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Lostwatch: What Jack Bauer Could Teach Jack Shephard

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SPOILER ALERT: If you haven’t watched last night’s Lost yet… well, you’ve got a mere three months to get around to it.

Last night, for the first time, I wished that I were not watching Lost. Not because I don’t still love the show (I do) or because the episode had problems (though it did). But because it’s clear that it was a bad idea for ABC to split the show into two runs, six episodes in the fall, then a longer run in the winter. Six episodes is too short a run for Lost’s story to gain momentum and reach anything that feels like a natural pause point. Better to do the show 24-style and keep it off the air until January, and do one glorious run of 22 episodes–a strategy that never hurt 24′s ratings.

Speaking of 24, Lost’s producers said in TV Guide’s Ask Ausiello column that the episode would end on a 24-esque cliffhanger, and it did, in the sense that there’s a ticking clock (Ben will bleed out in one hour if Jack doesn’t save him) and that it ended with a lot of people YELLING REAL LOUD, Jack Bauer-style. (“RUN!!!”)

But Jack’s ingenious plan to get the Others, literally, by the kidneys was undercut by the fact that everyone in the home audience knows his plan can’t work, because Kate has no way of escaping the Others’ Little Alcatraz. Kate knows that too, though for some reason the demands of a cliffhanger ending prevented her from simply telling Jack that over the walkie-talkie. So we know–I think–where this is going, in the sense that either Jack’s bold move will fail, or they’ll have to come up with an escape plan B quick. All of which would be fine if we were waiting a week for that to happen; three months, not so much.

Speaking of which, another strikeout for the flashbacks last night, I’m afraid. Kate has never had the most interesting past of the castaways, but her story is by now really tapped out. The flashback told us nothing new about her past (she’s tired of running, but she can’t settle down, she’s hurt everyone she’s ever become close to, yada yada yada). And it was unnecessary to explain her actions in the present. (Sure, she won’t run in the end because she wants to change her pattern of running and abandoning people. But we already know she won’t because [a] she loves Sawyer and [b] she has nowhere to freaking go.)

That said, every scene with Jack and the Others was a knockout. We knew Michael Emerson was brilliant, but Elizabeth Mitchell is also turning in a fine, modulated performance as Juliet, and being around the two of them seems to have kicked Matthew Fox’s intensity and sense of character to a new level. It’s exciting to see Jack showing the Others that two can play the deception game. And his decision to take Ben hostage, whether it turns out to be good strategy or not, shows that he’s learned the good sense not to trust either Ben (who promised him freedom) or Juliet (who promised him protection if he made Ben’s death look like an accident).

The Others’ subterfuge to pressure Jack seems a little sketchy–if it’s OK for them to coerce him into doing surgery by threatening Sawyer, then why not just do the job by threatening Jack directly, or Kate, whom they know he likes better anyway? If it was all an elaborate ruse to break his spirit by showing him Kate and Sawyer cuddling cage-style–which we have to assume, given that somebody wanted him to get out of his cell and see the monitors–the plot seems overengineered. But I’m intrigued enough by the Others’ weird moral and psychological system, gradually being revealed, to let that slide.

I just wish I didn’t have to let it slide, mid-story, for three months. Locke’s search party buried Eko last night–a whole lot of subplot in order to get Locke to read one clue on the Jesus stick, “Lift up your eyes and look north.” (A clue, maybe, about where to find the prison island, or the Others’ home village?) In the eulogy, Locke remarked, “I believe you died for a reason, Mr. Eko. I just hope it won’t be too long before we find out what it might be.” You and me both, buddy.

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