Before you read this post, take a leap to the bottom of the world’s softest mineshaft and watch last night’s season five finale of Lost.
“I’m beginning to think that you make up these rules as you go along.” —Locke (or is he Locke?) to Richard
Everyone’s had this feeling about Lost at some point, right? Well, after the season 5 finale, I don’t quite feel this way, simply because so much that we’ve seen plotted in the early seasons of the show has come full circle. That’s as far as the grand scheme of Lost is concerned: I have faith in that much. But as far as the details are concerned—how that grand scheme gets executed—that seems to be subject to a certain amount of improvisation. That’s responsible for some of Lost’s finest elements (the fact, for instance, that Michael Emerson ended up a series regular) and some of its weaker ones (the seeming dead-ends of characters like Shannon, e.g.).
Which maybe explains why this finale was at times thrilling and awesome and other times disappointing. There’s a lot of story here—and a lot of tidbits to analyze that I’m not going to take the time to learn Latin to figure out tonight. And I want to get something posted so you all can take over the discussion. So for practical purposes I’m going to divide this into Things I Liked, Things I Didn’t Like, and Things I May or May Not Have Liked But I’m Going to Have to Wait Until 2010 to Find Out.
Things I Liked: The strange, disorienting, Beckettian interchange at the beginning between Jacob and his roommate/deadly enemy, whom I will henceforth call Fred. (Though I’m not sure I like the fact of that relationship itself—more on that later.) The climactic performances of several actors who’d been featured this season, especialy Sawyer’s wrenching goodbye to Juliet and Ben’s possibly even more wrenching kiss-off to Jacob. (Who by the way is very well-kept and modern-groomed for a hundreds-year-old Island deity.)
[Update: I should probably quote part of that exchange between Jacob and Fred, because of its comment on all the Island’s guests over time: “They come, they fight, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt. It always ends the same.” “It only ends once. Anything that happens before that–it’s just progress.” This has all happened before, and it will all happen again.]
I liked, because who couldn’t, seeing Jack and Sawyer finally come bloodily to blows. But more than that, I liked seeing Rose and Bernard (and Vincent), and having them put into perspective the drama that their fellow castaways carry with them wherever they go: “We traveled 30 years back in time and you’re still finding ways to shoot each other?”
I surprisingly liked the Jacob flashbacks, even though they were of scenes and character moments we’d covered before, and even though his appearance lost its impact after so many repetitions. (His sitting reading Flannery O’Connor’s Everything That Rises Must Converge as Locke fell from a building behind him was brilliant.) Did he resurrect Locke or just wake him—and either way, given that he must have some foreknowledge about all the characters whose lives he was stepping into, did he know what “Locke” would do to him all along?
Above all, I simply enjoyed the hurtling pace and balance of stories in the first two-thirds or so of the finale. Somewhere after the first commercial break, I was struck by a simple fact: how amazing it is that a story of this scope and complexity is on commercial TV at all. Eighteen minutes into the episode, we had seen seven scenes, with seven different sets of characters, in different locations and different times—some of those times being “flashbacks” that were farther ahead in time than the “present”—and yet it all fit together and made sense.
Things I Didn’t Like: From the moment that Juliet “changed her mind” and told Sawyer that Jack needed to set off his bomb after all, something seemed off, at least about the 1977 storyline. It’s usually a bad idea to begin with whenever big decisions are made on Lost on the basis of the Jack-Kate-Sawyer love triangle. (Particularly when Jack, having just explained the urgency of getting the bomb in place like now, stops in the jungle to talk with Kate about their relation ship. Or, as my notes read: “While Kate and Jack ARE BULLS__TTING ABOUT THEIR FEELINGS, alarms go off at the Swan…”) And this bit seemed especially forced.
Why did Juliet decide that they had to go back to stop Jack, and then, just as soon, that they had to help Jack? Sawyer’s noting that her indecision seemed crazy didn’t make it any less so. Perhaps she did see how Sawyer looked at Kate and that affected her—but she was seeing, and suspecting, those glances since Freckles returned. Ultimately, it just seemed an especially transparent move to get the chess pieces into place: Sawyer, Juliet and Kate had somehow to get from the sub back to the jungle, and then Juliet had to get into the Swan pit with the bomb. It was only more distracting that Cuse and Lindelof would try to give her actions the thinnest of motivation with that generic and tacked-on-seeming flashback to her parents’ divorce. (Though I was waiting for Jacob to show up as a marriage counselor.)
From there, the denouement of the 1977 showdown was—well, not a disappointment, exactly, but awfully anticlimactic for something that ended in the detonation of a nuclear bomb. Oh, the Battle of the Swan was thrilling—probably the purest edge-of-my-seat Lost scene this season, and Phil got spiked like a cocktail weenie by a piece of rebar!
But consider what happened, in a nutshell. We were told earlier what Jack and company would try to do (detonate an H-bomb). They do it (after a fall down a gigantic rock mine shaft fails either to kill Juliet or set off the hair-trigger bomb, but a whack with a rock by a petite dying woman does the trick). Oh, also, we were told last week that Locke would kill Jacob, and that happened too. (So much for my theory that it would not be a literal murder.)
And then… we find out next year what, if anything, happened as a result.
Previous Lost seasons have ended with a few ending seconds that upended the story and changed the game for the next season. The explosion of the bomb didn’t do that—so, I guess, kudos at least for subverting that expectation.
