“There’s No Place Like Home, Parts 2 & 3″
May 29th, 2008
“Who the frak is Jeremy Bentham?”
[In case this 4700 word review wasn't enough, here's more post-podcast thoughts about the Lost finale! Was the finale spoiled by the one which preceded it, dooming it from the very beginning? Well, no, but it's a valid argument.]
This is the question that pervades the conclusion to Lost’s fourth season, one that I asked myself the second the name was uttered. Now, I presumed that this (like most Lost names) had special meaning, but resisted the urge to head off to my computer to use Wikpedia to find out which philosopher or some other profession the show was using to describe this intriguing character who, as the finale unfolds, we learn was in the casket we saw a season ago.
And, well, I didn’t even have to wait until I returned to my computer: someone who was only in the TV lounge to watch a show proceeding Lost knew the story, and immediately it clicked: it wasn’t his ideas that made him an ideal choice, but rather his legacy.
As requested in his will, [Jeremy Bentham's] body was preserved and stored in a wooden cabinet, termed his “Auto-icon”. Originally kept by his disciple Dr. Southwood Smith, it was acquired by University College London in 1850. The Auto-icon is kept on public display at the end of the South Cloisters in the main building of the College. For the 100th and 150th anniversaries of the college, the Auto-icon was brought to the meeting of the College Council, where he was listed as “present but not voting”. Tradition holds that if the council’s vote on any motion is tied, the auto-icon always breaks the tie by voting in favour of the motion.
In an episode full of light bulb moments, pieces falling into place as we knew they had to, this was the biggest: a realization that, in kind with the words of the characters standing beside the casket, there was life after death for its occupant. Death is strange on the island, we know this: whether it’s Christian, Claire or Charlie, it is clear that dying is not final in this world.
And there is nothing final about this finale; while we turn the corner on one chapter of the lives of our castaways, the series has simultaneously created a whole new set of mysteries, a whole new structural question (perhaps even rivaling our post-season three confusion), and certainly more than enough dramatic potential for the final two seasons to resonate just as strongly as this one.
To be frank, this is no “Through the Looking Glass;” its moving pieces were smaller, and its scale (even considering Locke’s mission from Jacob) are in no way going to create something to that level. However, the episode fulfills that finale’s potential, paying off storylines both emotional and adventurous, and providing more than enough fodder for Lost fans to continue salivating for the final 34.
In the meantime, let’s salivate over this one.
That the second part of “There’s No Place Like Home” opens exactly where “Through the Looking Glass” left off makes it impossible not to view them in comparison, but it’s really a relationship of companionship instead. The show’s fourth season will go into the books as likely its most consistent since its first, and it is largely because of the momentum created when we realized that Jack and Kate, three years in the future, were off the island.
The questions that revelation raised have been slowly unraveling all season: we learned the others who were part of the Oceanic Six, we learned parts of the reason for Jack’s newfound drug dependence, and we learned that it was Aaron who Kate needed to return to. However, there was one question that was left unanswered, barely even addressed until this episode: primarily, who was in the casket?
The episode offers its answer early, revealing that it is Jeremy Bentham who had passed away. The flashes all refer to this man, never by his “real name,” and how he is someone who knows the truth: he went to see Walt, he’d been to see Hurley, he’d seen Jack and Kate, and more importantly Ben knows what he’s up to. Perhaps it was obvious, at that point, who was found within that wooden box all this time: it was someone who told them that the island had fallen into chaos, and that they were never supposed to leave, and who was trying to get them to return with him.
Of course, the person in the box was John Locke, especially since earlier he had tried to convince Jack not to leave the island in the first place. Why, precisely, Locke asked him to do so isn’t clear: was this part of the discussion in “Cabin Fever” that we didn’t get to see, or is it rather a desire on his part not to be left alone and in charge of an entire island? That he is lying dead in the casket, of course, means that this episode sheds little light on what we’re really curious about, but considering the above discussion of his chosen namesake, it appears that life after “death” awaits John Locke.
But I will get to that later. First, let’s take a look at some of the elements that led to that point. First and foremost, our view of the Orchid station. Although we got a glimpse of the Orientation video (6 of 6, which means that it is likely the last station its members ever get to see), the tape got stuck: so, all we know is that (As Ben says) there’s time-traveling bunnies. Well, we do know a bit more: there’s a vault in which you should put no inorganic or metallic materials, a lot of weird equipment, and a certain curiosity as to its practical uses beyond the “silly experiments” Ben claims it was built for.
