The Twilight Zone, The X-Files, The Prisoner, even creator JJ Abrams's earlier Alias spring immediately to mind when placing Lost alongside its televisual kith and kin. But there are times where I'm convinced the show's true heart lies not in the sci-fi/fantasy genre, but in soap opera, with many of its conspiratorial elements serving as mere set dressing for stories of longing, domestic discord, parental abandonment, and tests of faith.
The soap opera comparison is more than just thematically apt: Here we have a serial involving a large and ever-expanding ensemble of pulpy archetypes (the con-man, the doctor, the fugitive, etc…), its narrative progressing at a near-glacial pace and deriving much of its drama from “shocking revelations” buried deep within its characters' pasts. It likewise demands that its viewers posses either a fanatical appreciation for and knowledge of backstory from seasons' past or, at the very least, quick access to Lost's many Internet fan sites. Factor in the sexual tension that has percolated amongst many of the characters over the past two years and the soap opera parallel feels more obvious still.
So don't be surprised if it turns out Sun is pregnant with Hurley's love child.
Following in the footsteps of Season Two, we again find Lost slowly peeling away layers, catching the audience up with only a few characters at a time and postponing the fates of others for subsequent episodes. We still don't know what happened to Eko (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), Locke (Terry O'Quinn), and Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), last seen around the exploding hatch. Nor do we see how the rest of the camp responds to Hurley (Jorge Garcia) returning home without Jack (Matthew Fox), Sawyer (Josh Holloway), or Kate (Evangeline Lilly). No, last night's episode, “The Glass Ballerina,” focuses on the further unraveling of Sun (Yoon-jin Kim) and Jin's (Daniel Dae Kim) highly dysfunctional marriage as we bear witness to Sun's long history of deceit, including an affair with the creepy and androgynous Jae Lee (Tony Lee), who previously tempted her in the Season Two episode “The Whole Truth.”
When we last saw Mr. and Mrs. Kwon, they were in the company of Sayid (Naveen Andrews), sailing Desmond's boat to the far side of the island to ambush “The Others,” only to find nothing but an abandoned camp and a giant stone foot. Now, still positioned off-shore and waiting for any sign of their friends, the protective Jin wants to up-anchor and get his pregnant wife safely back to camp. Sayid, however, has different plans: He wants to set up a trap for “The Others” and needs Sun to mislead her husband in order to execute it.
Meanwhile, Sawyer and Kate are stuck toiling away in what amounts to an island rock quarry, working under the hot sun, doing busy work while being observed by a half-dozen armed guards. I certainly don't want to question the nefarious plans of the Dharma Initiative, but something about forcing our captives to do their best Fred Flintstone impersonations feels like a waste of resources to me. Much of “The Others'” plans thus far have centered around observation of menial, repetitive behavior, so I have little reason to believe that isn't the case here as well. But for a wise-ass like Sawyer to not question why they don't just bring out a jackhammer feels like the show playing coy.
With the exception of the Season One's “House of the Rising Sun,” these Kwon episodes have a tendency to veer sharply into melodrama, with the patriarchal and insecure Jin seemingly incapable of interacting with his wife without being domineering, and Yoon-jin Kim stuck playing a relatively thankless role as Sun, always inches from flight before fending off waves of guilt for even entertaining the thought. Now, for the second week in a row, we have a moody, alpha-male type stalking his wife's lover, with the twist here being that, unlike Jack (who knows the “what” but not the “who”), Jin has no idea that the man he's been assigned to kill is the same person who Sun's been cheating with.
Like last week's Jack-centric episode, “The Glass Ballerina” (written by Jeff Pinkner and Buffy: The Vampire Slayer scribe Drew Goddard) mostly serves to add uncomfortable wrinkles to one of the show's saints, going so far as to make the consistently sympathetic Sun quite unlikable. The title refers to an expensive bobble that Sun broke as a child, and the episode itself offers tenuous insight into her personality, equating her foundation-shaking lie of marital infidelity with her secret alliance with Sayid to rescue their friends. When confronted with the horrible consequences of her actions, she refuses to come clean. Despite all that has happened, Sun still cannot allow herself to be completely truthful to her husband and so keeps her shameful secret to herself.
