Getting Lost (Redux): Exodus

There are many reasons to be skeptical heading into next Sunday’s Lost finale: the massive expectations, the unevenness of Season Six’s quality, the limited number of successful television finales compared to the vast array of “disappointments,” etc. But there is one reason why I am still confident that the Lost series finale will be memorable for the right reasons: This show knows how to do finales, and “Exodus” was the first example of that.

As I’ve said before, I didn’t watch Season One as it aired, and even as I was catching up on DVD, I wasn’t totally sold on the series. There were moments of high suspense and taut action, but there were also stretches in which the show seemed to be spinning its wheels, and I found the flashback stories almost unbearably trite and boring at times. “Exodus,” the three-hour finale to the first season, was probably the first episode that made me see that there was something uniquely appealing about Lost.

“Exodus” functions almost like a feat of impressive engineering—the plot is structured so well that it almost doesn’t matter what the actual story is. Every character gets something to do—and it’s almost always something important and character-appropriate. The episode is divided into three separate plots that are segregated enough to give each a fair amount of focus each one, yet related enough to have them connect and conclude simultaneously. All the pieces fit together naturally, and in a story with as many things going on as Lost has, that is quite a feat.

The episode opens with Danielle Rousseau showing up on the beach to tell the survivors that “the Others are coming” for Claire’s baby (who at this point is still unnamed). Meanwhile, Michael and Jin are rushing through the final stages of constructing their boat, in order to launch before monsoon season.

If there is a structural flaw with the finale, it is perhaps that Part One feels more like a prologue than a separate episode—the first hour mainly moves the pieces into place for the final two. Nevertheless, Part One has some very touching goodbye scenes, like Jin and Sun’s separation,* and Sawyer’s revelation to Jack that he had heard Jack’s dad at a bar, confessing his love for his son. Part One also gets a fitting climax, with the launch of the raft, set against a nice Michael Giacchino score and some stunning shots of the ocean that only reminded me how much the show’s budget has shrunk (compare the end of Part One, for example, to the CGI-job that opened Season Six).

*Did I get a little choked up seeing Jin and Sun in the early stages of their Island romance just a few weeks after the two of them met such a tragic demise? I’m not answering that.

The main plot of the finale, though, is Jack and Locke’s quest for dynamite to blow open the hatch, so that the survivors can use it to hide from the Others.* This part of the episode takes us on a veritable tour of the Island, both of its terrain and of its mythology. First, we witness Locke’s serene reaction to the Smoke Monster’s noise; when everyone else runs and hides, he just calmly listens to it head in the other direction. Later, of course, the Smoke Monster tries to drag Locke down a hole, and Locke asks Jack to let him go. This kind of simpatico relationship between Locke and the Smoke Monster is pretty eerie and disturbing in light of what we now know.

*This part of the plot never really made sense to me. Why exactly are they going to hide everyone in a confined, unfamiliar space that may or may not be able to hold 40+ people? How is this the best strategy?

Of course, even the Smoke Monster wasn’t really the Smoke Monster until “Exodus.” Although the Monster was introduced 20 minutes into the pilot, it was only in “Exodus” that it became clear that all the Monster was a giant pillar of smoke.

Also introduced in “Exodus” is the Black Rock, which actually is not a rock, but a slave ship. By now, the audience probably takes the Black Rock for granted, as the place characters go when they need some dynamite, but it was a pretty eerie discovery when it first appeared. After all, as Hurley says upon finding a ship in the middle of the jungle, “How does something like that happen?” In “Exodus,” of course, the Black Rock is the sight of Arzt’s famous death scene.

Once they pick up the dynamite, Jack, Locke, and Kate have a brief scuffle over who will carry it. Even after drawing straws leaves Jack out, he still surreptitiously puts the dynamite in his own bag to protect Kate. This, I imagine, is why some people grow tired of Jack: You are the only doctor on the Island, Jack. You are infinitely more valuable that Kate. Stop protecting her. You’re being an idiot.

