I’ve been thinking a lot about “Lost” since the previous season ended and this one began, mainly in terms of the types of questions the show raises and the ones that fans ask of the series. When I talk with other people who watch the show, they invariably talk about how they either want a very specific question answered or issue addressed. I feel the same hunger, but I also think that that line of thinking leads to two problems. For one, it assumes that answers need to be given explicitly for certain mysteries, and that this should take the form of one character saying something along the lines of, “Yes, I am indeed responsible for that, and here’s how I did it.” That’s how soap operas and bad movies work, and frankly, for all its minor flaws, I’d just as soon “Lost” avoid those paths. Answers often come in moments of quiet revelation that are soon buried, but they’re still answers. Even with a few pieces removed, you can tell what a puzzle will turn out to be, and this is similar to that: Oblique answers don’t negate comprehension, or effect.
The second problem with wanting hospital corners and tidy resolutions is that most TV series in the genre vein tend to work better as unsolved mysteries, or at least as stories that place a stronger emphasis on emotional conclusions than those related to who did what and why. That’s not to say that character arcs exist independently of the mysteries that drive said characters, or that refusing to solve any major mysteries is somehow noble; they don’t, and it’s not. But it’s important to remember that the question of who killed Laura Palmer was what had all the energy, not learning who killed her. It was always more entertaining and enlivening to watch Agent Mulder chase the truth than to find it. And maybe, just maybe, it’s a better thing to see Jack Shephard slack-jawed with curiosity and terror than to fully understand the thing he’s looking at.
The sixth-season premiere, “LA X” (there’s a space there), went the only direction the series had left to go, narrative-wise. After three seasons of flashing back from the main action to the past, and two that jumped forward in time from the principal island setting, things are now basically sideways. (And though I’m okay with “flashback” and “flashforward,” “flash-sideways” just sounds dumb.) The question haunting Miles and the rest of the crew on the island at the end of last season was: What happens when the bomb goes off? Will it simply knock them forward in time from 1977 to their original point of origin, resulting in the explosion that necessitated the building of the hatch, whose malfunctioning caused Oceanic 815 to wreck in the first place? Or will it act as a reset button, destroying the pocket of energy that was being regulated by the hatch, thereby meaning no future malfunction and plane crash? The answer, for now, is: Both.
The first episode of the final season tracked not two points on the same timeline, but two points on two different timelines. (It helps if you’ve seen Back to the Future: Part II.) In one, the bomb blast triggered by Juliet sent the travelers back to their own present, which would be 2007, where Frank, Sun, and the rest of that whole gang of wackos are on the beach next to the four-toed foot statue where Jacob is killed. In the other, the blast undoes everything, meaning the 2004 flight from Sydney to Los Angeles never crashed but made it safely to California. So for now, we’ve got two stories, and I’ll do my best to keep them clearly marked.
First, the stuff on the plane. The action there opens at the top of the episode, with Jack gazing absently out his window, shaking his head to clear the fog. He has the same conversation with Rose about turbulence that we’ve seen years before, and it’s nicely re-enacted despite differing hair lengths for pretty much every character. It becomes clear quickly that, whatever power or permanence this version of events might have, it won’t be going anywhere soon: In one of what will be the series’ classic visual reveals, the camera drops below the plane and down into the sea, passing over the ocean floor until it reaches the completely submerged island, still decked out in ruined Other habitats and a decaying four-toed statue. In this world, the island’s long gone, and the sight of it under so much water is eerie and perfect.
Everybody’s on the plane, alive, just as they should be. At one point, even Desmond shows up and chats with Jack, which was a genuinely confusing moment, albeit a pleasing one; I wonder how they’ll reconcile that, or if Des was just hopping through time again and popped into the plane for a bit. (My money’s on this one.) It was fun to see the characters reunited in their innocence, and it contrasted nicely with the cuts to the other timeline where everything was just running to hell as fast as possible. Kate’s still trying to figure out how to escape her federal escort, and Sawyer starts scheming when he overhears Hurley tell Arzt (who has in this world not been blown into tiny tiny pieces) about winning the lottery. But the best was seeing John Locke — good old non-dead Locke, and not the physical embodiment of the island’s evil presence — chatting with Boone. He lied about the fun he had on his walkabout, since he couldn’t bear to cop to the fact that he was handicapped, and his bravado was heartbreaking. Seeing them together for a moment was a reminder how great they’d been as a team in the first season.
