Wednesday, March 26, 2008

A Tapestry of Wonder

Did you ever read a book so good that you had an actual physical reaction to something you read? Perhaps you were startled into a gasp of surprise when the killer was revealed. Maybe you shed a tear of joy when the good guys finally won, or your heart pounded when things weren't going so well. Or maybe, just maybe, if the story was good enough you dropped all of your barriers and immersed yourself in the world on the page, and suddenly this was no longer a book that you were reading but a story that you were living.

This doesn't happen very often any more. More often than not, even if it's a delightful book that I enjoy reading, I don't fall into the book, losing all track of where I am or how much time is passing. Every once in a while, I get lucky and a book grabs hold that just won't let me go. But even more rare is when I get so caught up in the story that I won't let go, either, actually slowing my reading to make the book last as long as possible.

This has happened twice in recent years: once with David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, and once with Carlos Ruiz Zafon's The Shadow of the Wind. Both of these books absolutely transported me, and in both cases I didn't want to come back. And now it's happened again with Rabih Alameddine's upcoming The Hakawati.

At its simplest level, The Hakawati (Lebanese for storyteller), is the story of Osama al-Kharrat as he arrives home in Beirut to celebrate Eid al-Hada with his dying father. But there are so many other levels to enjoy! Alameddine weaves a beautiful tapestry of family history and Middle Eastern history which he then embellishes with all kinds of stories: adventures, romances, fables, tall tales, and myths. There are stories within stories within stories, yet you never get lost or even impatient--the storyteller's voice is so amazing and the characters so entertaining that you surrender to the pace of the storyteller and the will of the tale.

Pigeon wars in the skies above Beirut, war, family secrets, djinn in the underworld, hope, cruelty, privation, and so much more are all waiting for you between these covers; I hope you enjoy the journey as much as I did.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Lost Talk, The Extended Version

We have a bit of catching up to do here, so please indulge us.

Episode 5

Mark: Best. Episode. Ever.

Okay, that's a little dramatic, but seriously, one of the best episodes of all time. It was so nice to see someone that you genuinely like finally have that cathartic moment of connection with the outside world.

We like Des, and he's been one of the more sympathetic characters since he was introduced back in, what, season 2? Sheesh. Has it been that long? There was more 'oomph' in their thirty-second phone conversation than I've seen in a long time on this show. Well done, everyone.

Peggy: I totally agree. I was riveted through the whole thing and even teary-eyed at the end.

And finally, some solid clues and explanations!

Mark: Okay, so, we've got a guy traveling back and forth through his own timeline--and it's related to a massive exposure to electromagnetic energy--and time is different on the island than it is everywhere else--and you know what? It looks like I was right, after all! Quantum Physics--the 21st century version of magic! Hooray for me! And really, seeing this much of the process only makes me want to get to the hows and the whys of the island that much more. We're eventually going to hit the phrase "string theory," and then all bets are off. Mark my words on this.

Peggy: Duly marked. “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” RIP, Sir Arthur.

Mark: Who is Ben's inside man on the boat? I think myself that it's the captain. Notice how he was referenced often, but never shown? There's a big reveal coming up. Or, conversely, it could be another someone we haven't seen, oh, maybe MICHAEL?

Peggy: Good call. We know Michael will be back sometime, but if it is him, haven’t they blown their reveal? And who are these Freightees, anyway?

Mark: I'm still thinking this is the enforcer branch of the Dharma Initiative. They know an awful lot about the island and its properties. I think this is the remnants of that program, backed off to a safe distance where Ben can't gas anyone, and they are still trying to figure out what the island is. Oooh, I just had a thought: if Dharma "solves" the mystery of what the island is, does that take the island's power away?

Peggy: Hmmmmm. Maybe. But Dharma’s initial goals had nothing to do with the island—they were about human potential. It was really just their bad luck to hire Ben’s Awful Daddy, who brought his spawn along for the ride.

Mark: Say what you want about Juliet, she's at least acting as if she has some brains. Instead of inarticulately stomping around on the beach, she says to the Breakfast Club, "we're worried because you're not. So what do you know that we don't?" Jack could take a few lessons in communication with her.

Peggy: Heh. You said “Jack” and “communication” in the same sentence.

