Like I said above, I'm still processing even as I write this (because I know I'm not going to be able to sleep until at least I finish this review), and I think the first thing to do is to chart the location and status of everyone, as best I can figure, at the end of this whole deal.
Out in the real world: Jack, Kate, Aaron, Hurley, Sayid, Sun, WAAAAALTTTT!!!!!, Ben, Widmore
In hiding: Desmond, Penny, maybe Lapidus (though he could just be kicking it in the Caribbean again, assuming he's too small a fish for Widmore's people to go after)
On the island: Sawyer, Juliet, Miles, Charlotte, Richard and the Others, probably Rose and Bernard (Rose was chiding Miles moments before we saw Faraday load up a raft filled with redshirt Lostaways, and I doubt Bernard would've left without her), potentially other redshirts (though their ranks are running pretty low at this point; the freighter explosion was like the "Lost" equivalent of the Moldavian Massacre)
Dead in 2004: Michael, Keamy and his mercenaries
Dead in 2007: Locke (aka Jeremy Bentham, the mysterious man in the coffin from "Through the Looking Glass")
Location known, status unknown: Claire and Christian (who are on the island but may be the walking dead)
Maybe dead, maybe lost at sea, maybe back on the island: Jin (who was on deck and could have miraculously jumped clear of the explosion), plus Faraday and the redshirts on his raft (and if any or all of these people weren't absorbed in the island-disappearing effect, then they're kinda screwed, as Penny's boat obviously didn't find them)
So now that we have that mostly cleared up, I find myself looking forward to season five more than I do reliving this conclusion to season four. At the risk of sounding like a total hypocrite -- considering how often over the years I've pounded my shoes against a table and demanded answers from Lindelof and Cuse -- "There's No Place Like Home" (all three parts) played fair with the audience 100 percent, answered most of the questions raised by "Through the Looking Glass" and then "The Beginning of the End," explained how the Oceanic Six got off the island, why they're lying, etc., etc., etc... and yet, as I did with the answer-laden "Cabin Fever," I feel ever so slightly disappointed by all of this.
Lindelof likes to talk about how they've set themselves up for failure, that the answers people have cooked up in their heads about Smokey, and the numbers, and all the show's other mysteries, will invariably seem cooler than what the show itself eventually reveals. And there may be something to that in my reaction here, but I don't think so. I think that the way Cuse and Lindelof structured this season and the Oceanic Six story at the heart of it, things were going to have the feel of inevitability by the end of it. By this point, we'd been given so many clues and nuggets of information about the Six's escape, the cover story, etc., that much -- but not all -- of "There's No Place Like Home" was largely taken up with filling in the remaining gaps in the story, like how Sun made it off the freighter but Jin didn't, the origin and motivations for the Oceanic Six lie (about which I will have more to say below), the identity of the guy in the coffin, etc. This episode reminded me in some ways of the "Dexter" season two finale, where the plot mechanics of that otherwise-thrilling season brought us to a finale that could only end one way, and which therefore didn't seem quite as special as what preceeded it. Until this season, the quality curve for "Lost" -- both within each episode and within each season -- has been an inverse bell curve, with the best stuff tending to come at the very beginning and, especially, the very end. I loved the hell out of season four, but I'd rank all three parts of "There's No Place Like Home" well behind "The Constant," "The Economist," "The Beginning of the End" and "Confirmed Dead," to name just four.
Which isn't to say I disliked the episode, or that it dashes all the optimism I've had about the series ever since "Through the Looking Glass," or that it makes me any less crazy about having to wait until early 2009 to see what happens next. I was just, based on how much I dug this season and how mind-blowing the show's finales usually are, a bit let down.
But there was still a ton of good stuff here, most of it outside the plot mechanics of the Oceanic Six stuff.
Start with the completely unexpected, completely tear-jerking, completely fabulous Desmond and Penny reunion. Did anybody see that coming this early in the series? Anybody? Screw the Jack/Kate/Sawyer/Juliet stuff (which, with Juliet and a shirtless Sawyer left on the island, is sure to be a full-on quadrangle by the start of next season); this is the true epic love story of "Lost," and it was a moment as well-earned as it was surprising. Yet as awesome as it was to see the dumbfounded look on Penny's face (even though she knew where to look for Desmond, she didn't honestly expect to find him that easily) or the joy on Desmond's, I have two separate yet equal concerns for these two: 1)That, having been granted their happy ending and been sent into hiding by Jack, they now disappear from the series for long stretches, at least until Ben can find them to make good on his promise to Widmore; or 2)That, having seemingly been granted their happy ending two seasons before the show's over, one or both of them is doomed.
Or consider yet another edition of Sayid Jarrah: Breakdance Fighter. Seriously, they need to have Sayid beat people up with his feet at least three or four times a season, because it's always splendid, as was the entire fight sequence with Keamy and the mercs, from Kate running towards the chopper right up to Richard shooting him in the back and, like the Libyans in "Back to the Future," not thinking to check for a bulletproof vest.
Or, for that matter, there was the entire sequence with Keamy dying, the chopper running out of fuel, and people scrambling on and off of the freighter. As I've said many times in the past, for all that we like to dwell on the mysteries, this show is at its best when it's about the characters and their emotions, and that sequence was packed with great character beats: the realization that Locke, in spite of his obsession with protecting the island at all costs, still cares about the survival of Jack and the rest; the look of pure happiness on Michael's face (the first such expression he's shown since before Tom Friendly kidnapped Walt) at learning Sun's good news; Hurley again feeling guilty about his weight as the chopper began to plunge, and Sawyer deciding once again to sacrifice himself for the sake of his friends; Sun screaming for Jin (whose death I don't want to believe in; it's enough that Sun believes he's dead); and the eerie appearance of Christian, currently acting as Jacob's proxy (and therefore the island's), to tell Michael it was finally okay for him to die, because he had served his purpose to the place.