Also on the plane, Charlie chokes on a bag of heroin he shoved down his throat in the bathroom and nearly died, but Jack is paged into action and brings him around. This pisses Charlie off, and he complains to Jack that he was “supposed to die.” The flight ends with a slow-motion deplaning that mirrored the sequence at the end of the first-season finale when everyone boarded Oceanic 815. Kate is led off, Charlie is arrested, and Jack sees Locke be lifted and placed into a wheelchair, Locke gritting his teeth and trying and failing to remain dignified.
Once on the ground, things stayed hectic for the not-survivors. Kate uses a pen she lifted from Jack to pop her handcuffs and temporarily subdue the marshal, who gets banged on the head in another parallel with what might have been/already was. She makes it all the way to the taxi area before he catches up to her, and she hops into a cab and holds a gun on the driver to get him to go. The fun reveal: Claire, still very pregnant, is already in the cab. Also at LAX, Jin is stopped by Customs, who find a fat wad of henchman cash in his bag and lead him away. Sun, when given the opportunity to speak up and end it, balks and says she doesn’t understand English. (This is because in this timeline, Jin’s still an emotionally abusive dick.) And of course, Jack and Locke manage to meet. Jack’s father’s coffin is misplaced by Oceanic, and he and Locke chat at customer service, where Locke reminds Jack that they haven’t lost Jack’s father, just the body. Jack is moved and offers Locke a free consultation for spinal surgery. When Locke initially demurs and says his problem is irreversible, Jack insists, “Nothing is irreversible.” Oh Jack, always with the saving. You’re adorable.
So that’s the non-crash timeline. Now, the crash world:
The action picks up in the moments after the bomb blast. The past few seasons of the show — roughly corresponding with the shorter seasons in general — have had wildly reduced timelines, often covering mere days with the number of episodes that spanned weeks on the island in the first season. That adds to the heightened sense of urgency: Viewed in a row, there’s almost no stopping at all for like three full seasons, which is kind of amazing/insane/amazing. Anyway, the first character to come around is Kate, whose ears are ringing and who’s caught up in a tree. She meets up with Miles and sees an old DHARMA door. “We’re back,” she says.
They meet up with Jack at the bombed-out pit that’s the remnants of the destroyed Swan station — the hatch — and not the construction site, meaning the hatch was built, meaning it blew up, caused the crash, etc. Jack isn’t awake for a minute when Sawyer flies out and kicks him into the pit, which has to hurt. (It was Shannon who referred to it as Craphole Island back in the first season, and at this point she’s probably happy to be dead just so she doesn’t have to deal with this level of insanity. Angry polar bears would be a relief for Jack.) His ass-kicking takes a pause when Sawyer hears Juliet crying out from beneath the rubble pile drawn in by the explosion, so he and the rest start working to get her out.
Meanwhile, Hurley and Jin are watching over Sayid, where they’ve been since before Jack and that crew attacked the construction site. Jin bails to go help the rescue effort, and Hurley is confronted by the amiable ghost of Jacob, who calmly tells Hurley that he (Jacob) died an hour before but that Sayid can be saved if taken to the Temple, which Jin will know how to find from his wacky adventures with the young Rousseau’s expedition team. When asked, Jacob says, “I was killed by an old friend who grew tired of my company.”
Sawyer, Jack, Kate, and Jin manage to open up the wreckage, and Sawyer goes down to find a dying Juliet. He eventually frees her, and they have a few final moments together. She tells him she hit the bomb, which puzzles Sawyer, but he rolls with it. Juliet talks about getting coffee sometime and going Dutch, then snaps back into it and gives Sawyer one final kiss. She tries to tell him something “really, really important,” but dies before she can get it out. So this is twice Sawyer’s had to watch her die. Guy does not deserve that.
Topside, Hurley puts his foot down (FINALLY) and tells Jack that they’re taking Sayid to the Temple since they don’t have any other options. Sawyer stays behind to bury Juliet with Miles’ help, and though at first this seems like he’s looking for help, it turns out that he just wants Miles to use his psychic power to read Juliet and find out what she was trying to tell Sawyer. Miles finally agrees and contacts her, and brings back her two-word message: “It worked.” Neither man knows what it means, but you and I do, kiddo.
