Lost: Stranger in a Strange Land
(S03E09) In case you happened to miss the numerous commercials, ABC had promised that "Stranger in a Strange Land" would answer three big Lost questions for viewers. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse made it clear in this week's podcast that at least one of them was the meaning of Jack's tattoos. After watching the episode, I'm not entirely sure what the other two huge revelations were supposed to be. Is it possible that ABC (gasp) overhyped this episode?
This episode brought us back to the major pre-Desmond island events. Sawyer, Kate, and Karl were still rowing back to the island. Kate did the standard "not without Jack" routine, but was quickly shot down by Sawyer. The usually stubborn Kate did not put up much of a fight, and this trend continued throughout the episode.
Jack was back in the familiar surroundings of his cell, but not for long. Following an unpleasant exchange with Tom, Jack got moved to the polar bear cage to make room for Juliet, now under arrest for Pickett's murder. The Others may have a shortage of reliable doctors, but they apparently have a surplus of creepy enforcers. We got our first look at Isabel, the island's "sheriff," whispering something to Tom. Her eyebrows were more than enough to make me afraid for Jack.
Jack's flashback began in Phuket, Thailand, where he was living a carefree beachfront existence. After a meaningless encounter with Thailand's answer to Short Round from Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom, Jack vainly attempted to construct a kite on the beach. Jack's awkward fumbling amused no one but Achara, played by the inexplicably famous Bai Ling. After a few minutes of flirting, the kite was aloft. The part of me that was bored by that scene truly wishes that phrase was a metaphor.
Sawyer's second unilateral decision had the escapees making camp on the other side of their island. Kate began to win me over by finally asking Karl some pertinent questions. Karl, now perfectly lucid, explained that the Others mainly use Alcatraz for "projects," and, in fact, live on the original island. They abduct people, Karl claimed, to "give them a better life." He's certainly living proof of that, right? Karl also reminisced about Alex, telling Kate and Sawyer that they renamed a constellation "The Teddy Bear."
Juliet was sent out to enlist Jack's help in treating Ben, who was worse for wear after his intense surgery. Ben's vitals were low, and his stitches were infected. Even after Juliet informed him of her Pickett-related trouble, Jack refused to help her. I am not quite sure why Jack initially ignored Juliet's pleas, since he was so focused on saving her later in the episode.
The second phase of the flashback found Jack and Achara on a dinner date. After being served by Achara's brother, Achara asked Jack about his kite-flying impairment. It will come as no surprise to regular viewers that Jack blamed this on his father, who was "not the kite-flying type." Obsessive theorists were undoubtedly researching Mary Poppins connections immediately after this scene aired. Achara spoke for all of us when she silenced Jack and professed her total lack of interest in his Daddy issues. The date took an interesting turn when a man approached Achara with an envelope (presumably filled with cash), prompting Achara to casually mention her "gift." The gift ended up being her ability to mark people with self-defining tattoos. Jack's mark reads: "He walks amongst us, but he is not one of us." Jack later told Isabel that the tattoo had another meaning, but failed to elaborate on what that meaning was (and why it got him brutally beaten by Achara's brother).
In what was probably the second revelation of the episode, the fate of Tailies Cindy, Zack, and Emma was finally made clear. Well, not really. Jack woke up in his cage to an entire group of people staring at him through the bars. A smiling Cindy approached Jack and gave him vague answers to his questions. We learned that the group "watches," that the role of the Others is "not that simple," and that the missing Tailies did not know about Ana Lucia's death. I guess that Cindy and Emma don't frequent Michelle Rodriguez's website. Jack unfortunately scared Cindy off before we could hear some answers, but we did get a glimpse of Zack and his teddy bear. The sinister glare that Zack gave Jack left me unconvinced that the Tailies are safe and sound, however.
Sawyer's vulnerability during his man-to-man talk with Karl made it obvious that the love triangle is far from resolved. As he was telling Karl to go back for the woman he loved, Sawyer realized that Kate's desire to save Jack was rooted in deeper feelings than loyalty. Kate was also slow to protest when Sawyer accused her of sleeping with him because he was going to be killed. This was definintely not Sawyer's week.
For a while it looked like Juliet was marked for death, but, thanks to Jack's intervention, she ended up being merely marked. It's a little disappointing that Jack's tattoo mystery was wrapped up just in time for Juliet's tattoo to be introduced. What did the symbol on her lower back mean, and do more Others bear a mark? The threat of Juliet's execution was enough to motivate Jack to treat Ben, but Ben received the grim news that he may not walk again. His ability to manipulate was still intact enough to warn Jack that Juliet is still an Other, despite her behavior. Sides will have to be taken in the coming weeks, since the Others decided to move back to the crash survivors' island.
I am going to give the writers the benefit of the doubt and hope that this episode was building up to something bigger than tattoo interpretation. ABC's promotion of the episode set the bar a bit high, which was out of their hands. A few thoughts:
Was Tom trying to turn Jack against Kate and Sawyer by pointing out that they left "without looking back"? It hardly seemed like an innocent question.
Karl's reasoning behind the abductions sounded a lot like Goodwin's rationale in Season Two.
If Ethan's skills as a surgeon were so valuable, why did Ben give him the dangerous task of spying on the fuselage survivors?
Zack's teddy bear looked different than the one carried by the barefoot Others in Season Two. Any opinions?
Locke's paralysis was healed by the island. Could Henry's potential nerve damage be healed by the island also? If not, Henry may need to borrow Locke's wheelchair.
The Others get political and sports news, yet have no knowledge of The Brady Bunch? What gives?
During Juliet's verdict reading, there was what looked like a DHARMA logo on the lectern.
Are Cindy and the other "watchers" going to be transported back home with the Others? They were not visible in the beach scene.
See you next week for Hurley's flashback!