‘Lost’ – ‘Across the Sea’: Raised by another

Senior Television Writer
05.11.10 329 Comments

ABC/Mario Perez

A review of tonight’s “Lost” coming up just as soon as I trash your loom…

“Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.” -Mother

“So, do you want to play or don’t you, Jacob?” -Smokey
“Yes. I want to play.” -Jacob

“You will never be able to leave this island.” -Mother
“That’s not true. And one day I can prove it.” -Smokey

“I have no idea because you wouldn’t tell me, mother.” -Smokey

You want answers? You think you’re entitled? Well here are a bunch of them, all packed into a one-hour “Lost” flashback extravaganza that taught us the following:

  • Jacob and Smokey are twin brothers, born to a woman who was then murdered by the island’s unnamed guardian so she would be able to rear two potential successors, then choose between them.
  • Smokey is determined to get off the island because he spent a childhood being lied to by his “mother” about the rest of the world, and has been spending centuries trying to prove her wrong.
  • The island is home to a glowing body of water that is basically The Force (making all of Darlton’s pre-season talk of midi-chlorians make much more sense).
  • The “rules” between Jacob and Smokey date back to Mother tapping into the island’s powers to ensure neither could ultimately kill the other. (And if these are the same rules that govern the Ben/Widmore war, then are we meant to think Ben is more of a candidate than anyone’s been led to believe?)
  • The crazy mother Smokey referred to earlier this season wasn’t John Locke’s schizophrenic mom, but the obsessive, homicidal, superhuman woman who raised him so many centuries ago.
  • The donkey wheel – which taps into the power behind the golden spring – was constructed by Smokey as one of his many futile attempts to get off the island (and was not, for that matter, his first attempt to build such a thing).
  • The Man in Black was turned into a smoke monster when Jacob, distraught over his brother committing matricide, threw him into the golden spring, which Mother had warned him was “much worse” than dying.
  • The Adam & Eve corpses Jack and Kate found back in season one are the original remains of Man in Black and Mother, left lying in their old cave home by Jacob, along with a black and white piece from the game of senet that the brothers loved to play together. (And making the skeletons less Adam & Eve than Cain & Eve.)

and, perhaps, most importantly:

  • After years of watching characters suffer at the hands of neglectful, abusive or downright homicidal fathers and father figures, we discover that the “Lost” mythology is ultimately fueled by mommy issues – by one son betrayed to learn that who he thought was his mother murdered the real one, and by another who never got over the belief that mom always liked Smokey best.

Or, rather, we find that “Lost” is ultimately about the dangers of withholding answers from people who have spent years demanding them.

“Across the Sea” was a huge info-dump about the secrets of the island and the origins of the two all-powerful beings whose war brought all our heroes to the place, but it was also a strong three-character piece, so wonderfully played by Allison Janney, Mark Pellegrino and, especially, Titus Welliver, that I was okay with not seeing a single regular castmember (other than Jack, Kate and Locke in old footage from “House of the Rising Sun”), even at such a crucial late juncture of the season/series.

Darlton have always insisted that “Lost” is a show about character first and weird mysteries second, and this shift in the final season to the story of Jacob vs. Smokey – two god-like figures moving our heroes around a board like backgammon pieces but not really having personalities of their own (much of what personality Smokey has seemed to be copied from Locke)  – seemed to violate that conceit. So it was important to bring their conflict back down to more human proportions. We had to see that that before he was a smoke monster, Smokey was just a man, and before that just a boy(*), who had spent a lifetime being lied to, manipulated and hurt, all while being told it was all for his own good and the good of the island he was trapped on. We had to understand that once upon a time, Jacob and Smokey were the best of friends, not just because they had no other choice but because they loved each other and enjoyed each other’s company, and that in a way they’re as much pawns in the island’s game as Jack or Locke or Ben. The Lost-aways are still being manipulated by forces beyond their comprehension, but they’re no longer forces beyond ours. We know what Jacob and his still-unnamed brother(**) are about, and that they’re driven as much by old family grudges as they are by whatever is powering Craphole Island.

