After opening my heart last week to an episode that polarized viewers (in the sense that it was near-universally loathed), I came to "What They Died For" with the high hopes of a Recovering Hater.
And, look, there's no doubt the episode had its moments, including actively funny lines and exciting sequences. Michael Emerson rocks my world, and no one could be happier than me to see Rousseau, even if she was transformed, hey presto, into an angel-of-the-house soul mate like 90 percent of the non-dead humans of my gender. Ana Lucia's cameo was fun, and I'm looking forward to next week's dance, which I assume will include a surprise cha-cha between the Expose couple, with Eko D.J.-ing.
But on the larger, structural level, the episode was infuriating on about eight different levels, although I'll just focus on one: The fact that Widmore's motives are now reduced to "Jacob convinced me to drop everything and kill Smokey." It's not the biggest deal, but it's another factor in the shriveling of everything ambiguous to the framing device of good versus evil. (I mean, recall that Widmore created an ENTIRE FAKE DECOY AIRPLANE OF CORPSES, alienated his daughter, and so on, to get the island back, and there was that whole "you broke the rules" thing with Ben, right? But now, it's like none of that ever happened.) Nothing that was key in the early seasons — the origins of the Dharma initiative, that devastating death-in-childbirth issue, the themes of rebuilding a diverse society — is even in play. Even the ambiguities of "Across the Sea" now seem like attempts to shade the battle between mustache-twirling, murderous Smokey and his limp, Jesus-y antagonist. (Although I suppose if they do all end up choosing the flash sideways, that will actually be an interesting outcome — and Ben is still intriguing, in both timelines. Hmmm, even as I edit, I'm half-talking myself into Love.)
Meanwhile, in the flash sideways, Desmond was all Locke redux, trying to enlighten each of the Losties, but in this case, urging them back to the original timeline rather than the island, using the more effective technique of ultraviolence as opposed to suicidal nagging. He's such a true believer I thought he just might grab Kate by the throat and bang her head against the prison poles. Is anyone else unnerved by the sheer Matrix-y lunacy of Desmond's plan? They should stay in the flash sideways, shouldn't they? I mean, it's better overall for everyone EXCEPT Desmond, unless I'm missing something. I'm hoping that's the final outcome, because it's the one interesting possibility: choosing delusion over bondage to a miserable reality.
Which might be what I'm doing, come to think of it. And on to the recap.
Ye olde open-eye shot. When Jack looks in the mirror, he's cut his neck. He and his son have cereal; there's an exchange about his mom (c'mon people, it's obviously Juliet); and the son gives an adorable smile. Claire shows up, hair so shiny and large it could eat Kate's hair for breakfast, and they're a happy family, magically baggage free.
The airline calls to say they've found Christian's coffin. Cut to a cell phone: It ain't Oceanic. It's smirky Desmond, practically rubbing his hands together like a scheming elf.
On the beach, Jack stitches Kate, a sweet pullback to the pilot, and Evangeline Lilly is great here: shattered, grieving. Locke did this to them, she says. (Just asking, if an evil monster had taken over your friend Sid's body, would you call that monster Sid?)
Grim faces as life vests wash ashore. Kate rests her head on Sawyer; Skaters sigh.
Then Jack suggests the Losties rescue Desmond from his deceptively shallow well aaaand — we're back to Desmond, in the flash sideways, revving up to run over Locke for the second time, like some merry Scottish road-runner. Ben intrudes, so Desmond gleefully beats the crap out of him instead. "I'm not here to hurt him, I'm here to help him let go," he explains psychotically. "You want to know who I am?" And he smacks Ben until he gives him flashes of the original universe.
Meanwhile, on the island, Ben claims he knows where they're going. "I lived on this island 30 years before you!" Miles wisecracks. "Otherwise known as last week." They're heading to Ben's for the C4, but as they arrive, Miles gets hoodoo vibes and Richard confesses: This is where he buried Ben's daughter.
"Thank you, Richard," says Michael Emerson, stiffly, movingly, and walks off to the hidden room. God, I love Ben's room of suits.
This room is apparently "where I was told I could summon the monster. That's before I knew it was the one summoning me." What the what? It's an interesting explanation, I guess, even if I don't quite get it. Smokey took some human form and told Ben this, under the guise of Jacob? Am I misunderstanding?
They're interrupted by ... dammit, Tina Fey, cleavage ahoy. And Widmore.
Ben and Widmore bicker, with Widmore deputizing Ms. Fey to sink their ship, then snarking at Ben that he's had the plane rigged with explosives for three days.
According to Widmore, Jacob visited him and "convinced him of the error of his ways," and told him everything he needs to know for this exact purpose.
What purpose? asks Ben.
He is interrupted by walkie-talkie static.