Mark: My one niggling concern is that now the Losties are split into three groups. I hope they continue to share equal time each episode rather than the more full-blown "let's follow this group around for a while" style. That really adds to the perceived drag of the show. Everyone advancing a little bit is just fine with me, thank you. Helps to keep the threads fresh from week to week, too.

Peggy: Sure, that’d be nice, but if you throw in flashbacks and flash forwards, I don’t see how they’d be able to do it. Still, you said it up top: Best Episode in a good long while, arguably the Best Episode Ever.

Episodes 6 & 7

Okay, about Last-Last Week:

Mark: First off, if Michael Emerson ISN'T nominated for an Emmy next year, I'm going to freak out. He is bloody brilliant as Ben Linus, and this episode, where he goes from Sinister Ben to down-to-Earth Ben to earnest and manipulative Ben to "You're MINE" freaked out Ben is just...well, it's really really good TV. And this is spot-on Villain 101 Writing, here: he's the bad guy, but he's not bad. He's just way more committed to his goals than you. So committed that he's not above mass-murdering.

Peggy: Agreed. He is the most compelling character on the island, doling out information and misinformation with equal aplomb. How the hell are they going to deal with this character for 2 more years?

Mark: Well, I'm all for a spin-off show with him and Sayid, wherein Ben gets even with everyone who ever crossed him for one reason or another. But let's wrap Lost up first before we talk about that.

I like that the island was just honeycombed with this deadly gas, and it took but a throw of the switch to activate it and kill everyone. Very Bond-villain. But, then again, Ben's really really committed, isn't he?

Peggy: Didn't you just love that jawdrop on Sawyer & Hurley when Ben joined their happy family? And why is Locke such a terrible leader? I mean, seriously. Terrible. He could not step more wrongly in getting folks to join up on his "Let's Save the Island" Train if he tried. His Otherville comapnions may be sheep, but sheep stick with someone they can trust. Once he loses their trust, it's just Locke & Ben, playing house in Otherville, and Locke won't last a day against Ben.

Mark: Yeah, that was good stuff. "See you guys at dinner!" Like a little kid.

Peggy: A particularly bratty one, yes. I kind of like Take All My Toys And Go Home!Ben, even if he is over-attached to Shady!Juliet.

Mark: Actually, this episode made me like Juliet a little bit more, as well. It helped to explain that pained look on her face from time to time when Ben came up in conversation.

Peggy: It does beg the question, though, of what else she hasn't been honest or forthcoming about. Although Kate's assumption that she was deliberately misleading Jack by calling a poison gas factory a power station was definitely jealousy talking. I seriously doubt that Goodwin, Harper, or Ben ever sat Juliet down and said, “Hey, you know that power station we’re always talking about? It’s really a poison gas factory. Just thought you should know.”

Mark: At this point, the triangle is done. Kate has made her choice, and Jack has made his. It's time for her to live with it and let both Jack and Juliet do...whatever it is they are going to do. We know they don't end up together, unless the Flash Forwards didn't go forward enough. But this star-crossed stuff is just forced. The characters are all going their own way. Now, if only Kate could see it that way...

Peggy: From your mouth to God's ears, but I'm afraid God is in the tub on this one. We will never be done with this damnable Love Tetrahedron or whatever it is these days. Much like Kate looooooooves Sawyer, but thinks she should be with Jack, Jack looooooooooves Kate but thinks he should be with Juliet. It'd never work out--she's not broken enough for him to fix.

Mark: Well, you're probably right about that. But I'm thinking if we all WILL it so, then they will have no choice but to write about other things...

Peggy: *snort*

Mark: Ooooh, and how about that--Whisper whisper whisper--BANG! Here's an Other!--whisper whisper whisper--BANG! there they go again? Teleporting? Time tunnel? Someone yo-yoing with a cosmic string?

There's a hyperpocket there in that grove—or something quantum-ish. Can't wait until they finally get around to explaining that.

Peggy: Maybe. But Whisper whisper whisper PERSON could also be Smokey projecting, couldn't it?

Mark: Yes, it could be a projector of some sort--but then again, that's a pretty damn sophisticated piece of equipment.

Peggy: No, no. Smokey. As in the Smoke monster. Remember when it appeared to Eko as his dead brother? Or to young Ben as his dead Momma? Maybe the island is being proactive, taking a hand in its own survival, using Harper to bring Ben's message to Juliet in order to hit every one of Juliet's guilt buttons.

