(edited 2:20pm 6/12/2010 - added synopses)
Before wasting sleeping hours rewatching episodes of So You Think You Can Dance (my latest obsession... and my return to actually enjoying reality television that isn't What Not to Wear or on HGTV), I managed to finally watch the much-hated episode of Lost that, in my anticipation, I compared to Battlestar Galactica's "Black Market." Not just for being totally useless as an episode, but also for the negative reaction and the admission of the actual creators that "hey, we made a crap episode." I also mistakenly thought the chick in Lost was also a hooker... but seriously, besides being a psychic tattoo genie or whatevs, she probably is. I mean, look at those clothes. No self-respecting woman would dress like that in dark alleys unless she's trolling for something.
So the verdict? Which sucks more? "Stranger in a Strange Land..."
...or "Black Market"?
First a brief, biased synopsis of both:
"Black Market" - After the success of the awesome Pegasus story arc and Roslin's life being saved, the show decides to kill some time with dear ol' Lee Adama and a random prostitute named Shevon that we're supposed to believe he's been seeing and is seriously into. Colonel Fisk, Cain's successor in commanding Pegasus, is killed and Lee is asked to investigate... why Lee? I'd think this is set up for Lee's ventures into lawyerhood later in the series, but it's a season too early, so it's more like a convenient plot device. Lee finds out that Fisk was involved in a black market that's been happening in the fleet (OH NOES) and then Shevon's daughter gets kidnapped and Lee feels responsible because he's been playing house with the kid and totally creeping her out. Oh and this is the episode where we start to see Dee and Lee flirting together, which makes me hate this episode even more for ruining my darling Billy's life. But anyway, back to the main suck of a plot, Lee goes after the head of the black market, kills him, and tells off the black market, but not entirely, more like "just don't take important stuff... oh and kids, kk?" Roslin gets pissed, but Bill lets Lee's arrangement go ahead. So essentially, NOTHING HAPPENS. We never hear from Shevon again (partially because she's not interested in playing house with Lee and partially because NO ONE CARES), the black market is never mentioned again, the fleet doesn't change at all, and... yeah. Pointless. Then the next episode we watch Starbuck get totally wasted, try to have drunken sex with Lee, and then almost kill herself for the billionth time, until Kat shows us that she doesn't suck as much as she used to.
"Stranger in a Strange Land" - This episode also kicks off after some intensely awesome stuff happening. Last episode was Desmond centric, which was great because Desmond is great, and we learned all about course correction (which, a few years later, FlashForward blatantly rips off in its failed attempt to be the next Lost) and how the universe is trying to kill Charlie. So what does the audience get next week? Zero Desmond, zero Charlie, and a whole lot of Jack, Kate, and Sawyer. Before Kate and Sawyer broke out of their cages, that would have been interesting, but instead we watch Kate and Sawyer bicker and lose Carl and find Carl and Sawyer lets Carl go and there's all this tension about having dead man walking sex and nobody cares because they reach their own island and that's about that. Jack's regular plot isn't so horrible, although the whole time I keep thinking Jack is being totally conned, but I think I was proven wrong, for like the first time ever when it comes to these characters conning each other. But anyway, Jack tries to protect Juliet for killing Danny or whatever his name was when she was letting Kate and Sawyer go. She's supposed to be killed, but he gets Ben to take that option off the table, so Juliet gets marked in a tramp-stamp way instead. Jack applies aloe. Fresh aloe hurts, I can tell you that. Tension is born, but I don't want it (as much as Juliet is growing on me). There's also some random sheriff chick, Isabel, if I remember correctly, who can read Jack's tattoo and all around just acts like a douchebag. The main problem with this episode though, of course, is the flashback. Jack is in Thailand to find himself (...) and starts by flying a kite on the beach (...) when he is helped because he can't fly a kite to save his life by some pretty thing that can speak English and is totally dressed like a hooker (... yeah). Jack and the chick start sexing it up and it appears she comes and goes as she pleases in his bed. They also fall off his bed at some point. Oh man, THAT was exciting. Then Jack drunkenly stalks her like the loser he is and finds out that, though she's dressed like a total hooker and wandering in dark alleys to some secret place and receives huge envelopes of money, she's not a hooker (well, maybe, I'm convinced she still is) - she's a MAGICAL TATTOO-IST. She can see who people are, so Jack acts like a douche and forces her to tell him and tattoo him although he's an outsider. Happy-go-lucky Jack leaves his house the next day, freshly inked, and creeps out some kid and then gets beaten down by the chick's brother and some of his friends. Jack presumably leaves Thailand now, having gotten inked. Whoo. I'll take the not-supernatural tattoos, please.
