As an important part of the overall mythology in this final season of "Lost," episode 6.08 was well-constructed by writers Jim Galasso & Elizabeth Sarnoff, and it certainly laid out certain information in a way that sets a number of things into motion for the next few episodes. But there's still something about it as a stand-alone epsiode that seems disappointing. Slight, even, and when there are only eight episodes after this before the finale, then it's no time for "slight."
The featured player in this week's flash-sideways TIMELINE A segments is Sawyer, although he's not Sawyer in this version of reality. Instead, he's James Ford, Los Angeles cop with a dark secret and a partner named Miles. The notion of Ken Leung and Josh Holloway teamed up in a buddy cop show is just plain great, and I highly advise ABC to get busy on the spin-off right away, regardless of how the series ends. The introduction to undercover officer Sawyer is pretty canny, a spin on what we've learned about him over the years. He starts the episode in bed with a woman, and he starts to run a con on her. It's the familiar pigeon drop we've seen him do before, and the problem is that she recognizes the move as well. She draws a gun on him and tells him she knows he's a con artist since her husband is as well, and she knows the moves. He tells her that he's actually a cop, and that she's walked into a trap designed to catch her husband. It's a fun game for viewers for a few minutes, because as AlternaLocke observes later in the episode, "You're the best liar I've ever seen." James could be a cop. It could be a way to get out of trouble. It could be another layer of scam. For a few minutes, there are some rich possibilities in play.
This version of James is looking for the con man who led to his father killing his mother, then himself, leaving James alone at the age of nine. Instead of becoming a con man just like the guy, though, he became a cop, and since he day he left the academy, he's been using his law enforcement skills and connections to build a file on the mysterious "Sawyer." Determined to find him. And it's his big secret, the thing that keeps him alone in the world. He holds even his partner at arm's length, refusing to involve him at all in his personal vendetta. Much of the episode is dedicated to Miles trying to break through the barrier of secrecy that James keeps around himself at all times.
I guess my biggest problem with the James-is-a-cop material (which is to say, a small detail that bothered me, but hardly something that ruined the episode) is that it feels a little familiar. The best things about the TIMELINE A material is the way it weaves in the fates of so many characters in this alternative life. Aside from Sawyer and Miles, there's a great Kate moment that I assume has to be continued in a future episode, and there's a good chunk of material with Charlotte that I wasn't expecting, but which gave Holloway a chance to play a normal, charming, decent guy, and in that one moment, I see real potential for who he could be after "Lost." I think for some people, this is going to remain the biggest moment of their careers, but for Holloway, there's a lot of options out there for the future. He's gotten better and better over the years the show's been on the air. His search for Sawyer was pretty easy shorthand for "brooding," and it didn't pay off enough for it to have been the focus of an episode like this.
In TIMELINE B, though, Sawyer's on a roll, and I thought this was actually some of the strongest stuff we've seen from him in a while. He's pressed into service by AlternaLocke, sent over to Hydra Island to scout and see what, if anything, is waiting for them there and to check on the condition of the plane that was left there when Frank and Sun's group landed. And AlternaLocke is right to be worried, since Sawyer walks right into an ambush led by Sheila Kelly, who appears to be part of Charles Widmore's group onboard the sub. What's really interesting about AlternaLocke's observation about how Sawyer's such a great liar is the way he manipulates his way through the episode almost entirely by telling the absolute truth. He's not really lying in any of his major conversations on the Island this week, and it's a whole different type of manipulation, this frankness of his. By the end of the episode, he's moved Widmore and AlternLocke into position for a major showdown on the smaller island, and the only person who seems to be part of his real plans, at the heart of everything else he says this week, is Kate. There's a quiet moment as he walks around the long-abandoned Hydra Station early in the episode, when he finds that dress they had Kate in, and it underlines the intense longing that Sawyer obviously still has for Kate. I don't spend much time or energy worrying about who's going to "end up with" who on the show, but I do think the way Sawyer has changed over the years in his attitude towards needing or even wanting other people is one of the great things the writers have done, and I have no idea how planned it was... only that it works.
Claire and Kate shared several intense moments over the course of the episode, including one where Claire goes crazy and tries to kill Kate. It's AlternaLocke who pulls her off, slapping her to break her out of her rage. AlternaLocke really does seem to be determined to treat these people he's accumulated well. For all the talk about him being "purest evil," that's not how he comes across in this episode. He tells people the truth, talks to them like adults, confesses a complicated relationship with his "crazy mother" that defines much of his behavior. He takes responsibility for lying to Claire, for filling her with the ideas that poisoned her against Kate. He seems rattled by the consequences of his own actions in the episode, and the idea that the Smoke Monster can still be insecure and nervous and unsure of itself... that's intriguing.
Beyond that, there's not much to the episode. After last week's Ben Linus episode and before next week's Richard Alpert episode (teased in a truly awesome teaser trailer at the end of this week), maybe anything would have seemed like an anti-climax. Even so, the way the Widmore war is building and Sawyer's got a plan to get out intact with Kate in tow.
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