I consider this the single most irritating moment in the entire series of Lost, even if I realize it's possibly a bit of an inside joke.
Smocke is on the way.
In sideways land, a school nurse cares for mashed-up Ben. When Locke rolls up, Ben explains that Desmond wasn't trying to hurt Locke, he was trying to help him "let go." I'm definitely trying this line the next time I beat the crap out of someone.
Meanwhile, Desmond shows up at the police station, just as Miles is inviting Sawyer to the concert.
Desmond explains he's the psycho they're looking for and gets jailed next to Sayid and Kate, grinning with such gleaming smugness that I feel like throwing him down a well myself.
Sawyer asks Jack several smart questions:
• Why didn't Smocke kill Desmond instead of tossing him in a well? (Maybe a rule, suggests Jack.)
• Was setting off the bomb Sawyer's fault? (Jack demurs, but basically, yeah.)
Man, they're looking old, says my husband, who has recovered from last week's rage and seems basically sanguine.
Then mini-Jacob appears, asks Hurley for the ashes, and runs off with them, like the dickish child vision that he is.
Hurley follows him to the fire, where Jacob is now grown up again and so unbearably smug he's giving Desmond a run for his money. The ashes are in the fire, and when they burn out, he'll be gone. We're very close to the end, Hugo. Oh good, GOD. The meta, the random clock devices, it's killing me.
Locke pulls ashore.
Tina Fey's cleavage heaves and they all freak: Widmore wants to hide, Ben to confront, Miles to flee. Richard suggests diplomacy.
There's a lot of spooky hoochie-coo music and the smoke monster unceremoniously tosses Richard away, which is kind of impressively hard-ass of the writers if he's actually dead, which I doubt, what with his immortality condition.
Then Locke comes out to join Ben, who offers him lemonade.
"I need you to kill some people for me, Ben," explains Locke, noting that once he leaves the island, Ben can have it for himself. Ben snitches on Widmore.
In the Timeline of Revelatory Ultraviolence, beat-up Ben sees Alex, in pigtails. She offers him a ride from her mom, who is ... Rousseau, offering a home-cooked dinner. "We insist, even if we have to kidnap you!," she says. (Okay, even I admit that was funny.)
Backstory time: Alex's dad died when she was 2. (Wouldn't Ben know this?) Ben's the closest thing to a father she's ever had. Ben makes the most of a scene which could be summarized as "in the flash foward, Ben is generous and unselfish and deserves a soul mate."
In the other timeline, Ben is eager to see Widmore die, but really, who could fault him?
Because from my POV, this scene would be far more tense if it weren't for our totally muddled sense of Widmore's motives, and as for Ms. Fey, everyone's hoping she'll be killed. Sure enough, Smocke slashes her neck, and cruelly, a nation cheers.
Locke makes stock villainous remarks, working up to a threat against Penny.
Bizarrely, former tough-guy Widmore spills the beans: He brought Desmond there because of his resistance to electromagnetism. Then, since he doesn't want Ben to hear him, he whispers the rest.
"He doesn't get to save his daughter," says Ben, shooting Widmore dead.
"Ben, you never cease to amaze me," clichés Locke. Fortunately, Widmore already told him what he needed to know so "no harm done."
Kate, Sawyer, and Jack can now see Jacob, smirking up a storm.
Kate wants to know that all the characters of color didn't die for nothing.
"Come and sit down and I'll tell you what they died for. I'll tell you why I chose them, and why I chose you. And then I'll tell you everything you need to know about protecting this island, because by the time that fire burns out, one of you is going to need to do it."
In Flash Hospital UCLA, Locke visits Jack and ticks off coincidences. He describes Desmond's "let go" speech. Maybe this is all happening for a reason!
Jack gently suggests he's mistaking coincidence for fate.
Locke's ready to get out of this chair, and I'm seriously wondering how disabled people react to this whole plotline, and how they react to Glee: any takers?
Meanwhile, on the island, Jacob explains. He brought all of them there because he made a mistake. He made a MONSTER. Who has been trying to kill him. And now that the monster figured out how to kill Jacob, someone has to replace him.
"Why should we be punished for your mistake?" says Sawyer. He was doin' just FINE.
No, claims Jacob. They were all "flawed." He chose them because they were like him: alone, looking for something; they needed the island. (He leaves out that whole bit where he gave Sawyer a pen when he was a child, catalyzing his whole revenge obsession.)
Uh, why am I not a candidate? asks Kate.
"Because you became a mother. It's just a line of chalk in a cave. The job is yours if you want it, Kate."
Anyway, yeah, there's a glowing pool and they must protect it from going out.
"You want us to kill him?"
Jacob looks soppy-eyed and yes-without-saying-yes.
