Saturday, May 12, 2007

Take Me To Your Leader
The mystery of Jacob was slipped in the back door this season on Lost, inauspiciously, via a barely audible conversation between two Others guarding Jack. Many fans may not have even noticed that the writers had in fact introduced a major new entity. There has been much speculation since then as to Jacob’s identity and purpose. Is his name a clue – Jacob, the father of the Israelite tribes, whose youngest beloved son was Benjamin? Is he real or a figment of bug-eyed Benny’s overheated imagination? Is he an historical figure for the Others, or someone living and vibrant? What is his power? Who does he control, and how and why?

The figure of a mysterious unseen mastermind, a messianic leader of awesome power, is a longstanding device in television science fiction, and the reveal of this figure is usually a watershed moment in a series. On the original Star Trek, back in those halcyon days of the Sixties when the drugs were vintage, the writers had seemingly superhuman powers to crank out lunatic kings, galaxy-ruling critters and fearsome despots at a pace that would leave the poor Lost writers gasping for air. They never had trouble finding some new incarnation for the Power behind their curtains, be they:




or some combination of all three...

Didn't seem to faze those old style creative types. So how did the Lost wunderkinds meet this challenge? What incarnation did they devise for the long-awaited reveal of the Great Jacob who loves us as God loved him? Look closely now. Here he comes. Jacob is...

A chair... No, wait... A CHAIR?????

Alrighty then. Is it the budget that's depleted or just the imaginations of the writers? What can possibly explain the lameness, the inadequacy, the pure comedy of that scene?

Darlton have said Jacob's role will be a very important one in the story they're telling. The question is, how are they going to get from here

to there?

Will the real Jacob please stand up?

Was there something... or someone in that chair after all? Speculation about a split-second glimpse of Jacob - right at the moment Locke turned his flashlight on him - has been making the rounds on the internet like a parlor game. People have been seeing all kinds of clues in the fluffy haired apparition:

The person I’m seeing the closest resemblance to is someone along the lines of this guy:

Ram Dass, once a commune-pioneering buddy of Timothy Leary, is a well-known Maui-based American teacher of Eastern philosophy who was known in his pre-Vedic days as Richard Alpert. No kidding. So that’s my guess right now, folks. Our Richard Alpert gets to walk the beach like Dorian Gray while his incorporeal molecules stay captive in Ben’s boyhood clubhouse, yearning to break free. Hey, it’s a better guess than some I’ve seen! Namaste!

Dharmic Dystopia

This episode gave us Ben’s back story. Nothing special. You all know the drill by now. Bad childhood. Shitty dad.

Little Ben actually managed to kill his mother by the mere accident of his birth which - as fans of Liar Ben might have suspected - did not happen on the island at all, but rather in a very green forest in warm, sunny Oregon... in late December. (I think we need to acknowledge that attention to detail was not the strong point of this particular episode). Grieved over his wife's death even years later, Ben’s dad was a very angry man. In his misery, he forgot one of life’s basic rules of thumb:

Never believe travel agency brochures. Or recruitment posters.

He took his son and his mad beer habit off to the uncharted island, hoping for a better life. But this was not the hippy-dippy freaky-deaky fun kind of Merry Pranksters commune he might have been hoping for.

These jumpsuited automatons took their cues more from the kibbutzim tradition of communal utopias. And that looks like SO much less fun. Where were the bongs? The free love? The tie dyed saris? These poor suckers really got the short end of the counter-cultural stick, but it seemed to suit young Ben somehow.

This kid didn’t have a cool bone in his body. We saw that he came by his taste for man-purses very early in life,

that he always dressed like a doughy-pantsed Mr. Milquetoast,

that his “great education” came from a teacher who didn’t even know how to make a baking soda volcano,

and that his resentment of his wet-brained birthday-forgetting old fart of a father eventually drove him to join the Kill Your Dad club, which as we know is quite an active fraternity on this island.

The early Dharmians bore all the hallmarks of a destructive cult. They planted themselves in the midst of “hostiles” but misjudged their own defensive abilities, much as the early American settlers who were massacred in Jamestown. So the Dharmians were finally purged.

The imagery was far more reminiscent of the modern cult disaster at Jonestown. These hostiles at least dressed somewhat more like 60s hippies, though we learned little more about them than that. Their leader, the kohl eyed Richard Alpert, also had the kind of physical appearance we tend to associate with charismatic leaders.

Something Ben most decidedly is not.

In fact, it would seem Ben had almost no qualities commonly associated with leaders. Even as an adult he looks a lot more like the cartoon character Doug than like a man to inspire devotion. We never learned what caused Richard to anoint Little Ben as their Dalai Lama-esque Chosen One. We never learned when Ben created the myth that he was an Island Baby. All we really know about Young Ben is that he was a Friend of Jacob, maybe Jacob’s only friend.

