So… where were we? Ah yes: BOOM. And then white. And then…
Well, that’s what we’ve been waiting to find out for the last eight months, right? What’s after white? A clean slate? The ultimate triumph of good over evil? Or just… nothing.
How about a cloud? A cloud outside the window of Oceanic Flight 815, where Jack is drinking nervously and riding out the turbulence with the help of a strangely comforting Rose. I say “strangely” because way back in Lost’s pilot episode, Rose was the nervous one, and Jack was comforting her. Then again, the last time Jack and Rose took this particular flight, their plane ripped in two and kicked off five seasons of ever-expanding, mind-blowing adventure. This time, though: bump, bump, rattle… and nothing.
I’m guessing that one of the biggest fears of Lost fans as we ride out this sixth and final season—bumps and all—is that we’re going to come to the end and find a big nothing in return for all we’ve invested in these characters. We don’t just need answers, we need justifications. Why has whatever happened, happened? Who has called this particular meeting to order, and does it really matter who showed up? Are our heroes really special, or could Lost have just as easily have been about the adventures of Seth Norris and Gary Troup?
Given the stakes at hand—in the fan community as much as in the show’s narrative—I have to say that it’s some kind of gutsy move to open Season Six by hauling out a giant eraser. After we see Juliet detonate Jughead again, we fade to that cloud. And Jack. And Rose. And “nothing.” Except that this time, there are little differences—and not just Cindy giving Jack one tiny vodka bottle instead of two. After 815 gets through the turbulence, Jack goes to the bathroom, and when he returns, he finds Desmond—who wasn’t on the original plane—sitting next to him. Kate and Sawyer and Hurley are there too, though Hurley’s now claiming that he’s the luckiest person alive, not a jinx. Boone and Locke are there—the former without Shannon. Jin and Sun are there, and Sayid, and Charlie—the latter busily choking on the bag of heroin he’s tried to swallow.
And meanwhile, way below the plane, and way below the water, The Island lurks, sunk. Because The Island lies beneath everything that happens on this show.
But of course that’s only one half of the action in “LA X” (and really only half of half the action… I’ll get back to the Alterna-815ers in a moment). In the other half, we see a different version of what happens when Juliet calls Jughead a “son of a bitch” and bangs it into oblivion. In this version, all the timelost folks at the Swan site are blown into 2007, where everything is just as they left it. The Swan was built, and imploded by Desmond, as they remember it happening. And beneath all the debris, Juliet is—briefly—still alive. Here, Sawyer gets one last chance to watch Juliet die, right after he hears her say, “I’ve got to tell you something. It’s really, really important.” And while the rest of the gang goes about their business, a bitter Sawyer hangs back, mutters that he’s not following Jack anywhere anymore (“I’m gonna kill him,” he hisses), and asks Miles to help him bury Juliet, mainly because he wants Miles to use his superpowers to find out what she was going to say. (Answer? “It worked.” Possibly referring to the alternate timeline, though you should never take anything said on Lost at face value.)
Meanwhile, Sayid is still bleeding out from the bullet he caught in the gut back in 1977, and while Jack is unable to save him, Hurley knows a way. The Ghost Of Jacob emerges from the brush—“I died an hour ago,” he explains—and tells Hurley to take Sayid to the temple, and that Jin will know the way. Jin leads Kate, Jack, Hurley and the dying Sayid to the spot where he saw Smokey beat up some Frenchmen decades ago, and there the whole expedition descends under the wall, where they’re promptly abducted by thugs in swashbuckling attire. The thugs take our heroes to the real temple, where we see some familiar faces (Cindy, Zack and Emma), and two unfamiliar ones: a bespectacled beanpole named Lennon (played by the awesome John Hawkes) and a stern, bearded Japanese man (played by Hiroyuki Sanada). Hurley proves his bona fides to The Others by asking them to open Jacob’s guitar case, which holds a giant ankh, with (presumably) a list of names inside of it. Placated, Lennon and company allow Sayid to be taken into the temple, to be submerged into some kind of a life-restoring Fountain Of Youth or Lazarus Pit, where—ominously—the water has unaccountably turned muddy.
