5 Episode Evaluation: Almost Human

cast photo and logo for Almost Human
The Premise

The year is 2048 and the evolution of technology has sped out of control. In order to help combat the rise of technological crime, the police force has mandated that all officers be paired with an advanced-model android. Detective John Kennex risked his life and lost his leg to save a fellow officer after his previous android partner refused to assist him in the rescue. Because of his distrust of androids, Kennex has been assigned a discontinued android model, one developed to imitate human behavior and emotions–but had a tendency to malfunction and go mad. Kennex and his new partner, Dorian, must learn to work together to help stem to tide of technologically based crime.

Created by

J.H. Wyman

Starring

Karl Urban, Michael Ealy, Minka Kelly, Mackenzie Crook, Michael Irby, and Lili Taylor

Episodes Evaluated
  1. Pilot – Written by J.H. Wyman; Directed by Brad Anderson
  2. Skin – Written by Cheo Hodari Coker; Directed by Michael Offer
  3. Are You Receiving? – Written by Justin Doble; Directed by Larry Teng
  4. The Bends – Written by Daniel Grindlinger; Directed by Kenneth Fink
  5. Blood Brothers – Written by Cole Maliska; Directed by Omar Madha
Strengths

Buddy-cop banter; Mackenzie Crook; Strong leads; the potential to be a techno-crime thriller. Soundtrack by the Crystal Method (is this a play out of the Tron/Daft Punk book?)

Weaknesses

Not-quite-cop-show, not-quite-techno-crime-thriller. There are hints of a larger story arc, but it has been slow in building. Why have a character arc when you can NOT have a character arc! Secondary characters seem underdeveloped.

Two Cops From the Scrap Heap

In a way, I think Fringe had it easy. Fringe was a show about paranormal investigation in the vein of The X-Files. It had its roots in horror, displaying a few police procedural trappings. But make no mistake, there was never any expectation that Fringe wasn’t science fiction. It had a confidence in focus, theme, and genre that was almost masterful and seemed virtually effortless.

Almost Human is one of the shows that picked up remnants from Fringe. First, it retains some of the writers and behind-the-scenes personnel from Fringe. Second, there is a thematic remnant from Fringe. Early in the previous show’s run, the theme dealt with technology that was growing at such a rate that it would be difficult, if not impossible, to regulate. Corporations and private industry were pursuing their own technological agendas, utilizing science that was beyond the comprehension of any governing agency. This reflects our i-driven world, a world which is being shaped more by technological advance than by old modes of social structure and authority. It also held within it a critique of capitalism as a force which subverts governing structures. Many of the technologies we interact with on a daily basis were developed by private industry, by grassroots movements to meet a perceived need that had not been seen by other developers. Who can regulate this technology? Should this technology be regulated or supported? Are technology and government, in our current society, at odds with one another? And then, somewhat early in the game, Fringe turned everything on its head by suggesting that the society which did not understand, regulate, develop, and dialogue with its emerging technologies would be at the mercy of a society which did. And so, is it possible that our technology is developing independently, or is it being developed at the behest of some unknown agency? These are huge questions. Fringe was nothing if not about asking huge questions.

Standard android partner model
The MX-43: Surprisingly easy to destroy.

The Fringe remnant from Almost Human is this idea of unregulated technology. But it extrapolates the randomness and lack of intervention in our current society and posits that we are at the mercy of our own foolishness. Another society didn’t arrive, manipulate, and enslave us. We are alone and our technology is destroying us. Or, put another way, humans are humans, and we will develop new technologies for criminal activity. This is the core of Almost Human. And this is also the obstacle which stands in the way of the series being truly brilliant. The show has put itself into a difficult position of holding in tension two equally compelling ideas: technology and crime. Science fiction and detective fiction—two genres which are frequently blended, but to what degree are they being blended here? And this is where Almost Human falls apart for me. I cannot tell what this show is trying to be. I cannot hear what this show is trying to say. Is it futuristic detective fiction, an analogue to historical detective fiction, or is it a science fiction, techno-thriller? Each of these operates with slightly different rules. They can be blended, but such blending must be handled carefully and it necessitates clear vision and focus. (Indeed, the lack of such focus in these first five episodes may be reflected in the departure of Naren Shankar, who was brought in as executive producer and co-showrunner with J.H. Wyman. Shankar has extensive experience with science fiction and police drama. Wyman has experience in both as well but Shankar’s c.v. is much longer. I’m curious as to the creative differences that may have developed and where each man saw the show going.)

The problem with attempting to blend police drama and science fiction is similar to blending detective stories and historical fiction: the investigation illustrates the setting. In fact, setting is extremely important in detective fiction, from Agatha Christie’s manors and villages to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian setting, to Raymond Chandler’s Los Angeles. Each of these authors lived in their settings, however, and so they commented upon them in their own way. The better comparison would be shows/novels such as Cadfael, John Maddox Roberts’ SPQR, Steven Saylor’s Gordianus the Finder, or Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose. The point of the comparison is that crimes are always the same, committed out of universal human tendencies which disrupt the desired order of society. The investigation in historical mysteries, then, serves to illustrate not crime per se, but the society in which the crime is committed. It comments on the attitudes, conventions, and narratives of the historical period. Even Christie, Doyle, and Chandler do this, and they were writing about their contemporary society.

