Those looking for definitive answers from their television viewing have probably long given up on Lost. No show seems to derive more satisfaction out of turning even the most innocuous of plot points into a Möbius strip of contradictory evidence; the most indisputable of truths into bold-faced lies. If I’ve learned in my year-plus in service of chronicling the show it’s that there’s no quicker way to be made to look foolish than to take something on this show at face value or declare anything as fact.
So, having laid that groundwork and hopefully covered my back end, Lost’s third season finale, the self-referentially titled “Through the Looking Glass,” would seem to have dropped a heck of a bombshell into the laps of viewers just in time for the show’s planned nine month hiatus. We find the survivors of Oceanic 815 on the precipice of rescue, having made contact with Naomi’s boat through a multi-tiered plan to disable the island’s jamming mechanisms. We learn that the rescue itself is steeped in misdirection and ulterior motives with Ben warning that Naomi is not whom she claims to be (something Charlie later confirms in his dying moments). The very fate of every single person on the island hangs in the balance in a way we’ve never seen before on Lost. Yet the bombshell arrives in a place we’ve become least conditioned to expect it: in the show’s character-building flashbacks set in the real world. That’s because this week’s flashback isn’t a flashback at all.
Set in an unspecified number of years in the future (long enough for him to have grown a truly horrendous Serpico beard), we find Jack (Matthew Fox), Kate (Evangeline Lilly) and untold others living their lives after escaping the island and simply trying to cope with readjusting (some more successfully than others). It would appear that no matter what happens between now and May of 2010, somehow, someway, some of these people will return to the lives they once knew. Whether their lives are any better for it, is yet to be seen.
There’s been a lot of discussion online about the possibility of time travel and parallel universes coming into play in the Lost mythology and watching “Through the Looking Glass,” with its shocking leap into the future and Jack’s rueful claims that they all made a mistake and never should have left the island at times left me wondering if we weren’t watching a Twilight Zone-like alternate reality. One possible clue: while in the throws of a prescription-drug freak-out, future Jack refers to his father, Christian, as though he were alive. Is this a version of the universe where his father didn’t die while on a bender in Australia, or his Jack himself too far gone to differentiate between the events of the past and the present?
With all the talk of the island as purgatory, could the show truly be as cynical to posit that life outside the island is actually hell, a destination these characters are on a collision course with as a result of their actions in the present? Pre-determination being such a predominant theme on Lost, is the future set in stone with the very idea which gives them hope ultimately what tears them apart? Throughout the hour we see Jack emotionally distraught after reading of the death of an unidentified person in the newspaper (based on fleeting evidence picked up upon with my freeze frame and the reaction of the characters, specifically Kate, I’m going to begin the speculation that the deceased is Locke) to the point where he’s self-medicating and contemplating suicide. Now that they’re free of their island prison has the oft-quoted “live together, die alone” become more relevant than ever? With the shared experience of life on the island safely in the rearview mirror, have their lives lost all meaning? At least when Adam and Eve were expelled from the Garden of Eden they knew they were leaving paradise.
I’m left to wonder though, now that they’ve introduced the gimmick of jumping forward to life post-island (After L*O*S*T?) as a storytelling device how can they not return to it in subsequent seasons? In a strange twist, the events of the island would serve as character development, informing the future and would be, in essence, back-story of the events yet to come. The trials of grappling with polar bears and underwater layers could lay the groundwork for the comparatively quotidian events of life in the future, with each week’s drama come from the crippling depression in the wake of whatever tragedy that collectively will befall the castaways sometime between now and their eventual rescue. How did Kate beat her murder wrap and become legit? Can Locke (Terry O’Quinn) still walk off the island? Is Juliet (Elizabeth Mitchell) still the most intimidating soccer mom in history now that she’s back in suburbia? Forget 42 more episodes; with this in its back pocket the show could sustain itself for another decade.
As a critic of the show’s reliance on flashbacks as rudimentary psycho-analysis and as a means to pad-out its episode count, I applaud any attempt by Lost’s writers to break apart their own design, kicking aside the dogmatic structure which has long served as a crutch. In that spirit, I recognize the boldness of last night’s gambit even if I found the execution somewhat lacking. The reveal, which became easier to predict as the episode went along, came after an unbearably prolonged (and stretched out to fill two hours) trip down Jack’s self destructive path, mirroring the downward spiral we saw him on in the season premiere. Drinking too much, raging at innocent bystanders, sporting mangy facial hair; we’ve been here before, regardless of what date is on the calendar. Life on the island may have changed him but it seems that future Jack is just as dull as past and present Jack.
Furthermore, is there a more depressing development than learning no matter how hard we collectively pray there’s no way they’re ever going to kill off Jack (or for that matter Kate)? I’d always held out hope that the show would come to the realization that the character had run its course long ago and might best be served as a sacrificial offering to the island during sweeps. I’ve seen the future (literally), and it’s sure to include three Jack flashbacks a year for the next three years; each one returning to that oh so fertile ground of his raging insecurities and god-complex. Truth be told, I find that infinitely more terrifying than the Others, smoke monsters and Ben Linus’ (Michael Emerson) crazy eyes.
