Yesterday, Dr. Doh! & The Diatribe posted an article on the long and continuing legacy of neglectful or absentee fathers on Lost, an especially prescient piece of writing in light of last night’s episode “Par Avion”.
The episode, which was the first Claire-centric show in over a year, confirmed what many have long suspected: that Christian Shepherd (John Terry), alcoholic surgeon and unreliable father to perennial alpha-male Jack Shepherd (Matthew Fox) had also fathered Claire (Emilie de Ravin). Christian is something of a bad penny on Lost, showing up in the most unexpected of places, having also served as Sawyer’s (Josh Holloway) drinking buddy and the employer of the late Ana Lucia (Michelle Rodriguez), lending credence to the belief that show really is working from some sweeping plan about cosmic design and destiny… or that it’s simply relying upon lazy contrivances in an effort to seem profound. And really, aren’t they just opposite sides of the same coin?
The Claire/Jack connection was established late last season in an episode where Christian visited Australia (with the aforementioned Ana Lucia in tow as his superfluous bodyguard), finally working up the courage to visit an unseen daughter only to be spurned at the door by an angry woman (Gabrielle Fitzpatrick) with a distinctly Claire-like appearance. I had incorrectly assumed that the woman was Claire’s mom, but “Par Avion” not only clarified Claire’s paternal lineage, it also expanded upon her difficult relationship with the women in her family, specifically her mother (who has been confined to a hospital bed in a vegetative-state for years) and her aunt Lindsey (Fitzpatrick). Claire, in her younger years, was a bit of a tv-safe rebel; working at a tattoo parlor, dressing like she’s auditioning for an Evanescence cover band, and bickering with her mother, with one such argument leading to the car accident that placed mom in a coma. As her mother clings to life, Christian reappears for the first time since Claire was an infant, offering to pay the extensive hospital bills before turning around and making a Michael Schiavo-like plea not to let the woman linger on indefinitely through the assistance of machines.
It’s ironic that one of the chief complaints about Lost is the lack of communication between characters (it even was played off as a joke tonight in an exchange between Sayid and Locke) and here we have a scenario where one character’s unwillingness to listen to a piece of information could potentially lead to more confusion down the road. After discussing her mother’s predicament with Christian, Claire storms off, stating that she’s never even learned his name and intends to keep it that way. It now seems unlikely that Claire will ever learn that she’s sharing an island with her half brother Jack, leaving the door open for some good old fashioned Greek tragedy should things not work out with Charlie (Dominic Monaghan).
That the flashback in the episode was largely redundant should come as no surprise; it’s continuing a streak that’s now four-episodes-strong. What is distressing about this week’s episode though was how wan the A-storyline was. Imminently shrug-worthy in both concept and execution, the hour found Claire, with the assistance of Sun and Jin (Yoon-jin Kim and Daniel Dae Kim respectively), attempting to capture a bird that may or may not be tagged with a monitoring device around its leg. The idea being they catch the bird and place a note within the metal band, thus alerting the attention of the scientist who eventually corrals the animal. The problem is that the usually doting (when he’s not sullen and violent) Charlie wants no part of her plan. This has Claire so angry that she bans him from babysitting her infant son Aaron—from her perturbed look, it’s as if she can’t access her LiveJournal account to blog about what a jerk Charlie’s being.
Charlie has his his own reasons for keeping his distance, especially since Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) reneged on his promise to just let him die already. Once again, Charlie’s life is in danger as a result of his proximity to Claire. He’s forced to the sidelines for much of the episode while Desmond conducts a covert mission to get Claire her bird without anyone dying a hilariously protracted death. Claire comes to learn Charlie’s fatal prophecy from Desmond, placing him in the same “living dead” category as her mother and ultimately bringing them even closer together. The flashbacks on Lost often have a tenuous connection to the themes of the given episode and this one was an especial reach. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, the show’s become a victim of its own format, as it’s forced to come up with a new mini soap opera each week to eat up half the episode’s run time while never really expanding upon the bedrock of the characters we picked up in season one. There’s really very little left on the shelf, especially for second-tier character such as Claire; the mind boggles at how they’re going to keep this up for another couple years at least.
Furthermore, these episodes that focus on half-hearted rescue attempts are always a bit of a drag. While lending a small element of verisimilitude to the castaways day-to-day lives, from a plot stand-point they’re counter-intuitive and give off the faint odor of wheel-spinning. These people may someday be rescued, but I doubt anyone believes it will be because of a giant “S.O.S.” in the sand or some birds flying south for the winter, especially the show’s writers.