Rudy Lom goes undercover in a stylish suit and fedora.
Rudy Lom Investigates!

Almost Human, being set in the future, must use crime to add to the setting. It must project a society from ours and use the mysteries and investigations to explore that society. Thus, the investigation is rooted in world building. And one problem with movies and television with regard to science fiction and world building is that they occasionally rely too heavily on special effects and not enough on writing. In the five episodes I viewed for this evaluation, only one really works to merge investigation and world building: “Skin,” which explores robot prostitution. It works within the “almost human” theme of the show, commenting that even robot prostitutes are not really human, and thus humans are abducted and killed as a future-type skin grafting trade occurs. As horrific as this sounds, it is a compelling piece of world building. But no other episode in these five really works with the strength of “Skin.” Instead, they just seem to transplant contemporary crimes into a future society and develop technologies for the story which help the criminals to commit the crimes. It is like saying that in a hypothetical historical mystery, the assassin uses a bow instead of a gun. There is nothing inherently interesting in the difference. What I want to know instead is how the bow reflects the society, how the gun reflects the society. Those are the bigger ideas which lurk behind great detective fiction. This is the area that I don’t feel Almost Human has yet mastered because it has a society which hasn’t been developed beyond generic sci-fi city. I think there is an arc lurking in the background somewhere, but they are slow in revealing it, focusing instead on character development (which isn’t a bad thing, necessarily), but the characters seem to be underdeveloped. Much as I love Mackenzie Crook’s performance in “The Bends,” I think the performance brought more to the episode than the script. He is still just tech nerd. Detective Stahl (Minka Kelly) is still just attractive love interest. Detective Paul (Michael Irby) is still just rival cop. Captain Maldonado (Lili Taylor) has had a decent character episode, but the investigation didn’t really complement it. John Kennex (Karl Urban) and Dorian (Michael Ealy), however, are very well played and fun to watch.

Maybe the lack of focus in these early episodes represents the two visions before Shankar left the show. Maybe the show will find its footing in the next few episodes and begin to reach its potential by the middle of the season. I hope it does. The show could be a lot of fun; it just needs to figure out exactly what it is about and what it is trying to say.

Forge Ahead?

I may give the show another five episodes as time permits. If you love buddy cop banter, by all means watch this show. It is a lot of fun from that perspective. At the moment, however, I think that is all the show really has working for it.

LOST Chapter Thirteen – Hearts and Minds

Written by Carlton Cuse and Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Directed by Rod Holcomb

It is time for Boone to make a choice.  It is time for Boone to let go of the one thing that holds him back.  Luckily for him, John Locke is there to help.

Creepy Boone eyes

“I’m doing this, Boone, because it is time for you to let go of some things.  Because it’s what’s best for you.”

It’s been a few months since I’ve done this, so bear with me.  In fact, I’m questioning whether or not my heart is in this.  Sure, I still want to re-watch Lost and see if it holds up on a second, more compact viewing.  I currently wonder if it primarily didn’t seem to work because I spent six years watching it rather than a few months.  But at the same time, I can’t truly tell if this theory will work because I cannot re-watch this show without knowing what happens, and thus, my reactions are tainted by foreknowledge.  And this foreknowledge makes me move from a place of pitying John Locke, to feeling rather disgusted by him.  Sure, many people thought at the time, and presumably still do, that John Locke was cool.  However, I am coming to the conclusion that he is not and never was cool or “bad ass”.  He was a fool.  You see, John Locke has always lived in a place of brokenness, abandonment, and shame.  He has never truly healed from the pains of his past, many of which have not yet been seen in this rewatch.  His awakening on The Island has been spurred by his physical healing and his one-time vision of The Monster.  And because he has experienced two events which he cannot explain, John Locke now sees himself as wise, as a chosen, as a guru.  But in reality, the broken core still exists.  We will spend the rest of the show, from season two until season five, learning just how clueless and inept John Locke is.  Yes, this is sad and tragic.  He is a man with some skills and knowledge that has been picked from one source or another and combined into an a’la cart spirituality that inevitably leads him more astray than it does save him.  And this is why his presumption to heal Boone is so agonizing.

“Boone . . . is hunting?”

There is less in this flashback episode pertaining to Shannon than to Boone.  While both characters are present, the real focus is on Boone’s obsession with Shannon.  In the end, she claims he loves her and always has, but I don’t buy it.  Boone is protective of her, yes, and I think he believes he loves her, but in reality he doesn’t.  He does, however, want to be her hero.  He has paid off many of Shannon’s boyfriends to leave her because he feels this is for her protection.  What he never understood was that Shannon was conning him.  She was using Boone’s hero complex and misunderstanding of love to manipulate him.  She always split the money with her boys.  It was only just prior to the plane crash that Boone realized what Shannon had been doing to him for years.  And just to clarify, Boone and Shannon are step-brother and sister.  They are not related by blood, so obviously it is okay for them to sleep together in this episode.

