"Since when did listening to him get you anywhere worth a damn?" -Christian Shephard"This Place" is death is a very fun episode of "Lost," and a very necessary one. So much is happening, so many blanks are filled in, so many other answers are alluded to, and yet even more questions are raised that it's easy to simply buckle in and enjoy the plot-moving ride.
And yet those same qualities make it a little harder to embrace than some of this season's earlier episodes, and they make me regret, ever so slightly, that the show's expiration date is so near. A lot happened in this episode -- so much so that at times it felt rushed. And with so much ground to cover in the remaining season and two-thirds, I have a feeling we'll be rushing the rest of the way.
I know, I know. I've blathered on and on for more than a year what a boon that end date has been to the writing, about how happy I am that the story's finally moving forward, etc., so where do I get off complaining about them now? You can call me a never-satisfied "Lost" fan, I suppose, but I felt plenty satisfied with a lot of this episode. I just didn't find it as cohesive, or as emotionally resonant, as an episode like "Jughead" or "Because You Left." That's no crime -- just a sign that the current incarnation of the show has set the bar extremely high.
And there were certainly emotional high points. When Charlotte died (for real this time, as opposed to my false alarm at the end of "Jughead"), Jeremy Davies' portrayal of Dan's grief made me care about the passing of a character who got lost in the shuffle of the writers strike last season. (Kudos also go to director Paul Edwards for the decision to pull back from the moment, giving Dan some room the mourn, and to the usual beauty of the Michael Giacchino score.) Terry O'Quinn was just as good in John's time in the frozen donkey wheel cavern, suffering yet another leg injury, aware that he's likely to die on this mission, having the promise he just made to Jin rattling around in his head even as Christian gives him new orders, and gutting his way through all of it because he believes that it's his destiny -- his destiny -- to do this and save everyone. And Daniel Dae Kim, thrown right into the middle of all this time-travel insanity, kept it all nicely grounded as Jin tried to make sense of it all and figure out what's best for his wife.
But maybe the best way to approach an episode this busy is to break it down into what we now know, what we might suspect, and what we have no frakking clue about. In order...
WHAT WE KNOW
• We've now seen, in short, time-travel assisted order, what happened to the rest of Rousseau's group. The "sickness" wasn't the time-travel malady that killed Charlotte (or the similar one that killed Fisher Stevens), nor whatever was killing all the pregnant women; instead, they had an early encounter with Smokey, some died instantly, and others were somehow brainwashed by the monster (or its keepers), and Danielle killed them.
• Ms. Eloise Hawking and Faraday's mother are, in fact, the same person. Still no confirmation on the theory that Eloise and Ellie the Other from "Jughead" are also the same person, but it seems pretty damn likely.
• Charlotte was born on the island, something bad happened to her father (who I'm assuming will turn out to be a significant figure from the island's past), and her mom brought her back to the States. It was unclear from her dying monologue whether her family was part of the Dharma Initiative or if they were in the group that clashed with Dharma, but she was there far back enough to know about the well that pre-dated the construction of The Orchid. Also, we know that Dan, in the course of his time travels, will appear to a young Charlotte in a futile attempt to keep her from ever returning. (This either suggests that Dan will, down the road, find a way to bend the closed-loop rules, or he'll be so consumed with his grief that he'll try to pretend the rules don't exist.)
WHAT WE SUSPECT
• In 2005 on the island, Locke takes Jin's wedding band and promises to tell Sun that Jin is dead. In 2007 on the mainland, Locke is dead, Ben has the ring and tells Sun -- who had an encounter with Locke in which he apparently told her nothing about Jin one way or the other -- that Jin is alive. So I'm assuming John did his best to honor his promise to Jin, that his path crossed with Ben's, and that Ben once again got over on John -- either because he thinks it's his only way back on the island, or because he believes Locke was too bound by emotion (like his promise to Jin) to get the job done right.
• We get our first look at the much-discussed Temple, which is where many of The Others headed towards after abandoning New Otherton, and Rousseau's baby daddy Robert clarifies Smokey's role as a "security system," saying that the monster is specifically there to guard that Temple. But who built the Temple, who made all the funky hieroglyphics (which, as I recall, match some of the symbols from the hatch, no?), and what is it there to worship?
