"Jack is here because he has to do something. He can't be told what that is. He's got to find it himself. Sometimes, you can just hop in the back of someone's cab and tell them what they're supposed to do. Other times, you have to let him look out at the ocean for a while." -JacobMidway through "Lighthouse," Hurley tells Jack, "This is cool, dude. Very old school." And I agree with him - just not in a good way. If last week's "The Substitute" evoked great past episodes like "Walkabout," "Orientation" and "The Brig," "Lighthouse" mainly reminded me of those pre-"Through the Looking Glass" episodes of the show where characters would wander around aimlessly for most of the running time and fail to ask any good questions when given the opportunity, only for things to be saved by a really good cliffhanger.
"Well, next time, how about you tell me everything upfront? I'm not big on secret plans." -Hurley
Here's the thing: I'm on record as saying I don't require answers to everything in this final season, so long as good stories are told. But in two out of these first four episodes, we've gotten no answers and flat stories.
I know there are certain storytelling devices you just have to accept when you watch "Lost," like the way characters rarely seem to share information or don't ask good questions, but it was easier to accept that in the show's earlier days, when we knew Lindelof and Cuse (who got script credit for this episode, the show's Number-iffic 108th) had to stall because they didn't know how long they'd have to stretch things out for. But the finish line isn't just set; it's in sight, and now it feels particularly stupid that Jack apparently doesn't know any more about what happened to Claire than what Dogen told him at the end of "What Kate Does," and maddening that the island's movers and shakers still feel the need to manipulate our heroes through misleading or purposely vague instructions.
Watching Jack smash the lighthouse's mirrors, and recognizing that this is exactly what Jacob must have intended when he told Hurley to bring Jack along, reminded me once again of Ben's overly-convoluted plan to get Jack into performing spinal surgery on him. Back in the middle of season 3, I asked Lindelof why Ben required such a ridiculous scheme when he could have walked up to the castaways' beach on, like, day 5 and offered them shelter and food (let alone a trip home on the Dharma sub) in exchange for some tumor removal. Lindelof countered that "that version is considerably less intriguing for a mystery show." The problem is that if that's the only reason things are vague and overly-complicated - if it doesn't come from the characters, or the needs of the story, but from an external need to maintain an air of mystery - then it doesn't work. It's obvious and distracting and irritating, especially this late in the game, when there's no damn excuse for it.
Yes, Jack Shephard can be a stubborn ass who doesn't always do or believe what he's told, but he's that way in part because of what's happened to him on Craphole Island. He came back to the island in a much calmer, accepting state of mind, and while that state of mind got all blown to hell when Faraday's plan failed to work (and killed Juliet), I have to believe that if Jacob's ghost stood next to Hurley and through him told Jack exactly what was going to happen and what he needed him to do to make things better, Jack might've listened. Would that have made for compelling drama? No, but if that's the case, tell a different story! Don't build an entire hour around our characters once again being led around by the nose, following some plan they don't much understand, getting vague promises of more information down the road. Because that damn sure isn't compelling drama.
Nor, for the most part, was the flash-sideways to Jack's life as every-fourth-weekend dad. As I've been saying for a couple of weeks, I think all the 2004 scenes may eventually play better on second viewing, after we find out what they really mean, but until that happens, they might as well be extended dream sequences - yet another thing we don't particularly need to be messing about with here in the final season.
Last week's Locke story at least worked as a kind of coda to the life of a character who's dead in the main timeline, and brought us back to a relationship we knew well from several previous episodes. Jack's relationship with son David, on the other hand, was brand-new, created from some previous marriage Jack had due to whatever circumstances are different in this timeline versus the one we know(*). So we were starting from scratch, and while Matthew Fox and Dylan Minnette were both quite good at portraying the unsteady father-son dynamic, it was a lot harder to invest in than seeing Locke reunited with Helen. I suppose you could look on it as something of a happy ending for alt-Jack (he finally bonds with his kid) just like Locke got last week, but if so, the payoff didn't feel as strong because it mostly came from new material (though Jack's daddy issues date back to the comparable episode from the first season), and because the character is still with us on the island in 2007, and it therefore felt less necessary.
(*) And between Jack having a kid and a different ex-wife (or, at least, having married Sarah at a much younger age) and Locke being on great terms with Anthony Cooper, it's clear that this timeline's changes go much deeper than the island being sunk and Others like Ben and Dogen being on the mainland. I also have to wonder if Jack ever had his appendix out in either timeline, or if the scar he was so puzzled by came from something on the island, and is being explained away by whatever force created this other timeline.
So of the three stories in the "Lighthouse," the only one that kept me engaged throughout was Jin's nightmarish stint at Claire's tent, with its creepy homemade baby doll in the cradle Locke built and the variety of deadly tools and surgical instruments. Turning Claire into a second-generation version of Rousseau is an intriguing direction(**) and a nice turn of events for Emilie de Ravin, who didn't exactly have the most dynamic character to play for the first four seasons. The sense of dread and insanity in that tent was palpable, and I enjoyed watching Daniel Dae Kim portray Jin's dawning acceptance of who and what his friend had become, and how desperately he needs to get away from her.
(**)Though it does leave me wondering if, like the post-"Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham" Locke for most of season 5, we saw a character we knew die, for all intents and purposes, a while back without realizing it. Did Claire (at least as we knew her) really die when the mercenaries attacked New Otherton? After Christian's ghost came for her? Or is this more Claire than Smokey is Locke?
The return of Smokey (or insert your own fake nickname here)means things can only get better next week. And they'd better. I didn't want to believe the complaints of the last two weeks that Team Darlton was under some sort of obligation to write the series differently because we're in the final season. But I see it now, and I'm starting to get impatient waiting for things to either get in gear, or just get more entertaining. 'Cause when Terry O'Quinn and/or Josh Hollway aren't around, things are dragging - far more than they should at this stage in the series' lifespan.
Some other thoughts:
• Sayid's accent remains decidedly more British post-resurrection. I have to assume this is deliberate, and not just Naveen Andrews getting a little sloppy, because sooner or later someone would correct him.
• One of my Twitter followers compared Jack's pep talk to David to the scene where Casey tells his son he'll always be proud of him, from the "Sports Night" season 1 finale. If you've seen said episode, you'll likely agree.
• With this season's episodes deliberately following the structure of season one's (a group premiere, then a Kate episode, then Locke, then Jack, etc.), it made sense of Jack to return to the caves he first discovered in that season's comparable "White Rabbit." The cave is also where Jack and Kate (in the next episode, "House of the Rising Sun") found the Adam and Eve skeletons, and here Hurley again gets to play the voice of the fans in suggesting the corpses might be two Oceanic 815 passengers sent far back in time.
• Hurley's time travel comments, by the way, for some reason made me think of the kayak shootout from last season when Sawyer and company kept skipping through eras. Is that the only bit of time travel from that season that never got entirely explained (i.e., we never found out who was in the other boat)? And, if so, do you think we'll ever find out the answer, or is that one of those minor loose threads we just have to accept won't get tied up?
What did everybody else think?