Boone lives in the shadow of his perceived obligation to Shannon, his perceived need to be her hero, a hero she doesn’t want.  Locke decides to help Boone break this hold that he willingly submits to.  To do so, he knocks Boone out, ties him up, secretly drugs him, and throws a knife at his feet, telling Boone “you will free yourself when you have proper motivation.”  Locke then abandons the boy in the jungle.

One of many shots of Locke staring at the ocean.

“Follow me.”

Boone’s experiences in the jungle are a type of vision quest.  As such, it is difficult to tell how much of what we see in Boone’s Island story is real and how much is hallucination.  Obviously, he doesn’t really interact with Shannon, but is he merely hallucinating her or is she a manifestation of The Monster.  And on that topic, is Boone really pursued by The Monster, or is he hallucinating that as well?  As with Rousseau, we are dropped back into unreliable narration, then given John Locke to explain Boone’s experience.  And what is so tragic about this situation is that ultimately, Locke is correct.  Boone needs to let go of Shannon, he needs to stop defining himself by his relationship to her.  Boone needs to find out who he is.  John Locke is a bit Machiavellian here, but even Locke wasn’t sure what would happen.  For all he knew, Boone could have been killed in the jungle.  But Locke has blind faith, and so it wouldn’t have occurred to him.  Locke feels he is in the right but he truly has no idea what he is doing, which makes Charlie’s assertion “if there was one person I’d put my absolute faith in to get us off this island, it’s John Locke,” all the more disturbing.

Buy the Episode here.

Buy the season on DVD here.

LOST Chapter Twelve: Whatever The Case May Be

Written by Damon Lindelof and Jennifer Johnson
Directed by Jack Bender

After finding a mysterious Haliburton case in a pond, Kate attempts to steal it from Sawyer any way she can.  Charlie struggles with guilt over Claire’s abduction.  Sayid and Shannon attempt to translate the French woman’s ramblings from her maps.

“Impact velocity?  Physics my ass!”

As you can tell from the synopsis, this episode had a lot happen.  My first thought was to think this was a bit of filler, but in reality, I think it was to give the audience a breather from the heavy material in the last episode.  In addition to the three separate plots occurring in this episode, we also have hints as to what Locke and Boone are up to.  It probably has something to do with the buried metal object they found in the jungle.  Perhaps it is some type of hatch?

But the flashback of this episode belongs to Kate, and it was with this episode that I realized that I didn’t much care for Kate as a character.  She is manipulative toward men, getting them to do what she wants.  She is probably just as manipulative as Ben, but I think Ben is better at it because he cannot appeal to his sexuality.  Kate often seems to make situations worse for her than they would be if she were honest.  For example, she desperately wants the Haliburton case, but the more she wants it, the more Sawyer wants her to tell him why.  The more she denies she wants it, the more Sawyer calls her bluff.  It is this reason that I think Sawyer was always a better man for Kate than Jack.  Sawyer can read Kate, he can interpret her actions and emotions.  He could make her be honest.  Sawyer won’t let Kate mask who she is.  Jack, on the other hand, often knows Kate is lying, but he goes along with her wishes anyway and resents her for it.  I think we see this in a big way in season five when we see Kate and Jack living together post-rescue.  He resents her and doesn’t trust her.

I also wonder if one problem with Kate is that her story was unnecessarily complicated.  Sure, it worked fine in Tabula Rasa, but LOST deliberately played on the mystery of Kate’s past.  It intentionally made you wonder what she did and planted all kinds of tantalizing an mysterious clues.  The toy airplane, the cruel U.S. Marshall, Kate being cold-hearted one moment and a blubbering mass of emotion the next . . . I think the ultimate revelation of Kate’s crime was a bit of a let down.  I think it would have been better to get an early episode of her crime, then show a few episodes where she was on the run, playing out more or less in sequence.  In the previous few stories, character flashbacks occurred when some event that was out of anyone’s control happened.  Charlie felt useless due to other people’s actions.  Jack being unable to save Claire reminded him of the girl who died because of Christian’s botched surgery.  Claire was assaulted in the night, an act which seemed directed at the baby she felt guilty about offering for adoption.  The flashbacks followed some event or unfolding drama on The Island.  In this episode, Kate finds a briefcase.  The dramatic tension seems somewhat benign.

