, as a message from Jacob, to get him to go with him to the lighthouse. Jack’s biggest test as a character isn’t his ability to lead the others or take control in a crisis. It’s his ability to rise, like a phoenix, from the ashes.  That theme of rebirth is a big one on Lost. Just check out the symbol the writers threw at us last night:  an ouroboros.
For some reason, the portal to the secret escape from the temple is labeled with one of them.  It’s the same symbol from Eloise Hawking’s brooch in previous episodes. This is usually a symbol of cycles (for example, it’s a great symbol for Eloise as she’s the only one who seems to be living in a time loop), and it’s definitely pertinent to the father-son cycles in this episode.
Why do you think Jacob labeled his mirror/scale in the lighthouse with a different name for each degree?  At least  now we know that’s where the numbers come from.  Did anyone else see the name Linus at around number 117?  It was crossed out. When Hurley turns the mirror, Jack sees a variety of different houses in the reflection — a set of pagodas (reminiscent of where Jin grew up), and a church (reminiscent of the steps where Sawyer sat after his parents’ funeral).  Jack finds his name next to number 23 and asks Hurley to stop on that one. Jack’s childhood home pops up. Instead of being in awe of this situation (as most of the major Lostfans likely were), Jack goes into a fit of rage. The pressure is too much for him. This is probably the angriest we’ve ever seen Jack with not a drop of alcohol involved.
He asks Hurley a question he probably wanted to ask about his father his whole life: “What does he want from me?” And then he uses a telescope, something often used for finding things, for a destructive purpose — he breaks the mirrors, ruining Hurley’s (actually Jacob’s) mission to help “Number 108” get to the island.
Who do you think 108 is? Desmond? Eloise Hawking? Charles Widmore? Who else could it be? We all know that Desmond owns a boat, and lighthouses help guide boats to the shore … On the screenshot, it looks like the name “Wallace” is next to 108, and it’s crossed out.  What could that mean?
It’s interesting that Jack chooses to destroy something that is symbolically a helpful guide in this episode. It’s as though he is rejecting Jacob’s guidance because he often ends up in situations he doesn’t understand or can’t fix whenever he lets go of his control and tries to believe in him.  It’s similar to Ben’s issues with Jacob, except Jack is honest about his frustration.  He doesn’t just lie and lead a group of people based on illusions, as Ben did.
Jacob explains to Hurley after leaving the lighthouse that he needed Jack to be in that situation. It’s the only way Jack could understand how important he is.  Jacob’s doing a great impression of an all-knowing deity here …
Back in sideways world, this situation echoes Jack’s break-in at his ex-wife’s house, searching for his son. Anyone notice the house number (23)? Or the rabbit Jack finds the key under? Once in David’s bedroom, Jack hears his own voice on the answering machine. How often does a divorced dad have this experience? When he breaks into that house, he is breaking through into another world, his son’s other life, on the other side of the mirror. He can see things from his son’s perspective for once. He can hear his own vulnerable voice on the phone, calling his son to tell him that Christian had died.
After seeing things from his son’s perspective, Jack’s able to see how important he is in David’s life and how to rectify the situation. That’s how the sideways world works.
But island Jack seems more filled with doubt than ever. Jacob tells Hurley that there’s something he needs Jack to do. What do you think that will be? He says that he can only reach Jack when he is lost in thought, staring off into the ocean.
Jack is one of these characters that many people like to hate … he seems impulsive and always has a hard time getting past his blurred perspective. But I think, if anything, Jack is one of the most realistic characters on the show and therefore the one we can learn the most from. He is by far the biggest hero, mainly because he doesn’t want to be. What he is most afraid of is what he is going to have to do. That’s how the island world works.
And Matthew Fox does a fantastic job with him. The sheer range of emotions he has to express in a variety of versions of this person … really, each actor on this show has a tremendous feat to accomplish in doing that. They’re never playing just one person.
Did anyone catch the sign outside of David’s audition? It said, “Welcome all Candidates.” If only Jacob or Christian could appear to Jack in a loving, accepting and welcoming way as Jack did with his son after witnessing what his son could accomplish without any pushing from him. We might just see that happen by the season’s end.
As a note from two weeks ago, I must mention that I was mistaken in saying that Jack didn’t know he had a sister.  He very much knew that Claire was his sister — her mother told him about Claire at his father’s funeral when the Oceanic 6 went back home a few seasons ago. Funny how in the sideways world in this episode, Jack’s mother finds her name in Christian’s will. And what did everyone think of Claire as the new Rousseau?  Talk about a creepy surrogate baby!
As usual, all questions, comments and (hopefully) answers are welcome below.
By Laura Carney

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

From the Archives: Lost's Last Call: Flocke Ain't No Shehard

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In the opening scenes of this week’s offering, “The Substitute,” we find (one of) our hero(es), John Locke, lying prone on his front lawn, tossed out of his wheelchair, with sprinklers dousing him with water and humility. As if Locke needed any more humility.