One of the one issues I have with the episode is how quickly it eliminates the on-island threat: last week, we were concerned that Keamy’s men were going to destroy the entire island, but that fear largely evaporates halfway through the night’s first hour. Widmore’s men are all killed, Ben is set free, and even Keamy’s eventual return to the Orchid feels less like a tense stand-off than a tragic blow for the other ticking time bomb in the story’s plot. Considering that we knew that Ben couldn’t die, perhaps this was inevitable: however, it certainly killed some of the tension on that side of the coin.
It did, however, do two things quite nicely: it turned the boat’s explosion into a somewhat more understandable tragedy (Proving that Sun really shouldn’t blame Jack and her father for Jin’s fate, but rather Keamy and Ben), and it nicely fit into our understanding of Ben’s flashforward in “The Shape of Things to Come.” Sure, it was a bit hokey how he got that cut on his arm, but that he kills Keamy on purpose in vengeance for his daughter is a perfect note for Ben: cold as shit, no doubt, but cold for a reason. His speech about his own inability to balance his emotions with the good of everyone around him is a perfect warning to Locke, someone who one could argue has killed a few people (Boone indirectly, Naomi directly) due to his over-devotion to the island’s will.
As for the flashforward, where Ben awakes in October 2005 in the middle of Tunisia, it was a great view. That to move the island means Ben can never return explains why he is so quick to find a new way to wage war on Widmore (Tracking down Sayid), and while perhaps slight I did enjoy the explanation for the winter coat and the cut on his arm. This was one of the many examples of storylines where gaps are filled in, and where some of the magic is lost. While the question of “What’s up with Ben’s time travel?” helps to drive viewer interest in discovering the answer, getting one kind of ruins some of the fun.
Of course, that implies that new questions weren’t raised by the trip down into that cold room: my favourite, of course, is that it is an ideal environment for polar bears. Let’s remember that there was a lever in the polar bear cages that required them to learn specific patterns. Is it possible, then, that the purpose of the polar bears was to test moving the island? It would explain the polar bear that Charlotte found in the same desert where Ben ended up, so I would tend to think that the bears are the ones who were usually purposed for this task. This, clearly, is my favourite revelation of the episode.
By the same token, the biggest question I had going into the finale was “What happens to Sawyer and Jin?” We know that they didn’t get off the island, and the way Kate was talking about Sawyer in “Something Nice Back Home” implied that there was at least some sort of event or separation. The same goes for Jin, whose grave Sun visited in “Ji Yeon” and whose death she partially blamed on her father in the first part of the finale. Well, the verdict appears to be in: an uncertain fate on the moved island for one, and likely death for the other.
Sawyer’s helicopter sacrifice was a great moment: he didn’t really need a redemptive one, but his whispering to Kate followed by their kiss certainly set the tone for Kate’s promise to him and for his future. Considering who all is left on the island at this point, he is now the Jack of the island, and for this I am thankful: Josh Holloway has always been great in the role, and I think that he is someone who has always been a rare source of sober thought that shall remain a nice counterpoint to Jack and Locke’s faith/fate arguments.
Jin’s death, meanwhile, is as tragic as we expected: he is unable to make it back to the helicopter in time to join his wife on board, and as a result we get a rather stunning portrayal of sheer agony from Yunjin Kim (Who is probably the most likely female cast member to get Emmy attention this year since Elizabeth Mitchell hasn’t had a real showcase episode). His death is ultimately on the hands of Ben and Keamy, but it makes sense that Sun partially blames Jack: he was the one who was supposed to get them off safely, and it is clear that the Sun of the future has some serious issues with what happened three years previous. Regardless, I hold out hope that there is some potential for Daniel Dae Kim to return, as I certainly am not ready to say goodbye to the actor just yet.
And, while I don’t want to oversimplify by discussing the fates of the rest of the characters, it’s the best way to go about it: so, let’s discuss both our three non-castaways (Juliet, Desmond, and Michael once removed) and our three new arrivals (Miles, Charlotte and Faraday). I was most interested in the first two, because they both have rather tragic stories: people who were on the island against their will, and who have the most reason to get off. Juliet has her cancer-stricken sister, something the show hasn’t mentioned but that fans are surely aware of, and Desmond has the series’ central romance with his beloved Penny.
