Everything in Concert

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LOST Season Six. Episode 16. What They Died For.

I needed that.

After last week’s polarizing, ambiguous mythology exploration, I needed an episode that perfectly reset our characters’ situations and advanced the plot. In my opinion, “What They Died For,” delivered, equaling the accomplishments of other near-the-end-of-the-season episodes such as “?”, “Man Behind the Curtain,” “Greatest Hits,” and “The Variable.” No character was left untouched – from the all-encompassing alternate storyline to the Island-hopping reveals and murders. Multiple moving parts complemented each other instead of distracting from each other. Next to “Sundown,” this was my favorite offering of Season Six. It was everything I hoped Across the Sea was going to be, and it made me appreciate that episode a lot more.

All Together Now
Desmond resumed his role as puppet master in the alternate universe last night. Plain and simple. The dude was working all the angles, “orchestrating” the reunion necessary to his mission. Watching it, we were – at times – as much in the dark and unaware of Desmond’s intervention as the characters themselves. But that only made the revelation that he was in complete control all the more credible.

The Siblings Shephard
Papa Jack, son David and Auntie Claire. All living in perfect harmony. Sitting down to a breakfast of Super Bran only to WAIT A MINUTE. “Super Bran.” That’s got to be an anagram, right? S-U-P-E-R B-R-A-N becomes…”Spear Burn!” Yes, Spear Burn! It has to mean something right?! Right? Hello…

Okay fine. They’re just bran flakes. Good to see the Shephards staying regular. And good to get the nugget that little David is set to perform at a concert that evening, where Jack, Claire and David’s mom will be in attendance. I was hoping we’d learn who David’s mom was last night, but in light of the awesomeness of the episode as a whole, I’ll let it slide. But it’s probably Nikki.

The important thing: those three are heading to the concert, and they’re not the only ones. But what was with Desmond calling Jack, pretending to be an Oceanic Airlines employee and claiming that they had found his dad’s coffin? If Jack’s headed to the concert anyway, what does Desmond need to pull that string for? I don’t know, but don’t forget about it. I get the feeling that Jack’s mission isn’t going to be as simple as showing up to hear David tickle the ivories.

The Great Escape
Desmond further manipulated the mainland with his brilliant prison break of Kate and Sayid. I loved this. There’s not much to analyze here, it was just a sweet move by my hetero-man-crush Desmond. The old pose-as-the-prisoner gag, complete with a Hugo Reyes bailout, a payoff of Officer Ana Lucia Cortez (who “isn’t ready yet” for spiritual alternate reality awakening) and a dress that I’m pretty sure Kate will look phenomenal in. Because Kate is hot.

Most importantly: they, too, are on their way to the concert.

Teachers Lounge
Working the longest substitution gig ever, Locke goes back to school to resume work. But waiting in the parking lot is his assailant, Desmond Hume. Before Desmond can put the pedal to the mettle (pun alert!), he’s intercepted by Mr. – excuse me, Doctor – Linus. Desmond proceeds to beat the hell out of Ben, the same way he did when Ben visited and shot him at his houseboat during the Oceanic Six ordeal. In fact, so keen was the parallel between those two scenes that a few blows to the head woke Ben Linus up, and he saw glimpses of that life in the same way that Hurley, Charlie and Desmond had before him.

Of more importance was Desmond’s explanation of his attempted Locke-acide. He told Ben he was trying to help John “let go,” and when Ben communicated that to John, it resonated soundly. If the parking lot rundown and the hospital run-in didn’t awaken John Locke to the existence of his alternate self, this short conversation with Ben did.

Side note: Good to see Rousseau and Alex again. I have nothing to say about that. It was a nice aside, and good to see the kind of parent Danielle Rousseau could be, given the chance to be one in more normal circumstances. That is all.

Bedside Manor
Freshly awoken, Locke decided to pay a third visit to Dr. Shephard. Here we saw that Mr. Locke wasn’t just awoken to the possibility of his alternate self, but also to the the reincarnation of his Island-born faith. The scene was laden with heavy remixes of some of LOST’s most storied dialogue. “But what if all this – maybe this is happening for a reason,” John Locke said of his chance encounters with Jack and other Oceanic 815 passengers – echoing his sentiments about his chance crash landing with Jack and the original Oceanic 815 passengers. “I think you’re mistaking coincidence for fate,” Jack said about Locke’s newfound faith, spinning Mr. Eko’s Season Two warning about the importance of the hatch.

