"My condition is irreversible." -LockeHot damn, that was fun.
"Nothing is irreversible." -Jack
The traveling comedy/obfuscation team of Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse spent much of this final "Lost" hiatus promising that season six would have a new narrative structure, just as we got in seasons four (flash-forwards) and five (time travel). Having taken us both back and forwards through time, turns out the game for year six involves going sideways, with a "Sliding Doors"(*) approach that allows Cuselof to have it both ways with last year's cliffhanger, as we see one timeline where Faraday's plan worked and Jack and company wound up back on the plane in 2004, and another where it didn't and everyone's in the middle of a big mess on Craphole Island in 2007.
(*) I swear, I spent the first fifteen minutes after the premiere ended wrestling with whether to use "Sliding Sawyers" as a subject line, or if that would be an unfair giveaway for time-shifters, folks on the West Coast, etc. Ain't easy when my fondness for semi-clever wordplay clashes with my hawkishness about spoiler protection.
It was clear quickly that there was something hinky with the 2004 timeline, particularly since I had only recently rewatched the pilot to write this morning's column. Jack's hair was obviously wrong (as was Rose's), but so were subtler details like the dialogue between Jack and Cindy, or the fact that she gives him only one bottle here, when she slipped him two in the pilot. And then as the flight went along, things became more and more disconnected from the timeline we originally knew: Desmond is on board, Hurley is blissfully lucky, Boone failed to bring Shannon home, etc.
(Perhaps the biggest change of all in the new timeline: the island is underwater. So when Juliet set off Jughead, a whole lotta people died. Hell of a plan, Jack.)
It's a trope of many comic book time travel stories that if you go back in time to change the past, all you do is create an alternate timeline, while the old one you wanted to change still exists. Based on Juliet's posthumous declaration to Sawyer that "It worked" (and based on Lindelof's comic book bonafides), I'm going to assume that's the operating theory here, and that the 2004 scenes aren't some extended dream sequence.
For a brief period, I began to wonder if the gimmick was worth the screen time, and the effort of bringing back Ian Somerhalder, Dominic Monaghan and the rest. Whether the 2004 timeline is real or not (and there comes a point where I have to set my inner comic book nerd aside and acknowledge that none of this is real), the fact is I've spent the last 5 years being invested in the characters back on the island in 2007, and it's their stories I want to see continued.
And, certainly, the parts of "LA X" that resonated with me most deeply were the ones taking place on the island, about which I'll have plenty to say in a bit. But as the premiere moved along and we kept zipping back to hang out on Oceanic 815 (and then in the airport), I began to have the same feeling I did when I rewatched the pilot: I was just so happy to be reminded of when I liked Jack or when Locke was a serene wise man and not a pig-headed victim. I remembered that I did, once upon a time, care about Boone and Charlie (and the unfortunately-absent Shannon). And as the characters landed at LAX and their stories took unexpected turns - Kate escaping from Marshal Mars (and commandeering a cab occupied by Claire, in a neat convergence of Aaron's two mommies), Charlie and Jin independently winding up in custody, Jack and Locke bonding over their respective lost luggage (and Jack and his savior complex wondering if he can fix Locke's wrecked spine) - I couldn't help but be curious about where this was all going.
Not only do I wonder where these alt-stories will travel, but what connection it's all going to have to the "proper" timeline on the island. Will they just be used to illuminate characters' behavior in the island present, the same way they did back in the early flashback days (pre-Jack's tattoos, at least)? Or is the parallel structure telling us something else? Will Alt-Jack reach a point in his time on the mainland where he realizes, just as his bearded counterpart once did, that he has to go back? Might there be a circumstance where the two Sawyers meet and the universe explodes in a collision of sarcasm and anti-sarcasm? Or will the island and mainland timelines remain independent for the rest of the show's run?
If the 2004 scenes were often intriguing, and occasionally distracting, they were still a sideshow to the main event taking place back on the island.
Where to begin? With the confirmation that Evil Locke (or the Man in Black, or Esau, or whatever we want to call him), is Smokey?
With Sawyer and Juliet's tearful, and all-too-brief reunion in the wreckage of the Swan station?
With our first visit to the temple of The Others, and our introduction to two new recurring characters played by John Hawkes (another "Deadwood" alum) and Hiroyuki Sanada?
With Sayid's death and apparent resurrection?
Let's bounce around, why don't we?
When Locke turned out to not be Locke in last year's finale, I wondered exactly why the smoke monster - which we'd been previously told was the island's "security system" - would tell Ben to blindly follow a man who turned out to not be acting in the interests of the island (and/or Jacob, if you can separate the two). Well, now we know: Smokey ain't working for Jacob, but against him, and is made up of the Man in Black. Like so many "Lost" mysteries, the explanation raises up plenty of new questions - for starters, why Smokey would be willing to work with Ben in previous periods, when Ben was following the orders of Jacob - but we finally have something resembling a definitive answer of exactly what/who the monster is. Now we just need to know exactly who/what Esau is. Heh.
