"I don't think we did the right thing, Jack. I think it wants us to come back, and it's going to do everything it can..."
What. The. Hell. Is going on here? And why am I so happy right now?
Okay, well the second answer's obvious. I'm happy because that episode both rocked and rolled (and may have rapped at one point, too).
And the first question relates to the second. I'm also happy because, between "Through the Looking Glass" and now "Beginning of the End," I care again not only about the "Lost" characters, but about the mysteries. Lindelof and Cuse have sucked me back in. I'm racking my brain, trying to remember whether Dave ever seemed to touch Hurley or not (which applies to the appearance of "Charlie," about which I'll get back to). I genuinely care about the identities of the other half of the Oceanic Six. For cryin' out loud, I put my screener DVD into three different computers to try to make screen captures of a few shots in Jacob's cabin (a profile of Jacob in the rocking chair, and the face in the window) and got suitably freaked out when the disc would always freeze up at the exact moment Hurley arrived at the cabin, even though the scene played just fine in a standard DVD player. (It's like the disc didn't want me to properly analyze it! Okay. Now I'm just nuts.)
Considering the number of times over the years where I've called those producers con man playing a very expensive game of three-card monte, I suppose that makes me a sucker. But if so, I'm a very happy sucker, because the show was once again so bloody entertaining that I don't really care if I'm getting played once again. Make 'em this good, and I'd be okay with the final episode of the series revealing that the entire island was a dream that Hurley had while waiting for his onion rings at a Jersey ice cream parlor.
And speaking of Hurley, he's at the top of my list of reasons why the start of this season feels so much stronger than the same period last season. I got into a lot of this in today's column, but now I can expand on it with some episode-specific material.
Last year, we started off with bullying, obnoxious, stubborn to a lethal fault Jack, whose refusal to do the sensible thing at every single turn symbolized a season in which too little happened for far too long. Now we open with a spotlight on Hurley, the closest thing the show has to a fan surrogate. He's the guy who asks the right questions (even if he doesn't always get answers to them), cares about people's feelings, etc., etc. And not only was it a Hurley spotlight, it was an episode in which he and Jack are at cross-purposes, and in which Hurley, up until the final scene in the mental hospital gym (and maybe even there) is depicted as right about virtually everything while Jack keeps being wrong about everything.
Jack refuses to heed any warnings about the freighter, refuses to listen to Kate's concerns about where Naomi got to or the false blood trail, refuses to stray even one iota from the path he set for himself late last season. Hurley, meanwhile, believes Charlie's message (and is also the only guy on the beach who thinks to ask Desmond what happened to ol' Hoodie), throws the walkie-talkie in the ocean so everyone will stop bickering and start moving, recognizes that it's his place to tell Claire about Charlie, and convinces at least some people that Jack might be leading them to their death. (If he wasn't throwing in with Locke, he probably would have gotten even more converts, as Rose made clear when she refused to go with "that man.") And I don't think it's a coincidence that in the basketball scene, Hurley makes every shot while Jack keeps missing.
Now, Hurley's apology to Jack about going with Locke could undercut that, and maybe I'm being just as obstinate as Jack in refusing to acknowledge that. But I think there's a difference between being wrong about going with Locke (selfish, destructive island zealot) and being wrong about steering clear of the people on the freighter. It's very possible that what Hurley's saying is that he should have stayed with Jack and tried to convince him that the freighter people were bad. But I guess we'll find out down the road.
Before we get to analyzing the various questions raised by this episode, some other things that I felt "Beginning of the End" got so very, very right:
- The coincidences are used as more than coincidences. I got bored with playing that game where you try to figure out whether certain guest stars had appeared in previous characters' flashbacks, but when Ana-Lucia's ex-partner Mike turned up as Hurley's interrogator, it was to serve a bigger purpose. When he asks Hurley about Ana-Lucia and Hurley denies ever knowing her, that makes it clear just how much the Oceanic Six have been lying to the world about what happened on the island.