It was glorious, really, the way this episode came full circle to an alternate reality conversation in which whatever was said, was said. Just like certain events cannot be avoided by messing with time and space, apparently certain truths are meant to be delivered to our characters by very particular, precise, pointed dialogue. And that conversation with Jack and Locke last night was the universe’s way of course correcting their conflict, setting them back up as strong personalities on ambiguous and ever-changing sides of the debate over faith versus reason.

In another plotline that seems to complicate Jack’s alternate reality mission, Locke agrees to do the surgery. Again I wonder, if they’re all headed to The Desmond Hume Philharmonic Orchestra, then what’s important about Locke agreeing to do surgery or Jack thinking his father’s coffin has turned up at LAX? Questions for Sunday night, I suppose…

The Drama Initiative
We finally caught back up with Ben, Miles and Richard last night, as the unholy triumvirate made their way back to Dharmaville to procure some C4, in order to blow up the plane. Spoiler alert, fellas, Widmore beat you to both the plane and the Dharma cabin. I really liked Ben’s quick aside that he was going to the place “where I was told I could summon the monster. That’s before I realized, it was the one summoning me.” I’ve been harboring this feeling that Ben – whether he knew it or not – was following Smokey all those years, instead of his beloved Jacob. This line seemed to confirm that. And perhaps it speaks to the perils of unwavering, unquestioning faith. For five seasons, we watched Ben blindly execute the will of what he believed to be Jacob. All it got him was a massive purge of the Dharma Initiative, the death of his own daughter and the demise of the Island’s inhabitants. Last night, Ben seemed to acknowledge the fallacy of his loyalty, and its very real consequences.

That acknowledgement was reaffirmed when the trio traversed some hallowed ground, where Miles’ sixth sense needle went off the page. Turns out, they were walking over the spot where Richard had done Ben the favor of burying Alex. Maybe he did it so Smokey couldn’t assume her corpse and use it to manipulate Ben. But we all saw how that turned out last season in The Temple, when Alex’s ghost persuaded Ben to follow Flocke into the dark. This moment and the acknowledgement of Smokey’s power before it would prove to be Ben’s motivations for the remainder of his episode. He laid out what might be last bargaining chips and asked Smokey to call. But Smokey raised.

Widmore – squatting with Zoe in Ben’s old home – intriguingly alluded to an off-Island encounter with Jacob, who he claimed showed him the error of his ways and put him on his current path. If Ben was looking for one final reason to let go of his faith in Jacob, he got it when his arch-nemesis claimed to be acting on Jacob’s orders. If there’s one thing Ben knows at this point, it’s that whatever side Charles Widmore is on, he’s on the opposite. So if Widmore is acting on Jacob’s directive, then Jacob’s nemesis is right. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

And who should come rowing ashore to expedite the conflict? Flocke! Widmore and Zoe hide to protect themselves and their Jacobian motives, embedding themselves deep in the home of Jacob’s former acolyte to draw a physical parallel to their usurping of Ben’s position as Jacob’s right hand man. But Ben doesn’t care. He and Richard are off to the front yard to confront Flocke once and for all. I thought Richard’s death – considering it took hundreds of years to accomplish – was rather unceremonious. But hey, if Frank Lapidus doesn’t get an epic death, then neither do you, eyeliner boy!

Besides, Flocke couldn’t be bothered to draw out Richard Alpert’s death. He had an apprentice to mold. Ben, waiting like a dog on the front porch for his master, agrees to a deal with Flocke: he’ll help him leave the Island by killing some people in exchange for carte blanche Island dominance.

Ben served Flocke much in the way that Sayid served Ben, as an emotionless empty vessel assassin. The first name on his list was Charles Widmore (well technically Zoe was first, but as Flocke said, she was “pointless”). Flocke and Widmore engage in a tete a tete, with Flocke threatening to kill Penny before giving Widmore a chance to explain his mission. Before Charles can get into specifics, Ben draws on the recently remembered painful memory of what Charles’ men did to his daughter, and then pumps Widmore’s chest full of lead from the entry of his once-sacred secret room. “He doesn’t get to save his daughter,” Ben said mercilessly.

I loved it. Ben’s aimless search for purpose has been the driving force of his character, so his directionless mood in Season Six has seemed unfulfilling. But now, he has a purpose again. And even though that purpose serves bad intentions, it’s a purpose nonetheless. For Ben, an evil purpose is better than no purpose at all. We first learned that when he purged the Dharma Initiative. And we had it confirmed last night, as he turned to Flocke and said coldly, “Did you say there were some other people to kill?”

