Jack, I'll get to your questions in a bit. But first, allow me to address this whisper junk. The stilted conversation between Michael and Hurley that ostensibly explained the whispers did nothing of the sort. Either Hurley has it wrong or the producers have completely failed to give us a truthful, accurate answer to one of Lost's longest-running mysteries. The answer on the floor—that the whisperers are ghosts stuck on the island—cannot be true. And if it is, the producers are revising history.
By Lostpedia's count, we have heard the whispers about two dozen times. There is no pattern to what happens after a castaway hears the whispers. Sometimes the whispers fade away as quickly as they arrive (when Sayid returns from Rousseau's torture pit in Season 1). On other occasions they accompany the arrival of the Others (Cindy, the Australian flight attendant, is kidnapped right after a whisper storm.) Other times, as happened with Hurley last night, the dead appear. (For those interested in the full compendium of whispers on Lost, I suggest you check the Lostpedia page chronicling them all.)
But apparitions of the living follow the whispers just as often as visions of the dead. Remember young Walt? He's not dead, and he's not on the island—yet three different people have seen him appear (Shannon, Sayid, and Locke), each time after quite a bit of whispering. Moreover, 12-year-old Ben Linus heard the whispers and then saw his dead mother—but she didn't die on the island.
Of course, any of these apparitions could just be Smokey showing up to manipulate everybody. But we notably don't hear the whispers before Smokey appears as Isabella during Richard's Black Rock hell. So I think both of you are right to question whether Hurley's explanation can possibly be correct, and not just because the producers have said the island isn't purgatory.
All of that said, I do wonder what Michael's motivations are. And whether the whisperers—whomever or whatever they might be—are pulling strings as a unit or whether they have their own internecine rivalries. It's possible the whisperers want to leave the island just as badly as Smokey does—especially if they're ghosts. That would suggest they want Smokey to win, and they know Smokey needs Hurley and crew to do so. (And so we have yet another person/monster/ghost pulling the characters' strings.)
Do we have any idea, meanwhile, whom Desmond wants to win? Jack, you call him a grinning fool. I call him a blissed-out hippie. Last night I half-expected him to unfurl a "Make Love, Not War" banner. In the alternate timeline, as well, Desmond has a calm about him, as though his electromagnetic shocks were laced with Xanax. That scene on top of the well was predictable yet harrowing, a taut example of Lost at its middlebrow best.
Lost, never a show to let irony go unexplored, just had to tack on that final scene with Desmond running over Locke. See what they did there? Smokey Locke is trying to kill Desmond in one timeline while Desmond tries to kill Locke in another! Clever. Unless, of course, Desmond isn't trying to kill Locke. Des knows that a near-death experience helped both Charlie and him remember their other lives. So perhaps he was trying to do the same for Locke. (Especially since Locke has already found love.) And it looks like his method might have worked. The final shot of last night's episode was nearly identical to the one after Locke's father pushed him out the window.
So what's making Desmond such a happy nihilist? He's becoming the new Jacob. Between running over Locke and playing cupid for Hurley, the guy who had no friends has suddenly found his inner life coach. One by one, he's trying to guide everybody back to the island—or at least back to memories of the island—just like Jacob. Jack, last week you thought he was going to assemble everyone in a stadium and tell them all to wise up. But now we know Des is more of a piecemeal guy. So how do you think he'll alert everyone else about their alternate lives? An all-night bender with Jack, culminating in Desmond pulling Jack away from the bar, with Jack screaming, "WE HAVE TO GO BACK, DES. WE HAVE TO GO BACK!"? Forcing Sawyer to say, "Sonofabitch" to nobody in particular? Telling Charlie to get Claire that peanut butter she always wanted? Everyone's most creative scenarios are welcome in the comments section below.
Now, Jack, on to your questions about the conspicuous pouch. Assuming the Lost guys aren't pulling a Tarantino on us, I agree with the possibilities you raise. The pouch is either 1) Nikki and Paolo's diamonds, or 2) Jacob's ashes. Option 1 makes Nikki and Paolo crucial to the climax of Lost, which I quite like. Option 2 makes far more sense and suggests that Jacob will be present—in one form or another—at the climax of Lost. Maybe Hurley will wear Jacob's ash on his face like war paint.
Moving on: We had another appearance of a mysterious, dirty-faced boy. The first time we saw one he looked like a young Jacob, telling Smokey, "You know the rules. You can't kill him." The boy Desmond and Smokey saw last night seemed a bit older and darker-haired. I think he resembled Smokey more than Jacob. But according to IMDB, the same actor—Kenton Duly—has played a "teenage boy" in both episodes. So compare these two images side by side. Do they really look like the same kid to you?
Is the difference a result of puberty? Or a coded hint that Smokey and Jacob are, in fact, two sides of the same coin—maybe even the same person?
Two passing thoughts on the women in last night's episode. First, good to see you, Libby, but your appearance in a mental hospital in one timeline doesn't explain it in the other. Lost still has to explain why Libby was with Hurley in the original timeline. Was she questioning reality there, too? Is she, like Desmond, special enough to see both timelines at once? (I doubt it.)
Second, when Sun scribbled some silly question on her little notepad, a viewing companion said, "Oh right, she can't talk!" The whole room realized we, too, had forgotten. Sun isn't any less vital now than when she could speak. What a waste of a promising character.
Finally, did anybody catch Hurley staring at his own reflection last night? I didn't. But maybe he saw his other self in Libby's eyes. If only Hurley's Walkman still worked, the producers could have cued up some Peter Gabriel.
All right, guys, that's enough for now, I've got to run. I'm moonlighting as a Mr. Cluck's mascot. The damn costume takes an hour to put on.