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'Lost': Sawyer's tired of putting up with all this stuff [Updated]

March 16, 2010 | 10:09 pm

We're eight hours into the final season of "Lost" (six regular episodes and a two-hour premiere), which is exactly the halfway point. [For the record: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said the season has been nine hours long so far.] And I've gotta be honest: I thought "Lost" would have given us more of an idea of just what's up with the flash-sideways plots by now. I'm not one of those people who thinks they're a waste of time or too confusing or a pointless distraction the writers are using to keep us from realizing how few questions they've answered (or whatever your gripe with them is). But I did think we'd have more of an idea of just what they pointed to by this episode. The question, though, is whether the show's failure to match up to my own expectations equals the show somehow abusing my trust.

Here's the thing: I'm convinced that the series is giving us clue after clue to what the flash-sideways plots mean. We just don't have the needed big picture view that would help us all put it in context. So while we can take stabs at it -- they're an epilogue! no, they're going to start intersecting with the main timeline! -- we're not going to be able to grasp what they mean entirely just yet. We can possibly guess where they fit into the grand chronology of the story with what we have right now, but we can't know just what they mean thematically until much later, maybe even until the end of the series. I can get why that makes some people antsy. Heck, there are times it makes me antsy. But I've taken this ride so long and have such implicit trust in the writers (which I'd argue is earned) that I'm hopeful all of this will pay off in some spectacular fashion.

But even if it doesn't, does it really matter? The flash-sideways plots we've had so far have all mostly been fairly enjoyable, if only to show how the characters might have existed on other sorts of series. We've gotten a chance to look at some sort of '80s workplace drama about an underfunded school, a domestic melodrama about a doctor and his wayward son and, tonight, a cop show about two partners who deeply care for each other, even though one is constantly riding the knife's edge of falling off into the dark side. Now, granted, this is something you've heard before -- it's basically "Lethal Weapon," no? -- but when acted by Ken Leung and Josh Holloway, it becomes something very fun indeed. A "Lost" twist on the detective show? I'm down with that.

Really, the only flash-sideways that hasn't worked as a storyline was that one where Kate hung out with Claire, and it's not like that one was bad so much as it didn't stand on its own two feet. I'm really enjoying the way these flash-sideways examine the idea of just how much of these people's situations was determined by their own hang-ups and just how much was determined by the fact that two demigods were playing a game with their very existences to get them to come to a mystical Island for still nebulous purposes. Some, like Sayid, seem as though they would have always been trapped in a life that didn't make them happy. Some, like Ben, seem capable of reinventing themselves without the Island's talons grasping at their souls. And some, like Sawyer tonight, split the difference.

In the flash sideways, Sawyer talks about a fork in the road of his life, a fork where he could have become a cop or a criminal. In this world, perhaps because he was never touched by Jacob, he chose to become a cop. Using his powers for good has helped him rise through the force quickly (it would seem), and he's paired with Miles, a loyal friend who also seems to have a deep, brotherly love for the guy. He doesn't have a girlfriend (and the episode takes great pains to remind us of our Sawyer's love for Juliet), but he still does pretty well for himself, hooking up with the returning Charlotte, of all people. (Rebecca Mader's cameo, while fun, mostly seems designed to show off just how good she can look when she cleans up, as she doesn't have a whole lot to do.) 

But there's a darker side to Sawyer -- or should we say James? -- that's still present in this flash-sideways. He's still driven by a terrible need to bring down vengeance upon the man who ruined his life as a child. He's still got a reckless streak a mile wide. (Check out how long he lets that seeming con gone wrong play out before he calls in backup in the opening act.) And he's still a little too quick to play everything close to his vest, to keep people from understanding where he's at emotionally. In some ways, this James is less of a complete human being than his criminal counterpart. Our Sawyer has done some pretty terrible things to people, but he feels things deeply, able to work up great passions. This James sort of skips along over life's surfaces, unable to process much of anything but the anger chewing him up inside.

Compare and contrast with the Sawyer we know all too well back on the Island. He's definitely still reckless. It takes a man who's not terribly worried whether he lives or dies to be able to engineer the standoff between Widmore and Smokey that might lead to his friends getting to escape from the Island. And he's still driven by vengeance, though for entirely different reasons this time around. The Island and all of the people playing games with it have exacted such a terrible toll on him that he wants nothing more than to get out of the game. If those forces want to fight, let them. He's going to take a sub, go back to the mainland and mourn the woman he was going to marry. (I like the way the episode uses the flash-sideways scenes to remind us of Juliet, how there's a scene where James listens to a "Little House on the Prairie" episode where Pa Ingalls talks about how the dead aren't really gone and it almost seems like it should be directed at Sawyer in an entirely different universe.)