Of course, the episode’s other climax did include quite the switcheroo, so that brings us to…
Things I May or May Not Have Liked But I’m Going to Have to Wait Until 2010 to Find Out. So what is Locke now? Is he Fred? If so, how long has he been Fred? And maybe more important, how long has he been aware that he has been Fred? (Fred/Locke, note, appears to have access to all of actual living Locke’s memories.) Has he known, all this season as we cheered him on, that he was actually the avatar of some grudge-holding Island being?
If so, this raises some implications that I’ll get into in a minute. But first: the Jacob-Fred rivalry itself. What worries me is the possibility that, having invested ourselves for five years in the stories of the Oceanic castaways and the various rivalries—our heroes, the Others, Dharma, Ben, Widmore—that in fact, this entire time, we have been watching a show about someone else’s conflict? That conflict being between two characters we have met for the first time at the end of the next-to-last season?
I mean, it may be a tremendously cool story. It may involve philosophy and intellectual history and the Egyptian Gods and Latin. But that doesn’t mean I can get emotionally invested in it. But this is too dependent on how it plays out to pass judgment on. Hence we throw it in the wait-for-2010 pile.
Let’s geek out instead for a minute on what it means—or may mean—that Locke’s body was in the casket all the time and that Locke’s death was evidently a means for Fred to find his “loophole.” (Which was what, by the way? That Fred would have to become the Leader to kill Jacob? Or to find him? That he would have to corporeally assume another identity to kill Jacob? Or simply that he would have to find another person to do the deed? Oh, and do these “rules” have anything to do with the ones Ben says Widmore broke?)
The reason Locke/Fred is the now the leader is contingent on beliefs that Richard has held for decades about Locke’s specialness, which were planted in his head by Locke himself—or, it now apparently turns out, by Fred himself. It was a post-“resurrection” Locke who gives Richard the compass and instructs Richard as to how to receive him in the future. [Update: Corrected—as pointed out in the comments, Locke gave Richard the compass before leaving the Island and dying. Or “dying.” Or whatever. Update 2: Correction re-uncorrected, as the post-res Locke give the compass to Richard, with instructions to give it to pre-res Locke… and to tell him he must die. I think. I’m tired. Let’s hope this is my last update.] If that was all an elaborate ruse, from the very start of this season, I have to admit it was a cool one. (Though—again put this on the 2010 pile—is it worth it at the cost of Terry O’Quinn playing Lost’s final season as a villain?)
But if that was Fred’s game, what was Jacob’s? Why was he visiting the central characters at various formative stages of their lives? (And how explicitly was he guiding them? In some cases, as with Kate and Sawyer, he seem to simply be there to bestow a blessing or “give a little push,” as with Jack and the Apollo bar; with Hurley, he gave word-for-word instructions; with Sayid, he pulled a look-over-there stunt to get Nadia killed by a car—and, presumably, to turn Sayid into a murderer for the man who would murder him.) Why, again, would he visit Locke, if Locke would later become the vessel for his murderer–and yet also summon Ilana? What’s his connection with the Shadow of the Statue people? Is everything still unfolding according to his plan, or was his plan thwarted?
[Shrugs.] I got nothing. That’s what you’re here for. That’s what the eight long months until Lost returns one last time is for. Now for a brief hail of electromagnetically-hurled bullets:
* We now know how Pierre/Marvin lost his arm. Forgive my poor memory and fogginess, but did Radzinsky survive the Incident? Things were not looking good for him, but presumably (at east in the old timeline) he had to live to end up in the hatch with Clancy Brown.
* “Well, it’s a wonderful foot, Richard, but what does it have to do with Jacob?” Funny line. But if Locke is at this point Fred–and is aware of it–then wouldn’t he know that already? (Or does he need to hide that knowledge?)
* Am I correct to assume that any of the various languages I could not identify this episode were Latin?
* “He isn’t there. Hasn’t been there for a long time. Somebody else has been using it.” This is probably one of those lines that is far more significant than I realize. How long has it been since Jacob has been away from the cabin? Can we still assume it was Jacob Locke saw in the cabin in 2004?
* “Has it occured to any of you that perhaps your little buddy is going to cause the thing he’s trying to prevent? … I’m glad you’ve all thought this through.” Thank you, Miles. Though again, the fact that he vocalizes this objection doesn’t make it any less of an objection. This occurred to no one? Really?
* I did not call the metal box as holding Locke’s body, but Mrs. Tuned In did, nearly from the second it appeared. You?
* The name of the title story in that O’Connor book Jacob was reading, Everything That Rises Must Converge, is–this was way back in my mind from a misspent undergrad lit degree–taken from the work of Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. But I don’t know enough about his work to relate it to the episode, or to Jacob. I’ll let the Internet do that.
* I’m glad to see Frank back: “In my experience, the people who go out of their way to tell you they’re the good guys are the bad guys.” Especially meaningful given his “experience” with the Freighties. But back to him and the SoTS people: What the hell is a “Candidate”? The same as a “Leader”? I can only imagine what the flowchart of all the various groups on this show will look like after the series finale.
* Nice small ending touch: the black-on-white, as opposed to white-on-black, LOST after the nuclear explosion.
* During that lovely little scene with Bernard and Rose, I had the sad, sinking feeling that this would be the last time we see them. I have no particular knowledge and I hope I’m wrong, but the scene had the feeling of a farewell.
* Finally, even though he’s become a much more dramatic character and suffered a terrible loss this finale, it’s good to see Sawyer can still bring the funny: “This don’t look like LAX.” No, it don’t. I can’t wait to see where this plane lands.
[All right, I’m sure I’ve skipped over many important revelations and clues, but I need some sleep, I’m over 2000 words and I want to give you a crack at this. I may add more in the comments tomorrow—and, I’m sure, correct numerous errors in my hastily banged-out writeup. For now, have at it.]