This week, Jen Chaney and I were again joined by leading "Lost" scholar J. Wood to draw conclusions about "Lost's" two-hour season finale. Massive spoilers and a summer reading list ahead.
Liz: No need to embellish or qualify this statement: last night's finale was phenomenal. In fact, it was so good that I didn't even realize until it ended that we didn't really get that many answers and were in fact left to ponder a whole new set of questions until "Lost's" return in January 2008.
Jen, J., let's get down to it. Maybe we can start with what we think was the most significant moment from last night's show. For me, it was bearded Jack's offhand reference to his father. It underscored my pet theory that the Losties inhabit an alternate universe and this bearded Jack another in which Christian Shepard never died. So what do we call his bearded scenes? Flashbacks? Flash-forwards? Flash Gordons? What?
J. Wood: When Jack told Hamil to call his dad down and they'd see who was more drunk, it confirmed for me another pet theory -- that when Des saved Charlie, he changed the past and present as well as the future. In "White Rabbit," Charlie couldn't swim -- now he's the Northern England swim champion. And where did Kate's freckles go?
Liz: May explain why he didn't try to swim out through that window that was clearly large enough for him.
J. Wood: I wondered about that, because it seemed like he might have made it through the portal -- unless the rush of water was too much, and/or Charlie had just accepted that if he didn't die and fulfill Desmond's flash, they wouldn't make it off the island.
Jen: I'm still mulling over so much of last night in my head. The ending really opens up a whole new chapter for the story and turns everything on its ear. In fact, many things were turned inside-out last night. Instead of the usual flashbacks, we got a flash-forward. And it seemed to me that Charlie and Jack essentially switched places. Charlie -- a drug addict when he arrived on the island -- made the ultimate sacrifice and became a hero. (I thought that was so terribly sad and beautifully handled, but more on that later.) Meanwhile our hero Jack did what he thought was heroic, but as a result, he has now hit bottom and started popping the pills. This gets to the whole fate vs. free will issue, which may be the central theme of the show.
Much more after the jump and don't forget to log in for today's 3 p.m. "Lost" chat...
Liz: But J., as we know, Desmond ultimately didn't save Charlie and one could argue that the earlier "saves" were all meant to be, thereby allowing Charlie (the musician) to be there to key "Good Vibrations" into the signal-jamming keypad.
Jen: I also think Charlie was the one who set the Beach Boys code in the first place. I think when the hatch exploded and that was that time rupture, allowing Charlie to set the stage for what would become his fate. He didn't remember it, but Desmond did.
Liz: And bearded Jack listens to old school Nirvana, so I'll give him a little wiggle room on the whole pill-popping thing. But whose funeral was he attending? Lost Easter Eggs has posted a screengrab of the newspaper clipping, but there's really not much there to make out.
J. Wood: That's the tricky thing with Des's saves; when he changes one element (like Charlie not drowning or getting zapped by lightning), there's no telling how many other things altered. It's like a domino effect; had Charlie gotten fried earlier in the season, maybe they wouldn't have needed someone to key in a Beach Boys tune
Liz: Just to be clear, Jen -- You're saying that Charlie set the signal-jamming code when? In some alternate past that had him working with Dharma or the Others or what? J., what's your take?
J. Wood: Now that's wild, Charlie setting the code in the first place. And it plays nice with the idea that Jacob is Locke.
Jen: I think the funeral was either Locke's or Sawyer's, based on future Kate's reaction to the news. That added a whole new level of meaning to that phrase "Either we're going to live together or die alone." (Kudos to Rose, BTW, for threatening to smack Jack upside the head if he said it.) That notion is now more than just a motivational speech Jack made on the island; it seems like a prophecy that Jack fulfilled by ensuring they would all be rescued. Locke's words just beforehand were very carefully chosen -- "You weren't meant to do this." In other words, it's not your fate. But Jack -- unlike Charlie -- exercised free will. And apparently that's not a good thing.
