"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?
I don't think so.
So, we learn that Desmond is important because he is a "fail-safe" (a reference to when Desmond turns the fail-safe key and destroys the hatch, way back in Season 2's finale). Does that make him a backup version of Jack? Or is he able to somehow sidestep events that seem to be imminent, much like the hatch's fail-safe made pressing the button every 108 minutes obsolete?
Some other notes:
-Jacob's reasons for why he picked these specific candidates weren't very convincing ("I chose you because you needed this island as much as it needed you."). Everyone is flawed and alone, in one way or another. And Jacob has stepped up to take the blame for the deaths not just of Sun, Jin, and Sayid, but all of our island deaths. Every one of them was a result of his ancient mistake, creating the smoke monster and the need to contain him.
-The alternate time line was especially compelling this week for two reasons: 1.) It sets up a juxtaposition in the character of our characters in the two time lines. Would Jack choose to become the new Jacob if David existed in the island time line? No way. And Ben, at his island lowest in this episode, conspiring with Fake Locke and offering to kill, well, anyone, is at his best in the alternate time line, tearing up over Alex and standing up for Locke.
2.) Buddhatastic Desmond on his quest to enlighten is kind of...hilarious. The nonchalant way he prank calls Jack, turns himself in for hitting Locke with a car, and then, with Ana Lucia's help, breaks Sayid and Kate out of jail. Simply badass.
So, going into the finale on Sunday, we find ourselves on the brink of two promisingly epic showdowns. In the alternate time line, the whole crowd will meet at this museum concert. We get to see Charlie again, and Daniel and Charlotte, and maybe even Boone and Shannon. We get to find out the identity of Daniel's mother (my money is now on Juliet). On the island, Jack and his band will confront Ben and Fake Locke at the source. Fake Locke wants to destroy the island. Jack knows it's his mission to kill Fake Locke. Miles and Desmond are also on the invite list. Fake Locke wants to destroy the island. Jack knows it's his mission to kill Fake Locke. Miles and Desmond are also on the invite list. So what is it going to be? Man of science or man of fate (and which is which?)? Live together or die alone?
Stay tuned for more exclusive Lost content later this week, including tomorrow's contest to tweet the entire plot. Six momentous seasons in 140 characters...can you do it?