WHAT I HAVE NO CLUE ABOUT
• Christian claims that if Locke had moved the island, none of the time-skipping would have happened (maybe because John is stronger than Ben and wouldn't have had to knock the donkey wheel off its axis to move it?), yet now he insists that John has to get the entire Oceanic Six to return. I'm still waiting for clarification on what caused this mess, but I do find it amusing that, even as he's reminding Locke of the folly of listening to anything Ben has to say, Christian is in lockstep with Ben about the necessity of having everybody return.
• Along similar lines, did Locke's re-alignment of the wheel do anything to stop or even slow the time jumps? If so, I can't imagine there being a point to bringing the Oceanic Six back, plus, we'd need an alternate explanation for how Dan winds up back in the glory years of Dharma (and maybe even further back). Then again, we still don't know for sure that Dan hasn't already time traveled, which would explain the whole "Desmond will be my constant" entry from his notebook.
• We know Aaron has to come back, but what about Ji Yeon? Does the island, or the forces governing it, consider life as beginning at conception, birth, a specific trimester, or what? With the tight deadline Ben has -- not to mention the complication of springing Hurley from jail and convincing him, Sayid and Kate to join him -- I don't think a round-trip jaunt to Korea's doable. (And who else immediately yelled, "What about your poor daughter?" as soon as Sun agreed to go with Ben?)
• Also, does Desmond need to go back, also abandoning a child in the process? He's not one of the Oceanic Six, nor did Ben seem to be factoring him into the plans to return, but Desmond did leave the island under the same sketchy (by island rules) circumstances, and Ms. Hawking did act like he belonged in the group of returnees.
• How large of a fillet knife am I going to need to take care of Lindelof and/or Cuse if the series ends with Ji Yeon and little Charlie both orphaned, or at least permanently separated from their parents?
Some other thoughts:
• I had assumed, after the aborted encounter in "Jughead" where Richard never got around to explaining how to leave the island, that John would have to encounter him in time again before figuring out. Apparently not. Then again, we know The Others travel back and forth pretty regularly -- even in the days before they had access to the Dharma sub -- and moving the wheel seems to have drastic consequences, so could there be a simpler exit route?
• We complain sometimes when characters don't share information, but an episode like this is a reminder that sometimes it's simply not possible for the characters to know as much as we do. Desmond's never so much as laid eyes on Ben that I can recall, nor does he know that Ben blames Charles Widmore for the death of "his" daughter, so he has no reason to immediately bolt at the sight of the little weasel, or to put a bullet between Ben's eyes. (I, on the other hand, had no problem yelling for him to run and take Penny and Charlie far, far away from here. I guess the episode couldn't have been all that disappointing if I spent so much time yelling at it, could it?)
• How does Jin know where the radio tower is? He was part of the group (along with Sayid and Bernard) that stayed at the beach to ambush Tom and his crew while Jack led everybody else to the radio tower. I mean, he may have a general idea from whatever Jack was saying as they planned that op (was there a crude map drawn at one point?), but he seemed pretty confident in telling Rousseau and her people that he knew where it was.
• Maybe this should go up on the No Clue list, but what's the deal with the English-language recording coming from the radio tower? Like Rousseau's later French recording, it seems to be counting numbers over and over, but who left it? Someone from Dharma? Could anyone but the Dharma people have built the tower in the first place?
• The ongoing Miles/Sawyer battle for island comedy supremacy continues, as Miles explains, re: Jin, "He's Korean; I'm from Encino," while Sawyer reacts to Juliet's ill-timed comment about arriving at The Orchid at a time when it existed with, "You had to say something!"
• And am I correct in remembering that The Orchid was in much better shape the last time we saw it in "There's No Place Like Home"? If that's the case, then this is at least the second time (counting last week's outrigger shoot-out) where Sawyer and company have skipped into the future.
• Smokey ripped a dude's arm off! Some parts of this show require deep analysis. That wasn't one of them.
Finally, a reminder and a request: No talking about anything in the previews (or any other thing that would be even remotely considered a spoiler for future episodes), and if you're going to ask a question or propose a theory, please try to at least skim all the previous comments.
I bring the latter point up because we're now routinely topping 100 comments per episode (some weeks approaching 200), and a decent percentage of that is from people who are repeating points and re-asking questions made earlier, often with the preamble "Sorry I couldn't read all the previous comments, but..."
I recognize that people are busy, and that it's a lot to read through, but please try, out of respect for the people who took the time to comment before you -- and, especially, out of respect for the people (including me) who read each and every one.
With that in mind, what did everybody else think?