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“How I Met Your Mother” and its Strong Seventh Season

The eighth episode of How I Met Your Mother‘s seventh season, “Disaster Averted” aired Monday night, completing the first third of the season. As I watched “Disaster Averted” I found myself laughing as much as I have in the last few seasons, but, more importantly, I found myself feeling the joy that has been missing over the past two seasons. Seasons five and six had strong episodes for sure, but I can’t recall an arc, or string, of episodes that have been as strong both comedically and emotionally as this current run.

“Disaster Averted” was similar in many ways to an earlier episode from this season, “The Ducky Tie.” The two episodes played like two pieces of a whole. Both played with time and balanced multiple stories in ways that gave stakes and import to the current day situation in ways that added value to the season thus far and increased the expectations going forward. But, from my perspective, the season has done a splendid job of ensuring that each individual episode has been strong on its own then fitting it into the framework of the season at large. There are larger story arcs going on – the build to Barney’s wedding, Barney’s love triangle, Lily’s pregnancy – that are being handled well, largely because the individual episodes are working organically toward their resolution. Those steps are much different than how the show seemed to handle the arcs of the past two seasons.

Seasons five and six seemed to have a larger game in mind that simply utilized the episodes of the season as steps to that end. Of course every episode is a step toward an end, but the approach mostly undervalued the importance of the individual episodes within. HIMYM has always been a sitcom with a surprising amount of serialization (we still haven’t met the Mother from the show’s title, though the hints are a common thread found in each season). With the ending of Lost, creators Craig Thomas and Carter Bays began getting a lot of questions about mythology and closure to their series and possible end dates and scenarios. It seemed as though the writing took those things too heavily into consideration expecting that the viewers wanted big, drawn out arcs and missing that the success of the early seasons was to be found in the strength of the episodes and the characters we had grown to know (the same reason Lost was successful for its entire run).

The strength in seasons five and six were in the strong character moments (look at the arcs of Marshall and Barney from last season) and season seven is working in the wheelhouse of those strengths. Ted has lost the insufferable nature that has plagued his character. He’s not whining about not being in love or struggling with a weird relationship (the worst part of season six) and he’s coping with where he is in a way that an adult should. He’s letting things happen as they may, though I’m really interesting to see where the undercurrent of his friendship with Robin will go. Marshall and Lily are excited about their baby and Marshall is in an interesting place professionally. We haven’t spent a lot of time with him there and I’m kind of glad. I’m not the biggest Martin Short fan and he became too comical the last time we saw him. Robin and Barney are both in relationships that seem doomed to fail based upon how little time we’re spending with their significant others and it’s more clear after the ending to “Disaster Averted.”

I’m feeling optimistic about the show. It’s getting incredible ratings and looks to be in strong place creatively. I’m hoping that the strength will continue and that we may actually meet the eponymous Mother by season’s end. There is definitely one season remaining, contractually, and I would love to see the series end before overstaying its welcome. It has consistently been one of my favorite shows on television, even through the frustrating moments, because there has always been a sense of optimism that permeates through the series as well as its ability to transcend shows of similar design. My faith has been restored that the show can end well and I would love for it to happen in a way that finds closure as well as satisfying many of the mysteries laid out (a little different than Lost in that we have seen hints of these stories through flashforwards, though technically flashbacks). There are about 40 episodes left ( to the end of season 8 ) to do that and for HIMYM to end in a way that allows it to leave its mark on television. I’ll be happy to have a tremendous season seven continue to play out in the meantime.

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Fringe – “Neither Here Nor There”

Fringe (FOX)

Is Season Four of Fringe beginning in the sideways reality of Lost‘s Sixth Season?

 

Short thoughts on the Season 4 premiere of Fringe follow.

Fringe begins its fourth season in a strange, and possibly unnecessary, place. (*Spoiler Alert from here forward for both Fringe and Lost*) Peter Bishop is gone. At the end of Season Three, Peter jumps into the doomsday device and bridges the two previously feuding universes. Much like Ryan McGee, I thought that the “bridge” Peter built actually merged the universes together. In reality what has happened is that the device has actually created a sort of crossroads where the two universes meet and the inhabitants can move between them. (Whether this is something everyone knows and doppelgängers will abound in either universe is yet to be seen. I’m guessing that only the Fringe teams will cross, though there may be later cases where people are “sneaking” through.) It’s a really interesting way to take the world structure, though the necessity of removing Peter Bishop is yet to be seen.