It seems the Lost writers love to reacquaint us with the characters in their off-island lives by showing very familiar experiences for them. When Locke tries to get out of his van, the expression on his face while waiting for the lift to land is priceless. Classic Locke, still not amused by having to live his life in a wheelchair. No doubt any viewer who’s a fan of this show could see Locke falling out of that chair way before it actually happens. Locke’s always leaping without looking, so this is a great literal translation of that.
Notice how this Locke is laughing at his situation, though. It’s subtle, but it’s there. Also, this Locke is still with Helen (Katey Sagal) and successfully engaged to her. Which leads one to wonder, what else is different about this Locke’s life?
I said it last week and I’ll say it again: These sideways versions are leading lives that are very much the same but with subtle differences. How often now have we seen each of these characters looking into mirrors? Jack did it in the season premiere, while on the plane. Kate did it in last week’s episode as she rooted through Claire’s luggage. And now, with “The Substitute,” we find Locke checking himself out in an eye-level (at least, his eye level) magnifying mirror, just before calling up Jack for a free consult. And then hanging up.
Typically, if a person avoids looking into mirrors, it’s an example of that person not living consciously. But these sideways characters are living consciously, for once. Oprah would be very happy.
These are new-and-improved versions of the characters from the original off-island timeline. These are characters who find ways to overcome and deal with their shortcomings. The shortcomings are still there, but they are no longer the self-centered, blinded, desperate beings they once were.
And as Lost is really such an epic, Joseph Campbell-style hero’s journey, it’s hard to talk about it and not also continually reference other tales of heroic adventure — in film, in literature or otherwise.
So, why stop now?
Who remembers how in Superman II, when the man of steel finds love with Lois, he decides to abandon his alias and tell her the truth about who he really is? The only drawback of doing so is that, according to Marlon Brando, he must sacrifice all of his powers by sticking a bunch of funny-looking, test-tube-like glowing crystals into some notches in his ice fortress. Yeah, kind of a complicated process.
The whole point of that might be so he wouldn’t actually kill Lois with his super lovemaking abilities. But there’s more to it than that. We all know that comic book superheroes have a hard time maintaining their relationships. And the Lostcastaways are no different.
When we were first introduced to Locke in season one, we saw a bald man lying flat on his back on a beach, surrounded by burning wreckage from his crashed airplane, looking down at his newly mobile legs and getting up and walking. We watched him develop a kind of invincibility and oneness with the island and struggle to get his fellow survivors to connect the same way he did.
This new, sideways Locke has no such powers, but it doesn’t restrict him the way it did his former off-island self. It’s what we’d have to imagine Superman would eventually have found had he stayed a powerless weakling, a human, in order to be with Lois. Yes, he would have gotten bloodied in bar fights, but he’d have love. And love can do anything.
That is the lesson of the sideways reality in Lost. Notice how the castaways keep showing up in one another’s lives, helping each other with this new sense of universal connection. That is love. But you can only see it if you are open to it. And not one of them was open to it the first time around. The writers wove (or Jacob wove) the characters in and out of one another’s lives in the first few seasons, usually without the characters’ knowledge. These were missed opportunities, paths they weren’t taking.
It’s a shame that it took blowing up a strange 1970s scientific-testing station (created by a cult-like group of hippies), tangling with vicious polar bears, turning a frozen donkey wheel, time traveling, hanging out in cages and any other crazy shenanigans that occurred on the island for their spirits to get to this point of higher development. But that’s Lost for you.
And Lost has always been a great combination of sci-fi action and character studies. In this season, the writers have developed an interesting pace. Just showing the sideways world and how all the characters find closure in their healthier lives would eventually get boring. Just showing the island world, with the Man in Black/Flocke and Jacob and what happens to the castaways after they exploded the Swan station — showing all the answers to island mysteries in each of the final season’s episodes — would get to be too much, too intense.
This storytelling style has more balance to it.
But enough of the psychological analysis. Let’s get back to smoke monsters.
How cool is that shot of Smokey and his perspective as he travels around the island? Man in Black/Flocke/maybe the devil (just my current theory) sure moves a lot faster than sideways Locke does. Something about this scene is a bit reminiscent of The Evil Dead, as well.
When Smokey looks in the window at Sawyer, did anyone else see what looked like a human face inside the clouds? Or maybe even two faces? Was this Flocke or just Sawyer, through the blinds?
Why does Flocke have to string up Richard? He says he “had to do something.” His apology for punching Richard in the neck seems akin to Ben apologizing later in the episode for murdering Locke.
Notice how Flocke gives water to Richard, but he never drinks any himself. Later, when Sawyer offers him whiskey, he can’t drink that either. Is this just more evidence of his lack of humanness? It’s like he’s still getting used to being in a human body.
It would be wonderful to get some answers as to how the Man in Black can take on the guise of people — and why, as Ilana says, he’s now “stuck” as Flocke. Is this because Jacob died? How does Ilana know these things?
