Doc Jensen distills your thinking on this question into three answers. But first, on the scene at the ''Lost'' celebration at UCLA
Lost | BEN IS BACK Missed him in ''Across the Sea''? Breathe a sigh of relief, you'll get reacquainted this week
Credit: Mario Perez/ABC

On Thursday night, I saw the next episode of Lost, ”What They Died For,” which will air on Tuesday night. It screened as part of ”Lost Live,” a really cool event produced by ABC that celebrated the music of Lost (composed by Up Oscar winner Michael Giacchino) and gave everyone involved in the Lost phenomenon — producers, cast, and fans — a chance to congregate and commune one last time before Damon and Carlton crank the donkey wheel one last notch and the show transfigures into a giant green Hurleybird and flies away on May 23. In the house at Royce Hall in the campus of UCLA: Josh Holloway (Sawyer), Jorge Garcia (Hurley), Daniel Dae Kim (Jin), Michael Emerson (Ben), Nestor Carbonell (Richard Alpert), Henry Ian Cusick (Desmond), Sonya Walger (Penny), Titus Welliver (the Man In Black), and a plethora of faces from the past, including Ian Somerhalder (Boone), Jeremy Davies (Faraday), Rebecca Mader (Charlotte), Lance Reddick (Matthew Abaddon), Kim Dickens (Cassidy), Sterling Beaumon (Young Ben), Harold Perrineau (Michael), and Malcolm David Kelley. (Waaaaaaaaaaaalt!) Also in the house: Superfans Karen (from Karen’s Lost Notebook), Jo Garfein (from Get Lost with Jopinionated), Anil Kapur (The ODI), and many more. My Totally Lost co-host Dan Snierson was also there, and actually may still be there; the last time I saw him, he was at the after-party making a complete Frogurt of himself — trying to cajole Gregg Nations into coughing up the secrets of the Dharma notebooks, chasing Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz around and demanding that they ”do funny stuff, dammit!” and performing a one-man adaptation of ”Ab Aeterno” for Elizabeth Sarnoff and Jack Bender that ended with him throwing black and white rocks at Bryan Burk and breaking a wine bottle over Kris White’s head. And then he took off all his clothes. And he was sober, too! (I, on the other hand, was drunk and boring.)

But about ”What They Died For.” Let me tell you everything that happens! SPOILER ALERT! Set in the year 79 B.C., this very special 104-minute epic, shot in black and white, has Jacob and the Man In Black arguing over the proper embalming of Mother’s body. The West Wing‘s Bradley Whitford has an extended cameo as ”Uncle,” Mother’s wacky brother, who washes ashore claiming to only want to visit his long-lost nephews, but really he wants to exploit the Island’s electromagnetic light so he can finance his dream of opening a chain of big-and-tall toga stores for men. Jacob and the Man In Black momentarily put aside their differences and team up to defeat, kill, and then strangely enough eat their evil, albeit tragically misunderstood, uncle. And then they dance. In the Sideways story, Jack’s son David grows a mustache and then suddenly ”remembers” that in his Island life, he was actually Aldo. Oh, and Damon and Carlton cameo as creepy clown magicians who arrogantly refuse to explain their tricks.

Then again, maybe I’m not remembering the episode correctly.

NEXT PAGE: Broad hints about what really happens in ”What They Died For”

Okay, I’m pretty sure I’m getting most of the plot wrong. In all seriousness, I will say that I really liked the episode. [SPOILER ALERT! While I promise to actually not give anything away about the episode, anyone who doesn’t even want to be the least bit exposed should skip the next paragraph and go on to the next page now.]

