17 March 2010

LOST 6x08 - "Recon" Reaction and Commentary

The biggest complaint about Season 6 thus far seems to be that it doesn't really feel like the final season of LOST. Among hardcore fans, the assumption going in was that the show would immediately switch to "answer mode," casting aside all of the elements that made the show so beloved for five previous years. That was an unrealistic expectation, sure, but in fairness to the fans, the promos and powers-that-be gave some false impressions in that regard.

Every week, ABC's crack (or is it on crack?) promo team delivers another commercial stuffed with hyperbole and exaggeration about what's in store next week, complete with melodramatic music and that irritating and confusing countdown to the end. So there's 8 episodes left... until the finale. Why not just say there's 9 episodes left? They've also taken to including footage from multiple future episodes, generating misguided complaints that scenes have been omitted, or just frustration that we're not getting what we expect from week to week.

This was the lamest one so far:

Here's a clue to those of you who are new to this game-- IGNORE THE ABC PROMOS. They have always been garbage. Any veterans remember the preview for the worst episode of LOST ever, "Stranger in a Strange Land?"

That's right, ABC's promo team considered Jack's tattoos one of LOST's biggest mysteries. I understand that the promo folks have a job to do-- entice viewers to watch next week's episode. But hardcore fans, whether spoiled or not, are too close to the show to be sucked in by the same over-the-top emotionality that may appeal to a casual viewer. Simply put, these previews aren't made for us. We are too scrutinizing and demanding, and ABC already knows that the truly faithful will be back next week with or without previews.

Unfortunately, the weekly promo debacles can make a decent episode like "Recon" seem mediocre or even disappointing. In any other season, "Recon" would be a perfectly satisfactory Sawyer-centric episode. But for many, we are so close to the end that words like "decent" and "satisfactory" shouldn't be applicable to the kinds of episodes we are seeing.

As with every new flash-sideways, the changes in James Ford's parallel world aren't nearly as important as what's the same. Sawyer's life as a cop instead of a criminal isn't really a twist for the character. As Jack Nicholson's character Frank Costello says in The Departed, "When you're facing a loaded gun, what's the difference?"

Sure, it gives us a little "WTF" moment when his buddies, led by Miles Straume, bust in on him while conning a con by pretending to be a con who's pretending not to be a con. But in the end, he's still after the same thing as he was in the original timeline, circa 2004-- revenge against Anthony Cooper.

He even watches Little House on the Prairie, like his sideways counterpart once did.

I've heard the argument made this season that the Losties' lives would have been better if not for Jacob's interference, an idea that stems largely from the Man in Black's speech in "The Substitute" about how Jacob has manipulated all of them to end up on the Island. This episode effectively disproves that theory, because whether or not Jacob ever gave him a pen to finish that letter, it seems Sawyer would still be obsessed with revenge.

In some sense, our protagonists are all still just as LOST without a magical Island on which to sort out their problems.

All said, the flash-sideways this week was not that enthralling. I'm always glad for more Miles screen time, but they laid the cop stereotypes on pretty thick.

Seeing Charlie's brother Liam was very surprising, his having been such a minor character in the scope of the show. Gotta wonder if that's heading anywhere.

And of course, Kate pops up in the last scene of the flash, much like Jin did in Sayid's episode. Maybe they've found a way to make both Skaters and Jaters happy-- a different pairing in each reality!

Charlotte was completely wasted in what will probably be her only return appearance this season.

Frankly, it's almost insulting to bring her back just to be a bedroom gymnastics partner for the promiscuous Sawyer, when the character never got a fair shake to begin with. Although all of the Freighter Folk introduced in Season 4 had their screen time truncated by the writer's strike of 2007-2008, Charlotte fared the worst.

Eventually, Miles and Daniel got their deserved centric episodes.

Frank hasn't had one yet, but hey-- he's still alive. And he certainly gets some of the show's best lines.

But poor Charlotte became a device to show us the terrible consequences of time shifting. We never even really figured out why she was with the freighter team, except that she was an anthropologist who happened to have been on the Island as a little girl. Regardless of whether she was looking for the Island, why exactly did Widmore hire her? Did he know about her past? And what function was she expected to serve on the Island when she arrived?

Unfortunately, those questions will end up as crumbs at the bottom of the toaster long after LOST is a fully cooked slice of pumpernickel. Like the majority of LOST's women, she unfortunately existed more to be a foil to a male character's arc than an independent entity.

The Island story in "Recon" offered a lot more substance. We got to see some characters who've been off-screen for a while, and Sawyer did what he does best in some truly creepy scenes. After an episode focusing exclusively on Team Jacob, the wayward members of Team MiB took the spotlight.