Bridging the two universes could make for an intriguing story for the entire season without Peter missing. Though he is flickering into and out of the picture, he is gone for all intents and purposes. No one remembers him at the FBI. The basic backstory is that Peter was still stolen by Walter, but he died in Reiden Lake instead of the Observer saving he and Walter. So, Walternate and the rest of that universe developed as we have seen, but this universe has been changed. Olivia is the cold character we met in the pilot episode, Astrid’s rapport with Walter is less loving and more professional and Walter is effectively crazy. The impact that Peter had on each of these people is gone and we are getting a theoretical glance at what the show would be without Joshua Jackson’s Peter. The episode is hampered by constant reminders in the dialogue of each character reminding each other that something weird is going on and there is something strangely missing from their lives.

As these people kept talking about what was missing from their lives and we are seeing flashes of Peter or seeing him in mirrors and televisions, I could not help but think that this is the sideways timeline from Lost. As time moves forward this season, Peter will be reintegrated into the show and the lives of the people of this show. As he is moved closer into being fully integrated, I expect that the characters will begin “flashing” and remembering the moments of their lives where Peter had the greatest effect. (I wouldn’t be surprised to see the same over-saturation and the quick cuts that Lost utilized.) Much like the final sequence in Lost, once all of the core group we know is aware of Peter’s existence, just as once everyone knew they were in the after-life following their time on the Island, they will then move on to the next stage of their lives. Ideally this will be the point at which the universes have found a way to work together.

I am wholly uncertain on the point of having the universes linked right now as well as whether the link will be broken when Peter returns. It will be important for the show to have a purpose in linking the universes as well as Peter being missing. If those two things can be purposefully explained, I will look back on the Season Three finale more favorably as well as having complete trust in the show going forward in what might be its final season. The speed with which the resolution of these threads comes will be important as well. Without a relatively quick resolution and without clear reasons for the decision to remove Peter, the incredible amount of goodwill the show has earned will evaporate quickly. Much like the impatience of viewers in the final season of Lost, the viewers of Fringe have come to expect smart, efficient storytelling that is free of grabs for viewers or stunts solely to create conversation. Purpose is important to both shows and their ongoing legacies. Spending too much time in Fringe‘s alternate reality could be a regrettable decision, but I’m expecting that it will pay off much like Lost‘s and play an important role in establishing the show as one of the great genre shows in television history.

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Lost – “The End”

 

In which Jack and Locke were both wrong.

 

When it comes to the final episode of Lost, there is nothing that I could write that would do the episode justice. It’s a gargantuan episode in every conceivable way: length, story, characters, emotions – it’s everything that the final episode of Lost should be. Even though there are many complaints that not enough questions were answered, I can’t imagine the final episode, especially as the culmination of this final season going any differently. Character arcs were completed in a (mostly) satisfying manner and the island ends up with a proper protector. The more I’ve watched the series, the more I find myself emotionally wrapped up in these people and their stories. There were probably 5 or 6 moments when I was in tears during the episode, whereas the first time I saw the finale there were 2 moments. The look and the atmosphere of the final episode is excellent. It is full of callbacks and resolutions to many experiences we have had over the course of the past six seasons. The episode hits the notes it needs to hit and excels at offering closure to the journey these people and the viewers have endured together. It isn’t a perfect finale, nor should it be, but that was the point of Lost – taking something that was broken, letting it grow and become something better by the time it was over. The consistency of this show and its ability to explore ideas and concepts will ensure its longevity. It has impacted the current television landscape in significant ways and we’ll likely never see another show with the scope and vision of Lost. And I’m okay with that. I would hate to see other shows get stuck in the shadow of the statue.

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Lost – “What They Died For”

 

In which Locke’s ready to get outta that chair.

 

As the penultimate episode of season 6 and the of the series, “What They Died For” answers a couple of questions while also leaving plenty to consider in the final episode. The most important thing that happens is that the remaining candidates (including Kate if she wants the job) get to talk to Jacob and Jack accepts the job as the island’s new protector, replacing Jacob. It’s a moment that this season has been hinting toward for several episodes, but by the time we get there, when Jack steps up and accepts the job, it feels organic and as if it is the logical decision. I know that going into the decision I was concerned it would be a contrived, forced thing. The redemption and the changes Jack experienced during the final season allow us to see that Jack truly believes that it is his destiny to protect the island and his ascension makes sense in that context.

