The other day, on Twitter, I wrote: “I have officially given up hope that Lost’s final season will live up to my expectations.” I wrote this in reference to my reaction to the most recent episode: Ab Aeterno.
Some suggested that I should lower my expectations. Maybe I have set them too high. But this has been a special series and I believe high expectations are in order.
Several people wanted to know the basis of my negative reaction to an episode that they (and most other fans apparently) found to be one of the better ones of the season, if not of the whole series.
Okay. Here’s my answer.
First, a bit of clarification. I chose my words carefully in my tweet. I did not say that I thought it was a bad episode. In fact, I thought it was a good one overall and mostly enjoyed it (although I had a few quite specific objections, as I describe below in “The episode itself”). My overriding concern is what the episode appears to foretell about what is still to come. To me, if this is as good as it gets, I believe most large questions will never be answered. Perhaps it is unfair to burden this episode with so much weight. But that was my reaction when it was over.
Yes, this episode gave answers to a few lingering questions about the Lost mythology, especially as to the back story of Richard.
However, the answers too often seemed arbitrary and unsatisfying. In addition, too many related questions remain still unsolved. And, too often, what answers we got left new questions unanswered in their wake.
Perhaps the best example of this is the statue. We learn how the giant statue came to be broken (the Black Rock rammed into it). But we were also led to believe that the Black Rock was carried to the island by Jacob’s hand. If Jacob has the power to do this, shouldn’t he also have the power to make sure that the ship misses the statue (which is apparently his home)? Ultimately, I felt the producers/writers had no preconceived idea how the statue was destroyed. The Black Rock gave them an opportunity to invent an answer — even if it doesn’t make much sense and adds nothing to our overall understanding of the mythology.
Further, we still know almost nothing new about the statue itself. Why was it built in the first place? Who built it? Why have Jacob and MIB taken up residence there? What do all the hieroglyphics mean? Perhaps some of these answers will be forthcoming in future episodes. But I am increasingly doubtful.
Writers pulling a fast one?
I believe the writers have pulled a 3-card monte sleight of hand in this regard. While the current emphasis on Jacob and MIB is understandable (as it represents the end game of the story), this focus also affords the writers a chance cover up and ignore many significant mysteries — and hope you don’t notice.
To cite one huge example, I’d like to know more about the DHARMA Initiative. Was the arrival of the DHARMA group part of Jacob’s grand plan to bring people to the island? Or did they arrive independently? Why exactly did Ben and the Others find it necessary to kill virtually all the DHARMA people in the “purge”? What was the basis for the hostility between DHARMA and the “Others”? And who are the “Others” exactly? They must have all arrived on the island after the Black Rock incident. How did they continue as a group when all prior arrivals died (I am guessing Richard is the key here, but I’d like some confirming details). And what is the ultimate cause/purpose of the Other’s inability to have children?
For that matter, why is time travel (something discovered by the DHARMA people) a possibility on the island? How does that have anything to do what Jacob and MIB are up to? Who created the frozen donkey wheel in the first place? And why does it take you to Tunisia? Who exactly was continuing to drop DHARMA food on the island (long after the purge had taken place); how did these fliers appear to locate the island so easily as to come and go at will?
Why were the “Numbers” engraved on the Swan hatch? And most significantly: who ever thought that the whole idea of having to reset a counter every 108 minutes using an Apple II computer (or risk having the island, perhaps the entire world, destroyed) was anything but one of the stupidest ideas of all time? Why not invent a simpler more reliable method? Or just pull the fail-safe switch and be done with it? And the whole time that Desmond was entering the numbers on his own, Ben and the Others were roaming around on the island. Were they not aware of what might happen if Desmond happened to get sick and be unable to reset the counter? If not, why not? They seemed to have intimate knowledge of everything else DHARMA. If so, why did they not take any preventative action here?
Speaking of entering the numbers, we have learned that the reason that Flight 815 crashed is because Desmond experimented with not resetting the counter just as the plane was in the vicinity. We have also been led to believe that the people on the plane, especially the candidates, were brought to the island by Jacob. Are we to therefore assume that Jacob is somehow responsible for what Desmond did? If not, then was it just lucky for Jacob that Desmond did what he did? For that matter, how was it that all the latest candidates were on this same plane? Did Jacob manipulate this as well?