Hurley and the rest reach the ruined wall that leads underground — and Hurley finds an old copy of Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling with the remains of a body — but after a couple minutes down there, they’re kidnapped by Others and lead out into an open area where we finally see the Temple for the first time. It looks, well, like a weird old temple in the middle of the jungle. They’re greeted by guards and a really stereotypical-looking Asian warlord type, who speaks through an interpreter played by John Hawkes (Sol Star from “Deadwood”). The IMDb lists his character name as Lennon, I’m guessing as a nod to his round specs, but he’s not named outright in this episode. Anyway, Hurley and the gang are almost shot on sight before Hurley uses Jacob’s name as a shibboleth to halt the execution, then gives them the guitar case Jacob gave him back in Los Angeles. The Others open it to find a wooden ankh, which the leader snaps open to find a note, because that’s the safest way to send notes. Hurley et al. give their names, and Lennon is given the okay to bring them all into the Temple.
Inside is a pool of water that’s running dirtier than normal, per Lennon, and Angry Warlord Leader cuts his hand and places it in the water but sees no change. Guards lower Sayid into the pool as a giant hourglass is tipped over, and Sayid starts thrashing before eventually giving up and going limp. Jack tries to stop this but is karate chopped into painful submission. They drag Sayid out of the water and lay him out, then pronounce him unsaveable and thus dead. Jack tries to revive him with CPR, because that’s what Jack does, but no soap. He’s gone.
While all of this is going on, there’s also stuff happening down at the beach by the statue. The evil spirit masquerading as Locke — because that’s what it is — sends Ben out to get Richard, but Richard shows Ben the corpse of the real Locke, which is pretty much a brain-scrambler for Ben. Ben eventually heads back in with Bram and other armed commandos, but if there’s an immutable truth to the island, it’s that machine guns don’t do a thing to the smoke monster. The guys open fire and hit Fake Locke, who disappears around a corner and into thin air. Then there’s the familiar rattling as the smoke monster returns and destroys them. Bram spreads a circle of ash to protect himself, which works for maybe three seconds. The monster just bangs a pillar that knocks Bram out of the circle, and then he’s tossed and impaled. When it’s over, Fake Locke reappears to Ben and says, “I’m sorry you had to see me like that.” Bam, said the lady.
Later, Fake Locke chats with Ben about the real John Locke, putting a final point on his story. He says that Locke’s last thought as he was being strangled was “I don’t understand,” and I agree with the evil spirit that that’s the saddest thing I’ve ever heard. He tells Ben, “I want to go home,” though there’s no mention yet of what or where or even when that home is. Can the spirit not travel across water? Is it bound to the island somehow?
The episode wraps as Hurley conferences with Lennon and Asian Warlord about Jacob, telling them that he knows Jacob to be dead. This sets off a chain of alarms as the group of Others starts rousting everyone and pouring ash around the temple. “It isn’t to keep you in,” Lennon says, “it’s to keep him out.” They set off a firework/signal flare that’s seen down at the beach by Richard just as Fake Locke emerges from the statue. Richard realizes it’s the Enemy right away, and Fake Locke says it’s good to see Richard “out of those chains” just before he knocks him unconscious. He expresses disappointment with everyone there before shouldering Richard’s body and heading off into the jungle.
Back at the Temple, everything’s going crazy, and Miles and Sawyer have since been apprehended and brought there to wait with their friends. Jack turns on Lennon and starts fighting before he’s stopped by Hurley’s warning shout. He turns to see — yep — Sayid sitting up, his luscious man locks none the worse for wear, as he grabs his head and asks, “What happened?”
Well, a lot did, guy. My initial reaction, though, is that this was a strong episode that seamlessly continued the story as laid out last year. It also hinted at interesting things to come, both on the island and in the alternate universe (Earth Prime? Dimension X?) where the Oceanic 815 crash never happened. For instance, everything was just slightly different this time around: Jack was the nervous one instead of Rose, Shannon didn’t return to L.A. with Boone (which yes was partly because Maggie Grace turned down the role but whatever, it’s canon now), Christian’s body was apparently never placed in the cargo hold, and oh yeah Desmond is on the plane. How far will this go? Will one timeline have to go, or is there some merge possible? If one goes, what happens to the other? Is one more inherently “real”? The shift between stories wasn’t the lower white noise of the flashbacks and -forwards, but the screeching that accompanied the island’s time jumps. What might that mean? Additionally, the healing water of the Temple is apparently what helped Ben when he was shot as a boy, and now it’s helped Sayid. Does that mean he (and Ben) is to a degree invested with some part of the island and/or its spirit? Would that bring them ontologically closer to Jacob or the Enemy?
One thing I know: I have plenty of questions, but they’re matched by a willingness to take the ride and let the story unfold on its own terms. It’s done well so far, and I have to believe I won’t be disappointed.