On the season finale of ''Lost,'' Jack and Ben play a deadly game of chicken as the castaways flee, and Charlie drowns trying to save his tribe; meanwhile, we see Jack's sad future
Matthew Fox, Lost
Credit: Lost: Mario Perez/ABC

”Lost”: The game changes completely

We got it wrong, didn’t we? All the so-called clues in the text, all the suspected hints tucked in the subtext — Stephen Hawking and his time-warping black holes, Ms. Hawking and her symbolically loaded ouroboros pin, the Room 23 film and its hidden message, ”Only fools are trapped in time and space.” For much of season 3, the freaky theorists among us suspected that Lost was setting us up for some continuum-contorting twist of Hiro Nakamura-esque proportions. Instead, the wrinkle in time that the show’s sensational season finale laid on us was smaller and more human than our fantasy-soaked imaginations envisioned, and yet it was every bit the capture-the-imagination mindquake we were hoping for: Goodbye, flashbacks; hello, flash-forwards. Although I don’t have confirmation that this narrative conceit will become Lost‘s new modus operandi, the epic episode seemed to strongly suggest that beginning next season, the on-Island drama in the present (or is that the new past?) will inform the revelations about the castaways’ off-Island future (the new present?) — and vice versa. Lost, our great drama of anxiety in these terrible, terror-fried war-torn times, will become MASH and AfterMASH, rolled into one. Wow. Wow! Not for nothing did the plot of the finale hinge on the figurative flipping of a switch: With this simple shift in its dramatic paradigm, Lost flipped the switch on itself, revealing new dimensions to its creative world and grander ambitions in its exploration of redemption and damnation. And lest we miss the episode’s most important implication amid all this wonky talk, we learned that yes, eventually, at least some of the castaways are definitely gonna get their butts rescued! (But how many? And who?) Again, I say: Wow! Wow!

Although the big twist was saved for the final moments of the episode, titled ”Through the Looking Glass,” I suspect some of you smarties out there cottoned to it in the opening sequence. (Not me, though. Me dumb.) We saw Jack on a plane, badly bearded and guzzling booze, clearly a man transformed — for the worse. We weren’t given a time frame for this flash-forward, and how coy of the show to give Jack a newspaper but not give us a good peek at the dateline. Something else about the newspaper was denied to us, too — a death notice (but whose?) that left Jack emotionally rattled. (Fun fact! The voice of the airplane captain apologizing for the turbulence was none other than Lost executive producer Damon Lindelof. His partner in crime, Carlton Cuse, also made a vocal cameo in the episode as a newscaster.) When Jack got off a plane, he drove to a bridge and made a call to a person unknown with a type of flip phone that didn’t exist prior to the crash of Oceanic 815. (Or so my wife insists.) ”I just read — ” he said through tears, and immediately my mind linked to the Beatles’ sonic collage ”A Day in the Life” and the lyric ”I read the news today, oh, boy?” Another line from the song — ”He blew his mind out in a car” — came to mind when the despairing, spiritually distraught doc made a move to jump off the bridge. But Jack’s suicide attempt was interrupted by a car crash, and suddenly, Action Jack, Island Superhero, found at least one fleeting moment of off-Island relevancy. As we watched him sink into the depths of pill-popping, booze-guzzling, rock-star-sunglasses-wearing spiritual oblivion — bobbing his head to Nirvana’s ”Scentless Apprentice,” no less! — Jack reminded me of all those stories of real-life heroes who can’t make the adjustment back to ”normal life” after their extended moment of living in a heightened reality fades. The theme also reminded me of two other pieces of plane-crash-survivor pop: Fearless, starring Jeff Bridges, and Castaway, starring Tom Hanks. Later in the episode, on the Island, Rousseau told Jack that if they were to be rescued, she would never want to leave: ”This is my home now. There is nothing for me off the Island.” Perhaps in her oblique way, she was trying to warn Jack, too. ”Through the Looking Glass” wasn’t a fantasy about tumbling into Wonderland — it was a cautionary tale about what can happen when you tumble out of it.

The future drama of Jack was spliced into the Island-set story that brought the season-long conflict between the castaways and the Others to a close. It was also an interesting meditation on varying degrees of heroism, from the innocent, desperate-to-help idealism of Hurley to the by-any-means-necessary Machiavellian manipulations of Ben. (Assuming that you believe that deep down, Ben truly is a good guy. And you know what? I do.) There were many separate strands of plot — Charlie and Desmond in the Looking Glass trying to deactivate the jamming signal; Jack and the castaways trekking to the radio tower to hail Naomi’s ship; Sayid, Jin, and Bernard on the beach battling Tom and the mercenary band of women-swiping thugs; Ben at the Others’ encampment, scrambling to repair his unraveling plans amid a growing revolt among his doubting people; and John Locke in the Dharma mass grave, finding new life from an old, young friend. (Walt! Frakkin’ Walt! Waaaaaaaaaaalt!) Taken together, the finale paid off on a plethora of season 3 plot points and set up many more for next season and beyond.