Speaking of the candidates, who is ultimately responsible for determining who they are? Jacob? Or some yet higher power? What are the criteria? Why is it necessary to have so many candidates to choose from? Can’t Jacob just figure out who the best choice will be? Was Jacob himself a former candidate and a replacement for someone else? Or is he the “first”?
Then there’s Charles Widmore. How did he know that a “war was coming” back in Season 4? For that matter, the entire season 4 was spent with the people on Widmore’s freighter trying to capture Ben. Ben no longer seems to be a goal for Widmore, as he now claims to want MIB/Locke. If so, what happened to shift Widmore’s attention? Also, given that the island disappeared at the end of Season 4, how has Widmore able to find it again? If it was this easy for him to refind, what was the point of moving the island in the first place?
Ben and Widmore in some ways appear to be mimicking Jacob and MIB. Both pairs are opposed to each other. Both pairs seem to be governed by “rules” that say they can’t kill each other. What exactly is this all about? And who set these rules in motion?
Similarly, what exactly determines the limits of Jacob’s and MIB’s powers? Why is it within Jacob’s power to grant immortality but not bring Isabella back to life? Why could MIB not kill Jacob, but Ben could?
Again, all of this seems so arbitrary. It reminds me of what I call the “Harry Potter cop-out.” As much as I liked the Harry Potter books, I more than once was irritated by plot twists that turned on the appearance of a new spell, one that could do exactly what was needed to save the day at that moment and yet had never before been mentioned in any of the books. How convenient to be able to invent a new spell whenever your heros are caught in a tight spot. As a literary device, I felt this was not playing fair with readers.
I feel the same way about the arbitrary solutions in Lost. How convenient that Jacob can grant immortality but not raise spirits from the dead. Convenient, but otherwise without any rhyme or reason.
Another part of my problem here is that the answers are drifting too much in a spiritual direction for my taste. I guess I am more a “man of science” than a “man of faith.” I am mostly okay with science fiction aspects of the show, such as time travel. But when it starts pointing towards concepts of heaven, hell and God as the ultimate answers, I get more than a bit queasy.
The episode itself
Beyond all that I have just written, I have some quite specific criticisms of the episode itself.
First up is Richard’s back story. It was too trite and corny. The whole business of a dying wife, Richard going to an insensitive doctor who rejects pleas of help, an “accidental” murder.” Been there, done that. I could see it all coming a mile away.
The worst of the story was the lovers’ reunion at the end. This is almost a direct rip-off of the movie Ghost, with Richard, Isabella and Hurley playing the roles of Patrick Swayze, Demi Moore and Whoopie Goldberg. Come on!
Actually, let’s pause at this business of Hurley talking to dead people. What is with this exactly? Does everyone in the afterlife have a direct line to Hurley? Are we really supposed to accept the idea that a woman who has been dead for about 150 years can somehow contact Hurley at just the appropriate critical moment? Are we, at a minimum, supposed to believe that such an afterlife is even a reality within the Lost universe? [Actually, I hold out some hope that this was not Isabella at all, but was in fact Jacob; we'll see.]
Once again, answered questions too often raised even more new questions.
Jacob claims he keeps bringing new people to the island to prove to MIB that people are not bad by nature, that people are able to be redeemed. Why is it so important to Jacob that he prove this point to MIB, apparently at the cost of the lives of most of his “contestants”? Why should Jacob care what MIB believes on this matter? Will it change anything if he convinces MIB on this point?
If the Black Rock is an example of Jacob’s attempts to prove his point, why does Smokey almost immediately kill all but one of the survivors? How can people’s nature be established if they are dead? Was there some advance agreement between Jacob and MIB that Richard was to be the lone survivor in this latest move of their chess game?
Given how long Jacob and MIB have been at this game, why does Jacob appear surprised that MIB is attempting to kill him in this latest episode? Can this really be the first time MIB has tried this move?
Why does Jacob need to make Richard his “intermediary”? Couldn’t Jacob intervene directly if he chose? Or is this just another example of a hollow arbitrary explanation for how Richard came to have his role on the island?
This is hardly an exhaustive list, but enough to give you the idea.
I have held on to hope that there is an overarching explanation for everything that has taken place on the island — a framework for the big puzzle that the individual pieces would eventually fit into. This hope is fading. I expect we will learn much more about Jacob and MIB in the weeks to come. And there will be some resolving perhaps even satisfying climax in the end. But that’s about it. This latest episode was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me in terms of hoping for much else. Perhaps I am wrong (I will happily admit my error if I am). But I doubt it.