5-4-3-2-Lost!: “What They Died For”

Posted by Jesse May 19th, 2010 at 12:57pm In Lost

I’m not sure if it’s awesome or kind of bizarre that the most delightful aspects of last night’s Lost came from the alterna-world rather than the “real” island action. Sure, there were plenty of doings a-transpirin’ on the island in 2007 (or whenever it is “now”); the story moved forward, there were at least two deaths, and Jack assumed the role he’s been training for all season as Jacob’s replacement, the island protector. All in all, lots of exciting scene-setting for the now solidly feature-length series finale on Sunday.

But what I really loved in “What They Died For” were the alt-2004 moments, mostly trading on our affection for familiar Lost characters and situations, and cashing in for a lot of poignancy and hilariousness. I loved Desmond waiting in the parking lot at Locke and Ben’s school, revving his engine to run Locke over one more time; I loved it even more when sneaky, slimy Ben defended Locke with such earnestness, and then, after getting his ass kicked, as happens in any of Ben’s realities, going on sort of a surprise family date with Alex and her mom — hey, a non-crazy Rousseau! Well, mostly non-crazy; she did seem just about ready to marry Ben after spending a couple of hours with him and his sexy (?) bug eyes.

Back in 2007, Ben’s sneakiness got a second or third or tenth wind; I loved the weirdly quaint image of him sitting on his little porch, waiting for the Smoke Monster that he now realizes he wasn’t so much summoning with his secret room as inadvertently cooperating with Smokey’s destructive plan. Now, I guess he figures, might as well actively cooperate, and if his enemies die in the process, all the better. His chilling follow-up question after shooting Widmore — who else are we going to kill? — could be a particularly convincing ruse (again, with the side benefit of vengeance against Widmore), or it could be a pledge of actual allegiance. One of the most fascinating aspects of Ben is his refusal to be redeemed — if his (non-alt) character does have some redemption, it’s almost incidental. Even in the endgame, he’s still angling to get what he wants, even if he doesn’t seem entirely sure of what he wants (that he’d still like Penny to die is almost as chilling as the idea that, well, Penny could die, although the writers have to know the wrath they’d engage if that happened).

So yeah, heavy stuff in 2007; excitingly silly stuff in 2004, with Desmond’s Zen prison break, aided by the corrupt Ana-Lucia (not ready yet to get punched into letting go), bringing most of the important cast members to an awesome Faraday-led classical-meets-rock concert, a concept as ambitious and dorkily prog-sounding as Lost itself. It’s kind of a neat trick, the way the writers have let us enjoy rebooted versions of these alt-characters, including (more than) a wink and a nod to the early days as Jack and Locke once again arrive at a (more benevolent) discussion of science and faith, as death and despair and mystical baptisms reign in the 2007 version of their lives.

Oh, and of course the writers can’t stop raising questions; I can’t decide if this is a sign of good storytelling or just bad habits. New (or newly revived) questions from this episode include: how is Desmond going to serve as a failsafe? Who is Jack’s ex-wife in alt-2004 (probably Juliet, right?)? How long will Jack last as protector? How can you kill a Smoke Monster? Is Ben back to his evil ways, or is he doing a long-con on Smokey? Were Richard and/or Lapidus actually given ignominious semi-off-screen deaths, or are they being saved for later? I was ready to guess the latter for Lapidus, but now, I don’t know, it looks suspiciously like house-cleaning. Again, it’s hard to tell if this is shrewd storytelling or not until we get a look at that finale thing.

Basically, this episode was a lot of fun given that it was occupying the standard piece-moving and set-up-heavy penultimate-episode slot, times a million since it leads into the series, not just season, finale. Episodes like this, enjoyable as they are, make me wonder why the producers wanted to set an end when they did. That is, the last three seasons of Lost have been shorter runs designed to stretch two seasons and change worth of episodes across three seasons to satisfy ABC while not spreading the show too thin. But in retrospect, it seems like they could’ve used the extra ten or fifteen episodes that could’ve come with full-season orders. Then again, maybe the faster pace of seasons four and five would’ve been sacrificed. Maybe it’s just this season didn’t have quite the time/plot management skills I would’ve liked to see, even with a lot of entertaining installments.

I was going to do a list of best and worst Lost characters, but that seemed a bit redundant, as producers have essentially composed their own list consisting of who’s been left alive going into the finale. But maybe I’ll throw that into my finale recap on Monday morning, if the internet hasn’t broken by then.

Your thoughts, as always, are welcome below.

3 Comments

  • 1. Nathaniel  |  May 19th, 2010 at 2:42 pm

    The business on the island was definitely heavier than the sideways stuff this episode, but Miles did get to crack wise at a dizzying rate immediately before running off into the jungle, and the return of sneaky-Ben also means the return of nastily-funny-Ben. Likewise, while the antics of Mr. Desmond Hume were extremely amusing (and really dickish…calling Jack and lying about finding Christian’s body? gearing up to run Locke down again? I won’t hold pummeling Ben against him because almost literally everybody does that if they’ve been on the show long enough) the scene with Jack and Locke was genuinely moving after all the variations on that relationship we’ve seen over the years. And Ben’s dinner with the Rousseaus, while ironic and mordantly funny, was also quite touching. And I’m not sure if that scene was supposed to accomplish the same thing as the business with Alex’s grave in Otherville and just remind us why Ben would totally want to murder Widmore, or if they were supposed to remind us instead of the big episode earlier this season where he really did make a move toward redeeming himself in both timelines and tip us off that the return of sneaky-Ben here is in service of him running a con on the Man in BLocke (we all get to make up names for what to call him, right?). Of course, he did get what he wanted anyway, and that bit with him walking back and just sitting on the porch after Richard got whisked away certainly makes an argument for him just seeing the writing on the wall and doing what he’s gotta to save his skin. And smite his enemies.

    I am really looking forward to the big concert blowout on Sunday, because not only will we hopefully get to see people like Faraday, Eloise, Charlotte, Dr. Chang, etc. but I suspect it could also lead to another slow-motion-everybody-in-one-place-Michael-Giacchino-music-swells goosebumpy sequence, maybe even one intercut between the concert and the stuff on the island (or the plane from the first season). I’m not yet exactly sure where this fits in with my guess that the finale will end with the entire cast at the museum benefit dancing and singing along to a rousing performance of “You All Everybody”. LOST

    Here’s some speculation about the questions you mentioned: Maybe Desmond can survive a trip into the light at the center of the island; I bet you’re right about Juliet; Making Jack the island’s protector in this episode instead of the finale seems to indicate that we’ll get an answer or at least a good idea about this questions before the show’s over; Either by sending him into the light in the island or by catching him in a bottle and having Desmond drink him; I think Ben is definitely looking for an opening (partly just because I don’t think they’d abandon the stuff they did with him in the Dr. Linus episode) and I worry that he’ll get killed for it; Yeah, I think you’re right about them just clearing the board in the final stretch. And while it does raise the question of why they kept Lapidus around as long as they did (my guess? he was useful to keep the airplane red-herring going and everybody likes Jeff Fahey), and it’s a shame to lose interesting characters or to have sad endings for characters you hoped better for, I kind of like that they’re paring stuff down to really let the little group of main characters we have left drive the show to the end. The enormous cast is part of why I think they lost track of having the main characters actually drive the story forward in the last couple of seasons. The other reason is something you touched on, where the narrative style of the show is based so much on structural tricks, reversals and revelations (both in terms of the characters and the story) that they opted to basically let plotting, external forces, and new or minor characters take over for the castaways in terms of actually motivating the story. