By Jeff Jensen
Two, two, two shows in one! The two-hour season premiere of Lost, with its dual tracks of parallel world yarns, was a twin-patty, double-pounder factory burger of story, slathered with saucy ideas, drippy with messy emotions, and chewy with mystery meat. It was a delicious meal for this ravenous eight months-starved Lost fan, and while it wasn't easy to digest (check that: I'm still digesting it), I felt properly served. Where to start? Should I sketch how the premiere was an elaborate metaphorical rumination on the afterlife? Should I be a good host and first introduce our newcomers, Mr. ''I hate the taste of English on my tongue'' Dogen (The Twilight Samurai's Hiroyuki Sanada), the crankypants master of the Island's spiritual heart, the Temple, and his scruffy-hippy sidekick/mouthpiece Lennon (Deadwood's John Hawkes)? Should we just begin with the beginning and deconstruct the brief yet deceptively dense teaser sequence, with Jack's cryptic shaving nick, his déjà vu-suffused encounter with Desmond Hume, and that wayyy cool-or-wayyy fake (debate!) f/x shot of a sunken Island? Maybe I should curb the geek stuff and dote on the rich emotional content and the plethora of poignant character moments — Sawyer's grief and rage over Juliet's death, Locke's shame and pain about his wheelchair, Rose and Bernard's gooey canoodling. (If it wasn't for a certain hobbity rocker hogging the airplane craphole with his dope-swallowing suicide attempt, I think the Mile High Club would have two new members today.) Then again, how could I not start by shouting HOLY FREAKING MOLY! over the revelation/confirmation that Fake John Locke = Man In Black = The Smoke Monster?!? ''I'm sorry you had to see me like that'' = greatest Lost line ever? And good lord, how satanically scary was Terry O'Quinn with those furious eyes and disquietingly ironic grins? Finally, I can relate with dastardly Benjamin Linus: I was totally bug-eyed terrified by that man/thing/demon/whatever. But let's not resort to name-calling...
Okay, time to choose and I say let's start with... none of those options! Because I think we need to spend a few minutes wrapping our minds around the season's high concept storytelling conceit, which the producers are calling ''flash-sideways.'' The premiere presented us with ''a separate reality,'' to borrow the title of the Carlos Castaneda book Lost name-dropped last season, a world where Oceanic 815 never crashed and the Island rests at the bottom of the Pacific, the cabins of Dharmaville and the Four Toed Statue now a sprawling industrial park for carp. Was there a Dharma logo branded on that shark? Help me out, readers, because I couldn't quite tell.
The introduction of this perplexing new world was preceded by a lengthy recap of the season 5 finale cliffhanger, culminating with Juliet's attempt to detonate a bomb called Jughead with a rock. The time-traveling castaways' intention was to reboot their post-Oceanic 815 lives. They wanted to prevent the Hatch (aka the Swan) from being built, thus preventing the plane from being tractor beamed out of the sky by Death Star Island. They also wanted no memory of their ordeal or each other, no memory of what they had gained or lost during their odyssey together. Lost encouraged us to believe they had gotten their wish. But why did Jack only get one secret bottle of booze from Cindy instead of two? Why was Desmond Hume on the plane? Why was Shannon absent? Why did Hurley consider himself the world's luckiest man instead of its most cursed? We had been trained last season to think that only everything after that point of the crash would be different. But in this world, the pre-Oceanic 815 timeline is subtly and radically different, too.
Last season also wanted us to think that the castaways were facing a choice between reboot or death. While we didn't fall for that bogus distinction, there were some of us (or just me) that then assumed season 6 could only really be about a reboot. Which genuinely interested me, provided somehow, someway the characters could retain the memories of their Island ordeal. I wanted continuity with past. Clean slate castaways would have negated our investment in their redemption. Well, I got what I asked for, but in a way I wasn't expecting. Namely: Lost's other ''other world,'' one where the castaways stuck in 1977 — Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Hurley, Jin, Miles, Sayid and Juliet — were brought back to the Island present of 2007 by means of... what? Time travel hot flash? (That was Jin's theory.) The course correcting work of paradox-policing fate? The will of now-dead Island deity Jacob?
A fair number of you found all this rather confusing. I know this because I saw the Tweets flood my Twitter feed as the episode aired. You have questions. Did the time-traveling castaways create this world? What was the significance of Jack's troubling déjà vu? Is there a relationship between this world and the Island world that keeps continuity with the past five seasons of the show? The good news I have for you today is that Lost exec producers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have valuable intel to share with you to help your reading of the show. You can check out our Q&A with them if you haven't already. But the main ideas are these: (1) You are not as confused as you think. The questions you are asking are questions you should be asking. (2) You will get answers to these questions — but patience will be required. (3) The temptation will be to dismiss the sideways story as ''What if...?'' trivia, but we should trust that we're being shown this story for a reason, and so we should take the leap of investing in its reality. Interesting: Last night's first of two conspicuous literary references was Salman Rushdie's fantasy Haroun and the Sea of Stories. Its famous line? ''What's the use of stories that aren't even true?'' The premiere's second conspicuous reference? Philosopher Soren Kierkegaard's Fear and Trembling, which challenges true believers to embrace the absurdity of faith. Combined, both books send this message to us: This absurd sideways thing has a purpose. It is ''useful.'' Promise. Have faith. Just go with it...