In both cases, I was just crossing my fingers that the show wouldn’t kill them off: I was in constant fear of both of their deaths as the hours progressed, out of love for Elizabeth Mitchell’s character work and out of hope that the series wouldn’t seriously deny us the reunion of Penny and Desmond. Of course, neither of them died, but they did take very different trajectories.
At the end of the day, Juliet’s tragedy is the right note to hit here: while I surely wish that she had been lucky enough to get off of that island, her character can take another tragedy. She has been unlucky, certainly, but for the most part she can still drown her sorrows in rum without much fail. I was relieved that she remains alive, and that she can essentially take on the role of female lead on the island – hopefully, this leads to even more great material from Mitchell. That it was her promise to the castaways that she would see them all off the island before she herself stepped onto a boat is certainly a shining moment for her as a human being, but she still certainly deserved the stiff drink.
And what can we say about Desmond? My absolute terror at the thought of Desmond dying was the strongest emotion I felt throughout the episode, a total dread that they would seriously kill him off without him finding Penny. Little did I know, of course, that the emotional rollercoaster that is this series would have me going from terror to elation minutes later when it is Penny’s boat that discovers our castaways. Their moment of reunion was as heartfelt was we needed it to be, as Michael Giacchino’s score ramps up and gives us the moment we’ve been waiting for. Admittedly, Henry Ian Cusick’s stint as a full-time cast member may now be at an end: he is no longer central to the core narrative, although certainly he could once again see his brother Jack in another life.
I’ll get to more about Penny’s boat in due time, as we dig further into the Oceanic Six, but I must talk about the episode’s swan song: mainly, that Michael finally served the island in the only way he knew how. His death saved the lives of the people on that helicopter, and for that he was finally able to pass on (Or that’s how I’m choosing to read Christian’s visit to him right before the explosion, telling him that he could now move on). The episode’s most tragic moment, for me, was realizing that when Hurley was talking to Walt in the future that he wasn’t telling him the truth: there was no chance that his father was alive, and the false hope Locke had given him was only going to disappoint him in the end. Still, let’s remember: Michael technically died a hero, keeping the people alive who seem all too important to the island’s journey. Harold Perrineau’s early departure from the series was always a bit strange, and while he didn’t play an integral role here it is still a decent piece of payoff.
Now, raising Walt’s visit means that we’re getting into the flashforwards, but first I have to dig into the three characters that the show introduced to the island this season. When push came to shove, Miles and Charlotte chose to stay on the island. They both seem to be searching for something, although we don’t really know what it is: Charlotte, in particular, remains a total enigma. We can understand Miles wanting to stay to investigate further into the island’s dead (Something that we saw recur throughout the episode, with Hurley (Seeing Eko) and Kate (Seeing Claire) in the flashforwards and the aforementioned Christian visit to Michael), but Charlotte’s reasoning (That she has been there before, and is searching for the place she was born) is most certainly an intriguing development.
In both cases, there are important questions we need to have answered that they can help us with: while time travel may seem clearer now than it was before, Charlotte seems to represent a connection to Dharma’s past (There’s rumblings on the ‘net that she could possibly be Annie, Ben’s childhood sweetheart, but that seems impossible when we consider that Ben looked her right in the face earlier this season and knew who she was), and to the broader question of how and why they used time travel in the way they did. Her anthropological background was rarely used this season, but there appears to be promise that it will in the future. And considering how death seems to work, and how certain end of episode revelations are being revealed, there are plenty of more dead people for Miles to see and talk to.
And yet, we’re forgetting someone: of all of the fates, it is Jeremy Davies’ Daniel Faraday that is most in limbo. Last we saw of our favourite wacky physicist, he was driving alone in between the boat and the island with a group of nameless castaways on board. Surely the series is not done with Jeremy Davies: there are way too many questions as to how he got caught in flux (And thus needed Desmond as his constant), and also too many questions about the island itself that need answers. However, it’s not an easy fix: if he does survive, what happens to the six faceless castaways on that boat? There’s not an Oceanic 12, and as a result I remain most curious as to how he can return to the story’s narrative (Although I think there’s a clear place for him in the future).