I honestly think the best character moments in this episode occur between Sayid and Shannon, then Charlie and Rose.  Shannon feels useless, and is even told she is useless by Boone.  It is an accusation that she probably struggles with due to her affluence and upbringing.  Sayid is offering her an opportunity to do something important.  Unfortunately, she lacks self-confidence and struggles with the translations.  In the end, he helps her much more than she helps him.  Meanwhile, Rose helps break Charlie out of his shocked state.  She urges him to help move debris further up the beach (due to the erratic tide).  She actually irritates him in to helping, telling him he is being rude.  She breaks him out of his emotional state, and in the end, prays with him.  What I like about Rose is that she is a positive portrayal of a Christian.  Often, Christians are portrayed as dogmatic and apocalyptic, and while those types do exist, there are many more like Rose.  The problem is that Christians similar to Rose do not necessarily make good drama.  The fringe of belief often gets more ratings and is sometimes more compelling.  This is partly why books about Hell and eschatology sell better than books about loving your neighbor as yourself and choosing to focus on the good of life rather than the bad.  Practical Christianity often seems less interesting than uncompromising, paranoid, strongly-worded, fire and brimstone Christianity.  With Rose and later Mr. Eko, I feel that LOST chose to portray religious characters more evenhanded, when they chose to portray the religious at all.  In truth, given the ultimate end of the show, they probably should have delved in to religion and mysticism a bit more, if only to better set up the finale.  The roots of The Island itself go into mythological, if not outright religious, territory.

LOST Chapter Eleven: All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues

Written by Javier Grillo-Marxuach
Directed by Stephen Williams

Jack, Kate, Locke, and Boone try to catch up to Ethan who has kidnapped Claire and Charlie.

Doing the right thing is easier if you also get to stick it to someone you don't like.

 “If there’s anyone on this island your brother is safe with, it’s Locke.”

I must admit that the experience of watching this episode with the ending of the show in mind is about the same as if I didn’t know the ending.  It is an effective character piece with massive amounts of horror thrown in.  I don’t think the smoke monster was ever as creepy as Ethan was in this episode.  There is something so much more effective using the human monster rather than the supernatural monster.

Also emphasized in this episode is the continuing theme of the survivors not knowing each other.  Throughout the series thus far, identities have been teased with a line here or a line there:  Michael’s drawings, Claire’s interest in astrology.  This trend continues in this episode, only added to the mix is the idea that the survivors can’t really know the previous life of fellow survivors because the circumstances dictate character.  Take Locke for instance.  We know from Walkabout that he truly did work for a box company, something Boone finds inconceivable.  However, the circumstances on The Island allow Locke to show the side to his personality that he always wanted to show: the warrior, the hunter.  Locke, while technically an employee of a box company, can now be something else, someone else.  This choice makes his previous life hard to imagine.  Boone seems to think Locke was joking.  And it hardly matters to either of them at this point.  Locke is now engaging in testing Boone.  He is looking for a disciple.

Hurley hints that he is “something of a warrior” and that he can give Walt the twenty thousand dollars he won in the backgammon game.  But also of note is that we get a few hints as to Walt’s story.  He drops the name of his step-father (Brian), and he mentions that he is lucky.  If this episode suffers in any way, it is from the reminder that Walt’s story is never effectively dealt with.  Walt is a season one question that was never answered sufficiently.

But the bulk of this episode deals not with Charlie and Claire, but with Jack’s pursuit of Ethan, Jack’s attempt to put right what went wrong.  This is an outworking of Jack’s guilt.  His father died in Sydney after a drinking binge.  This was the way Christian chose to express his anger and hurt over what we learn about his fall from his vaulted status in this episode.  A woman was in a car wreck.  Christian, as head surgeon, was called back from his lunch break to work on her.  He was intoxicated.  A nurse found Jack, who came in and found that his father was incapable of performing the surgery.  Jack even believed Christian had botched the surgery to the extent that the woman was going to die.  Jack couldn’t save her either.  In the end, the hospital board held and inquiry and Jack chose not to protect his father, he chose to tell his side of the story, which resulted in the dismissal of Christian.  Thus, the trip to Sydney.  This was Jack’s last experience with his father.  This showed just how much Jack loathed the man.

The surgery occurs early in the episode, and toward the end of the episode, Jack must save Charlie from what Ethan had done to him.  Jack, in his own way, is trying to save the woman from the wreck.  In the end he succeeds, but there is a rather prolonged and intense CPR scene.  Typically a scene such as this is a bit cliched.  How many shows have a tense CPR scene which looks as if the subject is going to die, only to have a last-minute resuscitation.  These scenes are done for drama, for emotional manipulation because you know that the subject (who is usually a lead or recurring character) will live.  However, I think LOST gets away with this for two reasons.  First, there is no guarantee that Charlie will live.  Second, the scene is used to further illustrate Jack’s stubbornness and anger.  This scene was a climax to the flashback.  It was not about emotional manipulation, it was about character.

My primary complaint about this episode would be the scene between Sayid and Sawyer.  When Sawyer discovers Sayid has returned to the camp, he decides this is an opportunity to “serve up a whole load of karma.”  Sayid expresses remorse for his torture of Sawyer and then the two discuss the ramblings of Rousseau and the whispers in the jungle.  To the best of my ability to analyze, the whole point of this scene is exposition, and I think it is unnecessary.

LOST Chapter Ten: Raised By Another

Written By Lynne E. Litt
Directed By Marita Grabiak

Believing herself to be attacked in the caves, Claire begins to panic.  Hurley decides to take a census.

Creepy but Sympathetic Ethan

 “What separates us from these savage Yanks if we can’t drink tea?”