Mark: Argh. Yeah, I wasn't even thinking about that. Good point.

Peggy: And what's with the return of Bubblehead!Kate! this week? These people are not trustworthy. They have just lied to your face, and you turn your back on one of them. Sorry, darlin', but you deserved that clock on the head, as much as I still hate Charlotte.

If Daniel and Charlotte were doing something good, why not tell SOMEONE--Jack, Juliet, Vincent, ANYBODY, where they were going and why? They'd better thank their lucky stars that it was Juliet who got in and she was capable of looking past the sneaking, the lying, and the attack from behind and not shoot Daniel and Charlotte both. Dear Lord, what if it had been Jack? He would have demanded explanations until everyone on the island was breathing the gas.

It's funny how everyone, characters and fans alike, trusts Daniel. Charlotte gets something of a free pass because Daniel likes her.

Mark: Yes, that is funny because, empirically, those kinds of people are not the ones you look to in a crisis situation.

And you're right about Juliet being ideal for the two of them to run across. Birds of a feather, I guess. I, too, wonder aloud why the dorks from the boat don't just explain it to everyone what's going on. Of course, now we sorta know...they are just there for Ben.

Peggy: Well, sure, but why be all cagey about it? "Killing/Capturing Ben Linus is our primary objective. Help us, and we'll take you with us when we leave." Hell, even Locke's group doesn't like Ben and would pitch in (with the possible exception of Locke himself).

Mark: I got the impression that the Freighties don't trust the Losties because they don't know who's who yet. But yes, now, having identified the castaways, you'd think they would be a skosh more forthcoming.

Peggy: Well, yes, initially, the Breakfast Club would be right to be cautious. But by now, they know there's a Locke/Jack rift, Ben's with Locke (although as far as they know, he's still a prisoner), and Jack's group doesn't like/trust Locke OR Ben. Why not just ask for their help?

Mark: Okay, now on to Last Week:

Man, why a Korean man gotta die? I almost don't want to know how it happened. Hurley's presence at the grave would seem to indicate that the rescue isn't smooth sailing. But damn, man.

Peggy: The death date on the stone is the crash date, so he's not the "survived the crash, then died" person. Is he really dead? He could be back on the island, couldn't he? This clearly took place before all of Hurley's "We've got to go back. They want us to go back" stuff, so it's possible, right? Right? Dammit. Bastardy bastarding bastards.

Mark: I am going to call a cheat, here. That was a dirty trick, putting a flashback AND a flashforward in the same episode. I'll allow it once, but frankly, that had better not get to be a habit. I know they were waiting until the end for the suckerpunch, but in the future, find some other way of doing it that doesn't violate the storytelling structure. Please. Thank you.

Peggy: Yep. Clever, but using it more than once would be cheating.

Why was Hurley in Korea? Have we seen anything that would indicate that he felt particularly close to Sun? Where were the hordes of paparazzi writing about the birth of a child of one of the Oceanic 6, especially with another member of the 6 there to visit? This is, at most, 6 months after our current island time, so the Oceanic 6 would still be white-hot media darlings.

Mark: It may have just been that the "6" got closer for their shared experience of getting OFF the island. The lack of media is either bad writing on their part (see the trial, three shows ago), or Korea doesn't brook paparazzi interference at all.

And how about Juliet, taking a page from Ben's book? "I'll give you birth council by Any Means Necessary!" Nicely done, if only to get Jin killed, now that I think about it. Damn old Juliet.

Peggy: Even if her story & motivations remain kind of shadowy, she is dead serious about her vocation, and does not want to see another mother and child die.

Captain Gault? As in Ayn Rand's John Gault? I wonder how that ties in.

Mark: I don't know, and now I'm worried that you brought it up. I can't get to my copy of Valis soon enough. *sigh*.

Peggy: The TWOP folks pointed out a better Gault tie-in than Rand (which, I just realized, is spelled GALT, not GAULT. Doh!): William Hope Hodgson wrote many weird seas stories about a Captain Gault. Niiiiiiiice.

Mark: Indeed. Gotta love the think-tank out there. Apparently, there are a shitload of readers who watch Lost. And write for it.

Peggy: Did Zoe Bell really get all that credit time for reading a book upside down and killing herself, or will she be back?

Mark: We'll see her in flashbacks. There’s something up with that ship, too. And don't forget, we'll get Michael's story of how he came to be on the boat. Zoe will get her day or four to act.