NEXT PAGE: ”I am a dentist; I am not Rambo”

The castaway exodus provided the backbone for the sprawling story. They began on the beach, with tearful goodbyes said to the brave trio of sharpshooters tasked with blowing the invading Others to hell. Rose made Bernard repeat, ”I am a dentist; I am not Rambo.” I also loved the line Naomi said to Jack as they trudged along the shoreline and into the jungle like Israelites marching toward the promised land: ”What did you do before you became Moses?” (Even Jack the Shepherd had to laugh at that one.)

Of course, Jack’s ”blow ’em all to hell” gambit to avert the Others’ Passover-style abduction plot didn’t go off exactly as planned: the sharpshooters succeeded in detonating only two explosions instead of three, killing some but not all of Tom’s posse. When the castaways realized something had gone wrong at the beach, Kate wanted to go back, and wanted Sawyer to go with her. The shaggy con man — sleepwalking through life since killing Anthony Cooper in ”The Brig” — seemed not to care. But like the latter-day Han Solo that he is, Sawyer roused himself to reluctant valor, though he refused to take his Princess Leia with him. Jack later had to spell it out for her: ”He only wanted to protect you.” Then, the whopper: ”I love you,” the doc told Kate. Though she didn’t say it, Kate’s eyes finished the implied Empire Strikes Back homage: I know, they said. It hit me like Cupid’s arrow: All these weeks of Jack cozying up to Juliet may have been a ruse, perhaps an attempt to draw info out of the former Other. Clearly, next season will focus on the Jack-Kate-Juliet-Sawyer quadrangle.

It also appears that next season will see Ben rejoin the beach bunch as a prisoner. Tipped off by the lovely ladies of the Looking Glass that the castaways were en route to the radio tower, the Lord of the Otherflies moved to intercept them, determined to prevent them from leaving the Island. And having learned that his daughter, Alex, had betrayed his plans via her boyfriend, Karl, Ben brought her with him, telling her that he was abandoning her to the castaways, her ”new family.” We learned that the reason Ben was so determined to keep Alex and Karl separated was that he didn’t want her to get pregnant and fall victim to the Island’s curse — which means that at least one of the 1,193,004 theory/predictions that I’ve made this season actually came true! (That’s one more than last year — look at the big brain on me!)

When Ben caught up with the castaways, he and Jack retreated to a quiet place for a superpower summit that played out like some Art of War scenario from hell. What came out of Ben’s mouth was either a torrent of lies or some serious foreshadowing of next season’s central conflict. He alleged that Naomi was not the woman she said she was but rather a representative of a group of people who’ve been trying to find the Island for a very long time, presumably for nefarious, exploitive reasons. These people, he claimed, were ”the bad guys,” and bringing them to the Island would be very, very, very bad — for the Others, for the Castaways, and especially for the Island. Ben’s deal: Naomi’s satellite phone in exchange for Jin, Bernard, and Sayid, who could be heard yelling, ”Don’t negotiate with terrorists!” over the walkie-talkie as Ben laid out his proposal. Jack did the Bushy thing and refused. Ben ordered that the hostages be killed. Bang! Bang! Bang! Jack responded by beating Ben into a bloody pulp, an act of violence as terrifying as it was cathartic. Boy, did Ben deserve it. And boy, do I worry about the rage in Jack’s heart, especially when he followed it up by swearing War on Terror vengeance on all the Others. His ultimate dream: humiliating Ben by making him watch as the castaways get rescued — then killing him. Heavy stuff. I wonder: Did George Bush have these kinds of daydreams about Saddam Hussein?

The twisted twist of Jack’s rage was that back on the beach, Sayid and company were still alive. Ben’s order was, apparently, a coded bluff: Pryce actually fired his bullets into the sand, even though Doubting Tom — increasingly disenchanted with Ben’s leadership — wanted to blow the captives away. But the mercenaries paid the price for not killing and running when the castaway cavalry arrived in the form of…Hurley, charging onto the beach in his magic Dharma bus! Sawyer, Juliet, and Sayid sprang into action. Bullets were fired, necks were broken, and the Others were subdued — and then executed. In a move that left Hurley and Juliet shocked, Sawyer put a bullet into Tom. ”That’s for taking the kid off the raft,” said Sawyer, referring to the Others’ abduction of Walt in the finale of season 1. ”Dude, it was over,” Hurley said. ”He surrendered.” Sawyer’s response: ”I didn’t believe him.” Like Jack, Sawyer’s ”heroism” in this episode was darkened by the complexity of personal history, unresolved angst, and deep-seated fear. Sawyer, it seems, is still stuck in the brig of his damaged past. Here’s hoping season 4 will see a prison break.

