"We're very close to the end, Hugo," Jacob says, as he gathers Hurley, Kate, Jack, and Sawyer around his campfire. This, the penultimate episode of Lost, was an excellent reminder of what we love most about the show. Unlike the past few episodes—last week's featuring characters introduced late in the game and the week before an emotional roller coaster of a bloodbath—"What They Died For" gave us enough strong character-driven moments, island adventure romping, discreet revelations, and straight-up humor to make up for the recent overdose of Bible allusions.
This was an episode of Lost for the fans (okay, I guess every episode is, but this one especially). We got to see a big chunk of the cast, familiar parts of the island, and revel in some pretty classic earlier episode references and character moments, in everything from the opening scene with Jack's eye (a nod to the pilot) to Locke and Ben's conversation on the porch of Ben's house, reminding us of their complicated relationship (and what a fantastic actor Terry O'Quinn is).
I also found myself laughing a lot. Some key lines:
-Miles (gosh, I love him) saying he was on the island 30 years ago...in other words, "last week."
-Sawyer on Jack: "I thought that guy had a God complex before."
-The sweet (and relatively gratuitous) scene where alternate time line Ben goes to dinner at the Rousseaus' house. And Danielle Rousseau in heels! And a dress! With her hair brushed!
But this was more than a trip down memory lane. Many (seemed to have) died in this episode: Tina Fey (err, I mean Zoe), Richard, Widmore. The latter two deaths were both sudden and unresolved...I don't think it's the last we'll see of them.
Ultimately, this episode drove home the fact that Lost is just as much a character drama as it is supernatural thriller. It's all going to come down to this: is this a story about fate or choice? All along, many clues left us thinking it was a matter of fate: the numbers, the crazy mainland connections, Jacob's touch, the lighthouse. But this episode is steering us toward the value Lost places on character agency. Jacob dispelled so many of our notions about the island rules when he told Kate that her name written in the cave (listing all candidates for Jacob's job) was only crossed off because she had become a mother: "It's just a line of chalk in a cave. The job is yours if you want it."
Jack steps up and, without much pomp and circumstance, takes the job. While this makes sense, it also seems too easy. Is that it? Are the next two and a half hours only going to be about uniting the fractured coalitions, stopping Locke from destroying the island, killing him, and resolving the alternate time line with the island one?