Lost: “What They Died For”
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Lost: “What They Died For”

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Lost

“What They Died For”

Season 6, Episode 16

Why, hello there, Jack’s Eye! Since we’ve spent much of Season Six touring Lost’s old locations, it’s only fitting that we spent a little time with you tonight, old friend. All opening up and stuff. So delightful. You’ve been a reliable companion since the beginning of this show. And now, as Jacob noted to Hugo, “We’re very close to the end.”

When I saw the title “What They Died For” come up on various Lost news sites a couple of months ago, I shuddered. It’s such an evocative set of words, especially as the title to Lost’s penultimate episode. I expected this episode to be filled gloom, portent… mourning. But instead this was a very zippy hour. Aside from the opening scene on The Island and a few moments throughout, “What They Died For” didn’t set aside any time to wring hands or mop tears. In fact, the episode was in such an all-fired hurry that it dispatched three characters quickly—Zoe and Widmore and Richard (maybe)—with no build-up and no follow-up. The episode also named the winning Candidate with minimal fuss. (It’s Jack. More on that later.) So there you have it. The table has been set for the finale. For “The End.”  

Of course, there’s still more to be explained, and I have a hard time believing that everything that happened on The Island in this episode—from Jack semi-unceremoniously assuming the mantle of Island Protector to the mounting death toll—are as straightforward as they appear. Then again, maybe things are that cut-and-dried, and we’re being set up for a finale (on The Island at least) that will feature the few remaining heroes putting up their dukes against The Monster. Everything’s in flux right now, and since we don’t know yet what the payoffs are going to be for all of tonight’s action, it’s tough to render much of a judgement on it. (So it always goes with multi-part finales and/or the lead-ins to same.)

The bottom line though? I enjoyed the heck out of “What They Died For,” even when it made me say, “Wait… what? Go back!” It was funny at times, poignant at times, shocking at times, and it made the overall picture a little bit clearer. And I especially liked the way the tone shifted as the episode progressed.

The Island story was split into two. In the more eventful portion, we began with Richard, Ben and Miles making their way to the Dharma barracks, and Ben insisting that he knows the way because he lived there for decades. (To which Miles counters, “Well I lived in these houses 30 years before you did. Or last week.”) There’s a lightness to the Dharma camp segments at first, as Miles mocks Ben’s Closet Of Wonders with a wry, “What’s that… a secreter room?” But a sense of foreboding quickly creeps in. Miles hears the voice of Alex, buried by Richard after she was killed. Ben reflects on how he thought he was summoning Smokey before but now he knows “it was the one summoning me.” The creeping dread fits the direction the story quickly takes, once Ben and company discover that Zoe and Widmore are already in camp, ready to form an alliance. 

Before they can go over any plans though, Not-Locke rows in to the dock. Widmore and Zoe hide in Ben’s Closet Of Wonders, while Richard walks out to confront Smokey, with Ben hanging back. But Smokey clobbers Richard (and possibly kills him, though that’s left unresolved), then changes back to his Not-Locke form and sits down with Ben, asking the former Leader if he wouldn’t mind killing a few folks for him. The penitent Ben of “Dr. Linus” fades into the background, and he quickly gives up Widmore and Zoe. Not-Locke kills the latter and threatens the former by pledging to kill Penny. But after Widmore whispers his reasons for coming back to The Island to Not-Locke, it’s Ben who guns Widmore down, as revenge for Alex. (“He doesn’t get to save his daughter,” he explains, to the amazement of Smokey, who never ceases to be shocked by how awful people can be.)

Meanwhile, in the less eventful but more significant Island story, the Core Four (Jack, Kate, Sawyer and Hurley) tend to their wounds and mourn their dead for a little bit, then saddle up to go on a Smokey-hunt. But before they travel very far, Hurley sees Lil’ Jacob, who swipes his ashes back and runs away, leading Hurley to Big Jacob. Everyone gathers around a campfire, where Jacob burns his ashes and explains to all those gathered that when the fire goes out, they’ll “never see me again.” But first he has time for a few quick questions:

-Why did so many people have to die?
-Because Jacob made a mistake and brought the monster into existence.

-Why did he bring Oceanic 815 to The Island?
-Because he knew Smokey would try to kill him, and he selected a bunch of unhappy people who might relish the opportunity to be his replacement.

-What does the Island Protector job entail?
-Keep the home fires burning. (See: “Across The Sea.”)

-Who gets the job?
-Whoever wants it.

