Jeff Jensen, an EW senior writer, has been despondent since the cancellation of ''Twin Peaks''
They're back. Back where they belong. Back where we want them to be. Nearly 21 months after Jack first bellowed ''We have to go back!'', the Oceanic 6 (minus Aaron, and don't ask why, or else Kate won't kiss you) finally undertook the perilous journey back to the place they never should have left — back to The Island, back to their ''mythic estate,'' to borrow a phrase from James Joyce's Ulysses, which last night's episode had the audacity to namedrop. For now, we only know of three who successfully fell to Earth — all the way to The Island's Dharma Initiative past, no less. There's Jack, blinking awake as he did in Lost's very first episode, this time looking not hopelessly lost, but gloriously born again. There's Kate, whose motivations for making the return trip were deliberately kept from us (all the better for a future flashback episode, my dears). And there's Hurley, whose carry-on baggage included a new comic book (one of my all time favorites, Y: The Last Man, written by Brian K. Vaughan, who also happens to be Lost producer) and a guitar case — a token of Charlie, required to complete the set of symbolic talismans needed to conjure some portal-opening magic. (I think.)
As for the fates of Ben, Sayid, Sun, and pilot Frank Lapidus — not to mention John Locke's corpse and those two mystery characters haunting business class like ghosts (more later) — I'm sure they'll turn up soon. I'm banking on all of them (not Locke, natch) being the Mystery Rafters who were using the castaways beach camp and then later fired on Sawyer's outrigger a few episodes ago during one of the Left Behinders time flash adventures. (The proof: Sawyer and co. found an Ajira Airways bottle in one of the boats.) And how about this for a crazy theory: Remember back in Season 3, when the Others made Kate and Sawyer do hard labor on Hydra Station Island? According to Lost lore, the thing that they were helping to build…was an airplane runway. So…what if instead of getting magically downloaded out of the sky by The Island like Jack, Kate and Hurley, Ben's Ajira contingent merely landed safely on that runway? What if the very reason that Ben wanted to build that runway was because somehow (Jacob? Time loop? Precognitive powers?), he knew that one day he would need it?!
It was certainly an episode explicit and implicit with deep thoughts and wild possibilities, but they were all in service of an ironic mission: Bringing Lost back down to terra firma after five episodes of challenging, far-out time-travel storytelling. ''316'' — that was the title, and for many more reasons than one — was a proverbial pilot episode for a whole new chapter of the show. It effectively returned the series to a place where all fans — the in-too-deep geeks like me who want meaty mythological disclosures, as well as the normal people who just want powerful, character-driven stories — can find some common-ground appreciation. By reuniting the castaways in the setting we all know and love, and by conspicuously omitting key details from various character arcs (Why did Hurley change his mind? Who was that woman with Sayid? How did Ben get roughed up?) that will surely require some traditional flashback storytelling in order to fully reveal, Lost's time-traveling, time-looping, Back to the Future fifth season has now gone all Season 1 on us.
The Conversion of St. Jack
Jack has always been the Man of Science to Locke's Man of Faith. At times, he even persecuted Locke for his crazy and, yes, dangerous yearnings, not unlike the way he tried to bite off Ms. Hawking's head last night by declaring that all of this talk of Corpse Locke being a Christ-like ''proxy'' or ''substitute'' for Dead Dad was just really rather ridiculous. But nobody bites Ms. Hawking's head off. ''Oh, stop thinking how ridiculous it is,'' she scolded, ''and start asking yourself if you believe if it's going to work. That's why it's called a leap of faith, Jack.''
But last night, Doc Shepherd switched teams, convinced by a confluence of coincidence (Kate wants to come back, too? And Hurley and Sayid are on the plane, too?! And freakin' Frank Lapidus is flying the damn thing?!?!?!) and a suicide note from Locke that nailed him with the soul rattling force of a Biblical epistle: I wish you had believed me. It seemed to me that in that moment, as he read those words, something changed in Jack — and that's when The Island struck like rapture. When Jack woke up in the jungle, the note had been ripped, the message abbreviated to just I wish — the language of magic that had come true; the language of a man willing to look for answers beyond himself or his authority. No longer was Jack the Doubting Thomas of the Caravaggio painting in Ms. Hawking's church. He had undergone what they call a ''Pauline'' conversion — named after the former persecutor of Christ, Saul, who beheld a vision of Jesus on the road to Damascus, became a believer, and renamed himself Paul — and I'd love to note that my most favorite painting in the world, ''The Conversion On The Road To Damascus,'' is also by Caravaggio. (Sorry to make it all about me.)
