Re-Lost: In Translation


Jin can't read this caption.

Jin is one of my favorite characters on Lost, because his language barrier makes him a perpetual outsider. His actions are inscrutable to those around him, because he can’t express everything that’s going through his head. In the very good “House of the Rising Sun,” we were finally given some insight into Jin and how he works, and “In Translation” continues that same arc. And a curious thing occurred to me while watching the show. By making Jin incapable of understanding and speaking English, the show basically put us in the same position as the other Losties. We don’t understand why Jin is so protective of Sun. We don’t know why his rivalry with Michael is so strong. It’s only when we get to see and hear things from his perspective that the pieces finally come into place. It’s like looking on two different sides of soundproof glass, and I loved it.

In serialized TV, many of the best shows tend to be transitional. They are the shows that give us resolution to some of the tension that has been growing for several shows. And they move us into new plots, while altering the familiar ones in just the right way. “In Translation” is such an episode, but it does it in an entirely character-based way. The actual plot of the episode is pretty lean. The real meat comes in how the characters learn to interact in completely new ways. The most obvious shift is in the relationship between Sun and Jin. Everyone suspects Jin of burning Michael’s raft, and in the conflict, Sun reveals that she knows English. Like Sun, we expect a violent outburst. Instead, Jin is plainly crushed. It’s never occurred to him that his wife would hide something like this from him. And when she does, he seems plainly frightened of what has become of their marriage. It’s a very sad moment when we see all of the devotion and fear that has been poured into their relationship, and then hear him tell Sun (in Korean) that it’s too late to go back to where they were.

And that’s not all of the shifting that’s going on here. Jin finally decides to overcome language, and to reach out to the other Losties. I confess, when he walked up to Michael, ready to help with the raft, and says, “Boat,” I misted up. But my favorite development has to be between Walt and Michael. Of course, Walt is responsible for setting fire to the raft, because he doesn’t want to leave the island. But when he sees how it crushes his father, he clearly has no idea what it meant to Michael. It seems that finally Walt isn’t just thinking about himself on the island. Even Sayid and Shannon begin their romantic relationship in earnest. This doesn’t work as well for me, but it clearly takes the edge off of Shannon. And even Sayid seems happier. I’ll talk about that a little more below, but it’s another lovely character moment in an episode that is full of them.

There’s very little mythology that is advanced, or even mentioned. “In Translation” is much more concerned with talking about the people on the Island, and how they relate to each other. It’s a great reminder that while the mythology and mystery is very important, the characters pull just as much weight. This is an episode that hits all the right notes, and well and truly pulls the show out of the doldrums.

Grade: A


  • Obviously, I’m not my sister. She should be writing the review for “Numbers” on Friday.
  • The first time through, I never totally accepted Shannon and Sayid, at least from Sayid’s perspective. He’s spent so much time searching for Nadia, how could he cast that aside for Shannon? Here’s my thought: Sayid is a character whose pain is almost totally wrapped up in his search for Nadia. To me, his relationship with Shannon is finally a moment to “let go” of all of the pain and suffering that his search has brought him. It’s a place of acceptance, where he no longer needs the unattainable to be happy. It doesn’t make the whole thing work dramatically (the actors just don’t have much chemistry), but it at least makes more sense from a character perspective.
  • The best actor in an episode of fine acting: Malcolm David Kelly. Just look at Walt. He conveys an enormous range of emotions in a very simple facial expression.
  • Locke is steadily manipulating everyone around him. He asks why anyone would want to destroy their one chance of getting off the island. Why indeed.
  • The show goes for the musical epilogue, like in “Tabula Rasa.” Alas, the batteries in Hurley’s CD player finally die, and we’re only left with a disquieting silence. Really great ending to a really great episode.
  • I’ll be gone the second half of this week, hence my sister’s review of “Numbers.” See you next Tuesday!

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