Finally, Ben and Flocke venture to the well, where they see that Desmond has been freed. It might not be important, but I don’t think Sayid freed him. Sayid seemed to be telling the truth when he told Jack, two weeks ago, that Desmond was in that well. So who freed him? You guessed it, Vincent the dog. Okay, I don’t know who got him out of that well. Perhaps Sting dug him out. If you get that reference, we should hang.

Regardless, I loved the measured reintroductions of Ben and Miles and the resolutions of Richard, Zoe and Charles Widmore. It was the tying up of loose ends, but it was done purposefully, with Ben being redeemed with a new sinister purpose and Richard and Charles being murdered once their usefulness had run out. Put another way, the Island was done with Richard and Charles. It’s not done with Ben Linus quite yet.


The Once and Future King
The four castaways who found themselves on Jacob’s list at the end of Season Two (Hey! Remember when Michael had that list? Turns out the Others kind of knew what they were doing!) continued to mourn the death of their friends on the beach. But Jack wasn’t going to let them wallow in it for long. To quote his father, they had “work to do.” In Jack’s view, that meant it was time to exact revenge on Flocke for killing his friends. Quickly though, I liked how Jack was sewing up Kate’s wound on the beach. It was a nice skewed mirror version of the Pilot episode, in which Kate stitched up Jack in the jungle. I also liked how Jack made the very Jacobian move of using fresh pain to motivate action. Sawyer, Kate and Hurley followed Jack like it was Season One all over again, as he tactfully utilized the deaths of Jin, Sun and Sayid to move them toward a greater purpose. It was a nice foreshadowing of Jack’s later transformation into the new Jacob.

The most important breakthrough of the night, in this story arc, was that Jacob could be seen and heard by Jack, Kate and Sawyer. Hurley, for one, seemed happy to be relieved of his role as interpreter. Likewise, we as the audience had to feel some sense of relief that the communications barriers were coming down, and answers were about to be given. As Jacob said, “We’re very close to the end, Hugo.” And because Hurley acts as the audience’s surrogate, we could safely (and correctly) assume that Jacob was reassuring the audience that resolution was within reach.

Jacob unloaded answers on four castaways who were all ears, promising to explain to them what their friends had died for and why they had all been chosen. But Jacob was interested in more than debriefing his candidates. “Then I’ll tell you everything you need to know about protecting this Island, because by the time that fire burns out, one of you is going to have to start doing it,” he said, inviting them into the gnarliest group job interview ever.

Jacob explains that he made a mistake when he threw his brother into the light, and that the error of creating Smokey was the impetus for his recruitment of our castaways. He knew immediately that his brother would seek revenge on him for separating him from his corporeal self (a fate “worse than death” as we learned last week), and he needed the candidates in place to take over in case his brother ever succeeded.

Why them, though? “None of you were (‘doing just fine’). I didn’t pluck any of you out of a happy existence. You were all flawed. I chose you because you were like me, you were all alone. You were all looking for something that you couldn’t find out there. I chose you because you needed this place as much as it needed you.” If ever a single line of dialogue has synthesized more in this series, I haven’t heard it. That line from Jacob was perfect. It was addressed as much to us as it was to Jack and his friends. And it reaffirmed the notion of the Island as a kind of Purgatory without making that direct biblical parallel. Jacob sought souls in need of saving, but with potential for triumph. He looked for those whose loneliness led to a quest for purpose, which would explain why John Locke’s soul was always considered particularly special. Hell, he even threw us a bone and explained that Kate was only crossed out because she was a mother, but that the job was hers for the taking. Thanks Jacob!

Jacob ultimately sells the job by giving the candidates the one thing he never had: choice. Here, we might’ve just gotten the best explanation of Jacob’s modus operandi that we’ll get. The reason he believed so strongly in man’s ability to choose was because he wanted to give them what he was never granted. He believes that man is capable and worthy and deserving of free will, and that given it, they can achieve anything – including protecting The Island and all mankind from the forces of evil. That’s an optimist for you.

So how do you do this job that Jacob has described? Why you just have to kill a walking corpse who’s impervious to bullets and cannot be killed once he’s spoken to you and has been plotting this fight for thousands (?) of years while carefully manipulating all the variables in his favor. And he also just recruited the Island’s preeminent carpetbagger wunderkind to help him out.