The episode wasn’t a total waste however, as it did contain two genuinely shocking developments; one horrifically violent, the other downright giggle-inducing. What made them all the more shocking is where they came within the hour. Known for placing surprising deaths in the closing moments of the episode (think Eko, Ana Lucia, Shannon, etc…), Lost mixed things up a bit with the blood-splattered death of Bakunin (Andrew Divoff), the most recent victim of the latest and greatest island security system, coming at the episode’s halfway point. Instead of a giant smoke monster, this week’s episode gave us a deadly “sonic-pulse force-field” that causes its victims to spasm and expel vital fluids in a manner somewhere between a drug overdose and that famous scene from Scanners. What made the moment all the more appalling (in addition to an unhealthy amount of squibs making for one of the more graphic recent sightings on network television) was the caviler attitude of Locke (Terry O’Quinn), who was not only indirectly responsible for the death, but showed an absolute lack of remorse after the fact.
After spending the first half of the episode begging for Bakunin’s blood, if for no other reason than to lighten the rescue party’s load, Locke indifferently throws their hostage through a supposedly malfunctioning energy field to test its safety. While justifiable in the sense that Bakunin had lied about the security field being broken, it still struck me as a rather bold move on the part of the show to let one of its stars kill an unarmed hostage out of sheer spite and curiosity. It’s a testament to O’Quinn’s performance (arguably the best actor from the show’s original lineup) that Locke remains sympathetic despite the character displaying some truly loathsome and self-serving habits. I might not always understand Locke’s motives but I’ve yet to grow tired of what O’Quinn does each week with the character.
Before turning into a fondue fountain, Bakunin does part with some “useful” information for the castaways, relaying to the characters just how well versed “the Others” are. He fires off short personal histories on Sayid (Naveen Andrews), Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and Locke, in the case of the latter hinting at his past in a wheelchair (to be addressed in next week’s episode as we’ve been led to believe be the show’s previews). I wish I could say I got more out of this scene, but it, like Claire’s storyline, struck me as redundant; everything he tells them had been stated earlier by Ben Linus (Michael Emerson) to Jack. Furthermore, with Bakunin’s repeated mention of who is and isn’t “on the list” I couldn’t help but let my mind wander to how much more fulfilling Heroes has been this season. Was this a sly nod to Lost’s friendly competition with the NBC show or simply an unfortunate coincidence?
The security system which claimed Bakunin forms a perimeter around the barracks where Jack is being held, which is the ultimate destination for the rescue party. After a wilderness survival montage that plays like a shot-for-shot homage to the one in Predator, the remaining party builds a makeshift scaffolding that lets them safely climb over the energy field. Once on the other side of the force field (which has to be the most inexpensive special effect in the show’s history) they arrive at “the Others” gated community where we receive the second shocker of the hour.
Perched in the bushes just outside “the Others” compound, Kate and the gang witness what appears to be Jack running for his freedom, only to reveal that he’s engaged in a friendly game of football with Tom (M.C. Gainey). It seems as though life away from the beach suits Jack well, what with their grilled cheese sandwiches and book clubs. Obviously Kate’s starting to realize there’s no such thing as “separate but equal” when it comes to “the Others.” We will likely find out next week how much of the “Kool-Aid” Jack’s really been drinking, but this is no doubt setting up an interesting conflict between rescuers and the would-be rescued.
So, why the giggles you ask? For reasons I can’t quite articulate, the budding camaraderie between Jack and Tom has evolved into my favorite running gag of the year. Something about the lumbering M.C. Gainey sidling up alongside Fox like he’s the prettiest girl at the dance and timidly making small talk has always struck me as an oddly human quirk that inexplicably wormed its way into this overly schematic confection. Seeing the two consummate their burgeoning friendship with a game of toss (and being “caught in the act” by Kate no less) strikes me as a million times more interesting than the now tired love triangle that they keep shoving down our throats.
One final note I feel the need to address (first brought up by Todd VanDerWerff in the comments section last week) is how incredibly well the show plays in HD broadcasting. It’s of, no doubt, small consequence to the millions of people who still watch the show in standard definition, but watching the show on a high definition set really forces you to appreciate just how gorgeous and cinematic Lost is, even in an episode as pedestrian as this one. I find myself getting lost in the sprawling emerald fields of the Hawaiian locations or my eyes being drawn to the densely layered compositions even in scenes where the story’s boring me to tears, which places me in a shaky position for appraising the show. I don’t usually advocate watching a show with the mute button on, but in the event the show ever become irreversibly awful down the road it may eventually posses some small after-life as a feast for the eyes. The over-arching story may never pan out in the way we all hope, but you got to love those production values.