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Lost Thursday: Season 2, Episode 23: “Live Together, Die Alone”

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<em>Lost</em> Thursday: Season 2, Episode 23: “Live Together, Die Alone”

For a show the features polar bears in the jungle, the walking dead, malevolent trails of “living” black smoke and a landlocked slave ship, it’s some kind of an accomplishment that anything can really throw you for a loop at this point. But damn, I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that giant four-toed foot.

Short on concrete answers, but positively bursting with tantalizing new questions and out and out weirdness, Wednesday’s two hour finale “Live Together, Die Alone” (written by show-runner Damon Lindelof and regular contributor Carlton Cuse) represents everything that makes Lost one of the boldest yet most frustrating shows on television. Setting about closing the door on some of the show’s long-standing mysteries, the show goes about this by throwing everything including the kitchen-sink (as well as a washer and dryer set) at us poor overwhelmed viewers.

Like I said a couple weeks back, the show’s writers read our griping, and they once again responded: Have fun making heads or tails of this for the next five months.

Often Lost’s greatest failing is the way it shoe-horns in extraneous flashbacks to pad-out the run-time. Not so here as “Live Together…” finds the show operating with an urgency that’s nearly dizzying. Covering so many events tied into the show’s ever-expanding mythology that even with a protracted run-time it barely is enough to give everything its due, the episode ostensibly answers what happens when you don’t press the button. Who is the mastermind behind the Others, who was in the hatch before Desmond (Henry Ian Cusack), and what caused the crash of Oceanic Flight 815? It answers these questions in the way that only Lost can, which is to say I’m more confused now than I was going in.

As expected, we learn that the yacht seen at the end of last week’s episode does in fact belong to Desmond, who’s currently onboard and properly soused, having been unsuccessful in sailing home. We learn from Desmond’s flashbacks that he spent time in a British military prison for “not following orders,” an ambiguous crime no doubt destined for flashback treatment should Cusack return next season as a regular. Ordered to never again contact his girlfriend Penelope by her evil rich father, Desmond plans on sailing around the world in a yacht race sponsored by the old man, with both love and honor on the line, all so he can get back to his beloved Penelope (who’s no doubt in Ithaca… I swear this show veers uncomfortably close to homework at times).

Of course, the show being what it is, Desmond doesn’t just get any boat, but one belonging to the recently deceased Libby (Cynthia Watros with Joyce Dewitt bangs), who mere seconds after meeting the Brit on line at a Starbucks, pays for the guy’s coffee and hands over a yacht that belonged to her dead husband. I guess it’s true what the say about women and men with British accents.

In all seriousness though, I’d initially chalked this up to one of the show’s patented contrivances, but as it was pointed out to me, she does have a history of mental illness. Interestingly, she mentions her dead spouse was named David, and knowing that she shared time in the same asylum that Hurley did one can’t help but wonder if this is an intentional callback to the big man’s imaginary friend (or perhaps it at least explains further why she had such an affinity for the guy).

As we learned in the first episode of season 2, “Man of Science, Man of Faith,” Desmond eventually washed ashore, failing to finish the race and becoming de-facto caretaker of “the Swan.” What we didn’t know till now was that his hatch-mate for nearly three years was Inman (Clancy Brown), last seen coercing Sayid into torturing a man during the first Gulf War. Inman, wearing a flimsy hazmat suit and gas mask, drags the waterlogged Desmond from the beach to the hatch, claiming ignorance as to the whereabouts of Desmond’s boat. Inman speaks in Cold War spy riddles and asks if Desmond is “him,” possibly the same “he” that Henry Gale once spoke of in hushed tones.

Inman instills in Desmond a sense of fear in the island that not only keeps him pushing the button but confined to the hatch for years. He removes some of the shrouding from “the incident” that requires the routine of the numbers, foretelling the apocalypse that awaits them if the routine is broken (at one point when asked what he’s doing he wearily responds “saving the world”). Most importantly, while drunk and despondent he introduces a fail safe switch and the key which Inman cryptically tells us when turned makes “all of this go away.”

Much of Lost’s power stems from the way, we’re never certain how truthful the information we’re being told is, and how that misinformation can lead the characters (and the viewer) down a dangerous path. Nearly every authority figure’s motives are suspect and can often be debunked, as is the case with Inman who after allowing himself to be followed by Desmond, is witnessed removing his protective clothing and breathing apparatus (to prevent against “contamination” of course) and leads us right to Desmond’s boat, tucked safely away in a serene cove. Inman has fabricated the infection story to steal away time to repair the vessel and after being caught in his lie, tells Desmond “screw the button, who knows if it’s even real.” Is the man lying about everything or has he given us just enough rope to hang ourselves? In a fit of rage, Desmond murders Inman (who, despite “ten years as a spook” is startlingly easy to kill) only to find back at the hatch, the world has gone to shit.

The electromagnetic buildup that the numbers safely relieve has caused the hatch to go haywire. Remiss in pushing the buttons, Desmond frantically tries to execute the program as cutlery and cookware flies about his head and the computer menacingly reads “system failure.” Able to bring the system back online, it’s only later that Desmond learns that this phenomenon coincides with the exact date and time Oceanic 815 crash landed on the island. Guess that was a bad day for everyone.

Desmond isn’t the only one who allows himself to be misled in this episode. Locke—reverting to a rebellious teenager, spurning everything he once held sacred to prove he knows what’s best—finally gets his wish to see what happens when no one enters the numbers. Eko is lured away from the computer and kept at bay by blast doors (it’s so simple to trigger a lockdown, one wonders if this isn’t what happened in the first place back when Lock was confined by one a few episodes back) spending the rest of the show desperately trying to get back in. Convinced that they’re all trapped in an experiment in controlled behavior, Locke waits with Desmond for the timer to tick down to zero, certain in the anticlimax that awaits them.