The whole scene with Flocke trying to recruit Richard is the closest we get to him seeming very much like the devil (or the snake in the Garden of Eden) in this episode. He wants to offer people knowledge that he says they deserve, he tries to tempt them — much like in the Biblical story. He tries to use the same tricks on Richard as he used on Ben, but they don’t work. Maybe this is because Richard has better people skills? With that scared, guyliner-gone-wild look on his face, it’s obvious he can tell that Flocke is one bad dude.
It’s funny how the usually very calm Richard is frantic for this entire episode. Just another sign that the island has gone off-kilter. Another literal translation of that? Check out Sawyer’s house. Much like all of abandoned Dharmaville, it’s a mess. (Much like he is at this point. Both physically and emotionally. Ugh, those boxers. Is it really hard to do laundry on the island? I’ve always wondered that.)
But in Sawyer’s house, the really interesting thing that’s off-kilter is the paintings on the wall. They are each paintings of the island. And not one of them appears to be hanging straight.
Something about Flocke’s request of Richard, “Come with me,” reminds me very much of Willy Wonka. Yeah, it wasn’t a great idea to follow that guy either.
What do you suppose Flocke means when he says that people “rarely get a second chance”?
The parallels between Flocke trying to recruit people and Locke unsuccessfully doing so in past seasons are interesting. Flocke does it in an entirely different way, something that Sawyer can see through immediately. He tells him he can tell he’s not Locke because Locke was “always scared.”
Another thing that can definitely be gleaned from this episode is that you can’t con a con man. Even in his drunken, destitute, aggrieved and angry state, Sawyer can see that what he’s dealing with is not good and is not going to actually help him. I don’t believe for one minute that he’s going to actually follow Flocke. Do you? I think Sawyer’s going to con Flocke into believing that he’s going to help him get off the island, just so he can find a way out of there himself.
So, who do you think that crazy Children of the Corn boy is? Jacob? Some are saying Aaron, but I’ve never been a fan of this whole notion that grown-up Aaron will be coming back to the island at some point. Why can’t people just leave Aaron alone? Let him stay at home and drink his milk. Or whatever it was he wanted so badly …
The random little-blond-boy apparition is dressed like Jacob and is standing in a very Christ-like pose. Why are his arms all bloody? Why is it that Richard can’t see him but, later on, Sawyer can?
There are a few rather poignant moments in this episode. Ben’s eulogy over Locke’s grave and Helen’s explanation of her belief in miracles are both tear jerkers. It’s nice to see Locke getting some credit for once, instead of constantly frustrating everyone.
There are a lot of great symbolic uses of the colors black and white, as well. Notice how Jacob’s ashes are white, as opposed to the black ashes we’ve seen thus far. The rocks on the scale in the hidden cave are black and white, but the black one is slightly heavier. This symbolizes how the black/darkness has taken over the island. Flocke tosses the white rock into the ocean, much like Sawyer did with his engagement ring.
What is the black and white supposed to really stand for? Is it the backgammon pieces? Is it God and the devil? Is it fate and free will? Is it simply good and evil?
I’m betting on that last one.
In case anyone is still doubting whether this Man in Black is truly the bad guy, check out how he murdered all those innocent people in Jacob’s Foot house (sorry, but there’s really no other good way to describe it). Yeah, no good guy would do that. And everything he says and does is completely manipulative — he’s like Ben times 10. Sawyer seems able to see through it more than anyone because he’s also a master at that art.
Plus, when Flocke enters Sawyer’s house, the music playing is “Search and Destroy.” What more appropriate theme song could there be for this character?
The single best scene of this episode, that might indicate how this will all end, is when Flocke chases after little boy Jacob and then trips on a tree root. It’s just an example of Jacob’s connection to the island still and proof that, in the end, he willtrip Flocke up. And then Flocke looks up at the little boy, who still towers over him, even in death, and the boy tells him, “Remember the rules: You can’t kill him.”
To which Flocke replies, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!”
This was Locke’s constant reply to everything that used to frustrate him about his handicap, about any limitation he had throughout his life. He seems to get closure on that in the sideways-world part of this episode. But Flocke is using it in a very different way here. He’s like the ultimate atheist, angry that his free will can never fully alter the course of events.
Okay, strike that, there is another best scene in this answer-packed episode … Flocke revealing the numbers to Sawyer. And the list of names.
Finally, we get to see that the numbers represent six of the castaways’ names, something that probably made many long-time Lost fans slap themselves on the forehead in disgust. They should have figured that one out by now.
One major remaining question is this: Where’s Kate’s name? Is she number 108?
As usual, thoughts, comments, questions and (answers) are all welcome below — especially if they involve how incredibly awesome Terry O’Quinn is. This guy played an evil, devilish dude who travels in a cloud of smoke, a real, very vulnerable man and a corpse all in one episode. In one world, he’s a substitute teacher who has to teach track while in a wheelchair. In the other, he’s a substitute body for an evil spirit. I mean, c’mon.
By Laura Carney