This week on Lost: The broom of the season comes out and starts sweeping the decks clean. Smokey has schemes and knows how to build a bomb out of C-4 and a wristwatch, despite being a column of ancient angry smoke. In the alterniverse, nearly nothing happens. And Hurley cries, which makes the implausibilities of this episode completely worthwhile. Spoilers below.
As in last week’s episode, “The Candidate” manages to show Lost at its best and worst. On the plus side, this episode contains some of the most moving moments in the entire series, perhaps on a par with Desmond and Penney’s time-crossed conversation in “The Constant”. On the red ink side of the ledger, though, much of the action felt mechanical and contingent on the writers’ need to move characters from one location to the next. Get in the cage! Get out of the cage! Let’s go to the plane! No, let’s go to the sub! Lalala, we’re walkin’ ‘round the Island, walkin’ ‘round the Island…
Meanwhile, “The Candidate” featured the least engaging FlashSideways yet. The thing about the alterniverse is that the action doesn’t need to feel authentic or organic. Characters are under the spell of destiny; they can feel it crowding in on them at every turn, narrowing their choices and driving them inescapably towards… something. Something cool. I want to see people running from the beast of Necessity, only to find it blocking the exit as well. When Desmond smashes into Locke, that’s Necessity’s brute force at work. I want to see the fear and awe and ecstatic surrender to fate.
What I don’t want to see is this:
JACK: Mr. Locke, I would like to perform a miracle cure on you. I know I’ve asked you in a previous episode, but this time I really really mean it.
LOCKE: That’s right, we have talked about this, haven’t we? It seems weird that we’re rehashing this now.
BERNARD: Oceanic 815 passenger here! Plus I was Locke’s doctor once. I’m going to give you a slip of paper with a name on it. It’s the other guy who was in the accident.
JACK: Can’t you tell me something about this name? It seems weird that you’re being so coy and mysterious, when it must be easier just to tell me who this person is and why it’s important. At least tell me where I can find him.
BERNARD: Too late, our scene’s over!
JACK: Oh well. Hey Claire, you’re at the hospital. Come stay with me because you’re family.
CLAIRE: Thanks. Let’s stare at a music box with a mirror that our dad left me. It’s significant and mysterious. Mirrors are weird. I’m still pregnant.
JACK: Hold on, I just found the man named on the scrap of paper. He’s a vegetable in a wheelchair.
LOCKE: Yeah, that’s my dad. Plane crash. My fault. That’s ironic, but I’m not sure why.
JACK: Get over yourself. I can heal you. Trust me!
LOCKE: Ah, shut up.
That was it. That was the alterniverse story. It seemed static, repetitive and out of place in an episode that was otherwise replete with action and heartbreak. The only interesting thing about it, besides seeing Locke’s father in a wheelchair, was the dual notion of the term “candidate”. In the alterniverse, Locke is a candidate for surgery, and Jack has the ability to make him whole. In the islandverse, it is the island itself that is broken, and the candidate is the one that can heal the Jacob-shaped wound in its metaphysics. Paging Asclepius! But that’s already been strongly implied, and it seems unnecessary to spend a whole episode laying out these ideas once more.
No, there were two interesting things in the alterniverse: the scene with Jack and Claire peering into a mirror was genuinely creepy. Mirrors are always creepy and strange, permitting us a glimpse of what’s going on behind our backs. The mirror should serve a rational purpose, providing confirmation that the world exists beyond our immediate purview, but instead it is a ceremonial artifact, a scrying pool that reveals a world of doubles, monsters and prophecy. I use mine to shave.
Meanwhile, the characters are following Smokey around the Island after he busts them out of the polar bear cages. I know, they’re back in those cages! What a crazy bunch of cage-loving kids. Jin and Sun are basking in their love for each other, while the others are… being who they are, I guess. Jack still doesn’t want to leave, Sawyer still wants to betray Smokey, Hurley is still the voice of the audience and Kate has long, lustrous locks. Claire and Sayid are evil zombies who may be on the road to redemption. They’re all walking around. Dear Lost: stop this shit.
Smokey has been an ambiguous figure lately, attempting to prove his good intentions by coming to the aid of the candidates and helping them get off the Island (never mind that he spends his leisure time as a howling monster made of murder fumes). But it turns out he’s playing a deep game, manipulating the candidates onto the submarine and sending them off to their deaths with a big brick of C-4 explosive taken from the downed airplane. “I wouldn’t want to be on that sub in a few minutes,” Smokey snarks to Claire as the sub moves out into the harbour.
For the last several episodes Smokey’s been insisting that he needs all the candidates together in order to get off the Island. But it appears that he needs them dead, which actually makes a great deal more sense. With Jacob gone and no replacement in the offing, Smokey would no longer be bound to the Island. In a particularly clever stroke, it seems that Smokey has even been playing Widmore for a fool, leaking disinformation through Sawyer and betting that Widmore would wire up the plane to explode. Smart Smokey.
The last fifteen minutes of “The Candidate” is Lost at its very best. The main characters are all thrown into crisis, and their reactions spring directly from the core of the character, not according to the needs of the plot. It’s as if Joss Whedon stepped and applied the patented Firefly formula of ensemble drama: nine characters staring into the blankness of space and having nine different reactions. In this case, the blankness of space is a bomb ticking down from five minutes.
Jack seems to see clearly into the heart of the situation, divining that Smokey can’t kill them directly and understanding that doing nothing will somehow halt the countdown (I think). Sawyer is impatient with Jack, ripping out the wires and inadvertently making the situation ten times worse. Sayid comes out of his zombie coma and plays the hero, grabbing the bomb and running to the other end of the sub, where he suffers the fate of Arzt (How many people on this show die by being blown to pieces?). Lapidus gets hit by a door, which is somehow in keeping with his character. Dude was born to get hit by a door.
The death of Sun and Jin was heartbreaking but satisfying at the same time. The great value of an ensemble drama on television is the room that the series format gives for different kinds of stories to develop. When we first met the characters they were opaque and one-dimensional, an unhappy wife yoked to a cold, distant husband. Their tale gradually evolved into a bittersweet remarriage comedy, a beautifully crafted story about two lovers whose love was perpetually thwarted and checked by their very desire for each other. Their shared death unites them and moves their love off the plane of thwarted desire – in Lost’s case this is literal, since the couple are still alive and together in the alterniverse.
But that was not what choked me up. It was Hurley sobbing on the beach that broke me. Hurley is us. He’s the audience. That’s his character. When we see the Smoke Monster coming and involuntarily blurt out, “They’re so dead!” that’s when Hurley will pronounce “We are so dead”. When we’re finally exasperated by the characters wandering around a featureless jungle in search of the next castle or power-up or whatever, it’s Hurley who says “Dudes, we have no idea what we’re doing”. So when Hurley cries, we understand that something irretrievable has been lost. Even if, in a world they cannot guess at, Sun and Jin are sitting quietly together in a hospital room, waiting for the birth of their daughter and whatever may come next.