By Andrew Dignan
The way the promos at the end of last night's episode of Lost hyped next year's uninterrupted string of 16 new episodes you'd think the show's producers had brokered world peace or found the cure for cancer. Coming at the end of an episode where little happened outside of the final 10 minutes, the flash-edited advertisement finds the show crowing about somehow accomplishing the unfathomable feat of airing over a dozen new episodes ... Without a single repeat... Or a week off in between ... Not even one! Swear to God.
Never mind that 24 has done the same thing for a few years now. And please ignore the cost of such an unimaginable achievement... namely the show's nearly three month absence from the airwaves, starting next week. Clearly Lost is quite proud of its new broadcasting model, and I must admit that the serialized show should benefit greatly from the momentum that comes with four straight months of new programming.
Now it's just a question of whether anyone will bother to come back to watch in the New Year.
Wednesday's episode "I Do" from executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse was probably not the best episode to air before a long hiatus, lacking both the immediacy and urgency that keeps viewers clamoring for months on end. An all-around meandering hour of television, the episode finds us catching up with Kate (Evangeline Lilly) as she tries to adapt to married life with her blandly affable police officer husband Kevin (Nathan Fillion of Firefly). Uncomfortably pigeonholed into a domesticity of pushing shopping carts, "taco nights," and cutesy innuendo with her hubby, Kate hides her criminal past (she's even adopted the moniker of Monica) while still tempting fate by calling up US Marshall Edward Mars (Fredric Lehne) to ask him to stop chasing her. Mars seems to be toying with Kate, telling her if she remains anonymously settled in suburbia he'll give up the hunt, as if he knows as well as the viewer that Kate is solely defined by her status as a fugitive.
Once upon a time—let's call it season one—Kate was a favorite character of mine. Attractive, spunky, independent, able to pal around with the boys, could fire a gun; Kate was a worthy foil for Jack (Matthew Fox) and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) and an agreeable contrast to the preening Shannon (Maggie Grace), the demure Sun (Yoon-jin Kim) and the largely invisible Claire (Emilie de Ravin). But at some point last season, she ceased to develop as a character. After striving to paint Kate as a woman who could take care of herself no matter what the situation, the show placed her too easily into the damsel-in-distress role, standing by helplessly, letting herself to be pushed around and frequently acquiescing to whatever demands were placed on her. Now this season, it seems like an episode doesn't go by without Kate breaking down in tears and pleading for someone's life.
"I Do" does, however, definitively answer what has emerged as the least interesting question on this show: will Kate choose Sawyer or Jack? If the Sawyer-centric episode two weeks ago left any lingering doubt that Kate digs bad boys, then the conjugal visit she pays to Sawyer's cage in this installment pretty much seals the deal. (Now the only question is when she finds out he not only slept with Ana-Lucia last season but that he's also likely carrying an STD.)
A couple weeks back there was a small revolt in the comments section as numerous people argued there was no logic in Kate's aborted escape attempt, even if it meant leaving Sawyer behind. At the time this didn't especially bother me, but now, after being given a second opportunity (and apparently the flimsiest lock in history) and Kate still decides to stay behind, I'm convinced this show laughs in the face of Darwinism. Kate forgoes a window of opportunity to knock boots in a dank, dirty cage and cuddle all night with her Southern "gentleman," and does so with full knowledge that Pickett (Michael Bowen) plans on killing Sawyer in the morning. Sawyer convinces her that escape is impossible because they're on a different island than the rest of the castaways. So, here we have two hardened criminals who'd rather wait around to be murdered than risk the swim back to their island (lazy humans: the polar bears did it!)
As soap opera silly as Kate and Sawyer's lovemaking may have been, it did result in a doozy of a reaction shot as Jack (ever the cuckold) catches the duo in a post-coitus embrace that so unnerves him it stops his own escape attempt dead in its tracks. Let free presumably by Alex (Tania Raymonde), who we see on edge and at odds with the rest of the "Others" earlier in the episode, Jack snakes his way through the Hydra and ends up at a gun locker where he quickly arms himself, then stands around watching a bank of video monitors long enough for Ben (Michael Emerson) to come up behind him.
It was par for the course for Jack, who remarkably gets dumber the longer the episode progresses. Starting off in a taunting, rightfuly antagonistic mode, Jack informs Ben that the tumor located in his spine is in dire need of surgery but he won't operate on him. For a moment, he finally seems to have realized that nobody on this island can be trusted. Much of the episode is spent on Ben pressuring Jack by using Kate's feelings for Sawyer (and in turn, Jack's feelings for Kate), a ploy that would seem to have hit a brick wall upon Jack catching a glimpse of the canoodling.
For a beautiful, fleeting, second I thought we'd see the jealous rage Jack displayed in the season opener. I half expected him to tell Ben "fuck that hillbilly" (or TV-safe words to that extent), calling their bluff to kill Sawyer. But no, Jack decides then and there that he'll operate on Ben in the morning, because he's got a plan. And boy, is it a good one. Basically his plan is to stand around letting Ben slowly die on the operating table (he has roughly the length of an episode to live) so Kate and Sawyer can get a one-hour head start on their escape. That's it. No negotiating for boats or a detailed map listing the best route back to their camp or a phone call to the outside world. Nope, you got 60 minutes to get the hell out of Dodge before the men with guns come after you. My God, these people are idiots, and the good doctor is the worst of them.
The episode's last act highlights the two biggest problems with the new season so far. People on this show still do not communicate with one another, leading to Jack having no clue that they're on a different island than everyone else. He doesn't know this important piece of information because Sawyer never told Kate. Sawyer never told her because "he wanted to give her hope alive." I've written before about the romanticized "comic book logic" which keeps this rickety vessel afloat, but this has to be some sort of nadir. Sawyer's gesture may have been tender, but it was also painfully naïve and more than a little defeatist. How this guy made it through prison without getting shanked in the shower I'll never understand.
The other problem I alluded to is that Lost—a show so overlong it torments my TiVo every week by running a couple minutes past the hour—insists on confining all essential plot to the final five to eight minutes of any given episode. This means we spend the better part of 50 minutes twiddling our thumbs until we return from the last commercial break, at which point we get Jack operating on Ben, Pickett attempting to kill Sawyer, Jack's spur-of-the-moment O.R. hostage situation and Kate stuck between a rock and a hard place upon hearing Jack's "brilliant" plan.
Lost has become so dependent on doling out plot in microbe-sized bites that it no longer feels as if the writers are just making up the seasons as they go along: it now feels like they're also scrambling, minute by minute, to fill individual episodes as well. It's become so important for this show to spark water cooler discussion that how we get to the patented stinger of the closing moments has become far less important than the shock value of the event itself. (Eko's death last week was startling, yes, but also felt arbitrary and inconsistent—a hastily conceived jolt of electricity meant to keep fans abuzz and on their toes.)
To that end, there's no reason Ben's surgery couldn't have been shown earlier in the hour, with the aftermath of Jack's underdeveloped plan serving as the backbone of the second half of the episode. I would be more excited about the next episode if I'd seen Kate and Sawyer running towards nothing but a big blue ocean with an enraged Pickett in hot pursuit while Jack slowly came to the realization that his ploy had backfired horrifically. The core elements for this scenario are currently in play, but they haven't been developed yet, meaning there's no real tension or dread to the situation. As it always does, Lost placed all of its chips on one number and rolled the dice; I suspect it'll come up snake eyes for them in February.