Lost 0615 – Across The Sea

So we’re scant episodes from the end of the line, and Lost decides to take another step out of it’s ongoing story to tell us a tale of the distant past. As with “Ab Aeterno” a few episodes ago, I’m guessing it’ll give us some interesting but not vital background, that this late in the day will frustrate those of us eager to see how it all pans out, but that we’ll probably appreciate a lot more on later viewing.

I think if I was writing the final season of a show like this, with the working knowledge that geek love is a painfully co-dependent and resentful sort of love – as likely to exert the full, grumpy weight of thwarted expectation and entitlement as it is to just revel in the exhilaration of being taken on a fun ride for forty minutes of every week – and I knew that we’d managed to get the incredibly versatile and captivating Alison Janney on for an episode, I think I’d probably be unable to resist the mischevious instinct to use her as a mouthpiece for a fond yet firm assertion that I felt the audience needed to hear, too.

And so, they do… when the breathy, beautiful and unfortunate Claudia, shipwrecked and heavily pregnant, can’t help but blurt constant, desperate questions at Janney’s character, she answers a couple in an indulgent fashion, and then states, firmly but not quite yet impatiently:

“Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.”

…Which is something I’ve been saying in response to the complaints I’ve been hearing about all of the unanswered questions in the show since around the second season. A better story is one that smartly leaves just big enough gaps for the imagination to fill, because for every person who feels a relieved sense of closure when a long-asked question gets answered, there are two others who don’t like the answer that they’re given, or find that what they wanted wasn’t just an answer to that question, but to have all of the details definitively described. And of course, once you have all of the details of a world filled in, you aren’t experiencing a story any more, you’re simply collecting trivia. And there’s always more of it.

It’s healthy, when making a genre show or entertainment, to remember that ultimately fandom is a slightly autistic practice – and while in this case it’s positive to allow your fans to exercise the part of their brains that looks for connections and enjoys the detail, as with any obsessive or potentially overwhelming mental condition, it’s not a great idea to pander to it. Once you give someone in the grip of a compulsion that they don’t entirely recognise – in this case, the search for answers to questions – what they think they want, it just pushes them deeper down the spiral, because it isn’t the solution that they’re attracted to… it’s the problem.

It isn’t the answers that entice an audience with a show like Lost… it’s the mystery. That’s why every time there’s a major insight into one of the big mysteries – such as the first appearance of the smoke monster, which itself answered the question “what the fuck is the thing in the jungle???” – people react with disbelief, and insist that there has to be more.

A good story is like a sausage, or more like a magic trick – it’s so involving and transporting that the response one has to it is something more than can be explained by the examination of the sum of it’s parts. Magicians perform the trick, and everybody wonders how it worked. The magician tells you it’s magic, and on one level – the level that went “Oooo” when they saw the trick – you choose to believe them, but at another, very human one, you start to work away at the trick logically, trying to work out how it happened. The magician doesn’t tell you the true mechanics of the trick, but if they did, some part of you is always still a little lost and disoriented, and perhaps a bit despondent about it, because knowing the mechanics of it doesn’t explain how the trick transported you in the first place. If the magician is smart, he doesn’t go on to bring up the house lights, or explain to you how his words and actions misdirected you at the same time. Partly because it would ruin his livelihood, but mainly because it still wouldn’t really get to the bottom of the trick. The magic doesn’t actually happen on the stage or the show – it happens in the audience’s head. If the magician breaks it down into such easily digestible parts that every angle of the trick is explained to the audience, there isn’t a trick any more… there are just a bunch of bits and pieces on the floor, and even if an audience member can remember how they all fit together, the trick won’t really work for them any more.

Of course, there are magicians who purport to show you how the tricks work – and even go to great lengths to shed light on corners of the tricks to the extent that the audience believes they’ve seen all of the workings of them – but those guys know exactly how far they can go, and still leave enough grey and fuzzy area that the audience still ends up shocked and wondering.

And so far, Lost has been pretty excellent at being one of those magicians. In fact, the times when the show have been less fun for me have been when it’s lost sight of that peculiar relationship a story has with it’s audience, and tried too hard to close gaps and fill in too many details. And ironically, as much as the words Janney’s character spoke early in this episode triggered off this huge diversion, I’m already a little concerned that episodes like this and Richard’s one are a bit too preoccupied with filling in detail and world-building in areas that we think might be nice to have a little more information, but actually we don’t need to.