While Solitary took on extra meaning and held up quite well in the re-watch, Raised By Another becomes more perplexing and frustrating.  Probably the only character to benefit is Ethan Rom, a character who we learn was already on The Island and is quite creepy.  We know that in the past, Ethan lost both wife and child in childbirth.  For Ethan, Claire represents the potential to fix that tragedy.  If Ethan can save Claire from the birthing issues that occur on The Island (something that hasn’t been revealed in the show at this point), then he can feel redeemed for not saving his wife and unborn child.  If anything, Ethan is now creepy and sympathetic.  But Ethan is not the problem with this episode or this series.

Allow me a digression.  In pondering this first season of LOST, I have come to the conclusion that any show that deals with arc-based storytelling succeeds or fails based primarily on one qualification.  Any questions raised in the first season MUST be answered by the end of the series.  Therefore, any show that deliberately raises multiple questions and messes with the heads of the audience with cliffhangers and outrageous revelations must answer in a satisfying way the mysteries that drew people to the show.  Three other sci-fi shows come to mind when evaluating arc television: Babylon 5, The X-Files, and Battlestar Galactica.  Let’s look at these three shows in brief, then revisit LOST and Raised by Another.

Babylon 5 is arguably the show that brought arc storytelling to the forefront of sci-fi television.  Sure, it had been touched upon in British sci-fi with serialized show such as Doctor Who or Quatermass, but each of those shows rarely dealt with season-long arcs, let alone arcs that encompassed an entire series.  Babylon 5 broke with standard American sci-fi television (read: Star Trek) by eschewing an episodic format and focusing instead on the long game of storytelling.  J. Michael Straczynski often said that he saw Babylon 5 as a novel on TV.  The first two seasons felt more episodic, but by the middle of season one, you could see that events were building.  As such, many questions were posed on Babylon 5 that resonated throughout the series.  What happened to Jeffrey Sinclair at the Battle of the Line?  Why did the Minbari surrender to the humans, an obviously weaker race?  Who are the Vorlons?  What happened to Babylon 4?  Who is Morden and who does he work for?  Was the President’s death an accident or assassination?  What is the significance of Delann?

And if you decide you aren't getting enough screen time . . . let's just say that every character has a written exit.

One of the major differences between B5 and many other arc shows is that B5 was not deliberately obscure.  All of the questions were answered by the third season because they were no longer necessary to hold viewers’ attention.  By the third season, if the story and characters hadn’t hooked you, the show probably wasn’t your thing.  From the third season until the end, the story unfolded naturally and built upon what had been planted in the first two.  The questions dealt primarily with exposition, and once they were answered we moved forward.  Were there still questions when the show ended?  Yes, but they were all based in developments in the final season and they were all consequences of actions taken by various characters.  They were not foundational and thus the series could end with a great deal of satisfaction to the viewers despite not answering everything.

The X-Files.  Any discussion of LOST that occurred prior to the show’s finale would have delved at some point into a discussion of The X-Files.  Where mainstream American television is concerned, The X-Files is the most obvious comparison to LOST.  Both had major myth-arcs that were deliberately obscure, giving more questions than answers.  But the format of The X-Files was different from LOST in one key way: It moved back and forth between being episodic and arc.  Each season would begin with one or two myth-arc episodes (usually resolving the cliffhanger from the previous season).  Then it would move to a monster-of-the-week format until November sweeps where we would get a two-part myth-arc story.  Then we would return to monster-of-the-week until February sweeps and you get the idea.  Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, recognized the necessity of not wedding the success of the show with the myth-arc.  Indeed, despite being considered an overall failure, The X-Files has quite a few excellent monster-of-the-week episodes that do not deal with aliens or government conspiracies.  However, since the myth-arc was considered a failure, let’s try to discern the season one questions.

She's dead. Nothing more, nothing less. Just dead.

While the major question in The X-Files dealt with a government conspiracy (initially limited to the United States but later revealed to be world-wide) to cover up the existence of extraterrestrials, for me the foundational question to the show involves Mulder’s sister.  When they were both children, Mulder watched as his sister Samantha was abducted from their home.  He remembers a bright light and being unable to move.  We later have a dream sequence that shows her floating out of the living room window.  This was a pivotal moment in Mulder’s life as he resolved to find out what happened to her.  It motivated him to join the FBI and it fueled his fascination with The X-Files.  So while government conspiracies and Cigarette-Smoking Men get the majority of the attention, the truth about Samantha Mulder is the primary mystery of the show.  It was mentioned in the first episode and brought back about once per season.  We learn there are Samantha clones, really just worker drones for some sort of alien colonization project.  We learn that Samantha may have been taken by government agents to keep Mulder’s father from revealing his part in the conspiracy.  With every revelation about Samantha, her fate is tied more and more to this shadowy group within the government and to their collaboration with extraterrestials for the colonization of Earth.  So, what was the ultimate truth about Samantha?  Did Mulder ever find her?

