May 13th, 2009
“It only ends once. Anything that happens before that…it’s just progress.”
After last week’s penultimate episode, there were two paths moving forward: one was John Locke leading a group of Others and Benjamin Linus to kill the man known as Jacob, and the other was Jack Sheppard heading out to drop a hydrogen bomb into the Swan Station and rest the entire show as we know it.
What was so fascinating about these two paths is that you are convinced, at about the halway point of “The Incident,” that neither will truly happen. The latter is far too big of a series reboot for them to risk this late in the series’ lifetime, and the former seems premature considering that we haven’t even met this mysterious Jacob who runs this island and now we’re just going to kill him, just like that? But the episode just kept going: the closer you got to its conclusion, the more you realized that there really wasn’t anything standing in the way of these events at all except for our own expectations.
What Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof did with this episode was toy with the viewers in a way that they only can, and in one of the only ways I’ll admit I downright love. In an episode where the first scene was the most important, and where the inevitable became questionable and the predicted was thrown entirely on its head, they managed to take a scenario that sounded too simple and complicate it beyond any reasonable expectation. In one fell swoop, they rewrote the events of the entire season, opening up a metric ton of new questions just as the final shot in many ways made everything fair game for the show’s final season, all the while situating the show’s characters in the right place for the action to come.
There are some key reasons why this isn’t quite Lost’s best finale, but in terms of its technique I’d say that Lindelof and Cuse have certainly tapped into something that will yield some fantastic results in the show’s sixth and final season.
In the first scene of “The Incident,” we find a man spinning his own thread, putting together an elaborate tapestry: he walks onto the beach, makes some fish, and then another man steps forward. They have a discussion that plays out as many of Locke and Ben’s conversations have over the various episodes: we learn that the man we’ve met is Jacob, and his colleague (who I thought was named something, but is only credited as Man #1 and never named) is someone who is here to see the ship, which we presume is the Black Rock, wondering how it came here. He already knows the answer: Jacob brought them here, to prove him wrong. It goes like this: group comes in, they destroy, they corrupt, it ends the same way every time. However, Jacob has an argument: he argues that there is only one end, and that until that point everything is progress. So for every Black Rock, and every plane crash, some small event will happen that will eventually end their cosmic conflict. Fake Locke, or so I’ll call him, says that he’s going to find a loophole, that he’s going to find a way to be able to kill Jacob; it, like so many Lost conversations, is about mind over matter: this isn’t an actual fight, like what Sawyer and Jack have later in the episode, but a metaphysical battle for control over this island.
It’s the most important scene in the entire episode when we reach its conclusion (or one of its conclusions), wherein Benjamin Linus stabs Jacob at the spurning of who we believe to be John Locke, only to discover that John Locke’s body is very much still in the cargo bin that it was in when they left Los Angeles, and that whoever is inside the statue is someone very different. What we learn, most importantly, is that it is someone we’ve met before, someone who finally found their loophole: this is the man we met on that beach, and it is he who has been at battle with Jacob all these years. We have finally traveled down the yellow brick road, found our way into the Emerald City, and discovered that there is a giant floating head that is a greater power than anyone us ever realized: that, for all we made Widmore vs. Ben out as the most important conflict on this island, that was just in-fighting when compared to the true picture of events. There have been two men playing a game of chess with this island all along, one believing that the cycle will always repeat and the other believing that, in the end, there is destiny unfolding.
This, the episode’s major revelation, is the equivalent of pulling back the red curtain but, instead of finding a stumpy bearded guy pretending to be a wizard, there’s a wizard there who totally magics your ass (that’s the best way I can put it, anyways). If I’ve got this right, it means that Fake Locke is more spirit than person, capable of inhabiting the bodies of those who have died on the island. The question now, of course, is how he’s using those bodies, but let’s look at the biggest piece of evidence first: he used Christian Sheppard to convince Locke that he had to die in order to save the island and his friends, which meant that Locke’s body would end up on the island and that he would be able to use it in order to enter the temple and kill Jacob…or, more accurately, convince Ben to kill Jacob, since I’m presuming they had some sort of deal wherein they weren’t allowed, or capable, of physically harming one another – hence the need for the loophole.
