Remember, in the old days, when Lost approached its season finale, it would abandon the conceit of its flashback structure—because the writers recognized it was a stalling technique—and just embrace the on-island storytelling? I miss those days. We spent a lot of time last night tearing through Reality X with Desmond the Cosmic Avenger, still not really sure of why. And yet the show has so many problems that that one problem barely even registered for me.
For a truly clear example of how sloppy Lost has become: last night’s episode was called “What They Died For,” which was also a line of dialogue, spoken by Jacob (rather, his ghost, I think) to what’s left of our central band of original crash survivors. And yet, I still have no idea what they—Jin, Sun, and Sayid (still no word on Lapidus)—died for. A light in a cave? Vague threats about loved ones and ceasings to be? If I’m so unconvinced, and all I have to do is watch a television program, how can the characters be ready to sacrifice their lives?
I have a feeling we might still find out. But, later.
It’s astounding that this late in the game—the last episode before Sunday’s season finale blowout—the writers’ preferred game is still deferral. (Even the identity of Jack X’s ex-wife will have to wait for this weekend.) A number of long-awaited confrontations finally took place last night, and each was zipped through as though the writers didn’t even have time for them. (Uh, Kate X and Sayid X aren’t gonna bribe themselves out of jail.) Ben and Widmore’s building-since-mid-season-four showdown—which overlapped with Widmore and Smoke Monster’s, as well—came to nothing but a whisper (really? “Whisper it to me”?) and a round of gunfire; Jacob and the Losties, in what could be considered one of the most highly anticipated moments in the show’s history, accomplished little but the underlining of obvious thematic connections, expressed in eye-rollingly on-the-nose dialogue. “You were all flawed.” Oh, you mean they were…lost!?!
It felt like last night’s episode was just another “move the pieces into place” episode (and, in fact, I am still kinda excited for what promises to be an action-packed finale), but actually a lot of huge shit happened—it was just executed, somehow, anticlimactically. I mean, Jack became Jacob, though it seemed less selfless sacrifice—despite Hurley’s “I’m just glad it wasn’t me”—than the selfish fulfillment of the God complex that has defined his character since the first episode. The Smoke Monster killed Richard, Ben killed Widmore, Jack became the Island’s eternal guardian, Desmond X bought Kate X a dress.
If you had told me two years ago that there would be an episode in which all of this happened, I would have thought it sounded like it was the greatest episode ever. And yet, last night, it couldn’t have been a bigger disappointment. Lately I’ve been hearing a lot of grumbling about Lost being a bad show; I’m still not sure that’s true—it’s just disappointing. (Incredibly, incredibly disappointing.) The producers have proven themselves, in fact, to be expert storytellers, which is the source of the trouble: look at how they’ve inspired such an impassioned level of emotional involvement. But they’re, in the end, piss-poor conceivers; their pay-offs are lame. They love to defer because it’s the only thing they do well. They did, after all, keep us rapt for six years.
Last night’s episode boasted a single virtue: the acting. As the series winds to a close, the cast seems to be giving their all in last-ditch Emmy baiting, from Josh Holloway’s rueful guilt over pulling the wires (Jack’s understatement-of-the-series reply: “I’ve been wrong before”) to Michael Emerson’s weeping with love for Alex X. (Speaking of Alex: “you look like Napoleon”—what a natural line of dialogue, dear!) Even Mark Pellgerino, who has previously confined his performance to thoughtful squinting, let out a little emotion last night when Kate accused him of letting her friends die for nothing. Which, um, I still think he kinda did, until the producers finally prove otherwise. Possibly, this weekend. As Jacob said, “we’re very close to ‘The End,’” which sounded more like a embedded promo than a bit of dialogue.