'Lost': Course Corrections for 'Across the Sea'

titus-welliver-lost-320.jpgWell, we're one day out from "Across the Sea," and " Lost" fans are still sorting through what it all means. There have certainly been divisive issues this season, as well as divisive episodes, but I'm pretty sure this episode takes the cake in terms of splitting people down the middle. Now, such a split isn't inherently a bad thing: things that are universally loved or hated often produce a less interesting conversation. But the split this time seems to center around two camps, which is fitting given the show's tendency to create such groups.

I'll analyze this split and more in this week's " Course Corrections," the weekly series in which I look back at the most recent episode of "Lost" in the cold light of day instead of in the heat of the moment. Or, in this episode's case, the glow of The Cave. Here are eight more things about "Across the Sea."

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The aforementioned camps when it comes to this episode break down like this. Camp #1: "Hoo boy, I either really disliked or outright hated this episode." Camp #2: "Hoo boy, I really liked this episode, and furthermore, I'm offended that Camp #1 even exists." Here's the thing: I'm fine with anyone having any opinion on the show, so long as they can explain why they have that opinion. We're talking about a TV show here, not the best way to counteract the current fiscal crisis or beat down terrorism. We can get into these types of heated debates because ultimately, these debates don't result in anything more than the expression of personal opinion. In a perfect world, people argue passionately, not angrily, but this isn't a perfect world. By and large, though, the discussions around here have been "parking lot of a Phish concert" mellow compared to the vitriol being spewed elsewhere at this moment online.

But I do take offense at Camp #2's oft-made "You just didn't get it" argument, nor the "Have you been watching the show at all over the past 6 years?" one. People can "get" the episode, insomuch as one can get the episode, and still like/dislike it. If you like the episode, that's great. It's not like I sit here enjoying the fact that I don't. I don't do it because it's hip to slag on the show as it reaches its endpoint, a common (and tired) interpretation of any negative reaction to any show as it reaches its final episodes.

One more thing on this topic: liking or disliking an individual episode tends to have an isolated impact; ie, my opinion about "Whatever The Case May Be" doesn't really have a huge bearing on what I think about "Lost" as a whole. But the failure of "Across the Sea" to provide any context for what we've seen over the past six years other than "Crazy unnamed momma protecting a Magical Cave of Golden Light did a terrible job at finding a replacement," does in fact recolor everything about the totality of "Lost." And I'm not sure it's done the show a favor. At all. It didn't cripple the show as a whole, but it didn't help its cause, either.

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People have taken me to task for lamenting that the show used footage from "House of the Rising Sun" at the end of the episode, noting that not everyone watching the show at this point would be keyed into the meaning of the final scenes without it. I'm not going to try and say everyone SHOULD have remembered it, since that would be awfully pretentious of me. ("Why stop now?" cries half of my readers.) But given the show's history of making these types of connections and NOT intercutting footage that relates to the revelation at hand, it was totally jarring to see it go down in this one. Consistency matters, whether it be the quality of the episode told or the way in which it's told. You can't assume the audience is smart for 5 and 3/4th of a season and then all but do a "Pop Up Video" in the third-to-last episode highlighting the big revelation that you've been promising for a few seasons. THAT, and not the actual identity of the skeletons, made me angry. (The actual identity just made me think they came up with those two as Adam and Eve well after they claimed to know who they were. Which is fine, but another reason not to take anything Darlton says as gospel.)

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One "Star Wars" reference I loved: the orange sun sitting in the distance as Jacob talked to Voldemom after Zac in Black's departure to live with Claudia's people. It was completely and uttered stolen from Luke Skywalker looking out at the sunset on Tatooine, wondering about his fate in the universe. One "Star Wars" reference I hated: the insinuation that whatever the energy pervasive throughout the Island is essentially The Force. I was fine with the energy on the Island being semi-scientific, but so impenetrable to be for all intents and purposes magical. But to have the energy around the Island be connected to the "light" inside all of us gave me a New Age-y midichlorian vibe that made me a little ill. I'm still working out if "protecting the light" in "Across" turned into "containing the dark" in "Ab Aeterno" due to Jacob sending his brother, Moses-like, down into the cave. All I know is that connecting the energy to the soul of Man didn't sit well with me.

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I've read some interpretations since my recap aired that when The Man in Black went into the Cave of Light towards Candy Mountain, his soul was ripped from his body. And, on this Island, when that happens, your soul turns into a pillar of smoke. I guess that makes about as much sense as anything the show could offer at this point. However, as I've read through the comments over the past day, I've realized that trying to come up with an adequate name for the figure that looked like The Man in Black in "Ab Aeterno" and "The Incident" is tripping people up, myself included. It's not "The Smoke Monster," because there's a heavy insinuation that every Age of the Island has its own version of that, created by the person that dared enter The Cave of Light. So it's A, not THE, smoke monster, using the guise of the unnamed twin brother of Jacob, most likely taking that form to constantly torment Jacob with memories of his near-fratricide. (Catchy, huh?) The Man in Black died thousands of years ago, corporeally speaking. His soul, his tormented soul, his psychic, smoky soul still seeks escape. That, or seeks to put on a musical at a high school. (Seriously, kid was a DEAD RINGER for Zac Efron. Really freaked me out.)

