March 24, 2008 | Comments ()

By Daniel Carlson | Lost Recaps | March 24, 2008 |


“Lost” is all about throwing old structure out the window this season. The Jin/Sun fakeout in the previous week’s “Ji Yeon” worked so well because there had never been a simultaneous flashback/flashforward, and the latest episode, “Meet Kevin Johnson,” is pretty much just one giant flashback. Aside from a few opening scenes and a (literally) killer ending that falls somewhere between legitimately shocking and just the random kind of death the writers apparently needed the episode to have to match the surprise finishes of the rest of the season, “Meet Kevin Johnson” was one long story about most of what happened to Michael between the time he left the island and his return to its orbit on the freighter Kahana. Interestingly, because of the nature of the prolonged flashback, the episode was one of the most linear of the entire series, which inherently hampered the drama. Half the tension usually comes from being tossed from one time period and storyline to another, but “Meet Kevin Johnson” was just about one man, and not even the most likable or interesting one on the show. But it was still a decent episode, and for filling in Michael’s history, laying more groundwork for a finale, and revealing that Mr. Friendly is actually gay, it deserves a little respect.

The episode opens at the Barracks, with Locke’s crew awkwardly hanging out in silence and staring at Ben, who’s just sitting there. Locke shows up with Miles, who’s still bound at the wrists, and the meeting gets under way. Locke says it’s time for Miles to fess up to his actual intentions, so he says he and the rest of the freighter’s crew are there for Ben. Hurley, in a wonderful moment that skewers the series’ inevitable need to repeat the same information over and over again, says, “Um, we kind of like knew that forever ago.” Sawyer and Hurley want to turn Ben over to the freighter, but Ben tells them that once he’s gone, the ship’s crew is under orders to kill everyone else on the island. Miles, cementing his douchebaggery, doesn’t dispute this. Claire is understandably perturbed that Ben is now finding asylum with the castaways, and Hurley chips in that Ben won’t even reveal the identity of his spy on the boat. “My spy on the freighter is Michael,” Ben says casually, which stops the room. Sawyer’s pissed that Michael’s betrayal has apparently been rewarded, but Locke just shrugs it off.

Out on the ship, Sayid and Desmond are sleeping in their roach-infested and blood-stained cabin when alarms begin to sound. Racing to the deck, they see an inflated raft leaning against the side of the ship and Captain Gault beating the tar out of a pair of crewmembers. While thrashing them, Gault reminds the crew that desertion is still a no-no, and that no one is allowed to leave without Gault’s green light. He tells them that as soon as the engines are fixed, they’ll be “back in the hunt.” He yells at Johnson to clean up the mess, so Michael comes over. Sayid strides right up to him and says it’s time to talk, but Michael doesn’t want them to be seen talking together with the captain and everyone else still around. Sayid ignores him and asks, “Why are you on this boat?” Michael says, “I’m here to die,” then walks off to get his mop. Michael’s looking pretty terrible.

Back at the Barracks, Locke is walking Miles back to the boathouse (I guess) when Sawyer catches up to them and calls out Locke for being hypocritical about the whole “no more secrets” vibe he’d been putting out at the meeting. Sawyer says he knows about the $3.2 million Miles is trying to extort from Ben, but Locke replies that since he himself doesn’t see a way for Ben to pull it off, it wasn’t worth mentioning. Miles laughs his douchey laugh and reminds them that Ben has gone from being a prisoner at gunpoint to a well-groomed member of Locke’s crew inside a week, so odds are good he can dig up the cash. Inside the house, everyone is still just kind of hanging out, and Ben is working up some paternal anger watching Karl hold onto Alex. Ben calls Alex over and gives her a map he drew to a Dharma station called the Temple, which he describes as a “sanctuary” where Alex will be safe. “How come we don’t know about this?” Karl asks. Ben looks like he’s considering whether he would get in trouble for kicking Karl, but settles for simply replying, “Well, it wouldn’t be a sanctuary if I told everyone, would it?” The Temple was first mentioned in the Season Three finale, when Ben told Richard Alpert to lead the rest of the Others to the Temple as part of their plan, the details of which have never been revealed since Ben eventually got himself beat up and kidnapped. Ben tells Alex that she’ll be in danger if the people on the boat figure out that Alex is Ben’s daughter, and Karl and Rousseau agree that it would be best if the three of them took off for the Temple right away. “Your mother will protect you,” Ben says, meaning you just know something bad is coming.

