A year ago, Lost's third season ended with Jack making two phone calls. Off the island, in a flash-forward, he called Kate, and told her they had to "go back." On the island, he called Charles Widmore's freighter and asked their people to come rescue his people. Would it surprise you to know that from the moment Jack called the boat to the moment he headed off into the jungle in part one of this year's season finale, only nine days passed? It's been a crazy nine days too, during which the castaways have split into factions, the island saw a population explosion, old friends died, old friends returned, and Jack had outpatient surgery.
Off the island, meanwhile, Jack and Kate have had an on-and-off relationship, Hurley went crazy again, Sayid got married then widowed then drafted into Ben's army of international assassins, and Sun had a baby and bought a controlling stake in her dad's company. All of which happened before Jack grew a beard, became a pillhead, and made that fateful call to Kate.
The second part of the Season Four finale picks up where last year's finale left off, with Kate and Jack bickering by the airport. And right off the bat, Kate spills the beans about whose obituary Jack's been carrying around: "Jeremy Bentham." According to Kate, Bentham visited her, and she thinks he's crazy. Bentham also apparently visited Taller Non-Ghost Walt, who later contacts Hurley in Santa Rosa to ask why the Oceanic Six has been lying to the world (and why none of them came to see him once they got home). Bentham is also known to Sayid, who shows up in Santa Rosa to spirit Hurley away in reaction to JB's demise.
Just who is Jeremy Bentham? Well, that's one of tonight's big twists, and how you feel about that twist may determine how you feel about "There's No Place Like Home." In the episode's final scene, Jack and Ben meet in the back room of the funeral parlor last seen in the Season Three's flash-forward, and Ben tells Jack that every one of the Oceanic Six–no matter how much they now hate his guts–has to follow Jack back to the island. And that includes the man in the coffin, better known to all of us as John Locke.
How did Locke get off the island to visit the O6? How did he get killed? And just what does Ben think he can do to get Jack and company back to the island? Those are all questions for Season Five, which looks like it will–as predicted by yours truly–deal with the present-day adventures of the scattered O6, with flashbacks to the "bad things" that Locke says happened on the island in their absence. How do I feel about all this? I've got a qualm or two, but I'll save them until later.
Your opinion about "There's No Place Like Home" probably also hinges on what you thought about the on-island action, which featured punch-outs, gun-fights, a selfless Sawyer sacrifice, and a whopping piece of mystical ju-ju.
Let's address the ju-ju first. In one of the most straightforward demonstrations we've yet seen of the island's supernatural properties, Ben blasts a hole in the wall of the subterranean Orchid station, crawls down into an icy cave, turns a big wheel, and causes the island to disappear. We all knew this moment was coming, and yet the literalizing of such a strange procedure–even more so than Desmond turning the fail-safe key at the end of Season Two–may well strike some as well, goofy.
For me though, all the business with Ben and Locke at The Orchid was maybe my favorite part of the episode. I liked Locke and Jack talking "leader stuff." I liked Ben's exasperation at John's inability to find the entrance. I loved Locke watching Ben act in contradiction to everything "Edgar Halliwax" was saying on The Orchid orientation film, by loading the time travel chamber with inorganic matter. I liked Ben killing Keamy, triggering the freighter-bomb and prompting Locke to say, "You just killed everyone on that boat," and Ben to say, "So?" And yes, I loved the big wheel. And the disappearing island. And the helicopter crash that followed.
But I was less enamored of some of the other island business, which felt a little rushed to me. As I've said before, I'm not necessarily convinced that Lost works best as a straightforward action-adventure show, because while I recognize that those action scenes are necessary to move the story forward, the more people yell at each other and shoot at each other on Lost, the more the show veers towards run-of-the-mill pulp. Tonight's episode had one decent action sequence, when Richard and his band of merry Others came whispering out of the jungle to put the kapow on Keamy's Commandos. Otherwise, the action seemed to consist of a lot of running back and forth, and hurried goodbyes.
Of course part of what makes all that running and farewell-ing seem a little unsatisfying is that there's still so much story left to be told. What will become of Sawyer, who dove into the ocean to save everybody on Frank's leaky chopper, then swam back to shore to a drunken Juliet, just before Ben moved the island? What about Daniel and his cargo of redshirts, who apparently moved along with the island (since Frank and his passengers didn't see them) even though they were in the water when the move happened? What about Charlotte and Miles, whose too-brief scenes in this episode only drove home how much this strike-shortened season has cost us some necessary backstory on the freighties?
All of those stories have been tabled until next year, so that the Lost team could spend their time connecting the dots regarding the Oceanic Six's rescue and subsequent life-ruining deception. The best part of the rescue sequence? The unexpected appearance of Penny and her boat "Searcher," which brought her and Desmond together at last. (Did anyone see that coming? I didn't, and I thought it was a terrific surprise.) The worst part? Pretty much every one of Jack's big speeches about how they were all going to have to lie. Given how skeptical Jack is when Locke begs him to lie back at The Orchid, I'm having a hard time believing that he'd change his mind so quickly, and that everyone on Penny's boat would so readily go along with him.
