'Lost': Stranger in a Strange Land
I don't know how many of you remember this, but back in Season 3, there was one mystery that towered over them all. Not the smoke monster, not Jacob, and not Desmond's time travel. I'm talking, of course, about the origin of Jack's tattoos. You don't remember this? Oh yea, that's because no one really cared. And yet, Lost spent an entire episode dedicated to half of Jack's arm ink.
Be warned: I destroy this episode below. I don't even pretend to objectively recap it. Nor should I: I'm not here to be a simple cheerleader for the show. It's my favorite show of all time, but it's not perfect. Nothing is, unless you count Michael Flatley's Riverdancing skillz. But hey, the dude's the Lord of the Dance, so what do you expect?
Stranger in a Strange Land
4) In Short
"What's the Chinese character for 'worst episode ever'?"
8) On the Island
Sawyer and Kate continue sailing back to the Island, desperately trying to escape what's to happen over the next 42 minutes. Kate insists on going back to the Hydra Island, thirty-six seconds after Jack insisted she never do so. Sawyer denies her request, saying Captain Bunny Killer would kill them both, rendering all of Jack's plan null and void.
In the Hydra, Tom tells Jack he has to move him. Jack thinks "move" means "kill," Tom laughs at the idea, asking Jack what kind of people he thinks they are. Jack lists a few examples: lying, cheating, rock-star hanging, child kidnapping ones. Also, they're fond of the work of Freddie Prinze Jr. A few Others handcuff Jack and lead him away. While in the hallway, Jack passes by Juliet, who is also handcuffed but moving in the opposite direction. He also passed by an elderly woman who looks either evil or like she has to go to the bathroom: it's hard to tell which one.
Jack's now in Sawyer's polar bear cage, pacing. Jack asks Tom about the woman in the hallway; Tom calls her the "sheriff," and that Juliet's in trouble. He tried to get in Jack's head about Sawyer and Kate, but Jack just dismisses him.
Back on the boat, Kate's still insistent on returning for Jack. Sawyer's still insistent on staying the hell away from the Others. Both are acting immature beyond all get out, though survivor's guilt probably has a lot to do with it. That or cruddy writing. Karl insists they stop fighting, not only because they are alive and should be grateful, but mostly because they are annoying him.
Kate starts interrogating Karl about the Others, and while he looks idly at the sky, gives her a few vague answers. They only work on Hydra Island, but live on the main one. They kidnapped the kids to give them a better life. They prefer The Rolling Stones to The Beatles. They think Miller Lite tastes great but is quite filling. All the while, Karl stares at the sky, droning on and on about how he and Alex used to stare at the stars while growing up together. Boy, I sure hope this imagery of "everyone under one sky" doesn't rear its literal head by episode's end.
At the cages, Juliet comes to Jack. She wants him to help deal with the infection on Ben's stitches. She's in trouble, after all: she done killed Pickett and the sheriff wants to vote her off the island...in a body bag! Jack refuses to help either her or Ben. Can't say I blame him; he's busy enough trying to survive this horrible episode with some measure of dignity.
Later that night, the sheriff starts to read off Jack's tattoos. She finds his Chinese one interesting, and wants to know if Jack knows what it means. Jack says yes, the sheriff (who introduces herself as Isabel) asks him if he's sure, and he says yes, and she says for realz are you sure, and I ask God why on earth my favorite show is so horrible this time around. Mercifully, Isabel ends this "I know you suck but what am I?" discussion by taking him to another part of the Hydra for interrogation. I'm sure a lively discussion of which one of them is rubber and which one is glue shall shortly commence.
She leads Jack into a room where Juliet and Tom are already sitting. Isabel asks Tom to confirm what Jack said during surgery about Juliet's desire to kill Ben. He does, which puts Jack on the "stand." After a few moments, Jack says he was merely trying to create chaos by turning the Others against one another. Isabel doth not like this answer, wondering why Jack would cover for Juliet. Jack replies, "Because I'm pretty certain the show's going to conveniently forget you exist once they see this episode aired."