In the end, Jack volunteers, Ghost Jacob mumbles some Latin and pours Jack a cup of water, and just like that, Jack’s the new guy and gets a free pass to Glowy Cave. (If this were a videogame, Jack would’ve just opened up a level he couldn’t previously access.) Sawyer jokes, “I thought that guy had a God Complex before,”  but neither Hurley or Kate are amused, and Sawyer understands why. I thought the moment where Sawyer says, “Yeah, I know”—like the moment where he watches the life-jackets roll in with the tide, or the moment where he asks Jack if he’s responsible for the sub blowing up, or the moment where Kate talks about Ji-Yeon—were all well-written and well-played. The whole transfer of power was too rushed, but those little emotional beats along the way were fair compensation.

The other half of “What They Died For” takes place in the Sideways Universe, where our heroes are continuing to come together, for a purpose as-yet-unrevealed. After Jack’s Eye opens, Jack has a nice breakfast with David and Claire, and then gets a call from Desmond telling him that Oceanic has found his father’s corpse. Desmond also returns to Ben and Locke’s school, where he beats a little revelation into Ben and tells him that he and Locke need to “let go.” Hearing that phrase—an echo of what Jack said to Locke a few days ago—Locke comes to Jack’s office and suggests that maybe there’s more going on here than mere coincidence, and that because of that he’d like Jack to fix his spine after all. While all this is going on, Desmond turns himself in to Sawyer and Miles, so that he can be put into lock-up with Sayid and Kate. When all three get transferred to county, Desmond asks Sayid and Kate to trust him, and then the paddy wagon driver—Ana-Lucia!—lets them all out by the harbor, where they rendezvous with Hurley. 

So here’s where we stand, going in to Sunday: In the Sideways, Desmond is conspiring to get everyone to Eloise’s benefit, where he’ll get them to “let go,” for reasons still completely mysterious. And on The Island, Smokey and Ben are intending to use Desmond—whom Jacob and Widmore brought back as a “failsafe”—to destroy The Island. Since we saw The Foot at the bottom of the ocean at the start of the Sideways back in the Season Six premiere, it seems pretty clear to me that The Desmond Of Two Worlds is about to face a choice in both. As to the nature of that choice, and the role to be played by our two sets of heroes—Island and Sideways—that remains to be seen.

Whatever it is, it’ll undoubtedly involve The Magic Light we saw in “Across The Sea,” and if you’re still cranky about said Light, you may have a rough time caring about Desmond’s choice, Jack’s choice, or anyone’s choice. Me, I’m still in wait-and-see mode, enjoying my final hours in this world and withholding ultimate approval or disapproval until Sunday. (Or maybe even Monday.)

I’ll tell you my ideal finish, though: I’d love for Jack to find out that everything he’s been told about The Magic Light (and what Jacob was told before him, and possibly even The Woman as well) was a lie, and that he’s free to do whatever the hell he wants with his life. The Light will be Magic either way I’m sure, and I'm fine with that, but I’d like for it not to matter so much to the fate of the world, and for the characters to wrest control of their own destinies. Throughout this season, I’ve been dismayed whenever Lost has veered closer to the side of “Yes, fate exists and evil exists and the whole reason our heroes are here is to slay a dragon.” I prefer it when Lost says, “Yes, Smokey’s a bad dude, but he has reasons,” or “Yes, the castaways are here for a reason, but only because someone meddled in their lives.” I like the ambiguity represented by characters like Ben, and the idea that people do the wrong thing for the right reason (and vice-versa). So I hope that’ll be respected in some way as Lost wraps up. 

If not, I’ll have enjoyed the ride these past six years, and all the philosophical discussions the show sparked between all its twists and mysteries and meta-fictional play. But when I write that last review, I’ll likely be opening with an “Ah well,” not a “Hell yeah.”

Grade: Incomplete (but let’s go with A-, just for old times’ sake)

Stray Observations:

-“I heard there was an incident in the parking lot.” And from there on out, Ben getting the snot beat out of him by Desmond would be referred to as “The Incident.”

-Alt-Ben has a nice dinner with Alex and her mom Danielle. It’s Coq Au Vin night!

-For those charting the game at home, Miles is still on the board. He could be a wild card. (If you’ll excuse the mixed metaphor.)

-Is Richard dead? He certainly got the crap knocked out of him, but I’m not 100% sure that Smokey can kill Richard. Also, it would be such an ignominious exit for a guy who played such an integral role in The Island’s history. We had a whole episode dedicated to Richard’s pathos. If he has to die, he deserves a suitably heartbreaking and emotional death.

