"Two days after I found out that I had a fatal tumor on my spine, a spinal surgeon fell out of the sky...If that's not proof of God, I don't know what is."
This exchange between Ben and Jack in "Lost" episode "The Cost of Living," while Jack's imprisoned in the bowels of the Hydra station is more than just an epistemological debate -- it's a heck of a bit of writing that, to my way of thinking, helps prove that the first half of "Lost's" third season has been unfairly maligned as being weak. In preparation for tonight's two-hour, season four closer, I dove into the season three DVD set again.
Time has softened some of the harsher criticism, but in the fall of 2006 it seemed that even some of the show's most devoted fans felt the show was off the rails in the first six segs that aired in October and early November, before taking a two-month break. That skedding pattern didn't work well for the peculiar storytelling pattern of "Lost" -- live and learn, and to ABC's credit, they surely did.
But my goodness, let us not forget that the first few segs of season three are the ones that truly introduce us to Evil Sadistic Madman Ben -- beating Sawyer to a pulp, making Kate break rocks in the hot sun in an itty bitty sun dress and keeping them in cages while he plays major head trips with Jack in the underground glass-walled cage. He's so bad ass he's not afraid to stroll around in tan pans and white shoes well after Labor Day.
(One thing I'm not entirely clear on: Jack attacks his dad at the AA meeting, thinking he's been messing around with Sarah -- but that's just Jack being crazy-paranoid, right? I can't see Sarah fooling around with Christian.)
These are the days of fish biscuits, Juliet getting to an uneasy peace with Jack and of course, the priceless scene of Ben showing Jack footage of the unthinkable -- the Red Sox winning the World Series in "The Glass Ballerina." That same seg has great Sun-Jin backstory and their relation to Mr. Paik. I found it interesting that in this seg Sun suggests to Jin that they run away and start a new life somehow.
"Further Instructions," third episode of the season, seems to foreshadow a lot with the flashbacks of Locke in the hippie fruit- and pot-growing farm, where Locke picks up the hitchhiker (in a Geronimo Jackson T-shirt!) who happens to be an undercover cop. The idea of Locke being part of an alternative commune-type society up off the beaten path in Northern California run by a couple, Jan and Mike, has all kinda Dharma parallels, natch.
There's much more to love in those six segs:
Sawyer's backstory in prison and the revelation of his daughter Clementine;
Hurley running into Desmond in his birthday suit ("You're not going to like, turn in to the Hulk or something?" Hugo asks after Des explains the business about the hatch imploding.);
The death of the femme Other named Colleen, wife of the really nasty Ben henchman Pickett, whose demise from a gunshot fired by Sun clearly has a huge impact on Juliet, in a fine bit of wordless acting by Elizabeth Mitchell;
Ben leading Sawyer up to the cliff so he can see that he's imprisoned on a separate island, and then quoting back "Of Mice and Men" to Sawyer;
Mr. Ecko getting the you-know-what beaten out of him over and over, until he loses in the jungle with creepy visions of his brother and a final do-see-do with Smokey;
Juliet doing her version of the "Subterranean Homesick Blues" sequence from "Don't Look Back," when she's purportedly showing Jack a vid of "To Kill a Mockingbird" while actually trying to give him instructions to kill Ben on the operating table;
A brief shot that made me jump in my chair: The first glimpse of Cyclops! In the seg "Cost of Living" where Nikki, of all people, suggests they might try to tune in some of the other monitors in the Pearl station hatch to see if there's any connection to other stations. When that snowy screen tunes in to Mikael looking back at them and then covering the camera on his end ... chilling;
"Don't mistake coincidence for fate," Locke tells Des in "Cost of Living." So true, so true.
Our "Lost" heroes Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse may not have had the same kind of storytelling clarity in season three as they have had this season, after setting the series end date for 2010, but they're definitely laying tracks in these segs that move the story along in important ways.