Whatever he/it is, Terry O'Quinn is clearly relishing the chance to play this new, mysterious, dangerous character, and Non-Locke's powers and knowledge of people like Ben and Richard (whom he last saw when Richard was "in chains") creates an unsettling dynamic among these characters who are so used to being in charge. And he also finally, more clearly delineates between the good guys and the bad guys (I think). Since Jacob=light, and Esau=dark, and The Others were with Jacob, and our heroes are now with The Others, that should lay things clear, right? (Of course, we'll still need to learn why The Others were all into kidnapping, torture and other experiments while Jacob was still alive, or if we're just supposed to write that off to Ben being kind of a dick as the human leader.)
And since Ben made clear last season that the island, as far as he knew, could not resurrect people - which was then confirmed when we saw Locke's corpse and discovered that the guy we thought was Locke was really the Man in Black - does that mean we shouldn't be so quick to assume the Sayid who sat up at episode's end is really our Sayid? Could Jacob be using Sayid's body to find his own loophole in this never-ending fight? Or did he just know that the only way to defeat an immortal man who can turn into a smoke monster is with a communications expert-turned-torturer-turned-international-assassin with great hair?
If Sayid's back to life for real, great, but if not, I think I'm okay with it. It felt like the character hit a natural stopping point after he shot young Ben last season, and his opening moments with Hurley in "LA X" suggested the show was saying goodbye to that iteration of Sayid just as Sayid was preparing to say goodbye to this mortal coil. (And, as with Alt-Locke, Naveen Andrews will still get to play a version of the character we know so well.)
Whether Sayid got resurrected or just reanimated and possessed, he's still ambulatory in some fashion, where Juliet appears to be so dead that not even Miracle Max could do anything for her. Josh Holloway and Elizabeth Mitchell got to put a moving coda onto the couple they created with the writers last year, and it was every bit as heart-wrenching as Juliet's plunge into the Swan shaft at the end of "The Incident." The only problem I had with it, I think, is that Sawyer's love and grief for Juliet was portrayed here as so strong and all-consuming that I can't imagine the show plausibly trying to revisit the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle, at least in this timeline. Unless there's a point in this season where island time jumps forward a long way from this tragic moment, Sawyer's going to be too wrapped up in his feelings for Blondie to convincingly give Freckles the time of day as anything but a shoulder to cry on and an extra gun to back his play.
Juliet's death also gives the show a fresh spin on the enmity between Sawyer and Jack, and the massive, fatal failure of the Jughead plan (from this Jack's perspective, anyway) might hopefully convince Jack once and for all that things tend to go bad when he's appointed or appoints himself leader of anything. But probably not.
And speaking of leaders, we meet another of a sort in the Hiroyuki Sanada character to be named later. (Several internet sources list Hawkes' character as "Lennon," which simultaneously seems too obvious and amusing, and for simplicity's sake, I'll use that until we get in-show evidence to the contrary.) The temple Others seem culturally different from several other Others factions we've seen, styled more like hippies. (Might we find out that there are a bunch of Dharma defectors and/or their descendants among this bunch?) We've been hearing about the temple for years, and this is definitely an interesting introduction to the place.
And I see by the clock that it's now 1:06 a.m., so I better get to the bullet points before my brain shuts down. Some other thoughts:
• Well, we knew that Cindy and the kids were among the group sent to the temple back in season three, but we still hadn't seen them in all that time. Now we have. All that's left is an explanation for why they (and any other Oceanic survivors recruited into Other-dom) didn't skip around in time last year.
• Getting back to Rose and Bernard, did Jughead's detonation fling them back into the present as well, or did it only affect the time travelers who were close to its explosion?
• Alt-Sawyer has his counterpart's nicknaming gifts, as he dubs Cindy "Earhart." (While doing some prep for this season, I stumbled across this awesome YouTube collection of Sawyer nicknames and its sequel. Absolutely worth the waste of your time.)
• Bram's failed attempt to survive Smokey's attack finally gives us a good explanation for why Jacob's cabin was surrounded by that circle of ash: it, along with the Dharma sonic barrier, are the only things that seem able to repel the monster.
• Still more explanations: the guitar case Jacob gave Hurley contained not a guitar, but a wooden ankh with a fortune hidden inside.
• We may not have gotten Shannon, or Mr. Eko, or some of the other awesome Oceanic survivors in this one, but we got Arzt! And Frogurt! Both as annoying as ever!
• Good to see Kate's tree-climbing skills are still intact even after a time-jump.
• Also good to know that at least Hurley is the one Oceanic survivor who didn't become a firearms expert shortly after landing on the island (or at any point after).
• Was glad to see that the Miles/LaFleur friendship wasn't quickly forgotten now that we're away from the Dharma days.
• "You're the monster." "Let's not resort to name-calling." Funny funny stuff from the Emerson/O'Quinn duo there.
• Claire makes her first appearance in more than a year, and I hope we finally revisit (in one timeline or the other) the matter of what will happen with Aaron's horrible destiny. And speaking of underserviced characters, I'd really like to see Sun return to prominence this year, now that most of the characters are now back on the island at the same time.
Okay, that's enough out of me. What did everybody else think?