Jack, you say you're tired of the producers pulling bunnies out of a hat. But you're forgetting the laws of nature! Bunnies can't help but reproduce exponentially. Once the first emerged—there's a polar bear on the island?—there was no way to make them disappear. The narrative gimmicks, fake deaths, and misdirections were all established as a part of this show's DNA in Season 1. To get mad at it now implies that you hadn't properly channeled your anger a few years ago. (And I know that's not usually a problem for you.) Last night's two-timeline structure just wasn't that major a cognitive leap. In fact, by juxtaposing the two narratives, the producers have created something very smart and typically meta. They know that the audience is wondering whether the last five seasons actually amount to anything, whether any of it was really worth it. Now the characters are confronting the same question.
Bouncing between the two narratives also allows the show to answer one of its central questions: Is it better to control your own destiny or to let fate decide it? In the reset timeline, half of the characters are worse off than they once were: Charlie is suicidal; Kate is homicidal; Sawyer is still a con man; Locke is still a crippled man; Sun and Jin are still unequal partners in a failing marriage. But then half actually seem better off: Boone is alive; Sayid is in love; Bernard and Rose are happy; Jack isn't an ass; Hurley is lucky.
(For those wondering why Hurley is now lucky, I think it's because he won the lottery without using The Numbers—4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. * If the island is underwater, Rousseau can't broadcast the numbers in the distress signal. And if there's no distress signal, Sam Toomey never hears them on the radio one day. And if Sam doesn't hear them, he never tells Hurley's crazy friend Leonard about them. Which means Hurley never learns The Numbers.) [Update: Feb. 4, 4:45 pm: Or maybe not! Wise commenter "Will" reminds me that it wasn't Rousseau's distress signal that broadcast The Numbers. In fact, it was The Numbers broadcast that brought Rousseau to the island in the first place.]
Do I think all of this two-timeline stuff makes sense? Not yet. But the writers have offered us a lot of clues. Last night, the most important piece of dialogue belonged to Juliet. While cuddling with Sawyer, Juliet says, "We should get coffee some time. We can go Dutch." It's apropos of nothing, and Sawyer thinks she's babbling. But later Juliet—through Miles—tells us, "It worked." The it, it's safe to assume, was the bomb. Thus I come to my second TV Club theory of the new season: Juliet could only know "it worked" on the island if she was also off the island. Juliet was consciousness-hopping back and forth between the two realities. Just as our pal Desmond used to do.
But let's get to the mythology. Some tips:
- Seth, as you wrote, inside Prince's mandolin was a piece of paper. That piece of paper, it's safe to say, is one of Jacob's famed lists. We've been told Jack wasn't on Jacob's original list when the flight went down—but he's on this one. So Jack wasn't useful to Jacob in the past but is now.
- Smokey Locke (that's what I'm calling him) tells Richard that it's good to see him "out of those chains"—probably a reference to Richard's time as a slave on the Black Rock. (The Black Rock, remember, was the slave ship that arrived in the first few minutes of last year's finale, and was then marooned in the middle of the island.) We know that Jacob brought the Black Rock to the island. Was it for Richard? Is Jacob running his own version of the Underground Railroad? Side benefits include eternal life, eyeliner, Banana Republic outfits.
- Ash played a prominent role. The temple inhabitants spread ash when they hear that Jacob has died, and Bram tries to protect himself from Smokey Locke by drawing his own personal ash circle. * At the end of this dispatch is a video explaining what it all might mean. It's the first in a weekly series connecting the dots between seasons past and season present.
There were all sorts of other fun shout-outs—at least for nut jobs like me. Just a few:
- Jack tries to rescue Sayid, and Kate stops him. This set-up echoes Season 1, when Jack tries to save Charlie, and Kate tries to stop him.
- Relatedly, when Jack saves Charlie in last night's episode, he sends people out to search for a pen, just as he did after the crash in the very first episode of the series.
- Doc Arzt—the entomologist/high school teacher/dynamite expert from Season 1—was carrying an insect guide in his hand when he was on the plane.
But last night raised as many questions as it began to answer:
- The biggest among them: Why isn't Shannon on the plane? The island is underwater, but that didn't stop anyone else from getting on the flight. (But it did stop Jack and Locke's baggage from getting onboard. Metaphor alert!)
- Where is Jacob's corpse? I haven't been to Burning Man, but I'm pretty sure bodies don't just disappear when they're in a fire pit the size of a sundial.
- When Jacob visits Hurley, why is he barefoot? Note that the other Others—the temple-dwelling ones—are barefoot, too.
- Why is Jack's neck bleeding on that plane? Is that what nuclear hickies look like?
Oh, and, Seth, don't forget that we've seen Cindy, the flight attendant, once before. In Season 3, a less-psychedelic Cindy and some kids—the same Zak and Emma from last night, one would assume—visit Jack when he's imprisoned in a cage. Jack asks why they're all there, staring at him. Cindy, rather creepily, says they're there "to watch."
Another note for Seth: You wonder whether someone has taken over Sayid's reincarnated body. Hell if I know. Jacob may have, I suppose. But, for your sake, I hope it's Juliet rattling around beneath that jheri curl.
And, yes, my predictions were … off the mark. So let's play double or nothing. Last night we saw Desmond on the plane with Jack. (Jack, by the way, probably recognizes him not from the island but from running up the stadium steps in Season 2.) But then Desmond disappears and we never see him get off the plane. Lost TV Club theory No. 3: That's because Desmond was never on the plane! That's not to say that Jack is Hurley: He can't see dead people and Desmond isn't dead. Desmond, I submit, doesn't just time-travel with his consciousness anymore. The man can now move his entire body.
I've obviously got more to say—I didn't even mention the Geronimo Jackson album cover I think I saw—but that's enough for now. I don't like the taste of English on my keyboard. I'm going to go surround myself with a circle of ash and clip some bonsai trees.
Slate V: Previously on Lost: LAX
Corrections, Feb. 4, 2010: This entry originally listed the numbers as 4, 8, 15, 16, 24, 42. They are 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42. (Return to the corrected sentence.) This entry also originally referred to Ilana's henchman Bram asBran. ( Return to the corrected sentence.)