'Lost': Jacob explains 'What They Died For' to the remaining Lostaways

lost-desmond-hurley.jpgOften times, when you reach the second-to-last episode of either a season or a series, what you expect and what you get are often at odds. What you expect are events to ramp up to near claustrophobic proportions, and what you usually get is an hour-long stall. Tonight's episode of " Lost" triumphantly avoided this trap, ramping things up for the epic finale while also providing an hour of television that was meaty, emotional, and shockingly funny. Yes, funny.

Between the end of "The Candidate" and the solemn "Across the Sea," I felt like we'd seen the day that the "Lost" laughter died. Well, no need to say goodbye to Miss Craphole Island Pie, since the show brought the laughs at a faster clip than perhaps any other episode all season. These weren't funny ha-ha jokes with punch lines, but organic statements made by characters reacting as best they could to ridiculous circumstances. Look, I talk about "Lost" a lot, especially this past season. Often times, I talk to people who have never seen an episode of the show. And most of the time, they look at me in the same way that Sayid and Kate looked at Desmond in the back of Ana Lucia's police van. Sometimes, you have to realize this stuff is ridiculous when discussed rationally. At that point, you can either throw your hands up in the air and sigh, or throw your hands up in the air and laugh.

But it wasn't simple laughter: often, the humor either illuminated character or served to disarm the audience for the events to come. Sure, it's amusing to watch Sideways Ben try to make a citizen's arrest on the Scottish Teflon that is Sideways Des, but that humor gave way to shocking violence, which in turn led to Ben's breakthrough toward remembering the Island timeline. Those moments of humor make these characters believable, and draw us into the action. Too much of "Across the Sea" demanded a step back from the elements onscreen, almost pushing us back rather than inviting us in. Tonight? I found myself consistently leaning forward to watch what was going on this week. And I probably didn't lean any further forward than during what will probably be THE scene everyone will want to talk about this week: Jacob's Fireside Chat.

Jacob's Fireside Chat is the type of scene often hinted at in the penultimate episode, only to be teased out and held off until the finale. But in typical "Lost" fashion, the show played against audience expectation and dropped it into tonight's episode. And learning this would be Jacob's final moments on the show makes sense. As we were watching the episode tonight, The Chicago Tribune's Maureen Ryan made a good point to me: His absence from the show's finale makes for a fitting bookend, with the show ending with the core characters who have been there from the beginning. (Yes, The Man in Black will still be there, but wearing an all-too-familiar face.)

In his last hour, with the final fire of his ashes burning dimly, Jacob gathers the final four candidates together and confirms that their flawed nature made them all ideal candidates. They were chosen as reflections of his imperfect self, with Kate's name only crossed off the wall when she had something to lose (Aaron). Not only did I love that explanation, but I loved Jacob's assertion that a simple line of chalk doesn't define Kate's worth. To me, that says volumes about the arbitrary limitations that the characters on the show have abided by for so long: candidacy, infection, rules ... all things imposed not by divine power or mystical wizardry but by a person placing limits upon himself or herself. Also, anything that asserts Kate's importance in-show works for me. I'm not a Kate hater as much as I often hate what the writers assign Kate to do. Asserting her worth onscreen before the finale worked wonders for me.

That Jack actually assumed Jacob's place shocked me. That Jacob's theme played over Jack's face as he drank from The Cup Of Protection thrilled me. But that event did blow a hole in the side of my boat, the S.S. Theory, which has asserted throughout the course of Season 6 that Jacob's endgame was NOT to find an heir to the throne but to find someone willing to torch the throne altogether. If Jack just takes the next shift of Smokey Watch, then I'm not sure, to quote the episode title, "What They Died For" was actually enough. If we end, as many of you have speculated, with the final scene of the show being Jack/Smocke re-enacting the opening scenes of "The Incident," then I might leave the show with a sour taste in my mouth. (And yes, Jack has the delicate hands of a surgeon, but I'm not sure he'd make a very good weaver. But I do like that the cave is like the lighthouse: You only see it when you need to see it. Otherwise, it's invisible, not unlike Clay Aiken watching you in your room.)

Smocke, for his part, spent the hour trying to outdo Jack Bauer, taking down all who would stand in his way. Zoe? Bye bye. Richard? So long. Widmore? Well, Ben did manage to take care of Widmore, beating Smocke to the punch and getting some revenge for Alex, buried under the ground of New Otherton. Being unable to kill the remaining candidates himself, he then asked Ben to kill them on his behalf. Ben agrees, a bit too willingly, and part of me thinks he killed Widmore as much to start a long con on Smocke as to exact personal revenge. (I expect that Ben will factor into Smocke's demise, even at the expense of his own life to do so, in the finale.) It's hard to root AGAINST Widmore's execution, although I will say 1) given the history between these two, I wanted more Ben/Charles than what we got, and 2) I'm not sure I'm buying Widmore's story about Jacob sending Charles to the Island. I hope, but don't expect, the finale to confirm the real reason Charles brought Des to the Island.

