“LOST” RETROSPECT: (3.07) “Not in Portland”
As I have hinted in a few articles in the past, I am not particularly fond of Season Three of “LOST”. Let me rephrase that. I am not fond of the first half of the series’ third season. But despite this dislike of mine, I cannot deny that this period of “LOST” managed to produce one or two memorable episodes. One of those episodes – at least for me – just might be (3.07) “Not in Portland”.
This episode marked the first one to feature the back story of one of the Others – the island inhabitants who help protect it from outsiders. In the case of this particular episode, the Other in question is one Dr. Juliet Burke. The episode’s flashbacks focus upon the circumstances that led Juliet to the island. In Miami, Florida, Juliet is a fertility scientist determined to help her cancer-ridden sister Rachel become pregnant with a child. Juliet’s goal is more or less stymied by her controlling ex-husband, Dr. Edmund Burke. Not only is he also a gynecologist, Edmund is Juliet’s supervisor at the Miami Central University. After she finally succeeds in impregnating Rachel, Juliet is approached by two members of the Others – Richard Alpert and Ethan Rom – who falsely offer her a job as head researcher for Mittelos Bioscience in Portland, Oregon. When she reveals that Edmund would never allow her to leave her current job, the latter is conveniently killed by a moving bus. And Juliet accepts the position at Mittelos Bioscience, believing that it will last six months.
The present day sequences of the episode continued where the previous one – (3.06) “I Do” – left off. While operating on Others leader Benjamin Linus for a malignant tumor on the latter’s spine, castaway leader Dr. Jack Shepherd holds his patient hostage in exchange for the escape of fellow castaways Kate Austen and James “Sawyer” Ford. While on the run, Kate and Sawyer encounter Alex Rousseau, who reveals that she has a boat they may use to escape to the main island. In return, she asks them to help her rescue her boyfriend, Karl. Jack genuinely begins to operate on Ben, but the latter awakens during the surgery and demands to speak to Juliet. She leaves the surgery to help Karl, Kate and Sawyer escape the island. She also kills Other Danny Pickett to help them escape, and informs Alex, who is Ben’s adopted daughter, that she must remain. Later, Juliet tells Jack that Ben would allow her to leave the island after three years, if she helps Jack save Ben.
Many fans have expressed their disappointment in the flashbacks that revealed Juliet Burke’s past. I do not share their disappointment. Juliet’s background as a fertility doctor and researcher seemed to foreshadow the revelation of the fertility problems endured by the island’s current inhabitants. Her background also foreshadowed the revelation of Ben Linus’ obsession in overcoming the Others’ fertility problems. With Richard and Ethan’s help, Ben went through a great deal of trouble to trick Juliet into traveling to the island in the first place. A fake job offer at a fake organization? No wonder this episode was titled “Not in Portland”. More importantly, Juliet’s flashbacks highlighted how three years on the island as an Other had changed her personality. Or improved it. Despite being divorced from Edmund Burke, Juliet still managed to be controlled and intimidated by him. Although Ben proved to be just as controlling as Edmund, Juliet still managed to become a more self-assured and as this episode proved, dangerous woman. By this time in her life, Juliet was about to discover that she had enough of controlling or manipulative men in her life.
The present day events in this episode seemed more like a part-time psychological thriller and adventure story. And Juliet played a major role in both aspects of this episode. Jack used her as a means to have Ben to his mercy by manipulating Tom Friendly in having her removed from the surgery. And if Juliet had not intervened and killed Danny Pickett, chances are Kate, Sawyer and Karl would have never successfully escaped to the main island. I do not mean to sound cold-blooded, but Juliet’s killing of Pickett was a sight to behold. I found myself wondering about Edmund Burke’s fate, if she had been just as ruthless back in Miami. Another aspect of “Not in Portland” were a few minor scenes that caught my attention. One featured an exchange between Jack and a tearful Kate over short-wave radios, in which the former tried to convince the latter to leave him behind and escape. The emotional barrage between Jack and Kate seemed to have briefly caught Sawyer’s attention. Perhaps this was the first time Sawyer realized that Kate’s feelings for him were not as strong as he may have imagined after their sexual tryst in the cage. In another scene, Sawyer was so intent in beating up Pickett out of revenge for his mistreatment that he ignored Kate’s cries to run. Was this another hint of Sawyer’s destructive penchant for revenge? Who knows.
Was there anything about “Not in Portland” that did not ring right with me? Hmmm . . . well, yes. I never understood the scene featuring Other Karl Martin’s brainwashing in a place called Room 23. What was the point of this scene? Are we to believe that brainwashing was a method the Others used to “recruit” members? Was there another reason why Ben ordered Karl imprisoned inside Room 23? I realized that Ben tried to put the kibbosh on Karl’s relationship with Alex, but . . . honestly? Brainwashing? Or was this scene simply a shallow form of thrills for the television audience to talk about? I am also a little confused about Juliet’s relationship with her ex-husband. Why would she allowed this man to continue controlling her after their divorce? Was Juliet responsible for initiating the divorce? Or was Edmund? I guess we will never know. Speaking of Edmund Burke, I must admit that I found the circumstances of his death just a bit too much. I thought screenwriters Carlton Cuse and Jeff Pinkner were rather heavy-handed in their use of “coincidence” by having Edmund die in the very manner that Juliet had earlier expressed in a conversation with Richard. I mean . . . . c’mon!
“Not in Portland” featured some excellent performances from the likes of Evangeline Lilly, Josh Holloway, Michael Emerson, Željko Ivanek, Blake Bashoff, Robin Weigert, William Mapother, Tania Raymonde, and Michael Bowen. But there were four performances that I really enjoyed. One of them came from M.C. Gainey, whose portrayal of Tom Friendly naturally ranged from suspicion toward Juliet, slight hero worship of Jack and a sickening intolerance of the sight of blood. By the way, Tom’s hilarious reaction to blood was one of the episode’s highlights, thanks to Gainey’s performance. Nestor Carbonnell made his first appearance as Other immortal Richard Alpert. With his eye-catching physical appearance and strong and mysterious screen presence, Carbonnell made quite an impression on many fans, including myself. Once again, Matthew Fox gave a superb, yet unappreciated performance as leader of the castaways, spinal surgeon Jack Shepherd. I was especially impressed by Fox’s portrayal of an intense Jack, desperate to resort to anything to ensure Kate and Sawyer’s escape. But the best performance in this episode came from Elizabeth Mitchell, who gave a superb performance as Dr. Juliet Burke. I am flabbergasted that Mitchell had never received any award nominations for her performance in this episode. She did an excellent job of conveying Juliet’s character development from whipped ex-wife to a dangerous and desperate woman. I have always considered her to be one of the best actresses on the series and “Not in Portland” certainly proved it.
Despite being one of the episodes that aired during the dreaded first half of Season Three . . . despite being part of the dreaded story arc that featured Jack Shepherd, Kate Austen and Sawyer Ford’s time as prisoners of the Others, I managed to enjoy “Not in Portland” very much. For me, it is a bright sunshine during what I view as an artistically dreary period for “LOST”.