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Sunday, September 25, 2022
When it comes to watching 'Lost,' be patient, grasshoppers
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When it comes to watching 'Lost,' be patient, grasshoppers

I haven't spoiled the crap out of ""Lost"" here in a while, so commence your groaning and flip to the comics if you're still back in season three waiting for Sawyer and Kate to get out of the cages. We're coming up on the halfway point in the final season of ""Lost,"" and every week fans and critics gripe about the fact that much of each episode thus far has been dedicated to flashes of the ""Sideways world,"" a what-if dimension where, in addition to Oceanic 815 safely landing in L.A., aspects of each former castaway's life are just a little different. Jack has a son and keeps finding weird scars on his body. Hurley thinks he's the luckiest guy in the world, not cursed. And apparently Ben is a good guy.

Until last week's episode, the Sideways story had seemed an oddly peaceful diversion from the brooding war on the Island. With ""Dr. Linus,"" things started to get really interesting—we flashed to a world where the Island's big, bad Benjamin Linus was a simple European history teacher, explaining the fall and exile of Napoleon Bonaparte to a class full of bored high schoolers.

Like previous Sideways stories, Ben bumps into a few would-be castaways—Doc Arzt, famous for being blown to tiny pieces in the first season, returns as a science teacher in Ben's school. And Ben's star pupil is, of course, Alex Rousseau: his adopted Island daughter.

The brilliance here is how the action of the flash-sideways mirrors the Island past and present—Ben's lecture on Napoleon's impotence and humiliation in exile mirrors Island Ben's powerlessness now that Not Locke has taken over the Island. Like his manipulations of Jack, Juliet or Locke, Ben tries to manipulate Arzt and the school's principal to make a power grab for the principal's job. In a scene that mirrors mercenary Keamy holding a gun to Alex's head while Ben refuses to turn himself in, the principal threatens to ruin Alex's college recommendation letter if Ben doesn't drop his blackmailing scheme—but this Ben values her future over his own personal agenda and returns to his powerlessness.

Sideways Ben, like the rest of the Sideways world, seems to have changed for the better.

Like a lot of fans, I yearn for the explanations to mysteries that got me hooked on the show in the first place. We need to see the people behind the Dharma Initiative in Ann Arbor. We still need to see the magic box. We need to find out what will happen with the volcano. But it should never come at the expense of the characters—while the flash-sideways is certainly the oddest story conceit the show has used thus far, it's creating contrasts with the Island that highlight how six seasons of adventure have affected them emotionally and psychologically. 

How is this device much different from narrative gambles in other shows? ""How I Met Your Mother""'s bodiless Future Ted explains the exploits of his past self in every episode. Or, in the last few seasons of ""Dexter,"" where flashbacks to his father's lessons on safe serial killing  have evolved into an imaginary ""dark passenger"" in the form of his father that follows him around, scolding him for breaking his ""code.""

Patience is my advice to the frustrated. Patience. I know we've been hearing that for years, but the diversions here will be well worth the richness that they add to the characters. Besides, with only nine episodes to go, we should savor every second we can get with these characters.

In a parallel timeline, Mark gave up on ""Lost"" back in the cages and now his favorite show is ""Glee."" Thankfully, he only has a column in this dimension. Send your theories on combining the two worlds at mriechers@wisc.edu.

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