From reading around the internet last night, it appears that last night’s episode of Lost will go down as one of the most divisive in the whole expanse of the show. It’s not hard to see why, either – three episodes out from the series finale, you abandon all of the major characters to tell a story about people we hardly know set in an indefinite ancient past? The episode is set up to be a source of answers, and then most of those answers so vague and ill-defined that “it’s the Force” is a reasonable stand-in? And, as if ready-made to tap into my own personal Lost pet peeve, of the three characters we did follow, only one of them had a name, which meant the entire episode was riddled with indefinite nouns. “I only thought of one name!” Hah. Yeah.
Nevertheless, I’m convinced that this will also become a touchstone moment for this show – it will be the episode we talk about when we discuss how expansive Lost is, how archetypal, how mythic, how completely audacious. (Because if nothing else, “Across the Sea” was about as far from an episode of Law and Order as one could ever imagine an episode of television being. Oh ho, no formula fiction here, friend. You will spend this entire episode thinking, “what the hell is going on?” And you will like it.) “Across the Sea” was built to give the impression of answering questions, and in some instances, those answers were relatively concrete. Man in Black turned into Smokey when Jacob pushed him into the Cave of Wonders. Jacob and Man in Black are twin brothers, who, in their childhood forms, look suspiciously like the Children of the Corn we’ve been seeing pop up around the island. Man in Black and Allison Janney are Adam and Eve. (What? If you don’t give me a name, I’m going to use the only one I have.) The donkey wheel was an early project of Man in Black’s to try to leave the island. Black and white board games apparently have a long history on the island, going all the way back to a brotherly game of senet, which is thought to be the oldest board game and for which no one really knows the rules. And speaking of rules, Allison Janney was the one who somehow made it impossible for the brothers to kill each other, and made Jacob the protector of the island and the Cave of Wonders.
There were concrete answers, but “Across the Sea” was more about suggesting that the most important answers aren’t meant to be quite so definite. How did the Cave of Wonders turn Man in Black into Smokey? What’s with that glowy light, anyhow? How did Allison Janney get to the island? If Allison Janney isn’t making dead people talk to Man in Black, who is? After a certain point, Lost isn’t interested in the minutiae, and “Across the Sea” was a firm suggestion that you shouldn’t really be, either.
I think that ultimately, “Across the Sea” will not be controversial for its subject matter. Lost has been asking its audience to speculate about the distant past for quite a while now, and to get an episode that both deals with the genesis of the island’s dual god-like figures and looks a lot more like myth than science fiction feels fair. We’ve been puzzling about gods, monsters, and the nature of good and evil for a while now, and in that context, “Across the Sea” is entirely appropriate. What will continue to cause consternation is the timing of this episode, so close to the final conclusion of this show. It kills the momentum of the last few episodes, but that’s a relatively small problem in the face of the much larger frustration that an episode like this causes. What does Lost gain from waiting so long to reveal the origin of Jacob and Man in Black? Reveals like last night’s are quite different than the discovery of an answer to a long-standing question. We’ve been playing 20 Questions with Lost, and for the most part, it’s fun. Answers put pieces together, connect characters, explain relationships, etc. etc. But “Across the Sea” was less like a question and answer, and more like a realization that you haven’t really understood the rules to this game even though you’ve been playing it for six years. I liked this episode. I like finally knowing a little bit about the underlying rules. It’s hard not to feel a little put off, though, by the knowledge that supposedly this has been here all along and we didn’t even get a glimpse of it until three episodes from the very end. That footage from the first season was a helpful way of reminding viewers why we care about the Adam and Eve skeletons, but more than that, it was a reproof. You may have thought this show was making it up as it went along, but this has always been here.
Better late than never, though, right? I suppose only next week will tell. My wish list for the final three-and-a-half hours: an answer about the flash-sideways, and a connection between all this mythological business and Desmond’s time-travely, “Who is your Constant?” business. A happy ending for Desmond and Penny. A fair amount of carnage, hopefully including either Jack or Kate. Some answer to the roles Widmore and Eloise have been playing. Bonus points: What about Aaron? What was the deal with not being able to conceive babies on the island? What happened to Vincent?
There are probably other things, and I’m forgetting them. But really, isn’t that what this whole experience of watching Lost been about? “There are probably other things, and I’m forgetting them”?