The next morning, Sayid and Desmond are enjoying a sunrise chat when Sayid questions one of the crew and finds out that Michael is down in the engine room. Michael is indeed down there working on the engines with another guy, Jeff, but when Sayid and Desmond show up, Michael sends Jeff out to pick up a pressure valve from the supply room so he can have some time to talk. Once the three men are alone, Sayid wheels on Michael and pins him against the wall. He looks like he’s moments away from beating him up, and he asks Michael to start explaining what he’s doing on the boat. Michael says, “You wouldn’t understand,” but Sayid isn’t about to be shaken off so easily. “I’ll understand perfectly, Michael.” And with that, Michael’s episode-spanning flashback begins.

It’s sometime in the past. Michael is sitting a crappy apartment and writing a note while looking at a framed photo of himself and Walt. He’s holding back tears while he writes the note, which he tears off the pad and carries with him out to his car. He starts the ignition and hears Mama Cass singing “It’s Getting Better” — from the same album as her “Make Your Own Kind of Music,” a nice in-series shout-out — as he pins the note to his jacket and speeds away. He winds up down at the docks, where he guns it and crashes into a giant shipping container in a painful suicide attempt. The next thing he knows, he’s in a hospital bed. He wakes up when the nurse walks in, except the nurse turns out to be Libby, offering Michael some blankets. He screams and wakes up from the nightmare, when the actual nurse comes in and asks how he’s doing. Michael doesn’t respond. She says he had no ID on him and asks if she should call Walt, which startles Michael. She reminds him that the note pinned to his jacket was addressed to Walt, but Michael says he doesn’t want Walt to be contacted. There’s a Christmas tree out in the hall, which probably sets Michael’s hospital visit in December 2004, not long before Desmond’s time-traveling in “The Constant,” which took place around the 24th or 26th (it’s confusing).

Later, Michael is walking down the street — this guy is a phenomenal healer — when he comes to a white house that’s also decked out for the holidays. He knocks on the door, and an older black woman answers, which turns out to be Michael’s mother. Michael asks to see Walt, who’s staying at the house, but Michael’s mother turns him down. “I don’t know what you said to that boy, but whatever it was, he doesn’t want to see you,” she tells him. Michael’s mother rails at him in a harsh whisper that she’s fed up with Michael’s secrecy and the fact that she’s not allowed to address him or Walt by their real names or tell anyone they apparently survived the crash of Oceanic Flight 815. “So until you can explain to me where you were for over two months and what happened, you gave up your rights” as a father, she says. Michael, sensing his mother won’t take any crap from him, just asks her to pass on his love to Walt, which she quietly agrees to do before heading back inside. Michael walks away as a light comes on in the upstairs bedroom, and he turns to look up just as a kid who’s supposed to be Walt disappears from the window. I say “supposed to be” because you barely see the boy, which brings up the inherent problem of a show that spends its first four years on the air covering approximately 100 days of story. You can do all you want with makeup or wigs with the adults, but when one of your main actors is 13 years old in the pilot episode, you’re going to run into some pretty big continuity problems. They skirted it a little by having Walt appear to Locke as older, taller, and with a deeper voice, but unless the writers decide to make Walt a victim of the island’s space-time wonkiness, which has caused him to inexplicably age a few years, they’re going to have to write him out or get another actor. I hope they go with the whole aging/relativity thing, or at least something semi-plausible by the standards of the show’s universe.