This puts everything into a totally different perspective: now, I’m left pondering what exactly Hurley’s ghosts have told him to do, and what exactly Claire is going to be like when she returns, and to what extent Miles’ powers are still going to be highly necessary next season (and why he is one of the only additions to the cast left standing at the end of this season). The concern, of course, is that this is just a veiled attempt to make everything tie together: by suddenly applying a macro-level conflict over the entire series, the central principle of destiny is potentially glossed over or made simpler by splitting everything into being part of some kind of master plan. In the moments after the episode aired, my brother and I had a conversation about this and the end result was a sense that we’re going to have to wait and see.
For me, I am a Man of Faith when it comes to this issue, and the flashback structure in this episode proves it to me. What I liked about the way Jacob entered into the lives of the original castaways (I’ll get to Ilana in a second) is that it was at pivotal moments in their lives but it was never truly leading them to a particular location. Jacob needed them to all be on the island, giving them each their own individual sense of destiny in some way, but it wasn’t as if he forced all of them onto that plane or onto that path: the show has been toying with these kind of connected flashbacks for a while, and at times the risk of getting cute with them has been a bit more present than I would like to see.
I thought they worked here because of how small the moments were, and because Mark Pellegrino (who I know best as Rita’s dope addict of an ex-husband on Dexter) was very consistent across the board potraying Jacob as this slightly creepy, slightly kind man. Jacob didn’t actually do anything for Jin and Sun, for example: just stopped by to wish them well for the future and to give them an added boost of confidence. With Jack, it was just a simple chocolate bar and a word of encouragement at a time when he was struggling against his father; with Kate, he simply kept her parents and the police from cutting off her kleptomania too soon, and with Sawyer all he did was give him the pen, not write the letter for him. He wasn’t fundamentally altering anything about these characters, but assisting them in tapping into part of them that would be needed in the time ahead.
Things get a bit dicier in the instances of Sayid and Hurley, where it isn’t entirely clear why he does what he does. Does he stop Sayid so that he won’t get killed along with his wife, or does he kill Sayid because if they had just kept walking his wife would have not been killed at all and Sayid would have had no reason to become Ben’s hitman and eventually find his way back to the island. However, note the later time period: Jacob is getting desperate now, and needs for Sayid to make it back to that plane. The same happens with Hurley: he doesn’t lead Hurley into some sort of riddle, he flat out tells him that he’s not crazy, that he should be on that plane in 24 hours, and that he’s got a destiny to fulfill. Jacob knows, we presume, that war is at his doorstep and that he is going to need all the help he can get in putting a stop to all of it. Jacob, over time, became less of a subtle hand and more of a push in the right direction.
As for John Locke, though, his help for him is a hand on the shoulder, waking him up after his near death with the window: does he heal him in this moment? Or is it simply that his presence helped him in that subtle way, that he was there for him when his father wasn’t? Either way, Jacob and Locke have a strange relationship that, as far as we know, might now be over: if Locke really is dead, and the Locke we’ve been following since “The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham” hasn’t been the real Locke at all, the character is dead and while Terry O’Quinn can keep being awesome it’s clear that John Locke is in some sort of limbo, somewhere. We now know that, in that cabin where Ben took Locke way back when, Jacob’s “Help Me” was quite realistic: he does need help, and Locke isn’t going to be the one to give it to him, a revelation that hasn’t quite sunk in yet.
But, as Jacob said as he died, “They are coming.” I presume this “they” to mean the Island Defence Force, represented by the Shadow of the Statue group who have found their way to the statue, with Richard on board with their Latin (I presumed) mantra and with the body of John Locke to prove something. Ilana, meanwhile, is more important than we perhaps first realized, considering that she is the one person who is told in no uncertain terms what to do during Jacob’s visit: he asks for her help, having met her before, and she readily accepts despite the bandages on her face. Ilana is the one new character from this season who has really stuck around, and I’m really curious to see where she has gained all of this knowledge, how she knows Jacob, and just what her plan is going to be now that Jacob is dead.
So when Ilana and Bram insisted that they were the good guys, and Frank and we as an audience were skeptical, I don’t think they were lying: in fact, all signs point to this being true. Jacob’s point about destiny, that this is all part of a bigger plan and not just the same event happening over and over again, is a fascinating one because on both ends of this episode we have people manipulating it: for Fake Locke, his actions are in the interest of disrupting destiny, like helping Real Locke stay alive to eventually be able to die and fly back to the island. What we saw before as ensuring that the proper path takes place, in reality Richard Alpert was sealing Jacob’s fate in giving Locke that emergency medical care.