NEXT PAGE: The fate of Charlie

A cleaner portrait of selfless heroism was provided by Charlie during his Herculean assignment in the Island’s aquatic underworld. I loved the wisecracks while the lovely ladies of the Looking Glass were playing good-cop/bad-cop on him. And after some bloody speargun violence involving the lovely ladies, Patchy, and Desmond, Charlie succeeded in shutting down the station’s signal jammer by inputting a harmonic code, one loaded with tons of theory-spawning potential — the Beach Boys’ ”Good Vibrations” (a song, by the way, that inspired the Beatles to record ”A Day in the Life” — coincidence?). And when the light stopped blinking, a transmission came in — it was Penelope, Desmond’s lady love, confirming for certain that nope, Naomi wasn’t working for her, and nope, she doesn’t have a ship waiting offshore. Then Charlie died. Now, I know a lot of people are going to question the logic of this scene, as it seemed Charlie had many options to save himself. But remember why Charlie swam down to the Looking Glass in the first place: to fulfill the requirements of Desmond’s prophecy of rescue for Claire, baby Aaron, and hopefully the rest of the castaways. For that to happen, Charlie needed to die, per the rules established about Desmond’s precognition. The image of him pushing away from the window and crossing himself is as close as we get to visual poetry in the chat-driven medium of TV, and it got to me. Rest in peace, Charlie Pace. You earned it.

The drama of season 3 came to a climax in the shadow of the old Dharma radio tower, a legendary locale that’s been begging for a visit since season 1. With the jamming device disabled and Rousseau’s distress call turned off, the mysterious Naomi phoned the freighter — then sputtered blood thanks to a knife in the back. The cause of her fatal (presumably) misfortune? Locke, who was beckoned out of the Dharma ditch by a vision (?) of Walt, like Christ summoning Lazarus back to life, and who seemed to share Ben’s seemingly mystical conviction that the castaways were not meant to leave these Twilight Zone tropics. At least not yet. Jack was furious. He grabbed the phone. Locke pulled his gun. A standoff ensued, and Locke was the one who blinked. Distraught, the born-yet-again true believer disappeared into the jungle as Jack made the call to Naomi’s freighter. Ben begged him not to. ”Making that call will be the beginning of the end!” he said. ”Jack, please — you don’t know what you’re doing!” Jack: ”I know exactly what I’m doing.” The castaways cheered their fearless-leader hero as a friendly voice on the other end named Minkowski told him that rescue was on the way. (”Minkowski,” no doubt, is a nod to Hermann Minkowski’s theory of four-dimensional space-time, which has inspired many Lost theories.) Ben shook his head in defeat — or was that a bloody smile on his Clay Aiken-after-a-bar-brawl face? Did Jack just save his friends or doom them all? Take your time answering the questions: We have seven months to debate and theorize.

And we also have seven months to debate the climactic, show-changing twist. In the final scene — the big reveal that the whole flashback was actually a flash-forward — we saw Jack meeting a cleaned-up Kate near the airport. He asked her why she didn’t go to the funeral for the mystery person — a dude or dudette so dislikable that nobody except Jack bothered to pay his respects. (Who could this be? Locke? Ben? Who?) Their dialogue was full of other cryptic bits that raised many other questions. Jack: ”I’m sick of lying. We made a mistake!” (About what? Have the surviving castaways been sworn to secrecy about their Island ordeal?) Kate: ”He’s going to be wondering where I am.” (Who’s ”he”? Sawyer? Maybe her husband, the cop played by Nathan Fillion?) As the third season of Lost passed into history, Jack called out to the woman he said he loved: ”We have to go back, Kate. We have to go back!” But Kate just drove away, leaving Jack the Hero all alone, and hopelessly…lost.

Clearly, there’s more to be said — and if you come back to ew.com on Friday, we’ll analyze some more in the last official Doc Jensen Lost column of the year. (Feel free to e-mail me your finale reactions directly at JeffJensenEW@aol.com.) But I want to you to get talking in the message board below. The big question: Flash-forwards. You digging this idea as much as I am — or do you think this has Big Mistake written all over it? Debate. Discuss. Fill in the blanks of what space and time have prevented me from addressing. Then, come back Friday for some theories, some final statements about season 3, some goodbyes, and even some tasty parting gifts!

PS: I know you’re going to talk about it, so my quick take: No, I do not think Jack’s references to his father meant that time has been changed and that Christian never died. I chalk it up to plain old drunk-guy/sad-dude crazy talk.

PPS: Hoffs/Drawlar = ”flash-forward.” If you know what I mean, then…you know what I mean.

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