Before Lost, JJ Abrams was the showrunner of an sci-fi/espionage thriller called Alias. As the show lost quality towards the end of its five5 season run, it would frequently call upon several pieces of directorial shorthand that became horribly predictable. One of these was designed to trick you into thinking that two things were happening at the same time when they weren’t – traditionally, you’d see a character fumbling around inside an office they weren’t supposed to be in, intercut with shots of a security guard strolling down the corridor. Things get tense. Maybe the safe won’t open. The guard pauses briefly to organise his keys. The safe finally springs, but the security guard is already turning the door! He swings into the room, sweeps his flashlight around, and… the room appears undisturbed. Outside, our hero has taken the contents of the safe and is already speeding down the road in their vehicle, going away from the building. You see, the events that we saw weren’t actually happening at the same time. It was all a trick of the film!At least, that’s one way of looking at it. Personally, I see it as a massive violation of the trust between the film-makers and audience. If we’re shown two things happening simultaneously, it’s not a “twist” when they turn out to be happening some time apart – it’s straight-up deception. Which brings me neatly to this week’s episode of Lost, which shows us two things appearing to happen at the same time, only to show us that they’re actually occurring years apart.
Admittedly, Lost has precedent for this, and it’s not quite as ruthless with the truth as Alias was, but it’s still far too close for comfort. I wasn’t surprised by the reveal that Sun was having a flash-forward and Jin was having a flash-back so much as I was left rolling my eyes. Having now tricked us into thinking we’re on the island, or not on the island, or in the future or past, or time-travelling to one place or the other, Lost has exhausted almost every variation on its format, except for one. I am ironically awaiting the flash-sideways, showing events happening unexpectedly in the present!
Now, format-juggling aside, this episode was actually pretty good. Jin especially is a character who has come a long way and been given one of the most interesting arcs in the show, initially coming across as a violent and possessive nutcase, he’s actually become one of the more sympathetic members of the cast, a man trapped by circumstance, now freed by his exile on the Lost island.
It wasn’t quite the brilliance-fest of recent weeks, but again we’re nowhere near the doldrums of that Kate episode – almost halfway through Season 4, there’s absolutely no doubt that a TV show hasn’t been this consistently brilliant since Buffy Season 3. While any appearance of Sun and Jin as the central characters is doomed to stay in B-Plot territory, it wasn’t the throwaway episode it could’ve been.
Developments of a more personal nature to the characters may not be as gripping as learning a new piece of the Dharma/Hanzo puzzle, but they all have their place in Lost canon. Certainly, seeing that Sun is a member of the Oceanic Six – and that Jin isn’t – is more than enough plot. That fact alone makes you wonder about the fate of those who didn’t make it off the island. Jin’s gravestone, after all, marks the date of the crash as his death. We know that’s a lie, but is he still alive on the island, or is he genuinely dead? The cover-up of Oceanic 815’s fate appears to run fairly deep.
The importance of the episode was certainly helped by frequent scenes unrelated to the pair, though. Sayid and Desmond are still trying to figure out what’s happening on the boat, and they have an “unlikely” ally in the form of Michael, finally making his inevitable return to the show as Ben’s spy working as a cleaner under the alias Kevin Johnson. This is payoff that’s been a long time in the making, and while Michael’s return wasn’t a total surprise, I’ll be looking forward to seeing what he knows and why he’s helping Ben. Mercifully, that looks like it’ll be happening next episode, too, which is entitled Meet Kevin Johnson, so anyone who says that Lost never delivers answers can stick that in their tailpipes.