How much of a "team" they really are is debatable. I use the term loosely, because there is really no unity at all amongst these characters who are either infected with or surrounded by the Man in Black's darkness. Distrust, rage, ambivalence and confusion of purpose characterize their interactions, as befits a group that has been swallowed by evil.

That's not to say that the individuals in the team, most of whom we've come to know and love in five previous seasons, are all at fault for their circumstances. Claire has been "claimed" by the Man in Black, and in this episode I think he deliberately manipulated her confrontation with Kate in order to make a play for Kate's loyalty. Claire's mind has been so distorted by years of lies and malicious influence that it's no wonder she almost seems to show a split personality, holding Kate's hand one moment, then plunging a knife toward her throat the next.

I believe and hope that the Claire we saw at the end of the episode was the real article, and that through Kate's compassion, she can be brought back from the darkness.

I'm also betting that the Drive Shaft ring Sun picked up last season will come into play and help Claire snap out of it.

Sayid may be even more lost. He is practically catatonic when Kate begs for his help.

Having just perpetrated the brutal murders of Dogen and Lennon and enabled the Man in Black to smokify and kill anyone else in the Temple who wouldn't obey him, Sayid must be paralyzed with the weight of the evil that has taken hold in his heart. But I refuse to believe he is beyond saving, even if his only recourse to atone for his actions is to die for the greater good.

Kate is along for the ride because of Claire, which is why the Man in Black orchestrates an opportunity to "save" her from the Island mama's temporary insanity, then takes her aside for an interesting conversation. He says he lied to Claire about who had Aaron because she needed something to hate in order to keep her going. The notion may be insidious, but it has some unfortunate truth.

In George Orwell's 1984, the citizens participated in a daily "Two Minutes Hate," wherein they shouted curses at footage of their nation's sworn enemy. The Two Minutes Hate was meant to unify them as a people under the control of their government. The character O'Brien later remarks to Winston, the protagonist, that it's very important for people to have an enemy in order to unify them and distract from the weaknesses in their own society.

Real world history has shown this to be true on countless occasions. The Man in Black now preys on this dark part of human nature for his own ends.

Thankfully, neither Sawyer or Kate seem taken in by his manipulations. Sawyer accepts MiB's "recon" job, under the impression that they're going to use the Ajira plane to leave the Island.

He finds a horrific pile of human carcasses on Hydra Island, the remains of the nameless Ajira 316 passengers.

When he meets Widmore, whose sub is docked nearby, Widmore claims no involvement in the deaths.

We faced this same conundrum in seasons 4 and 5, when both Widmore and Ben were blaming each other for creating the faked wreckage of Oceanic 815 at the bottom of the ocean. In the end, it was Widmore who in fact staged the wreckage, so I wouldn't be surprised if he pulls the same stunt again here.

On the other hand, it may in fact be the Man in Black who perpetrated the murders. He's obviously not shy of amassing a body count, and last season he specifically told Richard that after he met Jacob, they would have to "deal with" the Ajira crash survivors. He even told Ben last episode to meet him on Hydra Island.

Widmore has come equipped to take on the Man in Black. As his people erect sonic barriers similar to the pylons outside the barracks, which we know to be Smokey-deterrent, he strikes a deal with Sawyer to lead MiB into a trap. Sawyer agrees, but then promptly does an about face and reveals the whole plan to the Man in Black when he returns. So whose side is he really on?

His own, of course. Well, that and Kate's, and whoever else he can get to leave the Island with him. Widmore, too, seems uninterested in the conflict between Jacob and the Man in Black. He just wants the Island back for himself. With so many selfish interests in play, it's impossible to say who will come out on top and who will change loyalties. Backstabbing is the order of the day at Camp MiB, even for those who seem to just be stuck with him.

Is there a light at the end of the tunnel?


Christina Nelson said...

Yeah, I didn't like that trailer that was all like, "We'll only be able to show you a few minutes!" I seriously thought they were gonna show like a review episode or something! It was very misleading. Even the "Stranger in a Strange Land" preview was dumb!
But yes, I am interested to see how everything turns out. And again, yes, poor Charlotte got shafted. And what a beautiful actress reduced to a dumb part!

Kevin Ford said...

I do not watch these trailers. I'm going to watch the show anyways, and would like little to no spoilers. Or, at worst, disappointment. Hardcores bitching about stuff like this does piss me off, because as you said, they are NOT for us. I can't say what the casual LOST viewer thinks because I'm not one. It sucks that the hardcores aren't happy, but as you said, they're sticking around anyways.

