At its worst, Lost is guilty of employing its flashback structure to draw simple conclusions and character development by proxy. It uses contrived real-world parallels to tie up its themes in a giant red bow, allowing its once innovative format, initially an effective short-hand to explore its enormous cast, to grow stale over time. Afterall, who hasn’t groaned through countless “Jack is driven to ’X’ because he once had to deal with ’Y’ years ago” storylines?
Occasionally though, the show transcends this flaw which has seemingly been engrained in its DNA, crafting a multi-pronged narrative which not only sustains itself dramatically on multiple temporal levels, but where the intersection of the two actually compliment one another, lending thematic weight to scenes both on and off the island.
Last night’s episode, “D.O.C.,” accomplishes such a rarity, elegantly interweaving the seemingly unrelated events of Sun (Yoon-jin Kim) trying to discretely conceal a shameful family secret of her new husband Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) back in Korea, while allowing Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) to tell her the scary truth about her pregnancy in the present.
A little obvious at times and (regarding the resurrection of a certain presumed-deceased character) obnoxiously coy at others, “D.O.C.” was nonetheless the best Lost has been in a long time, striking an affecting cord I didn’t think the show was capable of anymore. Finding the elusive balance between island mythology and character study, the episode was quietly tragic, tracing the evolution of the Kwan’s dissolving marriage (Jin’s stress and disillusion over being forced to work as a gangland enforcer) to a selfless act of compassion, and in turn finding redemption in the darkest of outlooks.
After a pre-credit sequence that quickly catches us up on the mysterious, injured aircraft pilot found at the end of last week’s episode (it’s a testament to how good the Sun and Jin stuff is that this subplot, which involves the unexplained return of Mikhail Bakunin, a grisly purging of the pilot’s lungs and a tantalizing final second stinger, remains so comfortably in the background), we see Sun crossing paths with a mysterious woman (Alexis Rhee) who threatens to expose the fact that Jin’s father is but a lowly fisherman and that his mother was a prostitute. The woman demands a hundred thousand dollars in order to maintain her silence, sending Sun on a journey where she will confront not only Jin’s father but her own, and in turn embracing the lies swirling around both men for the well-being of her husband.
Desperate to fit into the strict hierarchy of Sun’s wealthy industrialist/mob boss father, Jin denies his heritage and his own father, claiming that both of his parents died years ago. We, of course, know otherwise, having first met the kindly Mr. Kwon (John Shin) back in season one when a desperate Jin looked to his father for advice on escaping to America with Sun. Mr. Kwon recognizes his new daughter-in-law on sight and is overjoyed to meet the woman who has made his son so happy. In their scenes together, Shin and Yoon-jim are heartbreaking without veering in sentimentality as Mr. Kwon explains that Jin was left to him as an orphan, his own role in his son’s lineage uncertain.
Sun and Jin’s entire relationship can be distilled down to maintaining appearances. Sun spent years concealing not only her infidelity but her secret unhappiness, her desire to escape her marriage and even her knowledge of the English language. Jin lied about his working-class past in order to be accepted into a different social caste and later kept his feelings of unhappiness to himself at being a slave to Sun’s father, letting it eat away at their marriage instead. Even the uncomfortable truth that it was Jin who was infertile, and not Sun, was kept away from him so he would not lose face. To that end, Sun can clearly see how much Mr. Kwon loves his son and how much embarrassment his past causes him. With tears in her eyes, she agrees to never tell her husband about this encounter or the revelation that his mother is still alive.
So much of the Sun and Jin back-story (once upon a time, these two were considered separate characters) has been dedicated to the declining years of their marriage with the former pouting and petulant, the latter brooding and standoffish. It’s therefore a bit of fresh air to watch them behave as newlyweds madly in love with each other. Like all good screen couples, they’re cute without being cloying; devoted to one another, yet still fiercely individual and proud. Yoon-jim and Kim have been sadly sidelined this season (although at least Jin has been matched up with Hurley as a stoic comic foil). “D.O.C.” allows them the opportunity to stretch for the first time in months.
In order to protect Jin’s secret, Sun must turn to her own father, Mr. Paik (Byron Chung), a cold-hearted man who does not easily forgive dishonor or forget debts. Sun holds him emotionally hostage, telling her father that she has lived his lie, overlooking his criminal enterprises, her entire life and will only continue to do so (and in turn remain under his implicit control) if he gives her the extortion money. Mr. Paik agrees, but not before deducing that the money is for Jin, and pledges to hold the debt over his son-in-law’s head and not her own.
I’ve never been a big fan of the way Lost approaches incident and cause and effect, as though each of its characters were a puzzle that only contained about a dozen large pieces that all neatly fit together, yet this development works perfectly for me. Mr. Paik makes an off-the-cuff remark that he intends to transfer Jin off the assembly floor and into service as one of his personal employees, a trajectory which can only lead to their unhappiness. Yet the irony of the moment remains under-stated, made all the more wrenching by the fact it springs from Sun’s desire to spare her husband harm. Again, Sun so desperately wants to maintain the status quo that she dooms herself and Jin to years of misery and distrust of one another.