And so the very existence of this world is a mystery to be solved. Should we speculate answers? Should we look to Gottfried Leibniz's theory of ''the best of all possible worlds'' or Hugh Everett's ''many worlds'' theory of quantum mechanics or David Lewis' theory of ''modal realism'' for insight? Should we be wondering if the sideways world characters are stuck in a time loop that they are obligated to fulfill in order to create their branch of reality? Or are they not bound by such strict causal logic? Yes, we could speculate/investigate/drive-ourselves-mad-with-more-time-travel-loopyness... but I'm going to take the producers on their word
Before we move on, this thought. Throughout the episode, there was a recurring theme of death and what happens next. ''When I die, what do you think will happen to me?'' asked Sayid to Hurley. Convinced of his own evil because of his days as a torturer and assassin, Sayid concluded: ''Wherever I'm going... it will be very unpleasant.'' There was also Dying Juliet's epiphany ''It worked'' — as if she had glimpsed some divine metaphysical truth on her way up and out. We also got a honking huge Egyptian ankh, a symbol for eternal life. To my eyes, the premiere, entitled ''LA X,'' was filled with metaphors for afterlife possibilities, beginning with that bravura f/x shot taking us to the sunken Island — a figurative descent into the underworld, to a veritable city of the dead. The Sideways story line represented old, pagan ideas of reincarnation. The Island story line, with its deus ex machina plucked characters: the Christian rapture. Their story was two-thirds Dantesque, with the castaways moving out from the Inferno-ish pit of the hellish Swan crater to the surreal limbo of the Temple. (Finally! Purgatory theory is correct!) The title of the episode held the promise of heaven. ''LA X'' — a reference to the airport in the City of Angels, although the intentional space between the A and the X creates new possibilities of meaning. The most reasonable interpretation: that something is just... a little... off, yet profoundly so, about the Sideways reality...
But I can't resist the Paradiso. Dante's vision of heaven is comprised of nine spheres. After moving beyond the ninth sphere, which is the home to angels (city of angels?), Dante finally gets to the Empyrean, where all living souls become interconnected (cue Charlie: ''You All Everybody'') to form a giant cosmic rose. But before becoming part of the rose, Dante meets with... Bernard. Seriously. St. Bernard. And you know what St. Bernard does? He brings Dante face to face with the ultimate man behind the curtain. And you know what God gives Dante? That's right: Answers. Answers to the biggest questions of human existence. Some answers make sense; some are so beyond Dante's comprehension that they defy explanation. But Dante doesn't care. His journey has ended, and there is the happily ever after in the company of the ''You All Everybody'' of countless souls across infinite worlds.
Welcome to the heaven of season 6. Welcome to the promise of answers. Welcome to the promise of something better than answers — a mind-blowing, emotionally galvanizing story. I'll be your Virgil, the naked guy from Totally Lost. I promise you epic digressions, forced pop culture references, ridiculously pretentious and quasi-intellectual thinking. Come for the potential of clarity; stay for the entertaining incoherency. I love you all, and am grateful for your indulgence and readership, and I am already grieving the reality of letting go of... this... whatever this is... come May. But for now, let us heed the words of the prophet, the little prince himself: Let's Go Crazy.
+++ THE SIDEWAYS WORLD
AN UNCOUNTABLE INFINITY OF DONKEYS
Or: THIS TIME, BERNARD WAS RIGHT!
Being an analysis of the Sideways World story line. David Lewis — from whom the ''donkeys'' was lifted — will again be cited, but without any helpful context. This essay will not track deviations in the seating chart of Oceanic 815 or nitpick the fact that the actors look older than they did in 2004. The author gets that everyone ages. Except for Richard Alpert.
Who was this Sideways Jack Shephard that we met last night? There were a few fleeting moments when it seemed like even he didn't know the answer. We met him looking... lost. I wondered if Jack's 1977 Jughead-displaced mind had suddenly settled into his 2004 Oceanic-flying body, producing profound disorientation — just like Desmond's experience of consciousness transfer time travel in season 3's ''Flashes Before Your Eyes.'' When the first blast of turbulence hit, Jack was again gripped by foreboding. The thought balloon above his head: This has happened before. I think...
Enter Rose, and another deviation from what we've previously seen. In the pilot, after the first shock of turbulence, Jack told Rose, ''It's normal.'' But it was vice versa in the Sideways World. The rest of the exchange played similar. ROSE: ''My husband says planes want to stay in the air.'' JACK: ''Your husband sounds like a very smart man.'' Then, the big one hit. Massive turbulence. Jack's eyes popped. Some dread imported from another place and time flooded him. Thought balloon: SOMETHING REALLY BAD IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN... and then it didn't. Jack was petrified. He couldn't unclench from the armrest. Enter Rose again, soothing his tortured soul as Beatrice did to Dante: ''It's okay. You can let go now.'' Rose words seemed to fan away the fear choking his mind — a kinder, gentler form of that old ''Count to five'' thought-tool his father had taught him. Rose's line also knowingly flicked at Jack's defining issue: he's the fixer junkie, the guy who's good at commitment, but lousy at ''letting go'' — of his pain, of his past, of his father issues, of his tendency to blink really fast when he gets flustered, etc. I wondered: Do the same issues dog Sideways Jack? How similar is his redemption arc to his Island doppelgänger?
