I imagine that plenty of people weren’t feeling “Across the Sea.” For some, taking a whole episode off from any of our regular characters was probably infuriating, especially this close to the end. For others (Others!), erring so strongly toward the vague supernatural and not enough toward the pseudo-scientific was probably a deal-breaker. That’s to be expected.
If there’s one thing Lost fans have proven over the past couple years, it’s that our general plausibility structure as a society is such that a vague, grossly uninformed nod toward pseudoscience will placate some people far more efficiently than an equally fantastical nod toward the supernatural. To put it another way, some people are way happier to hear, “Uh, magnets did it!” than they are to hear, “Uh, mythological magic did it!” (But really, aren't magnets straight-up magic?)
A perfect case study would be the range of reactions to Jacob’s shore-side speech to Richard earlier this season. When Jacob explained that the Island prevented a great evil from spreading into the world the way a cork prevents wine from spilling out of a bottle, some viewers said, “Okay, so those are the stakes: We’ve been watching some sort of attempt to keep a Pandora’s Box-type catastrophe from happening. I get it, and I’m still along for the ride.” Other viewers were dissatisfied. “Jig’s up,” they thought. “This is a far cry from the electromagnetic Chernobyl of season two.” Some viewers, though, were more than dissatisfied. They were apoplectic, as though they themselves were being forced to espouse a worldview they found repugnant.
The viewers who couldn’t tolerate turning away from our castaways and the viewers who weren’t happy with Jacob’s “The Island is a Cork” speech were probably fundamentally alienated by this past episode of Lost. They’ll never give it a chance to be enjoyable, and it will never give them a chance to get into it. The other viewers, though, if they were okay with some clunky exposition, probably found that this episode worked like gangbusters. I know I did.
I loved the fact that this struggle betwixt Jacob and the Man in Black, proceeds from yet another complex family relationship. I love that said family relationship is probably the most complex one we’ve seen, which is saying something on this show. It gets bonus points for centering on mommy issues, which have been an equally present but less-emphasized theme throughout the run of the show, and it gets even more bonus points for that mommy being the beautiful and talented Allison Janney (Allison Janney!).
I also love the fact that the content of the episode, like the content of so many other episodes, once again undercut one of Lost’s most prominent visual motifs. This contest betwixt Jacob and his brother has been characterized as a black-and-white affair since before we had met either of the characters. We’ve been repeatedly reminded of this characterization throughout the run of the show, with talk of “good guys,” “bad guys,” “war” and “infection.” However, the more we’ve dug into the lives and personalities of the characters concerned, the more we’ve come to see all of them as conflicted, broken and ambiguous. Even the noblest of them have been tragically flawed and even the worst of them have been sympathetically damaged.
With the conclusion of season five, we got our long-awaited introduction to Jacob, whom the series had been hinting at and name-checking for years. And we also met the Man in Black. With that, it seemed as though the flawed, gray characters we had been following for five years (Or three years. Or thirty. Depending on how you look at it.) were just the battlefield on which these unambiguous forces of good and evil were waging their war against one another. You’d be forgiven if, at the end of season five, you thought season six was just going to be a re-hash of God, the Devil and Bob.
Season six introduced a lot more ambiguity to the proceedings, though. Yes, UnLocke smacked Richard in the throat and pulled a Palpatine when he tried to get Sawyer to give in to hate and anger. But he also spoke eloquently and convincingly about his desire for freedom and his sympathy for some of our castaways. (Also, he killed Bram, which many people considered a public service.) Throughout the season, particularly in the first half, people who like to debate this sort of thing couldn’t agree on whether our castaways should cast their collective lot with Jacob or with UnLocke. (An interesting trend I noticed: Despite his more humanist views, Jacob was the resounding favorite amongst my deist friends; despite his apparent belief in original sin, the Man in Black was the go-to guy amongst my staunchly secular and atheist friends.)
UnLocke’s cold act of Lapiducide last week was supposed to remove the last vestiges of any such ambiguity and set the terms for the finale: UnLocke is the villain; people who oppose him are the heroes. UnLocke’s goal is to kill the people we care about; Jacob’s goal has been to protect them.
And one week later they give us an episode that once again muddies the Temple’s waters, as the saying goes.
Yes, UnLocke wants to kill our plucky castaways. But he’s also more sympathetic now than ever. He was lied to as a child, is imprisoned on Craphole Island despite the fact that he just wants to see where he comes from and find out who he really is. To add insult to injury, his own brother, who never wanted to leave the Island in the first place, can apparently come and go as he damn well pleases. We’ll probably never find out exactly why getting thrown in the Island’s glowy hole turned him into a nebulous, shape-shifting column of mind-reading smoke, but it does lend an appropriate underscore to the fact that he feels like he doesn’t really know who he is or where he comes from. And I’ve gotta tell ya, I feel for the guy—I just don’t want him to escape.