Liz: Let's talk about Locke for a minute, though. Why didn't he stop Jack if that's what he was roused by Walt (Walt!) to do? Did he also exercise free will?
J. Wood: Or was he roused by Walt to stop Naomi? After "The Brig," it seemed Locke wasn't a killer. He had no problem putting a knife into Naomi, but couldn't even maim Jack.
Jen: I can't fully explain the Charlie/"Vibrations" thing, but when Bonnie mentioned that a musician had created it, there was a look of recognition on Charlie's face that made me think maybe he had something to do with it. He could have just been realizing that he was in fact fated to enter those keys, but who else on the island would have been a musician?
J. Wood: Hard to say who else might have been a musician. I never would have guessed Juliet for a baby doctor until we were told about her.
Liz: Good point, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were some amateur folkies among the Dharma set. How else would they spend long island nights if not gathered round a campfire paying homage to Jerry Garcia?
J. Wood: With Jack mirroring Charlie, I think we get that reflected in the way other characters keep calling both Charlie and Jack heroes in the last two episodes. One is, one isn't.
I bet Horace Goodpseed knew a few chords.
Liz: But the interesting thing there is that Jack thinks he's a hero. He thinks he's doing the right thing, but finds out too late that he was wrong. The flip side of which is, of course, that Ben was right.
Which makes me wonder if it was Ben in that coffin
J. Wood: Jen, with the free will vs. determinism; so you're suggesting that they really aren't supposed to have free will, and expressing it messes up their balance?
J. Wood: Ben in the coffin -- it did seem like a short coffin. That could be Ben, Alex, Karl, Claire, maybe even Aaron
Jen: True enough, someone else could have been a music man. I'll let that theory go then, at least for now. I hadn't considered Ben being dead. Why would he leave the island even if rescuers showed up? I would think he and Locke would just stay. We obviously need to know more about the circumstances of the rescue to really answer some of these questions.
Liz: Ben could have been forced to leave the island, taken back to civilization by Jack to pay for his misdeeds.
Jen: I don't think it would have been Claire or Aaron, simply because of the bitterness in Kate's voice when she asked, "Why would I go to his funeral?" Ben is a good guess. And who was the "he" who was back home waiting for Kate? Could that be Sawyer, father of their baby?
Liz: J., any literary or larger thematic elements Jen and I may have missed in last night's 120 minutes?
J. Wood: On the free will vs. determinism bit, what's interesting (maybe) is how the philosopher Hume split the difference with compatibilism. He thought determinism was bunk, and free will didn't work without a little bit of determinism -- every action we do is in part determined by previous events. His whole point, though, is that it comes down to personal responsibility; neither free will nor determinism got you that, he thought.
The major allusion for this episode was just in the title itself, "Through the Looking Glass." It links us back to "White Rabbit" in the first season, and Lewis Carroll's book is all about finding your assumptions are mistaken.
Liz: So what you're saying, J., is that the Losties are basically destined to exhibit free will? Or do I flunk?
J. Wood: That's a good way to put it -- that they're destined to exhibit free will, if they want to take personal responsibility for their actions. And it seems everyone on this island -- Lostie or Other -- is pretty concerned with taking responsibility.
Jen: Re: free will -- Jack appears to ultimately have been punished for exercising his free will. I thought the writers purposely contrasted that with Charlie who, as you said, could have found a way to get out of that room if he'd wanted to. But he chose to meet his fate. Of course, that's a choice, too. Maybe it comes back down to faith vs. reason. As a "reasonable" man, Jack believes that being rescued is the ultimate good he can do. But maybe it isn't. Maybe going back to reality makes them even more "lost" than they already were.
Liz: I don't think we can talk about free will vs. fate, though, without mentioning Walt. If the island is capable of preventing acts of free will (as it did when Walt turned up to tell Locke what to do), then why doesn't it exercise that option more often? Why not have Walt stop Jack from making that call?
J. Wood: If that was Walt
Liz: Yes, and not another smoke monster trick.
Jen: I don't think the island prevents acts of free will. Those acts just don't always meet with the best consequences sometimes. I too am not sure that was the real Walt. It may have been a hallucination.
