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'Lost': And then there were five

May 4, 2010 | 11:40 pm

Candidates
 When "Lost" began, it had 14 regular characters. A cast that size was basically unprecedented on network television at the time. Two of those characters didn't speak English. One of them was an Iraqi. One of them was a bald man who knew the ways of the wilderness and believed he had a mystical purpose. Yet another was a stubborn doctor who kept trying to be the hero and kept screwing things up. Some of the people in the cast hooked up. Some got to leave the Island. And some paid the ultimate price, dying to save their friends or to suit the Island's will. In that first season, the show let us get to know all of these characters as individuals, but it also insisted on making us see them as a community, a unit of people tied together by happenstance, sure, but also by something deeper, maybe.

Notice how many times in that first season -- and since that first season, really -- the show used long, silent montages of the characters on the beach, coming to each other's aid or just hanging out. The beautiful score of Michael Giacchino or a pop song would play while the characters shared little moments that wouldn't have existed had their plane not crashed. There was no good reason for these people to know each other, really, but now that they did, they were able to become a group, something greater than the sum of its parts. The show was fond of reminding the characters that they needed to "live together or die alone," but these sequences made that seem almost lyrical. Here is the way the world can operate when we're all in the same boat, when we're all working toward the same goal. 

I'm uniquely susceptible to stories of community building. My favorite TV shows of all time, which include "Deadwood" and "The Simpsons" among their number, are about people who may have separate goals but come together for a greater good (or a greater bad, in the case of those Springfield residents). "Lost" has also been about this for much of its run, about the way that deciding you're going to go off on your own can often doom you. The group is what's important. The survival of the group means that your memory will still live on in some way. When Jack kicks the Man in Black into the drink and says that the person who told him he had to stay on the Island was John Locke, it's not just an awesome act of a guy taking charge of his own life. It's an act of remembrance, a memorial for all of the people who have been lost along the way.

Because once tonight's episode ended, only five of the original series regulars played characters who were still alive and on the Island in the "real" timeline.

Ian Somerhalder's Boone went first, dying as a plane plunged from a tree with him in it (and man, that sounds kinda dumb when I type it out like that). He was followed, in short order, by Maggie Grace's Shannon, Dominic Monaghan's Charlie and Harold Perrineau's Michael. Malcolm David Kelley's Walt ended up back on the mainland, while Terry O'Quinn's John Locke died but sort of lives on in another form. And tonight, we lost three more: Daniel Dae Kim's Jin, Yunjin Kim's Sun and Naveen Andrews' Sayid. Who's left? Matthew Fox's Jack, of course. But also Evangeline Lilly's Kate (as the show seems to take perverse glee in almost killing her and then not doing so this season), Josh Holloway's Sawyer, Emilie de Ravin's Claire (unexpected!) and Jorge Garcia's Hurley. Five left out of 14, just as there are a surprisingly small number of passengers from Oceanic 815 still living. (Also, let us grieve a brief moment for Jeff Fahey's Frank Lapidus, who truly deserved a spinoff.)

But in another way, those characters are not really dead. "Lost" has always argued that the way people live on is by being remembered by other people. When Charlie died, it was to save his friends, sure, but he was also able to survive because both Claire and Hurley grieved him. The memory of him was fresh in their heads, and that allowed them to make the sorts of decisions they needed to make to live up to who he was. Because Charlie gave himself for the group, because he understood that living together sometimes MEANS dying alone, he was able to undertake one of the most significant acts in "Lost" history. "Lost" rewards sacrifice, and maybe the Island does too. What gets you in trouble is trying to do your own thing, trying to break away from the group to pursue your own goals.

I'll say this upfront. "The Candidate" features some messy storytelling here and there. It's never been immediately clear just why Sayid is on the side of the Man in Black after his death and resurrection, and while I hope we get an answer to that, it might have made Sayid's heroic sacrifice in this episode that much more powerful had we known just what the nature of the infection he was overcoming was. There's a momentum to the early passages of the episode that sort of demolishes all of your objections to it, but I'm not certain all of the motivations completely make sense here. There is a sense of pieces being pushed into place without regard for what the characters might actually do or say in those moments. In particular, having a better idea of Widmore's plan beyond just wanting to get rid of the Man in Black would have helped make his reasoning for leaving the airplane and submarine so poorly guarded make a little more sense. We have what the Man in Black tells us, but I don't know just how much we can trust him, particularly after this episode's climax.

The episode starts to turn, however, when Jack and Sawyer get together and start to scheming and when the Man in Black launches his single-handed assault on the airplane, an assault that continues the show's somewhat unfortunate tack of making him just completely evil (though the worst is yet to come), the episode is finding its second gear. And then, when Jack shoves the Man in Black into the water, the episode moves so quickly and is packed with so many fantastic and moving moments that any concerns I had after watching the episode -- like just why Sayid was doing what he was doing, say -- were pretty much washed away in the moment. This is one of the greatest episodes of the show ever for pure adrenaline rush, right up there with "Through the Looking Glass" and "Exodus, Parts 1 and 2." 

Sunjin  Like those episodes, as well, the episode comes up with some incredibly moving moments. Sayid grabbing the bomb and running off with it to keep it from killing everyone is one, of course, and so is Lapidus' sad end, but what really makes the episode moving in the end is the final moments of Jin and Sun Kwon. After last week's exchange of "I'll never leave you!" and so on and so forth, it was pretty obvious that at least one of the two was going to die, but I don't know that I thought the series would have it in itself to kill both of them, particularly when Ji-Yeon is still out there and needing someone to take care of her. I spent most of the sequence expecting Sun to finally just come out and tell Jin that he needed to leave to take care of their child, but the whole thing seemed intent on not really making us think about her too much, the better to make the moment all the more moving.

