...In Translation (ep. 17)
Jin and Sun have evolved into two of my favorite characters on this show and this episode deepens their flashbacks – giving us more information on just how Jin went from smiling, lowly waiter/suitor to scowling attack dog for Sun’s father, Mr. Paik.
Mr. Paik and his company/companies, Paik Industries, have been floating around the edges of this show throughout its run. Given both Christian’s ghost-presence on the Island and Widmore’s Island history (as well as his penchant for Island-inspired/derived knickknacks), it’s not unreasonable to theorize that Paik has some as-yet-unidentified connection to the Island. Speaking personally though, I tend to think Paik Industries is more indicative of the J.J. Abrams Big Spooky Company fetish – proudly on display in almost every property he’s been involved with (Star Trek currently excepted). It’d be interesting if Paik and his companies end up tied into the narrative more directly, but I’m fine if that turns out not to be the case.
It’s probably the romantic in me, but the exchange between Jin and Mr. Paik at the beginning of the episode moves me. Jin’s dream is to own a hotel and restaurant. Mr. Paik offers him the job in his car company and Jin jumps at it. When Paik asks Jin why he should let his daughter marry a man who abandons his dreams so easily, Jin responds that Sun is his dream. If you’re allergic to sentiment that probably seems cheesy to you. But it resonates with me.
What I enjoyed most about this episode’s flashback is the way in which a scene we’ve witnessed before – Jin washing blood off his hands and Sun slapping him – gains weight and context and perspective with a ‘Rashomon’-esque shifting of focus from Sun’s POV to Jin’s. We see what’s lead up to his hand-washing (Jin beats an employee of the Korean Environmental Agency savagely, but does so to keep an associate from murdering the man in front of his family – note that in these scenes, the man’s daughter is watching Hurley win the lottery on television) and we see what happens directly after Sun slaps her husband and leaves the room – Jin weeps at what he has done, and at what it has done to the bond between he and Sun. That’s pretty potent stuff in my book.
It’s in this episode that we also learn Jin’s paternal heritage (his father is a fisherman) and grow to understand more about Jin’s drive and his anger as a result. This character detail logically explains why Jin has been so proficient in his fishing and it provides a quieter subtextual current of rediscovering an appreciation for the gifts parents give their children. It’s often the case, as in Jin’s life, that what our parents teach us – or even what they ‘are’ in society – is perceived as useless or embarrassing when we’re young. It’s generally when we’re older, and life has presented us with moments where those gifts are required, that we come to a greater love and appreciation for the people who have raised us. The show never comments on this explicitly, of course. But I like that all of the ‘gifts’ Mr. Paik has given Jin – a ruthlessness, a doggedly frightening need to ‘protect’his/their honor, an unforgiving code, a materialism manifested in the watch from earlier in the season – are revealed as all-but useless on this Island. It’s the gifts Jin acquired from his father – the ability to provide sustenance, a kinder and less abrasive outlook, the desire/ability to forgive – that come to define Jin’s character on this show.
Jin’s father: “It is a good world.”
On-Island, we watch as the two Korean lovebirds hash out their differences on the road towards potential reconciliation (or at least the beginnings of it). The show continues to dangle a potential attraction between Sun and Michael, something that on the first go-round seemed potentially, totally, disruptive to any healing Jin and Sun might attempt. The second time through this subplot is less affecting – not because I know it’s coming, but because any attraction that’s there is underplayed and un-acted on to an extent that it seems less like a threat than the possibility of another road not taken.
As a mirror to this, we also see Sayid and Shannon’s relationship continuing to develop. While Boone is obviously not a disinterested party, he isn’t wrong to warn Sayid about Shannon’s tendency to use men and leave them. But Shannon isn’t just that, any more than Boone is just a concerned step-brother. She seems to be developing genuine feelings for Sayid, and this progression is something I’d forgotten. It’s sweeter than I’d remembered, and more believable – with one caveat: has Sayid forgotten Nadia? Does he believe her dead right now? Because otherwise, I don’t understand why he’d be so at ease with a new relationship.
Interesting Locke line: “"Everyone gets a new life on this island, Shannon. Maybe it's time you start yours."
Michael continues to build his raft (a few episodes ago, no one was interested in this – suddenly everyone’s very interested), and the question of who gets a seat rears its head. Sawyer’s used the cable he’s stored to barter a seat, and the ‘Sawyer steals everything’ theme of the season actually gives us a payoff with this. It’s nice to see.
Of course, the raft gets torched. The torching of Michael’s raft allows the writers to clear the deck of a good deal of baggage and set new stages for these characters. Jin is ultimately vindicated and can begin his journey forward and past the man he had become, free to reinvent himself. Sun is called out for her ability to speak English, and she’s laid bare (metaphorically) for both castaways and her husband. She is now able to move forward, albeit without having divested herself of her biggest secret.
At this point in the narrative, it appears as though Sun and Jin will separate entirely. Jin approaches Michael and utters his first word of English, “Boat,” beginning the Han and Chewie relationship that we’ll see continue to develop, and Sun strips to a bikini, no longer concerned with appearances for the sake of her husband. We know that they’ll reconcile, but this moment – a frightening, freeing place where the past can (mostly) fall away and leave you raw and vulnerable and with no end of paths to choose – speaks to a fulcrum of this series. Can we ever completely divest ourselves of the past? Should we want to? And when we try to leave that past behind like this, doesn’t it always come rumbling back, insistent and haunting and sometimes, miraculously, forgiving?
It was Walt that torched the raft, as he reveals to Locke, and Locke doesn’t seem all that surprised, much less displeased. He and Walt know something about this place – something the others only suspect, if they suspect at all. Backgammon might represent the MiB and Jacob in a larger, cosmic sense, but here it represents two sides – young and old, black and white – sharing a sense of the power of this place.
Locke’s willingness to place the blame for the raft arson on the mysterious ‘Others’ points again to this man’s curiously cold willingness to manipulate a situation for his benefit. Locke is a hell of a hunter, but as a spiritual leader I’d trust him as far as I could throw him.
One of the season’s best jokes/comments helps end this episode – yet again a soft song plays over montage, but this time the song cuts out – the battery in Hurley’s cd player has died. It’s a funny way for the writers to acknowledge that the whole song-montage schtick was getting old. But it’s also more than that. This sudden interruption mirrors Sun and Jin’s sudden disruption perfectly – a melody arrested in mid-air.