"Who's Sawyer?" -MilesI've been spending a lot of space these last few weeks trying to develop a working theory about what the flash-sideways mean, and I'm going to do that again here in a bit. But the thing is, when an episode is as entertaining in both realities as "Recon" was - and, really, as "Lost" has been for the last several weeks - my urge to question, analyze and theorize takes a decided backseat to my desire to relax and enjoy.
It's helped that we're on a streak of three episodes showcasing characters and actors I like, and those of you who haven't wanted to see Jack paralyzed by a spider bite and buried alive since at least season three tell me that "Lighthouse" wasn't as bad as I insisted it was at the time. But leaving that episode and my allegedly irrational hatred of Jack aside, this recent batch, and "The Substitute," and "LA X" have all managed to give us interesting alternate glimpses of the characters we know, while at the same time slowly but surely moving the island saga along.
We can debate whether or not the flash-sideways scenes matter, in that we're spending an awful lot of time on versions of the characters that, so far, have no obvious connection to the ones we've been invested in for the last 5+ years. And certainly I've felt a little frustrated at times. But I have to admit that there are moments - and there were a lot of them in "Recon" - where those scenes are just so much fun that I can wait a little longer for an explanation about the deeper meaning of it all.
There was some joking on Twitter after the episode aired that the flash-sideways are threatening to turn the show into "The Simpsons Spin-Off Showcase." The difference being, I would actually watch a Ben Linus version of "Yo, Teach!" And I would absolutely watch a buddy cop show about Miles Straume and James Ford(*).
(*) Has enough time passed that the "Cop and a Half" title could be recycled? "Wunza straight arrow! And wunza former con man trying to stay on the straight and narrow! They are... Cop and a Half!"
The opening scene in the flash sideways turned the comparable moment from season one's "Confidence Man" neatly on its head, and the idea of Sawyer as a cop, in a universe where Jacob apparently didn't influence him, isn't that far-fetched. (Miles is actually more of a stretch, though if we're sticking with my epilogue-in-advance theory - and I'm not sure that I am, as we'll get to shortly - it works, in that he and Sawyer had plenty of experience maintaining law and order in the Dharma Initiative, and seemed to enjoy doing it.)
Seeing alt-James Ford try to use his powers of charm and persuasion for good instead of evil (and what is an undercover cop, after all, if not a confidence man?) was a nice spin on the character, and worked nicely in parallel to the island story. On the mainland, Sawyer's gone from the dark to the light side. On the island, he's given up trying to figure out which side is which, and is content to simply play the two sides in front of him against each other, while he helps the only side he really cares about (his friends) get off the island with him. We had all assumed (or hoped) that Sawyer was running a con on Smokey when they hooked up in "The Substitute," and it was nice to be proven right. I just hope his powers of persuasion - as Smokey puts it, "You're the best liar I've ever met" - are strong enough to fake out both a vengeful billionaire and an immortal, shape-shifting, telekinetic smoke monster. Because if not... he's gonna have some 'splaining to do.
Now, as to the theorizing: part of the epilogue-in-advance theory came from the notion that characters' fates in the other timeline seem to be more or less happy depending on whether they sided with Jacob (more) or Smokey (less). But Locke's doesn't really fit that, since he never got the chance to decide at all, what with being dead. And while the James Ford we see tonight seems mostly healthier than the one we know (he has an obsession, but he also has a job he likes, a partner who has his back, and it doesn't appear that he killed Frank Duckett in Australia), the Sawyer on the island is still functioning as an independent operator, not interested in any faction of the war that's building. Maybe at a later date he'll throw in with Jacob, but right now he's just a fly in the ointment.
So then I started to think on an e-mail exchange I had last week with Mike Schur, co-creator of NBC's "Parks and Recreation" (currently the best sitcom on TV, and one you better be watching if you aren't already, and not just because of this mustache), and also well known on the interwebs as Ken Tremendous from the seminal sports blog Fire Joe Morgan. Mike found my epilogue theory intriguing, but rather than ask to subscribe to my newsletter, he offered his own alternative. Here, reprinted with his permission, are a couple of excerpts summing up the idea:
I think the alt-present scenes are an attempt to show what each character's true nature is, absent any situation where the island draws them more towards either Smokey or Jacob. This didn't occur to me until last night, but it felt like they were saying: Ben is an intellectual guy, searching for meaning in his life, frustrated by powerlessness, and thus capable of Machiavellian manipulations. But inherently, when push comes to shove, he is decent. Which is why in the island-reality he chose, at that crucial moment, to steer away from Smokey and back to Jacob. Sayid, on the other hand, has something inherently violent and evil in him, which is why in the alt-present he killed those guys, and on the island gave himself over to Smokey. Jack is deeply conflicted about his father and has it in him to be angry and conflicted, but in the alt-present he is inherently interested in being a good father himself and breaking the cycle of emotional abuse, so in the island-reality he's on Team Jacob, and so forth.Now, that very much seems to fit with what we've seen in past flash-sideways like Sayid's, and like the one from tonight. If Jacob doesn't come to see young James at the funeral, maybe the kid doesn't teeter over the precipice and become a full-on bad guy, and maybe it turns out that his true nature - as we saw in his LaFleur period, and at other points on and off the island - is as someone who'd like to be a hero in better circumstances.