As for the Oceanic Six, their storyline takes two forms: the present details on how they manages to wash up on that beach we saw in part one in a raft we hadn’t seen before, and what it is that three years in the future has Jack wanting to return. To the first point, it was a fairly predictable journey: although we didn’t know how, we knew that there was certainly going to be some sort of intervention that allowed them to be wearing different clothes when they landed. To be honest, I found that this part of things felt a tad bit too choreographed: it mined most of its drama from Desmond’s fake death and his relationship with Penny, and once we realized that it was Penny’s boat we knew that they would eventually hatch the plan.
The one answer we did get, although a simple one, was why they had to lie: it was not that their departure was this complete and utter tragedy that couldn’t be spoken, but rather that the truth would allow whoever is trying to create a false plane crash and take over the island to know where it is, who is on it, and that the people they left behind would be an easy target. Jack is acting on Locke’s advice here, something that is extremely rare: it was a nice moment of lucidity for the two leaders that their early conversation about fate and belief results in Jack making this important decision just as they reach Penny’s boat (Where they tell her the truth anyways because they think they can trust her).
However, the cruel irony that the show never pointed out directly is that none of the Oceanic Six are aware, as Locke is, that it is Penny’s father who is responsible for all of this. Considering that Ben threatened her life at the end of “The Shape of Things to Come,” I reckon that Penny is an innocent in the whole ordeal, but it is somewhat tragic that they are confiding in someone (And Desmond is settling down with someone) who is actually going to place them in danger. This is, however, how I expect we’ll be seeing more of Desmond in the future, if not quite as often.
That storyline was satisfactory, a nice lead-up to what we saw in Part One (Plus, Frank gets to be a hero and live to see more days with much cleaner hair, so good on him). Inevitably, however, a great deal of this episode’s intrigue comes from the future, a series of flashforwards following the Six from the same period that we left off in during the third season. We have Kate confronting Jack angrily over putting her in this position, Walt visiting Hurley, Sayid breaking Hurley out of the hospital to go to a “safe place,” Sun speaking to Charles Widmore, Kate getting a visit from Aaron’s real mother, and finally the reveal of who Jeremy Bentham really is.
The most interesting of all of these? Without question, it’s Sun. It raises an important and fundamental question that Widmore himself asks: why, exactly, does Sun want to help Charles Widmore get his way? Was she so incensed by Locke’s visit to her, demanding that she return to the island, that she wants it to be destroyed? Or did Locke reveal (indirectly) that it was Ben who killed Keamy and caused the boat to explode, thus perhaps giving her reason to crush everything Ben stood for? It’s a question we don’t have an answer to, and one that I’m hoping we do: I’ll talk more about the structure at the end of the review, but seeing Locke’s visits will be an important part of where the show heads in the future.
Sun’s reaction, whatever caused it, is going to be a serious hiccup in Ben’s plan, which seems to be following Locke’s wishes before his untimely death. Ben attempting to gather up the various members of the Oceanic Six feels almost like he’s putting together a team of reluctant superheroes, and certainly provides enough intrigue in the future for that storyline to remain relevant. We weren’t really asking the question of “Why do they have to go back?” most of this season, and to raise it now creates a lot of a possibilities.
Combined with Claire’s eerie message to Kate that Aaron cannot return to the island (Ben won’t be happy about that), there’s a lot of mixed messages flying around. In particular, it raises the question of whether Locke’s mission to the mainland was, in fact, at the behest of Christian/Claire/Jacob – presuming that they are still running the show, why is it that it is Claire who visits Kate with that warning to ignore Locke, and to therefore ignore “helping” the island. Perhaps Locke is trying to fly in the face of what they view as the natural order, and a battle between the Others and their unseen spiritual leader continues.
And this is why the flashforward was so brilliant, a final example of how ideal the structure is for the series: it effortlessly used our existing knowledge to combine with a glimpse of things we don’t understand and created three years of dead space in which we need to find a lot of answers, and a future beyond that point which is equally meaningful. Not only do we want to fill in what happened to these people during every part of that three years, in particular Locke’s visits with them, but we also now need to know what Ben’s plan is. If anything, this is where a character like Faraday comes into play: someone who knows about time travel, and might be a key part of Ben’s plan to return to the island (Plus, he has a thing for Charlotte, so Ben can appeal to love in an attempt to get him on board). I’m extremely excited to see how this all comes together, and yet also curious how what we already know came together: we remain inquisitive on both sides of the coin, something that played to the series’ favour all year long.
