Lost in Retrospect: …in Translation

An emotional powerhouse, brilliant use of the flashback structure and an absolutely phenomenal performance from Daniel Dae Kim all make for one of this season’s best episodes.

For a refresh on the episode, I suggest you check out Lostpedia’s excellent Wiki page.

After more than half a season of being painted as an utter bastard, this was the first episode to let us get into the headspace of Jin Soo-Kwon, and boy howdy it’s a lonely place. The scene that stuck in my memory was after one of the act breaks, where we find Jin waking up in the jungle by himself, going to the stream and putting water on his burnt hand. The guy is all alone, in every sense of the word: his wife doesn’t trust him, and everybody else literally doesn’t understand a word he’s saying, and vice versa. He can’t communicate properly, he can’t get his side of the story across, and it leads to huge blow-ups like the one at the end of this episode that almost resulted in a lynch mob. The bit where it closes in on Jin’s face while everyone else’s dialogue becomes jibberish puts you in his state of mind, gives you his point of view. It’s a very disconcerting, confusing place to be–and we’re only getting it for a few seconds! The fact that he’s been living like this for more than a month, it’s no wonder he keeps that stoic facade up, because the other alternative is to pretty much break down and cry. Daniel Dae Kim is one of the show’s greatest talents, because (like Yunjin Kim) he communicates more with his face, his eyes, his body language and his silences than he ever does with words. For example, take the scene on the beach where Michael is attacking him. Jin doesn’t defend himself. He yells in Korean, he looks pissed as all hell, but he doesn’t fight back. The easy assumption to make is that it’s guilt, that Jin feels like he deserves it, and no doubt that’s what the Losties took from it as well (even though he didn’t actually do what he’s been accused of). But then there’s this one shot where you see Jin glance at Walt, then back at Michael, and suck in this half-breath, and suddenly you know exactly why he’s not fighting back, it’s communicated without words but still with crystal clarity: it is guilt, and remorse, but for what he did to that guy in Korea, that man he beat up on Mr. Paik’s orders, right in front of the guy’s wife and children. It’s right there in Jin’s face that he doesn’t ever want to do something like that again. It’s brilliant. How can you not love this show?!? And to round out the Daniel Dae Kim praise-a-palooza, I’m continually impressed by the physicality he brought to the role: the way he moves, the way he carries himself, his facial expressions, they’re all unique to different periods of Jin’s life. Flashback!Jin looks different to Jin in season 1, who looks different to the Jin we see in seasons 2 through 4, who looks different to the Jin we see after the time skip in season 5. Even Michael Emerson, who is unequivocally the best actor on Lost, doesn’t pull that particular trick off as well as Kim does.

This is one of those episodes in which the flashback structure gets played with in an interesting way to provide a different kind of narrative experience than we usually get. It’s relatively simple in this episode (compared to future episodes like “The Other 48 Days”, “Greatest Hits” and, of course, “Flashes Before Your Eyes”), but works for the character of Jin in a way it wouldn’t for anyone else. Having his flashbacks interlock with Sun’s from “House of the Rising Sun” doesn’t feel redundant at all, because Jin is absolutely the kind of character who wouldn’t reveal himself emotionally to anyone, not even his wife (at least, not once we get beyond the wedding). He’s so guarded around Sun, around Mr. Paik, even with himself (for the most part; tell me your heart didn’t break when he looked at himself in the mirror and began to cry). The final flashback with his father was just beautiful, to see him Jin letting himself go, speaking honestly, rolling up his sleeves and getting his hands dirty. These moments, combined with what we see in his Island storyline this episode, are enough to wash away the negativity that had been built up towards him over the course of the season so far. For all this guy’s boneheaded notions–and his decision, even though it was driven by some justifiable feelings of grief and betrayal, certainly counts–he’s a person who feels, who’s had a crappy time of it and wants nothing more in the world than to have a quiet, happy life with the woman he loves. And how can you hate that guy?

And a quick note: more and more, I’m actually coming to agree with Jacob’s decision to bring the Candidates to the Island. For all the death, weirdness and general crappyness that happened, none of these people are any worse off for coming to the Island. Quite the opposite, in fact. Between the ensuing character development that made them better people, or the fact that isolation, hardships and a touch of necessity forged (or in Sun and Jin’s case, fixed) meaningful relationships that wouldn’t have come about otherwise, I’d go so far as to say that they’re all better off for their experiences. Only a tiny handful of people who came to the Island survived it, but they survived as better people. And everyone who died did so as a better person, having achieved a measure of happiness, purpose and/or satisfaction. And personally? That doesn’t sound so bad.

Of course, there’s one possible exception to that line of thinking, which brings me to my next point. Locke continued to be incredibly interesting in this episode, threading his way through all the Island plots and subplots and fulfilling the role he doesn’t even realise he has, that of the wise mentor. Yet he’s not benevolent, because as I said in a previous post, Locke still thinks he’s the hero of this story, the Messiah of the Island. His advice to Shannon was not an attempt to help her, but rather a selfish manipulation designed to further drive a wedge between her and Boone, ensuring that Boone would continue to show devotion only to Locke. Think that sounds creepy and cultish? Yeah, me too. And think of the way he reacted to the potential lynching of Jin on the beach. Just as the situation threatens to completely explode, Locke comes waltzing out of the jungle and reiterates the Losties’ survival mantra of “live together, die alone”, though not in so many words. He succeeds in getting everyone calm and (for the most part) united, but the way he does it is what gives me the willies. He doesn’t give them a common purpose, he gives them a common enemy, even though Locke knows it wasn’t the Others who torched the raft, even though there’s still no proof that anyone besides Ethan was ever out there. Locke struck me as a man who only wanted to unite the Losties because he wants to unite them all under his own leadership.

I don’t know if I have this episode nearly this much thought when I first saw it back in 2005, but by golly, it’s just so meaty! And the fact that one of my favourite characters and actors is front and centre certainly helps. This one’s probably not gonna make many people’s lists of seminal Lost episodes, and when it’s all said and done, it might not even make mine (there’s still every single Desmond and Ben episode to go), but “…in Translation” really deserves to be on more Top lists. It’s brilliant. Absolutely ruddy brilliant.

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