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Michael Emerson (#110 of 30)

Lost Recap Season 6, Episode 7, “Dr. Linus”

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Lost Recap: Season 6, Episode 7, “Dr. Linus”

ABC

Lost Recap: Season 6, Episode 7, “Dr. Linus”

This week’s episode would be nothing but cheese were it not for Michael Emerson as Ben, or Dr. Linus, and his skills to invest every little gesture with character. I’m sure our history with the character plays a part in his performance (we know how his face has changed, or what happens when we watch it change), but there’s a lot going on in Ben in this episode. Emerson gets to flex all kinds of adjectives: plain sad, indignant, obsequious, desperate, dismay, righteous, sorrow, shame, and sheepish. It’s just the right amount of showy to get all kinds of attention. And it’s deserved. After all, it’s a redemption episode that hinges on a confession.

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

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

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

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.

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 15, “Follow the Leader”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 15, “Follow the Leader”

ABC

Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 15, “Follow the Leader”

When I was a young kid, probably around 9 or 10, I was on the town baseball team (and the town I grew up in was small enough to field a “town” team), despite all evidence that I should probably give up on my athletic dreams. I sat on the bench through most of the games, and once they were over, the next-older team of kids would take the field and we younger kids would have to make our own fun. This usually involved watching the next game, but it occasionally took on other forms of general kid excitement. One week, somebody said, “There’s a CAVE in the woods behind the park,” so, naturally, we being young boys, we went to take a look. The cave was more of a hole in the side of a big hill, dirt encrusted on all sides, but it yawned before us, dark and foreboding and slightly terrifying. The idea of what might be on the other side, what worlds might be opened up by entering it, was, honestly, more exciting than the actual expedition, which only revealed that the cave (or, more accurately, a tunnel) opened up in the field behind the woods. When I think about why I like sometimes shoddy genre entertainment like Lost, I think it’s because I want, more than anything, to recapture that sense I had as a kid growing up in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by empty space and millions of possibilities. What makes the show speak to me, more than anything, is that sense of standing on the cusp of something unexpected, torch lit, ready to go.

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 14, “The Variable”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 14, “The Variable”

ABC

Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 14, “The Variable”

One of my favorite American novels of the last 30 years is John Crowley’s Little, Big, a book that straddles the line between realistic fiction and genre fiction, between the mundane and the miraculous. Briefly, it’s the tale of a large, rambling family in upstate New York who seem curiously devoted to a strange belief system that they refuse to spell out in its entirety for either their baffled new son-in-law or his son (the two point-of-view characters). The reader gradually grows aware of just what’s going on inside the giant home, Edgewood (a house with its own secrets), but everything fantastical is kept just off the page, as it were, until the climax, which seems more like a post-apocalyptic phantasmagoria than anything else. It is, above all else, a story about faith. About people in thrall to a force beyond their power that they’re not even sure they can understand or control. It contains some of the most beautiful writing I’ve ever encountered. And it reminds me a lot of Lost.

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 13, “Some Like It Hoth”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 13, “Some Like It Hoth”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 13, “Some Like It Hoth”

Father issues are to the Lost flashback what cancer is to a diagnosis on House. There’s always a tumor somewhere on that show, and if someone has emotional trauma in their past on Lost, it almost always stems from their dad doing them wrong somewhere along the line. One could type up an exact recounting of whose father wronged them how, but that would take up the whole of this piece, and no one would want to read that. Suffice it to say that when Lost confirmed what we all suspected and let us know out front the parentage of Miles Straum, we longtime fans probably braced ourselves for another vaguely dissatisfying hour of a character working through a variety of complexes all linked to the man who walked out on them. Or, y’know, threw them out a window and paralyzed them. Whatever.

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 12, “Dead Is Dead”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 12, “Dead Is Dead”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 12, “Dead Is Dead”

When Michael Emerson’s Benjamin Linus came along midway through Lost’s second season, the series was having a bit of an identity crisis. In its first season, Lost had been a show full of gently sweet character moments and goofy pulp excess. This became a recipe for a really big hit, a show that blended a big ensemble with a few sci-fi and action-adventure trappings. In the manner of most successful science fiction shows, it managed to build a genre show atop the trappings of a previously successful television template. In the broadest possible terms, Lost basically just took what made The Love Boat so successful (a huge ensemble with weekly storytelling that delves into various characters’ backstories), stripped out the guest stars and added a smoke monster.

