Saturday, May 26, 2007

FEED YOUR HEAD

What did you do, Jack?



Let it out, man, what's killing you?



How bad could it have been?



From the looks of things, Jack Shephard has fucked things up so royally, his only purpose left in life is to try and find a way to die. And even that doesn't seem to be going so well. He's driving around oxycozoned out of his head, guzzling booze and reading obituaries rather than watching the road.



But the L.A.P.D. has a lot of people like Jack to keep an eye on, so he hasn't caught his DWI yet...or his ticket to oblivion. He is flying on planes, hoping they crash.



He even gets as far as the ledge of a bridge



but the poor guy is such a loser now, he can't even do something as simple as jump. His display causes a traffic accident, leaving people that must be fixed, and apparently, incredibly, there's one tiny place left in the melted jello of his brain that still responds to a thing that must be fixed.

Only not everything is fixable, as we learn in this episode. Jack is experiencing the ultimate nightmare of a control freak. Something has happened, something that is in the past, that is immutable and beyond his ability to fix. In between the end of our on island story and wherever poor crazy Jack is at now, something horrific happened. Was Jack responsible for the horror? Could he have changed it had he been a different kind of man, a different kind of leader? A leader must make decisions. Decisions have consequences. And whatever the consequences of Jack's decison were, in Jack's mind at least, he deserves to be killed for them.

Taking a long step back, into the way this Reluctant Leader assumed control of this group, one is left to wonder. What made Jack the best choice to lead? He was a doctor, and that was a huge godsend to everyone, but doctors don't lead armies. Doctors don't lead nations. Remember Bones McCoy from the old Star Trek series?



Remember how he used to say "Dammit, Jim, I'm a doctor, not an elephant trainer"? That guy knew his place. He had humility. He knew better than to project his superior intelligence and skills into some presumption of general superiority. I am going to guess that Jack Shephard maybe wasn't that much of a McCoy fan. But what we learned this episode - incredibly, given the golden light this character has been painted in up until this one pivotal episode - is that, as a Leader, reluctant or otherwise, Jack Shephard was a spectacular failure.

A big problem was that there really were no other likely candidates for the position. The ideal choice may have been Sayid, a hardheaded soldier with a brilliant technical mind and a lion's heart. But in the aftermath of 9/11, it's easy to see how a group of mainly Westerners wouldn't have accepted an Iraqi to command them. (Which makes the fact that Jack ended up looking like Saddam Hussein's lost brother



just a little more comical.) So Sayid was relegated to Sergeant and maybe that was the first mistake. Certainly this hip move with the Assassination by Ankle reminded us how deep Sayid's skill set really is,



and hinted at what a badass leader he might have been.



But...bygones must be bygones, as Jack now knows all too well.

Sawyer couldn't have been the leader, not that he'd ever have wanted to be. His psychic agony was all there in real time this episode. His head is still in the brig with Cooper's corpse,



and when Kate finally showed enough compassion to ask him what had happened, all he could do was lash out at her, feign indifference



though his torment, as always, is painted all over his expressive face.



However unleaderly Sawyer is, he does have one asset a leader needs, that Jack lacks.



He doesn't bargain with the enemy. He knows they lie.



So when he plugged Tom, there was one less problem that would ever need to be fixed.

Here's one guy who could never have been the leader: Bernard!



Seriously, dude, name, rank and serial number! Or at least make something up. This guy spilled his guts quicker than lostfan108! He gave every detail. If the Others had an Air Force they could have just asked Bernard for the coordinates and called in an airstrike. But at least Bernard has enough McCoy in him to realize he's a dentist, not a Rambo. And next time you go to the dentist, think about how true that really is.

And Juliet wasn't around to become the leader in the early days, though she has a lot of assets. She's as smart as Jack and a hell of a lot cooler under fire. Who knows what's being set up for Juliet?



Have to wait and see, but clearly things are changing when it comes to Juliet's status in the story.

It might have been a good move to woo the noble savage Rousseau a little more gently. As crazy as she appears, she knows the lay of the land. She's invested in the place



and she knows how to handle Ben.



In his way, Locke tried to be a kind of leader. A kind of crazyass way that no sane person would follow. But Locke has entered some zone with access to secrets a leader might have found useful.



When he was laying in the skeleton pit, it looked like his wound was glowing, almost healing as we watched.



And then who should appear with some magical healing incantation but



WAAAAAALT !!!! - who didn't leave in that boat after all. He got abducted to a hormone therapy clinic where they've been pumping him full of high octane testosterone. Maybe he realized he needed to grow up fast so HE could be the leader these people have never actually had.

If courage and self sacrifice were all it took to be a leader, then Charlie could have been one. He took a beating, kept his head, resigned himself to his fate and determined to make it count. Did he need to die? Could there have been another way out? Apparently not. Fate is what it is on Lost. Causes have Effects. We've been shown this again and again.

So Charlie died.



Beautifully.



With great dignity



and poignancy. With a shout out to Spock





and a very important message



that no one will get to hear until it's way too late.

The point is that no one could probably have led these people in this mystical place. The Island is in charge of this story.