The answer to the latter is . . . kinda.  In a two part story near the end of the series, we learn that Samantha was kidnaped to keep William Mulder silent (as had been hinted), whereupon she became a ward of the state for many years before being kidnaped by a serial killer and murdered.  Mulder finds her grave among the graves of other children this man had killed.  Let me just say that it is somewhat disappointing when you have been led to believe that a character has had her fate tied to aliens and government conspiracy, and then have it revealed that she was murdered by a serial killer so she really didn’t have much to do with the aliens after all.  Yes, the final scenes where Mulder sees Samantha’s ghost are quite touching and emotional, but it breaks with what we have come to expect from the show.  It felt as if years were wasted.

Touching briefly on the government conspiracy and aliens . . . many attribute the failure of that arc to be the fault of The Fox Network.  As the show continued to be renewed, the writers tried to prolong the mystery and revelations.  Thus, the myth-arc became quite convoluted.  There seemed to be no overall plan, something that seems supported by the problem of Samantha Mulder.

Battlestar Galactica.  I’m referring to the Ronald D. Moore remake not the original and since the show is much more recent than the previous two, I’ll refrain from too many spoilers. Of course, if I’m honest with myself, I’m avoiding spoilers because my wife is a regular reader of this blog and I don’t want to spoil this show for her.

BSG is a bit different from the previous two shows because I think the questions are a little less obvious.  Yes, we have the opening sequence that proclaims The Cylons “have a plan,” but I always felt that was a bit cheesy.  I hardly think it is a good question because it seems rather obvious that The Cylons want to exterminate the humans.  Honestly, the plan is rather complicated and truth be told, it can’t be answered until other elements of world-building and characterization are established.  In this way, BSG is quite a bit like LOST in that the answers to our questions only fuel more questions because a certain amount of story-telling must occur before the answers will be at all meaningful.  One major question from the pilot is whether or not Earth truly exists and if so, will our heroes find it.  The answer on both counts is “yes”, but when we finally arrive at that part of the story, we realize how little we actually know.  Another question involves why the Cylons are attacking after years of silence.  This is also answered but we do not have all the pieces for it until season four.

Sorry for being deliberately obscure. Here's a clue.

I think some people would argue with me that BSG didn’t work, but I found the ending to be satisfying.  Yes, there are a couple of major questions left hanging, but I think these questions make the show feel richer.  Besides, one of them wasn’t introduced until season four and the other, while certainly alluded to since the pilot, didn’t become a question until the finale. Yeah, sorry.  Avoiding spoilers on this one makes it hard to describe.  Unfortunately, it makes my point weaker in this instance.  Let’s just move on, shall we.

Now, back to LOST.  Holding the standard of the previously discussed shows, what are the “season one” questions?  As I see it, LOST must provide satisfying answers to the following: What is the Monster?  What happened to Rousseau and her crew?  What is special about Walt (forthcoming question)?  Why/how is Locke healed?  What is in the hatch (forthcoming question)?  Who are The Others?  What is the nature of The Island that causes such unusual and mystical properties?  These are the obvious questions and I admit that many of these questions were answered, some in unexpected ways.  Some questions are not answered at all or, at the very least, in an obscure way (the nature of The Island comes to mind, as the answer seems to be more metaphor than anything else).  But today’s chapter, Raised by Another raised some interesting questions that I feel the show give weight to, that the show signposted their importance, but never adequately dealt with.  First, why is Claire’s baby so important?  The psychic continually insisted that Claire must raise the baby herself.  We don’t know why.  Near the end of the episode, the psychic gave Claire a ticket to Los Angeles where she would meet a couple who wanted to adopt her baby.  This seems contradictory until Claire and Charlie conclude that the psychic must have known that the plane would crash and this would ensure Claire would raise the child.  Sounds nice and mystical until you consider two future developments on the show.  First, we see in a future episode that the psychic is a con artist.  So, was he truly concerned that Claire raise the child?  Was he truly a fraud who had an unexpected real psychic vision?  We just don’t know.  Second, when The Oceanic Six leave The Island, Kate ends up with Aaron (Claire’s baby) and decides to raise him off The Island.  Claire is stuck on The Island for three years, living under the influence of The Man in Black.  While LOST ends with Claire leaving The Island (Kate having returned for her) so she can be reunited with Aaron, the child spent three years being raised by another.  I can’t help but feel this particular question was not addressed in a clear and satisfying way.  Was it the most important element of the show?  Probably not, but it seemed extremely important in the first season, in part due to the psychic vision, due to Ethan kidnaping Claire then later Rousseau kidnaping Aaron.  Next season, Charlie gets it in to his head that Aaron must be baptized, which seems to be further indication that the child is important.  But in the end, Claire seems to be one of the least-important people in his life as she is absent from season five and returns as a slightly crazy and often confused woman in season six.  I personally feel that the Claire/Aaron arc was unfairly sidelined.  Thus, Raised by Another, while being a good episode in itself, seems to be another strike against the success of LOST.

You need to be on that plane so you can abandon your baby in a jungle with a shape-shifting smoke man who is definitely not a nanite cloud.