Then Jack went to the bathroom to collect himself, and Lost paid tribute to the late Michael Jackson.
I'm starting with the man in the mirror/
I'm asking him to change his ways/
And no message could have been any clearer.
If you wanna make the world a better place/
Just blow up a bomb and reboot time and space!
''Man In The Mirror,'' reimagined by Jack Shepherd
This was an odd bit of business. Inside the airplane's john, Jack looked at himself in the mirror and took a deep breath... and then detected a mysterious cut on his neck. He gave his reflected twin an incredulous stare — How did that get there? — and applied the reckless shaver's torn tissue fix. By this time in the Sideways we had passed beyond the point of the crash and into uncharted territory. Still, the episode continued to mirror the established Lost narrative. Jack's nicked neck RX was analog to pilot's ''physician, heal thyself'' moment when Jack excused himself to the jungle of Craphole Island to patch up the ugly gash on his side. One wonders if the entire season 6 side ways story line will model the general thematic thrust of the castaway story, but with different incidents and events — a gritty, more down-to-earth version of the mythic, larger-than-life Island epic, like how Dorothy's adventure in Oz was a fantastical extrapolation of her life in Kansas. Lost also loves its Alice in Wonderland references, and so we recall that Lewis Carroll's sequel to Alice's Adventures In Wonderland was entitled Through The Looking Glass, which begins with Alice gazing into a mirror and wondering if it could be portal into a topsy-turvy Otherworld. The book itself is a cracked mirror reflection of the previous book — the same story in essence, sharing similar if not identical themes, just rendered with different incident and detail.
Still, what did Jack's secret slice really mean? An abrasion on the skin is literally a flaw in continuity; perhaps it's a cue to us (and Jack) to be actively questioning the integrity of this world. Or maybe it speaks to the possibility that this is a new kind of Jack, one who can take a hard look at himself and make healing changes. The truth is that Jack's bloody little crack, I saw/projected an array of ideas that could speak meaningfully into the Lost story. The Double Slit Experiment, the foundation of ''many worlds'' quantum physics. ''The Incredulous Stare'' rejection of David Lewis' modal realism. ''The Nick In Time,'' a sci-fi novel in which the hero traverses parallel realities to correct time travel chaos. ''Nick In Time,'' the classic Twilight Zone episode starring William Shatner, and its equally classic unofficial Shatner-starring sequel, ''Nightmare At 20,000 Feet,'' in which a fragile man named Wilson becomes convinced there's a monster (!) on his plane. But more on all (debatable) relevancy of all this in next week's Doc Jensen.
''Joe had been explaining things in the meantime. He said it was again the beginning of the unfinished, the re-discovery of the familiar, the re-experience of the already suffered, the fresh-forgetting of the unremembered. Hell goes round and round. In shape it is circular and by nature it is interminable, repetitive and very nearly unbearable.''
A deleted passage from The Third Policeman
Desmond Hume reads the darndest books. When we first met him in season 2, the moony marooner ran off into the jungle carrying a copy of The Third Policeman, a perversely playful work with a twisted plot that mirrors the most despairing of Lost theories: that our fallen castaways are stuck in an eternal cycle of damnation, their looping hell managed by morally ambiguous enforcers. (See above passage.) In ''LA X,'' Desmond was reading Rushdie's Haroun And The Sea of Stories. Like Policeman, Haroun functions as commentary and critique on storytelling, but otherwise couldn't be more different. The plot concerns a boy who all but curses his father in a moment of despair by saying, cynically, ''What's the use of stories that aren't even true?'' As a consequence, the father becomes heartbroken, and loses his storytelling mojo. Haroun then embarks on a fantastic adventure to save the enchanted ''Ocean of the Steam of Story'' from villains who would corrupt it. By taking that journey and saving that enchanted place, Haroun restores his father's life and power by giving him the tale of his own adventure, which, when told, rouses a hopeless town to rebel against exploitive, oppressive forces. What might Haroun have to say to us about season 6? Mostly, I'm thinking of Jack and his relationship to his father. But more than anything, I'm fascinated by Desmond's progression from the surreal cynicism of Policeman to the redemptive fable of Haroun. I've certainly seen a lot of Policeman in Lost. In season 6, perhaps we'll see more Haroun.
I thought you said you'd see me in another life? Some ''bruthuh'' you are!
When Jack returned to his seat and saw Desmond ''The Man Who Wasn't There (On The Plane The First Time Around)'' Hume, the Sideways' scope of differentiation became clear. Jack was certain he had run into this Scottish fellow before, and in another life, he had — once before the Island ordeal, when they met while separately running stairs at a stadium, and then again, and more improbably, on the Island. This scene was very valuable in suggesting more reasonable readings of Jack's disorientation. Sideways Jack's I-know-you-from-somewhere confusion could have been due to a similar stadium run-in with Sideways Desmond. And while we're being all super-realistic with stuff, it could very well be that Jack's scattered mind throughout the entire opening sequence had to do with his emotional trek to retrieve his father's dead body and the funeral that was just hours away.