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 9, “Namaste”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 9, “Namaste”

ABC

Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 9, “Namaste”

At this point, midway through its fifth season, Lost is about as consistently good as it’s ever been. It’s not hitting the highs its capable of (no episode this season rivals anything like “The Constant” or “Walkabout”), but it’s also not sinking into the really stupid lows it used to alternate those highs with. It’s just a fun, poppy show, a blend of pulp, goofy sci-fi and basic character drama. I don’t know how long Lost can keep this up, but episodes like “Namaste,” written by Brian K. Vaughan and Paul Zbyszewski and directed by Jack Bender, have been among the most unbridled fun you can have watching TV. Lost, at its best, is just a terrifically good time, and “just a terrifically good time” describes most of Season Five to a T. When a title came up early in the episode reading “Thirty Years Earlier,” it made me giggle with glee because, c’mon, where else are you going to see that on a TV show?

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 7, “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 7, “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 7, “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham”

I’m sure ten million Lost fans have made this joke already, but “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” was essentially The Passion of John Locke (Terry O’Quinn). Not for nothing, apparently, did the last episode prominently focus on Jack’s (Matthew Fox) role as the doubting Thomas of our little band of players.

But then, Locke, especially as played by O’Quinn, has always been the self-appointed messiah of the Island. He believes there’s a destiny that everyone who crashed there is living up to. He’s willing to make the ultimate sacrifice when he’s told he has to and barely even questions it until the midpoint of this episode. And, really, all he wants to do is save everyone. Sure, everyone on Lost has a BIT of a savior complex, but Locke’s comes with the kind of manic fury that one would need to really get things done. He was a broken man off-Island, but on the Island, he’s been given everything he would ever want, so he becomes its chief witness and bearer of its testament. “Life and Death,” written by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof and directed by Jack Bender, is as much about removing that casual swagger and confidence from Locke and reducing him to a broken man again as it is playing out the beats that led to Locke attempting to kill himself. It’s very similar to last week’s “316,” right down to the structural level, but I liked it quite a bit better for a variety of reasons. It’s a fairly bold piece of television—and bold in a way Lost rarely has been in the past—for the way it focuses so singularly on one man’s despair and for the way it refuses to be especially plotty outside of its opening and closing segments. It’s a straight-up character piece, so it helps that the character being examined is possibly Lost’s most fascinating (and well-played).

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 6, “316”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 6, “316”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 6, “316”

For the first time this season, I feel completely stymied by Lost, and I sort of don’t know what to say about it. It did a lot of the things I wanted it to (using the tale of the Oceanic 6 returning to the Island to delve more deeply into their characters), and it had a bunch of really terrific little scenes and moments, as well as the sort of deeply mournful tone so many of the best Lost episodes adopt, but it also managed to view a lot of the stuff going on through absolutely the wrong character prism. This seems like the sort of episode that will greatly improve when watched on DVD later, but at the moment, it seemed so bizarre to try to force the dramatic arc of returning to the Island to be viewed through the point-of-view of Jack (Matthew Fox), the one person who’s as gung ho about returning as Ben (Michael Emerson). This left the episode strangely bereft of dramatic snap, even as it sort of worked as a character piece around the edges of the Jack story. I presume it will work better once we know just how the O6 miraculously gathered together again to hop aboard Ajira Airlines flight 316 to Guam, but making Jack our entryway to this story made it both frustrating and fascinating, though mostly unpredictable ways. So, yeah, I’m a bit unsure of what I think, but let’s talk it out, shall we.

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 5, “This Place Is Death”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 5, “This Place Is Death”

ABC

Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 5, “This Place Is Death”

If Lost’s greatest romance, the one between Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick) and Penny (Sonya Walger), is all about a couple that is always connected by some sort of deeper link, even when time and space conspire to keep them apart, then the show’s other fine romance, that of Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun (Yunjin Kim), is all about a couple that has traditionally been disconnected. Even when Sun and Jin were on the Island together and rebuilding a marriage that had been hurt by infidelity and bad job prospects, they were frequently separated from each other either via language barriers (what with Sun able to communicate with most everyone else and Jin only able to communicate with Sun) or through simple plot mechanics. It’s this quality that drives a lot of Lost fans nuts when they watch Jin and Sun episodes, but I tend to really like that sort of thing. It’s as though Lost takes two hours or less per season to tell a really tiny story about people struggling to overcome domestic issues that may as well be written by John Updike or something (except for the occasional gangster riffs), and it’s in Korean, no less.