 

On the island, the candidates are putting the pieces together after the submarine has blown up. Jack sews up Kate’s gunshot wound and they place the deaths squarely upon Locke and agree that they’ve got to kill him. Jack gets everyone together and tells them they’ve got to find Desmond since Locke wants him dead. On the way, young Jacob appears to Hurley, takes his ashes and runs. He leads him to a campfire where older Jacob is waiting to talk to him and the others. They join him and discuss why they’re on the island. They’re all flawed, broken people, just like Jacob. He brought them to the island because he knew he would one day have to be replaced after his creation, the smoke monster, found a way to kill him. He then explains that someone will have to step up and he wants to give them the choice to accept or turn down the job, a choice he never had. This is when Jack accepts the job and Jacob performs the ritual passing of the torch and installs Jack as the island’s protector.

 

Richard, Miles and Ben make it to the barracks to get Ben’s stashed C4 to blow the plane to hell just in time for Widmore and Zoe to arrive as well. It leads to a standoff between Ben and Widmore as he sends Zoe to get their equipment and sink the outrigger, but MIB arrives before she can. As he approaches, Richard hopes that by joining him that he’ll leave everyone else alone, Miles bolts for the jungle, Ben watches on and Widmore and Zoe hide. Instead, Richard gets pummeled by the smoke monster and it seems as though it is the end for Richard. MIB walks up to the house and Ben immediately informs him that Widmore and Zoe are hiding inside. MIB goes in to talk with them, slits Zoe’s throat immediately (!) and Widmore tells him that Desmond is his failsafe in the event that all of the candidates die. Ben then pops Widmore because he struck a deal with MIB that if he told him why Desmond was on the island that he wouldn’t kill Penny as soon as he left the island. Ben says that Widmore doesn’t get the chance to save his daughter, displaying all the torment he has felt since Alex’s death. They then leave and go to the well where Locke placed Desmond, only to find it is empty and Desmond is loose somewhere on the island.

 

In the alternate timeline, Jack and Locke talk in his office and Locke has decided that he wants to have the procedure Jack has proposed to potentially repair him. Locke is starting to wonder if it is his fate that he and Jack have ended up together and Jack makes certain to point out that he need not be confusing coincidence for fate. It’s a conversation that mirrors many of the on-island conversations they shared and is what leads directly into the bleeding between realities they experience in the finale. Other than the small amount of time we spend with Jack at the episode’s start, where his neck is bleeding again and Oceanic (Desmond, you bastard!) calls to tell him that his lost cargo has been found, the episode is pretty well Desmond-focused. Though in this first scene we see Desmond’s behind the scene workings, throughout the rest of the episode he is working to help everyone else see what he has seen. Whether it be by beating Ben by reenacting the beating at the harbor or working to put Sayid and Kate in a place where they will see what he wants them to see by turning himself in then paying off Ana Lucia to free them during the prison transport, he is making certain that these people end up together and get to where they need to be. It’s a crucial position and Desmond was a perfect choice for the role. Even more than his ability to go between realities, his ability to charm and to be wholly convicted in what he believes allows him to work with all of these people and convince them of what they need to see without immediately showing them anything. It’s a strong role for such a tremendous character.

 

*”We have to kill him Jack.” “I know.”

*”That’s before I realized it was summoning me.”

*”We insist. . . even if we have to kidnap you!” HA! Rousseau turning it around on Ben this time.

*”I wanna see this.” Locke loves it!

*”You told her not to talk to me. That made her pointless.” She was already pointless.

*”He doesn’t get to save his daughter.”

*”I think I’m ready to get outta this chair.”

*”This is what I’m supposed to do.”

*”I thought that guy had a God-complex before. . .”

*”How long am I gonna have to do this job?” “As long as you can.”

*”I’m gonna destroy the island.”

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Lost – “Across the Sea”

In which mythology is explored and there’s a golden cave at the heart.

As a singular, one-off episode “Across the Sea” is enjoyable. Were it placed at an earlier time in this season or possibly season 5, I think it could have been more effective. It’s placed so close to the end of the series that some of the weight is lost in the anticipation for the end. The episode is focused entirely on the mythology of the island and the role of Jacob and the Man in Black – where they came from, who and what they are, the role of people they bring to the island and why they hate each other so. Even though there is a considerable amount of purposefully vague dialogue that is frustrating, bordering on grating, the episode uses locations and visuals to convey a lot of the ideas set forth.

The episode opens with a shipwrecked woman named Claudia washing up onto the shore of the island, with Mother there to help her out and take her to her humble abode in the caves (where the Oceanic 815 crew stayed for awhile). Claudia gives birth to two boys, though she had only planned for one, and Mother abruptly kills her after she asks to hold them. Mother takes over caring for and raising the boys. She raises them according to their natures and seems to favor MIB (CIB? – child in black?) and relate most closely to him. She knows that Jacob is good by nature and she knows what to expect from him, seemingly taking him for granted.

