Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Constant Craving: LOST Gets a New Lease on Life, Brotha. Plus: Checking in with CHUCK

LOST Thoughts:

- Last night, finally, we got a Desmond episode. And if there's one "constant" in the Lost universe, it's that Desmond episodes are almost always great. When Desmond is in the spotlight, the dynamics of the series seem to shift entirely. Characters like Jack and Hurley are essentially mundane people caught in extraordinary circumstances. But Desmond - he is Lost's true epic hero. With Desmond at the forefront, Lost takes on a dramatic weight of Shakespearean proportions - Desmond is the time-lost hero, the unstuck man - his character elevates Lost from soap-opera serial to sci-fi epic. And in "Happily Ever After," we once again buckled up and got taken on a rocketship ride to the great beyond. This was, I think, the best episode of Lost so far this season, by far.

Man, isn't Lost so much more enjoyable when it isn't about two mysterious, semi-omnipotent demigods playing a cosmic game of human chess? Hells yeah, I say. This episode to me was Lost at its best - mind-bending, profound, emotional - a self-contained puzzle that we try to solve along with the characters. High adventure. Epic romance. Heroes and villains. I don't think this episode was quite operating at the same heights as "The Constant," but it was close - and it brought that same sense of awe and wonder and narrative purpose to a season that, so far, has been sorely in need of those very qualities.

Henry Ian Cusick was phenomenal in this episode. As Desmond, he hits just the right tone for Lost, which some of the other actors on the show tend to struggle with. Cusick is so captivating because he feels like a man on a quest, like a man who really is lost. He sells the show's mysteries with just the right blend of horror and wonder. And he brings a gravitas to the show that really rings true. His romance with Penny instantly feels legitimate. The chemistry between the two characters is palpable. We instantly believe that they are each other's anchor in the topsy-turvy, Twilight Zone world of the show.

In addition, seeing Cusick interact with some of the best actors / best characters from Lost's history was a lot of fun. Dominic Monaghan, for one, really brought his A-game in this episode. It was awesome seeing Charlie return in a really substantial role, and not just for a random cameo. The scene between Charlie and Desmond in the bar was just incredibly well-scripted and well-acted. Loved the call-outs to previous episode too. And man, it was great having Jeremy Davies back as Daniel Faraday, another of Lost's all-time best characters. Davies is another guy who just knows how to sell Lost's most out-there ideas in a believable way. Loved his scene with Desmond, and came away very intrigued by its ramifications on the larger plot.

And that's part of the reason why this episode worked so well. On one level, it was a semi self-contained story, but on another, it FINALLY gave a real sesne of narrative drive and purpose to the flash-sideways. We all knew they'd somehow tie into the main action on the island. But for weeks now, the flashes have just felt extraneous - one more look into the psyches of characters who have already been analyzed and deconstructed to death. THIS is what the flashes should have been all along - glimpses of another reality, but with a real sense of urgency, a concrete and tangible tie to the island. I don't know why we had to wait so long for the alternaverse stories to finally have a sense of dramatic importance and purpose, but this episode quickly established a new set of rules and in doing so, raised the stakes. What's the phrase that the show's creators like to throw around? Oh yeah ... game-changer.

So what are the new rules? We don't quite know yet, but we know that there is a connection between the two realities, and that the fabric that separates them may be coming apart at the seams. We know that the concept of a "constant" seems to hold not just in linear time, but across multiple realities. Desmond's constant, Penny, is what allows him to see beyond his reality. The same occurs for Charlie, and for Faraday. Now the question is, at episode's end, what does Desmond know? And what is his plan (on the island and in the alternaverse?). We know that, in one reality, he wants to track down the varous passengers of Oceanic Flight 815. But on the island, why does he so willingly go with Sayid, and was that part of Widmore's plan, or was it Desmond's own agenda coming into play? You have to wonder - what does Widmore have in mind for Desmond, anyways? Why is it important to Widmore that he could survive an electromagnetic system shock?

In any case, this episode was simply filled with great scenes and memorable moments. The fateful meeting between Desmond and Penny, at the same park where Desmond once first encountered Jack? Classic. The aforementioned bar scene with Desmond and Charlie? Awesome. Faraday and Desmond on the bench? Totally captivating. Even the cold open, with a horrified Desmond held captive by Widmore's crew, forced into a test chamber and shocked, Dr. Manhattan-style, into a state of unstuck electro-conciousness ... 100% intense, and one hell of a way to kick off an episode.

