"At the time, I thought it meant something." -LockeFor all we talk about whether or not there's a master plan at work on "Lost," we have to keep in mind that a TV show, unlike a novel, or even a series of novels, is a living, breathing organism, one that changes and grows in ways that even its creators couldn't anticipate. Characters and events that seemed so important in the early days have turned out not to be for all sorts of reasons: an actor who didn't want to live in Hawaii anymore (Mr. Eko), a kid who was growing too fast for the show's timeline (Walt and his psychic powers), a bit of island geography that the network deemed too weird to revisit for a while (the four-toed foot). By the same token, a plot device that was cooked up on a whim to fix a specific episode (they needed an excuse for Sayid and Desmond to not immediately demand answers upon arriving on the freighter) might inadvertently lead to one of the series' greatest episodes ("The Constant") and its most beloved couple (Desmond/Penny, who were liked before but not adored by fandom the way they are now).
"Did it?" -Sawyer
"No. It was just a light." -Locke
Stuff happens. The story moves in ways we don't expect, in ways the characters don't expect, in ways the writers don't expect. The heavenly light bursting from the hatch turned out to be Desmond simply turning on the lights in The Swan to see what the racket was about. Shannon, while welcome comic relief in the early goings, turned out not to be necessary as the series moved forward. Michael Emerson, who might have only been around for two or three episodes, made himself indispensable when he asked if his captors had any milk.
It's telling that the most beloved episode of last season revolved around Desmond, who wasn't even a regular character until the third season, and that the most popular episode so far this season (albeit from a tiny sample size) was last week's "Jughead," which focused largely on Desmond and the even newer Dan Faraday, and which didn't devote a second of screen time to Jack, Kate, Hurley or the rest of the Oceanic Six. For the most part, Lindelof and Cuse have been good judges of which characters to hang onto and which to sacrifice to the island gods, which stories still fit into the grand scheme and which can probably be done without at this late date.
All of which is an overly long preamble to me saying that an episode like "The Little Prince," which is so much about Kate, and about whatever dysfunctional, on-again/off-again relationship Kate and Jack have had over the years, feels like a relic of an era the show has long since evolved past. Because it was intercut with so much happening back on the island, and with the activities of other members of the Oceanic Six (plus Ben), it wasn't as bothersome as last year's Kate spotlight, "Eggtown" -- or, even worse, the polar bear cage episodes at the start of season three, which were all-Kate, all the time. It was still an entertaining episode, with lots of interesting clues about the island's time travel problem, another vintage Sayid action set piece, some more fine acting from Josh Holloway and, oh yeah, the return from death by Jin. But it was also a reminder that, of the lucky bunch of remaining survivors of Oceanic 815, Kate is by far the least compelling, particularly when paired with Jack instead of Sawyer.
Sawyer's aching love for her back on the island made her seem more fascinating than she actually is, but, of course, those scenes either didn't feature Kate at all or briefly featured archival footage from season one. But Evangeline Lily and Holloway have always shared a chemistry that she sorely lacks with Matthew Fox.
In fact, the Kate/Jack portions of the episode were so lackluster -- albeit necessary, in that the writers need to convincingly explain why Kate might be willing to take her adopted son back to that terrible island -- that I'm not going to bother saying anything else about them.
Instead, let's just focus on the island action, starting with the question nobody seems to be asking: why is Locke so convinced that the island's problems are being caused by the absence of the Oceanic Six, as opposed to the simple act of Ben turning the frozen donkey wheel? Now, I know he's convinced because Richard told him this was the case, but as I recall, Richard told him that because Locke told it to him at some other point. So the idea apparently came from Locke himself at some point, and while it fits his island zealotry -- he's gone to great, often explosive, lengths in the past to keep anyone from leaving -- it ignores the fact that other people have, in fact, left (Walt and Michael, to name two) without this kind of calamity. To me, the new element seems to be the donkey wheel, which suggests the drive to get the Six back to the island may not fix much of anything. Again, I believe that Locke would believe this; I just think he's wrong.
Meanwhile, the latest travels by Locke and Sawyer's unhappy, nosebleeding band introduce some potential new players to the board in whoever arrived on the beach in those wooden longboats with the Ajira Airways water bottles. (As with all fake companies on "Lost," there's already an official Ajira Airways website, which you can explore to your heart's content. As I prefer to stick to what's actually in the show -- which Cuse and Lindelof promise is all we really need to understand it -- I'll pass, but go party there if that's your thing.) We know they're relatively contemporary, based on the water bottles, and we know they have guns, but who could these "other Others" be? The Oceanic Six, having returned to the island and mistaking Sawyer's boat for the bad guys? Richard Alpert's people, back from a snorkeling trip? More of Widmore's mercs? Could we possibly be introduced to yet another faction at this late date?
(By the way, while I've mostly shrugged off the nitpicking of the show's time-travel rules this season, I was surprisingly bothered that the stolen boat was still there after the time jump. I know the Zodiac came with Dan and his group after the initial flash at the end of last season, but I'd like Juliet or someone to ask Dan to explain how all of this works. Either way, Sawyer finally being grateful for a time-jump, and then immediately taking it back when they arrived in a downpour, was hilarious.)
The episode also reintroduces an old faction, albeit one where we've only seen one member before, as Jin is saved from floating on a piece of freighter debris (ala Rose from "Titanic") by a much younger, still pregnant version of Rousseau and her science team, which would put the episode's final scenes around 1988. Damon Lindelof told me that the strike prevented the writers from showing more of Rousseau and Alex's time together after their reunion, but the time-skipping structure allows them to tell another chapter of Rousseau's story before all is said and done.
I also thought it was a nice touch that Jin once again washes up with a strange group of castaways, and that, after going to the trouble to learn English, he finds himself in a group who mostly don't speak it. While we all knew Daniel Dae Kim was still a regular, there was always the chance that Jin would only be alive in the show's past, so it's nice to have the possibility of a Jin/Sun reunion still out there.
Speaking of people whose demises were greatly exaggerated -- in this case, by me -- Charlotte turns out to be very much alive (whoops), and Daniel's explanation for why she and Miles were affected first is interesting. It was set up at the end of last year that Charlotte was probably born on the island, but could Miles have spent time here, too? Was the speculation from the premiere about him being the son of Dr. Chang more on the mark than we realized? Given that Juliet -- on the island for several years before Locke and Sawyer came along -- is stricken next, it's not an unreasonable assumption to say that Dan's theory is right, which would put Miles behind only Charlotte for duration of time on the island.
Lots and lots to chew over, even with so much time devoted to Kate angst and Jack once again promising to fix things.
Some other thoughts:
• Rebecca Mader's eyes were a particularly disorienting shade of blue in this one, which suited her character's state of mind.
• I'm sure it must be a tremendous hassle to film scenes out in the Pacific, but on the rare occasions when production goes to the trouble, they always look incredible, don't they?
• Sayid's battle in the hospital was brief but effective as always in triggering my "Hell, yeah!" reflex.
• For a minute there, before Kate explained the custody problem to Jack, I was all prepared to go on a rant about how, even on the mainland, the characters still can't be bothered to share useful information with each other. Crisis averted.
• So, should we assume that Bernard and Rose have taken Vincent for a long walk? And will they come across Cindy and the kids in their travels?
• Again, given that Emerson kind of got the permanent job on the basis of "You guys got any milk?," do you think the writers deliberately give Ben the most mundane-sounding dialogue -- in this case, "That's my lawyer" -- because they know how funny he'll make it sound?
What did everybody else think?