SPOILER ALERT: Before you read this post, grab your things—here, take this backpack—and watch last night’s Lost.
While Lost was airing on the East Coast last night, I was at the Time 100 gala at the Time Warner Center, seated between Rachael Ray and Lost producer Carlton Cuse. (Through dinner, Cuse was getting text updates from the high school baseball game his son was pitching. They won.)
Just after 10 p.m., I got a text from Mrs. Tuned In at home:
Lost was amazing
I showed it to Cuse, who smiled and said cryptically that big things were happening on the episode, things that might upset some fans but that were necessary to show the stakes now that the series was four episodes away from ending. “Nobody is safe,” he said.
Down on the Jazz at Lincoln Center stage, Prince was about to play a set, but part of me just wanted to rush home and watch “The Candidate.” Mrs. Tuned In, as she usually is, was right.
Lost was amazing last night—and heartbreaking, and horrifying, and breathtaking, and in some ways maddening—in an episode that advanced the endgame plot, gave Matthew Fox a potential Emmy clip, and took away some of the characters we’ve loved since the series began.
It can be easy, watching a show like Lost—especially one with so many resurrections and fake-out “deaths”—to be lulled into the sense that certain characters are simply unkillable because they’re too important. In a way, “The Candidate” meta-referenced that feeling. When Sawyer told Widmore he didn’t believe he would actually kill Kate, he had to be speaking in part for us, if for different reasons: he can’t kill her because she’s Evangeline Lilly! The bomb can’t go off, because the show would be over! (Wouldn’t it?) Even Lapides—seemingly residing in Davy Jones’ locker now—seemed to be bulletproof: they have to keep him around to fly the plane, right?
Apparently not. The most important thing about “The Candidate” was not that the deaths for their own sake, but they did serve an important function. They showed—like Keamy’s sudden execution of Alex did in a different way—that Lost is willing to pull the trigger.
But that would mean nothing if the show were not also still able to pull our heartstrings. Sun and Jin’s deaths, after a pulse-pounding, claustrophobic rescue attempt in the sinking submarine, were wrenching but, more important, ultimately true to their characters. I did wonder, as a parent, why Sun would not ask Jin to swim to safety for the sake of Ji Yeon. But it makes sense to me that he wouldn’t be able to leave her. They’ve been separated for three years and finally, briefly, brought back together.
Deciding whether to stay with Sun or leave for their baby’s sake would have been agonizing, and I think the scene would have been stronger to show him wrestling with it. But ultimately it makes sense—for Jin—knowing that his child is being cared for, that he could not leave Sun to drown alone. And an excellent performance by Yunjin Kim, who managed to convey not just her fear of dying, but the deeper sorrow that what she had fought so hard to get—a future with her family—is being stolen from her. She made me feel not just the horror of her death, but worse, the aching loss of the long lives she and Jin should have had.
[A general principle, by the way, about scenes like this, before this devolves into an argument about parenting. To me, as a father, it seems natural and automatic that two parents would, however painful it was, try to make sure that one of them survived for their daughter. But that's me, and I'm suspicious of anyone who claims that they know how every parent would behave in a certain situation—there is no "every parent," there is no "every person"—or who plays the "you can't understand until you have kids" card. People respond differently facing death, and while I may think I know what I would have done in that situation, I also think it would be arrogant to claim that I know what I would have done until I've actually stared down death.]
With all this going on, Sayid’s self-sacrifice—which could have been a pivotal moment by itself—was overshadowed and comparatively sudden, but I was glad to see that he had the chance to make one last, autonomous decision to do the right thing. It’s important to remember that Sayid, as sympathetic as he is, was not exactly a good guy even before he took his Magic Smokey Bath: extenuating circumstances or not, he’s done some awful things. He’s been a character who’s teetered between good and bad, manipulated by others to compromise himself. Whether it was the urgency of the moment or that conversation back at the well with Desmond, it was satisfying that he got one moment to decide, of his own volition, that however badly he wanted to see Nadia alive again, he was no longer going to be somebody’s hit man.
Meanwhile, “The Candidate,” between the flash-sideways and the events on the sub, deftly swung Jack back to being the sympathetic protagonist for the series’ ending. Jack has often been a hard character to like—high-handed and stubborn—and I’ve admired both Lost and Fox for being willing to make him hard to like. But this new Jack, both on the Island and in the flash-sideways, has seemed finally to internalize his experience and become better for it.
First we had the Jack who wanted to fix everything and knew what was best for everyone; then we had the Jack who, for much of this season, seemed to drop out and passively put himself in the hands of others. Now Jack is accepting responsibility, but he’s also humbled, and Fox communicated that ably in his double-shot of final scenes, talking to Sideways Locke about learning to let go, and breaking down on the beach as he realizes that his friends are dead because he’s been conned by Smokey.
At the TIME dinner last night, after I showed Cuse Mrs. Tuned In’s text and told her about it, she texted back, jokingly, that I should tell Cuse she was now too distraught to go to bed. Everything we saw last night, he said, was setting the series up to resolve itself by focusing on the characters, in a way that feels earned. “Tell her it’ll be all right,” he said.
I’m taking his word for it. But I don’t assume that means we’re going to get all happy endings. Sob.
Now a quick hail of bullets:
* One other tidbit I got from Cuse, but which had broken elsewhere by the time I left the TIME 100: Cuselof got ABC to wrench 30 minutes from the affiliates, and the May 23 finale will now be 2 1/2, count them 2 1/2, hours long.
* I’m treating Lapidus as dead, but I’m willing to hear arguments to the contrary. If he is, though, that would seem to put the plane as well as the sub out of commission. Is there any way off this rock now?
* The opening Sideways scene seemed to reveal the title “The Candidate” as a misdirection, referring to Sideways Locke, but what about Sayid’s last words: “It’s going to be you, Jack.” What does Sayid know?
* After the hints I’d gotten, I watched the episode expecting to see someone buy it, but early on, I ewas expecting it to be Claire. I’m glad it wasn’t, because to have her die after being left behind one last time would, in its way, have been even more horrible than Sun and Jin’s death. They at least died feeling loved; after all those years on the island with Squirrel Baby, I didn’t want Claire’s last feeling to be abandonment.
* As for Locke/Smokey, there’s been a lot of debate about this, but the episode, and Cuselof’s interview with Doc Jensen, seem to leave little doubt that he’s an actual bad guy. Right?
* Speaking of which, Locke’s con regarding the plane, the sub and the C4 took me by surprise, but I’m left with a question. His con depends in part on the argument that Widmore wanted them to take the plane, or else it wouldn’t have been so lightly guarded. This was all a ruse, yes—but then why did Widmore leave the plane so lightly guarded?
* For all the deaths in the episode, the moment that crystallized for me the fact that things are getting real here was when Hurley, our designated cheerleader, started sobbing. Hurley’s had dramatic moments before, but—and I may be recalling this wrong—I don’t think we saw him weep that unrestrainedly even when Libby died. That may have been the most unsettling moment of all.
* This post is running too late for me to go back and look for all of them, but “The Candidate” was full of greatest-hits callbacks to Lost episodes past: “I wish you’d believed me,” the button, the polar-bear cages and so on. Any other noteworthy ones?