What this does is not so much rewrite events so much as resituate them within this pivotal question of destiny: whereas Season Four operated in such a way as to show us what happened and then slowly connect the dots between how the present becomes the future, the show has returned to the point where the future is a complete and total unknown, and where there isn’t even really a sliver of guidance stepping forward. Everything in the present has been thrown off-balance: the man who was supposed to not be able to be killed, the guardian of the island and the spiritual leader of the Others, is now dead. The effects of this, as far as one can tell, are entirely unclear, but with the introduction of this spiritual force we need to reconsider everything: was the Dharma Iniative formed on its order, operating under its guidance? Or were they just a scientific research organization caught in the crossfire of this battle – considering that Jacob can apparently bring people to the island any way he pleases, as he did with the Black Rock, with Desmond, and perhaps with Oceanic 815, perhaps he brought Dharma there to see if they could prove a disruption to this cycle, to progress towards the end he feels is coming, only to have the Fake Locke turn it all around?
There’s a lot of questions there, and to an extent there’s a lot of the PAST that the show now has to newly deal with, adding a whole new load of exposition that may be necessary for the show to truly situate itself next season. I won’t speculate too much on that front right now, just because it’s late and I’m sure I’ll find reason when it’s beautiful and sunny out tomorrow to sit down, rewatch the episode, and write all about what I think needs to happen in Season Six. For now, though, we should probably head back to 1977, where things are even more fundamentally unstable and we have to ask ourselves the question: are they supposed to be?
First and foremost, we have to acknowledge the death (or what we presume to be death) of one Juliet – Elizabeth Mitchell has been an absolutely sensational addition to the cast since Season 3, demonstrating a keen ability to battle with Michael Emerson, fall in love with Sawyer, and more importantly define her character as someone who we want to see succeed. Whether it was her desire to escape from the island after being held away from her sister, or her love for Sawyer being compromised by his love for Kate, this is a character that I always empathized with, and I don’t know if I can say that about too many other of the show’s characters. That she didn’t find herself nominated for an Emmy in Season 3 is a damn shame, because if this is her last hurrah it’s going to be a real blow to the cast dynamic.
However, it is not entirely clear whether or not her Charlie-esque death (In fact, I’d argue it was almost falsely close to Charlie’s death, what with the highly contrived survival of a multi-story fall, even if I think she deserved a similar level of heroism) is actually a death at all: considering that she was able to activate the core of the hydrogen bomb, and the screen went to white, could she really just be alive again in 2004? Or is Miles’s logic bomb, that perhaps the actions they are taking are what will eventually make it so their plane crashes and start this cycle all over again, correct, and all Juliet was doing was ensuring the status quo takes place? The eponymous “Incident” was never quite clear, and as a result Juliet’s death may not be as final as Daniel Faraday’s. Either way, the paradoxes abound: if it doesn’t fix anything, all of our characters are dead, but if it fixes everything then what does that even mean?!
Personally, I don’t want Juliet to be dead: yes, her death scene was highly emotional, played beautifully by both Mitchell and Josh Holloway, and I thought that Juliet getting one final heroic (but is it even heroism? Oh, I don’t even know, I give up) moment was fitting if, as noted, unlikely. However, unlike Charlie, she didn’t get that final episode to really showcase herself: she got some work here, her back story being the only one not to actually involve Jacob in any real way (unless he was the other man?) and then her eventually using that logic against Sawyer, but it just didn’t fit into where her character has been. 1977 or no 1977, her initial goal was to escape this island and see her sister again, and for them to never go back to that in any way felt false to me.
Juliet got her one legitimately emotional moment earlier, that foreshadowed her passing, when we ran into our very good friends Rose and Bernard (and Vincent!). They have retired from all of this, hiding from Sawyer and Jin in order to be able to live free form work, obligations, and those idiots who keep finding reasons to shoot at each other and blow stuff up. I loved that little beat, especially just how much distain Bernard had in his voice when he realized they’d been discovered (“Oh no…they found us.”), but for Juliet there was a quiet moment where she really did want to stop for tea, where she did want to just settle down: it was all she had ever wanted to do. While everyone else seemed to have been leading pretty screwed up lives up to this point, she was an innocent who was hired on to help solve a fertility problem and who got swept up in all of this, and with Sawyer she had a chance for a simple life if they had only kept going on that submarine, but some part of her sent her back. That’s a lot of conflict for this ending to absolve for me, and I feel like I need more Mitchell in some capacity.
