Another episode of Lost, another con-artist in our midst.
One of the more persistent criticisms of the series is that almost half the plotlines involve some a protracted con, either in the literal, grifting sense of the word or simply in the form of casual misdirection. A con is the perfect metaphor for almost any serialized drama, but it’s especially apt for this one. We build a trusting relationship over a long period of time and let ourselves be lulled into a false sense of security, only to have the rug pulled out from under us. When done sparingly and for maximum effect, this can be quite cathartic and bracing; who doesn’t appreciate a good twist? But as Lost’s modus operandi it’s hard not to feel betrayal and restlessness as the show repeatedly returns to this overdrawn well.
Last night’s episode, “One of Us,” found the show lamely contorting itself to justify some of the incongruities and plot holes that have accumulated over the past three seasons, capping its gyrations with the umpteenth reminder that nothing it tells us should be taken at face value. Solving the mystery of Lost has less to do with careful attention to the clues than it does sifting through the mounds of double-speak and ulterior motives that allows the show to unburden itself of its closely guarded mythology, only to immediately cast a pall of suspicion over any revelation made. If ever there were a show that warranted the expression “consider the source,” this is it.
Confirming what I suspected last week, Juliet’s (Elizabeth Mitchell) unlikely allegiance with the castaways is indeed an elaborately constructed set-up, meant to gain their trust and as a means of exploiting them. Juliet is a valuable resource and has spent years on the island; it was unreasonable to think she would not only be abandoned by “the Others” but that she would be ignorant as to the secret hiding location which could comfortable house dozens of people. Now, working with the knowledge that this is simply the latest “long con,” I can’t help but wonder how long we’ve been getting played. Was the branding Juliet received a couple months ago really about punishment for killing Pickett, or merely a way of bonding her to Jack (Matthew Fox)?
Juliet is no pushover and has proven time and again to be every bit as manipulative as Ben (Michael Emerson), but at this point what’s left to gain in continuing to work with “the Others?” The sub is gone, she has seemingly alienated most of them (unless Pickett was universally disliked). Is it possible she’s pulling off a double-fake here, playing the castaways against “the Others,” waiting to see who comes out on-top?
My primary issue with “One of Us” is that it regresses back to the events immediately following the last Juliet episode “Not in Portland” to establish a basis for Juliet’s con, while sacrificing the forward progression of the plot. While offering opaque glimpses of “the Others’” research as well as fortifying once and for all exactly how far-reaching their communications with the outside world is, the hour is mostly dedicated on the motivations that have kept Juliet a willing prisoner of the island and, to a larger extent, Ben. We traverse three years in the life of Dr. Juliet Burke as she’s drugged and transported to a mysterious island, drawing upon her radical experiments in fertilization and background pre-natal care in order to unearth the reason why none of the women on the island survive pregnancy. This would seem to confuse the issue of Ben’s birthplace, which he has claimed as being on the island. If what he says about island pregnancies is true than how is this possible?
When last we spent time in Juliet’s past, it was established that the most important relationship in her life was with her sister Rachel (Robin Weigert), a relationship that hangs heavy over her still. Her cancer in remission and pregnant with a child that sprang from Juliet’s treatments, Rachel drops her sister off at shadowy pharmaceutical corporation, Mittelos Bioscience, never to see her again. Juliet’s six-month tour of duty carries on for years, in part because of a promise Ben makes to her: stay with him on the island and complete her research and he will miraculously cure Rachel’s cancer which has metastasized in Juliet’s absence.
Juliet’s belief in Ben would seem to be built upon some rather specious evidence that none of the tens of people living on the island have any signs of cancer. Yet believe him she does, choosing to forgo a return to the mainland to be at her dying sister’s bedside, instead merely assuming Ben’s accomplished his medical miracle. One need not imagine Juliet’s anger at learning that Ben, in fact, has a tumor on his spine several years later.