The real feud, though, is between Jack and Locke. And in case anyone hasn’t caught on to what that feud is, Locke helpfully spells it out for us in this episode: “I think that’s why you and I don’t see eye to eye some times, Jack. You’re a man of science… I’m a man of faith.” In spite of Lost’s need to hammer everything home explicitly, this episode was probably the peak of the Jack/Locke rivalry. They are working together, but with a growing distrust. They alternate between getting along, like when they joke about Operation while picking up the dynamite, and arguing.

As with the pilot, “Exodus” contains a fair amount of dialogue and imagery that carries added weight at this point in the series.* For example, when Jack tells Locke that they are only trying to open the hatch for survival, Locke says, “Survival is all relative.” When Jack states the he doesn’t believe in destiny, Locke tells him, “Yes you do. You just don’t know it yet.” Jack of 2007 would certainly concur.

*There is also at least one thing that seems inconsistent: Rousseau claims to have heard the Others’ plans to “take the boy” (the boy, of course, turns out to be Walt, not Aaron) because she heard “whispers in the jungle,” but we recently learned that the whispers are the souls of the dead, not the Others. Oh well, I’m not here to nitpick.

Similarly, over on the boat, Michael wonders about Sawyer’s motives. After all, it’s clear why Michael wants to get off the Island (for Walt) and why Jin needs to help (for Sun), but why is Sawyer risking his life when he doesn’t have anyone? “The way I see it,” Michael says, “you’re either a hero, or you want to die.” That line certainly reminds me of Sideways Sawyer’s statement this season that, “I got to the point where it was either be a criminal or a cop.”

“Exodus” does a good job, though, of balancing character moments like these—and philosophical discussions like Sun, Shannon, and Claire’s discussion of fate—with more straightforward plot advancement and suspense, like Rousseau’s theft of Claire’s baby.

This leads to the third main plot of the finale, in which Sayid and Charlie track down Rousseau and Aaron. If any character has fallen by the wayside in the history of Lost, it’s got to be Sayid. Rewatching episodes from Season One reminded me of how important he was to the show initially. Comparatively, Sayid’s role has diminished seemingly with every season, to the point where he was basically a Zombie version of himself in Season Six. Even his death was completely overshadowed by Jin and Sun’s in the same episode. In “Exodus,” though, we get some vintage Sayid-is-a-badass stuff. With Jack and Locke off getting dynamite, Sayid basically takes charge of the rest of the survivors. He also helps Charlie find Aaron, even going as far as—in a scene I definitely didn’t forget—pouring gunpowder into an open wound on Charlie’s face in order to close it.

Interspersed with these taut Island plots are flashbacks to the hours leading up to Oceanic Flight 815. Even though I’ve never liked the flashbacks, I always appreciated how the producers used the finales to reinvent the flashback form. As opposed to giving us a generic “bad parent” story, or retelling the same character story, the finale flashbacks often completely change how you think about the show. Not all of the flashbacks in “Exodus” are thoroughly compelling—I could have done without the extended feature on why Hurley almost missed the plane, for example—but overall they do a good job of showcasing where all these characters were before the crash. And since none of the characters are dwelled on for too long, the stories don’t drag.

These flashbacks also play into one of Lost’s most recurring themes: the interconnectivity of the characters’ lives. All of this blends together nicely in the final montage, which was set to one of Giacchino’s great scores, that juxtaposes the intimate connections the characters would come to have with the remoteness of strangers on a plane. The montage ends with what I always thought was a brilliant way to end a season: With Jack and Locke staring down into the hatch. That final shot was a beautiful way of focusing on the confusion of the characters, rather than the mystery itself. Of course, it must have been an infuriating cliffhanger for those watching live, but that’s why mysteries of fun.

Next Sunday, of course, Lost won’t be able to end without showing the hatch, and the show has never ended the season without a cliffhanger. That may be cause for worry, but I just see it as cause for excitement.

Tune in tomorrow, when “Getting Lost (Redux)” moves to Season Two with a look at “Lockdown” …

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One response to this post.

  1. […] Exodus: The survivors launch a raft […]

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