*Major spoilers for every broadcast season of Lost follow.*
At the end of last nights Lost season finale, the screen whited out, in contrast to the usual cut to black, suggesting perhaps that the show has been turned on its head. That maybe our heroes really did change the past. At the same time, the episode affirmed some of this seasons most controversial proclamations. For starters: dead, apparently, really is dead, as Ben said several episodes ago. John is dead; the Locke who killed Jacob (!), we dramatically discovered, isnt our loveable box factory hero.
(Who the hell he is, we dont know exactly. In typical Lost fashion, our questions were answered with many more questions.) Sayid is (probably) dead. Faradaysorry kids!is definitely dead. But the big question is: did whatever happened still happen? Is whats done really done? This doesnt look like LAX, Sawyer quipped at the scene of the infamous Incident, as electromagnetism sucked up every piece of nearby metal. But after Juliet exploded a nuclear warhead, by smashing it good with a rock, well have to wait for 2010 before we know for sure. It was an anticlimaxalbeit a titillating onein a season characterized by them.
Bad things happened after the Oceanic Six left the island at the end of season four, we were told, implying that they had to go back to stop them. What was it, a war? No, just some Billy Pilgrim-esque time jumping that did everyone but Daniel a favor by killing Charlotte. Once the O-6 got back to the Islandwhich took, like, foreverlittle happened for a long time, even though magic had brought them 30 years into the past, to 1977. Jack brooded. Kate wrecked homes. Hurley wrote The Empire Strikes Back. Sayid was the only one who did anything. He shot a prepubescent Ben and disappeared into the jungle. The bad thingsthe fatal, uncontrollable time trippingstopped as soon as John left the island by setting the donkey wheel back on its axis, years before our heroes returned. It had nothing to do with the Oceanic Six.
The time travel conceit was a clever move, offering the audience the opportunity to visit important moments along the Islands timeline without plodding scenes of declarative expositionthe kind we would otherwise get whenever (the elderly) Eloise Hawking was on screen. We actually got to see the Othersthe ageless Richard, the swashbuckling Charles, the sporty Eloisein different eras, to see the statue before it was more than just a foot, to see Montand lose his arm, to see Rousseau kill Robert, to see the Dharma Initiative in action. But the time travel depended on constant motion; staying too long in Dharma times proved problematic.
Losts writers have a knack for fashioning characters and building backstory, for dramatically working through fundamental philosophical problems (this seasons was about free will vs. hard determinism), and for creating an addictive and coherent mythology. Theyre great with beginning and end games (see: every seasons premiere and finale), but theyre weak with middles. Just as season two stalled with our characters trapped in cages, and season three only picked up as it approached its final episodeone of the best in the mediums historyso too did season five become mired once its time hopping jammed. Though the show has been moving more smoothly overall since the producers settled with the network on a firm end date for the series, the middle of season five still often felt like it was stalling for time; the characters were as stuck in time as theyd been in those damn Dharma cages. It only ends once, Jacob told us last night, reclining in the shadow of the statue. Everything that happens before thats just progress. As in progression. Bland progression.
So, lets just get it out right now: holy shit! Jacob! Last night we met the oft-referenced but never seen head of the Island, who it turns out has been following our heroes around from childhood to present day: he gave LaFleur the pen to write his Sawyer letter, he woke Locke up from his paralyzing fall, he gave Jack a candy bar (Apollo, natch) after the dural sac incident, he watched Sun and Jin get married, he convinced Hurley to get on the Ajira flight. As Lost episodes go, this one was particularly nostalgic; it felt almost like a series finale, another possible clue that the game might really have changed. Not only were we lead through major incidents (the episode was titled The Incident for more than one reason) in Lost history with Jacob as our tourguidesort of like Nikki and Paolo in the over-criticized Expose episode, but on a grander scalebut the episode made copious allusions to the past and even tied up a few loose ends, an exceeding rarity on Lost. We revisited the old beach camp, where Sun found Charlies Drive Shaft ring, left long ago for baby Aaron. SomeoneJuliet, of all peopledropped a shaming live together, die alone. But, biggest of all, we found Rose and mountain man Bernard, long presumed dead but in fact taking care of Vincent and hiding out in the jungle, laying low, enjoying the beach. Its always something with you people, Rose told our stressed-out castaways, and she had a point. Couldnt Sawyer and Juliet have just stayed on that sub?
But The Incident was all about split-ups: Jack and Kate, Sayid and Nadia, Juliet's parents, Juliet and Sawyer, Jacob and Ben. The episodes key line came from Juliet: "If I never meet you, then I never have to lose you." Lost got down on some Eternal Sunshine shit last night: Better never to have loved at all than ever to have loved and — wait for it — lost.