Before you read this post, watch last night’s Lost—and erase the videotape before it falls into the wrong hands.
Characters who can talk to the dead and read minds are a minefield for storytellers. If there’s one device that invites writers to tell rather than showing, it’s this. At worst, you get melodramatic spirits unburdening themselves to Jennifer Love Hewitt; even in great shows, like Six Feet Under, the appearance of the “dead” is often an excuse to shed subtext and speechify characters’ internal monologues. On an in-between show like True Blood, I’ve never liked how literally they render Sookie’s mind-reading, because it eliminates the tension of having to infer the meaning of the mortals she’s talking to.
So the first thing I loved about the Miles-centric “Some Like It Hoth” was that Lost’s producers made the wise choice not to have us hear what the dead tell Miles. In fact, Miles told us explicitly that the dead don’t “tell” him anything: because the mind stops working, there’s no language, just an open box of memories that he’s able to rummage through. For starters, it simply makes the effect more powerful than literal speech ever could be; it also creates the possibility–as we saw in Miles’ touching encounter with Mr. Breaking Bad–that he could be lying.
This is one way that Lost avoided the potential for corniness with the introduction of Miles. The other was by casting the excellent Ken Leung, who proved $1.6 million and then some last night. Given powerful material—not only working through his daddy issues but getting to watch Marvin read to him in his Dharma onesie—he didn’t give in to the pathos of the scene.
Whether in 1977 or in the flashback, he allowed us to see Miles’ hurt through the frame of his defenses: he played Miles as he is, which is to say, constantly pissed, even when he also feels hurt. When he tells the grieving father that he should have told his son he loved him when he had the chance, there’s sadness in the scene but also hostility. (It’s both a tender gesture to the dead ten he’s never met, and a cruel final answer to his father.) By bringing that edge to his performance and staying true to the character, it makes the penetration of his defenses, when he witnesses the tender moment with Marvin, seem that much more authentic and earned.
And also: Hurley in a microbus? Never not funny! Pairing these two not only allowed for some emotional symmetry—it had not occured to me before how much they have in common—but made this one of the funniest Losts in a while, from Hurley’s spec script for The Empire Strikes Back (“CHEWBACCA: Rarrrrrrr!”) to “It Never Rains in Southern California” playing in the microbus to Miles’ explaining how he came to learn his dad was living on the Island: ”Third day I was here, I got on line at the cafeteria and my mother got on line behind me. That was my first clue.”
As for what this added to the mythology of the series, I’ll leave it to you to chew over the Easter eggs like the Egyptian-language lesson on the Dharma classroom chalkboard, the mystery of the deadly filling, or how Daniel Faraday has been spending his last three years. (That’s one flashback we all want to see.) But I am a little leery of the implications of Miles’ abduction by the Ajira-crash survivor / dude from October Road. Does this mean that there is yet another group out there, working against Widmore who’s working against Ben who had worked against Dharma? One season and change from the end of the series, how many more layers do we want to add onto this Russian doll?
But that’s preliminary, and I’m willing to see where this goes. For now, this episode gave me a fine performance, a strong dose of ’70s Dharma and a resonant moment involving the first Star Wars trilogy, and that’s good enough for me.
Now for the hail of bullets:
* Seriously: ”But at what cost? The second Death Star got destroyed, Boba Fett got eaten by the Sarlacc, and we got the Ewoks.” How. True.
* I’m sure that Marvin’s sneering reference to the “ridiculous experiments” involving polar bear turds on the Hydra Island was a throwaway, but I like the idea of there being competing factions / departments within the Dharma enterprise. They’re like the most sinister college faculty ever.
* The digits on the microwave at the beginning of the episode were “3:16,” which probably makes this as good a time as any to think about the Biblical or other significance of the Ajira flight number.
* I’m sure this information is out there and I should know it offhand, but had we already had direct confirmation that Widmore orchestrated and paid for the Hoax 815 crash? (It was alluded to before that it was Widmore, but now I’m not sure if that’s what I should conclude from Miles’ interrogation of the corpse for Naomi.)
* So do you know what lies in the shadow of the statue? Discuss. And I’ll see you next week.