Peggy: The return of Michael was one of the biggest anti-climaxes ever--way to settle for the obvious there, Lost. Granted, his story might turn out to be interesting, but it was telegraphed since last year at Comic-Con,and I thought Lost was better than that.

Mark: I agree, but wasn't it good to see him? You know, only Sayid can pull off that suave James Bond shit. Here comes Michael, who looks Sayid in the eye and says nice ta meetcha, and Sayid doesn't bat an eye. As you say, had it been Jack, the janitor would have been tackled and beaten until Jack "understood" what was happening.

Peggy: Do you get to feel good about fixing someone if you broke them yourself?

Mark: I'm all atwitter at what happens next!

Peggy: I know! We have, what, 5,6 more episodes left? I'm no longer sure that we're going to get off the island this season.

Mark: I think we're so close that there's no way to NOT finish up. Here's how I think it'll go down: Season four ends with them that get rescued gettting rescued. Season Five? Cut back and forth between what's going on with the island, and Jack trying to get back there. Five ends with him back on the Island, an echo of the first season opener...and then six is the final showdown between Locke and Jack. That's how I think it will fall.

Peggy: You make some good points with your timeline, but what about the Widmore/Paik/Ben side of the story? Is Widmore the big bad, or was it just Ben manipulating Locke yet again? (And if you believe that this info was Ben's last bargaining chip, I've got a bridge I want you to take a look at.)

Mark: I think Widmore is the "real" bad guy. He's never been anything but. He was the wedge between Penny and Des, he's seen buying the log to the Black Rock, and then there was that around the world boat race, or as I like to call it now, "The Bermuda Triangle 10,000"--no, he's got some agenda, and he always has, and it's always been about the boats and the ocean and presumably the island.

Peggy: I want to agree with you. I really do. I want to believe that having that definite end time has sharpened up the storylines and made it okay to actually drop some answers now and then. But then I remember that this is Lost, and I mistrust such obvious, easy answers. Especially since one of the people we've heard tell us Widmore is the Big Bad is Ben, who we all know is a lying liar who lies, and the other is Captain Gault, who Michael or someone on the freighter doesn't trust.

Mark: Of course, Ben has scads of secrets for Locke. I'm just hoping that Locke doesn't think that. He's still got some gullibility problems now and again.

Peggy: Now and again? Has Ben ever not been totally in control of Locke?

Mark: I'll see your *snort* and I'll raise you a "touche."

Peggy: How do Penny & Desmond tie in to either storyline? Why does proximity to the island make some folks skip around in time and others forget how to read and kill themselves? Captain Gault seemed awfully blase about yet another crewman offing herself. Did they bring a huge crew, or are they reaching the point of not enough people to run the boat?

Mark: Penny & Des--innocent bystanders. Pulled in because of sheer proximity to father Widmore. When Penny finds out what pop has been up to, I predict she'll go nuclear.

Daniel said (and I believe him) that there had to be exposure to radiation or an EMP for that possibility to occur. Des was the guy who popped the EMP, so, naturally, he's unstuck in time. Anyone ELSE close to the island when that EMP went off would have been (potentially) exposed, as well. Who knows why it takes EMPs or radiation to unhinge the timeline, but now that I know it's physics, I'm breathing a little easier about it.

Peggy: But as far as we know, none of the Lostaways (who were certainly closer to the hatch explosion than the Freightees) are losing their minds, forgetting how to read, or contemplating suicide. I'll give you that only certain people or really high doses of radiation or EMP cause the time slips. But there are too many other symptoms, and they're only manifesting on the freighter. You don’t see Hurley going all Marley’s Ghost, although come to think of it, there was that whole “Dave” episode. Hmmmm.

And speaking of Hurley, how does Hurley end up rescued? How do Jin and Claire die (if, indeed, they do)? How does Ben get off the island, not to mention get Sayid to kill people for him?

Mark: Is it possible that there's a LOT more than the Oceanic 6 that get off the island by secret or other means? Ben's probably got another sub or something. Or how about the supply planes that drop the Dharma groceries? You're right--maybe they don't get off the island this season.

Peggy: Does Miles still have that grenade in his mouth?

Mark: Well, in Lost-Time, it's only been a day. But yes, I think he does.

Peggy: I’m sure this makes me a bad person, but Hee!