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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episodes 16 and 17, “The Incident, Parts 1 and 2”

Lost is a show fairly obsessed by notions of duality.

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episodes 16 and 17, “The Incident, Parts 1 and 2”
Photo: ABC

Back when I reviewed the first part of the Battlestar Galactica two-part coup series, “The Oath,” I introduced a critical conceit called “8-year-old Todd.” Now, 8-year-old Todd comes from the idea that an episode of television can be so skillfully, perfectly, shamelessly entertaining that it leaves you feeling like a kid, grinning goofily at what just went down. There’s time for critical analysis, sure, but what you really want to do is just break down the episode in order of awesomeness. “The Incident” was so entertainingly winning for so much of its running time (a few minor character caveats aside) that I’m pleased to reintroduce the 8-year-old Todd rule and say that it is most definitely in effect. “The Incident,” written by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and directed by Jack Bender, is a hell of an end to what’s been Lost’s best season, the perfect capper to a season that wandered all over the map of space and time and then wandered even more.

So before we get to the deep stuff, let’s just talk about the awesome. Check it. The episode began as though this was a backdoor pilot for a Waiting for Godot/Lost spinoff, introducing us to the actual factual Jacob (Mark Pellegrino) and his counterpart, dressed in black (Titus Welliver). (Also, because I am just that unoriginal, I am going to calling him Esau for the time being, which beats “Man in Black” or “Blackie.”) Jacob then wandered through a long series of flashbacks, as though he were Billy Crystal in an Oscar-opening clip montage. Sayid (Naveen Andrews) dismantled a hydrogen bomb! There were shootouts galore, and just when you thought the last shootout was not going to significantly improve on the earlier one, everybody rolled up in a van and started firing away! Sayid might have died! Locke (Terry O’Quinn) turned out to be not who he said he was, and the “What lies in the shadow of the statue?” folks had the corpse to prove it! Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) was ripped away from her love and then blew up a hydrogen bomb with a rock! (A ROCK!) And, most importantly of all, Sawyer (Josh Holloway) kicked Jack (Matthew Fox) in the nuts!

So with that out of the way and our reptilian brains properly tickled, let’s turn to matters of more thematic import. Lost is a show fairly obsessed by notions of duality. It’s right there in the “Pilot,” where Locke takes young Walt (Malcolm David Kelley) aside and discusses backgammon with him, how it has its pieces, light and dark. From there, we’ve tiptoed through dualities drawn between science and faith, good and evil and fate and free will. Hell, most of our characters are defined largely through the various ways they form tiny little dualities of their own with other characters. Jack is the polar opposite of Locke until he isn’t. Jack and Sawyer war for the affections of the same woman, just as Kate and Juliet do for the affections of the same man. In the world of Lost, we are not so much independent human beings as we are potential pawns in various games where we only think we can choose the side we play on. All of those backgammon pieces in the “Pilot”? They’re pretty much us, in the worldview of the show.

That said, “The Incident” latches on to these ideas of duality and keeps trucking past the point where it makes a thematic point and eventually seems as if it will gobble up the show entire. What else are Jacob and Esau, in their white and black clothes, but the backgammon players made incarnate? And in their short discussion, they tie together a lot of disparate thematic elements in the show in a rather satisfying way and also suggest that the series is going to be more like BSG than I think anyone on either writing staff realized. The entirety of the speech between the two could be boiled down to “All of this has happened before, and all of this will happen again,” and the two of them lay out that the conflict for the Island has been a truly ancient one, stretching back well before the 20th century battles between Ben (Michael Emerson) and Widmore (Alan Dale). As the two watch an approaching ship (most likely the Black Rock), they hope that this time, it will be different. This time, death and sorrow won’t follow immediately. And, of course, we know they’re wrong. They’re stuck in an eternal loop, unable to break out of it until something changes.

To some degree, grounding the entire story in two characters we only meet 19 episodes from the end of the story is a risky gambit. There’s no guarantee that we’ll embrace these characters enough to justify the show’s abrupt shift to including them as major characters. That this scene works as well as it does speaks to Pellegrino and Welliver’s performances (playing concepts more than characters) to be sure, but it also speaks to just how giddy it makes us to see Lost try something so off-the-wall and ambitious. Even in answer-giving mode, the show can completely throw you for a loop.

Jacob and Esau get down to another famous duality, really—that of God and Satan. But they’re not really representative of those characters as we think of them. They’re much more like the very basic concepts of God and his opposite that we see in the earliest known monotheistic writings. The discussion between the two feels, for all the world, like the opening passages of Job, where God and the character that will later evolve into Satan place bets on what will happen if Satan is allowed to do whatever he wants to the titular character. Here, the two aren’t betting about making some guy’s life a living hell, but they are betting that eventually, the cycle of violence and despair will break, will lead to some new sort of understanding. There’s also a sense in this scene of the relationship being so old, so outside of contexts we understand that it takes on a sort of mythic feel of its own. In this case, less is definitely more.