Again, in and of itself, this was a great episode, a potent blend of sci-fi, adventure, romance, and trippiness. But in the bigger picture, this was, I think, THE pivotal episode that sets the stage for the remainder of the season and series. In the span of an hour, Lost was jolted back to life with a new sense of narrative purpose and urgency. I don't know if the rest of the season's episodes will be able to live up to this one, but if they do, we are potentially in for a treat. It's funny, I like Lost for a lot of different reasons, and it's amazing how many characters and concepts make up the tapestry of the show at this point. But I will say this: I'd be willing to watch many more of the time and reality-spanning adventures of Desmond and Penny. Even as other characters and storylines have worn out their welcome, these two and their epic story have unexpectedly become the heart and soul of Lost.

My Grade: A


- I also want to talk about this week's fairly kickass episode of CHUCK. This one was apparently originally planned as a season or even series finale, and it showed. In many ways, this blockbuster installment felt like a fitting finale for the show and its characters. Shaw showed his true colors, Chuck proved his mettle and won back Sarah, Morgan became a spy (sort-of), and Casey was reinstated to his old position. The leader of The Ring was captured. All that was left was for Chuck and Sarah to ride off into the sunset. But, wait, we still have six more episodes of Chuck this season. So this episode actually serves as a new beginning of sorts. I think that's exciting, as there's still a lot to explore - Elie and Awesome's future, the hijinks at the Buy More, Morgan's start as a member of Team Bartowski, etc. It's going to be exciting and a lot of fun getting the chance to dive into the next chapter of Chuck.

As for this episode, I thought it got off to a shaky start, but really rallied in the end, and came together in pretty spectacular fashion. I did love the opening though - it used the tried and true tactic of throwing so much at you in such a short timeframe that you're left to wonder "what could possibly follow that?" Seeing Chuck order half the military to swoop in and "save" Sarah from Shaw, who Chuck mistakenly assumed had gone rogue, made for one bigtime (and entertaining) opening. However, the whole issue of whether or not Shaw had indeed turned to the dark side got a bit grating from that point on. As soon as we realized that Shaw was off the hook in the opening, it was clear that he was, in truth, up to no good. And yet, the explanation for his defection to the ring was never all that great. He himself said earlier that he didn't blame Sarah for what happened to his wife - and yet, shortly thereafter, he plans to murder her for a crime she was manipulated into committing? Shaw was always portrayed as a pretty straight shooter - so it seemed rushed to suddenly turn him into an uber-villain, even if he was more tragic-badguy as opposed to outright evil. Again, I wish some seeds had been planted earlier in the season, or, barring that, that a slightly better explanation for his working with The Ring was given. I mean, did we ever find out why his wife was even targeted in the first place? A little more background or context would have gone a long way to making this whole angle feel less like a convenient plot device to set up Shaw as a foil for Chuck.

Still, the heart of this episode wasn't really about Shaw. Instead, it was about Chuck coming into his own as a spy, and becoming a leader of sorts to people like Morgan and even Casey. As Chuck rallied Morgan to his cause, that magic from a couple of episodes ago flooded back - there is just a huge spark to those Chuck-Morgan scenes that makes you laugh and even want to stand up and cheer. I liked that Morgan, thanks to his extensive kung-fu movie IQ, recognized that Shaw had pulledh is punches in his fight with the Ring operatives. And I loved Morgan consoling Chuck over his perceived loss of Sarah - Chuck's whiskey and Guitar Hero bender was hilarious. Even better was Morgan convincing Casey to join up with he and Chuck to go save Sarah from Shaw. "There is another." That was one of those goofy-yet-awesome scenes that you can't help but smile at. Same goes for Casey convincing Beckman to give him his old job back - so great. And how about Beckman reluctantly calling Morgan to recruit him to the team? Now that was a classic CHUCK moment. Like I said, even if all the pieces had to be put in place a bit hastily, the episode really came together in the end. Despite some clunkiness, this episode had a number of moments that exemplified Chuck at its best. It would have made for a pretty damn good finale, but at the same time, it set up a pretty cool new status quo. Chuck and Sarah are finally together - no more will-they-or-won't they soap operatics. Morgan is a spy. Casey is back kicking ass. Shaw is sleeping with the fishes. It's the end of one chapter, but there's a lot of cool story still to be told. I'm excited for the further adventures of Mr. Bartowski and his band of misfits -- long live Chuck.

My Grade: A-

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