”Lost” recap: Michael’s return
It would certainly be fitting to pay homage to the central figure in tonight’s mostly first-rate, slightly frustrating, and definitely revelation-packed episode of Lost by claiming that I am in fact Jeff Jensen writing under the dubiously initialed pseudonym Adam B. Vary. But alas, I am, in fact, just Adam B. Vary. Your regular fearless leader/soothsayer/crackpot genius is currently in transit from his multiday visit to the Hawaiian set of his and our favorite pop-culture obsession, and he promises to bring back all kinds of insidery goodness — and with a surprise twist, to boot. That is, of course, unless he somehow encounters some kind of massive electromagnetic disturbance somewhere over the Pacific. In which case, our beloved Doc Jensen may return experiencing flashes of the entire series endgame. Or wondering why there’s all this hubbub over a clear Survivor rip-off. Or a victim of some nasty static cling. But I digress.
And I digress because I’m nervous, dear readers. This wasn’t your average Lost episode. That much was clear from the start, when the ”previously on Lost” recap began by reaching allllll the way back to Michael’s season-1-capping scream for his son (i.e., ”Waaaalt!”). For another, we spent almost the entire episode within Michael’s how-I-came-to-be-on-the-boat flashback, bookended by some Linus-Rousseau family psychodrama. And there’s the whole no-more-Lost-for-five-weeks thing. So although ”Meet Kevin Johnson” is unquestionably the kind of episode I would spend an hour dissecting with Doc Jensen while leaning in his office doorway, I’m not nearly as skilled at teasing out the series’ secrets, literary references, old episode callbacks, and nods to theoretical physics for your morning-after consumption as my esteemed colleague. Which he’ll do next week in his regular Doc Jensen column anyway. So, you know, try not to be too cruel in the comments section, is all I’m saying.
All right. For the most part, I dug this episode, and most of the credit for its success should go directly to Harold Perrineau. For the two seasons he was on the show, my feelings for his character varied from minimal interest to outright dislike. That was less Perrineau’s fault than the writers’; they never figured out how to make Michael Dawson interesting beyond his rather mild alienation from his son, Waaaalt! — sorry, Walt — and his understandable-if-monotonous determination to get him back from the Others. But unrelenting guilt over murdering two innocent women and betraying your friends and fellow survivors, guilt that drives you to confess your sins to your son and profoundly, perhaps irrevocably, alienate him from you? Now that is a gangbusters character motivation, and Perrineau made the most of it, layering in despair, grief, shock, outrage, and resignation, often all at once. For the first time, I truly, deeply cared about what was going to happen to the guy, and early, too: When Michael intentionally crashed his car just as the opening credits had finished, I felt relieved knowing he still had to be alive, or else, you know, there’d be no episode. (Doc Jensen stand-in extracurricular reference No. 1: My neighbor Doug tells me this scene was almost exactly the same as one in the 1993 Jeff Bridges movie Fearless, which I haven’t so much seen, though I do know it’s about airline crash survivors dealing with guilt and remorse. Anyhoo, food for thought.)
Perrineau’s performance was so strong, in fact, that it almost distracted me from a few glaring plot holes in his extended flashback — almost. First, of course, is the fact that we still don’t know what happened to Michael and Walt between when they left the Island — which, according to various Lost time lines, occurred somewhere around Thanksgiving 2004 — and when they reached New York City. The freshness of Michael’s mother’s anger at him (not to mention Michael’s anger at himself) would suggest he’d only recently dropped Walt off at her doorstep, which makes sense given all the Christmas decorations around her house. But it also means that Doc Jensen’s theory that Michael and Walt traveled back in time when they left the Island now looks unlikely. So how could father and son go from a dinky boat in the South Pacific to whatever ”rescue” Ben promised them to Manhattan in what could be as little as ten days? And if Michael and Walt are keeping their real, Oceanic 815-surviving identities a secret, wouldn’t it be a bit difficult reentering the U.S. without proper ID? And for that matter, wouldn’t Michael know his suicide-by-car-crash note to Walt would never reach his son if he wasn’t wearing any ID? For these questions alone, I hope Michael doesn’t fulfill his death wish anytime soon, because I suspect some of the answers have to do with the evidently bottomless resources of the participants in the Others-Widmore war. If it really is a war.