Having witnessed first-hand the consequences of playing chicken with pressing the button, it’s initially baffling why Desmond chooses to go along with Locke’s plan. Yet the deeper we delve into his past, the more we see a history riddled with self-doubt and allusions to suicide. Sentimentally towing along Charles Dickens’s Our Mutual Friend, which he hopes to be the last thing he reads before he dies, Desmond has walked to the edge and seems destined to go down in a blaze of glory with Locke foolishly leading the way.

Oh, but poor Locke learns the err of his ways too late to do anything about it. In a terrifyingly cinematic sequence, the hatch literally folds in on itself in a violent flurry of electromagnetic energy once the counter reaches zero. Locke sadly apologizes to Eko for the fate his hubris has brought upon them as we at home resign ourselves to losing the show’s two most interesting characters and an enigmatic newcomer. Ultimately though, Desmond proves he does have the courage to “pull his finger out of the damn, and blow the whole thing up.” Convinced that it will save the lives of Locke and Eko, Desmond turns the key and we see a momentary, blinding white light that permeates the entire island accompanied by a low, mechanical rumbling. Ominously, the door to the hatch is hurtled through the air, landing miles away at the castaways’ camp.

The status of Desmond, Locke and Eko hangs in the balance, left unresolved at episode’s-end, but the fall-out of their activities is being felt a world away. For the first time in the show’s history we cut to the present-day world outside of the island where two tech geeks (speaking Portuguese I’m told) in the South Pole are in a tizzy over an electromagnetic anomaly. They quickly dial civilization to alert them of the situation only for the person on the other end to be revealed as Desmond’s lost love Penelope. At one point she told him, “with enough money and determination you can find anyone,” and if this is any indication, her wealth and perseverance may be leading her to a tropical island in the near future.

The business with the South Pole and Penelope is staggering, mostly because it eliminates several theories from the table regarding the castaways. We can most-likely strike that they’re in limbo, hovering between heaven and earth, as well as this all being a collective Jungian dream shared as the plane goes down. These people do still exist as does the world outside of them (scratch the “the island is a safe haven from the end of the world” theory as well). But why the South Pole? And does this have anything to do with a character referring to them all being stuck in a snow globe? And will this finally explain that damn polar bear?

Back to more people who’ve been misled, the hunting party bound for Others beach uncovers Michael’s deception, and takes it a lot better than I probably would. Revealed by Jack as a multiple-murderer who has betrayed his friends to the enemy, the quartet continue following Michael’s lead, who, unbeknownst to them, still has one more trick up his sleeve. Leading them to a clearing and not the beach we’d seen last week (where Sayid has secretly been dispatched), the castaways are debilitated by electro-charged darts, bound and taken away by the Others who had been laying in wait.

Gagged and taken to a dock, the captives learn the man behind the Others is none other than our favorite moon-faced former prisoner, Henry Gale. Staying true to the pact struck with Michael, Walt is returned to him along with a motorized boat and instructions on how to return to civilization. If the lack of underhandedness here comes as a surprise, then so should Gale’s proclamation that “we’re the good guys.” I’m starting to wonder if we’re not subjects of behavior control ourselves, spending two years rooting for our merry band of castaways who have been causing nothing but trouble for the poor people of the Dharma Initiative. Are they truly benevolent (I’m racking my brains here, and aside from Ethan stringing up Charlie back in season one, I’m not certain they’ve actually harmed anyone, yet) or am I not the only one who thinks it won’t be smooth sailing for Michael and Walt back to the real world?

So Hurley is released to warn away the rest of the castaways while Michael and Walt drive off in the boat and Jack, Kate and Sawyer are “coming home” with Henry Gale and the gang. And that’s it. That was the season that was. I’d hoped to do a more thorough analysis of the season at large and how the finale subverts themes of “us vs. them” and expands upon the already touched upon issues of control and faith, but frankly my head is still swimming at the sheer amount of stuff thrown at us in such a short period of time. I feel like the best I can do is simply lay everything out and hope to make sense of it all at a later date.

All this text and I still haven’t even gotten into the fact that Inman drew the imaginary map inside the hatch, the abandoned facades over at Others’ beach, the pile of pneumatic tubes from “the Pearl,” the still-baffling love connection between recent mom Claire and suspected baby-napper Charlie, the giant bird that says Hurley’s name and, of course, that big old disembodied foot that looks like what the Statue of Liberty might have been like if Homer Simpson were used as the model.

Despite all the confusion it produced, there’s a refreshing level of candor to the episode, as characters found themselves openly discussing conspiracy theories (“my theory: they’re aliens” says Sawyer about the Others, giving voice to a scenario no more far fetched that the ones circling the net), applying common sense to what purpose Hurley could possibly serve to the Others (as a non-threatening town crier, of course) and criticizing “Mr. Friendly” (here referred to by his Christian name, Tom, much to his consternation) and his crape-hair beard. Since another widely shared annoyance about the show is how everyone seems to act like idiots most of the time, this has to be seen as an encouraging development.

The finale did what it’s supposed to do. Scatter its various characters to the wind, introducing new avenues of drama for next season and left us with bated breath to find out what happens next. I had hoped the episode might more definitively answer some of the questions that have been posed, but of course an answer is only satisfying for a few moments, while more questions will keep you worked up for months. Alright; sign me up for season 3.