He's not going to pick a candidate. He wants them to have "the one thing he was never given": a choice. If not, this ends very badly. (Because being manipulated onto the island, then traumatized for six seasons, is being given "a choice"?)
Jack says he'll do it, of course.
"And I thought that guy had a God complex before," cracks Sawyer.
"James ... "
"Yeah, I know."
"I'm just glad it's not me," says Hurley.
There's a conversation between Jacob and Jack involving Latin whispering. I refuse to transcribe it. But it features furrowed brows and the words "drink this."
"How long am I going to do this job?" "As long as you can."
"Now you're like me," says Jacob, which is to say, so totally gay.
In Flash County Jail, Kate tries to flirt her way out of the clink. Instead, she, Sayid, and Desmond are thrown in a van.
Desmond is crazy like a prophetic fox, and he has them promise to trust him and do what he says (rather than, say, head-butting them). Sayid promises, sarcastically. Okay sure, says Kate. They're giggly in this scene, which is fun.
Then bad cop Ana Lucia lets them out, having been bribed.
Hurley delivers the bribe, recognizing Ana Lucia. But "she's not ready yet," says Desmond.
He gives Kate a dress. They're going to the concert.
On the island, Ben asks Smocke why he doesn't just BE A FREAKING SMOKE MONSTER, FIND HIS ENEMIES, AND KILL THEM. WOULDN'T THAT BE A LOT EASIER? "I like to feel my feet on the ground. Reminds me that I was human." He doesn't explain any of the floating over water issues or how the heck he showed up to
give Jack a candy bar off haunt Jack in the hospital as his father, assuming that was him.
Desmond isn't in the well.
Ben and Smocke chit-chat. Desmond is a fail-safe, says Smocke. But when Smocke finds him, he's gonna help him do the one thing he couldn't do himself: destroy the island.
Which gives Ben no motive to help Smocke, right?
Who cares? says my husband, who has turned to the dark side.
I punch him in the face to enlighten him.
WHAT WE KNOW NOW:
• Jack is the Candidate, but not in the cool Robert Redford way.
• Desmond is a "fail-safe."
• Moms have a purpose; dads don't.
THE WHA? FACTOR:
• Wait, was Sun not a candidate because she was a mother? Maybe Jacob just means having a purpose of any kind, like wanting to be a Supreme Court justice? I mean, Sawyer was a father, after all, although a terrible one. And Jin's purpose was, among other things, his renewed marriage to Sun: How was that less important than Kate's devotion to Aaron, who had a biological grandmother? I have a headache now.
• What's Ben up to? Evil? Biding time? Conning Smocke?
• Who got Desmond out of the well? (My guess: Rose and Bernard.)
• It was a nice takedown when Jacob told them all they were broken people with no lives, but wait a second: While that might be true of con man Sawyer and murderer Kate, Hurley was only damaged because he had bad luck from the numbers ...
• and what was THAT all about? Also, while Jack was a divorced, intimacy-impaired surgeon burying his alcoholic dad, that's not an endgame: a little AA, some therapy, a soul mate (they're a dime a dozen, apparently), and he might have been fine. What happened to "everyone has a choice"?
• And while we're on the subjects, if the candidates are just random chalk on a wall, what was Richard, chopped liver? The man had nothing to live for, he was looking for a purpose, he trusted Jacob like a handsome damn puppy dog! Or Ilana, for that matter. Is that an island policy, they only hire from outside?
RANDOM PREDICTIONS FOR THE FINALE:
• Juliet is Jack's ex, but she and Sawyer end up making out in the coat room.
• Surprise Locken wedding! Officiated by Brother Desmond.
• Massive celebratory flash-sideways dance number, possibly "Safety Dance" with Locke.
• On the island, Jack gets visitations from everyone else they were able to convince to do a cameo.
• Then he tries to kill Smokey.
• But in the final analysis, Desmond saves them all by diving into the energy, à la Buffy.
• Somehow, they all live on in the flash sideways with their horrible blandified soul mates, perhaps Jate, Sawliet, Faralotte, Locken, Bensseau, Hurlib, and the Kwons, with maybe the surprise addition of MilesLucia, and a shockingly sophisticated reconciliation of Widmoise, basically everyone except for Desmond, who gave his life for theirs.
• And then, my secret dream ending: Shannon shows up and she and Sayid engage in a radically inappropriate graphic make-out sequence that leaves everyone watching queasy and unnerved, punching each other in the face to get back to the original timeline.
Alan Sepinwall is basically onboard, and he likes Jack again.
The Chicago Tribune's Maureen Ryan is exhausted, but also thumbs up — and compares Lost to Mad Men.
Time's James Poniewozik is impressed by the free-will theme (although James, is it really free will if you say "if you don't, everyone will die?).