Did 'Lost' stage its own 'Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead'?
In "Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead," Tom Stoppard did an intellectually tricky thing -- he decided to take two marginal characters from "Hamlet" and move them from the background to the foreground. That's not the tricky part. The tricky part was conceiving a self-absorbed path for the two characters to follow while one of literature's great tragedies was taking place behind them, a self-aborbed path that led directly to a different tragedy. In the bitingly funny and strangely haunting play, Stoppard is able to tease out the themes of "Hamlet," while making his own work more than just a complimentary side text.
I guess that if the writers of "Lost" had titled this week's episode "Nikki & Paolo Are Dead" that might have been a bit too on-the-nose, but for my money that's what the episode named "Expose" was going for.
Fans have complained about Nikki (the lovely Kiele Sanchez, finally shown to her full advantage this week) and Paolo (Rodrigo Santoro, pretty in his own right, I suppose) all season long. They've technically been regulars (so say the opening credits), but their integration into the main storylines has been haphazard at best. Actually, forget the "at best" part. Fans whined when Nikki and Paolo made a pointless excursion into the Island with the main characters and they whined when Paolo only popped up for a single scene practicing his golf swing. The assumption was that the "Lost" writers were *trying* to wedge the characters into the main storyline and that they were failing. Perhaps we were all wrong to assume that any effort was being made to make Nikki and Paolo part of the gang.
"Expose" made the interesting argument that Nikki and Paolo have always been in the middle of the Island's mysteries, but that they were too wrapped up in their million-dollar dramas (stolen diamonds, specifically) to properly care about the precariously perched plane that eventually killed Boone or the hatch that so transfixed Locke. If they'd been more engaged with Jack's "Everybody come together now" ethos, perhaps they'd have casually walked up to somebody on the beach and said, "Dude, we found the weirdest thing off in the jungle" or "Yo, Jack, I was down in a mysterious hatch and some freaky guy without a chin was talking about entrapping you into doing something bad." But people on "Lost" don't talk that way. Like more attractive Zeligs, Gumps or Chance the Gardeners, Nikki and Paolo just waltzed past the island's more fanboy-friendly surprises with their eyes firmly on what they thought was a bigger prize.
Just as nothing in "Hamlet" was advanced by the death of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, nothing in this season of "Lost" was impacted by having Nikki and Paolo being buried alive, but spending an episode concentrating on the utter meaninglessness of their deaths may have been a good way to highlight the solipsism of the main "Lost" characters. Sawyer, Hurley and the Hobbit pretty much kill Nikki and Paolo, which isn't a great loss, by any means. But over three seasons, how much survivalism has been sacrificed so that the Island's strongest residents can keep exploring banal mysteries and going on fool errands? In the vast majority of episodes, none of the main characters even mention that possibility of a life after the Island, because they're getting off on the game of being there. Nikki and Paolo died because they were placing less value on their present and more on a pile of rocks that remained worthless as long as they stayed marooned.
But I guess I'm a strange "Lost" viewer if this week's episode interested me more than most of the season's sub-par hours. Nobody's going to mourn Nikki and Paolo (I sure won't), but the episode tied in well with the season's main thematic concerns, so I bought in. Plus, Billy Dee Williams? Works every time.