I've been waiting for the show to get around to the notion that these people need to opt out of these battles, that the only way to win here is to not play the game. While the series has dutifully gone about pushing these people in the directions it feels like the plot wants them to go in, there's always that niggling sense that neither Jacob nor Smokey has anyone's best interests at heart, that they only have their own interests at heart. Jacob talks a good game about being a nice guy, and Smokey does a good job of pretending he just wants to help everyone get off the Island, but any mythology worth its salt will tell you that the gods are tricksters, that they're always aiming mostly to get ahead in their own ways and don't terribly care about we puny humans. Leave it to Sawyer, a man who's always been capable of playing both sides against each other, to be the one to stumble into this alternative, one that I think more and more of the Losties will subscribe to as the season continues.

I'm glad the show didn't bring back Sawyer and Kate as a going concern romantically. While I can appreciate that there are people deeply concerned about who Kate ends up with as the series reaches its end date, I don't think that this is really the time for her to be making her move. Is it possible that in some future, Sawyer could work his way back to her? Sure. And I think the scene where he goes to the Hydra Island and ruefully looks at the dress she wore so long ago is meant to indicate that not all feelings there are dead and buried. But he's very much a man in mourning, a man who's been pushed too far and is now pushing back, and there's not really room in there for him to hook back up with his old girlfriend. He's willing to help her escape, but not much else, and that strikes me as how it should be. (Though I wouldn't put it past this show to shoehorn in some forced soap operatics in a couple of weeks where the two make googly eyes at one another.)

118649_0151_pre  I keep talking about Sawyer, but unlike a lot of the other episodes this season, there wasn't much else to the episode beyond what he was up to. We got a half-storyline where Claire attacked Kate for taking her baby and we learned that the Smoke Monster believes in the strict father theory of government. We got a very nice scene where Smokey explained to Kate that he once had a mother, a crazy mother, who put him on the path toward becoming a giant cloud of black smoke, a scene where he suggested that if only things had gone differently, maybe none of this would have happened, a thought that's pretty much becoming the mantra of "Lost" at this point. (We also got the hint that Aaron now has a crazy mother, tossed to the audience with a bit of a wink. Will he become the Smoke Monster 2.0? Was the reason he could not be raised by another because if he was taken, Claire would go nuts and turn him into such a thing? And if he's the new Smokey, would that mean our candidate to replace Jacob is none other than Ji-Yeon Kwon?)

The major reason this episode works, though, is because of Sawyer, who wanders into a bad situation that just keeps getting worse and figures out a way to turn said situation to his advantage. There's been a lot of talk about how the Jacob and Smokey war could just turn the characters we know and love into pawns. Pawns have a tendency to get sacrificed. They die miserably on the shore of Hydra Island or within the formerly safe confines of the Temple. But in any game of chess, there's a rule for what happens if one pawn makes it to the other side of the board. That pawn seizes power for itself and turns the game on its head. Sawyer, who's now been to both sides and seen enough to play them against each other, is the one who's upsetting the balance of power, the man who's tipping the board toward its end game.

Some other thoughts:

  • * Nice touch having Sawyer run into a con woman in both timelines. I thought Jodi Lyn O'Keefe's character at the start was cool, but Sheila Kelley played an instantly engaging character as "Zoe," and I hope that she sticks around for a while. [For the record: An earlier version of this post incorrectly said O'Keefe played both of those parts.] Kelley is the first new character the show has introduced this season who feels like she could fit into the overall fabric of the series. (Dogen had his moments, but his air of mystery proved to ultimately undermine him.)
  • * What's Widmore up to? Apparently, he's trying to stop the Smoke Monster. Does that put him on the same side as Ben? Or should we just assume that it's Widmore and he's Up To No Good?
  • * I try not to read other critics' thoughts on the episodes as I write these up, but I cheated and looked at Alan Sepinwall's write-up to see what "Parks and Recreation" executive producer Michael Schur thinks the whole flash-sideways deal is about. I'm rather impressed with his theory, and while I don't think it's the whole answer, I like it better than the epilogue theory.
  • * Are there any one of you who would not watch the cop show "Ford 'n' Straume"? I mean, I know I would. And the promos practically write themselves!
  • * I suppose we're also supposed to be asking who killed all those people on Hydra Island. I think we're meant to believe it's Widmore, but I do hope the truth is more complicated than that (like he did so at the behest of Jacob or something). Widmore's always been such a transparently "bad" guy that I wish the show would give him better shading like it does with the other characters.
  • * Next week is an episode that has been much anticipated in "Lost" fandom, it would appear. Let us hope it does not disappoint! And, of course, you know where to e-mail me and Twitter me.

--Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

Photos: Above: Charlotte (Rebecca Mader) is alive in the flash-sideways universe. Which means James "Sawyer" Ford (Josh Holloway) is going to mack on her. It's only right. Below: Claire (Emilie de Ravin, top) and Kate (Evangeline Lilly) prove there's nothing two people can't solve if a knife's involved. (Credit: ABC)

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