Dejected, Michael heads to a pawn shop and hawks the watch he got from Jin in exchange for a revolver and ammunition. He takes the gun and heads to a nearby alley, where he loads it and attempts once more to kill himself before being stopped by Tom, who steps out of the shadows and freaks Michael right out. Michael, who probably hasn’t spoken directly with Tom since Walt was kidnapped, fires a shot, but Tom sidesteps Michael and disarms him. Michael takes a swing and hits Tom in the gut, but Tom beats him down. Michael stands and lands a punch right on Tom’s nose, then shatters a nearby bottle and prepares to cut Tom’s throat, but Tom pulls the gun back out. Michael drops the bottle and begs Tom to kill him, but Tom just lowers the weapon. Tom says he needs Michael’s help, but Michael refuses. Then, in one of those weird silent moments where big info is somehow transmitted, Tom realizes that Michael confessed to Walt about murdering Libby and Ana-Lucia in his efforts to rescue Walt. Tom tells Michael that even with his guilt, suicide is impossible. “You can’t kill yourself,” Tom says. “The island won’t let you.” Michael is stunned to hear this, but Tom just gives him the gun back and tells him to try it if he doesn’t believe it. Tom says that Michael has more work to do, and when he’s ready to do it, he can come find Tom in the penthouse at the Hotel Earle (a nod to the Coen brothers’ Barton Fink).

Back at his ugly little apartment, Michael watches a game show and tries to kill himself: He raises the gun to his temple and pulls the trigger, but nothing happens. He checks that it’s loaded, which it is, and he raises the gun for a second time when the TV begins broadcasting a news bulletin about the discovery of the wreckage of Oceanic 815. The anchor says that hopes are low that any bodies or the black box will be recovered, so the real story might never be known. The cover-up is the final motivation Michael needs to get some answers out of Tom, so he heads over to the hotel. Tom answers the door and lets Michael in, where Michael sees that Tom is hanging out with a dude named Arturo, and not in a generic roommate kind of way. Tom tells Arturo that he’s got some business to take care of with Michael in private, so Arturo kisses Tom on the cheek and excuses himself, while Tom looks at Michael and practically dares him to say something. “Don’t make it to the mainland too often,” Tom says, “so when I do, I like to indulge myself.” Way to go, Tom. Tom admits that some of the Others can come and go from the island, and when Michael asks about the wreckage, Tom explains that (of course) it’s a fake that’s been planted by “a man named Widmore,” who staged the whole thing because he doesn’t want anyone to really find out where the plane crashed. Michael asks for proof, so Tom tosses him a black folder full of info on Widmore, including a paper trail that shows how Widmore purchased a jumbo jet and dug up a cemetery in Thailand to provide the requisite corpses. Tom tells Michael that Widmore has a boat leaving Fiji in a few days that’s headed to the island, which Widmore has finally managed to locate. Tom tells Michael that he’ll be working on the boat as a saboteur to prevent it from ever reaching the island. “Meet Kevin Johnson,” Tom says, handing Michael a phony passport for Michael’s undercover identity. Tom tells Michael that this is his chance to redeem himself for betraying his friends, who will die if Widmore finds the island, but Michael balks at returning. But Tom’s got one more surprise: “I didn’t say you were going back to the island. You’re not going on that boat to swab decks, Michael. You’re going so you can kill everyone on board.”

I guess that’s all Michael needed to hear, because the next thing you know, he’s pulling up to the Kahana’s dock in a battered old taxi. Michael meets Minkowski, who’s just weeks away from time-jumping to his own demise, and Naomi, also not far from being stabbed in the back by Locke. Michael and Naomi chat about where they’re from, and Naomi points out a crate that was delivered for “Kevin Johnson,” which she’ll have sent to his berth. Michael boards the ship and finds Miles sitting on a crate and eating an orange. Miles says he knows Michael is lying about his name, but adds that “80 percent of the people on this boat are lying about something.” Miles apparently delights in making really creepy first impressions. Michael gets a call on his cell from Tom, who joking asks Michael about the trip since “flying can’t be much fun” for him. Michael cops to getting cold feet, but Tom tells him to “man up” and get on the boat. Michael ditches the phone and heads inside.