One could argue that, considering the ending, there is nothing separating this finale from Season One’s finale, where they show us the hatch but then don’t actually show us what’s in it. In this instance, we know that the hydrogen bomb goes off, but we don’t know what happens. However, whereas last time it was the simplest of events that really was all about the reveal, in this instance the “Umm, what the frak?” meter is off the charts: not only does this potentially change the future we have no idea how it will alter the present, and how much of everything we’ve seen this far has truly been changed. That uncertainty is going to be a huge factor in deciding how successful this finale is, and it is my personal opinion that we have to remember that this has been, is, and always will be a show about characters first and foremost: it is about their destinies more than the island’s destiny in the end.
And this episode, while not over the top, did focus on this in the actions of the castaways: they might not be pulling any strings, but as Daniel Faraday said in “The Variable” you cannot forget that we are all human, and that we make decisions that could change the course of history. It is this that, potentially, Jacob wasn’t banking on when Fake Locke was able to convince Real Locke, through Christian, to go back and die in order to set his plan into motion. At the same time, perhaps Fake Locke wasn’t banking on Jacob getting Hurley, Ilana and the rest of the Oceanic Six onto that plane, back to 1977, and in a position to place that hydrogen bomb to throw everything out of order again.
It’s not as if Jacob was there every step of the way with these characters: Jack and Sawyer’s fist fight, a visceral sequence that certainly evoked “Through the Looking Glass’” battle between Jack and Ben, was not part of his plan, for example. And we know that Miles wasn’t part of his plan considering that Bram actually tried to stop him from aligning with Widmore, which makes us question where Widmore sits within this little scenario considering he was wholly absent from the episode.
But does it really matter if we know if Jack and the rest of the 1977 gang are working for one side or the other when we know the characters so well? We have such a clear view of the fact that they are individuals that their role in this cosmic battle is really whatever the show wants it to be: I don’t think I will be abandoning their stories for that of Jacob and Fake Locke on a personal level, because I’ve invested so much in them, their pasts and futures, and to their eventual fate in this world. In my discussion with my brother he tried to insinuate that this could lead into a battle between good and evil, but I don’t think it’s nearly that simple: while it would seem that we would be more likely to align with Jacob in this scenario considering his relationship to our characters, I think that this isn’t about picking sides so much as fulfilling individual destinies. As long as that remains intact, the idea that this isn’t about what side they’re on but what role they play within the conflict, the show will continue to thrive – this can’t become a game of Blackgammon like John Locke made it out to be early on, even if it might seem so on the surface.
It’s not yet clear where all destinies lie, but I’m most interested in the future of Ben Linus, trapped under a giant four-toed foot with someone who we don’t full understand. Ben killed Jacob because of the fact that he felt put out, like he had been let down and abused for no reason, and I still don’t think that this is entirely resolved. At the same time, though, Ben was manipulated here in a way that he can’t like, and in many ways in the way that Locke manipulated Sawyer into killing his namesake in “The Brig”: by appealing to the darkest part of him, Fake Locke found his loophole, and I somehow doubt that Ben likes to be used (in the same way that Locke would be unimpressed to see his death lead to this).
And, of course, I still have questions about where the hell Desmond is in all of this: Penny is Widmore’s daughter, Desmond was brought to the island by Jacob (if he truly allows people access via boats and the like – perhaps this was done at Widmore’s bequest? But that doesn’t fit timeline wise, does it?), and he is apparently the one person who, like Faraday, can play a pivotal role still. He would have been a bit too much to handle here, but slotting Desmond in is going to be very interesting depending on where the show goes from here.
Similarly, we are still waiting for the Jin and Sun reunion: I loved Sun asking Richard for alcohol as she awaits just what is about to happen, but these two are star-crossed lovers, like the Earth and the Sky as Jin said in their wedding vows, and their emotional reunion has got to be coming sometime soon, which makes me think that the end of the episode can’t be too much of a fundamental reboot at this stage in the series.