Speaking of Des, as both I and many of you speculated after "Across the Sea," Widmore's Microwave of Mayhem experiment in "Happily Ever After" was related to the energy inside The Glowing Cave of All That's Inside of Us. Smocke seems delighted that Desmond has escaped the well with Sayid's help, noting that Widmore's failsafe will help him "destroy the Island." That sounds ... cheerful. OK, show, I'll bite: HOW will Desmond destroy the Island? Or, put another way: What happens if Des goes into the cave? If that destroys the Island, and that's something Smocke wants, what does that say about the show's first shocking image this season: The Island underwater in the sideways world?

Over in said sideways world, Desmond is cooking with gas. Dude's on FIYAH. What first seemed like a series of wake-up calls affected by hunch more than forethought has now turned into a well-oiled machine of kickass-itude. Calling Jack with a false promise of Christian's body? Cold as ice. Turning himself into Sawyer to be locked up with Sayid and Kate? Covered in awesome sauce. Knowing this would lead to Ana Lucia driving the van, coupled with Hurley's riches providing a getaway car and bribe money? So clever that Heath Ledger's Joker is marveling at the planning.

But all of this leads to one of the most important questions of the finale: what happens when everyone in the sideways world fully "wakes up"? It's all well and good to steer everyone toward a gala concert with potentially all major players attending. But what then? A support group for those who remember another existence? A talk about old times and then a continuation of the norm? A flash of white light and then ... nothing? All options are on the table here at this point. (If I had to hazard a guess as to where Hurley is taking Sayid, I'd say it would have something to do with a certain spoiled blonde. Look, if Ana Lucia and Danielle made it back to the show, so can Shannon at this point, yes?)

However, it's worth looking a little more closely at an element in the sideways world that polarized fans when first deployed but now deserves close consideration: Jack's sideways son, David. Of all the differences between the characters in the Island world and sideways world, he's the biggest one, the "Where's Waldo?" of this world (albeit if Waldo took up a third of the page.) It's interesting to note that in the Island timeline, Jack is now Jacob's heir, and in the sideways timeline, he has a son whose love is almost TOO perfect at this point.

Now, I'm not suggesting something like "The Man in Black = David," since I think that's too lame by half. (C'mon, David suddenly turning evil and cackling when Jack turns his back in Hour 2 of the finale?) But it's interesting to see how each person's life in the sideways world is designed to keep people from actually having a chance to recognize the possibility of another existence. Jack has a son, Kate's on the run, Hurley has his money, Sayid travels to avoid the pain of seeing Nadia, Sawyer still has his Cooper obsession ... so on and so forth. And just when Ben gets his wake-up call, a distraction in the form of Danielle Rousseau appears to give him pause.

After all, it's pretty easy for Desmond to get Kate and Sayid to tag along with his insane machinations. If it's between a cocktail dress and a re-enactment of a late '70s women's prison movie, Kate's going to choose the dress. (It's as much of a "choice" as the last time she was offered a dress by Tom Friendly on Hydra Island.) But getting a major player like Ben to go along when, seemingly for the first time in his adult life, he has a chance at the type of family he could never have -- well, that's far more difficult. Giving these characters true stakes in the sideways universe makes it compelling, and will provide some dramatic choices in the show's finale. If that world were pure misery, then the choice would be easy for them. If that world were too perfect, then the choice would be too easy for us, the audience. Instead, the sideways world is messy and unpredictable. In other words, it's real, which makes trying to analyze its relationship to the Island timeline immensely difficult.

But this difficulty is a good thing, y'all. If the choice were clear-cut, across the board, for every "Lost" fan, then the show wouldn't be doing its job. Obviously we all come to the show with our own perspectives and insights, but it's clear from recapping and blogging about the show that there are a myriad of ways in which fans have interpreted the relationship between these two universes. Some watch Ben Linus choke up while watching Alex do her homework and see a man overcome by love. Others watch that same scene and see a man overcome by loss. I think both interpretations are at this time equally true, which makes such a scene so potent.

But come this Sunday, we're going to finally get an answer as to the meaning of this sideways world. Desmond's Angels are banding together. Locke has agreed to let Jack fix him. The noose is tightening ever more. What will happen when it's finally pulled completely taut? It's unclear. But we only have five days left to learn the answer. Five days that will seem both too short and too long. Be sure to check out Zap2it's Guide to Lost between then and now for far more analysis of this episode: We'll have audio, video, and a bevy of links to the treasure trove of "Lost" material that we've built up over the years.

It only ends once. But it hasn't ended yet. Stick around for a bit longer.

What are your thoughts going into the final? Nervous in a good way? A bad way? What's Ben's real agenda in working with Smocke? Did Richard deserve to go out like Ilana and Lapidus? Is Jack's role truly to take over for Jacob? Leave your thoughts below!



Ryan writes about "Lost" over at Zap2it's Guide to Lost. He invites you to join the hundreds already in Zap2It's Guide to Lost Facebook group. He also encourages you to subscribe to the Zap2It's Guide to Lost Twitter feed and Zap2it's main feed for all the latest TV, movie and celebrity news.

Photo credit: ABC