LOST AGAIN: 6.15 “Across the Sea”
“Seven mothers a bludgeonin’…”
All they had to do was make a better episode.
I see what they were shooting for. The Candidate was in many ways the climax of the first fourteen episodes. So the idea must of been to show us just how all of this began, before launching into the resolution of the series as a whole. It was a risky choice, so what Damon and Carlton really needed to do was deliver a jaw dropping and revelatory hour of television that vindicated their decision to hold off on Jacob and Man in Black’s backstory until this late in the game. And that’s not what we got. We got an episode that, first of all, was nearly impossible to judge as a standalone hour of television, because its placement in the season meant that a lot of us were resenting it for breaking up the momentum of the real storyline.
Even keeping that in mind, it’s still kind of boring. I actually like it far less than I did the first time around.
Ok, here we go. First, I mind many things in this episode so much less than its more vocal detractors. There’s the magic light of course, but it’s just the mysterious electromagnetic energy we’ve been seeing for many seasons. I was perfectly content to let that be something that simply is with no explanation, and this episode doesn’t really do anything to change that. Nor do I have a real problem with the acting. Alison Janney, though certainly not at her best, is serviceable in the role of Mother. The two child actors can’t compare to some of the surprisingly good pre-teens we’ve seen on the show before, but the only time their acting pulled me out of the moment was when Jacob wanted to stop the MiB from leaving. And Pellegrino and Welliver are reliable as always.
And the concept of the episode, at its most fundamental level, isn’t bad. It has all the trappings of a great Lost backstory, the manipulative parent figure, complicated family dynamics, characters wanting things and being overcome by greed, and then paying terrible penalties for it. And like in Ab Aeterno, there are many moments of great cinematography, and Michael Giacchino’s score is often amazing. And the subtext of the episode, illuminated by the Damon/Carlton commentary, is kind of interesting. It turns out that Mother is carefully manipulating the situation so that the Man in Black will murder her and relieve her of the burden of being the island’s protector. Tracing that keeps things a little interesting.
But as I said, it’s all kind of boring. That’s pretty much all there is to it. Despite the fact that I may intellectually realize that a lot of this episode is well done, I’m just not engaged by it at all.
The biggest problem might be obvious and very simple… no one from the main cast shows up. I’ve been thinking about all the times in which a mysterious figure receives the spotlight and is transformed into a compelling character in a single episode… something Lost excels at. There were all the early Season 1 flashbacks, Eko in 23rd Psalm, Desmond in LT,DA (I’d argue) Nikki and Paulo in Expose, Richard in Ab Aeterno. Their flashbacks may have been longer and more involved, but we still saw our Losties in the present, and we were quickly able to place their backstories in context with the ongoing narrative. In Across the Sea, we get archive footage of House of the Rising Sun in the final minutes, and despite its intended purpose, that feels more like an attempt to remind viewers of an obscure and long forgotten mystery (Terry O’Quinn looks shockingly young though). If, like Ab Aeterno, we had had a few minutes with the Losties on either end of the hour, what might the reaction have been? Probably still tepid, but I don’t know if there would have been as much outright venom.
And unfortunately, I think this episode has some negative effects on the overall season, because it’s meant to set some high stakes for the finale. Mother makes a number of claims here, about the light, about why the Man in Black can’t leave, etc. But I think Lost’s tendency to have characters constantly making ominous claims that turn out to be lies are finally backfiring. If I don’t take Mother at her word about the light, if I don’t listen to Widmore, to Isabella, to Jacob, if I can’t get invested in the drama of the season’s mythology, the Lost writers have themselves to blame. That’s not a problem confined to this episode, but it’s probably the best example.
And I used to say that at least the episode gave us some answers. No more! It’s kind of sad that the most satisfying reveal is Adam and Eve. Aside from that, the Rules get some illumination. Whoever is in charge of the island gets to dictate what exactly happens. And Jacob, upon taking over, apparently creates a highly specific series of rules that prevents his Candidates from harming themselves and being harmed, that prevents the Man in Black from leaving and killing Jacob, and on and on. I’ve expressed my dissatisfaction at this catch all “Jacob did it” answer before and I do so again.
Maybe Jacob makes up these rules based on his own well established viewpoint on humanity, but I don’t feel like Across the Sea comes any closer to telling us why he and the Man in Black feel the way they are. Here’s how most of the conversations go “Why are humans bad, Mother?” “Because they are.” “Why am I not like them?” “Because you’re special.” Same goes for the Frozen Donkey Wheel. I don’t want a mitochlorian explanation, but how am I supposed to buy that an ancient people realized that an electromagnetic light and water system would allow them to leap through space time? Oh, “Because there are smart people here.”
And the whole thing with the Smoke Monster’s origin. Is he the Man in Black fused with some sort of darkness, or is the monster a separate entity that takes on the MiB’s form. The episode seems to suggest the later, but that means everything we learned about the MiB is pointless. Doubtless Darlton left this deliberately unclear so that fans could have their own theories, but there’s that, and there’s forcing the audience to fill in their own story beats so they can make the episode work. Mother says something like “Every answer I provide will only lead to another question.” Fair enough. SO STOP RAISING MORE ****ING QUESTIONS.
Although I wanted to see the Man in Black get consumed by the light and dissolve into Smokey. That would have been cool.
In the commentary, the two claim that they didn’t know Adam and Eve would be Mother and MiB exactly, but they did plan on them being two mythological figures that were directly responsible for Jack, Kate, and Locke being on the island. That’s……… entirely fair. Ok, one point to Darlton.
Well. I seem to have typed up a number of paragraphs, and I’ve used up a number of words to basically say… yeah, I’ve got nothing. I dare say this write-up is so bad that it retroactively ruins a lot of what came before. But don’t worry, the final three reviews will be great, I promise that they’re focused entirely on the characters we know and love, and will provide a satisfying resolution to this series. Of reviews.
Before that, final word on Across the Sea… I’d say that on a cooly objective level, the episode should get about a 7.5/10 because it has many strong aspects from a technical and story construction standpoint. But it gets a 5/10 on a scale of my personal enjoyment. Let’s compromise with…
Ranked 15th out of 15 episodes so far.