But where did Desmond go? Later, when Jack returned to his seat from saving Charlie from a bag of heroin, Desmond had vanished. There's probably a reasonable explanation for this, too. (That Jack was creepy. I'm going back to my other chair next to the snoring guy.) Still, I did have the thought that Desmond could be flickering in and out of this world, like Pariah in Crisis on Infinite Earths. And if that reference lost you, just pretend it didn't. Maybe there's something not quite ''set'' about the Sideways reality, that it's still in flux, and Desmond is an element moving in and out of the mix, like a supplementary story line to an epic film that may or may not make the final cut depending on the director's vision. You know, like the Avatar sex scene.
Speaking elliptically of missing sex: Not a hint of angst or anxiety in Desmond, which made me wonder: Where's Penelope? Besides being on FlashForward, I mean. In the Island World, Desmond traveled to Australia a couple years earlier to enter a sailing race (sponsored by Charles Widmore) with the hopes of earning honor in Widmore's eyes. Perhaps in the Sideways World, Desmond stayed Down Under. Perhaps in the Sideways World, he found a reason to stay there. Perhaps in the Sideways World, that reason was a woman, maybe the same one he got that sailboat from: Libby. (And here comes the hate tweets from the Penmond set...)
Question: What sunk the Island?
Possible Answer: Jughead.
Does That Make Sense? I'm not sure. If the bomb was powerful enough to sink the Island, wouldn't it also have obliterated the Dharma Barracks, which we saw were still intact?
Question: So if not Jughead... what sunk the Island?
Possible Answer: The Island's electromagnetic energy.
Huh? In all my theorizing about Jughead since last May, I have pretty much neglected this pretty huge plot point. The Dharma Initiative was dealing with another crisis that had nothing to do with the time travelers or Jughead. Radzinsky's ''Black Swan'' team has been drilling into the Island's pocket of electromagnetic energy. Doing so risked cataclysmic consequences, according to Dr. Chang. What if in the Sideways world, Radzinsky continued drilling, hit the EM pocket, and triggered a cataclysm that sunk the Island. Where do the castaways fit into this theory? They don't. Or won't. I mean they don't have to, because this scenario doesn't need them. The sideways world could have branched off from Island world many years earlier. It may not even be a branch at all. But I promised not go down this confusing road this week, didn't I?
Hey Doc! There were other characters in the Sideways Storyline besides Jack, Rose, Bernard and Desmond! How about some quick hot love for them?
ISLAND WORLD: On the run for murdering her lecherous father, Kate was finally captured by U.S. marshal Edward Mars in Sydney and was being brought back to the United States to stand trial.
SIDEWAYS WORLD: At LAX tried to use a pen swiped from Jack during their airplane lavatory run-in to spring her cuffs and escape. The lock-pick plan didn't work, but she got her getaway, anyway, by bashing Ed's head with a bathroom stall door and then again against a sink. She swiped his gun and then carjacked a cab that already has a passenger: Claire. Claire! Back in the fold! Is Sideways Claire pregnant with Aaron? TBD.
ISLAND WORLD: He considered himself cursed by the lotto numbers that had made him a fortune. He went to Australia to seek out a man who had been similarly cursed by those devilish digits.
SIDEWAYS WORLD: He considers himself the luckiest man in the world. He's also leveraged his fortune to buy the Mr. Cluck's fast food chain, which apparently now has a strong Australian marketing bent.
ISLAND WORLD: A con man who had taken the monicker of another criminal who had scammed his mother and father, precipitating their murder-suicide, Sawyer went down under to avenge his parents by murdering his namesake. He killed someone — but it was the wrong man. Sawyer then got drunk in a bar with Jack's father, Christian. He was booted out of Australia, and he crashed on the Island a sullen, ruined man.
SIDEWAYS WORLD: The Sawyer we met on the plane was by no means sullen or seemingly ruined. He radiated sexy rakish charm and a breezy ease about himself. Not to sound all man-crushish about this, but... well, why not? It was pretty electrifying to see him in hot rogue mode again; it really made you appreciate Josh Holloway's evolving performance over the years. His ears pricked when he heard Hurley talking about winning the lotto. Did he decide in that moment to target Hurley for his next long con? You could almost see the plan blooming in his eyes. Later, at the airport, he shared an elevator with Kate and helped her escape. It was only mildly hot for me, because I really can't allow myself to see Sawyer with anyone else than Juliet in any possible world. In fact, I like to think that this not-a-care-in-the-world Sawyer isn't some scheming con man at all, but rather owes his lightness to being a well-adjusted, law-abiding young man with a serious girlfriend in Miami. In some possible world, this surely must be true. Why not this one? But time will tell.