It’s a tall order, but Jack Ignatius Shephard is up to the task. Okay, I made up Ignatius. But in a move that surprised nobody, the “god complex”-afflicted good doctor finally got the patient he’d been waiting for his entire life: the human race. Jack drew on a combination of his newfound faith and his long-held pragmatism, reasoning that he was best-suited to protect the Island while simultaneously avowing that, “This is why I’m here, this is what I’m supposed to do.” It was a long overdue marriage of faith and science in my opinion. Scientifically, logically, Jack was the best choice to take over the Island. His natural-born protection instinct is a perfect asset. But mystically, faithfully, he’s also the perfect choice, as he truly believes that it’s his ultimate purpose. Not a means to an end, not a stop on the journey, but the destination. Finally, we saw Jack do what so many characters have not been able to – abandon extremes in favor of a middle ground that can yield actual results. People of the Island, rejoice!

Jacob consecrates Jack’s decision by blessing water from the stream, having Jack drink it and declaring – in the same way his own mother did to him eons ago – “Now you’re like me.”

Water, water everywhere. And finally, it was time for Jack to take a drink. I loved this scene for a lot of reasons, but here’s my main one: in Season One, Jack hiked into the jungle in search of water when he realized that the bottled supply on the beach was not sustainable. He found his answer in the caves, where stream water provided a constant cycle of refreshment and sustenance for the people he was tasked with saving. Last night, that same stream water was given to him to grant eternal life, with the intent that he use its power to continue to save his people and people everywhere by protecting the Island and its light from the smoke monster and its evil. Jack thus completes the circuit from once-king of a small fledgling empire of castaways to future king of all mankind. It’s the reincarnation of Jack’s fix-it mentality, retooled and refocused for a much broader, more important purpose. Meet the new Jacob.


The Next Stage
“What They Died For,” was fittingly all about setting stages, both figurative and literal. On the Island, the stage was set by the final alignment of our characters toward Good (led by Jack, with Hurley, Kate, Sawyer and Desmond following) and Evil (led by Flocke, with loyal Ben Linus at his disposal). Off the Island, a stage is literally being set for a piano concert starring the son of Jack Shephard and attended by the fate-stricken passengers of Oceanic 815.

But for a set-up episode, this one delivered more than enough punch for me. I dug the closure on Widmore and Richard, I dug the development of Ben’s final mission as Flocke’s accomplice in exchange for Island dominance, I dug Jack’s inevitable acceptance of the role of Island Protector.

And I think if you were one of those people who worried about LOST’s ability to bring closure after last week’s episode, you were probably converted to a Viewer of Faith last night. LOST proved it could deliver answers without beating us over the head with it and still deliver an enthralling character-driven episode.

That’s why, instead of trying to predict how to tonight’s happenings will play into the end game, I’ll leave this as an analysis of a stand-alone episode. An episode with messages about the perils and rewards of faith, the fine line between coincidence and fate, and the very LOSTian worldview that whatever happens, happens. As players on the board, all we can do is sit back and enjoy the ride. That’s what I plan to do until Sunday, when we get to sit back up and enjoy one last offering of the greatest story ever told.

Namaste.
Charlie

16 Snarky Comments:

Island Girl said...

Last night's episode was great, I finally feel like the finale will work. I really didn't think that it could wrap up so quickly, but wow!

Now I wonder where Claire will end up? and what, if any, part Miles will play next week? Maybe he will find Rose and Bernard and drink tea on the porch, just living each moment to the fullest. Probably not.

Anonymous said...

The Smoke Monster attacked Richard, but is Richard dead? Who is it that MIB can and can't directly kill? If he can kill Richard, why hadn't he done it long before now?

LJLA said...

TITLES IN YOUR FACE!

Is protesting the vague titles this week. Sure there is a Beatles reference, a Boys Like girls song, and a shout out to Lebron James/King Author, but I can't work under these conditions. So we are taking this week off to save up for six hours of television on Sunday.

bret welstead said...

Sting: "There's a hole in my heart
That's as deep as a well
For that poor little boy
That's stuck halfway to hell"

Sideshow Mal: "Though we can't get him out, we'll do the next best thing"

Wolfcastle: "We'll go on TV and sing, sing, sing"

Speaking of "we should hang," I liked Maggie's idea of Chipotle on Monday. If you guys are up for it, I'm there.

Matthew said...

any notice that in Jack's office Jack was wearing a black suit and Locke a white shirt?

Noah said...

I'm with anonymous. I don't think Richard is dead. There wasn't enough fanfare or, for lack of a better term, certainty in the death of a central character who had his own backstory episode, etc. He just got flung off into the forest by Smokey, and we've seen people live through Smokey attacks, eg Martin Keamy. I'm calling this shot: Richard is alive and he'll be important to the end of this thing, since, he's still the only one on the good-guy side who knows about as much about the island as Ben and Flocke.