And when we understand Jacob and Esau in that context, it makes so much more of what happens in the episode’s 2007 storyline—where Locke leads Ben, Sun (Yunjin Kim) and assorted Others to meet with Jacob, though he does not tell anyone but Ben he’s going to kill him—take on a strange, ethereal quality. Ben, when he confronts Jacob, is confronting the Island’s absent God, the one who left them all and issues bizarre directives through Richard (Nestor Carbonell). In his absence, as he wove a tapestry that seemed to depict much of what had happened, Esau was allowed to wander the Island and cause mischief. Jacob made random visits to the various Losties at pivotal points in their past, always touching them (not for nothing did the tapestry depict its central figure radiating out beams of light to touch numerous smaller people), but never stepping in and directly interfering. He even gives Hurley (Jorge Garcia) the option of not returning to the Island if he so desires. (And good God, that Hurley flashback scene was just a tremendous piece of acting and writing.) Esau, then, who may as well be the Devil in our little passion play, does what he can to cause mischief, to undermine Jacob’s authority (indeed, the episode suggests that HE may have been the man in that mysterious cabin, NOT Jacob, who lived beneath the statue). And when he returns to take the form of Locke, he manipulates Ben into finally killing Jacob, the one he has wanted out of his life for so long. It’s an impassioned and moving scene, featuring some of Emerson’s best work, and it resonates with the cries of millions of people who ask God why he seems so silent in their suffering. When Ben thrusts the knife into Jacob’s heart, Lost signals that it’s left any concept of explicable science fiction behind. We are firmly in the grasp of religious fiction now, and only our passion and faith will save us.

There’s another famous duality reflected here, though not in the way you’d think. The duality of Jesus Christ—both god AND man—is a central one to the story of Western civilization. Lost has seemed to flirt with making every single one of its characters into Christ figures at one point or another but has always stopped short of doing so. Perhaps that was because they were saving their ultimate Christ figure for the final season. John Locke died and was resurrected, yes, but we’ve found now that he was resurrected not as himself but as an image of Esau, the murderous demigod hoping to bump off the benevolent Jacob. Much has been written about how sad it will be if this is the end of Locke’s storyline, if the poor guy really was as much of a dupe as he always thought (since most of Esau’s plan hinges on convincing a whole mess of people that Locke is more important than he actually is), but I don’t think Locke is now merely a villain. He is a god, yes, but he is also a man, since Esau has clearly downloaded most of Locke’s emotions and thoughts into himself. Somewhere in that soul is a duality that will struggle, I think, for the soul of the man who attempts to encompass BOTH sides.

The other half of the episode dealt with events in 1977, which were where the episode got most of its action-adventure rocks off. Here, we saw Sayid take a gutshot but keep on ticking, so intent was he on helping Jack rewrite the future. Here, we saw that great shootout at the Swan station and the terrifyingly cinematic sequence where the drill poked through into the pocket of electromagnetic energy (whatever that means) and touched off the incident. As metal tumbled into the hole, killing regular cast member, recurring player and extra alike, the show caught a bit of the magic that it had in that amazing sequence when the Hatch imploded in the season two finale (and, come to think of it, that whole sequence was mirrored in its entirety here, right down to how it all ended).

If there was one thing I didn’t like in the episode, though, it was here, where the characters made some illogical choices that leaped out of character, solely because the show needed them to be in a certain place at a certain time. I just never bought that Juliet would be so angered by Sawyer looking over at Kate at a certain point in time that she would essentially abandon her common sense, much less that she would try to give him the old, “I love you, and you love me, but you love someone else more” speech (even with that awkwardly shoehorned in flashback to her parents’ divorce). Nor did I buy that Jack would try to blow up the Island because Kate was no longer his girlfriend (well, OK, THAT I kind of bought, but I found it baffling that Sawyer didn’t call him out more for it). The silly stuff with this love quadrangle nearly dragged down this entire 1977 plot, but it was more than saved by the sequence when Juliet, dragged by chains into the abyss, is saved by Sawyer and as the two tearfully proclaim their love to each other, forces beyond their control drag her out of his grasp. This was a terrific scene, one that paid off the Juliet and Sawyer relationship while still allowing the show a chance to refocus on the Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle if it really wants to (sigh).

There’s much more that could be said about “The Incident,” but the highest praise I think I can pay is that it’s finally brought me around to the idea that the producers have known where this story was going for a very long time. If they didn’t know exactly at the very start, they had a damn good idea of what they were headed toward. There was a lot of stalling in the middle there, and the story was very much saved by the ability to set an end date, but “The Incident” is the kind of episode that steps back and lets you get a look at the whole tapestry for a moment or two and lets you realize just how well-woven it really is. “The Incident” isn’t my favorite episode of the show (I skew more towards the weird, hyper-personal episodes like “The Variable” or any Desmond opus), but it’s the kind of episode that enriches and deepens nearly everything that came before. It was good TV and a great capper to a wonderful season.