JIN AND SUN
ISLAND WORLD: The husband and wife boarded the plane in Sydney with separate agendas. Jin had to deliver a watch for his mobster boss and father-in-law, Mr. Paik. Sun, who was coming off an affair that ended tragically, had learned English and had just nixed a plan to leave Jin at the Sydney airport after finding reason to hope their marriage could still work. What she didn't know was how much she was truly in synch with Jin. His plan: deliver the watch, the run away from his awful life with Sun.
SIDEWAYS WORLD: After a full season apart, separated by space and time, Jin and Sun were finally reunited... if not in the way we were expecting or wanting. Like Kate, we don't yet know the true extent of the deviations from the Island World continuity, if any. Sun radiated romantic yearning as she watched Rose and Bernard get lovey-dovey on the plane. Jin radiated uptight patriarchal jerk as he ordered her to button up her blouse. At the airport, Jin got stuck at customs as agents took particular interest in that watch. Jin said he did not know English (which was true in the Island World) and became increasingly frustrated by the agents' nosey inspection. No wonder: he also had packed bricks of American money in his luggage, too. Jin got hauled off, and Sun got pressed: Did she know English? Did she have an explanation for the undeclared cash? Cliffhanger. Theory? Jin brought the money to finance his new life with Sun in the United States.
ISLAND WORLD: The former member of Iraq's Republican guard had helped undermine a terror cell for the CIA and as a reward was given intel on the location (that would be Los Angeles) of his long lost lady love, Nadia.
SIDEWAYS WORLD: Nothing we saw suggested his story has changed.
ISLAND WORLD: Went to Sydney to go on a ''walkabout'' in the outback, but was turned away because of his wheelchair.
SIDEWAYS WORLD: Locke's arc couldn't have been more poignant. His first scene on the plane: a friendly chat with Boone (The Vampire Diaries' Ian Somerhalder, gamely returning to the role and exhibiting more charisma now than he did back in season 1), who in the Island World had been his young jungle adventure sidekick (they discovered the Hatch together), right up until the day that Locke got the young man all but killed while investigating the drug plane. Hence, the irony of Boone's line: ''If we go down in this thing, I'm sticking with you.'' Sideways Locke explained he had gone on his walkabout. Boone was impressed, though added: ''You're not puling my leg, are you?'' Locke said no. But upon landing at LAX, we saw Locked being helped into his wheelchair, and we were left to think he had been deceiving Boone all along. How dare he! What a monster! (BTW: Who was that masked man slumped against Locke? Was that... Frogurt? Hilarious!)
For me, the best scene in the Sideways arc occurred at LAX between Jack and Locke. Jack had learned the airline had lost his father's coffin. Missing — without a trace. Just like how Christian Shephard's corpse went missing from its coffin on the Island. Coincidence or synchronicity? Locke had lost something, too — his bag of hunting knives. The two men shared their respective stories, and then Locke went metaphysical on Jack. ''How could they know where he is?'' Locke asked rhetorically, referring to Christian's current coordinates in the afterlife. ''They didn't lose your father... they just lost his body.'' In the Island world, such talk might have driven man-of-science Jack into a pissy attack on Locke's mystical mumbo jumbo. But Sideways Jack received Locke's words as a kind of deep comfort — a condolence, at least, for his father grief. Touching.
And then Jack returned the grace, if somewhat awkwardly. He asked Locke how he wound up in the wheelchair. Which was amusing for two reasons. (1) For the first two and half season of Lost, Locke's defining mystery was how he wound up in the wheelchair. (2) For years on Lost, fans complained about how the castaways were never curious enough about each other to ask personal questions like this — and here was Jack, busting out with maybe the most personal of personal questions anyone could have asked anyone during the early seasons of Lost. Jack explained his intrusive curiosity by identifying himself as a spinal surgeon and offering Locke a free consult. ''My condition is irreversible,'' said Locke. Jack replied: ''Nothing's irreversible.'' Which may have been the sum-it-all-up line for an episode marked by time reboots and resurrections. But the line also flicked at Jack the Fixer, so perhaps this Sideways Jack is still hooked on hopeless cases and risky rescue missions. Or maybe not. Maybe this is a humble, balanced man who knows his limits — a fighter who knows when and how to let go. We shall see.
Locke took Jack's card, then shook his hand. Each said ''Nice to meet you'' and parted ways. I was deeply moved by watching these men — bitter adversaries in the Island world — strike up a friendship, and more, speak into each other's lives from the perspective of their respective worldviews and offer one another something they needed most in that moment: hope. It left me wondering if in this new world, they might continue to be friends and allies in their respective redemption projects. It also left me wondering if what they may gain in the process could be applied to saving and redeeming their other selves in the other world, or vise versa. That's not a pipe dream. Just ask... a boy named Haroun.*
*Season 6 Doc Jensen! New and improved with 50% more cornball!