J. Wood: One of Alice's lines from the book plays into this episode nicely: "Somehow it seems to fill my head with ideas -- only I don't know exactly what they are! However, SOMEBODY killed SOMETHING: that's clear, at any rate."
Liz: Let's talk about the ship that supposedly rescues at least Jack and Kate. If not Penny's, then whose?
J. Wood: Helgus Antonius?
That's Mr. Paik's ship -- he built it for Mittelwerk when he took over the Hanso Foundation. The Lost Experience is starting to pay off.
It was only mentioned a couple times, though.
Liz: For those not familiar with that name, here's the Lostpedia entry.
Jen: J., I want to get back to an interesting observation you made earlier -- about Kate's missing freckles. She was lit so strangely, almost dreamily, in that last scene. It made me question whether what was happening in the future was real or if it can be altered somehow. I feel like that's what ultimately will happen on the show -- that Jack, who yearns "to go back," will turn back time Cher-style and redeem himself and the lives of his friends. Am I a cock-eyed optimist?
Liz: The subtle differences in Kate's appearance reminded me of the Gwyneth Paltrow movie "Sliding Doors" -- another interesting couple of hours about the ability of one's free will to affect the future, but also possible alternate realities.
Jen, any thoughts on the ship?
J. Wood: You know, I went back to review a few episodes -- not far back enough, but at least in "Catch-22," feckless Kate is looking more and more like freckleless Kate. And that started after Des started saving Charlie. And no one noticed; I don't think Sawyer called her freckles anymore.
Liz: Yes, and Kate acknowledged that when she said "Why are you calling me, Kate?" But I took that as more of an observation that he was no longer his playful self.
J. Wood: No longer playful, and more and more a cold-blooded killer.
Liz: Could be another interesting exercise in free will determining the future. He chose to kill the real Sawyer and somehow consigned himself to the fate of a sociopath.
J. Wood: The little bit I do know about this ship, Helgus Antonius, is that Mittelwerk needed a "special" ship, and no regular ship could take him where he needed to go. He hired Paik Heavy Industries to make that ship. The Helgus Antonius line pretty much ends there.
Jen: Wow, that's really interesting, J. Now I'll have to go back and look, too. I'm not sure what to make of the ship, but -- on a related subject -- I think it stinks that so many important details came out of the Lost Experience. I think the concept of the Experience is cool, mind you, but the fact that they explain the numbers via the game, and not on the show, frustrates me a bit.
Liz: I didn't take part in the Lost Experience. Care to elaborate on any other interesting revelations?
J. Wood: I've been curious if they'll come back to the numbers at all. It seemed like too important a point to leave in that ancillary narrative between the seasons.
Liz: Agreed. For a fleeting moment last night, I thought perhaps the code Charlie needed to enter would be the numbers.
J. Wood: The key things I got from the Lost Experience were what the numbers were for and why the Dharma Initiative went to the island; that Thomas Mittelwerk overthrew Alvar Hanso as head of the Hanso Foundation (and Mittelwerk is your generally shady character, from Austria, vaguely fascist); and that the game was designed to forge this interactive online community, like what we're taking part in right now. In that way, the game is still continuing.
Liz: Also, if we're talking details like Kate's freckles, did anyone notice that island Jack's stubble was clearly grey on one side of his face while flash Jack's beard was fully brown?
Jen: I didn't do it either, only read details here and there. But a number of my friends keep saying, "What's the deal with the numbers?" And those, aka the Valenzetti Equation, are explained here.
J. Wood: Jack's beard -- absolutely more grizzled on the island.
Jen: I did notice the gray. His flash-forward beard also looked very fake, but that's a make-up issue. Speaking of, I'm wondering if next season, the episodes will take place in the present, with the flashbacks taking us back to the island.
Liz: Same here. Or if we'll see alternate presents/futures vying with each other to stifle one another. Let's talk about Jack and Juliet's kiss briefly. Significant?