“D.O.C.” was written by the team of Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz who, after this episode as well as “Tricia Tanaka is Dead” and “Every Man for Themselves”, have emerged as the M.V.P.’s of the Lost writing staff. I’ve read that they’re considered the unofficial “voices” of Hurley, possessing a knack for comedic dialogue and easy-going interaction, yet last night’s episode displayed a wealth of stiff-upper-lip restraint, mining drama from pregnant pauses (no pun intended) and doleful looks. Reflecting back on the episode, I couldn’t help but wish the series reserved its flashbacks for special occasions. They’re so frequently arbitrary and tacked on (as last week’s Desmond becomes a monk storyline was) that in the rare episode where it does work, such as this week’s, the cumulative effect can’t help but lessen the impact. It’s less grand design than law of averages that eventually they’re going to get one of these right.
Back on the island, Sun has been forced into an uneasy partnership with Juliet who has informed her that the island has yet to see a successful pregnancy when conception has taken place there as opposed to the mainland. Juliet wishes to establish Sun’s D.O.C (date of conception), which would place her in (to borrow the title from last week’s episode) a Catch-22. If the pregnancy began before she landed on the island then the child is the result of an extra-marital affair. If conception took place on the island it means the child is Jin’s… and that’s she’s likely to die before carrying the pregnancy to term.
That the build-up to the moment of truth is so nerve-wracking and the determination of the father (it’s Jin’s) is so cathartic in spite of the implications behind it, is a testament to how beautiful a performance Yoon-jim gives here. The show can’t help itself from unearthing the subtext and lobbing it towards the cheap seats—although, thankfully, the corollary between Jin’s father raising a child that may not be his and Jin unknowingly doing the same goes appreciably unspoken—but no amount of on-the-nose dialogue can distract from the torrent of emotion generated by Yoon-jim’s Sun who would rather face a death sentence in a few months than disgrace her husband by carrying a child not of his loins. Informed that she likely only has two months to live, Sun steps out into the light (literally as she emerges from yet another DHARMA hatch) with a new-found resolve. She looks around wistfully, silently weighing the dark cloud hanging over her with the joy growing inside of her. It’s a tricky moment to execute yet it works here, keeping one foot in both worlds, encompassing life and death and the freedom she’s found existing between the two.
Of course, this being Lost, that moment of quiet harmony is cut short for more “Others” scheming. After making an excuse to return to the hatch, we see Juliet leaving a secret message on a tape recorder for Ben (as an aside, I grow weary of Michael Giacchino’s score tipping its hand every time something “sinister” is going on), informing him of Sun’s pregnancy while pledging to collect further samples, including one from Kate (Evangeline Lilly). As I seem to point out every week, the constant conning and double-crosses on Lost have cheapened it to the point where it’s impossible to take anything at face value, making emotional investment pretty much nil. Yet I found myself relieved that Juliet didn’t confess that she’d lied to Sun about the D.O.C., negating all of the anguish and release that had come beforehand. That particular apple cart may be upturned down the road, and I wouldn’t put it past this show to undo all the goodwill it generated here simply to pull another increasingly disappointing rabbit out of its hat, but for the time being I let out a sigh of relief.
If I’ve neglected to expand upon Naomi (Marsha Thomason) the pilot’s revelation about the fate of Flight 815 (the wreckage was already found and there were no survivors) and Bakunin showing up inexplicably alive after hemorrhaging several pints of blood from his mouth, ears and eyes a few episode’s back, it’s because, frankly, I’m not especially interested in either of these developments and what they represent for the show. The Bakunin resurrection is especially troubling as it can be grouped together with the “magic box” as further evidence proving why Lost has the laziest writers on television. Oh to be sure, Hurley (ever the pragmatist) brings up this seeming incongruity and Bakunin makes a couple jokes where it’s implied the island healed him, but really now, if death on Lost isn’t final than why are we even watching? Should the castaways start digging up all those cute young women who were gunned down in season two just to make sure they’re not alive down there too? Or was Bakunin’s death simply yet another con perpetrated by “the Others?” I can’t tell if I should be annoyed that the episode skirts explaining the situation almost altogether or relieved that it simply acknowledges how much of a cop-out it is and moves on.
As to the show’s first vocal acknowledgement of the “island as purgatory” theory, I’ve always considered this one of the least interesting directions to take Lost in as it too easily justifies all of the flights of fancy and arbitrary whims it has (and will continue hence forth) gone in. I suspect this development is simply the latest in a long line of attempts by the show’s writers to present message board theories as a cloak of darkness meant to conceal its true, far-flung agenda. And to that end, I can’t wait to learn how “the Others” secretly crashed another plane and littered it with fake charred remains (ooh! Or how about clones! We haven’t gotten to that one yet!) just to throw the authorities off their scent.
We’re in the home stretch now, as we’re a month away from the final episode of the third season, and while the big picture remains frustratingly unclear, I stand by my assertion a few episodes back that the show’s characters have, for me, become its most potent draw. After years of pigeonholing the characters within a single characteristic, the writers are beginning to grow more comfortable busting apart their confining dynamics and connect-the-dot characterizations. The overall effect is refreshing and makes passive viewing of Lost far more enjoyable. The journey’s still pretty bumpy but at least the company’s getting better.