Some other thoughts:

• Rose (L. Scott Caldwell) and Bernard (Sam Anderson) returned with Vincent the dog, probably for the final time. What I absolutely loved was that the show realized neither had much of a role in the show anymore but also didn’t really have the heart to kill them, so they gave Rose a monologue that essentially played off of the Jacob and Esau dialogue AND boiled down to, “Man, screw this show. We’re retired.”
• Some interesting thoughts from a friend: Esau (presumably via his Christian proxy) recruits Jack and (indirectly) Kate to return to the Island. Jacob recruits Hurley but allows him a choice. He has Sayid taken to the Island forcibly, however. The only one neither attempts to get, really, is Sun, and she’s the one that ends up in the present day. I’m sure there’s nothing to this, but it’s interesting nonetheless.
• Michael Giacchino’s score continues to be one of the best on TV. The music during the scene with Sawyer’s parents’ funeral was hauntingly beautiful.
• I, for one, am glad that Lapidus! (Jeff Fahey) lives to fight another day, and I’m also glad that we got a bit more backstory on the “shadow of the Statue” people, who seem to be in league with Jacob. I don’t think they’re REALLY going to be the good guys (the Jacob/Esau dynamic seems more nuanced than that), but their motivations make more sense now.
• As I watched Jacob step into important moments in the past of various characters, I found myself, for the first time, really looking forward to the chronological Lost experience, which will probably make absolutely no sense but should be fun anyway.
• I kind of didn’t buy Sawyer’s organ freakout there in the middle (when he beat the hell out of Jack and then got really mad at Juliet), but it makes more sense when you consider how many times the guy has just about gotten to leave the Island and has then had to come back.
• Come back, Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick). All is forgiven.
• Finally, it’s been a damn pleasure talking about Lost with you people week in and week out. I wasn’t sure I was up for adding ANOTHER show to my recap docket (at one point, I was doing four shows at once), but you folks always made it a good time. If you liked my writing and want to see more, I recap Rescue Me and In Treatment over at The A.V. Club, and I write about Breaking Bad, among other things, here. I’ve also got a sporadically updated blog and a podcast. If you just read this because you liked Lost (and, believe me, I know that’s most of you), well, I’m hopeful I’ll be covering the show in season six. And if I’m not, the House will, and we’ll find someone worthy of the great commentors we have. See you all in January 2010!

For more recaps of Lost, click here.

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Watch: Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood Gets Teaser Trailer

When it rains, it pours.

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Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
Photo: Columbia Pictures

When it rains, it pours. Four days after Quentin Tarantino once more laid into John Ford in a piece written for his Beverly Cinema website that saw the filmmaker referring to Ford’s She Wore a Yellow Ribbon as Tie a Yellow Ribbon, and two days after Columbia Pictures released poster art for QT’s ninth feature that wasn’t exactly of the highest order, the studio has released a teaser for Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. The film was announced early last year, with Tarantino describing it as “a story that takes place in Los Angeles in 1969, at the height of hippy Hollywood.”

Set on the eve of the Manson family murders, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood tells the story of TV actor Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his stunt double, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), as they try to get involved in the film industry. The film also stars Margot Robbie (as Sharon Tate), Al Pacino, the late Luke Perry, Damian Lewis, Dakota Fanning, Emile Hirsch, Timothy Olyphant, Kurt Russell, and Bruce Dern in a part originally intended for the late Burt Reynolds.

See the teaser below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Scf8nIJCvs4

Columbia Pictures will release Once Upon a Time in Hollywood on July 26.

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Watch the Stranger Things 3 Trailer, and to the Tune of Mötley Crüe and the Who

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence.

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Stranger Things 3
Photo: Netflix

A wise woman once said that there’s no such thing as a coincidence. On Friday, Jeff Tremaine’s The Dirt, a biopic about Mötley Crüe’s rise to fame, drops on Netflix. Today, the streaming service has released the trailer for the third season of Stranger Things. The clip opens with the strains of Mötley Crüe’s “Home Sweet Home,” all the better to underline that the peace and quiet that returned to the fictional rural town of Hawkins, Indiana at the end of the show’s second season is just waiting to be upset again.

Little is known about the plot of the new season, and the trailer keeps things pretty vague, though the Duffer Brothers have suggested that the storyline will take place a year after the events of the last season—duh, we know when “Home Sweet Home” came out—and focus on the main characters’ puberty pangs. That said, according to Reddit sleuths who’ve obsessed over such details as the nuances of the new season’s poster art, it looks like Max and company are going to have to contend with demon rats no doubt released from the Upside Down.