Jack wakes up in the polar bear cage to find a host of people idly standing by, either watching him vacantly or swaying oddly. Cindy the Oceanic 815 Stewardess eventually comes up and out-vagues everyone in the history of the show with her evasive answers to Jack's inquiries. It's truly mind-blowing, and represents everything Lost haters point to when asked why they don't watch the show anymore. Emma and Zack come into frame, with Emma whispering to Cindy. Apparently, she wants to know how Ana Lucia is. Well, hat makes one of us, Emma. Jack yells at them to leave so they can "watch" whatever it is they are here to watch. I'd suggest "Walkabout" or "Not in Portland," personally.
Kate wakes up to find Karl missing. I guess he couldn't take being in this episode anymore. She and Sawyer give chase, but hear him quietly crying nearby. Sawyer decides to have some man time with Karl. Man time apparently involves giving dead arms and making references to The Brady Bunch. Sawyer insists that Karl go after Alex, even if it means risking his Room 23'd life. This coming from the guy who won't let Kate go after Jack. Consistunt karaktur sykology: ur doin it wrong, Lost.
Alex throws a rock at the security camera near Jack's cage. She wants to know why Jack bothered to fix her father up, even after all he's done to Jack and the fellow Lostaways. Jack agrees to tell her in return for info about Juliet. Turns out Juliet's about to receive her "verdict" for killing Pickett, a fact that shakes Jack to his stubbly core. He asks her if Daddy's still in charge. When she nods yes, Jack orders her to let him out of his cage. I'm vaguely surprised she didn't use her slingshot to open it, quite frankly. She does everything else via that method: I'm sure Alex courted Karl by repeatedly beaning him with rocks.
Jack bursts into the operating room. Ben looks deflated to see that Alex has let him into the room. Jack makes a crack about losing respect for the Others, in that they don't have a good surgeon among them. Ben replies that they did have a good one: Ethan. (So, essentially, Ben sent his best surgeon undercover amongst the Lostaways. Smart plan, Ben. I bet Goodwin was your best mechanic, too.) Jack agrees to stay by Ben's side, and nurse him back to health, if Ben stops Juliet's execution. Ben insists Juliet doesn't care about Jack, but agrees to send a message to Isabel all the same.
Jack and Alex run towards the trial. Alex insists he stay outside, but Tom sees him when he opens the door. Tom attacks Jack, furious at seeing him out of the cage. Alex hands over the note to Isabel. The note says that Juliet's death has been commuted, but she is to be marked. Tom and Alex have a look that suggests this won't be done with a Sharpie.
A sallow-faced Juliet later brings Jack a grilled cheese sandwich to his cage. He insists on seeing the mark they gave her. And here it is, with a host of lovely analysis. He asks her to get some aloe so he can tend to her mark. She asks why he saved her; he tells her that they are going to work together to make Ben keep his word about letting them off the Island. She informs Jack that Kate and Sawyer know where they are, so it's time to move to a place Ben calls "home." New Otherton, here we come!
Sawyer returns to Kate and informs her that he let Karl go. She's furious, and he finally tells her to stop beating herself up. She thinks he's talking about leaving Jack behind; he's talking about what he feels was pity cage sex. She neither confirms nor denies it, which keeps in line with this episode's steadfast insistence on not directly answering any question. Even this kid makes more sense than some of the characters in this episode.
Isabel leads Jack to the shore, where Tom is shading a prone Ben with an umbrella. And what follows is the exchange that absolutely sent me through the roof the first time I heard it:
ISABEL :"He walks amongst us, but he is not one of us." Your tattoos -- that's what they say.
JACK: That's what they say. It's not what they mean.
Give me a flippin' break. Just continually slap me in the face with a fish biscuit.
Jack then helps Ben onto a canoe, headed for an offshore boat. Meanwhile, Kate and Sawyer mosey on awkwardly through the jungle. And elsewhere, the camera pans from Karl to the stars to Alex to me sticking my finger down my throat. The final image of the show is Juliet and Jack, fleeing this episode by motorized boat. Fitting, really.