So, when MIB decides to pack up and live with the other men on the island, the men from whom Mother wanted to shelter her sons, it affects Mother drastically. It leads to her getting tired and realizing she needs to move on and it leads to MIB learning a lot from the men on the island and learning how he will finally be able to leave the island using the electromagnetic inherent to the island. (I have no idea how this might work, but Mother did and she was scared to death that her son might actually be able to leave.) Mother is not happy and goes Smoke Monster on the people building the portal to the outside world with the donkey wheel. MIB, in return, is not happy and goes John Locke on mother and stabs her in the back as payback. Then Jacob, in turn, is not at all pleased with his mother’s death and whips MIB’s ass and tosses him  into the heart of the island and inadvertently creates the smoke monster. MIB’s physical body shows up on the other side and Jacob mourns what he did. He then brings it back to the caves and lies it down next to Mother’s body as a final resting place. We get a short montage of the first time we saw the skeletons in the caves, our very own Adam and Eve.

The episode largely skips divulging hard evidence for the things that are happening on the island, which is for the better. Simply giving an idea of this place and some of the backstory, as much as could be covered in 45 minutes, is sufficient for me. When Mother says she has made it so they can’t harm each other, I don’t need to know how she did it. When they fight and bicker, I don’t need to know exactly why Mother favors MIB. It is interesting to see the island and where it began, even though we might not understand the majority of the metaphysical things that take place there.

*”You’re. . . special.”

*”One day you can make your own game. Everyone will have to follow your rules.”

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Lost – “The Candidate”

 

In which some people die.

 

In an ending that I didn’t see coming at all, Sayid, Jin and Sun all die on the submarine with no sign of Lapidus. Though Chesty ends up living, I thought there was no hope for him either. It’s a tremendous amount of bloodshed in such a short amount of time even by Lost standards. Both Sayid and Jin & Sun die in honorable and beautiful ways, which says a lot about how much the writers cared about the characters and how important these people became to the viewers and the overarching story the series is telling. The way that Sayid gives himself up to save everyone else and tells them to find Desmond showed the life that we knew Sayid had inside. I want to know what it was that Desmond told him that allowed him to find the vigor to make such a drastic decision. It’s surprising and it is a tremendous ending for Sayid. Honor remained the most important trait to Jin. His word is something that could always be trusted and he showed it to Sun. Ji Yeon is taken care of and Jin understands that though he’ll never meet her. He will not give up on his wife now that he has her again after fighting to find her over the last three years. They know they’re going to die and they share a poignant last few moments together before they die hand-in-hand. The fact that they died has a cathartic effect on everyone that makes it back to the shore and allows all of us to release some bundled up emotion in preparation for the final battle that is brewing.

 

Beyond the deaths, we also get to learn more about MIB’s plan and how it does not include any of the candidates being alive and leaving together. Toward the episode’s end when Jack opens his pack with the bomb armed inside and the people on the sub realize that MIB’s plan all along was to get everyone together to have them kill each other because he can’t do it himself. After Claire sees the sub blow up and asks if everyone died and MIB ominously says that not everyone died, we realize how devious his schemes have been. He seems to be getting more and more annoyed that these people are alive rather than desiring to kill them. He wants off of the island desperately and knows that these people are basically the cork keeping him on the island. It’s fascinating to see how willing these people are to listen to MIB knowing what he is and follow him to the submarine. Also knowing that they would have been around him during the time it took to go from the plane to the sub, wouldn’t someone have seen him putting the bomb together? They’re undoubtedly happy that he freed them from the cages. They’re excited to be together. But, at some point, they have to sort of realize that there is something shady about all that he is doing. The circumstances that put them together are sometimes contrived, but it never falters on the emotional and the action front.

 

I loved the opening to this episode, where we see that Jack has saved Locke in the alternate reality after seeing Locke save Jack at the end of “The Last Recruit” on the island. Jack’s persistence in finding Locke’s story is a little creepy though it fits in with his attitude of always looking for something to fix. Finding out that Anthony Cooper is still alive and was a part of Locke’s life automatically makes us think that he was still the one who paralyzed Locke, but we find out that it was Locke who was the cause of his paralysis and his father’s now vegetative state. The way that Locke can’t let go and sees his paralysis as punishment and the moment it leads to he and Jack sharing at the end of the episode gave the alternate reality significant weight. Seeing these two people come together and seeing some inadvertent bleed between realities (Jack telling Locke he is a candidate, Locke mumbling in his sleep, and Jack telling Locke that he wished he believed him) is important for these characters because it is what leads to their eyes eventually being opened to what is going on. I’m quite glad that we got a Jack and Locke-focused episode to end the character-centric episodes, as they’re lives and what they represent shape the impression most people have of the show as a whole. They’re great together and it’s evident that they know the importance in the way they execute everything asked of them in the final season nearly flawlessly.