LOST Chapter Nine – Solitary

Written by David Fury
Directed by Greg Yaitanes

Hurley builds a golf course.  Oh, and Sayid is captured and tortured by a crazy French woman with an eastern European accent.

Would you give me the name of your associates if I gave you a cookie?

This may not be one of the most amazing chapters, but I wager it is one of the most important.  However, this importance is subtle and I think it only becomes apparent when you have already seen the show in its entirety.

In the final season of LOST, Sayid seems to become corrupted by The Man in Black.  Dogen gives some indication that Sayid is infected by something, yet Sayid intially gives no indication to the audience that he is not himself.  The specifics are never explicitly stated on the show, but as the season progresses, Sayid becomes further and further withdrawn from his friends, becoming almost emotionless.  When you have this character change in mind, rewatching Solitary causes certain lines to stand out.  The one that seems most telling is when Sayid tells Rousseau “The more I hold on [to Nadia], the more I pull away from those around me.  The only way off this place is with their help.”  Sayid’s unusual behavior in the final season is the end of his character arc.  Solitary is the beginning.  So, what exactly happened to Sayid?

“This is not a game, Nadia.”

“And yet, you keep playing it, Sayid.”

One of the primary themes of LOST is choice.  Characters have dark or painful pasts, and they are given the choice to become someone else, to put that past behind them and embrace a new personal paradigm.  This is explicitly stated in Tabula Rasa.  But as we will see, time and again, Sayid chooses to regress.  He joined the Republican Guard in Iraq and became a torturer.  He is told more than once that he has a knack for torturing.  He can read subjects’ tells, apply the correct amount of pain to motivate confession, and even be dispassionate in his interrogation.  Sayid swore to himself that he would never do this again.  In the previous chapter, we saw him renege on his promise.  He tortured Sawyer.  As penance, Sayid left the castaways to attain some sort of renewal by mapping the coastline of The Island.  More on that in a moment.  Sayid becomes a character who cannot keep to his convictions.  He tortures Benjamin Linus in season two.  When he gets off The Island as one of The Oceanic Six, he finds Nadia and marries her, only to watch her die.  Ben then convinces Sayid that he knows who killed Nadia, and this causes Sayid to become Ben’s personal assassin.  Nadia, to a degree, is Sayid’s breaking point.  He kills in her memory, but there is no healing.  He tortures because he is convinced that it is all he can do and he hates himself for it.  He eventually becomes convinced that his purpose in life is to kill Benjamin Linus as a child (ah, time travel).  It seems that over the course of the show, Sayid never heals, he never sticks by his decision to put his violent past behind him, and in the end, that past consumes him.  When The Man in Black claims him, seemingly through resurrection, the negative traits are enhanced.  It is only through his final interactions with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Hurley, Jin, and Sun that Sayid finally starts to regain his head.  “The only way off this place is with their help.”  In the end it kills him, but he seems to find redemption in those moments.

Okay, so comparing Sayid’s beginning with his ending makes this chapter important.  What else?  This chapter plants the beginnings of many of the questions LOST fans debated for years.  Rousseau mentioned the whispers in the jungle.  She mentioned The Others.  She mentioned a sickness.  She implied that the monster in the jungle wasn’t a monster.  She mentions Alex.  The common thread in all these is the source: Rousseau.  Knowing what information we get over the course of the show, knowing how the show ends, I would say that Rousseau fits the classification of unreliable narrator.  She has more information about The Island than Sayid or the audience, and as an audience member it is extremely tempting to give weight to her statements.  Her statements even seem to be supported when Sayid hears whispers in the jungle at the end of the episode.  But I think the key is to realize that the information is being delivered by a woman who has lived in isolation for sixteen years.  We want to pity her, and should, but that doesn’t mean that her perspective is accurate.  Therefore, any information given about The Island from Rousseau has to be received with caution.  I think the writers for LOST knew that the audience gave quite a bit of credence to Rousseau’s ramblings and included things in the show to build on some of the ramblings, but in reality, some of them were just the words of a madwoman.  It was a skewed interpretation of circumstances.  Were there whispers in the jungle?  Yes.  Were there “Others”?  Yes.  Was there a sickness?  Somewhat, but in her case, the sickness was merely a justification for her murders.  Rousseau is a great character, not least because she was played by Mira Furlan, who was excellent in Babylon 5, but she is not a reliable source of information.

I must admit to being impressed with the arc plotting in this chapter.  There was actually quite a bit of it, from the revelations of Rousseau to developments with Lock and Walt, to the introduction of Ethan.  Let’s start with the latter first.  Ethan will become a major player in the next few chapters.  We see him for the first time here, having gone hunting with Locke.  A savvy audience member would instantly be suspicious.  Here is a new character, nine chapters in, getting dialogue and face time.  We are to either grow to like him so he can be killed, or he is to be suspected of something devious.  To allay suspicions, another character is given dialogue and face time.  This man is a hypochondriac and played primarily for comic relief, but to also introduce the idea that people on The Island don’t have much to do and are becoming bored and stressed.  Not a scene or character is wasted in this episode.  Unfortunately, I’m not sure the attempts to divert suspicion from Ethan work.  Something about his face and mannerisms is uncomfortable.  But I at least see what they were trying to do: set up a character a few episodes early, then reveal him to be a native of The Island.