… and breathe.

So, anyway, shortly before Janney inexplicably bashes Claudia’s head in with a rock:

…Claudia gives birth to her son Jacob, and an unexpected, unnamed twin.

Janney, named in the credits as Mother, raises the two boys as her own, and immediately we start to see the two characters – of Jacob and the man in black – as they grow into the entities that we know now.

There’s something mythical about the episode – the shipwrecked woman from an unknown place – the archetype of Mother – the named boy Jacob with his inability to lie, and the unnamed boy who is “special”, tries to keep secrets, and dreams of places other than the island that he is told don’t exist. There’s magic thinking aplenty, and constant hints at allegory, and it’s a lot of fun, but doesn’t feel necessary, or much like an episode of Lost, really.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the boy non-Locke has been seeing over and over over the last few episodes is the young Jacob.

The young unnamed one has a lot more sense and capability than Jacob, who is actually a bit of a retard. And he can see dead people – or at least he can see his own dead mother – and one wonders whether the fact that he can has anything to do with the fact that Hurley can.

And there’s Jacob’s violent streak, that we saw in him when he first met Richard, but that had levelled out into a more gentle temperament by the time we first saw him. The unnamed brother fucks off to the human camp, desperate to work out a way off the island.

OH BY THE WAY, THERE WAS, LIKE, A POND WITH LIGHTS IN AND THAT. It was weird, and not like anything we’d seen before.

The boys’ Mother is constantly weaving, and Jacob takes on the trait in later life. I mean, literally weaving, but it also turns out to be a characteristic of his personality when we get to know him.

Jacob also visits his brother in the camp, where they play games, and the unnamed twin tells him that the people are manipulative, selfish, greedy and horrible. But that they are a means to an end. This dude really wants to get off the island, and while there’s lots of myth-building going on here, there’s also a lot of vague metaphor. The unnamed aligns himself with the humans, uses their knowledge and skills, but loathes them. Jacob loves the island, the Mother kills the son… And the Light signifies something, but fuck knows what.

Oh, there’s that bottle…! And Mother is chanting. She is one magical kind of bitch, although thus far every way she’s imposed herself on the world around her has involved people’s heads and big bits of rock.

And Jacob is a bit of a petulant sissyboy, really – hard to see how he’s going to be transformed into the man with the plan that we’re used to in the next ten minutes… Maybe it’s something to do with the drinking?

Huh. The brother isn’t dead… just resting? Or possibly she just knocked him out long enough to raze his excavations and kill all of his people? She’s a bit Rousseau, when it comes to it!

Now I’m wondering how the unnamed becomes the black smoke, and I’m thinking it might be through sheer force of rage. He murders Mother, but it’s difficult to see it as entirely unprovoked at this point. Poor bastard.

And there are the stones!

See, these two, their story is all about free will and following order. But free will doesn’t make you happy, and apparently doing what you’re told just turns you rigid with certainty.

Oh, okay, so it’s not rage… Being chucked down into the light and water that Mother told Jacob was worse than dying is what done it. I’m wondering if that’s what dissipated the light to it’s diminished form in the present day, too? So the unnamed chap – the smoke monster – maybe contains the source now, too?

Oh right so Jacob’s brother’s body is dead, and his and Mother’s bodies are what Jack and Kate found in the first season – as Locke puts it, “our very own Adam and Eve”?

But other than that, we really haven’t learned much more about Jacob or the other one, beyond a little bit of paint-by-numbers in the more obvious areas – “Oh, SO YOU MEAN THE BITS THAT LOOK LIKE SKIN ARE FLESH COLOURED? And the ORANGES are ORANGE?” – They were born, once, and then they started hating each other. One of them became immortal, and the other became smoke. We knew this already…

Nice episode, but I don’t see how they can revisit this particular content before the end, so choosing to not-quite-answer these particular questions when there are other much more pressing questions that they could be not-quite-answering seems a bit silly.

Oh, by the way, the correct answer to the question “what the fuck is the thing in the jungle?” is “It’s the smoke monster.”. And the correct answer to the question “what the fuck is the smoke monster?” is “It’s… the smoke monster. Are you retarded? Isn’t that enough? It seems plenty to me!”

I have a sneaking suspicion that in the final analysis, they will all turn out to be facking dead, won’t they?