So back to Ms. Hawking and her ''leap of faith'' phrase, which colored the whole episode, from Jack and co. launching into the skies in hopes of sailing through Ms. Hawking's theoretical windows (or would that be ''wrinkles in time''), or Jack honoring Kate's insistence on mystery about Aaron's whereabouts and being rewarded with maybe the hottest kiss this series has ever seen. The term ''leap of faith'' comes to us via the episode's hidden egghead: the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard, whose great intellectual project was reconciling existential experience with an abiding belief in God. Kierkegaard resolved this paradox — this ''concept of dread'' — by actually embracing it with another concept, the ''knight of faith,'' which he articulated in book called Fear and Trembling. The knight's valor isn't measured by unwavering conviction, says old Soren, but by his humble commitment to the never-ending chumbawumba of falling down and getting back up, falling down and getting back up.
''One need not look at them when they are up in the air, but only the instant they touch or have touched the ground…To transform the leap of life into a walk, that only the knight of faith can do — and this is the one and only prodigy.''
We've seen this interlocking dynamic of brokenness and resiliency in John Locke's story. And I should note that interestingly enough, Kierkegaard wrote Fear and Trembling using a pseudonym: Johannes de Silentio. Which means ''John the Silent.'' You know, just like John Locke in this entire episode. Congratulations, Man of Faith. You won the argument without speaking — or breathing — a word.
And with that, Jack was reactivated, jumping into the water (baptism!) to save Hurley, tending to Kate with his healing touch — just as he did in the pilot, but happier. Bye bye, Mopey Bearded Loser. Hello, Hero….
Unless, of course, Jack is just one big sucker. To wit:
You are getting very sleepy...You will believe any crazy story that the creepy old lady last tells you....
As you may or may not know, James Joyce's Ulysses — a day-in-the-life saga about two very complicated Irishmen, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Daedalus — communes deeply and ironically with Homer's Odyssey, which, if you recall, tells the epic saga of what happened to the Greek hero Odysseus (or ''Ulysses'' in the Latin) on his way home after the battle of Troy. Odysseus was the guy who came up with that sneakiest of sneak attacks, The Trojan Horse.
Yes, Odysseus/Ulysses was a very crafty guy. But our old friend Dante — the Italian poet whose notion of Purgatory has spawned many a Lost theory — took a very dim view of this ''hero:'' He saw the guy's mad pursuit of adventure at the expense of his family and marriage as a gross perversion of human reason and therefore a bad influence on impressionable minds. As a result, Dante assigned cunning/ambitious Odysseus/Ulysses to the eighth circle of his Inferno, one reserved for — get this — ''false counselors.''
Now, we can certainly tar Ben with this brush. After all, we saw him reading the book. And Ms. Hawking did confirm that Ben was a liar, liar, pants on fire. But what of Ms. Hawking herself? How much should we really trust this woman and her crazy story about the true nature of The Island? Desmond certainly isn't what you would call a big fan: ''These people are just using us! They are playing some kind of game and we are just the pieces!'' And then he stormed out, though not before being warned by Ms. Hawking: ''The Island isn't done with you yet, Desmond.''
I have to wonder if Desmond might be right in questioning Ms. Hawking's sincerity. His evocative, huffy blast suggests a big picture theory which deserves to be conceived and written at another time. For now, let us note that the clues Lost gave us last night invite suspicion of Ms. Hawking. Consider where she hangs out. On the surface: Church. Underneath it all: A secret laboratory called The Lamp-Post, which is a reference to the street lamp that lights the way into Narnia in The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. So far, the iconography seems pure and clean, righteous, orthodox….
Except that there's a giant pendulum swinging through this subterranean lair, marking up a map on the floor with a giant, star-like asterisk, indicating the location of The Island. Ms. Hawking repeatedly refers to the creator of her particular pendulum as ''this very clever fellow.'' (A mystery for another day — but my money is on either Dr. Pierre Chang or Ms. Hawking's time-traveling son, Daniel Faraday.) But generally, the instrument is called a Foucault's Pendulum — and Umberto Eco's classic novel Foucault's Pendulum is about a literary hoax that not only gets mistaken for historical fact, but blooms into a full-on dangerous cult. That's a huge load of ironic, heretical irreverence to have swinging through the basement/subtext of a church. Was Lost trying to counterbalance its exultation of faith by suggesting that organized religion (and especially Christianity) is just one big monolithic crock — a misunderstanding, deception, or even conspiracy that took on a life of its own? Or was Lost going after something less cosmic: Might these be clues meant to suggest that not all is what it seems, that perhaps the castaways are being led astray by ''false counselors'' pushing unspoken, possibly nefarious agendas?