15) Off the Island
Jack emerges from a beach hut in Thailand, where a local boy calls him "Dr. Jack" and tries to sell him some soda. He bears an enormous kite that he tries to assemble on the beach. Let's go fly a kite, up to the crappiest height, let's go fly a kite, cuz it's so boooriing. Things go from lame to worse when Bai Ling notices Jack's futile efforts to assemble the bird-like kite, and helps him construct it. I know Bai Ling has a name in this episode, but out of spite for her character I'm not going to actually mention it here. It'd be like uttering the name "Beetlejuice" or "Voldemort."
Bai Ling takes Jack to her brother's restaurant, where he eats something I'm fairly certain you can't get in the KFC combo meal. Bai Ling's inappropriate shirt wants to know if he's in Thailand to find himself. Before Jack can answer, a man gives Bai Ling an envelope (hush money to never agree to be on the show again, I think). Jack stares curiously at the envelope; Bai Ling tells Jack, "I have a gift." Note to Bai Ling: VD doesn't count as a "gift."
A month later, Bai Ling slips into Jack's bed. Looks like they've been shacking up for a few weeks now, but Jack still doesn't know why Bai Ling comes and goes so often. Stop asking questions, Jack: she's better seen and not heard, and I don't even much like looking at her. They go on and on about her mysterious "gift," but eventually Bai Ling tells the good doctor to shut up and have some fun. But then they have sex anyways.
Jack stalks Bai Ling in the downtown area. He follows her down a back street into a building. Inside the building? Candy! OK, not really: it's a tattoo parlor. And it's where she works. But she's not a tattoo artist: she's able to see who people are. And she marks them. Sounds like a tattoo artist to me, Bai. Jack wants to know who he is, but she refuses to tell him. Apparently, she can't mark "outsiders," although given that this entire backstory explains the derivation of Jack's tattoos, there's not much drama here.
She tells Jack he's a leader, a great man...but this makes him lonely, frightened, and angry. Also, a bed wetter. Jack insists that she mark him with those qualities; she insists there will be consequences. Like pain. Like death. Like this episode.
The following morning on the beach, everyone treats Jack differently. The boy who once sold him soda now runs away. Bai Ling's extended family comes, noticing the tattoo (which only is the lower half of what's seen on on-Island Jack) and beats the living bejesus out of him. Guess he shoulda gotten a unicorn tattoo instead. They tell Jack to leave not only the beach, but the country as well.
16) The Mythology
We learned something valuable: too much time spent on Hydra Island makes you dead stupid.
On a serious note: we did get a hint of Others' culture in this episode, with Juliet's trial. The sense, however delusion, of an overarching morality amongst the Others is a continually fascinating topic. It's not so much that they overtly violate their own principles; it's that their concept of moral actions stands in such stark contrast with that of most people. All of those things listed by Jack at the outset to Tom are not inherently evil actions on behalf of the Others. They are incidents within a context that allows what would normally be seen as "evil" to in fact serve the greater good.
Hopefully, Season 5 will shed some light on Others culture, with Richard Alpert as our conduit to their underlying moral philosophy of the mysterious group.
23) The Moment
Despite Cindy opening her mouth and ruining the moment, I still find the oddly swaying ex-815ers super creepy.
42) In Retrospect
Given what we know about Ben's attitude towards Juliet, one can't help but see his words against her in the operating theatre as the equivalent of a dog marking his territory.
108) In Summary
In January, I plan on ranking every episode from worst to first as a build-up for Season 5. I honestly don't know how I'd rank every episode, but I know for certain this will rank last. It's just a mind-bogglingly awful episode, one that stunted all momentum gained through the stellar episodes that preceded it.
The good news? It all goes uphill from here, with a steady stream of good to great episodes culminating in the game-changer that is "Through the Looking Glass." So buck up, Lost fans: it only gets better from now on.