And we’re left with the same conundrum, to be honest, that we found last year: how the frak is the fifth season (to debut in early 2009) going to work? I will presume that we are going to follow Locke and the Others, Sawyer, Juliet, Miles, Charlotte, Rose and whoever else stayed behind as they deal with the island’s consequences, but considering how much of the regular cast is now off the island there’s a lot of renewed questions about what exactly is the “present” in the series. There are now two distinct ones: January 2008 (Or thereabouts) and wherever it is the island ended up in time after Ben pulled that wheel. This is not to mention the need to flash back into the pasts of characters like Charlotte, Miles or Alpert; all have important stories to tell, and the show’s structure still allows them to be told.
And while when we learned that Lost had 48 episodes to wrap everything up we were all saying how it was such a great number, now that there’s only 34 left I’m almost getting worried (Emphasis on almost). There’s a lot of moving pieces here, and with so many various storylines it is clear that not all characters will get their due. Now, there’s so many different time periods floating around that doing them all a service will be an intense challenge: past, present and future are now not only all part of the narratives, but are all almost entirely indecipherable.
But forgive me for having a little bit of faith: not only do these narrative shifts have me salivating for more Lost as soon as possible, but this season has been proof that Lindelof and Cuse know what they’re doing. They deftly handled the various pieces they had in play, managing to deliver a season that felt just the right parts mythological and character-driven. No, they haven’t answered our questions about the four-toed statue (I’m hoping Charlotte sticking around might help solve this), but they opened a lot of dangerous doors this year (Time travel, anyone?) that could have sent them careening off course. Rather, their work remained stellar, and the cast and crew better get some darn Emmy attention this season even though I have a high appreciation for a low-audience stunner like Mad Men.
I still think, at the end of the day, that “Through the Looking Glass” felt more epic and ultimately shocked us greater: while Locke being in that casket is obviously concerning for viewers, (And the Bentham reference gains credence when we realize that he, like his namesake, will be paraded around after his death and taken back to the island to play a pivotal role), it was the episode’s ability to piece together an extremely complicated season into such a satisfying conclusion and jumping off point that is truly commended. It didn’t shake things up so much as it distilled them, making sense of a season that did a lot of dangerous things that most would think you shouldn’t do in television.
But even if I enjoyed the wonderment of Hurley driving down an Other and Charlie’s tragic final sacrifice more than I did Ben moving the island and Jin’s passing, this was still an absolutely fantastic two hours of television. It tells a fascinating story, sets up another fascinating story (or 12), and had everything you want in a finale: character moments (Sawyer’s departure, Desmond and Penny’s reunion), action (the opening fight with Sayid/Others/Kate against Keamy’s men was extremely enjoyable), and a sense that both where we’ve been and where we’re going is someplace we wanted/want to be.
- Props to Jack Bender and company for so wonderfully recapturing the various parts of the flashforward – we have to wonder whether they actually filmed that first scene when they did last season’s finale, but even the rest of it did a great job of picking up key character details (So, Lilly/Fox also deserve some credit for this).
- However, one sour note on the production side: there was one REALLY bad use of green screen when Jack was first on the raft. It really stood out compared to everything else, and one wonders whether that might have been a rushed reshoot to fit into the condensed timeframe required to film an extra-long finale.
- I am presuming that the raft’s reaction to the boat, and our view of it, was in fact a callback to the season one finale: it was a great touch, and it was nice to see that a random boat light in the sea had a better result this time around.
- What I apparently missed watching the Canadian version: an alternate version of Part One where the press conference revealed that the other people who survived for a while at first were Boone, Libby and Charlie (For reasons unknown, in terms of why those three), a series of alternate endings to the episode (Watch for those online later) and a potential ARG called Octagon Global Recruiting.
- Some highlights from my pencil/paper notes that I took while watching the finale (Just to prove that my 4500 words of analysis is a measured representation of an inner fanboy):
- “Jeremy Bentham? Who?! Who?! WHAT?!”
- “Charlotte was there before? Oh snap!”
- “Instructional Video? YAY!!!”
- “Keamy’s Alive! WTF! DANGER!”
- “WHAT HAPPENS TO SAWYER?!”
- “Oh shitDesmond NOOOOOOOOOOOOOO! NO! NO! NO!”
- “Penny’s Boat! OMG! YAY!”
- “Who’s in the Coffin?!”