Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass” tells the story of young Alice traveling through a mirror into a world much like her own. She describes her vision of this room as follows:
‘Now, if you’ll only attend, Kitty, and not talk so much, I’ll tell you all my ideas about Looking-glass House. First, there’s the room you can see through the glass–that’s just the same as our drawing room, only the things go the other way. I can see all of it when I get upon a chair–all but the bit behind the fireplace. Oh! I do so wish I could see THAT bit! I want so much to know whether they’ve a fire in the winter: you never CAN tell, you know, unless our fire smokes, and then smoke comes up in that room too–but that may be only pretence, just to make it look as if they had a fire. Well then, the books are something like our books, only the words go the wrong way; I know that, because I’ve held up one of our books to the glass, and then they hold up one in the other room.
‘How would you like to live in Looking-glass House, Kitty?’
Tonight, after the season finale of Lost, we’ve glimpsed “Through the Looking Glass”. It is like the world we knew, but yet it is different. The words go the wrong way, and a fire burns brightly but at more strength than ever before. Everything is going the wrong way, and we cannot see what is behind the fireplace…but we want to know.
We would like to live in the Looking-glass house very much, Alice. Very much indeed.
“Through the Looking Glass” will likely be remembered most for its final five minutes, but I want to make something very clear: this episode was a brilliantly constructed, expertly executed rollercoaster of emotion, action, suspense, drama, heroism, and meaningful development for these characters. When one storyline ebbed, the other flowed; when one revelation was made, it affected everyone. Every character had a moment, something tangible, and yet they always felt natural and progressive. The writing was sharp, the direction was excellent, and the music…the music was perhaps the best Michael Giacchino has produced for the series. So, for a second, let’s forget those last moments.
A good season finale brings to a head the storylines and other issues which were building in the previous episodes in a way that doesn’t seem forced: for Lost, things progressed at perhaps the best pace I’ve seen the show perform. The show was basically divided into three different threads: the group traveling to the Radio Tower (Led by Jack, the group included Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Juliet, Sun, Rose, Claire, Vincent, etc.), the group at the beach (Sayid, Bernard, Jin), and the group at the Looking Glass (Charlie and Desmond). This is a lot to juggle, and some other finales this week struggled with linking these together; however, Lost producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse proved their ability with an expert balance of each storyline, and by connecting them all to the same meaningful fate.
When the Beach group, tasked with blowing up the dynamite, fails to ignite the third charge, they place themselves in danger…which the Radio Tower group realizes when only two smoke plumes go into the sky. This creates panic in that group, which results in Sawyer and Juliet breaking off to go back to the beach. All the while, Charlie is in the Looking Glass trying to shut off the signal, which is the only way the Radio Tower people can work.
Everyone is contingent on someone else. There is no one of these storylines that is self-serving from a development perspective. Instead, all three feed into one another in a meaningful fashion. Lindelof and Cuse further show their delicate hand when they split the Others up into each storyline, and a concurrent and just as interesting dialogue between them takes place at the same time. Ben and Alex head out to intercept the Radio Tower group, the Beach invaders take Sayid and Co. hostage, while Mikhail (Who goes Patchless at one point, and looks awesome) is sent to the Looking Glass to figure out why Charlie is there. Now, when things happen, they’re serving both sides of the conflict, showing the dynamism and complexity of each. The lack of faith in Ben is overpowering the Others, pulling them apart at the seams, and it shows.
And yet at the core of it all is Ben, protecting his people and his island; the people in the Looking Glass were there by his orders to jam incoming signals to the island, but none of the Others knew about it. He believes he did it for the right reasons, but Mikhail and Richard and others are very suspicious of it. And yet he’s even more convinced that Naomi isn’t who she says she is, and that the person spearheading the operation is not a loverlorn Penny but someone more sinister. Someone who has been trying to find the island, and wants to harness its power. Jack ignores him, and trudges on anyways…and then the show confirms, via Charlie at the Looking Glass, that it’s not Penny’s boat.
Every dramatic moment had an impact on the core narrative of the episode. Charlie’s apparent death, sacrificial so as to live up to Desmond’s apparent flash (Which we still never saw for certain), informed us that it was not Penny’s boat. When Hurley finally proves himself useful, he stopped the Others on the beach and gave hope to Jack…but it should have given him fear, as Ben not killing Sayid and Co. proves that he wasn’t just trying to kill people: he was legitimately trying to stop Jack. The entire episode was constructed with these interlocking narratives, and the result was a fascinating and riveting two hours.
And we’ve yet to mention Locke. Oh Locke. We knew you weren’t dead, it just wasn’t possible, but we still don’t know how you survived or what exactly happened that you were able to get out of the ditch. The appearance of Walt was certainly a surprise, well, unless you read the credits…but it makes us wonder. What was his connection to Locke? And people have seen his spectre before: remember Shannon? Walt is still in play, it seems, which makes us wonder what journey Locke went through to emerge from the ditch and throw the fatal knife which nearly ended Naomi’s fateful call for help. After Charlie ended the jamming signal (And spoke to Penny, briefly), it was all clear…until Locke. He had gotten the same message from Jacob, or whoever, that Ben had…and he was going to do something about it.
