”Lost”: The price of killing a man
The first five minutes of last night’s Lost were close to poetry — an intense, unsettling, strange succession of scenes that richly blended the show’s core ingredients of character, circumstance, and mystery with startling economy. A boy cowering under a bed witnesses his parents’ murder-suicide; the boy is revealed to be Sawyer, who awakens from this flashback-nightmare to find a monstrous boar rummaging through his camp; enraged, Sawyer chases the giant pig into the jungle and finds himself bombarded by voices — whispers, like the ones that chased Sayid after his encounter with the mad Frenchwoman. One in particular tells Sawyer, ”It’ll come back around… .”
A killer opening for a killer episode about the cost of taking a life.
Like many others, I got hooked on Lost for its crackerjack premise and compounding mysteries. I’m all about the polar bears, the tree-tromping monsters, the whispers, the black and white stones (remember those?), the ”Adam and Eve” skeletons, Locke’s legs, the hatch, Ethan, Claire’s baby. If the show can be boiled down to the question posed by Charlie in the pilot — ”Guys … where are we?” — then the appeal for me has always been in the ”where,” not in the ”guys.” At best, the flashbacks have been gravy. At worst, they’ve been bland distractions.
But last night’s episode, titled ”Outlaws,” established the template for how all of Lost’s elements can meaningfully intermingle. It was a bold choice to actually begin the episode with a flashback, as opposed to the usual approach of interrupting the flow of a present-tense tale with tangents into memory. I’d like to see even more surprising and artful uses of flashback in future episodes; now that Lost’s vast cast of characters has been firmly established, it can afford to toy with its formula.
”Outlaws” also demonstrated how the flashback stories work best when they are linked, either directly or generally, to an island mystery. In the case of last night’s episode, Sawyer’s story — he was manipulated into killing the wrong man while seeking vengeance against the grifter responsible for his parents’ tragic end — was intertwined with the mystery of the whispering voices. In doing so, Lost coyly nourished two different (though potentially complimentary) theories about the true nature of the island: 1. Somehow, it has the power to externalize a person’s psychological ”issues.” 2. The island is some kind of limbo between heaven and hell, and the folks stuck here have been given a postmortem chance to take stock of themselves and find redemption. (In light of this latter theory, the boozy conversation between Sawyer and — surprise, surprise — Jack’s on-the-run father about Australia as hell takes on provocative shades of meaning.)
(And what about this slow-developing revelation that the castaways have an intricately interconnected history? I like it. More, please.)
In the aftermath of ”Outlaws,” Sawyer’s importance to the larger unfolding drama that is Lost was elevated significantly. He is truly Jack’s analogue — a complicated, tortured soul who is not as evil as everyone thinks, just as complicated, tortured Jack isn’t nearly as good as everyone thinks. I loved Sawyer’s final scene with Jack, spitefully withholding from his rival what he knows about Jack’s dad. It’s a testament to how sympathetic Sawyer has become (and how smug Jack has become) that I didn’t mind seeing Sawyer hurt Jack this way. More so than Kate and Charlie, Sawyer has emerged as Lost’s most moving and essential redemption story.
Moreover, ”Outlaws” was, without a doubt, the best written episode of the season. The ”I never” drinking game between Sawyer and Kate ranks among the best scenes Lost has ever given us, and the disclosure that Kate was once married sets the stage for a future flashback. But there were a few things I didn’t like. The whispering voices were a little too Field of Dreams-ish. (I kept waiting to hear, ”If you build a pigpen, the boar will come… .”) Moreover, Locke’s anecdote about his mom and the dog and its correlation to Sawyer’s symbolic boar was as painfully obvious as it was contrived. In general, Locke’s knowing wise-man act is wearing thin, and it’s about time Lost developed his character further, before he starts alienating the audience. Judging from the previews for next week’s episode, I just might get my wish sooner than later.
What do you think? Are you rooting more for Jack or for Sawyer? Is there something fishy about Claire’s relationship with Charlie? And do you have any new theories about the island?