The two very different interpretations of the episode title further feed this debate. ''316'' refers literally to the number of the flight that carried the Oceanic 6 back to The island. But ''316'' could be also be an allusion to John 3:16, Christianity's lynchpin verse: For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life. But ''316'' could refer to the sacred text of Lost itself. In the world of television, every episode is assigned a number. Last night's episode, for example, was number 506, or Season 5, Episode 6. Do you know what episode 316 of Lost was? It was the Juliet-centric Season 3 classic ''One of Them,'' that had a flashback story all about how the brilliant fertility doctor came to The Island, and a present-day Island story about how Juliet saved Claire from a mystery illness, thus earning the former Other acceptance in to the castaway camp. But in truth, it was all an elaborate ruse, hatched by Ben and executed by Juliet, playing the role of fraudulent advisor and Trojan Horse. Is Ms. Hawking and/or Ben setting up our castaways for a similar double-cross?
I must admit my new bias about Ms. Hawking. My romantic affection for her has bit the dust, in large part due to Fionnula Flanagan's arch portrayal. It was hard to take her seriously — which was a problem for the episode, given that she may have been supplying us with some monumentally legitimate intel: How The Island, like The Lamp-Post, sits on a pocket of ''unique electromagnetic energy,'' and that all these pockets are connected. The mystery engineer behind The Lamp-Post was particularly interested in finding The Island. Problem: For some reason, The Island keeps moving. ''Why do you think you were never rescued,'' Ms. Hawking said. The only way of hopping aboard, she explained, is to anticipate where and when it will manifest in space-time and then travel through one of its windows.
Look, I'm all for the weird stuff. But as I listened to Ms. Hawking's hammy elocution, even I found myself rolling my eyes. (A model for what she should have aspired to: Michael Emerson's understated yet delicately embellished line readings of Ben's rumination on the Apostle Thomas. Suggested world of theory.) Still, performance aside, this business of ''unique pockets'' of ''connected'' energy- rooted in New Age mysticism and occult-oriented exotica — intersects again with Foucault's Pendulum. The first three pages of Eco's novel are a brief survey of various prominent Lost/Island theories. The narrator beholds the swinging pendulum and ruminates on how it might draw a path linking Atlantis, the lost continent of Mu, from Agartha, the mythic (and hollow) center the world, to Ayres Rock, a natural formation in the Australian outback of mythological significance to the Aborigines. It was also the place where Rose and Bernard sought the faith healer in their only flashback episode, ''S.O.S.,'' which I'm convinced probably explains everything and anything we need to know about Lost.
Equally incredible was Ms. Hawking's insistence that the Oceanic 6 somehow replicate as best as possible the exact conditions of the original Oceanic 815 flight that led them to The Island. I enjoyed the parlor game of figuring out who brought what — not to mention who played what part. Dead John Locke was cast as Jack's Dead Dad. Hurley carried aboard the spirit of Charlie, but it was Ben who actually replicated the late-boarding drama that attended Hurley when he had to hustle his bustle to make the Oceanic 815 flight. And then there was Sayid, playing the part of Kate's fugitive, accompanied by what appeared to be a law enforcement agent. (Say hello to the mysterious Ilana, played by Zuliekha Robinson, who joined the cast in this episode. Ditto to Saïd Taghmaoui, the intense looking dude who eavesdropped on Jack making travel arrangements for Locke's body and expressed his condolences.)
The Exorcism of Jack Shephard
The scene in the butcher shop, with Jack shodding Dead Locke with his father's shoes, saw our not-yet-saved hero taking some bitter potshots at his old Island nemesis. ''Wherever you are, John, you must be laughing your ass off that I'm even doing this,'' Jack sniped. Actually, probably not. That doesn't strike me as Locke's style — but it does strike me as something Christian would have done during his drunken, Jack-hectoring daze, burdening his son with an albatross of father issues. We saw Jack's father demons rear their ugly head to destructive effect last year, ruining his chance at happiness with Kate, and those demons needed to be exorcised. So Locke played the role of meat locker punching bag, too, taking all of Jack's nasty hits. Fun Fact! There was a Twilight Zone episode called ''Dead Man's Shoes.'' It was about a bum who dons a pair of shoes lifted from a mob-hit victim and then takes on the persona of the dead man and seeks vengeance. There was also a movie called ''Dead Man's Shoes,'' a horror film about vengeful victims who become monsters in the process. Imaginary friends are also involved.
That bit of business about Jack's grandfather…
Interrupting Jack's exit from reality was a phone call from a nursing home: Apparently, his grandfather, Ray, has been trying to do some escaping of his own. Poignancy ensued. But here's a crazy Doc Jensen thought: Even though Christian Shephard wasn't physically in the room, his presence was felt via the conversation between the generations and yes, the shoes. In other words, what we had here was a grandfather and a pair of doctors. A grandfather…and a pair of docs. Grandfather…paradox. Hey! Grandfather Paradox! The theory that it's impossible to go back in time and kill your gramps before he has a chance to sire your father because then your father couldn't sire you so that you could grow up and kill your grandfather. ''Grandfather Paradox'' was first articulated in a French novel called The Imprudent Traveler (which sounds like it could apply to runaway grandpa who doesn't know what's best for him), although the book has also been published with the title Future Times Three. Grandfather Paradox is often used to argue against the whole idea of changing the past via time travel. But other theories have been postulated to rebut this rebuttal, including Navikovian Self Consistency Principle, better known on Lost as ''course correction.