Befitting not only a two-hour episode but a season finale, “Through the Looking Glass” is an exceedingly busy installment, with several full-scale (for this show) action sequences and a death count which I placed at over a dozen, including the first assault with a spear-gun I can remember since Friday the 13th Part III. Yet the episode struck me as lurching and unable to build any real sense of momentum, with the action largely perfunctory and the plot ratcheting forward in all manners expected. It doesn’t require Desmond’s gift for clairvoyance to predict that the show was not going to kill of two of its most popular characters (Jin and Sayid) and a third who probably helps steal away some of the CBS demos (Bernard) off-screen just because Ben ordered their execution, no matter how much drama the show tries to wring from the situation. Similarly, as rewarding as it was to see Hurley (Jorge Garcia) defy his critics and prove his value by riding in like the cavalry, flattening the Others with his VW bus (as well as lending relevance to the largely criticized events of “Tricia Tanaka Is Dead”) the moment seemed to have been airlifted out of an old A-Team episode. And in a development predicted by almost everyone (except for…ahem…me) reports of Locke’s death on the island have been greatly exaggerated as the great bald one crawls out of his own grave after seeing a vision of the long absent Walt (Malcolm David Kelley having visibly aged and sprouted up about a foot and a half) who seemingly wills Locke into living. Locke works through the pain of a gut shot to show up just in time to kill Naomi—which to the uninformed castaways must have come across as inexplicably savage and unforgivable, making their muted response rather bizarre—and beg Jack to not call her boat with the satellite phone before slinking back into the jungle (I suspect this moment in history eats at future Jack with both Ben and Locke correctly pleading for him to not radio for help).
“Through the Looking Glass” lacked the grandeur of last week’s “Greatest Hits” a near-masterpiece of pacing, tension and emotional heft, and nor does it compare favorably with last season’s Desmond-centric 2-hour finale. Episode for episode, Lost is often only as good as its flashbacks (flash-forward/flash-sideways, whatever) and this week’s was brutal. Devoid of any urgency or connection to other human beings, the off-island sequences served as stand-alone speed-bumps, bringing the episode to a screeching halt every time we cut away (and it bears repeating that Jack’s beard may be the funniest joke the show’s ever played), having the adverse effect of making a 120-minute installment feel twice as long. In years to come, I suspect fans will remember fondly the episode’s stunning, closing moments reveal while forgetting just how lethargic and derivative it was getting there.
The one part of the episode that did hold up its end of the bargain was Charlie (and later Desmond) aboard the underwater station. Held captive by two ornery female Others, Charlie does his best to channel Bruce Willis’ Joe Hallenbeck from The Last Boy Scout, joking, taunting and even singing as he’s pistol-whipped while tied to a chair. Emboldened with the knowledge that he’s destined to die, but in the process will accomplish what he’s set out to do (disable the island’s jamming frequency), the character is freed of all anxieties of both physical harm and failure, at one point cheerfully informing the women that he has no idea how he’ll shut the machine down, only that he somehow will. What follows is two shooting deaths (the show continues its disconcerting trend of killing off attractive young women in sudden, random flurries of gunfire), the aforementioned spear-gun attack, fleeting contact with the outside world (in the form of Penny) an underwater grenade explosion and the sad, heroic death of Charlie Pace.
It’s a testament to how compelling the show can be that Charlie’s death, the details of which we’ve known for weeks now, is still shocking and sufficiently heart-tugging. Dominic Monaghan is a fine actor who’s been given nothing to do for a season and a half besides mope around like a troll. I certainly lent my voice to the “Kill Charlie” chorus at one point but I now feel strangely guilty considering how the show chose to write-out the character. Unwittingly an instrument in the castaways “downfall” (again, if we’re to believe the show’s flash-forward), Charlie flicks the switch under the prophesized blinking yellow light and has a teleconference conversation with Desmond’s philanthropist girlfriend Penny (Sonya Walger), where he learns the truth about Naomi. Seemingly having survived his fatal quest, Charlie hears a tapping at the window where he sees Bakunin (Andrew Divoff) detonating a hand grenade outside, causing the chamber to flood. Even in his dying moments, Charlie plays the hero, warning Desmond that it’s not Penny’s boat out there looking for them.
The characters on Lost are all pawns in an elaborately constructed chess game, with the viewer often a helpless bystander. “Through the Looking Glass” offers a glimpse at the show’s checkmate: the mystery no longer being “will they escape” but rather “why they shouldn’t.” The producers of Lost have been boasting about a “game changing” development in the season finale and I suspect this is it. Will this forever change the way we watch the show? With a destination firmly in place the suspense is derived not from what will happen but how they’ll be rescued, and when and why it was (according to Jack) the worst mistake they ever made. We all have a very long time to chew this over; we’re like the castaways in that way. We know where we’re going, but we have no idea how we’re getting there.