Well, those weren't that brief, but for being totally pointless, both episodes do eat up roughly forty-five minutes. THE VERDICT?
Honestly, it's a tough call. I was going to say that "Black Market" sucked more until the tattoo genie chick was all "I AM NOT A TATTOO ARTIST - I SEE THINGS IN PEOPLE." But it's tough, because I'm still really down on "Black Market" for its stupid retcon with Shevon the prostitute and her daughter, Lee's surrogate daughter for the one that exploded in his (OUT OF LEFT FIELD) pregnant girlfriend before she was born that Lee left before the apocalypse in the Twelve Colonies.
I also give favoritism to Battlestar Galactica for being a show I like more. No offense, Lost, but you move at a snail's pace at best. By the middle of the third season, Battlestar Galactica's characters had all frakked each other, made war and nice and war again with the Cylons, and had tackled issues of genocide, survival, abortion, crazy religion versus politics, religion in general, suicide bombings, forced occupation, and biological warfare. Lost has... coined some cool catchphrases, killed off a lot more central characters, and toyed with maybe two or three of those topics. Seriously, Emmys, can I hate on you times a zillion for ignoring Battlestar Galactica for, like, six years? And yet, giving the prize to Lost which, although being a great show in its own right, is still no BSG. There is no show like BSG.
Ahem. But we're comparing these episodes against one another, not the shows against one another. So I think I still might have to go with "Black Market" sucking more. Because, although Jack's flashbacks totally bite and the Sawyer and Kate plotline is just infuriating as per usual with them (and Kate lately has been pissing me off even more than usual), Jack's current day plot wasn't made of total suck (just partial suck). I mean, at least "Stranger in a Strange Land" fits within its narrative better. The question of Jack's tattoos is one that nobody cares about, sure, but nobody even asked "huh, I wonder how Lee's prostitute surrogate girlfriend and her daughter are doing?" BECAUSE THEY NEVER EVEN EXISTED BEFORE OR AFTER. Jack's tattoos at least will always be there. So now if anybody asks about them, we have the boring lengthy answer of that useless episode. But "Black Market" isn't just a useless episode but a horrible episode that disgraces everything that Battlestar Galactica is. Despite the occasional melodramatic bits of the show, it's usually pretty grounded (luls, har har, see how it's funny - it's because it's set in SPACE most of the time).
I do much more appreciate the controlled flashbacks of Battlestar Galactica, that held onto them mostly until the finale (save a bit of Kara flashback to Zak and ignoring the preggers!gf flashbacks of ten seconds Lee has in "Black Market" ...oh and the Final Five's memories on Earth) and just offered a couple character-defining moments that were really some of the most beautiful, sad, and touching moments in an otherwise action-packed and ending-packed finale. Lost, for being innovative in its use of flashbacks, also tends to overuse them on some characters (particularly Jack and Kate, but most characters really don't need like ten centric episodes. NOBODY is that interesting. Even Eko, for being fucking awesome and wicked interesting always only needed the three episodes he got). I long for the episodes where nobody gets a flashback and we can all live in the present because I am BORED with their pasts. I get it. Kate and Sawyer are criminals with hearts of gold. Jack had daddy issues. Charlie had drug issues. Locke had major daddy issues. Hurley was fat and crazy and is still fat and may still be crazy. I honestly don't care that much because that means half of the time the plot isn't moving forward, which is frustrating because already so much that is set in the present plotline isn't moving anything forward.
But this post wasn't supposed to be about Lost's shortcomings (though I could go on for quite some time with both praise and critique) - it is about the competition of bad episode against bad episode. And in that competition, "Black Market" takes the rotten tomato, mostly because of its horrible retcon in combination with the other bad elements that it shares with "Stranger in a Strange Land."
As my darling Television Without Pity ends their brief description of "Black Market" -
"Roslin is displeased with everyone and everything. She is right."
PS: I got McDonalds - TWICE, actually - and that commercial still won't leave me the fuck alone while I'm watching Lost on hulu.com, no matter how many times I say that the ad is not relevant to me. It is one of the few ads, if not the only, I have said that about. I AM MAD AT YOU, HULU.