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Elizabeth Mitchell (#110 of 18)

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 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 11, “Whatever Happened, Happened”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 11, “Whatever Happened, Happened”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 11, “Whatever Happened, Happened”

When I was easing my way back into the TV criticism game late last year, I started thinking about how many shows on the air right now balance a sense of inevitability against the unexpected to generate their conflict. A large portion of the conflict on, say, Mad Men derives from the fact that we, the audience, know what’s coming for the characters, but they do not. We also know that the characters are on the wrong side of history, and that throws most of their actions into a new light. Or look at Breaking Bad, where we usually know the end before we know the beginning, and the ride is all about seeing how the characters try to escape the fate laid out for them but are unable to. There are shows like this all over the dial. All of it had happened before on Battlestar Galactica, and all of it would happen again. Even something as disappointing and all-over-the-place as Damages balanced its storytelling with flash-forwards that let us know (sort of) what was to come. I tentatively grouped Lost in with these shows after its fourth season, since its flash-forwards also offered this sense of inevitability, but it was only a supporting piece of evidence in my case for the new TV fatalism. Interestingly enough, however, Lost’s fifth season is practically all about inevitability and fatalism, in a way that very much casts a new light on events from earlier in the show. A show that purports to be all about the unexpected has become very much a rumination on the futility of trying to escape your predestined fate.

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 10, “He’s Our You”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “He’s Our You”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 10, “He’s Our You”

Sayid Jarrah (Naveen Andrews) has always been one of Lost’s most under-served characters. If you go back and look at the Pilot, the revelation that he’s an Iraqi is played for friggin’ COMIC EFFECT, for God’s sake. Andrews’ performance is so solid (to the point where he’s one of the few Lost cast members to score an Emmy nomination, somewhat inexplicably) and his presence is so great that he’s been kept alive long after other characters the show had no idea how to service would have been killed off. Every season, the series tosses in an episode that pretty much boils down to, “Hey, Sayid used to torture. Isn’t that MORALLY AMBIGUOUS?!” and calls it a day. Without Andrews, most of these episodes would be complete yawns (only “Solitary” and “The Economist” are really worthy of his talents), but the actor has managed to save most of these by just gritting his teeth and pushing through the pain. Like, pretty much all I can remember about Season Three’s “Enter 77” is that the Sayid flashback was ridiculous (I think it involved a mystical cat?), but Andrews was SO GOOD that I liked it more than I probably should have.

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 9, “Namaste”

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

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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 8, “LaFleur”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 8, “LaFleur”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 8, “LaFleur”

Let us now sing the praises of Josh Holloway and Elizabeth Mitchell.

Lost’s cast has always been there to carry us through the show’s rough patches. Even when the writing was especially weak or making the characters go through bizarre contortions just to push the various players into the right places on the chessboard, the actors almost kinda made you buy it. Now that the show’s plotting has (mostly) caught up to the actors and the writers are giving them subtler stuff to play, people like Holloway and Mitchell are proving week after week that they’ll make the most of what you give them, so just give them better stuff, and you’ll have a better show. Holloway, in particular, who had a tendency to get lost in the shuffle last season, has what might be his best episode in the series’s history with this one, where he manages to play his character, Sawyer, as both a man who is forced into a leadership role in an almost de facto fashion and a man who is content with himself and his place in the world. This dude should be a movie star.

Lost Recap Season 5, Episode 4, “The Little Prince”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 4, “The Little Prince”

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Lost Recap: Season 5, Episode 4, “The Little Prince”

There’s a deal we make, we Lost fans and appreciators. We agree to watch the show and find it generally enjoyable, and the show agrees to keep giving us our weekly fix of obscure symbolism, time travel weirdness and big plot twists. But there’s a devil in the details (isn’t there always in deals of this sort?): Once or twice per season, the show hands over to us a Kate (Evangeline Lilly) episode and leaves us grumbling. And with “The Little Prince” (as with last season’s fourth episode, “Eggtown”), we got us our Kate episode for Season Five. Fortunately, “Prince,” written by Melinda Hsu and Brian K.Vaughn and directed by Stephen Williams, was nowhere near as boring as “Eggtown,” but it was still a step down from last week’s terrific “Jughead.”

Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 22, “Through the Looking Glass”

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Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 22, “Through the Looking Glass”
Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 22, “Through the Looking Glass”

Those looking for definitive answers from their television viewing have probably long given up on Lost. No show seems to derive more satisfaction out of turning even the most innocuous of plot points into a Möbius strip of contradictory evidence; the most indisputable of truths into bold-faced lies. If I’ve learned in my year-plus in service of chronicling the show it’s that there’s no quicker way to be made to look foolish than to take something on this show at face value or declare anything as fact.

So, having laid that groundwork and hopefully covered my back end, Lost’s third season finale, the self-referentially titled “Through the Looking Glass,” would seem to have dropped a heck of a bombshell into the laps of viewers just in time for the show’s planned nine month hiatus. We find the survivors of Oceanic 815 on the precipice of rescue, having made contact with Naomi’s boat through a multi-tiered plan to disable the island’s jamming mechanisms. We learn that the rescue itself is steeped in misdirection and ulterior motives with Ben warning that Naomi is not whom she claims to be (something Charlie later confirms in his dying moments). The very fate of every single person on the island hangs in the balance in a way we’ve never seen before on Lost. Yet the bombshell arrives in a place we’ve become least conditioned to expect it: in the show’s character-building flashbacks set in the real world. That’s because this week’s flashback isn’t a flashback at all.

Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 18, “D.O.C.”

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Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 18, “D.O.C.”
Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 18, “D.O.C.”

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.

Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 17, “Catch-22”

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Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 17, “Catch-22”
Lost Recap: Season 3, Episode 17, “Catch-22”

I’ve long contended that the writers of Lost use the show as the world’s most expensive message board, employing its very text to address fan concerns and critiques, often in the body of the same story that’s causing consternation.

Apparently some of the writers have been known to blog, and executive producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse conduct regular podcasts on ABC’s website where they clear the air, but I’ve never quite seen the point. When you watch Lost you almost always have a pretty good idea of where everyone stands.

To wit, Lost doesn’t just name check the pop culture phenomena that have inspired and co-exist with it (most recently evident in the episode where Sawyer has to go around being nice to everyone or else he’ll be “voted off the island”). Occasionally, it seems to step outside of itself and offer reassuring nods to its viewership—no doubt one of the most savvy audience in all of television—that it has at least anticipated their eventual complaints. Arguably, that’s not quite as impressive when you consider how many corners the show has written itself into over the years, but they do say admitting you have a problem is the first step.