 

*”Because I think you’re a candidate.”

*”They’re not my people and I’m not leaving the island.”

*”And we’re dead.”

*Jack and Claire see their reflections in the box Christian leaves for her

*”Trust me. You don’t wanna be on that sub.”

*”Nothing’s gonna happen. . . Locke can’t kill us. Trust me.” “Sorry Doc. I don’t.”

*”That’s why I was hoping maybe you could go first.”

*”I wish you believed me.”

*”They’re all dead?” “Not all of them.”

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Lost – “The Last Recruit”

 

In which the gang is back together! Then they’re not.

 

Outside of Jin, the remaining living survivors of Oceanic 815 are together once again at Locke’s camp. It’s a lot like old times in that we also have the group divided amongst smaller groups and factions and there are missions divided amongst those groups. Sawyer and Jack are disagreeing again and Locke seems at least mildly interested in keeping the group safe. It’s a comforting few moments and things begin rolling again once Zoe shows up and threatens MIB

 

The episode begins with Jack and Locke catching up on each other’s lives. The impact of Locke’s final note to Jack is clear in the way these two communicate. Jack holds Locke in high regard and hates to hear the way that MIB is talking about Locke while he is in his body. He hates the thought that this thing took the form of his father even when it says that it only did so to help him when he needed to find water. When Claire is caught following them and she explains to Jack that he is now with MIB whether he likes it or not, he hates that too. It’s really tough for Jack and he shows how much he has changed by not overreacting to any of these things. He is understanding so much of what he couldn’t understand before just by actually listening. As Sawyer points out when Jack shows up at the rendezvous point, he didn’t expect Jack to show up and I don’t know that any of us did either. While he is on the boat, Jack is looking out at the ocean again and feeling “off” about something. He doesn’t feel right leaving and really doesn’t want to. Sawyer then kicks him off the boat for feeling that way at all. Jack swims back to shore just in time for Locke to show up and for Widmore to start bombing. Jack is blown into the air by the first missile, but Locke picks him up and carries him into the jungle for safety. The bombing begins after the other Oceanic survivors arrive at Hydra Island and Widmore calls the deal off between him and Sawyer. There is a silver lining though – Jin and Sun are finally reunited. It leads to one of the worst framed scenes in the history of Lost. As they approach each other, the sonic fence is between them and gives the idea that it is possible that it will fry both of them before they reunite. I hate the scene for that reason. It’s unnecessarily set up to lead viewers and is cheapened by Sun suddenly being able to speak English again, instead of Jin and Sun speaking their native Korean to greet each other, and a cheesy comment from Lapidus. I really enjoy the island stuff in this episode and wish it weren’t lessened by such poor decision-making at the end.

 

Off of the island, there isn’t a lot of meat for the second episode in a row. We don’t see any bleeding and it’s a table-setter if ever there were one. Desmond finds Claire and talks her into meeting with his attorney friend, Ilana. Ilana is also the lawyer who will be reading Christian’s will. Jack meets his sister Claire for the first time at the reading of his father’s will. Sun and Locke are wheeled into the hospital at the same time. Sawyer and Kate talk for a while before Sawyer and Miles head out and arrest Sayid for the murders at the restaurant. Jack is called in to operate on Locke after his accident. That is the extent of what happens. There are a lot of cuts from one reality to the other, which makes the early part of the episode feel like it is moving much too quickly. But, there is nothing of greater scope because these people still don’t know exactly what is going on. They’re just ending up together by what seems to be chance. We’ll learn that it isn’t chance at all soon enough.

 

*”John Locke was not a believer Jack. He was a sucker.” – Their entire scene is exceptional.

*”Whether you like it or not, you’re with him now.”

*”Who the hell’s Anakin?” – There is no way Sawyer, Mr. Pop Culture, doesn’t know who Anakin Skywalker is.

*Ilana’s office is on floor 15

*”People trying to kill us again.”

*”… pilot that looks like he stepped off the set of a Burt Reynolds movie.” Chesty!

*”I think we should stick to Sawyer’s plan or he’ll be pissed.”

*”Get off my damn boat.”

*Jack and Locke’s reflections are seen in the same mirror prior to surgery

*”Looks like someone got their voice back.” Seriously?

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