Seth, if you want to talk about Lost as a reflection of its times, I'm more than eager. I can deliver a dissertation on how Lost's time-travel season was written during a U.S. election that revisited the past as it looked into the future. I can wax philosophic on how this season's dual-timeline approach corresponds to an administration that has changed everything and nothing in Washington, and a viewing public that doesn't know which narrative to believe. And then there's Ben Linus, the best allegory for the Wall Street debacle television has provided. Ben built his power on a foundation of lies and deceit. It was followed by an inevitable crash and then (a potential) resurrection.
But what about the parts of Lost that haven't changed with the times—like the science-vs.-faith struggle? In Season 1, we had Jack representing science and Locke representing faith; in Season 2, Locke was the doubter and Eko was the believer; Season 3 brought us the practical original survivors vs. the unquestioningly devout Others; the last two seasons have seen nihilistic invaders try to seize the island from its devoted protectors.
I bring up this binary because it's the part of Lost that least reflects our society. It's certainly true that religion is at the heart of many of our battles, but the characters on Lost are far more fluid in their spirituality than the average American. Jack has flip-flopped; Locke has questioned his faith; Ben has felt betrayed; now even Richard is questioning Jacob. It's like the writers are engaging in wishful thinking, hypothesizing about a more self-critical age, when we'll transcend knee-jerk reactions and examine our beliefs before acting on them.
Which leads me to Sawyer, the one main character who hasn't wavered in his lack of spirituality. One of his throwaway lines last night seemed especially conspicuous: "Trust me, God's got nothing to do with it," he tells Zoe, the Widmore henchman who has already warmed to the island's patented dirty-cleavage look. But this is Lost, so God has everything to do with it. Or, at least, the question of whether God has anything to do with it has everything to do with it. So, I wonder whether this one line is proof that, as Widmore says, it's sad how little Sawyer actually knows.
The odd scene on the beach must be important. Smokey baring his tarred soul, Kate quizzically looking on—wondering why she doesn't have more to do than just quizzically look on. And Jack, I think you're onto something with the Gaia thing. Is the mother Smokey mentions God? Or a god? What else would give birth to a column of smoke? Commenters, plumb your mythology encyclopedias and let us know which female gods were totally crazy. (It was especially fun to watch Locke—who had so many daddy issues—now tell us, as Smokey, that moms are the real troublemakers. Seth, make sure to add Smokey's parent troubles to Formula Watch.)
Elsewhere, we had a subtle addition to our Demon Spawn ethnography: It appears they know they're not quite who they used to be. At least Sayid is still self-aware enough to tell Kate that he's not all right. Claire, it appears, also realizes that something is up, but only after she nearly slices Kate. Was anybody else rooting for the dramatic irony of Claire—the woman who Kate came back to the island to find—ending Kate's life?
In other news, both of you guys ignored the meatiest minutiae of the episode. In the alternative timeline, Dr. Chang works in a boring old museum! Do you think he's the museum's stiff, pre-recorded tour guide like he was on the island? More importantly, we should be asking the same question about Miles and Dr. Chang as we did about Ben and his dad. How long were they on the island, and what made them leave? Or—stay with me—were they even on the island at all? I realized that my theory from last week—that everything in both timelines was the same until the moment the bomb went off in one—is not necessarily right. Because the time-traveling castaways visited all sorts of time periods, they must have altered events. The key example, as one commenter pointed out, is Faraday telling the hostiles what to do with the leaky nuke. That never would have happened in the alternate timeline. So there's no guarantee that Chang and Miles were ever on the island. Unless, of course, it was their destiny.
I've long wondered whose side Widmore is on, and last night finally answered my question. He's a Jacob acolyte. Otherwise he wouldn't have brought those pylons with him to the island. This week's SlateV video gives a history of those pylons: where we've seen them before and what they do to Smokey. I'm excited for the inevitable scene in the finale when Smokey throws himself into the sonic fence over and over until it finally gives way and he bum-rushes Widmore's henchmen. The Battle of Helm's Deep meets the tropics.
I've yammered on for too long, and there are still so many questions. My guesses in parentheses. Does Sawyer think Locke has been Smokey the whole time? (Yes!) Who killed all those people on Hydra Island—Smokey, Widmore, or somebody else? (Smokey!) Will we see Sawyer kill Anthony Cooper, Locke's father and the real Sawyer, this season? And will Locke be there to watch? (Yes!) Has there been a better Lost sex scene than Sawyer and Charlotte's quickie? (No!) Did any of you catch Charlie's brother, Liam, in the police station? (I hope so!) What's behind the sub's locked door? (Penny and Desmond!)
And finally, to answer Jack's question about flowers and their role in Lost. They are, quite obviously, a symbol of the living dead, a theme explored at length this season. Once a flower has been plucked, it is no longer what it once was, even if it appears to be on the outside. Jack, if you don't like that answer, I promise to show up at your office tomorrow with puppy dog eyes and a sad sunflower.