J. Wood: The numbers are a cool feature that I'm pretty sure they'll have to come back to. Each one represents a factor in the Valenzetti Equation (and Valenzetti shows up on the blast door map). Those factors are things like how fast we're using fossil fuels, what's the rate of world population growth, the rate of attendant disease with that growth, etc., all leading up to how much time we have left before we extinguish ourselves from this planet.
What seemed most significant is shortly after Juliet plants one on him, he tells Kate he loves her. Juliet and Jack have been visiting each other's tent for a while now, and that admission came out of nowhere. And also sets us up for seeing that Jack tracks Kate in the future when they get off the island.
Liz: His admission of love struck me as odd at the time. It seemed like more of a religious kind of love as in "Jesus loves all of his disciples." Jack the savior.
Jen: I interpreted the kiss as a kiss goodbye, a farewell to any potential romance between them.
His "I love you" to Kate was a little out-of-nowhere. But I always believed he had those feelings for her so I wasn't completely surprised.
J. Wood: Do you more or less trust Juliet? She's been lying right up until the end.
Liz: You know, in the end I trust her. I think she's as mixed up as Jack when it comes to how to do the right thing, but I think she does ultimately strive to do right.
Jen: Maybe I'm a dummy, but I do trust Juliet. She lied to Sawyer about the guns but not for bad reasons, or at least it appears that way.
J. Wood: On the "what kind of flash structures will we get," I hope they don't set it in the future and make the fourth season island flashbacks; it's interesting, but will it maintain audience interest? The weirdness of the island is what forges the mythology, so if they did that, it'd have to be heavy on the flashbacks. Flash-forwards, however, turn the show into another kind of game with the audience, where we can try to puzzle things together.
Liz: J. -- Jack's "golden ticket." A reference to "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory?"
Jen: Question about Mikhail/McPatchy -- Is it fair to conclude at this point that the dude is immortal? (Like Richard, who doesn't age?) I think he's a native of the island and somehow Ben doesn't realize that. He seemed surprised when Mikhail survived the sonar fence shock attack. Once again, he managed to live through a harpoon to the heart.
Liz: Mikhail as Rasputin. I like that. He does definitely seem to have his own agenda and only follow Ben's orders when it coincides with his own. He also seemed interested in turning off the jamming signal.
J. Wood: I want to go back and see if he was wearing a special vest that might have dampened the harpoon's damage, but even then, did he blow himself up with the grenade? He was right there when he blew the portal.
Mikhail as Rasputin! You can't shoot him, you can't drown him...
And if Jack's Golden Ticket takes him around the world in an Oceanic flight, that makes the planes the place where dreams are made.
Jen: Re: audience interest -- what do you think the audience will say after last night's episode? We all seem to agree that it advanced the narrative in interesting ways. At the same time, I think the "snake in the mailbox" hype kind of did a disservice to the finale. The ending was not an "Oh my God! A snake! And in a mailbox no less!" kind of conclusion. It was more like, "Ooooh ... weird ... a snake. What could that mean?" People seemed to be expecting a big shocker and this wasn't quite that.
And I love the golden ticket connection.
J. Wood: I think the shocker was meant to be the fact that it was a flash-forward. But, as you've both pointed out, it's all the little things that settle in about this episode that really make it.
Liz: But we were specifically told that the finale would be "game changing" so we have to assume that some significant change in thrust or format has taken place, but we may not actually get the full impact until next year's season opener. Which brings us to the speculative part of this exercise. Where are we going?
J. Wood: By the way, did the scenes of Bonnie and Gretta in the portal room remind you of 2001, when HAL is watching the astronauts talk? Every time the camera went to that portal window, it seemed very Kubrick (and it wouldn't be the first time they cited him).
Liz: Yes, and actually, those two reminded me of Sigourney Weaver's Ellen Ripley and Linda Hamilton's Sarah Connor.