As always, my post is more questions and grasping at straws than anything definitive, but as usual the episode was so well executed in this mission that I have no right to complain. First and foremost, as mentioned above, the pacing was perfect: no, it wasn’t perfect in that every single moment had the right level of tension or that things built naturally. Rather, things were going too well, and things were going too smoothly, and you just knew something had to happen on both ends for it to all stop in its tracks. But then, just as those diversions (Juliet’s death and Jack’s failure on one end, and then Ben’s hesitation on the other) seemed like they were going to allow the show to remain at the status quo, boom goes the hydrogen bomb and in goes the knife into Jacob’s chest. They pulled the rug out from under us and kept us guessing, all the while providing character moments, asking a few unanswered questions, and delivering some high calibre drama (I won’t single out any one performer for their work in the episode, because pretty much everyone nailed it) as directed by Jack Bender.
As for what didn’t work, it’s the usual: despite being perhaps the two most important characters in some ways, Jack and Kate remain at a point where I struggle to become fully engaged in their story. If it had been Kate who had been hanging in that hole, for example, I would have been more confused over how they would ever kill off Kate than actually concerned about her death: in fact, I would have thought it was kind of cool, as morbid as that sounds. Jack, meanwhile, was compelling when discussing the idea that this feels more right than anything in his life…until you remember that he’s probably said that numerous times, and he’s a fine argument for Fake Locke’s theory that everything’s a cycle and there’s no actual progress being made.
But one hopes that will change: Jack has been better this season as a background player, so for him to suddenly emerge like this again was going to be a bit of a shift, but next season’s a whole new ballgame. That uncertainty might seem like a free pass (“Oh, well, since anything can happen, who cares if the Kate/Sawyer/Jack love triangle is back with a vengeance?”), but I think the show has earned it and that this finale demonstrated the ways in which this season, more than Season 4, felt both like a cycle that continues to run and like a true progression in this island’s story and in the novel that we didn’t even realize, on a conscious level, was being written by two men and an epic war between them.
I’d say it’s too bad Lindelof and Cuse blew up the index before we could take a look (and the waiting really is the hardest part), but damnit if the uncertainty doesn’t excite me more than clarity ever could.
- So someone finally found the ring that Charlie left for Aaron at the camp before heading off to his eventual death, as Sun used it to flashback to her wedding day: it was a small little moment, but always nice to see that.
- Enjoyed (well, not quite enjoyed in one instance) the sad fate of the Dharma folk in the carnage at the Swan station: Patrick Fischler’s dirtbag got his just desserts for being such a dirtbag, while Radzinsky (although apparently still alive, if the bomb doesn’t kill everyone) got to have the great moment of trying to drive away and getting stopped in his tracks by the electromagnetism. We haven’t seen the last of Radzinsky: his given purpose for being on the island that he gave to Chang, that he wanted to “change the world,” is too big to be felled by this event, even if he’s still a douche for comparing himself to Edison.
- Sayid has been the most extraneous character all season, which is unfortunate since Naveen Andrews is so great (and so high up the Emmy ballot that he could get nominated for his flashback episode). Here, he was the resident bomb expert, and while his fate is unknown considering that he was busy bleeding out I have no doubt that the show might have more for him to do in the future – Jacob doesn’t kill a guy’s wife just to have him pop up every now and then, does he?
- No, seriously, does he? I NEED TO KNOW.
- In my mind, Sawyer’s edict of “what’s done is done” needed to be followed by “you take lemons and you make lemonade” from Jack, then devolving into a battle of the cliches: clearly, I’m all into non-violence, because the epic fistfight wasn’t really what I had in mind.
- Do you know who Flannery O’Connor is? And that she wrote a short story titled “Everything that Rises Must Convene?” Well, Jacob did, as it was the book he was reading at the time of Locke falling from the sky. What is its meaning, outside of the obvious in terms of Locke rising from the dead? Well, who knows, with Lost reading material: read the summary here and find out?
- After last week’s episode shed more light on Richard, now it’s just even more confusing: Ricardos is his name, and he knows of Ilana’s group, so he is like his ambassador or something? I’ll be curious to find out next season, hopefully.
- Okay, I think that’s it, for now.