I think they are "influencing" what is happening on the island only inasmuch as they show us what these people truly are, in the truest existential sense -- their actual natures are at play in the alt-futures, and those "teetering-between-good-and-evil" natures, I guess you could say, are what Jacob "saw," somehow, and they are what led him to determine that they are "candidates." That moment where Smokey picked up the white rock off the scale and tossed it out the door is more fuel for this theory -- they pick people who are perfectly balanced between "bad" and "good" and bring them to the island as a sort of laboratory to determine which of those forces wins out in the end. So the events that are occurring in the island-present -- the Lost version of "The Stand," where sides are being drawn -- are the "result" (though not really, obviously, in the causal sense) of the alt-futures, wherein we are seeing that left to their own devices, each of these people tilts slightly to one side of the good/evil equation.
The big hole in Mike's theory, from where I sit, is that he doesn't provide a reason for why this other reality exists. Lindelof and Cuse have said the flash-sideways aren't just an excuse for a What-If? style of storytelling, nor should they be at this late date. We're in the final season, and if something has no real bearing on the story we've been watching for seasons one through five, then it has no business being on the screen. And I think the producers are smart enough to know that, even as I continue to think they made a mistake in trying to maintain an air of mystery around what these stories mean.
But when the sideways stories are grounded by actors like Michael Emerson last week, or Josh Holloway this week, and told with the kind of pathos and humor and, yes, confidence that "Lost" achieves at its best, then my patience lasts a little longer.
Some other thoughts on "Recon":
• This is now the second flash-sideways to climax with the episode's central character having a surprising run-in with another character who hasn't shown up in this timeline for a few weeks. I don't know if there's going to be enough time to double back to showing how either Jin wound up in Keamy's freezer or what Kate's running from, but her appearance did remind me that in "LA X," Sawyer saw her handcuffs (and, therefore, knew she was a fugitive on the loose) and didn't try to stop her. So maybe this Ford's not quite the good guy I'd like him to be.
• Speaking of Kate, while I complain about Evangeline Lilly a lot, I thought she was very good in her island scenes in this one. Kate only came back to this stupid island for the sake of her son, and the hope of reuniting Aaron with his biological mommy. And since she gave her boy away and got on the Ajira flight, she's had to travel through time, get shot at by the Dharma Initiative, nearly die in whatever happened when Jughead went off, discover that Sawyer has fallen deeply in love with Juliet (and is now too consumed with grief to really be into the whole Freckles phenomenon), been taken captive by The Others again, menaced by the Smoke Monster, fallen into the company of a man she believes to be dead... and for what? To find out that Claire has completely lost her mind, and wants to kill Kate for doing the right thing by Aaron for the past three years? I know that would mess me up, and Lilly very neatly captured Kate's pain and frustration (and maternal guilt) at realizing just how badly she miscalculated the whole trip.
• I In the whole "who's the good guy?" debate, this episode went out of its way to show Smokey telling the truth at every turn. Of course, he doesn't always tell the whole truth - as when he responds to Cindy's question about the other Temple people by saying, "The black smoke killed them" - but if he's omitting things, none of what he actually says contradicts things we know to be true about the island.
• And Smokey's apparent honesty, in turn, makes me wonder about the story he told Kate about his crazy mother. Aside from being pleasantly surprised to meet a "Lost" character with mommy issues rather than daddy issues, I'm wondering exactly who this mother could be. Given all the time travel issues floating around the show, is there a chance his crazy mom might actually be Claire - that the Man in Black is somehow Aaron unstuck in time, immortal, and made of black smoke? I would hope not - after people began wondering if Desmond and Penny's son Charlie might somehow grow up to be Charlie Pace, I began wincing at the amount of liberties that time travel gives to rampant speculation - but I have to admit the thought did cross my mind.
• Speaking of Charlie, his brother Liam turns up at the precinct to try to bail him out after the drug mess in "LA X," and Liam's not the only familiar face from seasons past to cameo in sideways world. Of course Miles would be friends with Charlotte in either reality, particularly since we know from "Dr. Linus" that the island did exist in the '70s, and that therefore Miles' and Charlotte's mothers might know each other in this timeline, too. Charlotte and Sawyer weren't incredibly close in the real timeline, but she was part of his small time-traveling band in the first half of last season, and like many a woman on the show (or in the audience), she couldn't resist the charms of James Ford with his shirt off.
• Couple of familiar faces from TV, but new to the show, in Sheila Kelley (from "LA Law," and also from her marriage to Richard Schiff) as Zoe, and Fred Koehler (from "Kate & Allie" as a kid, and many things as a grown-up) as one of Widmore's soldiers.
• Widmore's dismissive "How little you actually know" comment to Sawyer about the origin of the freighter makes me question a lot of his previous protestations of goodness. We know he sent the damn freighter, so unless Keamy and company were somehow working under some secret higher authority, most of season four's bloodshed is Widmore's fault. And if he's building a barrier to repel Smokey, does that add more fuel to the Smoke-as-good-guy fire?
• Lots of little Sawyer easter eggs in the LA X scenes. Ford's code word is LaFleur, he has a copy of "Watership Down" on his dresser (though the book was originall Boone's in the real timeline, Sawyer stole it) and still watches "Little House on the Prairie." (And the scene they chose, of Charles Ingalls reassuring Laura about death, and saying you hold memories of your lost loved ones until you see them again, has me wondering if it's going to foreshadow some kind of Sawyer sacrifice so he can get back with Juliet.)
• Alt-James has a list, just like Jacob.
• At this point, they're just taunting me with outrigger scenes, aren't they? Though at the rate characters will have to go back and forth to Alcatraz to keep the Widmore story going, maybe we will get closure on the shootout, after all.
• Other than the need for padlocks (to keep people out? or to keep the contents in?), do we really have any clues as to who or what is behind the special door on the sub?
What did everybody else think?