TV Recap

The Jin Game

''Lost'' deals with some burning issues: Michael's raft gets torched, and we learn why the Korean couple can't communicate

Lost, Daniel Dae Kim | FATHERS AND SUN Jin is too shaken to be straight up with his wife
FATHERS AND SUN Jin is too shaken to be straight up with his wife

''Lost'': Jin's burning issues

Before we start dissecting last night's superb episode of Lost, before I lay on ya some kooky theories and quasi-intellectual ruminations on themes and deep meanings that'll either leave you dazzled or send you clicking over to the news page for the latest on Paris Hilton's hacked Sidekick (personally, I got 10 bucks on the latter), let's address some really, really, really important issues, right away:

1. Hellllllllo, Sun's two-piece turquoise swimsuit!

2. ''Four days until Oscar.'' (Why is that fact lodged in my head?)

3. Line of the night: Shannon flirting with Sayid: ''Perhaps we should get some rope, spend a Saturday night alone together, and see what happens.'' All that was missing from Sayid's eye-popping, jaw-dropping silent response was an arrroooogah! sampled from a Chuck Jones cartoon.

4. What in the name of PETA was Locke cutting up and eating? A rat? A frog? A saucy pizza pocket with legs?

5. ''Four days until Oscar.'' (It's almost like there's this logo in the bottom right corner of my mind's eye, seared on my brain like a brand on a steer. . . .)

Last night's episode was titled ''Lost: . . . In Translation,'' and for the second week in a row, island mysteries took a back seat to character-driven back story, a gambit that certainly runs the risk of alienating fans who initially got hooked on Lost's plethora of puzzles. In fact, yesterday, EW columnist Stephen King (who apparently also writes novels) was quoted as saying he felt the show has been ''stuck in neutral.'' If you asked me two weeks ago, I would have agreed. But in the wake of the recent (and creatively successful) focus on our castaways' pre-island lives, my position is in flux. What's becoming clear is that Lost is not the show many of us assumed it to be — namely, ''the next X-Files.'' Slowly, Lost is revealing itself to be something different — more elusive, more dramatically dynamic, definitely more risky. And all for the better.

''. . . In Translation'' was all about lovers and fathers. Taking center stage was the island's resident good-time, fun-lovin' Koreans, Grim Jin and his I live a life of quiet desperation (and I also secretly speak English) wife, Sun. It was good to see these two at the forefront again, since they tend be completely forgotten when they're not. That lovin' feelin' between them has been gone, gone, gone a good long time now. Yeah, we kinda knew that, but we assumed it was because Jin was an emotionally remote, way too traditional workaholic jerk, whose idea of getting close to his wife is keeping her three paces behind him. But it turns out he's deeply in love with Sun, yet all spiritually screwed up over how her auto mogul father is a total [unprintable] and has Jin's life by the [unprintables]. Before he became a Monster Island castaway, Jin worked as a ''special assistant'' to Sun's dad, a corrupt fellow who'd sooner kill his employees than give them an extra potty break. Initially, Jin thought ''special assistant'' meant a respectable white-collar job. Instead, it meant getting his white collar splattered with blood working as a glorified goon. Remember the scene in the Sun-centric episode earlier this season when Grim Jin came home bloody? Well, we finally found out how — but in a nice twist, it was revealed that Jin actually saved a life instead of taking one; his savage beating of an uncooperative government official actually prevented said government official from getting blown away by an assassin who wears rubber surgical gloves. See? Jin's a good egg!

Jin has a whole magazine rack of father issues, most of them due to his shame that his own dad is a poor fisherman. (I liked the implication that Jin's attraction to Sun had as much to do with her strong, powerful, successful father as her sweet smile, soulful eyes, and — who knew until now? — swimsuit-flattering curves.) After learning there are worse things to be than a poor fisherman, Jin reconciled with his dad shortly before his trip into the Twilight Zone, and also disclosed the reason why he can't talk to his wife anymore, why he can't just quit and start over: Apparently, it would be dishonorable to tell Sun just how much of a dirty rotten scoundrel her dirty rotten scoundrel father really is. The fisherman's sage advice to his son: Run away. Take Sun to America, disappear, live happily ever after. It appears he was planning to do just that when he and Sun boarded that ill-fated flight to Los Angeles. . . .

Really rich, truly heartbreaking stuff, and it made for a gripping read, as most of it was in subtitles. It also played out against the backdrop of an island crisis: Who torched Michael's raft? Michael accused Jin, with whom he's had some Racial Tension in the past, and everyone else seemed to agree, and so they all stood in a circle on the beach and allowed Michael to pound Jin to a pulp before Sun put a stop to it, revealing her I-speak-English super powers in the process. No one was more shocked than Jin, who felt so betrayed that he stalked back to the caves, packed his stuff, and left Sun for the beach enclave. Now, he's helping Michael rebuild the boat. The man wants off the island, ASAP.

The real boat torcher was — and honestly, I didn't see this coming — Michael's son, Walt, who confessed to Locke he prefers life stranded in sunny limbo. ''I like it here, too,'' said Locke. And with his new legs and the all-you-can-eat jungle buffet, really, why would he want to leave? The resident wise man articulated the big theme: ''Everybody gets a new life on this island. Perhaps it's time to start yours.'' Wading into the ocean at episode's end, Sun seems ready to begin that process, while Jin seems figuratively trapped in his old life and determined to get back to it literally. Lost, then, is a place where the baggage each passenger has brought is unpacked and sorted out. Seen from this point of view, the series isn't ''stuck in neutral'' — it's been blazing full speed ahead. I'm guessing that Lost's writers have always known the series can't survive for long on mysteries and monsters, because they know — and, really, we should know, too — that the answers will inevitably disappoint us, if only because the journey into the unknown is always more interesting than the destination. The key to Lost's long-term survival, then, is maintaining the vitality of its character-driven approach. If the back stories can remain as rich and intriguing as this episode, Lost can go anywhere, for as long as it wants.

What do you think? If Locke knew Walt was really behind the torching, why did he point the finger at the mysterious enemies living in the jungle? And how about the allusions to Locke's own father issues? (Sounds like a future flashback to me.) But I know what you really want to gab about: Hurley! You saw him on the TV in Jin's flashback, right? What was going on there?

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Originally posted Feb 24, 2005
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