NEXT: The return of Mr. Friendly
Which brings us to the return of Tom, a.k.a. Mr. Friendly. Actually, it was neat to see the resurrection of several departed characters: Naomi, George Minkowski, Mrs. Klugh (in the ”previously on” recap), and especially Libby — but I’ll get to her in a bit, because I really want to talk about good old Grizzly first. Was I the only one who hooted with glee when Michael walked in on Tom entertaining a handsome gentleman named Arturo? ”I don’t make it to the mainland too often,” Tom said with a puckish glint, ”so when I do, I like to indulge myself.” Hoot! See, even before Tom cryptically told Kate back in season 3 that she wasn’t his type, I’d been irked to no end that this cast — as diverse as any that’s ever been on television — didn’t have a single gay character, so this moment was especially satisfying for me. (Doc Jensen stand-in extracurricular reference No. 2: Friendly’s lodging, the Hotel Earle — which is now called the Washington Square Hotel — famously housed Bob Dylan, as well as the authors of ”The Ballad of Ira Hayes,” a folk song about the Native American soldier captured in the iconic photo of the raising of the American flag during the battle of Iwo Jima. At the end of his life, Hayes drank heavily, reportedly wracked with survivor guilt; he died, as the song goes, in ”two inches of water in a lonely ditch.” A nod to Michael’s desolation in that alleyway, perhaps?)
But Tom didn’t show up just to complete Lost‘s Benetton dance card. He also reinforced three major elements of the show’s mythos: He told Michael (1) that some of the Others can leave the Island whenever they want, (2) that the Island won’t let Michael kill himself, and (3) that Charles Widmore faked the Oceanic 815 crash by buying an old Boeing 777, filling it with bodies dug up from a Thai cemetery, and sinking it in an ocean trench.
Now, the first one I believe, though I do think the timing of Friendly’s appearance in Manhattan against his death on the Island at most only two weeks later is a bit…fuzzy. And as for the other two, well, I dunno. It seemed to me that the Island did make itself known at least through the reappearance of Libby; for a moment there in the hospital, Michael seemed to be channeling some earlier patient of Libby’s, and I don’t think it was just Michael’s mind dancing a guilt-ridden tarantella with his subconscious. But I’m going to let Doc Jensen dive deeper into the omniscient, sentient, anti-suicide Island issue, because, well, I’m already running long here, and the more I think about it — would the Island have stopped Friendly from shooting Michael too? was Michael’s consciousness also hopping through time, or was Libby’s cameo more on the order of a dead Charlie showing up to slap some sense into Hurley? — the more confused I get. (Doc Jensen stand-in extracurricular reference No. 3: Right after Michael’s gun jammed, we heard someone on the TV game show playing in his room say ”Kurt Vonnegut,” most likely a nod to the Lostian author’s essays about attempting suicide.)
The more I think about Charles Widmore as a merciless Lex Luthorian villain, meanwhile, the less I’m convinced. First of all, a quick DVR pause on that invoice for the ”old” 777 plane — a model that was only ten years old in 2004 — reveals Widmore purchased it for $450,000. Which is a bargain considering Boeing’s website quotes the cheapest new 777 at $200 million. That’s not to say that Widmore definitively isn’t behind the fake Oceanic 815 wreckage. Just that Friendly’s ”proof” smelled bogus to me. In fact, I’m beginning to wonder if we don’t have an Emperor Palpatine situation going on here, i.e., a mastermind playing both sides of a faux war against each other so he can ascend to power.
And that mastermind could only be Ben. As Miles — who evidently escaped Locke’s grenade-in-the-mouth gambit unscathed — said to his captors last night, ”[Ben] wants to survive. And considering a week ago you had a gun to his head and now he’s eating pound cake, I’d say he’s a guy who gets what he wants.” Indeed, only Ben could connive to send Michael onto the freighter and make him think he’s a suicide bomber, and then make the bomb’s mechanism pop up a flag that read ”NOT YET.” (Note that ”yet”: Those explosives looked quite real, and one of the rules of storytelling is bombs are meant to go boom.) (Doc Jensen stand-in extracurricular challenge No. 1: The code for the bomb was 71776, i.e., July 1776, i.e., the month our fair country was born. What does it mean? I’ll leave that to you; my guess would be that it’s just so it’d be easy for Michael to remember, but this is Lost we’re talking about here.) Only Ben could argue that he doesn’t kill innocent people in war and somehow make you believe it. Only Ben could devastate Michael by coolly pointing out that the Others never asked him to kill Ana Lucia and Libby; he did that all by himself. And only Ben could have the chutzpah to follow that up by telling Michael he’s now one of ”the good guys.”