Jen: But as we know, the average American viewer doesn't always have patience for little things. Where are we going? That hearkens back to Charlie question in the pilot -- Where are we? Frankly, I don't think we know the answer to that question yet. Where is the island? Where are we time-wise? And did someone bring Vincent on the rescue boat? Because if they left that dog behind I'm going to be really upset.
J. Wood: Speculation: A good part of the upcoming season will be little subtle changes -- like Kate's freckles and Charlie swimming, and not so subtle ones like Christian Shephard still alive -- that we'll need to track. And I think tracking those will pay off.
Hurley was walking Vincent up to the tower -- Vincent was pulling all over the place, just like my dogs.
Liz: I hope you're right, J., because that strikes me as the most interesting place to take the show if the network hopes to hold our interest for three more years.
Speaking of Hurley -- did it seem like he'd taken the time to wash and wax Roger Workman's microbus before busting onto the beach to save the day?
Jen: The bus did look remarkably clean. Another important detail we need to track?
That's the central issue, though: Will there be payoff? We have three seasons to go. "Lost" is a show that requires thoughtfulness and patience of its viewers. I wonder how many people can continue to exhibit those characteristics. Phew. Glad to hear that detail about Vincent, which I missed. I didn't want to force the SPCA to track down the island coordinates and go save that sweet pup.
J. Wood: Where are we time-wise; someone on my blog asked "When are we?" There was a bit of a clue to that in the name of the man who answered the sat phone.
Jen: Remind us of his name again?
J. Wood: Minkowski. I listened to it seven times, because I was a guest-commentator on the Entertainment Weekly Lost column a couple days ago and mentioned Minkowski space, so when I heard that name, I did a little flip.
Liz: And a quick search of Google reveals: "Minkowski developed a new view of space and time and laid the mathematical foundation of the theory of relativity."
J. Wood: Yep. It goes back to Dr. Manhattan from Alan Moore's "Watchmen." Dr. Manhattan experiences Minkowski space as it is. Minkowski argued that space and time are connected, and since all space exists at once, so does all time. This helped make Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity work. Dr. Manhattan in the graphic novel experiences Minkowski space as it is, so he experiences all time at once. But if Minkowski space is real (and there's enough evidence for it), that means if Des changes the future, he is indeed changing the past and present as well.
Liz: By the way, EW's just posted a Q&A with Dominic Monaghan about his exit from "Lost" and he mentions that his death scene was filmed on May 4. Interesting to know the producers don't have much lead time on this stuff.
Jen: Honestly, can either of you think of a TV show that has worked on so many levels and with so many layers? You can watch "Lost" and just follow the basic plot, but you can also use it as a springboard to explore philosophy, literature, religion. And it all informs the show. I think the writers are secretly trying to make the American public more educated. Too bad most of them are busy watching "American Idol."
Liz: The only other show even half this complex is "The Simpsons." No snickers, please.
J. Wood: Nope, I've never seen a show that works so intricately. It's even changed the way I'm approaching my Ph.D work (I'm looking at some predecessors in books and film that do similar things). I know some scholars who'd totally agree with you on "The Simpsons", Liz.
Messers Cuselof have been joking on the podcast about how tightly they worked with the final episodes and how they edited right up to about two days before air time -- which is partly just how television works.
Jen: Question for you, J: There are so many works of literature that "Lost" draws from. For summer reading purposes, which would you say are the most important ones to check out as a means to getting the show? And I agree about "The Simpsons," but I don't think it requires as much analysis. It's an added bonus that some episodes lead to analysis, but there isn't much mystery demanding dissection. (Although where IS Springfield? Are the Simpsons "Lost," too?) The finale of that show was brilliantly funny, by the way.
Liz: Good question about summer reading, Jen. I'm about a third of my way through a re-read of "The Talisman." J., what else should we take to the beach?
Jen: I finally got "The Talisman." One of my local libraries -- and I'm not making this up -- actually lost their copy. Says it's in the system, but it's nowhere to be found. So it took a while to track it down.