And that is where we left the island. That journey was really quite simple: we almost knew before the episode started how it would go. But yet, it was powerful and meaningful and awesome. The acting was terrific, the writing sharp, the direction striking, and most importantly the music. All Jack and Co. were doing was walking to a radio tower, but Michael Giacchino’s score had this jungle beat quality that gave it all an urgency, a movement. It was always driving forward, building, reminding us of the impending narrative. Relationship drama, often dragging down the show, here was subtle and momentum building. Everything just clicked: this was not one person’s story, but an epic adventure in which they all played a role. It was familiar, and yet so well executed that it still blew me away. And that was just our normal world. I have yet to delve into the looking glass.
It was the rattlesnake in the mailbox. It was the thing that no one saw coming, except those who read the pre-episode spoilers (And boourns to them). We knew that the episode’s flashback would be focusing on Jack, but from the beginning I had trouble placing where it was within his narrative. He made many phone calls, without a person on the other end being specified. We saw him flying on Oceanic, jumping just a little at the turbulence. We saw him returning to his hospital as if he’d been gone for a long time. We saw him attend a funeral for someone who was neither family nor friend. We saw him become a hero, but only after almost leaping off the bridge to his death. We saw him popping oxycontin like he was House or something. This was a Jack we had never seen in the past.
It was at about the funeral when that fact seemed to click for me: we really had never seen Jack like this in the past. It didn’t fit: Sarah (Julie Bowen) had moved on and was pregnant, and his father wasn’t present (When he presented the prescription to the pharmacist, his reaction began to tip me off even further). We were in a time when his father was dead, when he was flying Oceanic, and when his life was in shambles. This was not a time in the past.
This was a time in the future.
I was taking notes as the finale came to a close, and as the final moment off the island began I wrote down “This isn’t a flashback at all.” As it progressed, I actually started to believe those words. As I saw the Oceanic maps littered around the room, it all made sense. When Kate jumped out of the car, I shook my head a little. They had done it: they had shocked us all. It was Jack in the future. It was Jack and Kate after they had been rescued from the island. It was poignant and perfect.
On the island, Ben had asked Jack why he wanted to go back. What did he have to go back to? A broken life, a wife who left him and has moved on with another man, his dead father? And, as we see, that is exactly what Jack returned to. And he wanted to return to it, using his free flights for live to fly the Pacific routes hoping he would end up there again.
We’ve entered into the alternate world of the looking glass, one where we’re suddenly seeing not only their lives before but also their lives after. We have a whole new set of questions: who made it off the island alive other than Jack and Kate (And whose funeral did Jack attend that wouldn’t be a friend? And was it Sawyer that Kate was going back to? Or was that Sawyer’s funeral? And what about Kate’s law-running ways? And what about…well, everything!).
When we return next year, we will return to the story of the island: of Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Ben, and these new people arriving. We will see what happens to Desmond, what occurs with Hurley…and yet we will do it all knowing that Kate and Jack, at the very least, will emerge from that island. They will return to their old lives. Suddenly, the show doesn’t need to flashback all the time, but can rather flash forward. This allows for less repetitive stories about these characters, and gives us that many more questions about their lives and where the final 48 episodes of the show are heading.
[For evidence of this change to flash-forwards sticking around, check out Entertainment Weekly’s interview with producers:
Okay. But will the flashback structure be part of the show going forward?
LINDELOF: Let’s have that conversation after the finale.]
And yet, the show didn’t leave the island an uninteresting place. Did Charlie die for nothing, or is there more to the looking glass than we understand? [For example: who was the musician who programmed Good Vibrations as the code to the jammer? That seems significant]. The mystery of Jacob looms large, and appears to be the focus of next season. The island has plenty of mystery left, and the characters have more potential: this move is a powerful one.
It’s powerful because it mirrors the show’s decision to set an end date. Much as we know when the show will end, we now know that there is an end for these characters. That they won’t be living on that island forever, stretched out into oblivion. They know where they end up, how they get there, how things go down. And yet, even with this trip through the looking glass, I still geeked out at the rest of the episode as amazing dramatic television. Hurley running down the Others with his VW Bus was fantastic, and Sawyer shooting Tom for taking Walt was just cold.
Some may be concerned that it could all end up like Alias, which fast-forwarded two years in which Sidney Bristow lost all of her memory. To those people I say that this isn’t the same at all: they have not abandoned their entire premise, their existing relationships, but instead have found another way to extend them beyond their normal narrative. Rather than flashing back, the show is now able to flash forward, showing us perhaps an eventual end to these events.
We, as viewers, have gained access to the room inside the looking glass. And, over time, we will begin to see what’s behind that fireplace where we couldn’t see before. In time, we’ll begin to gain a glimpse into that world, and in doing so we’ll gain new appreciation for the one in which we’ll spend most of our time. Combine this with a fantastic episode of drama, perhaps the show’s best this season, and you have a season finale worthy of being a season finale.
And a season finale which makes me want to jump back inside the Looking Glass right now, even though it will be a long eight months before we get a glimpse at what lies outside of our view.