HOLY SHIT A STRAIGHT ANSWER TO A MAJOR MYSTERY. And hints to the answers to a bunch more? This is what season six should have been like all along! As fulfilling as last night’s episode was, it also put into stark terms what’s been wrong with the show since, at least, "What Kate Does".
Lost’s early seasons are notorious for having been padded: it wasn’t easy filling 24 episodes with cliffhanger serial storytelling and flashbacked backstories. So the producers got it down to 17 or so. But the writers still don’t have enough material to fill that many hours. How else to explain all the thumb-twiddling at the Temple? All the time wasting on dramatically vacant alternate universes? With few exceptions, season six was maddening throughout February and March, as the writers struggled to devise new time-buying techniques, squandering the excitement and benefit of the doubt fans had been willing to give them early on.
We put up with such stalling tactics in earlier seasons (reluctantly, even then) because, way back then, it still seemed like every minor clue was another small piece in a larger puzzle, one that would be awesome as its form was fully revealed. But season six got off to such a bumpy start; it seemed like hardly anything would come to make sense. In a public appearance reported on by the Washington Post, the producers implied a lot of the beguiling mysteries of Lost had just been filler. “We're big fans of the show Top Chef,” Damon Lindelof said. "Those guys all run through Whole Foods and they have to pull all of this stuff down—they have to get stuff they might not use in the dish. When they get to the kitchen, they have to decide whether or not they're going to use it. Our process is kind of the same.”
Carlton Cuse added: “There's a lot of little questions that unfortunately we just don't have time to answer in the amount of time that we have left.”
Whose fault is that?
The two left me, and many other long time fans I’m sure, feeling abandoned, desperate and depressed: a lot like Richard, ca. “Dr. Linus,” feeling like we’d devoted our lives (er, time) to a man (er, two men) who ensured us they had a plan, and then revealed that, you know what? Maybe they didn’t after all.
Libby was a prime example: back near the end of season two, a (shocking!) twist revealed that she’d been a patient at the mental institution with Hurley. But such a mystery—or, say, whatever happened to Lil’ Ben’s little girlfriend Annie, who the producers once claimed would be a “huge part” the show—now seemed too long ago to Darlton, too trivial to wrap up in the limited time remaining.
Last night’s episode (with its hilarious opening) was titled “Everybody Loves Hugo,” and that’s true: he’s perhaps the show’s most popular, or at least uncontroversial, character, often serving as an audience surrogate with his sarcastic skepticism. But it’s also true that everybody [I’ve talked to lately about Lost] loves Libby, and to have abandoned her storyline so clumsily was just one more way the show had seemed to have let down its longtime fans—one more thing whose import it had asked us to believe in, only to reveal later it didn't really matter.
So what did last night's episode prove? That Darlton finally understood that? That they had just been bluffing? Not only did last night’s episode bring Libby back—and allow Cynthia Watros to join the ever-growing ranks of this season’s acting masters—but it imbued her return with a poignancy to match a Desmond and Penny reunion. After this and last week's mini-masterpiece, Lost is finally back on track, narratively and emotionally. Whatever the reason, it looks like the producers really do have a plan, even if they couldn't make it clear for several weeks. They're starting to buckle down.
Part of the buckling down process means reducing the clutter, getting rid of some of the extraneous elements. So, Ilana, sounding downright Shepherdian last night in her misguided certainty, was kaboomed out of the show. And Ben made some darkly philosophical comments that implied many more deaths were to come. Just to show he was serious, that nobody's safe, the show blew up The Black Rock, an Island icon since season one. Oh, and Desmond “fell” down a (the?) well, though it seems unlikely that we’ve seen the last of him, particularly since, in Reality X, he has become a cosmic matchmaker and the official Locke slayer.
If anybody seems primed to die, it’s Hurley, many of whose loose ends got tied up last night: he had his beach date with Libby (OMG I’m gonna bawl!!!); he forgave Michael while solving the mystery of the whispers (which, while a cornily unsatisfying answer, was at least an answer!); and he found his leadership bonafides. I have a feeling they might blow up in his face (as a figure of speech, R.I.P. Ilana), perhaps in the process even convincing Jack—who has, momentarily at least, made peace with being a follower—that his true calling is To Lead, to become Jack(ob). Locke blew up a submarine once, which Hurley's Black Rock immolation was clearly meant to evoke. And remember how things turned out for Locke?
Once again, we’ll just waiting and see. But at least now we can do so with the kind of excitement that animated us throughout earlier seasons. Lost is moving into its endgame. And if there’s one thing at which it’s always been good, it’s endings.