At the same time, across The Island, Benjamin Linus is still dealing with the ramifications of having killed Jacob, and finds that his attempts to play his usual angles with Richard Alpert and The Shadow Of The Statue cult aren’t working out, because they all know what Ben doesn’t know: that John Locke is dead, and that the man inside The Four-Toed Foot with Jacob is not who he claims to be. And just who is he? Well, he reveals himself when Bram and a cadre of SOTS storms in, and Not-Locke turns into Smokey and beats all the SOTS in the chamber to death. “I’m sorry you had to see me like that,” he then sighs to Ben once he reverts to his Not-Locke form. And the two of them proceed to have a nice long chat about how pathetic Puny Humans can be, and how unlike the real Locke, all Not-Locke really wants is to go home.
So here we have the question again, as raised by the Season Five finale: Can people—or whatever The Man In Black is—change their fate? Can the rules be broken? Can patterns be disrupted? If we all click our heels together loud enough or clap our hands and say we believe in fairies, can we alter time, reverse mistakes, or raise the dead?
As a possible answer to that, we return to Alternate 2004, where Oceanic 815 lands safely, and slightly different versions of the characters we know all disembark in Los Angeles. In the second hour of “LA X,” we learn just a little more about what’s changed since Jughead exploded, and what hasn’t. Kate’s still a fugitive, and has to escape US Marshall Edward Mars by beating him up in an airport ladies room and fleeing in a cab she commandeers—a cab containing Claire. (Still pregnant? Couldn’t tell.) The still-surly Jin is held up by customs for carrying too much undeclared money in his suitcase, while Sayid clutches Nadia’s photo in his hand, anxiously. Their lives seem much the same. Locke too is still in a wheelchair, and dealing with some lost luggage: his box of knives, which has gone missing. At the Oceanic desk he meets a disgruntled Jack, who has an even bigger complaint with the airline: they lost the coffin containing his father. Oddly, Jack and Locke hit it off in this alternate timeline—bonding over Oceanic incompetence, I suppose—and Jack offers Locke a free consultation on his paralysis, saying, with typical Jack-ian arrogance, “Nothing’s irreversible.”
I loved pretty much every minute of “LA X,” mainly because I was giddy to see Lost back up and running after the long layoff, but also because I thought it was a really strong episode, with a lot of action and creepy mystery and well-struck character beats. But I especially liked the way “LA X” sets up parallels between the two timelines, which I assume are going to carry on for the next several episodes (right up until they merge, which I believe we’ve been told will happen about midseason). At the end of the first hour, we see Sawyer angry at Jack in 2007 for failing to save Juliet’s life with his grand plan, and we see Charlie in 2004 pissed off that Jack saved his life and landed him in the pokey. At the end of the second hour, we see Jack offering to help Locke walk again in 2004, and in 2007 we see him pounding on the chest of a dead Sayid, certain he can revive him. After all: He is Jack, the Fixer.
An odd thing happens in 2007, though: Sayid does revive. Maybe because of the waters—and probably not because of anything Jack does. As the episode ends, Sayid comes to, as startled as everyone in the temple. (Everyone except Miles that is, who knew something was amiss because he couldn’t “hear” Sayid after he “died.”) Score one in the column for “Yes, you can change things.” And score another for making me wish I could fast-forward through the next seven days and start watching the next episode.
As I wrote in my pre-season post, Lost has become a story about stories, and about heroes in stories, and how and why we respond to them. On that count, splitting the characters into alternate realities is an exciting continuation of a structural experiment. Let me ask you all, point blank: Do you care about the Alterna-815ers? Do you think of their story as the real story, or do you think of those exhausted jumpsuited folks running around in the dark as the “real” characters? That’s going to be something to keep an eye on as the series plays out, because perhaps the worst thing that could happen to Lost is for the viewers to start to get the sense that there are no real stakes: that anyone who dies can be reborn, and that we’re supposed to be deeply invested in the ultimate fate of people who may look and act like our heroes, but really aren’t.