I especially liked how, when Michael broke down sobbing after Ben spoke those chilling words, we finally cut from the flashback into a close-up of Sayid, the last man to lose it in the face of his collusion with the talented Mr. Linus. Of course, that’s in the future; the Sayid of the present believes working with Ben is tantamount to selling your soul, and so he had no compunction about selling out Michael to Captain Gault. It was a solid cliff-hanger-y moment, but it left me wondering about two things: One, we’ve heard precious little from Desmond since ”The Constant”; all he seems to do is follow Sayid around and look perplexed. And two, as my other Lost-obsessed colleague Dan Snierson first suggested to me, I think the captain already knows Kevin Johnson is really Michael Dawson. Forget Miles’ psychic intuition that Kevin wasn’t really Kevin. If Charles Widmore is really as ruthlessly capable as we’ve been told, don’t you think he would’ve vetted Kevin Johnson as thoroughly as he did Miles, Lapidus, Faraday, and Charlotte? (Doc Jensen stand-in extracurricular challenge No. 2: Other than the famous NBA player, do y’all think there’s any significance to the name Kevin Johnson, or that Kevin’s birthday was July 8, 1963? Google and Wikipedia are shooting blanks, and the best I can come up with is that Kevin Johnson was also my high school assistant principal, who chaperoned a three-week trip I took to Moscow and saved my life by pulling me out of oncoming traffic outside Red Square. So there’s that. Otherwise, I’m inclined to think it’s a name that’s just average enough not to get noticed without raising any flags that it’s a fake.)
NEXT: Chronicle of a death foresold
Finally, if you’re thinking that I’ve avoided discussing the two characters who, as ABC breathlessly promised, went the way of Nikki and Paulo, you’re right. But if I must, it was, in my humble opinion, lame. Doc Jensen correctly predicted that Karl was going to bite it, which the dude telegraphed pretty quickly by pulling out that hoary Star Wars line ”I have a bad feeling about this.” And while the writers tried to make grafting the Rousseau-Alex-Karl-Ben quadrangle onto Michael’s episode make thematic sense by throwing in a last-minute long-separated-mother-daughter meaningful moment, that still didn’t compensate for unceremoniously offing Danielle Rousseau, Lost‘s coolest semi-regular character. Yeah, her arc was pretty much over once she reunited with her daughter, but she could’ve at least gone down in more of a blaze of glory. I guess I’m most bothered by the idea that a woman this wily would’ve just so freely walked into what was obviously yet another Benjamin Linus ambush. He just happened to be carrying around an exquisitely drafted map of the Others’ sanctuary? One that could only house official Others — well, except for Rousseau? Riiiiiight.
And with Alex screaming into the jungle that she was Ben Linus’ daughter, our eight-episode mini Lost marathon draws to a close. The next episode won’t air until April 24 at 10 p.m., so we’ve got plenty of time to chew over Lost issues big and small. For example: Is there something buried deep in Mama Cass’ biography that causes the producers to keep using her music as an emotional cue on the show, or do Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof just, you know, really like jamming out to ”It’s Getting Better”? Do you think the reason we only saw Walt from the waist up last night is because they don’t want us to see how tall this ”10-year-old” has gotten? What was that game show playing during Michael’s thwarted attempts to shoot himself in the head? And, finally, if Mr. Friendly is fine with telling Arturo that Michael smashed him over the head with a champagne bottle, what other sweet somethings has our out-and-proud Other whispered into his lover’s ear? (By the way, a quick shout-out of support to Lost viewers in and around Asheville, N.C., who it would appear lost the audio feed for the entire broadcast of last night’s episode. If your local ABC affiliate — WLOS, natch — won’t rebroadcast it, I suggest catching it for free on ABC.com or downloading it from iTunes. Good luck!)