A few days later, Michael is hanging out on deck when he hears Frank and Naomi arguing nearby about who gets to go to the island first. Frank contends that his age and experience with the chopper means he should go, but Naomi says she’ll be the one going while Frank stays behind to transport the science team. Franks asks what she’ll be doing, and Naomi responds that her activities are on a need-to-know basis and walks off. Frank saunters over to Michael and produces a cigar out of nowhere while making an awesomely dated jab about the “fairer sex” that makes me wish he were in every episode. Frank asks Michael what brought him on the journey, and Michael says he’s just “looking for a little adventure.” That’s enough to prompt Frank to spill the beans about how the freighter’s purpose is to find the real wreck of Oceanic 815, since he and the boat’s owner, Charles Widmore, both believe the plane is still out there somewhere. It’s pretty random for Frank to just bring this up; you have to wonder if he does this with everyone on board or just those who have a hidden connection to the island. Some time later, Michael sits in his bunk and stares at the mystery crate, which he still hasn’t opened.

The next day (or whenever), Michael is swabbing a wall when he hears automatic gunfire. He runs to find Keamy, Omar, and the rest of what appears to be a mercenary crew shooting skeet off the side of the ship. “I thought we were going on a rescue mission,” Michael says. When was this established? Regardless, Keamy just blows him off and tells him to get back to cleaning. Back in his room, Michael opens the crate and pulls out a black case, even as Keamy and the rest continue to shoot stuff topside. Michael carries the case to the engine room and sets it down next to one of the fuel lines. He opens the case and removes a false top layered with tools to reveal a sizable amount of plastic explosives attached to a keypad. He enters the code 71776 and prepares to hit the Execute button when he hears the Cass Elliot song from his first suicide attempt. He spins around and sees nothing, then sees Libby standing there. “Don’t do it, Michael,” she says while moving her head in a weird alien way that could be a side effect of being dead. Michael turns back to the bomb and hits the button, but when it finally counts down to zero, a little flag pops up. Michael removes a small scroll from the flag and unrolls it: “NOT YET” is all it says. Man, Michael is getting all kinds of screwed in his efforts to end his life.

Later, Michael is in his bunk, tossing a ball against the wall in a manner that’s (to me) reminiscent of Steve McQueen in The Great Escape. Minkowski comes in and asks if Michael is “going Nicholson,” citing The Shining and the slow decent into madness of Nicholson’s character. Minkowski catches the ball and tells Michael he’s got a call in the radio room from the mainland. Michael tells him it’s a mistake, since no one knows he’s here, but Minkowski just repeats that there’s a call for Kevin Johnson from someone named Walt. They head to the radio room, where Minkowski lets Michael take the call in private. Michael puts on the headset and asks for Walt, and the crushing disappointment in hearing Ben’s voice on the other end is all over his face. Michael tells Ben that the bomb was a fake, and Ben is actually surprised that Michael went so far as to activate it. Michael reverts back to his old explosive self and shouts at Ben before calming down. Ben tells Michael that the point of the fake bomb was to prove that Ben wouldn’t kill innocent people, the ones on the freighter who have no idea what kind of man Widmore really is. Ben contends that Widmore is an indiscriminate killer, which is what sets the two apart. Michael tells Ben that Ana-Lucia and Libby were innocent, but Ben reminds him: “You killed them, Michael. No one asked you to.” Ben tells Michael to compile a manifest of everyone on board and have it ready the next time Ben calls, after which Michael will disable the radio equipment and then the engines. Michael struggles with the decision of following Ben’s orders, which would mean willingly serving the man who’s already done much to ruin his life, but eventually agrees. “Then consider yourself one of the good guys,” Ben tells him, while Michael weeps.