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Keeping in line with the "light" in the cave...so OK, as mentioned before, there's now a Rainbow Connection between whatever is going on in the cave (life, death, Goldmember skinny-dipping) and the atomic level of humanity. Don't like that, but doesn't change that that's what the show is currently selling. ("Y: The Last Man" had a similar idea on a macro level, but it didn't involve a portal to Narnia.) But that knowledge now raises a host of questions that would should be asking going into the finale: Should Daniel Faraday have tried to blow up a bomb that snuffed out the Light of Man? If the light goes out, does THAT make the Island sink? If the Island sinks because the Light of Man goes out, is that actually a GOOD thing? Oh well, at least we have a ton of time to explore all this. Wait, we only have two episodes? Crap.

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One of the biggest questions coming out of this episode: was it wise to air this as the third-to-last episode? I could honestly spend about 4,000 words thinking about this topic, but I'll try to be brief. My short answer: absolutely not. It had to happen, in that had "Lost" ended without further backstory for Jacob/Man in Black, fans/critics would have rioted. So I get that the writers had to do something, but the fact that they had to do it so late in the game is a self-created miscalculation on their part. Either they realized too late that they needed to download this stuff before the finale (unlikely, but possible), or they errantly thought now was the time to drop this episode into the narrative (far more likely). Had "Across" illuminated the carnage of "The Candidate," I would have been fine with its placement. Had it given us an extra clue into exactly WHY The Man in Black leaving is in fact so terrible, I would have been fine with its placement. But it didn't remotely relate to "The Candidate," and only confirmed that The Man in Black can't leave without giving us any real more information about WHY he can't leave. Voldemom just saying that she's made it so makes her sound like a hippy, female version of Captain Picard.

On Twitter last night, I wondered aloud if making this episode a double-feature mid-season with "Ab Aeterno" might have produced a stronger feeling about this episode. Occasional podcast partner Todd VanDerWerff replied and went one further, stating that a post-"Substitute" slot would have been perfect. That's a pretty compelling idea. Others have suggested that all of this could have even happened in Season 5. Not sure about THAT (unless it was interspersed in "The Incident" itself), but I kept coming back to the Angel episode "The Girl in Question" while watching this last night. That episode, like "Across the Sea," was the series' antepenultimate episode. That episode, like "Across the Sea," took a huge narrative detour in order to wrap up a lingering set of questions that were outside the season's arc but important to the thematic resonance of the show. That episode, like "Across the Sea," felt like writers getting things out of the way rather than incorporating them organically into the flow of the season.

After "The Candidate," I wanted payoff, not a pause. Yes, this show isn't meant to give me just what I want. But I think payoff is what we as an audience needed in the aftermath of last week, not a badly timed backstory.

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I don't often get things right when it comes to predictions around here. So when I get it right, I kinda like to toot my own horn. And after "Across the Sea," I finally get to do so again. So, like I've said all along: Adam/Eve are the man suit of The Man in Black and his insane mother who isn't his biological mother and might actually have been a smoke monster herself. Duh. SO obvious. (And yes, before you start typing furiously, this is sarcasm. I had "Rose/Bernard" in my fictional office pool, a couple about which I am now really nervous. I was OK with the skeletons being the remains of the couple that found peace in Dharma times, but now, I'm worried they are going to run into a shotgun-wielding Smocke in the jungle.)

And while I actually correctly predicted that The Man in Black would have had a hand in digging the dams, I think many people, myself included, incorrectly assumed that the donkey wheel seen last night was THE donkey wheel in THE well discovered in the place in which The Dharma Initiative built The Orchid. That wheel was deep enough to require an elevator to reach, whereas the one in this episode required a short ladder. So think of what we saw tonight as Version 1.0 of the frozen goodness we saw in "There's No Place Like Home."

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Music/TV recommendation time, kids. I'm mad I've already suggested "The Prisoner," since Voldemom's "There's nothing except The Island" sure sounded a lot like that show's insinuation there was nothing except The Village. So let's go with the most recent show that stirred up a crazy storm of comments that have been brimming to the surface, if not necessarily here than on many other "Lost" websites: "Battlestar: Galactica." It's the most recent flashpoint for online community, anger, and debates about what constitutes the "proper" end of the show.

Music time! I'm determined to have fun with this, because I don't want to slip into a virtual Swamp of Sadness while analyzing this episode. (Can we call The Man in Black "Artex"? Come to think of it, Zac in Black has a little Atreyu in him...) A lot of people want to call Voldemom and The Man in Black "Eve" and "Adam" now, but I think they would agree with The Ting Ting's song "That's Not My Name." TMiB himself has a host of songs to express his torment: Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody," and Ozzy Osbourne's "Mama, I'm Coming Home" come to the forefront, though he might stay away from The Black Eyed Peas' "Hey Mama." Either twin could relate to The Beatles' "Mother Nature's Son," given their hippie-ish mom. Jacob himself sure turned into what The Rolling Stones might call "Mother's Little Helper." Bobby Darin sang "Beyond the Sea," a song referenced in "Whatever the Case May Be" and hinted at in this week's episode, though his song "I'm Beginning to See the Light" has more relevance to this week's excursion. The Man in Black certainly showed his mother Madonna's "Ray of Light" down in the prototypical Donkey Wheel Well. And in the Tasteless Suggestion of the Week, I think we can all jam out to Justin Timberlake's "Lovestoned," given the acts that bookmark this week's episode.

Those are my thoughts 24 hours after "Across the Sea." What's on YOUR mind?

Photo credit: ABC