SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, why don’t you watch this very informative video that’ll answer some of your questions, and I’ll take care of some business.
I thought I would have had more to say right now. But compared with “Through the Looking Glass” last year, which threw us into unfamiliar situations and then upended the whole concept of the series, there was something very foreordained about “No Place Like Home.” 95% of it was concerned with unfolding events that—more or less—we knew or had been led to believe would happen: the Oceanic Six were rescued, the Island was moved, Ben would go somewhere with a parka and a crowbar, etc. Showing us something we already knew (that the O6 would escape) and making the question of how they got there engaging for an entire season was quite a feat, but the closer it got to the payoff, the more perfunctory it seemed.
And the final scene, or as the producers code-named it, the “Frozen Donkey Wheel” (which was the big thing Ben was pushing, right?) was the promised revelation of a mystery teased in the last finale (who was in the coffin?), and it turned out to be the first person a lot of folks guessed a year ago. (Locke. RIP. I think. Or at least until they haul you back to the Island and you spring back to life.)
In other words, I just checked my mind and it is not blown. Fine. You can’t expect one of those every time. I mean, we got a flash-forward last year; to repeat that, I suppose Lost would have to invent a fifth dimension.
[Update: And in a way, not having an OMG twist at the end was the more daring thing for the show to do. I mean, the easy Lost thing—and the thing many fans dreaded—was that every season would add on new complications, new layers of conspiracy, new questions. By not doing that, the season 4 finale is saying thaat there really is an endgame, there really is a plan, and just as the show expanded wildly during its first three seasons, it must now contract toward a conclusion for the last three, or now two. (I have a feeling I'm just going to keep adding updates to this post as new things occur to me, like a dung beetle adding on to its ball.)]
But I think even the more predestined scenes could have had a bigger emotional payoff. Last year, for instance, we essentially knew Charlie would die, but that didn’t stop his death from being affecting, noble, even beautiful. Michael’s presumed death was surprising—with the appearance of Christian—but he didn’t quite get the Sydney Carton far-far-better-thing redemptive moment you might have expected. Jin’s, likewise—and yes, this is Lost, you never know until you see someone sever and burn the head, but still—was more horrifying than emotional (though Sun’s pathos was totally believable).
On the other hand, Sawyer’s self-sacrificing jump into the water—after making his unheard request to Kate—was a great moment, and further convinced me that Kate is mooning over the wrong guy in the future. (So is Sawyer now Juliet’s consolation prize?) And Des and Penny—aw! [Melts into puddle.] Oh, and a nice small moment when Sun tells Michael she’s pregnant and he smiles and congratulates her; I’d forgotten the connection they’d had.
So where does the show kick off next year? Flash-forwarded again to the Six Plus Ben Plus Dead Locke returning to the Island? Flashbacked to show us the Very Bad Things that unfolded on the Island? Or do we have Ben and Jack traveling cross country a la Jake and Elwood Blues, trying to reunite the old gang?
Now put on your suit of body armor and hold on to your dead-man trigger, because here comes my last hail of bullets for season 4:
* Late in the episode, Mrs. Tuned In asked me, “So why do they have to lie exactly?” And I answered–um… I don’t know, actually. I mean, I think I understand the lie mechanically: if they stick to the cover story, Widmore doesn’t know that there are survivors left on the Island, wherever it is. Except: doesn’t he?
Had he gotten no reports back from all his hired men–before they got blowed up real good—that they had found the island, with survivors? [Update: Duh, right—Michael/Kevin sabotaged the radio. Sorry, late night.] If he’d go through the trouble of staging a crash in the belief that the real Oceanic 815 must have come down on the Island, would he believe the cover story for a second? [Update: Even if Widmore didn't stage the crash, he's clearly convinced that the 815 crash was related to the Island—would he so easily conclude he was wrong? And, remember, at the very least Jack believes that whoever staged the crash is looking for the Island, which is part of his rationale for the lie.] In other words, who is the lie really protecting? For that matter, why not just come home and expose Widmore? At least there’s a plausible answer to that: “We have to lie because people will think we’re crazy if we say we were on a magic disappearing island with a smoke monster.” I’m not sure the actual stated reason for the lie holds water, though. Am I the only one with this problem?
* Many, many nice one-liners in this episode, particularly involving Michael Emerson’s inimitable delivery. (“Is he talking about what I think he’s talking about?” “If you mean time traveling bunnies, yes.”) If we never see him with live-Locke again, that’ll be a shame. Cool-creepiest moment: “Checkmate, Mr. Eko.”
* So you load the Vault up with metal and it sparks and explodes. Basically, it’s a big microwave oven. Nice, by the way, to see (the completed version of) the fragmentary Orchid video from ComicCon last summer. Turns out it was pretty relevant after all.
* What does it mean that Michael—who never knew Christian—sees Christian in his last moments? Is “Christian” actually Christian at all? Is he a manifestation of the Island? (Which, by the way: If the Island lets people die as a way of telling them it’s “done” with them—Michael, Locke—then the Island is kind of a jerk.) Or is he Smokey? Does Smokey have that kind of range?
*Speaking of “range,” a couple of the better dramatic scenes I’ve seen for Evangeline Lilly in a while. Apparently she took some acting classes in the future! So: why did she say “I’m sorry” to Aaron after getting chided by Dream Ghost Claire (“Don’t you dare bring him back!”). Is she aplogizing because she must go back to the Island without him, because she must bring him with her, or for another reason entirely?
* Last week, we were debating who it was who ultimately rescued the Six. In retrospect, I can’t believe I didn’t guess Penny. Though somehow I didn’t think we’d be seeing her get reuinited with Desmond until the final episode of the series. That they’re back together may just have cost Desmond his life-insurance policy.
* Speaking of life-insurance policies, what are the odds for Faraday, drifitng on open sea in a boat full of cannon-fodder extras?
* Significance of Charlotte (apparently) having been born on the Island? I’ve read the speculation that she’s Annie, Ben’s childhood sweetheart, but she seems clearly too young, unless there’s some Alpertification going on.
* Oh, and back to Locke. My own guess on the coffin was wrong: I had my money on Ben in the coffin, alive, having faked his death to get to Jack. I’d mourn Locke more, but again we run into the whole lack-of-faith-he’s-permanently-dead thing, plus I can’t imagine the series continuing without Terry O’Quinn in some substantial role—though I suppose he could be in flashbacks to the Island after the O6’s rescue.
* Speaking of which: I end up asking a question I was asking after last finale—where are we at the beginning of next season, now that the O6’s rescue story has been told? I have a hard time imagining Lost going a long while without any of the cast who are back on the Island. Do the O6 come back that quickly? Is there a fill-in-the-gaps stretch of episodes—or parts of episodes—showing what happened on the Island from 2004 to 2007? And if so, are those considered flashbacks? Flash-forwards? Flash-in-betweens?
And how do they get back? As Ben said, “I have a few ideas.” Now you’ve got about eight months to think about yours.