As for the developments with Locke and Walt, how well was that played!  Walt wanted to go hunting with Locke, something Michael forbade.  But later, when Michael gets drawn into playing golf, he forgets about Walt completely.  This was a great set up.  It is also easy to see why Locke would struggle with encouraging Walt to obey Michael and wanting to spend time with Walt himself.  Locke’s father was a horrible man.  Locke desperately wanted a father figure in his life, and he most-likely sees Walt as a younger version of himself.  He wants Walt to have the father that Locke never had.  So, if Michael is withdrawn or inattentive, Locke will step in.  This will be dealt with soon.  We also get hints that Michael was an artist at one time.  There are quite a few moments in this season that set up character revelations.  In an earlier chapter Claire offers to make an astrology chart for Kate.  We haven’t seen the significance of Jin’s watch yet.  It is a fun time in the show because nearly every line and every scene has importance.

LOST Chapter Eight – Confidence Man

Written by Damon Lindelof
Directed by Tucker Gates

Shannon’s asthma medication runs out and the castaways suspect Sawyer has more in his stash.  Meanwhile, Charlie attempts to convince Claire to move to the caves.

Another theme of LOST is Sawyer being shirtless

 “No.  Don’t stop now.  I think my sinuses are clearing.”

Self-loathing is a common theme on LOST.  Honestly, if we take the characters to be a cross-section of American society, then the majority of Americans have horrible fathers and they hate themselves.  I hope this isn’t true, but as the creators of LOST said, “it makes good drama.”

In rewatching these early episodes, I find that I had forgotten just how character driven this show was in the first season.  While character stayed important throughout the series, I think it is mainly this first season where the narrative was driven more by character than plot.  This changed somewhere along the way.  Possibly somewhere around season two or three.  Regardless, it is fun to watch a show that emphasizes character so much.

Back to self-loathing.  We learn in this episode that Sawyer hates himself because he was a confidence man.  This isn’t necessarily a problem, but when Sawyer was a child, a man conned his parents, which resulted in Sawyer’s father killing Sawyer’s mother then himself.  The con artist (who used the name Sawyer) is still out there somewhere.  Sawyer has been hunting him, but along the way became him.  However, a recent con job brought all this baggage back to the fore when he attempted to con a husband and wife who had a child.  He couldn’t go through with it.

On The Island, Shannon has run out of asthma medication, and her condition is getting worse.  Boone is convinced Sawyer has the spare medicine because Sawyer is reading Watership Down, a book Boone had packed for his trip.  Sawyer, in reality, doesn’t have the medication, but he sees the act as a type of penance.  He has the need to make the others hate him because he hates himself for what he has done.  Thus, he pretends he has the medication and offers to give it to Kate so long as she kisses him.  At first she refuses, which eventually results in Sawyer being tortured at the hands of Sayid and Jack, although primarily Sayid.  Jack calls it off pretty quick.  This is where we learn that Sayid’s job as a communications officer for The Republican Guard included “getting the enemy to communicate.”  I think Sawyer, at this point, has made a type of peace with dying.  I don’t think he particularly wants to die, but he probably feels he has it coming.  And make no mistake, Sayid is perfectly willing and capable of killing Sawyer, a conviction that we can trace back to John Locke.

In The Moth we saw Locke manipulate Charlie for good.  In this chapter, we have Locke manipulate Sayid, presumably to transfer suspicion, but possibly to eliminate someone Locke distrusts.  At the end of The Moth, Sayid attempted to triangulate the French signal, but was attacked from behind.  Locke hints, none-to-subtly, that the attack came from Sawyer.  With hindsight, we know this is not true.  We know that it was actually Locke who attacked Sayid.  So this begs the question, did Locke want Sawyer to take the fall so he could maintain his “trusted” position in the camp, or did he merely want Sawyer eliminated because he felt Sawyer had no place in this new Island society.  Did he feel that Sawyer was beyond redemption?  In these early chapters, it would seem Locke is no better than Ben, the primary difference being that Locke wants people to heal on his terms.  Ben just wants to be in control and doesn’t care a thing about healing or redeeming other people.  I get the impression Locke has a bit of a Messiah complex.  And skipping ahead quite a bit, I think that, much like there is always a bigger fish, on LOST there is always a bigger manipulator.  Locke manipulates quite well until we find Ben, who proves to be much better at manipulating.  Perhaps it is because the person who manipulates feels he is always in control.  Thus, he becomes a larger and much more satisfying target.  But even Ben gets played by The Man in Black.  And in each case, the one who is being played realizes it.  Locke knows Ben constantly manipulates him.  Ben even knows he is being played by The Man in Black.  In each case, they allow it because they believe they will get something out of it: Locke the respect he feels he has always deserved, and Ben revenge against Jacob for being ignored for years.