+++ THE ISLAND
FEAR AND TREMBLING AND BALDHEADED BOGEYMEN The Island World was cinematically stunning. The scale: monstrous. The Swan crater was a picturesque wreck. I loved the overhead shots looking down on the castaways' mad scramble to dig Juliet out of the rubble. (I also couldn't help but think a little bit of the real-life images coming out of Haiti over the past several weeks.) The Temple was an appropriately mythic locale, anchored by a convincing rendering of the massive ziggurat hidden behind the outer walls. I was really struck by the lighting on the castaways within the Others' House of Healing Day Spa. Everything about this section of the story just felt big, including Dogen's oversized hourglass and Jacob's laughably large wooden ankh hidden inside Hurley's guitar case. (Mystery solved!) Why did it have to be that big? It needed to be put through a mythic talisman bit shortener. FUN FACT! Stephen King and Peter Straub's 1984 novel The Talisman is about a boy who can traverse between parallel worlds. His name? Jack Sawyer.
In some ways the Island World story line is easier to talk about, because we don't have to strain ourselves to make distinctions between this reality and that reality and because it keeps constant with established continuity. That said, I thought the Island World story in ''LA X'' was, on its face, even weirder than the Sideways stuff. I can't imagine anyone who stopped watching after season 1 or 2 coming back to the series with this episode and not thinking, ''Temples? Magic springs? Circles of ash that keep smokey demons at bay? What the hell happened to this show?!'' (Answer: It got even more awesomer! Now go away, drop-out, this party ain't for you.)
We opened up on an iconic Lost motif: the eye pop. It was Kate, and we found her literally up a tree. (Other notable tree entries: Bernard's Island arrival in season 2 and Charlotte's Island arrival in season 4.) Kate's ears were ringing, presumably from the bomb blast. The sound effect sounded like she was hearing the jungle from underwater — and since these scenes took place immediately after the reveal of the sunken Island in the Sideways World, I wondered if the watery association was intentional. The evidence of all the blood and mud and sweat aside, I did briefly wonder if perhaps they were truly dead, if they had all become poltergeists bound to the Island and each other. Miles and Hurley could verify for us, though they might be biased. But yes, yes, let's say they're all still living in the conventional sense of the term.
Except for Juliet. While Sawyer thundered at Jack for failing to save them via atomic rebirth, Kate heard Juliet squeaking for help under the rubble of the decimated remains of the imploded Swan station. (See: Finale, season 2) Just as Jack's medical improvisation aboard Sideways Oceanic 815 evoked season 1 survival stories, the sight of the castaways working together toward a common goal evoked for me early episodes like the season 1 cave-in story ''The Moth.'' Jin got the VW bus and helped yank away the steel girder and Sawyer descended into Hades like Orpheus to rescue his Eurydice. He found Juliet barely clinging to life, still capable of cracking wise but clearly on her way out. Sawyer struggled to keep it together, sensing her slipping away but not wanting to accept it — unable to let it go. Sawyer had a savage intensity that didn't necessarily flatter some of his lines (''You got it, blondie!'' he said before indulging her request for a bloody kiss.) But her final moment was a sad, chilling fake-out. She need to tell Sawyer something important. Saywer leaned close to hear — and then she was gone. Sawyer emerged from Swan Hell carrying Juliet's body, eyes blazing mind bullets at Jack, who accepted Sawyer's withering hate as it were just punishment for failing to save his friends, and worse, generating more collateral damage in the attempt. (Later, in the Temple, Jack did the same thing, taking responsibility for Sayid's gunshot wound — too much responsibility, I thought. Is this overly penitent Jack an improvement or another misstep — an over-step, actually — in his fumbling toward redemption?)
Complicating the intensifying friction between Jack and Sawyer was Juliet's final words. Sawyer gleaned them by forcing Mikes to perform his talks-to-the-dead magic. ''It worked,'' Miles reported. Sawyer was flummoxed. What ‘worked'? Sawyer stomped away, bitter. My take on Sawyer is that he really blames himself for losing Juliet — that his little piece of heaven was rescinded because someone upstairs realized he hadn't earned it, that what in fact he deserves is (eternal) punishment. (Remember, the man was a con man — and he is a murderer.) I think maybe Sawyer betrayed as much in his later line to Kate: ''He deserves to suffer on this rock just like the rest of us.'' It was misdirected anger, but that's Sawyer all over. If he has to pay for his sins, then by golly, everyone else will, too.
The question remains: What did Juliet mean by ''It worked''? Clearly, Lost wanted us to think that Juliet was acknowledging the Sideways World. Here's just one possibility. Perhaps the Sideways World is the afterlife for these characters. Perhaps when they die, their consciousness or essence zips into their sideways doppelgänger. Perhaps what Juliet really saw as she was slipping away from the Island World was the dawning of a new life with Sawyer in the Sideways World. The show has given us precedent. I refer to season 3, ''The High Cost Of Living'' — the episode where Mr. Eko was killed by Smokey. As Eko lay dying, we were shown a sweet little bit of younger Eko walking into the sunset with his brother, Yemi. Was Eko merely flashing on a happy memory — or were we being shown Eko's afterlife destiny, i.e. his soul transmigrating back to a pivotal point in his past? In light of what we saw in the premiere, I would amend ''point in the past'' to ''the sideways world.''
