(WARNING. This piece will spoil the most recent episode of Lost, titled "Across the Sea." If you haven't watched it yet, I recommend you suffer through it before you continue reading.)
Is it okay to become emotionally invested in a TV series? Is it normal to let a single hour of weekly television be one of the highlights of your week? When does fandom become obsession? How far is too far?
Your answer to those questions may very well gauge your response to last night's episode of Lost, the second-to-last normal episode before the massive, two-part series finale. This was a big one: a flashback episode detailing the origins and motivations of Jacob and the Man in Black, the two supernatural entities whose centuries-long war with each other set the entire series in motion in the first place. A number of questions were promised to be answered, like:
-What exactly is Jacob's job?
-How did the Man in Black become the Smoke Monster?
-What is the Smoke Monster?
-How is Jacob immortal?
-Where did the time traveling frozen donkey wheel come from?
-And most importantly, what are the exact motivations of the Man in Black?
Lost has always played its cards close to its chest, answering every question with more questions, but here, they actually gave some answers. The answers to the above questions were:
-To protect a light cave that was stolen from the set of Xena.
-By being flushed in the Xena light cave.
-Something that lives in the Xena light cave.
-Because he drank magic juice.
-The Man in Black decided that, despite not knowing how a simple scientific concept like magnetism works, a large wheel installed by the source of the Xena light cave would allow him to leave the island.
-Oh wait. They didn't answer this one.
If there's one thing I hate, it's sounding like your typical fanboy nerd moaning and whining about how everything sucks and everything's terrible and waah waah, yadda yadda. Complaining about things letting you down is nothing new, it's usually unfounded and it's usually pretty annoying. But hey, if I'm going to become what I hate for at least one column, I might as well embrace the stereotype.
"Across the Sea" is the Worst. Episode. Ever. And here's why.
1. Jacob Doesn't Know a F*cking Thing
Remember in season three, when Ben took Locke to visit the mysterious Jacob and we assumed the always-crafty Ben knew the secrets of the island? Turned out he didn't. However, the immortal, enigmatic Richard Alpert definitely knew more than he was letting on, right? Wrong. Richard was as in the dark about everything as Ben was. Then surely Jacob, the mystical protector of the island, the dude who brought everyone here in the first place, the man responsible for the events of the entire series, would know what he's doing. Turns out he was given some vague instructions by his wacky mother and set loose to protect a cave that may or may not be the essence of humanity. It's been a running joke among Lost fans that no one on the island knows anything about anything. It's disheartening to realize that this is the truth. We've been watching people run in circles in the dark for six seasons without anyone knowing what they want or how to get it. This is not "mystery." This is poor storytelling. This is firm evidence for the "the writers never had a real plan" camp. Speaking of not knowing what you want...
2. What Does the Man in Black Want? Can He Tell Us? Please?
Unlike the rest of the cast, the evil (?) Man in Black, AKA, the Smoke Monster, knows what he wants...but he's not sharing. Okay, so we know he wants to leave the island. But why? What was stopping him? Was it Jacob? How was it Jacob? This is the chief villain of the entire series, the entity that's been terrifying our heroes since episode one. Now, here we are at the end of the series and we have no idea what he really wants. A note to aspiring writers: keeping your main antagonist's motivations completely hidden is quite possibly the worst way to tell a story. By not knowing what the MiB wants and the manner in which he must get it, there is nothing to get invested in. How can we invest in a conflict when we don't even know what either side is trying to accomplish? "Across the Sea" confirmed his desire to leave the island but it shed no light whatsoever onto what he intends to do with his freedom and why it's such a bad thing. Are they really going to wait to the finale to reveal what the base conflict of the series is?
3. Rules? What Rules?
We've been hearing about rules for some time now. Widmore broke the rules when he had Ben's daughter killed. There are rules in place that kept Jacob and the MiB from harming each other. Who set these rules? Where did they come from? Can they be broken? Turns out that Alison Janney set the rules. Why? Who knows. How? Because she's magic. What?! She talked about them in a throw-away line just so they can chalk that up as "mystery solved" and never speak about it again. Sure, the numbers referring to remaining candidates was a pretty weak sauce revelation, but at least it made sense. The rules just being there...doesn't make sense. The "rules" feel like they existed simply to complicate and extend the conflict. Now that they have to be answered for, there is nothing to be said,
4. Budgets 'r Us
Even if you remove the complaints about Lost's increasingly convoluted and dramatically unsatisfying mythology, "Across the Sea" is still the worst episode of the series based on its production values alone. Lost has always been a great looking show, shot by people with real cinematic eyes. Aside from the dodgy, often hilariously bad (and thankfully underutilized) CGI, the whole series has looked and felt like a big, long blockbuster movie. "Across the Sea" does not look like a movie. It looks like a mid-90s WB series produced for cheap on some lot in Australia. We could argue that they're saving their money for the finale, but let's not. That's not any excuse for cornball sets, cheap costumes, bad acting (except the always exceptional Titus Welliver) and shockingly bland lighting. Toss in the Garden of Eden/Cain and Abel story and it's like watching one of those videotapes Christian groups mail to your house about the miracles of Jesus. The director of this episode, Tucker Gates, has directed six other episodes of Lost, most of them pretty solid. He even directed the Richard Alpert flashback episode, which had new sets and period costumes and accents. But it was fine. What happened here?
5. It's All Just...Silly
So the crazy woman managed to bury the entire well and burn down the entire village and kill every one of its inhabitants by herself? The MiB became/unleashed the Smoke Monster by being thrown in a stream and hilariously flushed into the glowing lights of a miracle cave? What's Allison Janney doing here and why is she being so bad at this acting thing? The MiB knows he can leave the island by installing a donkey wheel next to the big mysterious light that may or may not be evil. The MiB then dies before he can install this wheel, but it's there later. Who built it? If he did, why didn't he use it? Oh, it's a game with black and white pieces, like from the first episode. I get it.
I feel like I'm just getting warmed up. Even the worst episodes of Lost (ahem-"Stranger in a Strange Land"-ahem) had something to fall back on. Maybe it was an intriguing subplot or just the simple fact that we were watching characters we love. Here, though, we're watching two people whose true identities and motivations are still completely hidden. We have no reason to like them, to be interested in them or to be compelled by them. To have an episode stolen from Jack and Sawyer and Ben and Hurley and the rest this late in the series so we can watch some morons who know as little as we do shadowbox about stuff we don't care about is insulting to the fans and to the characters. I've long since realized that Lost's mythology will not reach a fully satisfying conclusion. I've come to terms with that. At this point, I want to see it to the end for the characters, fictional people who I've actually grown quite fond of. Well, except for Kate.
I don't hate the rest of season six like so many do. I bet I'll even enjoy the final batch of episodes. However, the crimes committed by "Across the Sea" are egregious, widening holes in the mythology instead of sealing them up and answering interesting questions with stupid questions. I'm not done with Lost, I've not decided that I retroactively hate the whole series, but I do wonder if this is the point where the show lost its shot at television immortality, where it was decided that it was just a good show and not a great show.