Me, I’m not too worried. This new storytelling technique intrigues me for now on multiple levels, perhaps because the introduction of the Alterna-815ers has helped me realize how much I care about the real characters. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have said over and over again that Lost is about the characters, not the mythology, and I really felt that in the big scene between Ben and Smokey, where the latter tells the former that as the real Locke was dying, his last thought was, “I don’t understand.” That really got to me. We’ve watched over 100 hours now of characters trying to make sense of the weird things that keep happening to them—and the not-so-weird things as well—with a combination of take-charge arrogance and blind obedience. I really don’t want them to die thinking that it was all meaningless. It would be as crushing for them as it would be for us fans to face the final credits staggering under the melancholy weight of nothing.
-Did anyone else panic a little when the show came back from the first commercial and the sound was all muted and fuzzy? Then Kate touched her ears and shook her head, and I heaved a sigh of relief.
-So The Temple really is a garden variety ancient Temple huh, and not some technological wonderland. I look forward to future episodes when Jack and Sawyer are tested in the 36 chambers.
-Hey, it’s Doc Arzt! And Frogurt!
-I’m sure this was a function of how much of Elizabeth Mitchell's time Lost could book, but it was a little awkward from a storytelling perspective to have Sawyer bury Juliet and then ask Miles to chat with the corpse.
-Nice cameo from Charlie, who has his life saved by Jack and then spits, “Am I alive? Terrific. … I was supposed to die.”
-Loved Hurley in this episode, both in his confident 2004 persona and his pragmatic 2007 self. “Can you fix Sayid?” he growls at Jack. “Then you’re going to have to let me do it.” Go Hurley!
-Typical Ben, emerging from the Foot with a lie already on his lips: “Everything’s fine.”
-The Others have some itchy trigger fingers. They shoot; they don’t chat.
-I’ve heard it said by Darlton that Season Six could conceivably be watched by a newcomer to the show, but I don’t know about that. It would seem pretty confusing, I would think. Or at the least, harder to connect to emotionally. For example, one of the reasons I found the scene between Ben and Not-Locke so effective (besides the fact that two excellent actors were performing it) was that I kept reminding myself that the man scowling at Ben is the same creature that was shaking trees and making noise back in Lost’s pilot episode. Pretty chilling, if you ask me.
Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:
-Is the reincarnated Sayid actually Jacob in a new body? I’m going to table that for this week, but keep it in mind going forward.
-My wife—who’s reading a book about time travel right now—pointed out that the generation of alternate timelines makes logical sense, because there has to be an existing version of these people who set off Jughead. Otherwise, the paradox is irresolvable.
-Your eye close-up of the week: Kate.
-Among the debris burying Juliet: the stationary bike that Desmond used to ride.
-The Japanese Other seemed to recognize Jin’s name.
-If you’re planning on visiting The Island, be sure to bring plenty of Smokey-deterring ash.
-Smokey to Richard: “Good to see you out of those chains.” I assume this means that Richard was a slave on The Black Rock, and that the two haven’t spoken since that ship arrived. But it could well mean something else. For example, I was struck by Smokey’s comment to Bram and the SOTS, when he told them that they didn’t need to guard Jacob any more. “You’re free,” he said. I think The Man In Black honestly believes that he’s doing everyone a favor by putting an end to this endless game he and Jacob have been playing. Perhaps he includes Richard in that.
-Are you going to be freaked out if we learn that The Island is a spaceship, and that Jacob and Smokey are aliens? (Or something equally silly?) Is that going to be a dealbreaker for you where Lost is concerned? Or is it the character stuff that matters more than the explanation anyway?
-While re-watching Seasons Four and Five last month, I re-read my TV Club coverage, and I feel like a sucker now for assuming Locke was Locke while reviewing “Dead Is Dead.” For that matter, Not-Locke’s response in “Follow The Leader” to Ben asking him if watching himself is “an out-of-body experience”—“Something like that,” he smiles—now has a whole different meaning.
-In the Season Four finale “There’s No Place Like Home,” Charlotte makes an interesting throwaway comment: “Nothing’s forever.” Apparently, that’s what this season—and this show—is going to be all about.