From the high point of the season to what is arguably it's lowest point, I had a somewhat higher opinion of this episode when I first saw (and even then I didn't think much of it/) Stranger in a Strange Land' has some interesting parts to it, but considering that the writers would never follow up on them, they make this episode somewhat frustrating.
The episode immediately follows the actions of 'Mot in Portland' with Jack finally being removed from the Hydra part of the to the cages where they kept Kate and Sawyer. They then follow up by moving Juliet to his old cage, but unlike the previous episodes, they make sure that he sees it .Is it possible that what follows is an exercise done to demonstrate that they are going through with something. Immediately afterwards, we meet a woman named Isabel-, who Tom classifies as the sheriff, and is clearly in charge of carrying out some kind of law involving Juliet's murder of Danny. But immediately before that, Juliet comes out with pictures showing that Ben's wounds have become infected, and that he needs further medical attention. After Jack refuses, Juliet is led away, and not long after the 'investigation' begins. Isabel asks Jack (with Juliet in the room) about Jack's accusation that Juliet wanted to see Ben dead. Jack lies to protect her, and somehow Isabel knows this However, before going any further with this, Jack demands to be taken back to his cage.
The next day, Jack learns through Alex (who deliberately knocks out the camera) that Juliet is about to be executed for her murder. Jack asks her several questions, all of which she answers honestly. She then asks Jack the million-dollar question: Why did Jack save Ben? The only answer that Jack gives is that he took an path, and as we have seen Jack's actions on and off the island, we know he believes very seriously in the Hippocratic Oath. That probably motivated his actions more than anything else. Afterwards, Alex lets him out of his cage, where he investigates the wound and says that it needs to be seriously watched or he Ben could never walk again. We will soon learn that this into what usually happens on the island, but Ben will be the exception to the rule. For that reason, though, Ben overrules Isabel and takes the execution that she has coming, and commutes it to a mark. Branding is a biblical punishment, so it does seem to indicate they might have killed her, would they?
Now here's the problem. Everything else we know about the e Others indicates that Ben is the ultimate authority.. If there was going to be an execution, (and Ben did hear some of what Jack mentioned, so he might well know she was plotting against him) wouldn't he have ordered in the first place? Is it possible that the entire exercise with Isabel was staged for Jack's benefit, in order to manipulate him into saving Ben's life? The argument against it would be that Alex, who clearly disagrees with everything her father's been doing, seems so willing to help Juliet and Jack, and not her father? Why would she go along with it? And Isabel seems to operate apart from Ben? What's her real role? We don't know because after this episode, we never see her again. This would seem to indicate that the writers weren't thinking that hard on this.
But Alex is not the only familiar face Jack sees--- we see a group of Others, and among them are Cindy, the stewardess who was in the tail section, and Zach and Emma, the two children Ana Lucia rescued. All three were taken by the Others, and now seem to have completely been assimilated. How? Especially in the case of Cindy, who has been in their custody less than a month? Is there some kind of brainwashing or drugs that they use? Does it involve what we saw in Room 23? We never find out, mainly because Jack, apparently seeing this as yet another betrayal, yells at this group to go away. And why'd he do that? Tom, Isabel, and Alex all approached his cage and asked questions, he was perfectly all right answering them, and he had less reason to be friendly.
I've already commented on how Jack's flashbacks are generally the weakest, and this one is pretty lame as well, but it does have some benefits. For one thing, in Thailand, it is shows Jack truly happy almost for the first time. He doesn't understand the language, he doesn't know anybody, and with the presence of Achara, he seems truly free for the first time. H e seems to have gotten away from all the ghosts that have been chasing him. But, as always, Jack can not let anything go. He has to know what Achara's secret, and once he finds out, he demands that he she brand him, even though the consequences when they come are ghastly. And while I know that the actual translations of Jack's tattoos is a really minor mystery, I'd been wondering what it meant since Season 1, so I was glad that we got an answer to one question.
The only other characters that we see of the Losties are Kate and Sawyer, who are now carrying Karl, who seems to be getting over his torture relatively fast (He does, however, mention Jacob in confusion, making it the third time we've heard this name. Who is Jacob?) Karl seems completely disconnected from what is happening, and clearly misses Alex, so even though he probably could tell them a lot about the Others Sawyer sends him away. Of course, he tells Kate that he was doing it to save himself, but you've got to admit, Sawyer must have felt something for a man whose lost his Karl. But again, we never learn who is Karl? Was he born on the island? Where are his parents? Was he an Other? Unfortunately, we're never going to get answers to these questions either.
'Stranger in a Strange Land' is an unremarkable episode to be sure, but what makes it so weak is that it sets up a lot of really interesting possibilities that the writers never answer, not now, not ever. They did something similar during Season2 (remember that army Jack and Ana were going to raise?) but considering that so many of our questions about the Others have been revealed by now (though not close to all), it feels that the writers didn't try hard enough or make the real effort.. Which is something they don't do very often.