See below for the new season’s trailer:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YEG3bmU_WaI

Stranger Things 3 premieres globally on July 4.

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Who Killed My Father Is Heartbreaking but Prone to Pat Sociological Analysis

Édouard Louis’s latest is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts.

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Who Killed My Father

Author Édouard Louis’s father has been an important figure in each of his previous works, even when he’s never seen or mostly at the periphery (as in The History of Violence). With his latest, Who Killed My Father, Louis finally turns to directly examining his most important, damaged relationship. Both in his previous books and interviews, Louis has repeatedly acknowledged this broken relationship, largely stemming from the author’s open homosexuality. Alongside this, Louis’s prior works have circled around a number of themes to which he returns here: the French political and working classes, the small-town prejudices that surrounded his upbringing and drove a closeted homosexual boy to escape to more cosmopolitan Paris, and the role of state power in producing social and physical illness.

With Who Killed My Father, Louis invites inevitable comparisons to Abdellah Taïa, another talented French writer who’s also gay and largely estranged from his place of origin, and also primarily an autobiographical novelist. Like Louis, Taïa incorporates his complicated relationship with a parent into several of his books. Taïa also connects that relationship, his writing, and his experience with the society he left behind in Morocco and the one he found in France. But what distinguishes his writing in, for example, Infidels or Salvation Army from that of Édouard Louis in Who Killed My Father is a strong sense of meaning. Taïa incorporates his relationship with his mother, M’Barka, to convey something more meaningful and developed.

Louis begins down this same road before clumsily inserting a political tract at the end of Who Killed My Father that doesn’t knit as effortlessly with parts one and two. The book situates Louis’s relationship with his father front and center as compared to his previous work. It’s clear that he’s exposing the painfulness of their relationship for the purpose of speaking about political power and its physical and social toll on those who don’t possess it, but Who Killed My Father stumbles in conveying its message adequately.

Louis’s account of his father’s suffering and violence toward those around him is both painful and sharp. Who Killed My Father is strongest when Louis is demonstrating his father’s most private acts of kindness, as when the father gives Louis a copy of Titanic for his birthday after trying to convince him to ask for a more “masculine” gift. After Louis realizes that his carefully planned tribute to the pop band Aqua at a family dinner has embarrassed his father, the man reassures Louis that “it’s nothing.” In the book’s first and strongest part, Louis expounds not only on the relationship with his father, but also excavates what might have made his father the man he grew up with. At one point, he recounts finding a photograph of his father in women’s clothes—undoubtedly some adolescent joke, but also inconceivable from the man who insisted to his son that men should never act like girls.

Regrettably, part one ends with a trite conclusion that says everything and nothing at the same time. In part two, the story attempts to braid together all the malignant threads of Louis’s family narrative. Louis recalls igniting a violent outburst between his father and older brother as a result of his mother shaming him for acting too much like a girl (“faggot” is what some others in the neighborhood more precisely call him). The insinuation hurts and angers him so much that he betrays his mother’s confidence on another family secret, setting loose a new wave of violence. Part two is short and important to moving Who Killed My Father toward some wider evaluation of the questions Louis begins the book with, but it ultimately fails to find its footing by pivoting in part three to an unearned polemic against the political classes.

Who Killed My Father is strong as a portrait of a family unable to communicate (except in brief moments of tenderness) through anything but volatile, toxic outbursts, but the book at its weakest when trying to ham-handedly force this narrative into some broad theorizing about power and society and structural violence. Part one aligned beautifully with a narrative of meaning more comparable to Taïa at his best. Unfortunately, the story quickly falls apart when Jacques Chirac is indicted for destroying Louis’s father’s body through changes in health care coverage. It’s not that the questions Louis ends with aren’t necessary and important ones; it’s that there’s so little threading the narrative together into anything cohesive. What was the point of the first two-thirds of the book? His father was cruel, occasionally loving, but never mind because the state is killing him? The life of the poor is one of abject powerlessness against an unremittingly powerful and callous “ruling class”?

Louis deserves credit for the attempt to tie it all together into some grander commentary on the political class and its ambivalence, but the conclusion is simultaneously glib and condescending. Perhaps Louis didn’t intend it, but the book’s conclusion drains away responsibility for the cruelty and bigotry of those like his father, and patronizes them as with a quick How could we expect any better of the noble, working poor? Is it the state’s or the ruling class’s subjugation of his father’s body that’s somehow also responsible for his inability to sympathize with gays or immigrants? Of course, the poor are subjugated by the rich and Louis has written more meaningfully about the implications of that relationship elsewhere. But in Who Killed My Father, he inadvertently demonstrates that the answer isn’t to sanctify them any more than it is to demonize them.

Édouard Louis’s Who Killed My Father is now available from New Directions.

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