End flashback. Sayid and Desmond are still in the engine room listening to Michael. Sayid takes a moment and asks, “So you’re telling me you’re working for Benjamin Linus?” The disgust and betrayal in his voice are obvious, and that’s what makes his reaction so potent: We know that Sayid himself will wind up working for Ben after he leaves the island, and though we don’t yet know the circumstances of their future arrangement, it’s clear that Ben can get what he wants from those he controls. But Sayid doesn’t know of his own doom, so he instead attacks Michael and leads him down the hall to Gault’s cabin. Gault asks what’s going on, and Sayid lets it all out: Michael’s a former castaway and survivor of Oceanic 815 who’s now in the employ of Benjamin Linus, under whose orders he destroyed the radio and engines. Gault just stares at Michael, and I was hoping for one more dramatic beat in the scene — even if it’s just Gault saying “I see,” or even, what the hell, “I know” — but the action cuts away.

Back on the island, Rousseau, Alex, and Karl are hiking through a grove of trees on their way to the Temple. They stop to rest and rehydrate while Rousseau studies the map. Karl looks around nervously, and when Alex asks what’s wrong, he inadvertently quotes Star Wars and says, “I have a bad feeling about this.” He and Alex do some low-level flirting that moves them past the tension that’s been building over the fact that they’re following Ben’s plan to head to the temple, and that’s when you hear the tiny fwip sound of a silenced bullet being fired. A hole appears in Karl’s water bottle, but before anyone can think to move, Karl takes a shot to the chest and goes down, dead. Alex bends over him and begins to cry, panicked, as Rousseau runs back to her and pulls her away from Karl and behind the relative cover of a tree. Rousseau tells Alex to take her hand and get ready to run. “I love you very much, Alexandra,” Rousseau tells her daughter. She counts to three, springs to her feet, and is felled by another shot instantly. Alex slides back to the ground, cowering behind the tree, staring at her mother’s body. The shots have been coming from behind her, but she can see the plants in front of her start to move, too, and she knows she’s surrounded. Unable to think of anything else to do, she jumps up and throws her hands in the air, pleading for mercy from her unseen attackers: “Wait! Don’t!” she cries. “I’m Ben’s daughter! I’m his daughter!”

And that’s that, for now. The episode wasn’t terrible, but it lacked the dramatic pull of the rest of the season, largely because it was filling in gaps that were common sense. What’s more, the twist ending wasn’t tied to the rest of the story like the others had been, and what could have been a moment of revelation felt a little too much like the producers were casting about for a shock ending out of necessity instead of honesty. Plus, we never got a Rousseau flashback, which is a little disappointing, though since the series now seems to be functioning mostly on flashforwards, maybe it was never in the cards. Also, I’m not so sure the shooters at the end were from the freighter; since it was Ben’s idea for Alex to go to the Temple in the first place, and since he’s proven more than adept at staying in touch with the rest of the Others, maybe he dispatched the assassins to take out Karl and Rousseau and whisk Alex away to the Temple.

“Lost” is going away for a while and will return on April 24, when it slides back an hour to 10 p.m. ET with five new episodes, bringing the season total to 13 instead of the originally planned 16. But hey, I’m just happy the strike ended in time for the season to be guaranteed some resolution. When the series returns, so will the recaps. Until then, hit me with your theories.

Daniel Carlson is the managing editor of Pajiba and a low-level employee at a Hollywood industry magazine. You can visit his blog, Slowly Going Bald.

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I Told You Once Before Goodbye, But I Came Back Again

"Lost: Meet Kevin Johnson" (S4/E8) Recap / Daniel Carlson

Lost Recaps | March 24, 2008 | Comments ()



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