That said, while the concluding scenes–including Ben's little speech about Locke at the funeral home–were written a little clunkily, I think they set up Season Five very well. I imagine there'll be a lot of fan nitpicking about this episode, which tied up some loose ends and introduced new ones, and didn't always do so neatly. But I hope those nipickers can see the possibilities that this finale has opened up (some of which I'll get to down in the CC&CAT;). As a TV epsisode–a three-hour TV episode, no less–"There's No Place Like Home" leaned too heavily towards set-up. But it also had ample moments of wonder and wit, and it's left me anxious to see how Lindelof and Cuse are going to crack the hard narrative nut that Season Five is offering. By and large, they did well with Season Four, and if they didn't quite "stick the landing"–for reasons partly attributable to the work stoppage–they've got me curious to see how they can go from covering nine days of action in one season to three years in the next.
I assume, like Ben, that they have a plan.
Grade: B+ (including part one)
-I watched the extended version of part one (with its annoying pop-ups) before part two aired, and in the bonus footage, Jack reveals the identities of the other three survivors of the crash who didn't make it off the island: Boone, Libby and Charlie.
-Why do people always tap the gauges in their vehicles when they can't believe what they're seeing?
-The ABC summer reality programs look pretty asinine. (The Mole aside, of course.)
Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:
-I've got a theory about Ben. Watching him manhandle the Dharma Initiative's expensive machinery in order to access the "frozen donkey wheel," and remembering how he told Locke earlier this season that he doesn't know what "the smoke monster" is, I'm starting to think that Ben is like one of those guys in every office who knows how to make his computer do what he needs it to do, but doesn't know why he's doing it. In his time on the island, with and without The Hostiles, I think Ben has learned how to manipulate the devices of Dharma and the island, but he doesn't really understand any of it. It's all spit-and-bailing-wire with him.
-In an unfortunately rushed scene, Charlotte tells Daniel she's staying on the island because she's "still looking for where I was born," which is something Miles–who is so awesome, by the way–had apparently already guessed. When Miles tells Charlotte that he thought she'd been eager to get back to the island, she says, "What do you mean?" and he says, in that inimitably smart-ass Miles way, "What do I mean?" Man I hope there's more of Miles next year. As well as Charlotte's quest for homecoming.
-How many times has Keamy seemed to die now? Does the island need him alive for some reason?
-I guess Sawyer was still in the island's "timespace" when he dove in.
-When Hurley reveals that he's been playing chess with the ghost of Mr. Eko, it made me wonder once again how that character would've fit into the overall story had he not been killed off due to actor dissatisfaction.
-I confess to being a little nagged by how the explosion of the freighter was handled. Why did Jin stay with Michael for so long? Why did Frank pilot the O6 (plus Desmond) off the boat, and not any of those nice folks in life vests? I mean, I know the answer to both those questions from a narrative point of view, but when you introduce too much collateral damage in a scene like that, the sensitive viewer's mind tends to wonder.
-Did you know that the real world Jeremy Bentham, the founder of utilitarianism, was heavily influenced by the philosophies of John Locke?
-Why is it so cold down there in the wheel room?
-Why does dream-Claire not want Aaron to go back to the island?
-Did you notice that the copter crash made a smoke monster-ish sound?
-Some guesses as to what's going to happen next year, besides what I already mentioned about Charlotte searching for her past: The Widmore/Paik alliance will work overtime to prevent the Ben/Jack alliance from finding the island before they can, though Jack will eventually wear Sun down. In order to find the island, Jack will have to locate the surviving members of the Dharma Initiative. In the island flashbacks, we'll see all-out war between Sawyer's camp and Locke's camp as resources dwindle. And as much as I hate to say it, I think Penny's going to die, bringing Desmond back into the fold with Jack (even though it may well be Sayid who does the killing). It'll be brother against brother and the secrets of Dharma, coming in '09. Come on tell me you don't want to see all that.
A fond farewell:
I don't have the exact numbers, but judging by the number of comments and what I hear from the bosses, this Lost blog has been the most popular in the brief history of the TV Club, and much of the credit for that goes to all of you...not just for reading, but for contributing what to my mind is some of the best Lost-chat on the net. I'm not saying that just to butter you up. I read a lot of Lost blogs, and even the best of them–like Jeff Jensen's always-provocative posts at ew.com–tend to draw mostly inane one-liners, half-cocked nitpicking and general asshattery. In terms of quantity mixed with quality, I think we had almost every other site beat. You guys are awesome, and I look forward to seeing you back here next year.
Now gouge away. You can gouge away.