Lost review: ‘Across the Sea’
Jacob: The good to the Man in Black’s evil? Or is it more complicated than that?
Note: Spoilers ahead for Lost’s “Across the Sea.”
One of the greatest things about Lost — and what allowed it to be so many things to so many people — was that the vastness of its cast and the structure of its flashbacks meant it could operate on so many different levels and genres from episode to episode.
It could be a sci-fi show, a period piece, a story about different characters from specific parts of the world, a time-travel adventure, or an exercise in Short Cuts-like narrative collisions. The longer the show went on, the more crevices of the series the show could explore. When it was through exploring them, it simply created new crevices and devices, like the flash-forward or the flash-sideways.
Lost has also turned into an epic meditation on its own grander-than-grand mythology of mysterious motives, of bizarre island magic, of good and evil, of life and death, and free will versus fate. The closer we’ve gotten to the end, the more those bigger (and, yes, less character-driven) themes have seemed to become a part of the life blood of the series. Before, the show was about individual moments of good and evil (not to mention shades of gray), but not in the way that was presumably represented by the gods sitting atop Mount Olympus, Jacob and the Man in Black (aka Smokey).
Now we finally get their origin stories with “Across the Sea,” which I thought was decent enough but must also say comes as something of a disappointment because it does not reach transcendence or revelation in terms of its characters’ motivations, which at times feel psychologically opaque and other times overly simplistic. In developing this grand notion of what Jacob and Smokey are, Lost has painted itself into the corner of setting enormously high expectations, and I don’t think that “Across the Sea” clears that bar. Perhaps it never could’ve.
I think the biggest part of the problem is that we already more or less understood the nature of Jacob and Smokey, even though we didn’t know the specifics. When you look at “Across the Sea,” it feels like an episode that fills in a lot of blanks that we had previously imagined, but in filling in those blanks it feels more like moving pieces around using ancient archetypes and broad templates. The specifics of Jacob and Smokey feel like they are trying to get somewhere, rather than because they feel like well-drawn characters.
I think the key thing we learn here as that the two are twin brothers, raised by a mother whom each felt favored the other. Meaning that the plot of Lost boils down to an ancient sibling rivalry played out over centuries. We still don’t understand why Smokey can’t kill Jacob, except that “it breaks the rules” — a rule set up by their mother — but I don’t see how having Ben kill Jacob gets around the rule just because it’s done by proxy. (The simple answer is that it’s just more entertaining that way, because it puts our main characters in the action to run around and make those choices that arise out of fate.)
What happens in the course of “Across the Sea” — with Jacob and Smokey (still nameless, by the way, even in his own origin story) is deliberate and slow-moving — essentially a three-character play — which wouldn’t feel like a problem if there weren’t this nagging sense that there are about 10,000 threads of Lost‘s main characters that now have to be resolved in the course of 3.5 hours minus commercials. It certainly doesn’t work as pure cinema the way this season’s other major backstory episode, Richard’s “Ab Aeterno,” did.
That’s not to say I didn’t like “Across the Sea.” Lost is dealing with some Bigger Questions here with some intriguing quirks of circumstance — like the notion of whether some of us actually have a choice, or whether they are made for us. Jacob doesn’t want to drink the wine that gives him eternal life and spend eternity guarding the island, but he chooses to. But that choice is essentially made with his mother guilting him into it, which perhaps begets the notion of Jacob pushing people toward the island with choices they thought they made.
Also: good vs. evil. Smokey is essentially Adam wanting the apple from the tree of knowledge — in his case, getting off the island to learn about the world — but instead was stopped by his mother, which led him to murder her. That in turn led Jacob to cast Smokey into the magic light, a fate worse than death that turned him into the dreaded smoke monster.
So, it’s Adam and Eve, literally, well, kind of (with the storyline and relationships shuffled about); and we find out that Smokey and his mother are indeed the “Adam and Eve” bodies found in the caves in the show’s first season. I am not well versed on the Book of Genesis, so I am not going to draw too many direct lines here, but clearly someone with more expertise could do so.
As for the island’s magical powers: The more we see of them, the more fantasy-like and contrived they become. Essentially, the island’s mysterious powers lie in a core of magic light that explains the magnetic properties and creations of smoke monsters, among others.
Of course, the bigger theme of the island is who will protect these magic properties from those who would try to exploit them, over and over and over again. Hence the Others, their war with the Dharma people, and so forth.
I realize I’ve only scratched the surface here, but that’s what I promised when I said I’d be talking about these final episodes. I want to open up a discussion here. I am not going to be delving nearly as deep as I could be. So, I put it to you, so you can do some of the heavy lifting for me.
Bottom line, “Across the Sea” is reasonable enough — and I might like it more if I wasn’t wondering what everyone else is doing back in the present in the wake of the sunken submarine and all that death. But this is one of those grand mythology episodes of Lost that I thought would be more riveting.