And don't get me wrong. It WAS supremely moving. The two hands of the Kwons, drifting apart in the murky blue water after their deaths, a flashing red light behind them the only thing that ensures we can see them, is one of the most amazingly moving images the series has ever come up with, all the better for how it doesn't need to say anything, for how it conveys the entire story of who Jin and Sun were in a simple, graceful shot (seriously, props to director Jack Bender and any writers who scripted the moment). These are two people who have spent years and years just trying to be in the same time zone as each other again, and now that they are, they're separated again by the machinations of a supernatural being that simply wants to win a game we don't yet fully understand. Sun and Jin are in the same space again in their death, but they're also, somehow, drifting apart. Such is the way this Island torments people, plays games with them.

And yet as much as I liked the aftermath of the bomb going off, I liked the build-up to it even more. Once Jack found the bomb in his pack, you knew that thing was going to go off and it was going to go off in as spectacular a fashion as possible. But the build-up to it going off, the argument between Jack and Sawyer about whether it needed to be disarmed or whether they could trust it to just count down normally, was probably the best thing in the entire episode. Jack has aligned himself on the side that believes fate and destiny brought him here, and he's willing to chase that to his grave and has been for a while now. Sawyer, who's spent much of the season blaming Jack for killing Juliet, now has blood on his hands as well, and their argument and the chaos that ensues when the bomb goes off is a marvel of both pacing and editing. Again, the writing here is great, but it really shows off just what Bender, Giacchino and the show's technical staff bring to the show.

But now, the series is ending exactly as it should: with Jack and a man who looks very like Locke facing off. Regardless of your feelings on either character (and I agree that it's a little disappointing to just have the Man in Black be evil), the show has been building to this from something like the fourth or fifth episode. These two actors have squabbled and been pit against each other for so long that this conclusion seemed almost inevitable, even if it wasn't just a few episodes ago. Even in the flash-sideways world, which we got another nice glimpse of this evening, the two are subtly testing each other's limits, finding out just how far they can push each other, though being in the world of civilization and forced to mostly keep to polite chitchat hampers those plans a bit. In fact, I'm not sure the episode as a whole would have worked without that final act, where the series clearly focused again on Jack and Locke, showing the cost of grief in alternate universe Locke's monologue about how he destroyed his dad (rendering him speechless and in a wheelchair after a plane crash that was his fault) and then showing just how this is all going to go down as Jack and the others took a moment to grieve and the Man in Black came after them.

But that's where it circles back, isn't it? Jack's greatest quality as a leader is that he eventually, after much, much prodding, will realize that his idea maybe isn't the greatest in the world, isn't the greatest for the group. He understands that he has a part to play, sure, but he also understands that there are other people who need to be cared for, dead people who need to be remembered. When Sayid tells Jack that it's going to be him shortly before Sayid dies, it suggests that, sure, Jack is the candidate to replace Jacob (and, hey, look at that episode title), but it also suggests that he will be the last one left alive because he is the one who is most willing to fully feel the weight of the grief that rains down around him and his friends and yet the one that is still able to push past it and do what needs to be done. There were many at first. Now there are only five. And in another way, now there's only one man who can make things right.

Some other thoughts:

  • * Sorry for the lateness of this post. Some problems with my Slingbox and Internet connection kept the East Coast feed from being fully present. I'm glad I watched the full thing, though, as that final act was the part I missed, and it really took the episode from "very good episode" to "incredible episode."
  • * Sayid gives us confirmation that Desmond is alive and, even better, that Desmond is pretty much the key to Jack triumphing over the Man in Black when push comes to shove. Jack and Desmond have always been tied together in the show, but the two haven't shared a lot of scenes together in ... a while.
  • * And, hey, that was "Catch a Falling Star" wasn't it? A nice homage to have that playing while Jack and Claire stare into the week's mirror image.
  • * The series finale will be two-and-a-half hours long? Well, sign me up! 
  • * The show almost always turns to Jorge Garcia to sell the weight of these deaths, but, man, he always delivers. His sob tonight was perfectly pitched, and it's often a hard thing to cry convincingly on camera.
  • * I'm sure we won't see Katey Sagal on the show again, but seeing her tonight was such a nice reminder of how well she sketched in the character of Helen, who was pretty much just "Locke's true love" on paper.
  • * On the other hand, it's now pretty obvious that Jack and Locke are going to be the ones who help each other realize the sideways universe is not the real one. Considering that the previous connections we've seen accomplish this all involved love, I'm pretty sure this will launch a million bad slash-fics.
  • * Kate Austen's continued whittling down of the female cast continues. Now, only Claire and Rose remain between her and having all of the men on the Island to herself. And this assumes Rose will return on the Island at some point.
  • * Not to spoil, but I guess the title of the penultimate episode now makes a lot more sense, huh?
  • * I'm trying to keep my expectations about these flashbacks into the lives of important mythological characters in check after "Ab Aeterno" wasn't sweeping and epic, but, man, next week's episode better be sweeping and epic, no?
  • * And speaking of Richard, when are we going to get to see him and Ben and company blow some stuff up? We're waiting, "Lost"!
  • * Finally, "Lost" Wednesday will be delayed this week and retitled "Lost" Thursday, thanks to unavoidable personal circumstances. But we have lots of great "Lost" content coming up between now and the finale. So keep those e-mails and Tweets coming!

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

Photos: Above: Jack (Matthew Fox, left), Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and Hurley (Jorge Garcia) are all still alive, but very few other characters are after tonight's episode. Below: For example, Jin (Daniel Dae Kim) and Sun (Yunjin Kim), the Island's latest drowning victims. (Credit: ABC)

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