"So nice to have everyone back together again." -SmokeyLast week, I expressed some concern that Lindelof and Cuse had waited too long to get to the Desmond portion of the season, not just because I think his presence (even if largely in the background and unexplained) might have spiced up the sideways stories, but because I worried we had spent so much time on narrative dead ends or seemingly inconsequential stories that there wouldn't be enough time left to properly resolve the stories of both the season and the series.
"The Last Recruit" put many of those fears to rest, reminding me that even when Darlton seem to be dragging their feet within either an episode or a season, they generally have a plan for what to do when it's time to start moving quickly.
For the first time since the premiere, we didn't focus on any one character or pair, but rather bounced from person to person, story to story as everyone began to come together, both in the real world and the sideways one. We got payoffs to a number of arcs and/or mysteries - Smokey admits he was posing as Christian Shepard all these years, Jin and Sun are finally reunited, Kate makes peace with Claire - and some high-caliber acting from just about everyone in the ensemble. (And if I've done my math correctly, the only castmember to not appear was Nestor Carbonell, since Richard is off with Ben and Miles in the real world and has yet to appear in the sideways universe.)
In fact, because "The Last Recruit" was largely devoted to moving various chess pieces into position on the board in both universes, there's less to deconstruct and puzzle over here than usual, so instead I want to point to some of the stronger emotional moments of the hour, in no particular order:
• Since Desmond had his moment of revelation at the end of "Happily Ever After," Henry Ian Cusick has been playing the character in both universes with a look of serene confidence, but here he got to (superbly) play a much sadder note as Desmond listened to Sayid explain what he asked Smokey for in exchange for going to the dark side. Desmond knows about doing crazy things for love, and he also knows far more about what's going on in both universes than anyone else does, and he feels so sorry that Sayid has let himself become a monster for no reason. (Also, as with last week's fall down the well, I have absolutely no concern about Desmond's future until we actually see his corpse - and maybe not even then.)
• While Alt-Jack's relationship with son David didn't do much for me back in "Lighthouse," their scenes had greater weight here now that we seem to be heading towards a point where the sideways characters have to sacrifice their universe so that the real one can survive and Smokey can be defeated. (That's my operating theory this week, at least.) And that means not only do some characters like Locke and Libby and Ilana have to realize they're going to die again, but it means Alt-Jack is going to have to deal with saying goodbye to the son who shouldn't exist, just as they're starting to get along. And while I'm not a Jack fan in general, I do not envy the man the choice I assume is coming.
• Desmond and Penny eclipsed Jin and Sun as the "Lost" couple whose happy ending I root for the most, but it was still nice to see the real versions of those characters finally get back together for the first time in almost three years. (On the other hand, if the only point of Sun's temporary loss of English was to show her love for Jin restoring it later, they needn't have bothered. Daniel Dae Kim and Yunjin Kim played that moment so well that no additional garnish was needed, and all it did was distract me with thoughts of, "So we wasted several episodes on this because...?")
• As I've said before, the narrative style of the show means we often won't see certain characters paired together for months or even years at a time, and that can occasionally rob some urgency from their stories. Sun and Jin suffered from this a bit, and with Jack and Sawyer separated since the season's first couple of episodes, I worried that some of the heat over Juliet's death would have gone away by now. But as soon as they were on Libby's boat together, it all came back - with the added wrinkle of Jack having taken over Locke's role as the one who believes in the power of the island (and who isn't a sucker), while Sawyer is now the Jack-like leader who just wants to get everyone the hell off, grand design be damned. Good stuff from both Matthew Fox and Josh Holloway.
• Because Jack never found out Claire was his sister until after he'd left the island, some Jack/Claire interaction was a long time in coming, and we got some in both universes. I particularly liked how, after the initial shock (well-played by Fox), Alt-Jack mainly seemed amused by the idea that Christian had left him with a long-lost half-sister.
All in all, a good episode - not mind-blowing, but necessary.
Some other thoughts:
• Lapidus still doesn't get much to do, but here he was the recipient of two great Sawyer lines, first with James describing him as looking like "he just stepped out of a Burt Reynolds movie," and then with the nickname "Chesty."
• So ultimately, was Alt-Desmond's plan in running over Locke to give him a near-death experience akin to the one that clued him into the real world's existence, or was he just trying to put Locke in a position to meet up with Jack?
• More bleed-over from real world to sideways world, as Alt-Sun is terrified to see Alt-Locke being wheeled into the hospital next to her.
• Was I the only one who flashed on Larry David doing the stink-eye lie detector gag on "Curb Your Enthusiasm" as Smokey tried to figure out if Sayid really killed Desmond?
• So, why was Alt-Sawyer in Australia? He seemed too jolly in "LA X" to have murdered Frank Duckett the way real Sawyer did, but he's trying to hide something.
• Assuming I'm right that Sayid didn't kill Desmond, and assuming Claire is sincere in burying the hatchet with Kate, is Hurley right that characters with the "sickness" can be brought back from the dark side, just like our pal Anakin?
• Nice of the writers to give Ilana a role in the sideways world now that she's kaput in the real one.
What did everybody else think?