(*) And man, did Welliver do a superb job of bringing that all home in the scene at the donkey wheel construction site. Mother says she wants to say goodbye, and suddenly the Man in Black is the Boy in Black again, who just wants the love of a mother (even if she isn’t really his mother) and would love to be able to forget the knowledge that sent him on this angry quest.

(**) And at this stage of the game, is there a point to concealing his name? Do Darlton just want us to think of the 21st century version of the character as Smokey and/or Locke? Are they annoyed that fans so quickly rushed to call him Esau last spring? Or are they just enjoying withholding one last piece of easily-revealed but non-essential information from us?

A very good episode, if not always the most subtle (I wonder if Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse started challenging each other to insert more and more black-and-white imagery as the script went from one draft to the next), and one that should give more emotional resonance to Smokey’s rampage over the series’ final three and a half hours.

I can’t help coming back, though, to Smokey’s frustration that Mother wouldn’t just come right out and tell him and Jacob in plain English about the spring, the island, the rules, etc. – and to the idea that she died without fully explaining things to Jacob. (Though it’s possible that him drinking the wine from the bottle that made him and Mother “the same” told him all he needed to know.) Cuselof have spent nearly six seasons teasing and frustrating us with questions that are posed and not answered, or ones whose answers inspire seven questions, or situations where characters could very easily choose to explain things to each other but choose not to. They talk a lot about how this is dramatically necessary – that scenes where characters share information are tedious, and that sometimes the most revealing character moments come when people are trying and failing to get answers.

But in watching an episode where we find out just how much of the suffering we’ve seen on the island might have been avoided if Mother had just come clean to her boys early and often (or, even better, not brained their biological mother with a rock), I’m sorely tempted to play psychoanalyst and wonder if, at the end, the duo are looking back over all the obfuscating they’ve done over the last six years and questioning whether it was the wisest course of action.

When you answer a question, you take away the suspense that comes from waiting for that answer, but you also rob that question of its power over the listener. Had Mother told Smokey the full truth about herself and the island, maybe he would have run away and started digging for electromagnetic spots, but maybe he would have recognized the rightness of her cause and become the dutiful son and successor she wanted. And had Darlton been less stingy with information (and/or more stingy with raising more and more questions), maybe the fan focus at the end of the run would be less on demanding answers and more on paying attention to the character arcs that the showrunners insist are the true heart of the series.

And I hope by the time we get through the finale, the fans are more kindly disposed towards Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof (who co-wrote this one) than Smokey was to Mother – both because they’re nice guys who don’t deserve a metaphorical stabbing, and because it would mean they gave us a satisfying close to the saga.

Some other thoughts:

  • I liked the use of the old “Hunt for Red October” trick where we start off with characters speaking in a foreign language with subtitles, then after a few minutes and a noticeable pause, we shift into hearing it as English – not because that’s what the characters are speaking, but to keep us from having to read subtitles for an hour.
  • James Poniewozik pointed out on Twitter that the game Smokey and Jacob were playing is the ancient Egyptian game of senet, considered by many to be the oldest board game in the world – and one where nobody in contemporary society is entirely sure of the rules.
  • The existence of a Claudia ghost who could speak to Smokey and tell him the truth about Mother continues the idea that there is no grand unified field theory of the island – that even if there’s a power that wants Mother and her successors to guard the golden well and the electromagnetic pockets that lead to it, there are other powers on the island that are either in opposition or don’t much care.
  • Still more stolen babies. All of this has happened before, and all of it will happen again.
  • Can someone with a better sense of Craphole Island topography tell me if the golden spring is supposed to lie in the same location where The Others built the Temple? Given what the water did to Smokey, it doesn’t seem like the sort of healing pool Dogen and Lennon talked about, but it seems odd that one mystical island would have two entirely unrelated pools of yellow, magical water, no?

Finally, I hope to have something very interesting related to this episode and the final season of the show up on the blog sometime in the late afternoon, so check back then.

What did everybody else think?

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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