Beutler said...

If Richard saves the day at the 2 hour 27 minute mark in a Tolkienequse deus ex machina fashion I am going to be royally pissed and will raise all your taxes.

Ross said...

Ok one question... What is Ben Linus' motivation if Flocke is planning on using Desmond to destroy the island?...the very island Ben was promised in exchange for his loyalty?

Also I'm with others in the 'Richard Alpert isn't dead' boat.

Anonymous said...

anyone else get the feeling that Ben killed Widmore and Zoe to gain Flocke's trust? When they arrived at the well, Ben asked A LOT of questions about Flocke's motivations and he was more than willing to reveal. I could see Ben coming back to the Good side and helping to destroy Flocke... Ben has always done whatever is necessary to protect the island and if Flocke is planning to destroy it???

OR possibly Ben replacing Flocke opposite Jack to restore the "balance"?

bret welstead said...

I think Ben has chosen his path, and it's to follow Flocke to the end.

By the way...

In Scrubs, Elliot always said, "Frick!"

In Battlestar Galactica everyone said, "Frak!"

Now, in LOST, I think they should use "Flock!" as an expletive.

"No flockin' way they just killed off Sun, Jin, and Frank!"

"Whoa! The smoke monster just flocked up Richard!"

"Oh, Flock! I just cut open the nerve sac in his spine! I hope this guy's got a good flocking HMO."

the ex-neighbor posting from germany said...

what's funny to me is this: had someone asked me at any point in this show, pre-flocke, who the protector of the island was going to be....i would have picked john locke every time.

now, a very locke-like jack is going to take on flocke. it's almost like it's one guy battling himself internally.

Schnicky said...

@ bret
Flockn-A!

I like anonymous's theory about Ben switching sides yet again. I remember in the episode when Flocke first talked with Ben on the porch, and Ben was asking questions...at some point Flocke told Ben that he could have the island all to himself when he leaves. But later, after the Widmore scene, he told Ben that he was going to destroy the island completely. I think if Ben truly wants to save the island and redeem himself, that should have been his clue. It would give him a purpose again. Even Sayid turned good in his final moment aboard the sub after being sorta zombie-fied for awhile there. RIP Sayid. Shouldn't have taken that bath in the poop water back at the temple and all would have been fine.

I don't know about Richard yet. I agree it was an unceremonious death. So that would be unfortunate that we would have to pay higher taxes, no thanks to Mayor Beutler, if he comes back to save the day. If he ain't dead, he surely got knocked the eff out I'll say that. But if Lapidus and Jin/Sun can go out the way they did and we just assume that they are gone, then I am fairly confident Richard is gone too.

And finally...can anybody postulate on the whereabouts of Miles. Did Widmore stuff him in a foot locker? You have to believe he was close to all that went down in the secret closet. Why didn't Ben react to that I wonder? He knew he was in there. Does Miles even matter in the grand scheme now I wonder?

Nathan A. said...

One thing I will be interested to see in the finale, assuming there is a reconciliation between the two alternate time line and the island timeline, it the time gap.

Remember our two timelines are not happening simultaneously. They are three years apart, with alt. time in 2004, and island time in 2007. So if the characters choose the alt life, do they have to go back in time and re-live those three years?

Whatever happens, it's been a great ride. Thanks Charlie and Maggie!

Anonymous said...

Just went to live telecast thing at the Ross tonight. Don't worry, i wont spoil anything (in fact, i was very happy that the writers were so good about not revealing anything). My take: It was like watching an episode of LOST..you had some laughs, questioned the sanity of the writers, but in the end you left frustrated and proceed to dissect what you just witnessed. How typical

Anonymous said...

Maggie - will you be posting on Saturday or Sunday before the finale? And, Charlie - will you be doing a recap Monday?

Anonymous said...

@Matthew - When Locke and Jack were in Jack's office, Locke was wearing a red and white striped shirt and Jack was wearing blue.

Jorge Garcia's blog says that there was a scene that was cut from the episode that showed Locke telling Claire she needed to kill some people for him and she said no. It seems like she is having a "change of heart" too.

Flocke has to keep his promises because it is one of the "rules" so when he told Ben he could have the island but then later says he is going to destroy it kinda confused me.

I still think the last scene of the show is going to be Jack sitting on the beach watching a ship on the horizon and Flock will come walking up ala the same scene as Jacob and Flocke