J. Wood: As far as summer reading goes, there are a few things that may add to someone's viewing. "A Tale of Two Cities" came up a few times. Virginia Woolf wrote a book called "Jacob's Room" where the character of Jacob never appears, but is described through a series of other characters' impressions. There's a not very good "lost world" book by a guy named Merritt called "The Moon Pool." It's about finding two lost civilizations who live underground, are warring, and worship a a manifestation of the moon.
Jen: J., I would have expected you to also recommend your own book. Come on, what kind of self-promoter are you?
J. Wood: I'm actually going through Lewis Carroll, a bit for fun. I think L. Frank Baum will also come back -- and he's kind of creepy, because if you look into that man's life, he was getting into the occult and theosophy.
Heh. I'll be updating my book over the summer as well.
Liz: Excellent. I'd like to ask the producers to mix in a little Lovecraft and Poe since I know a bit about them. Would make it more convenient for me to analyze.
J. Wood: Oh, One last lit bomb I'll drop: "The Smoky God." I'm still tracking it, but it's a short transcript of a supposedly true story by a Norwegian sailor, Olaf Jansen, again about a lost world and, well, a smoky god.
Liz: J., Jen -- I hate to think this is it till 2008, but it's a fact. So tell me where we're going to start season 4.
J. Wood: Do you think there may be anything to tide us over until February? (Besides a reading syllabus.)
Liz: Well, let's hope for some good DVD extras.
Jen: The seasons always begin in a new place we have never seen before. That's why I think the next one will open in an apartment or home or workplace in the present day (or future, whatever) of one of the Losties. In addition to answering more questions about the island, I think the show has to tell us what happens to our central characters after the rescue. Then, eventually, undo all of those fates and somehow take us back to the very beginning by the series finale.
J. Wood: Here's what I'm hoping for: A Geronimo Jackson "Greatest Hits" release. With Carlton Cuse on banjo.
Liz: J., for shame! I expected a serious, yet convoluted, answer from someone of your academic stature.
Jen: Yes, I'm sure I'll review the DVD so I can fill you guys in on that ahead of the game. More Easter egg hunting -- really, it's the best we can hope for until January. (I'm going to cry...)
Liz: In episode one, I'm betting we'll finally see this rescue ship and find out who leaves the island. But remember, Desmond knows the ship is not what it seems, so what wrench will his knowledge throw in the works? Will he make it back to the rest of the Losties in time to use that knowledge?
J. Wood: Fourth season may be a lot about those people on the freighter, actually.
Liz: And now that Dominic Monaghan is free, I don't see any reason why Driveshaft shouldn't join the "American Idol" summer tour.
J. Wood: Bets on his showing up in flashbacks/flash-forwards? Especially if Jack somehow gets back to the island and "resets" things. In the future, that is.
Liz: I would bet he shows up at least once. Claire needs some kind of closure with his death.
J. Wood: So does Aaron.
Jen: Wait, more characters? Please, no more Poochies. One last word on Charlie -- was I the only one sad to see him die? Right after he drowned and they immediately closed in on a crying Aaron, it was as if the baby knew his pseudo-daddy was gone. So heart-breaking. I'll miss Driveshaft.
Liz: And his ring is still lodged in the side of Aaron's crib waiting to be found.
In the final analysis, yes, I was sorry to see Charlie go. But I think that was because he was so well-written and vital in these last few episodes.
J. Wood: That ring, and Dexter Stratton -- another person we may learn something about (maybe a deep flashback).
Jen: True. So maybe Charlie isn't truly dead. Which also means -- Liz, you know where I'm going -- that maybe Boone is still alive, too! Dare to dream.
J. Wood: Charlie really came around in the past few episodes. I think part of that has to do with how well the entire ensemble has been acting.
Liz: So, until next year then?
J. Wood: I'll be anxiously waiting.
Jen: Me, too.
Liz: Alrighty then, let's get lost. (Groan).
J. Wood: Most of us are going to be a bit lost for nine months. Bittersweet.
Liz: On to your comments and don't forget that Jen and I will be helming a special one-hour "Lost" chat today at 3 p.m. ET.