While I—predictably—question the need for the flashbacks, I must confess to finding this particular episode more wonderfully twisted than usual. Ever the tormented mob enforcer, Jin struggles over whether to follow his father-in-law's orders, to kill a man he does not know whose crime will not be fully explained to him. Jin feels obliged to follow through or lose the respect of his wife's father and his boss, yet when he's face-to-face with his “assignment,” he can't bring himself to murder the man, instead instructing him to leave the country and never come back. And yet, it's only because he remains ignorant to the fact that the man is his wife's lover that he is able to grant clemency. Had he known the truth, the jealous husband would likely have murdered Jae Lee without hesitation.
But in another irony, it turns out that the true cold-blooded killer is Sun, who guns down one of “The Others” (Deadwood's Paula Malcomson, in what one assumes is a one-and-done run on the show) when she attempts to take Desmond's boat by force. There's some discussion as to whether “The Others” even need the craft, but Ben, perhaps needing a replacement for the boat they gave up to Michael (Harold Perrineau) last season, insists on having the vessel. What I want to know, though, is how military intelligence officer Sayid manages to allow a small platoon of armed “Others” to sneak by him and onto their boat. Someone get this guy a job guarding our borders.
Meanwhile the Harrison Ford-ification of Sawyer continues as the rapscallion manages to sweep an unsuspecting Kate into another passionate kiss (which, unlike the one in “Confidence Man,” seems to be responded to genuinely) and then somehow spin it into the latest in a long line of half-assed escape attempts. For a guy who was smart enough to con dozens of wealthy women out of hundreds of thousands of dollars, he never really has a feel for the long term, does he? The Han Solo to Jack's Luke Skywalker, Sawyer has always struck me as too glib a writer's construction, always with an oh-so-calculated sardonic comment perched just on the tip of his tongue, not so much as a personality trait or defense mechanism, but rather to remind us that he's just the “coolest” guy on the island. Yet Lost's writers seem to see beyond the one-liners and stubble, recognizing that the Sawyer's nothing more than a surlier Fonzie and so they're reticent to run any real plot through the character. Josh Halloway invests the part with shadings that don't exist on the page, but I'm having a real hard time figuring out why Dharma are more interested in this guy as opposed to Sayid or Locke.
As for the show's continually developing mythology, it is mostly saved for the hour's parting moments where Ben (Michael Emerson) confirms for Jack (who spends most of the episode quietly on the sidelines) the suspicion that those on the island have had regular and extensive contact with the outside world, putting to rest the question of how they were able to work up elaborate dossiers on each of their captives. This sequence also nicely pays off the show's chronology, reminding us that, yes, we're still in 2004 when the show premiered. The most astounding bit of information available is that the Boston Red Sox have in fact won the World Series, much to the giggling disbelief of Jack. For a show which has built itself upon the fantastic and the supernatural, watching Ben try and lay out the bizarre series of events that precipitated this miracle (“they were down three games to none in the league championship against the Yankees, then won eight straight…”) is perhaps the most unbelievable yet.
As in last week's episode, I still find myself drawn more towards the actions of “The Others” than our heroes. We continue to be given small clues to their way of life and the experiment they oversee: Ben indicates he was born on the island (or, at the very least, has been there his whole life), which has me wondering if these Dharma people were all raised from pods (I've often considered Michael Emerson's performance to be rather alien-like). We see that Ben spends a good deal of time in an antiquated observation chamber like the one found in “The Pearl,” keeping tabs on the island. There are also glimpses of the social dynamic hinted at amongst “The Others,” with Rousseau's (Mira Furlan) daughter Alex (Tania Raymonde) once again popping up, seemingly to undermine the Dharma Initiative's work, only to disappear just as quickly. Ben still harbors hints of melancholy at his former relationship with Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) and we see one brief moment of intimacy between Michael Bowen's Pickett and Malcolmson's soon-to-be-killed “Other” that becomes more tragic in hindsight. These people may be murderers and kidnappers, subjecting the castaways to super-secret experiments, but if the show wishes to humanize them along the way I'm all for it.
Ultimately we're left with a promise posed by Ben to Jack that would hint at salvation for not only him, but conceivably the entire island: Co-operate and you can go home to the real world. Much was written last year about the Wizard of Oz connotations of Ben's alias, Henry Gale, and the hot air balloon that brought him, and here is another one. Is Ben “the Wizard,” or just a man standing behind the curtain making false promises? Either way, the end game is the same: Jack just wants to go home, but something tells me it won't be as easy as following the yellow brick road.