One of my favorite developments in the episode was the emergence of Hurley as castaway leader in the wake of Jack's crisis of self-confidence and Sawyer's ''Don't call me boss no more'' meltdown. He was mobilized toward heroism by the specter of dead Island deity Jacob, whose ghostly threads bore no sign of Ben's stabbing. Interesting. Jacob seemed ruffled by Sayid's deteriorating state, and his pondering suggested a man trying to brainstorm a way to fix a well-laid plan that had just been blown to hell. (FYI: Sayid had been shot during the firefight with Radzinsky and Co. when he and Jack tried to escape from Dharmaville. When the castaways were uploaded to the Island, he brought the injury with him. See? You CAN take it with you!)
Jacob instructed Hurley to take Sayid to the Temple and make the other castaways go with him. Jacob also told him to bring the guitar case he had given him back in Los Angeles. Hurley decided to bite back on his incredulity and follow this dead god's orders, becoming the show's newest man of faith. And so it was fitting that upon descending into the shadowy crack in the Temple's wall, it was Hurley who found the copy of Fear and Trembling amid the remains of Montand's one-armed corpse. I have long insisted that old Soren has lived in the subtext of Lost, most recently last year in my write-up of ''316,'' and last night he clawed to the surface like a groundhog finally showing himself. Fear and Trembling is all about becoming ''a knight of faith,'' whose strength lies in the willingness to embrace the absurd. And I would say that Hurley following the will of ''carry my guitar case across space and time and down into a crack in the wall'' Jacob is pretty damn absurd. In the spirit of covering my bases on all possibilities... how many of you wondered if Jacob really wasn't Jacob, but rather Fake Locke/Man In Black/Smokey?
Correct me if I'm wrong here, folks, but I think we got some of those ''answers'' that season 6 was supposed to give us in the Temple scenes. In the tunnels, the castaways heard the Whispers, then were attacked by the Others. So just in case you stragglers weren't sure of this before, the Whispers = the Others. But perhaps a certain classification of Others, i.e. the hard-core Island mystics that hang in the spiritual heart of the Island, anchored by a ziggurat, a step pyramid more Mesopotamian than Egyptian, even though there were Egyptian hieroglyphics everywhere. I am beginning to feel Island archaeology is tangential to what the Island really is. The Island: the original and purest expression of the God idea, of God power. These ruins? The remains of those zealots who've attempted to claim, name, and tame this place over the centuries — those people the Man In Black spoke of last year: ''They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.''
Arriving at the Temple in the custody of Others goons, the castaways were greeted by Temple Master Dogen and his dark hippy lieutenant, Lennon. Dogen took a hard look at them and ordered them to be shot. Hero Hurley played the Jacob card — and his case. Dogen opened it up. Inside was the ankh. And just before I could laugh too hard at it, Dogen broke it over his knee. Turned out the wooden ankh was to Jacob what most of us normal people would call ''an envelope,'' because tucked inside was a rolled up piece of relatively modern looking paper. Written on the paper? One of his famous list of names, but we weren't allowed to see it.
Regardless, the ankh and its note served as a figurative key of entry into the Others cloistered community. Dogen and Lennon brought Sayid to a gurgling reflecting pool. The pool wasn't reflecting much last night. It was muddy, and this came as something of a disturbing shock to the Others. ''The water is not clear,'' said Lennon. Dogen tested the properties of the pool by slicing his hand and dipping into the water. Nothing happened. What was supposed to happen? Uh, healing I guess. Which is enough for me to be plenty provocative. Since season 1, we've wondered about how it was that the Island could make Locke walk or cure Rose of her cancer. We have something approaching an answer: the very water table of the Island is spiked with miracle mojo.
Dogen warned the castaways that there could be ''risks'' involved in trying to save Sayid. He turned an hourglass, and Sayid was held underwater for as long as the sand sifted. Sayid regained consciousness, then thrashed, but the Others didn't pull him out; the sand had not yet run out. So Sayid continued to thrash, the stopped, and died. And a few seconds later the hourglass had run its course. The castaways were furious. The way it looked to them, the Others had basically drowned their friend. But that's not what Dogen was trying to do; it seemed to me what needed to happen was that Sayid needed to not only be revived but stay alive for the entire course of the treatment in order for the full scope of its magic/effect to take. What is that magic/effect? And what were the ''risks'' Dogen spoke of? We may look to Benjamin Linus for some illumination. Last year, after Sayid shot Young Ben, Richard Alpert brought the boy into the Temple for healing. We may now surmise that what happened to Sayid was what happened to Ben, albeit more successfully. But what did Alpert say? ''He'll forget this ever happened, and his innocence will be gone.'' The bottom line is that the spring's affect on people may be more than physical — it could be spiritual, too.
Did Sayid's death move you? Maybe it's because my heart's colder than donkey wheel ice on a polar bear's teat, but I didn't go mushy over dead Sayid. He's been dark and damaged for so long, I felt happy for the end to his suffering. In other words, he got the death that Charlie yearned for on the plane.