With all that said, I enjoyed this episode quite a bit. Writers strike or not, if Charlotte was supposed to get valuable face time, the writer's would have found a way. Sure, they probably could have done better than use her as fodder for Sawyer's sexcapades, but realistically that's who Miles would've set her up with. And I bet you a million dollars that people would complain if it was some no name person we'd never met before. And I couldn't even imagine the uproar if Kate or Juliet were wasted in a fleeting (what ended up being a) one-night-stand.

My personal favorite moment was when the Black Smoke Monster said he wanted to "go home". It reminded me of Satan wanting to go back to Heaven, but of course could not. I thought that was neat, even if it wasn't intended as being such.

Next week though...finally, the Richard Alpert episode. AWESOME!

Kells said...

I really dug MiB's speech about needing something to hate, it seems as though the writers were kind of speaking through him. As interesting as it is to have morally ambiguous characters, I gotta admit every once in a while a good black-and-white conflict is extremely satisfying. The attack on the others at the end of season 3 was probably the most successful, possibly because it'd been teased for so long and this was the survivor's first real opportunity to confront their tormentors, but the freighter conflict worked pretty well, and Radzinsky et al was OK I guess.

Yeah, the promos are hilariously awful. Another annoying one was the Dr. Linus promo that suggested Ben would die. Totally implausible that they'd kill him off so early in the season, but annoying nonetheless.

Maybe I'm stating the obvious but it seems more and more like Dogen's little speech about how his son died is kinda key to the flash-sideways. Is that what it's coming to? Will Jakob come to all the flash-sideways characters and offer them a chance to undo something that went wrong if they help him? And/or is MiB going to make a similar offer if they'll agree to live in the flash-sideways? I dunno that I LIKE either of those scenarios, but what Dogen and MiB said seems to suggest as much...

Matt said...

Yeah, the preview trailers seem to me like they would be a bit pointless. Like you said, the real dedicated fans of the show are more likely than not watch the show with or without ABC previewing next week's episode. And then with a show as complicated as LOST, I can't imagine you have a ton of real casual viewers who pop in and out of the series. I really wonder how many undecided viewers see these previews (good, bad, or ugly) and that makes them decide to tune in.

I am probably one of the more casual fans as you already know. I've watched many episodes and seasons out of order. Shoot, I watched practically all of season 5 before watching season 1. Yet those previews don't make me watch. And not because I'm worried about spoilers or anything. Spoilers don't bother me like some people. There have been times I've read episode plots before watching the show just because I'm curious. And I'm sure these previews don't actually give away too much important details about the plot. If I don't have anything else going on, I'll usually just watch the show regardless of any commercials. But that's just me.

Also, maybe it was just me but your Youtube clips didn't seem responsive. I don't know if the website thinks they're images or what but I couldn't play them.

Anyway, the alternate timeline part of this episode also didn't do much for me. Like you said, they laid on the cop stereotypes thick. You mean James is basically a renegade cop who plays by his own rules? Yeah, that's original. And it is essentially the same James Ford. He's still a smartass, he's still a playboy, he can still con, and he still wants revenge. Badge or no badge, he's basically the same guy.

On the island, though, I am interested to see how James' plan of playing Widmore and Un-Locke (sorry, I wanted to use a different name for that character) will play out. This season is also showing the talent that Emile de Ravin possesses. Claire goes from being Kate's friend to almost murdering her. Oh well, guess we'll see what the writers do with Claire over the rest of the season/series.

Well, sorry for writing such a long essay here about the episode. But it's funny how ABC can't just say "X episodes left" rather than "X minus one until the finale." And the on-island stuff seemed better than the stuff off the island.

"Rodimus" Ben Lundy said...

@Christina Nelson - Stranger in a Strange Land was the low point of the series, but even more so for those of us who were watching at the time because of that stupid ad. "Three biggest mysteries" became something of a meme for a while after that.

@Kevin Ford - It's unfortunate to think that the writers' strike did in fact take a toll on some characters. Another one was Michael, who was definitely supposed to get more screen time than the six episodes he appeared in.

@Kells - LOST has plenty of "us vs. them" confrontations as well as gray area when it comes to character development. I have pretty much made my mind up about MiB, though. He's definitely evil.

@Matt - if you're going to write that much, you should start your own blog :-P Agreed about Emilie de Ravin.

Beema said...

Good recap. Pretty much agreed on all points. I feel like this episode was definitely an exercise in misogyny, although given Sawyer's pre-island character, it's not completely out of place. I've always felt the show deals female characters a pretty lousy hand though. Then again, there are plenty of female fans out there who will argue otherwise.

James said...


Meghan said...

It's my opinion that Sawyer isn't that different in the flash-sideways in terms of being in it for himself, as a direct reflection of the fact that he hasn't really chosen a side on the Island. It will be interesting to see if he is "punished" for self-centeredness or rewarded for independent thought and/or rescuing his friends through a plan of his own formation.