Yesterday I wrote a long post on the status of answers in Lost‘s endgame for my own blog, so I’m a bit tuckered out from Lost blogging. Even though this week’s episode regained the momentum and structure of the sixth season, with the requisite character developments, plot twists, and sideways enigmas, I found it less compelling for critical commentary than last week’s wholly atypical episode. Not that “What They Died For” was unenjoyable or lacking in what I was looking for in the penultimate episode of the series, but I’m far less moved to criticism than earlier in the season.
The episode featured a number of excellent character moments, with each of the three (arguably) most central characters making a crucial choice that will undoubtedly set-up their fates for the finale. Jack’s long arc as hero came to fruition as he volunteered to take over Jacob’s role as island protector – while Jack has rarely been my favorite character, he has emerged in season six as a compelling central protagonist. I’m not going to claim that there was a master arc in place for Jack throughout the entire run, but looking back, it’s pretty impressive how he’s developed from arrogant surgeon trying to take control and fix everything, to a crushed addict struggling to find meaning, to a passive follower looking for a leader, and finally to a man of faith taking responsibility for himself and his community without being motivated by ego or proving himself. Given that he was initially slated to die in the pilot, Jack has surprisingly reinvented the hero figure for a serialized story.
On the other side of the moral compass, Ben chose to embrace his villainy once again. I think his crucial moment came in finding Alex’s grave and then seeing Widmore – for him, the title “What They Died For” refers to his daughter, reminding him of his vendetta against Widmore and his lack of other commitments or allegiances (nicely offset by his sideways bonding with Alex and Danielle). He has always been a follower of whomever can grant him the most power, and clearly siding with Locke appears to be his best bargain. Having Bad Ben back just feels right – but we well know that he could switch sides at a moment’s notice if Jack or another leader makes him a better bargain. Ben’s move shooting Widmore just before a possible moment of plot explication is classic Lost, reminiscent of Charlie gunning down Ethan way back in the first season – we can mark it down as probably the last death of a character who seemed destined to be in play later in the game.
And in the sideways story, Locke makes the choice he’s been flirting with since “LA X”: to let Jack fix him, played perfectly by Terry O’Quinn. We’re still unsure what the significance of this choice might be, as Jack and Locke seem like the two characters least able to cut through their fog to see their island lives. Perhaps it will take an intimate moment with Jack’s hands on Locke’s dural sac to awaken them both, but their mutual realization seems to be a key climax on the horizon. We still don’t know enough about the sideways timeline to know the broader significance of Locke’s choice, but it feels equally as weighty as Jack and Ben choosing sides on the island for Locke to let go of his guilt – and possibly his delusion of happiness in a fake world.
This episode was previewed in LA over the weekend for a live audience, and the scuttlebutt coming out of the crowd was that the deep mythology of “Across the Sea” pays off somewhat this week. Certainly Jacob’s explanation of both his ancient mistake and his quest to find candidates to overcome their flaws and choose the mantle of protector resonated with what we learned of his origin story. I was a bit disappointed that Jacob told Kate that her name being crossed out was his choice due to his respecting her motherhood, especially as I’m holding out hope that Kate plays a key role in the narrative to help counter some of the gender critiques I discussed last week.
I had theorized that the cave of chalk names had actually been the MiB’s lair to track Jacob’s choices, but now I think I had it reversed – the more scientifically-minded Smokey seems like the likely owner of the lighthouse, using technology to track Jacob’s candidates and their off-island lives, while Jacob preferred the low-tech chalk. Thus back in “Lighthouse,” Jacob’s manipulations to get Jack to destroy the mirror seems more calculated as a ploy to wipe-out Smokey’s scientific surveillance. Whether this really matters, I’m not quite sure.
In the end, the two candidate lists come to matter little, as what’s most important is that Jack chose to take the job (albeit with a highly abridged job description) as Jacob anointed him “like me.” While many fans have feared that this season would be reduced to the dueling whims of two island gods we’d never met before “The Incident,” clearly the finale is set-up to elevate the stakes of the core conflict established in season 1: Jack versus Locke, but now with each granted supernatural abilities. Thus while we might ultimately see the battle of the gods in the finale, at least they are earthly gods we know well.
Random favorite fanboy moment: Desmond’s manic maneuverings in the sideways timeline remain mystifying, but quite enjoyable as he gets the band back together to set-up his master plan, with an assist from Hurley in a van (alas, not a VW) and a corrupt Ana-Lucia. Is the culminating concert David’s piano recital or the Widmore party? Only a five-day wait to see – and thus next week will feature a Lost Monday!