“On of Us” pulls back the curtain slightly on “the Others” infrastructure, showing us not only the inside of the recently destroy submarine but also the communications hub of The Flame… also recently destroyed. One of my own lingering questions about “the Others” is how they put together such involved dossiers on each of the castaways, and the secrets of The Flame begin to offer a glimpse of their information network. We already know the island gets better cable reception than my last apartment but here we get to witness Ben in real-time contact with the outside world (shown here as a video-stream of a healthy Rachel playing with her two-year-old son) making the thought of Locke (Terry O’Quinn) blowing the joint up sting just a little bit more. Still, I remain curious as to what network of spies exist that can unearth the fact that Sawyer (Josh Holloway) gunned-down a man when there were no witnesses (perhaps this is exactly the sort of thing that “magic box” is good for?)
Most interesting in the episode though, is the further definition of the relationship between Juliet and Ben. I had assumed, as I believe the show intended, that the two were formerly an item based on their prickly body language and the sort of jostling for position that often accompanies an especially nasty break-up. However, we learn that it was the late Goodwin (Brett Cullen), previously seen as a victim of Ana-Lucia, who was sharing Juliet’s bed with Ben maintaining a professional distance. What was once perceived to be a lover’s quarrel now reveals itself to be rooted in deep-seeded distrust and indentured servitude. Ben Linus has a long history of manipulating the will of others, and as the events of the past few weeks indicate, he’s not averse to pulling the wool over the eyes of those closest to him.
Which leads us to this week’s con, poorly-telegraphed and contrived as it was. It begins with a conveniently-ill Claire (Emilie de Ravin) who starts off sleepy, works her way up to sluggish and is eventually hemorrhaging from the nose and mouth. All of this happens to coincide with Juliet arriving on the beach with Jack, Sayid (Naveen Andrews) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly), with the entire camp suspicious of her presence. Juliet confesses that Claire has been the subject of medical testing (by her own design) in order to bring her pregnancy to term. Her subsequent illness is a result of her withdrawal. Juliet claims that by administering a dose of the drugs (which, again, are “conveniently” exactly where they were left by Ethan months ago) Claire will be cured.
Of course, this being Lost, there’s no such thing as convenience; it’s all part of that pesky grand design. At least this week we actually get a scene of Ben and Juliet hatching out the entire protracted series of events that will earn the castaways’ trust, complete with (and this was the real eye-roller of the hour) a device implanted in Claire that would generate the necessary symptoms just in time for Juliet to appear and save her. Considering this device was likely implanted months ago when Claire was accosted by Ethan (William Mapother), that’s what you’d call a stunning level of foresight.
“One of Us” offers circumstantial evidence to fans of the show who subscribe to the “Noah’s Ark” theory that goes that the island is a bio-preserve and testing grounds, created in anticipation of an impending global disaster. This could possibly explain the emphasis on keeping tabs on the island’s children (a future generation of breeders) as well the imperative in insuring island procreation and the importance of keeping around those who are “worthy.” It’s fun to speculate, but I find myself reversing my long-held critique that the characters of Lost are of secondary interest to the mechanics of the plot. While I still feel the show largely moves its cast around like chess pieces, over the past few months my sympathies towards these people (and the actors behind them) them has grown, while my interest in “getting to the bottom of things” has dwindled.
I wrote a mash-note to Elizabeth Mitchell just last week so I’ll restrain myself here, except to say that only an actress of her intelligence and restraint could turn warmth into such a serrated weapon. I find the leaps in logic presented in Juliet’s ploy insulting, yet Mitchell’s closely guarded performance is threatening to make it work if for no other reason than its impossible to get a read on her motives. Likewise, Sawyer’s uneasy balance between self-serving rapscallion and reluctant leader is infinitely more appealing to me than the single, sardonic note Holloway had been hitting for years. Watching him grow into the role, speaking up for the entire camp (against Jack no less), was downright cathartic. And what’s not to love about Hurley (Jorge Garcia), not only being sent over to spy on Juliet but also offering up a chilling reminder of what happened to the last Other who made trouble in their camp.
As I become increasingly convinced that the pay-off of Lost is not going to justify the work we’ve all put into it, maybe it’s time to start looking for some silver-linings. Oh, I know, there’s a Jack episode due in a few weeks which is bound to infuriate and bore me, and Charlie’s long-predicted demise can’t come soon enough; but by and large there’s been a definite upwards tick in the way I view a group of characters I used to commonly refer to as ciphers. Perhaps the greatest mystery here is when, exactly, did these people start becoming likable again?