-Mini-mystery resolved: Kate’s name was crossed off because she “became a mother,” but she can still choose to be Island Protector if she wants. Mini-mystery introduced: Ana-Lucia (and presumably every other familiar character who won’t be a part of the Sideways resolution) “isn’t ready” for the freaky mojo Desmond’s about to lay down, for reasons unexplained. Will there be any more about Kate’s fluctuating status or Ana-Lucia’s “readiness?” Somehow I doubt it. Just closing off a few plotholes, I’m sure. Not in a way that’s deeply satisfying by any means, but a way that’ll do.

-Similarly, are we okay with Widmore’s explanation that Jacob called him to The Island and instructed him what to do? It makes narrative sense, but it came across a little rushed, especially since Widmore died so soon afterward.

-I think one of the biggest questions that people are going to ask about Lost as it ends is, “Why did the story have to play out this way?” In other words, if Jacob really brought these people here to be his replacement, why didn’t he come to them a lot sooner, rather than letting them run around and kill each other for 100 or so days? The meta-answer is that Jacob didn’t appear for the same reason why nobody on the show ever talked to each other about anything important: Because that would’ve made for a very short, far less fun series. (Also, Lindelof and Cuse may not have conceived Jacob yet in Season One… at least not fully.) In the context of the story though, you could argue that Jacob didn’t sense any urgency while he was alive, and that the castaways needed some seasoning. 

-Also: Why time travel? I’m hoping to dig into that more after the finale, because I have some thoughts.

-As mentioned last week, I appeared on the “Orientation: Ryan Station” podcast last week with Ryan McGee and Maureen Ryan, talking about “Across The Sea.” Mo hated the episode, Ryan was let down by it, and I liked it, so we had a spirited discussion that ended up getting broken into two parts, with the second part dealing mainly with our expectations for the finale, our feelings about what Lindelof and Cuse owe the fans over the next couple of hours, and the pros and cons (mostly pros) of interacing with you readers. I don’t want to rehash “Across The Sea” too much here, except to say what I said last week: I thought the execution was too stilted (partly by design) but I was excited by the ideas in the episode. Not so much the fact of Glowy Cave, per se, but the story surrounding it, and the idea of lies and misinterpretations dating back to the origins of The Island and the Jacob/Smokey relationship. I will say this though: the disconnect between ideas and execution may be what ultimately lets a lot of people down about Lost. And not just the clunky “Do it for love, brother!” kind of moments. The parts of Lost that have been thrilling and spine-tingling—the cliffhangers, the teases, the surprise reveals—have had as much to do with viewer expectations as the basic facts of the narrative. When you think back on the details of Lost—when you toss them around in your head, as opposed to watching them on the screen—the writers have really answered most of what’s important that they answer, to tell the story they mean to tell. But when Bearded Jack gets a dramatic close-up and shouts, “We have to go back!” it’s only natural for we fans to expect there to be more to that backstory than there ultimately turned out to be. And I could come up with dozens more examples (at least), where the intensity of the tease was out of proportion with the ultimate reveal. But that’s the nature of the show Lindelof and Cuse chose to make. They wanted to make the best use of the commercial breaks and the episodic nature of television, and the result was a show that was more viscerally exciting and entertaining, but often wildly inconsistent as sustained narrative storytelling. It was  a trade-off, but one I understand. And the ideas of the show are still exciting to contemplate, even when the story doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny.

Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:

-Lots of mirror business in this episode, most notably at the beginning when Jack examines the cut on his neck again.

-A different kind of mirror business: Ben gets even with Widmore for Alex, and Alt-Desmond gets even with Ben for trying to kill Penny.

-Smokey likes the feeling of his feet on the ground, because he likes feeling human. Mark my words: that will be his downfall. (And a thematically fitting one, if that’s how “The End” goes.)

-Jacob saying “I didn’t pluck any of you out of a happy existence” raises a question: Is contentment a disqualification? Kate’s name was crossed off because she became a mother and seemed happy. Bernard and Rose found what they were looking for and pulled themselves out of the game. Does this tie in to the relative stability of the Sideways Universe somehow?

-This will likely be the last CC&CAT section, by the way. Shouldn’t be any need to theorize or hunt for clues after the finale. (Or will there?)

Flashforwardin’: 

-A note about Sunday: My plan is to put up a short, insta-reaction post less than a half-hour after the finale ends. No real recap, just “here’s some notes, what did you think?” And then at some point on Monday—likely early afternoon—I’ll have a fuller review, with a recap and final thoughts. I’ll likely be haunting the comment section Sunday night after the post goes up too, bouncing ideas around with you guys while I watch Kimmel.

-Also, in Thursday’s Fringe review I’m going to write a little more about the legacy of Lost and the likelihood that Fringe can take the baton, at least for a little while.