Anyway, he didn't stay dead for long. Just as Lennon was trying to cajole Jack to join him for an urgent chat about an undisclosed topic, Hurley started wigging out: Sayid was alive. ''What happened?'' he asked. (There's that memory loss Alpert spoke about!) I know some of you have already come to some conclusions. I know this because you're currently pounding me with emails as I write these words late on Tuesday night. Some of you think that the water of the spring turned muddy because of Jacob's death. Some of you think Sayid is now the reincarnated Jacob, or that he's under the thrall of Smokey. Some of you think Sayid has come back a better man. Others think he's been ''corrupted.'' To these options, I would add this one: Sayid has come back clarified. The spring gives you life — but also boils you down to your essential parts, to your defining qualities. Ben got dunked, came back... well, Ben. And he could only ever be ''Ben.'' Which has some ramifications when it comes to themes of redemption and damnation on this show. What might this mean for Sayid's baptism? And in a muddy, malfunctioning fount, no less? I am mulling.
Terry O'Quinn's performance as FLocke the Smoke Monster promises to be one of the most entertaining parts of season 6. We got the revelation of his Smokey-ness in a scene in which Bram led a doom(ed) patrol of Jacob acolytes into Four Toed State. They fired on FLocke, but their bullets passed through him. Interesting. Then came the hideous ticking and Smokey billowed into the room, flashing his psychic strobes and uncoiling his ephemeral tentacles. He quickly took down all comers. But brave Bam gave him a small challenge. Bram grabbed some ash — the kind of ash that once surrounded Jacob's cabin — and formed a protective circle around himself. No sweat for smokey, who threw some rocks at him to knock him out of position. Then Bram was impaled. The guy with the Dracula writer's name got a vampire death.
So now we know for sure that ash is protection against the Monster, whom we now know as a who instead of a what. (This is progress in the mystery resolution business of Lost!) But now we must wonder anew about Jacob's Cabin. Was that ash keeping smokey outside the cabin — or inside the cabin? Because now I'm really not sure if Jacob ever really lived inside that cabin at all.
I was riveted by Fake Locke's assessment of the man whose visage he now wears. He shared Locke's final thought as Ben strangled the man to death: ''I don't understand.'' (How did the Monster know this thought? Has he always been tapped into John's head? Maybe after their first encounter in season 1?) FLocke deemed Locke's confusion ''the saddest thing you ever heard.'' Interesting. It's as if FLocke was heartbroken that Locke died without answers. Which I guess makes Smokey... the avenging angel of Lost fans everywhere? Seriously, I do wonder if Smokey is fundamentally anti-mystery, anti-gamesmanship. Remember last season, when he rallied the Others to march on Jacob's Four Toed beach house? His motivation for them? To get answers from Jacob. Reasons for his behavior. An end to puzzles and all those little slips of paper. FLocke had a secret agenda, of course, but I wonder if he was actually dead serious in his abhorrence for ambiguity. He embodies brutal honesty. In his psychological profile on Locke, FLocke noted that John ''was a victim who shouted at the world for being told what he couldn't do, even though they were right.'' Ouch! Flocke then spat venom at the thought of Locke as ''weak'' and ''pathetic'' and ''irreparably broken'' — then spoke admiringly of him for embracing his Island life and not wanting to return his frail, damaged old life. Throughout this entire speech, I was struck by how FLocke moved from shadow to light and back to shadow again. Not sure what it meant, but it was a great effect. And finally, the punchline — FLocke's stated ambition. ''I want the one thing John Locke didn't,'' he said. ''I want to go home.'' What did that mean? I think the question actually begins with who do you think FLocke really is (God? The Devil? Other?), and if you think that person or entity is good or evil. What's your vote? And what's your proof? Please post below!
I am up against my deadline. Some very quick hits:
''Hello, Richard. Nice to see you out of those chains.'' FLocke's line to Richard after leaving the Four Toed Statue and Richard had finally figured out FLocke's identity was a theory spawner. ''You?'' Richard said. ''Me,'' Flocked said, and then took him down hard. The popular theory is that FLocke was alluding to the Black Rock with his chains reference, as if Richard had come to the Island as a slave. What might be the reason for their bad blood? My hunch is that FLocke is bitter toward Alpert for conspiring successfully to keep FLocke locked up all these years. FLocke hoisted the unconscious Alpert on his shoulder and walked into the jungle, yelling before that: ''I AM VERY DISAPPOINTED IN ALL OF YOU. As he left, he passed the body of the real John Locke lying dead on the and. I yearned for this betrayed man of faith to take to his feet and walk again. That didn't happen. But I do wonder if the book Fear and Trembling offers us some hope for this world's Locke. Kierkegaard says the knight of faith is characterized by trusting the strength of the absurd and confidence that everything they give up in this life (even, presumably, life itself) will be regained. Might that portend resurrection? I think we should all check to see if Fear and Trembling speaks to Locke. After all, Kierkegaard wrote the book under a pseudonym: Johannes de silentio — John The Silent. And right now, no John is more silent that the dead one in the sand.
So I've got a book to read. And some sleep to catch. These epic two-hour episodes take a lot out of me, but it was fun hitting the Lost ground running with you. I'd love to hear your theories, questions, concerns in the message boards below — or on Twitter (@EWdocjensen) tomorrow at 12 PM PST/3 PM EST, as I'll be responding to Tweets/questions at that time.
Until next week — Namaste!