Whatever. My big theory?
Grandpa Ray really isn't Jack's Grandpa.
Older. Wiser. Off The Island. And here, at this moment in his history, he's helping his younger self along his path of destiny by giving him what he most needs: His father's shoes.
What Ulysses Means
But for me, the most provocative moment of the episode came aboard the plane, when Jack and Ben had the following exchange:
JACK: ''How can you read?''
BEN: ''My mother taught me.''
Ben was lying, of course. We know from ''The Man Behind the Curtain'' that Ben's mother died during childbirth. He saw a vision of her on The Island, during his hard Dharma adolescence, when the only parenting he got was neglect and abuse from his sad, heartbroken father. When Ben saw his mother, all he wanted to do was run away with her…whatever she was. But she said ''No. Not yet.'' So...when?
Ulysses suggests an answer. To be clear, there were several moments in ''316'' when the story mirrored Joyce's book, much in the same way Joyce's novel mirrored Homer's epic poem. For example, the scene with Kate in bed lost in thought, then greedily kissing Jack, echoes the final chapter of Ulysses, Molly Bloom lies in bed, lost in thought, and chooses her haunted husband hero (read: Jack) over the studly beefcake (read: Sawyer). Another parallel: At one point, Molly's husband, Leopold Bloom, finds himself traveling in a carriage as part of a funeral procession. He is familiar with almost everyone, except one mysterious figure, which the narrative makes a point of doting upon, even though his identity is never resolved. Shades of: The castaways in their own corpse-hauling carriage, Ajira Airlines Flight 316, complete with mystery characters to be revealed later. Maybe.
But why is Ben reading Ulysses? Well, even though he might identify with Bloom, who also is grieving the loss of a child, my bet is that he identifies most with the book's other major character, Stephen Daedalus. For starters, there's the last name. ''Daedalus'' means ''cunning worker.'' That fits. And in Greek mythology, Daedalus is the famous dad whose ambitious machinations get his son, Icarus, killed. (See: Ben and Alex.) He is also renowned for building the labyrinth — part maze, part prison.
Moreover, like Ben, Stephen Daedalus is also deeply marked by the memory of his dead mother. On her deathbed, Mom wanted Stephen to pray for her; Stephen, who considers God nothing more than a ''shout in the street,'' refuses. Now he regrets it.
In the second chapter of Ulysses, Stephen gets one of the book's most famous lines: ''History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.'' He goes on to express sympathies for those figures on history whose lives and glorious potential have been ''ousted from possibility.'' Yet he seems to hold out hope that these stories somehow still exist, 'lodged in the room of infinite possibilities.''
What does Ben want?
He's trying to change time in such a way that will dramatically alter the nightmare of his personal history — and allow his mother to live.
Who knows? Maybe in the rebooted world Ben wants, his mother will teach him how to read.
Whatever happened with Aaron may have involved some of the other Oceanic 6 — or perhaps in the course of her day away from Jack, she learned some crucial intel on everyone's motivations. That's my explanation for her line on the plane: ''Just because we're on the same plane doesn't mean we're together….''
When Ben told Jack he was going to attend to an errand — a promise to an old friend — I think what he meant was that he was going to go kill Penelope, per his pledge to Widmore. But clearly, something either went horribly wrong or horribly right, judging from all that blood that was covering Ben.
JILL THE BUTCHER
I get a Juliet vibe off her. What do you think? Also, I noticed her shop was called ''Simon's Butcher.'' Which reminds me of my favorite Paul Simon lyric: ''Faith! Faith is an island in the setting sun/But proof! Proof is the bottom line for everyone.''
THE SIGNIFICANCE OF BEN'S THOMAS THE APOSTLE SPEECH
Ben seemed to have someone in mind when he was ruminating on poor, misunderstood Thomas. Who?
She said that unless the circumstances of the original flight were replicated perfectly, ''The result would be unpredictable.'' What did you make of that?
Sorry for the delay on posting this, folks. I was up all night with both some sick children, as well as this noodle-cooker. To make it up to you, I have something cool: An easter egg of exclusive Lost content — an interview with Lost exec producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, discussing this season's creative direction and a hint of how next week's episode fits into the master plan of the season. Start looking for this bonus bunch of fun in our message boards around 4 PM Eastern Time. If you like, and you think it's cool, we'll see about doing more each week.