Now, when Locke first broached the idea of lying to the outside world with Jack, I rolled my eyes at his logic, and at the idea that Jack would buy into it. Jack cares as much about protecting the island and its secrets as I care about Jack's love life or his tattoos. But by the time they were on the raft and the boat was approaching, it made more sense. First, he knows (or hopes) that at least some of the Lostaways are still on the island, and he finally appreciates just how obsessed and deadly are the people who faked the Oceanic Six crash and financed Keamy and company. The lie is to protect whoever's left behind on the island (which wasn't a factor when Locke first discussed it, as Jack assumed everybody but Locke would get off just fine), but it's also to protect the Six. So long as they maintain this lie that's in some way consistent with the lie that Widmore and his people created, it becomes a mutually assured destruction scenario: Widmore can't go after the Six, because the Six are playing along in a very public fashion.
(That said, I still don't understand all the details of the lie, which they had a week on Penny's boat to craft. Kate as the heroine of the crash and as Aaron's mother is for the benefit of making Kate look good when the time came for her to stand trial, but what about that business of three other people -- identified, in the expanded version of the press conference scene from Part 1 that ABC showed immediately before the finale, as Boone, Charlie and Libby -- who survived the crash but didn't make it off the island? Was that just to make the story seem more plausible, because the odds of everyone making it off the plane and then surviving on the island would be too slim? If so, why those three? And does this mean that we may one day find out what the hell Libby's backstory is?)
If "There's No Place Like Home" wasn't the game-changer that "Through the Looking Glass" was, at least it opens myriad story possibilities for next season. We obviously have the story of Ben and Jack teaming up to get the Oceanic Six (plus the corpse of Locke, and quite possibly Walt, now that the timeframe gibes with Malcolm David Kelley being eight feet tall and bursting with testosterone) back to the island. But we also potentially have three year's worth of island stories to tell, depending on exactly where and when the island disappeared to. For all I know, by the time Jack drags everybody back to Craphole Island, he'll find out that, from Sawyer's perspective, only a couple of days have passed, but Locke/Bentham's story about how bad things got on the island after the Six left implies there's a lot of story to tell there. I like the idea of an island setting with no Jack to play leader, Kate to play damsel in distress, or Ben to play pathological liar mastermind. Plus, within the real-world setting, we have the question of where Desmond and Penny are hiding -- and whether Sayid, as Ben's hired gun, would be willing to knowingly try to hurt the two of them -- what exactly Sun is doing with Paik and Widmore (and if she ever finds out that Ben killed Keamy, leading to what she assumes was the death of her husband, Ben-allied Jack is going to have some 'splainin' to do), how many former characters Hurley's playing chess with (Mr. Eko shout-out!!!!), what Abaddon's deal is, etc.
So even though this one wasn't all I might have hoped it could be (even as I should have realized, by the nature of what had come before, that it couldn't have been much more than this), I'm still very psyched to see what comes next, and frustrated as hell that it'll be another nine months or so until we find out.
Some other thoughts:
- A couple of things were possibly ignored, or at least not explained well: Claire never got in the chopper, per Desmond's vision (though, as with the Naomi/Penny confusion, there's precedence for Desmond's visions being wonky), and I'd argue that nothing so terrible happened as a result of Hurley going with Locke in the premiere to justify him apologizing to Jack about it. I suppose you could say he blames himself for all the redshirts who went with him and Locke and then died when Keamy moved in on New Otherton, but that would presume that anyone on this show cares about the redshirts (who in this episode got to wear red life vests), and given how disinterested the main characters all were in getting anybody extra onto the chopper, I can't see Hurley beating himself up too much about that.
- I have to mention it again: Mr. Eko shout-out!!! God, I miss Mr. Eko.
- Another bit of full-circle, playing fair information-revealing: we now know, for the most part, how Ben wound up in the Tunisian desert sometime in 2005 wearing a bloody Dharma parka. Question: given how extreme that situation was, with him activating the Orchid, moving the frozen gears, etc., should we assume that, when he's gotten off the island previously (in the surveillance photos taken by Widmore's people), it was by other means?
- The entire sequence of Locke watching the Candle/Halliwax video (which was very differen from the "raw footage" version that team "Lost" screened at Comic-Con last summer) while Ben casually threw metal junk into the chamber was hysterical, topped of course by Ben's "If you mean time-traveling bunnies, then yes." I also liked that, given how most of the Dharma tech on the island seems to be circa the late '70s, the effect of putting that junk into the chamber reminded me of what happened when I didn't listen carefully to my dad's instructions and put food wrapped in tinfoil into our first microwave oven.
- I'm glad that Miles and Charlotte stayed on the island, and not only because Ken Leung's one of the best additions to the cast over the run of the show. I still want to find out what Abaddon's Plan A was that required him to assemble a team including a mercenary (Naomi), a mentally-ill physicist (Faraday), a medium (Miles) and an anthropologist who may or may not have been born on the island (Charlotte).
- I don't know if it was because this episode was rushed through production due to the strike, but some of the special effects work -- notably the green screen of the airport behind Jack in the opening scene, and the shots of the freighter wreckage below the chopper -- looked much shoddier than usual.
- On the other hand, I never tire of Michael Giacchino's score.