- They focused on the emotions of the moment. Hurley and Bernard's conversation on the beach about the lottery, bad luck and cannonballing goes high on my list of favorite "Lost" scenes ever. It was just a beautiful mixture of joy, wistfulness, humor and (because we know that Hurley's about to find out Charlie's dead, and that Hurley is going to be very unhappy after he's "rescued") ironic regret. They also didn't gloss over anybody's response to Charlie's death, and the return of the Oceanic 815 cockpit (is this the first time we've seen it since the pilot?) was a lovely reminder of how much everyone, including Charlie, has been through. Sawyer got to have a nice moment (for Sawyer) where he offered to hang back with Hurley on the walk, and they were even willing to take Jack to a place where he tried to shoot Locke in the face (and would have succeeded if the gun was still loaded).
- They got almost everyone involved. Some people got shorter shrift than others (notably, as usual, Jin and Sun), but everybody got a little bit of face time, as opposed to those early episodes last year that were about nothing but Jack, Kate, Sawyer and The Others. In addition, the episode did a good job of hitting or mentioning as many island landmarks as possible: the beach, the cockpit, the radio tower, Jacob's cabin and The Others' compound. It feels like everyone and everything are connected again, which, even if there still isn't a master plan, creates the illusion of one.
- The flashforwards are a vast improvement over the flashbacks. This was already obvious with "Through the Looking Glass," and it continues to be the case here. The flashbacks (save for characters when they're brand-new to the show) had long since stopped offering anything illuminating, and were all about adhering to a formula and slowing down the pace of the present-day storytelling. The flashforwards, on the other hand, add a whole new layer to the mysteries, and to the plotting, and I look forward to seeing how events on the island fulfill things we've seen in the future. The producers aren't completely done with flashbacks (we're going to get some backstory on some of the freighter people, and I imagine there's lots more to be told about Ben's time on the island), but now they'll be used when they're necessary, and not just as a stylistic crutch.
- Who the hell are the Oceanic Six? Other than Jack, Kate and Hurley, I mean. Unless the producers plan to do nothing but flashforwards for those three characters, we're eventually going to have to find out who the other three are. Based on Hurley's presence in the group, we can't even rule out the people who went with Locke -- or even Locke himself, for that matter, though I can't imagine him agreeing to leave the island, let alone going along with whatever lie the Six cooked up about themselves and the fates of those left behind. And why are they lying? (Also, while Jack's line about growing a beard establishes this flashforward as taking place before the one in "Looking Glass," I think we can rule out Hurley as the guy in the coffin. It was a very average-sized coffin, and people liked Hurley too much for his funeral to be unattended.)
- Who are "they" and what is "it"? I'm assuming that "they" (referenced by Charlie, Hurley and Matthew Abbadon, the alleged Oceanic representative played by Lance Reddick from "The Wire") are the surviving lostaways who for some reason couldn't/didn't join the Six in their return to civilization. Is "it" (see the quote at the top of this post) the island, the monster, or something else? Are we supposed to think that the island has sentience? And speaking of Mr. Abbadon...
- Who the hell is Matthew Abbadon? Wikipedia says that "Abadon" is "chief of the demons of the seventh hierarchy." If he doesn't represent Oceanic, who does he represent, and why does he care so much about the whereabouts of the other lostaways?
- Charlie: ghost, figment or something else? Again, can someone tell me whether Dave ever physically touched Hurley, either in the mental hospital or on the island? When you're dealing with a character with a history of hallucinations, on a show where characters either return from the dead or appear to, who's to say what's real and what isn't? Charlie could somehow actually be alive, making his getaway while Hurley had his eyes screwed shut (in much the way Abbadon bailed from the game room while Hurley was yelling for the orderlies), but I'm thinking he's gone on to his reward.
- Who's the other guy in Jacob's cabin? Like I said, I tried and failed to make screencaps of this scene. On my 42-inch TV, Jacob didn't look exactly like I remembered him from the captures that the Lost Easter Eggs blog did last season. And since Jacob was in his rocking chair the whole time, who the hell was looking out at Hurley? Easter Eggs also did a capture of a random close-up of someone's eye during that earlier scene, but the lighting makes it hard to tell if it's the same one in the window here. I don't think it's Locke, and we know the whereabouts of everyone else, so who?
What did everybody else think?