Those currently sweating bullets following last week’s circa 500 B.C. digression into myth and murky metaphor and mad motherhood will be happy to know that the story returns Lost to the present and gives time to almost all the castaway characters, including Ben, Richard, and Miles. (Remember those guys?) At least three extremely momentous things happen. One of them involves something that Charles Widmore does. One of them involves something that Fake Locke says. And the third is something I don’t even want to be coy about. Perhaps the most surprising thing about the episode is that it’s funny, although I do wonder if watching it in the company of a couple thousand giddy and super-savvy Lost fans steeped in the characters and hip to the references enhanced the experience of hilarity. The episode (written by Sarnoff, Kitsis, and Horowitz) wasn’t funny in a jokey way, but in that ironic, self-aware, glibness-in-the-face-of-extreme-danger Lost-funny kind of way. Much of it is generated by Michael Emerson and Terry O’Quinn, who I think showed up for work on this episode realizing that Lost was almost over and decided: ”Hey! Don’t you think this would be an appropriate time to take it up, like, 10 notches of Emmy-winning awesome?” They don’t just bring their A game — they bring their A+ game. The Sideways story? Probably the most fun and compelling stuff since ”Happily Ever After.” To be clear, ”What They Died For,” the penultimate episode of the season, is basically a set-up episode for the series finale. But it’s probably the best set-up episode of Lost ever. Again, I was under the influence of like-minded company primed and pumped to like the episode, and I really want to watch it again with Mrs. Doc Jensen (a more pitiless and less geektatsic critic) to see if it holds up. Still, what happened, happened — and what happened was extremely enjoyable. But we’ll talk more about it on Tuesday night.

NEXT PAGE: OK, so what IS Smokey?

This weekend, I’d like to briefly explore two questions that I had coming out of last week’s Jacob/MIBapalooza. Here’s the question we won’t be dealing with today: When and why did Jacob become a world traveler? ”Across The Sea,” set hundreds if not thousands of years ago, presented Jacob as an Island recluse with seemingly little interest in exploring the world ”across the sea.” What changed? I’ll explore the question on Sunday in a supplement to this column that will post on PopWatch. (To prepare you, I’d like to direct you to an interview that critic Alan Sepinwall did with Damon and Carlton earlier this week; note, in particular, Damon’s thoughts on the connection between how Mother dealt with MIB’s Island-exploiting people and Jacob’s involvement in the Purge of the Dharma Initiative.)

Today, I would like to focus on this:

You thought this question was settled, didn’t you? We thought Smokey wasn’t a ”what” but a ”who,” and that the ”who” was the Man In Black. But judging from your reactions to witnessing Smokey’s ”creation” in ”Across The Sea,” the question must be reconsidered. Based on what I’ve been reading here and there, the scenarios below are the ones we should be considering. (However, if there are others, please post them and discuss them in the comments section below):

The Soul In Black
He’s the spiritual essence of the Man In Black. Going down the Holy Wormhole — the portal into the source of all life — separates spirit from coil. Because the Man In Black wasn’t technically dead and therefore ineligible to pass into the afterlife, both body and soul were spat back out into the world. (This theory presumes that the MIB corpse Jacob found at the end of the episode and the furious plume that spewed out of the Island’s god spot are separate things.) There is something fundamentally toxic about MIB’s soul, which has been judged — or ”claimed,” to use Dogen’s term — as evil, and that is why Jacob needs to keep him on the Island. Smokey, then, is the ”malevolence” that Jacob spoke of in his wine bottle metaphor of the Island. This would be true of the other scenarios, as well.

NEXT PAGE: A bonus thought

The Demon of the Holy Wormhole
Smokey really isn’t the sin-stained soul of the Man In Black — he’s a demon that was trapped or hiding in the Island’s innermost heart. He’s only posing as the human Man In Black in order to gain the sympathy and the trust of Island visitors, as he needs their help to escape the Island.

The Impersonal Incarnation of Evil
No elaboration necessary.

  • Did The Man In Black Snuff Out the Island’s Light?
  • A provocative theory posed by Kristin at E! suggests that when Jacob’s nameless sibling got belched out of the Holy Wormhole, he took the Island’s light with him. Kristin writes: ”We know from tonight’s episode that the Man In Black absorbed all the light of the Island, becoming the embodiment of pure evil (the Smoke Monster).” This is a really neat idea, though I went back and looked at the scene, and I didn’t see anything that really corroborates this conclusion. You definitely see the light inside the cavern fade — but I took that to be a shadow effect created by Smokey coming up out of the wormhole. But I don’t want to take anything away from Kristin’s imaginative extrapolation! She has an uncanny intuition and a knack for zeroing in on salient details. So her theory could be correct. We shall see.

That concludes Part One of Doc Jensen. I’ll be posting Part Two on Sunday. It’ll include not only some thoughts on Jacob, but a guest lecture by a real doctor — an honest-to-God expert on philosophy and theology and stuff, not the fake kind of expertise you get from me!

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