Tuned In

Lostwatch Addendum: Who the Hell Is Anakin?

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John Cloud has already done an excellent job recapping last night’s Lost, “The Last Recruit,” and I don’t have much to add on the overall architecture of this moving-pieces-into-place episode. But because this is Lost, there are four episodes left, and I can’t shut myself up,  I can’t resist chiming in with a few (semi-spoilery) hail-of-bulletpoints of my own that occurred to me as I caught up on the episode, after the jump:

* OK, let me start with my standard disclaimer that any season-six criticisms are contingent on hw the whole thing wraps up, and what bothers me now may seem brilliant in retrospect. But I think I’ve put my finger on one thing that doesn’t work for me when the show centers too much on UnLocke/Smokey/MIB as a villain: he’s not a person.

I don’t mean this in the literal sense (although it may literally be true now, whatever he originated as). Rather, I simply mean that he’s not a character, in the sense we’ve come to expect from Lost. Ben was a fantastic antagonist, because he was fully drawn as a person and had distinctive characteristics. Widmore, likewise a person, even if no one can compare with Ben. But Mr. Smokey Esau LockeinBlack? We don’t even have a common name for him. And he doesn’t have much what we would call psychology, despite his talk of a bad mother who gave him issues.

Basically, he doesn’t pass the character test set by this devastating video critique of The Phantom Menace (starts about 6:50 in): What adjectives could you use to describe him to someone who hadn’t seen the show? (Ditto Jacob.) Mean? Deceitful? He’s villainous, but in a much more generic way than Ben. To the extent he has a voice, it’s because of, or in contrast to, Locke, who he is not. He’s more of a malevolent force (standard caveat: Or so it seems now!) than a character.

Now–more caveats–this is not necessarily fatal, or even bad. Let’s go back to Star Wars. (All discussions of Lost, I believe, must really come back to Star Wars.) The Emperor was a much more dull, generic, thinly drawn villain than Darth Vader. That was fine, because Return of the Jedi was not much about him: he was a driving force behind events, but even the final battle that he participates in is really all about the emotional struggle between Vader and Luke. Try imagining the trilogy if it foregrounded Darth Sidious, his sense of persecution, and his mom.

Which is to say: it’s all about how this plays out. But I think the final episodes will be successful to the extent that they’re about the characters, their choices and the fate of Lost’s various “Anakins” than Smokey, or even their relationship with him. (I say that realizing that Lost may yet have a Smokey episode that will completely change my mind about him.)

* Whew! Long bullet point! Sorry! Here’s a shorter: did it seem weird that Sawyer, Mr. Pop Reference, would not know Anakin? (He’s called characters Han, Chewie and Yoda, for starters.) It stopped me, but it might make sense. Sawyer’s tastes are broad—movies, Little House on the Prairie, classic novels—but I could see him knowing Star Wars, but not well enough to know Vader’s real name. And I would like to think that he would rather spend a month in a polar bear cage than watch one of the prequels.

* Shorter bullet point: why would Widmore, who seems to know so damn much about Smokey, think he can kill him with a rocket? Or does he know something I don’t know? (A distinct possibility.)

* And speaking of Anakin: I do not expect, maybe do not even want, Lost to give me a happy or redemptive ending for every character. But I admit being happy to see at least the possibility held out of Sayid (see clip above) not losing his soul. His downfall has been more tragic for me even than Locke’s. Locke, as horrible as his death was, has in a way seen his faith validated: despite what Smokey says, he was right in the end, that the Losties were brought to the Island for a purpose. Christ-like, he had to die for others to see that insight, but at least it outlives him. But if Sayid ends the show as Smokey’s right hand, he’s simply repeated the pattern of being some guy’s hit man for his entire life. (And death.)

Again: I’m not saying this would be a bad choice dramatically. Maybe some people need to end badly. But it would make me sad.

* Finally, reading other Lost threads forces me to ask: why the hate for Zoe? Me, I’ve always had a thing for Lost’s badass graduate-student characters (see: the entire Dharma Initiative), partly because it gets their dorky academic aura so well. And I don’t think of her as a fake Tina Fey. I prefer to think of her as the grown-up Marcie from Peanuts.