There are a lot of people in the play, but none of them as beautiful or compelling or mysterious as the Island itself.



Reminded of that this episode, one must hope that this story never strays too far from it's most fascinating and vital character, the Island.

Matthew Fox gave a bravura performance in this episode. I've heard it described as "balls to the wall" and even though I really prefer not to think of Matthew Fox's balls up against any walls (what is it with men and their testicular metaphors anyway?), I have to admit it was spectacular.

Jack Shephard has failed.



For a man whose main driving force in life has been competitive success - being better than his father, finishing medical school a year early, being recognized as a premier surgeon in one of medicine's most elite specialties - Failure is the most frightening of spectres.



And Jack was so afraid, so ashamed of, so horrified by this failure, he had to hide his soul from even himself.

Narcotics are the ultimate attempt to control reality.



And addiction is the ultimate punishment for that arrogance. The addict has to resurface into society



occasionally and keep trying to scam the cognizant world.



He tries to pretend he's fine.



But his shame is unbearable,



because he knows exactly what he has become



and he knows that everyone can see it.


The storytelling was masterful. As we witnessed Jack's utter disintegration



we were flashed back to the moment on the island that this disintegration began.



Jack is leading his people up to the signal tower. He doesn't clue in when Naomi - smart girl! - flatters him as Moses...



and makes sure he knows only one way to use the phone. When Ben confronts him, and pleads with him not to call the rescuers, and blackmails him with death threats against his friends,



Jack can't cope.



He loses his shit, as Jack so often does. This is not the way great leaders react. But Jack has failed as a leader...he just doesn't know it at that point.

And in all fairness, how could Jack have done differently? In the words of the great poet Donald Rumsfeld, Jack was faced with three things:



the known knowns: Ben is a liar.



the known unknowns: Everything loony Locke says.



and the unknown unknowns.

Who is on the other end of that phone? A new character has entered the story. There's a gun on the table in the middle of the stage. We can see it now but we don't know yet why it's there. Whatever is coming to the Island is going to unleash a new hell on our Losties. And all we have to go on are the clues we were given - loaded all of them - in the two final scenes.

"I know exactly what I'm doing", says Jack.



Ummm.....No, you don't, dude. This here seems to be your first mistake.

"You are bringing people here that will kill every LIVING person on this island" says Ben. And who pray tell isn't a "living" person? Well, for one thing this guy isn't



In order for one to be living it has to be possible for one to die...which he cannot. And I'm not too sure about this guy either...



or this one any more.



"You're not supposed to do this", says Locke. There is no way in hell Jack is going to listen to Locke. He even sounds like a whiny schoolboy telling him "You're done keeping me on this island." But Locke does know something. Jack's hubris starts right here, in dismissing this mystical maniac. And all the oxycodone and whiskey in the world isn't going to let him forget that.

Game Changed?



The kicker here didn't kick all that hard, but it was cool. Anagram it out to see the flashbacks did a FLASH FORWARD for the first time. Which is how we know that Jack's self-medicating is all about something horrific and unbearable that we have yet to see. The final scene,



where Kate steps out of her sweet ride looking all glam and synthetic, reads like a list of cryptic clues. I believe we are expected to talk about these all summer, so get out your notepads.



"Why would I go to the funeral?"

Who was in the coffin? Why did Jack care and Kate not? Is Kate just a hardhearted bitch? Or is Jack just whacked out and going to random funerals these days in his courtship of death?



"I'm sick of lying."

What lies is Jack telling? Did they fabricate a story about what really happened on the Island? Is that how Kate has escaped justice? Did some powerful syndicate swoop in and rescue them, installing Kate in a witness protection program to keep her yap shut? And if so, why are they letting Jack barrel around L.A. driving drunk and babbling like a madman?



"We made a mistake".

We? Was Kate in on whatever decision Jack made that put him in this condition? Or is he just playing the addict's game of sharing the guilt? And of course - what mistake? They've got three years to explain this to us, but seeing how it has made such a total wreck of Jack, it had better be a doozy.

"He'll be wondering where I am."

Who is Kate's man?



Face it. It's a possibility. This one was for the shippers, yo. Got to keep them at each other's throats, so...nice one, guys.



"We were not supposed to leave."

How much must it kill Jack here to fully realize Locke - friggin' Locke! - was right all along?



"We have to go back."

How? Does the Island have a fixed location now? Why? Does Jack realize the only way he'll ever kick his wicked habit is to do what Charlie did? Does he think he can fix something by going back? Were there people left behind? Or is he just raving, the way maxed out dope fiends are wont to do? That seems to be Kate's opinion on the matter. But things are never that straightforward on Lost.



What a wonderful season of Lost this was. And a very fitting finale. I don't think any games were changed. I don't think too many minds were blown. But it was SOLID entertainment, two exciting hours worth, and Matthew Fox got the chance to redeem himself after a sleepwalk of a season. Showing Jack humbled and ruined gave layers to the character that three years of pompous posturing failed to even hint at. It will be fascinating to come back next year - in *sob* February - to see what painful pleasures they have in store for us.

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