Every question I answer will simply lead to another question
I mean, you heard that, right? “Across the Sea” essentially opened with a big disclaimer about the nature of Lost’s sometimes infuriating ambiguity. When I first got wind of the fact that we were in store for an episode centered entirely on the Island past of Jacob and the Man in Black, I was practically frothing at the mouth over the limitless possibilities for the way the show could shed some light on the modus operandi of the two Island deities who have rose to prominence since their first scene together in the the season 5 finale.
All that said, I’d say the payoff was…okay. This is a little disappointing since that at the point in the show–we’ve only got three and a half hours left of Lost, ever–I simply cannot abide episodes that are just okay.
Let’s begin with the good things. Though we’ve seen more and more of Jacob and ol’ Smokey, there still wasn’t a whole lot of clarity about who they were or where they came from. To that end, Lost committed an entire hour set entirely in ancient flashback, save for some stock footage of Kate, Jack and Locke discovering the Adam and Eve skeletons way back in season 1. It’s a bit of a gamble that actually did provide us with a good sense of who these people actually are and therefore gives us a little bit more of a reason to give a damn about how they’re manipulating one another.
It’s also tremendously ironic (I think so, anyway, if there are any irony police out there, feel free to apprehend me) that Lost‘s central conflict comes not from the series’ long-running theme of father issues, but rather from a surrogate mother figure to twin brothers Jacob and the still un-monikored Man in Black. It was alarming to me that both of these boys are technically “outsiders” born to a woman named Claudia, who shipwrecked near the Island, give birth and was untimely brained by the boys’ new “Mother”. A glimpse into their past revealed the boys were long being groomed to protect the central heart of the Island while simultaneously being told to stay away from the “Other” people on the island, who were obsessed with fighting ,corrupting, and destroying the Island’s life force. When push came to shove, Smokey, aided by the ghostly apparition of his mother, came to choose the human path, joining up with the band of castaways who had set up camp and became dedicated to cutting to the core of the Island in an effort to finally be able to leave.
That’s all well and good. And it carried a tremendous amount of answers that seemed somewhat organic as opposed to shoehorned in. We were able to find out the relationship between Jacob/MIB, the origin of the frozen donkey wheel and how the man who used to be Jacob’s brother came to become a billowing plume of menacing black smoke. Oh, and the aforementioned Adam and Eve reveal. So, cross those off your list, if you’re keeping one.
But then again, it was all very…odd, wasn’t it? And not in a kooky “Because You Left” sort of manner. I suspect some will lob internet grenades at “Across the Sea”, some deserved, some not. I suppose my biggest beef with what we were given here is that I’m a bit surprised that the real machinations of what is going on are so very…simple. In a lot of ways, the show had placed itself in something of a no-win scenario in this regard. When you begin a show with no real rules and no real idea of how long you will be on the air, the rules of what can be done pretty much go out the window. Go and rewatch season 1 again. It’s a completely chaotic and off-the-wall convergence of odd events that don’t seem to have a whole lot to do with one another. It seems very clear that the showrunners have made the conscious decision to simplify the great mythology for the sake of telling a cohesive story. I suppose I can get on board with that, it just didn’t really wash with me the way I would have liked in last night’s outing.
I would still say the good outweighed the bad. The acting was particularly exemplary, with Allison Janney as Mother and Titus Welliver as the Man in Black really doing the heavy lifting. Years of watching the The West Wing and any number of her film projects have ingrained in me the notion that there is very little that Janney can’t handle, and “Across the Sea” was no different. She hit the perfect benchmarks of oddity, love, deceit and sorrow. Welliver was able to ground and humanize the Man in Black to the point that you might even begin to understand why is so pissed off in his current form.
That leads me to the episode’s other strong point: thematic resonance. Ultimately, “Across the Sea” was about deception and forgiveness. Mother went out of her to deceive both her surrogate sons about the nature of their own existence and the existence of other people on the Island. The Man in Black reacted violently in revolt, while Jacob was sympathetic and settled into his role as Island keeper.
This isn’t exactly a make-or-break type of episode, since you’ve come this far you’ll certainly be tuning in for the remainder of the run, but I’m very interested to hear everyone’s thoughts on this deliberately-paced, thoughtful and narratively dense hour of televsion. I for one respect it for going outside the box of conventional storytelling this late in the game, but still cannot shake the unmistakable feeling of oddness and retcon sensibility that pervaded through the whole episode.
- Does anyone more versed than I in ancient entertainment know what game the two brothers were engaging in throughout the hour? It wasn’t backgammon, and I think it may have been the ancient Egyptian game of senet, which would make sense given the show’s long and storied history of obsession with the age of the Pharaohs.
- I was really irked by the somewhat easy explanation of the reason that Jacob and Smokey cannot kill each other, which was simply that Mother “made it so”. That’s sort of a microcosm of everything wrong with this episode.
- I’m really pretty excited to see our old friends again next week, aren’t you?
So, there we are. Please don’t be shy about praising “Across the Sea” as transcendent entertainment or rip the thing a new one. That’s why this blog exists, y’all.