And that brings us, unfortunately, back to that Comedy Shack where Jacob the Chair is left to while away his days like Howard Hughes with his pee bottles, surrounded by rings of volcanic ash, waiting for Ben to come and play.

The Usurper?

Let's talk about Ben's visitor. Following upon the events of "The Brig", Ben seemed unpleasantly surprised when Locke showed up with his Bag o' Bad Dad.

He looked even less happy when a very self-assured Locke started giving him orders, punctuating them with a timely beat-down on the skeptical Mikhail,

who turned out not to be most sincerely dead after all. Was the killer fence only set on "stun"? Or are some of these people not only ageless, but immortal as well? Interestingly, neither Tom nor Richard responded to Ben's order to intervene.

and there he shot Locke at point-blank range,

causing him to fall on top of the rotting remains of those long ago Dharma employees.

And that's where we left our badly wounded Mystical Island Man this week.

But will Locke really die?

Or will he - as we all hope - arise again, proven worthy of yet another new destiny on this mysterious island?

I think it just might turn out that his diabolical father saved his life by stealing that kidney. An irony that cosmic can only be found on Lost.

Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson gave their usual excellent performances, and yes, I'm ignoring the cheese - not their fault.

Now, on the subject of leaders unworthy of their mystique, it’s time to address the issue of:

The Decider

That would be Jack. You know, the “lead” on this show, the guy who has had about 10 minutes of screentime in the last two months and has done really nothing of importance since he showed his character assessment skills by trusting his good friend Ben with the lives of Kate and Sayid. Sayid hasn’t forgotten what happened last time he trusted Jack.

And now Sayid has the goods on him, finally, and the long awaited showdown has arrived. Dr. Smug has been keeping a deadly secret from his “friends” all this time he’s been chatting and snacking and picking out linen patterns with his new sweetie, Juliet-the-Other. Nothing important. Just that some of the women may have exploding uteruses.

We can understand why Kate is biting her nails,

and her boyfriend is looking mighty worried.

No rush, though, for Jack to hand over any of this secret intel since the Others aren’t coming until, oh, tomorrow night!

Some have questioned whether there are allegories written into Lost that make it relevant to the American post-9/11 experience and I can’t say I’ve ever seen any myself. Until this. It’s hard to ignore the parallel with a smug, secretive leader of proven incompetence making unilateral decisions for a people in crisis. And there’s a delicious irony in the fact that the people calling out this Decider-in-Chief are an Iraqi and a Red State cowboy who claims he’s never voted Democrat.

I don’t know if the writers have stumbled on this parallel or planted it deliberately, but either way the point seems clear. As of this moment, Dr. Hewhowalksamongstusbutisnotofus has become nothing more than the Hero as Empty Suit.

From the looks of next week's promo, these people have been blindly following a "hero" whose best laid plan amounts to.... "Let's wait til they come and then beat them up."

Let's hope the price they pay for following this leader isn't too steep.

Questions and Answers: a Ratio

A lot of people liked this episode. Allegedly it gave answers. But did it?

Dharma questions answered, = very few.
We still don't know why they came to the island in particular, or if they're still there.

Hostiles questions raised = many.
We don't know who they are, if they're immortal, if they've subsumed Dharma, why they thrive on patricide or what their current agenda might be.

Ben questions answered = too many?
The allure of this character has been his mystique. Stripped of that, he’s just another guy with Daddy issues and an over-sized ego. Like the Wizard, he's so much less impressive once we've seen behind the curtain. Will they be able to replace the mystique with something else to keep this character interesting?

Overall, I'm thinking that the question to answer ratio is still unreasonably high for a show that’s going to be doled out through an eyedropper over the next three long years.

The Creators have been making the media rounds again lately, and one of the things they’ve been warning us about is that the show next year is going to change radically, perhaps into an entirely different show. I don’t know what to make of that. It’s not going to be a show about plane crash survivors on a freaky island of mystery any longer? Is it going to be a show about doctors and lawyers who solve crimes and have sex in broom closets? Are they all going to get jobs on a passing cruise ship and start helping lonely-hearts find e-Harmony?

What are we in for with Lost v2.0? It's almost scary to contemplate.

It’s not just that last week’s episode reminded me of what a magnificent human drama this show could be. It’s not just that the Jacob reveal was such a finky little dud. It’s not just that I didn’t even gasp when Locke, one of my favorite characters, ended up shot in a ditch full of corpses. (I don’t think for a second he’s dead.) Or that the cardboard hero Jack is an empty suit that’s become dead weight in an otherwise stellar cast. It’s all of it together I guess, but I’m just feeling unimpressed at the moment. I hope I’m proven terribly wrong. I hope when I look back after the finale, I don’t see something like this in the rear view mirror:

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