"These people, they are just using us. They are playing some kind of game and we are just the pieces. Whatever she tells you to do, ignore it." -DesmondWhile I've had some reservations about previous outings this year, "316" is the first episode of season five to leave me feeling wholly unsatisfied. After that great in media res opening -- which had Jack in a suit, waking up on the jungle floor again, in a way that briefly suggested we were seeing a flashback to the series pilot (though his haircut's different and I think his shirt and tie were as well), before finding Hurley and Kate in the lagoon by the waterfall -- it was an awful lot of narrative throat-clearing, punctuated with lots of teases for what I hope will be more interesting episodes down the road. Given that opening, and the fact that "Lost" showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were the credited screenwriters, I was expecting a whole lot more than what I got here.
The problem was the decision to tell the episode from Jack's point of view. The issue isn't Jack's relative worth as a character. Lord knows I've complained about Jack-centric episodes in the past, but I think they've done some very interesting things with him in these Oceanic Six episodes. The issue is that Jack was the only character among those who wound up on Ajira Airways Flight 316 who had neither reservations about returning to the island, nor any logistical obstacles towards getting there, and so there was no story to tell here.
The others? They've got stories to tell, and ones I'm sure we'll see in the coming weeks. We know Hurley had to get out of jail and be told by someone (Matthew Abaddon? Charlie's ghost?) which flight to be on. We know Kate made some sort of fateful decision about what to do with Aaron. We know Sayid linked up with the mystery woman played by Zuleikha Robinson, who's influential enough to bypass airport security. We know Sun likely wrestled with the decision to go back, and/or to potentially orphan Ji Yeon. And we know that Ben got into some kind of bloody conflagration while fulfilling a promise to an old friend, and just barely made it to the plane on time.
I look forward to getting answers on any and all of this, and to finding out whether the 316 passenger played by Saïd Taghmaoui(*) was on the flight as a coincidence, or if he -- and the clean-shaven Frank Lapidus, for that matter -- fit into the island's larger plans.
(*)I'll always remember Taghmaoui as the guy asking Mark Wahlberg, "What is the problem with Michael Jackson?" in "Three Kings." Great, great movie. Has it really been 10 years since it came out?
But there was no dramatic tension in Jack's story to speak of. No practical difficulty in getting to the flight. No hesitation about going. No real character arc to speak of, in that whatever guilt he felt over Locke's suicide didn't feel strong enough to carry the episode by itself. I know the man of science/man of faith schism has been one of the show's driving forces going all the way back to season one, so in theory Locke's simple "I wish you had believed in me" suicide note should have had more weight, but Jack's been on board with Locke's intentions for a season and a half now (from our point of view), so even though there's some bitter irony in Jack not coming around until after Locke died, we already saw Jack's grief about that play out in episodes like "Through the Looking Glass." This was, essentially, an hour of watching Jack pack for a trip to the airport, and while that's a cut above finding out how he got his tattoos, it felt like the show was dragging its feet -- or deliberately walking down the wrong path -- at a time when it needs to be running towards the finish line.
It didn't help that the action on the island with Sawyer, Dan and company, has been by far the more compelling part of this season, and we only got a brief glimpse of Jin at the very end.
I was so disappointed with this one, in fact, that it's time to move straight to the bullet points:
• Though I obviously missed Sawyer's crew tonight, Jin pulling up in the magic bus, complete with Dharma jumpsuit and Dharma-issued AK-47, was a nice touch. I'm assuming that he, like Dan in the teaser to the season premiere, will wind up going undercover with the Dharma folk during a time-skip back to the '70s, and that the others will be there, as well. Sawyer's current haircut should fit right in with those Dharma hippies, shouldn't it?
• Note that the caption near the start said that the scene in the church was 46 hours before Jack finding Kate and Hurley in the lagoon, but that Ms. Hawking said they only had 36 hours to get back. Were they all passed out for 10 hours? Did something else happen?
• Ben's line about how his mother taught him to read was the funniest thing in the episode, not least because it's yet another Ben lie, since we know his mom died in childbirth.
• Raymond J. Barry was good genetic casting as Jack's grandfather, in that he looks a lot like John Terry. On the other hand, Barry's only 11 years older than Terry, who is himself only 16 years older than Matthew Fox. Lot of fast developers in that Shephard family, no?
• It's also clear that Locke at no point told Jack about seeing Christian on the island, which means Jack's motives for wanting so desperately to return are something else entirely.
• While I doubt we're going to be seeing those anonymous coach class passengers again -- Cuse and Lindelof didn't go to the trouble of killing off all of the random Oceanic 815 survivors just to replace them with a new batch of "socks" -- I sure hope Lapidus winds up on the island, because I dig Jeff Fahey, beard or no beard.
• I was about to suggest that, for all our fears about Desmond being in a room with Ben, he managed to make it out unscathed. Then it occurred to me that Ben's promise to an old friend was almost certainly about him going after Penny -- Widmore being the only "old friend" we know of to whom Ben promised anything -- and I think about the blood on his face and I don't feel very good at all. Sonuvabitch.
What did everybody else think?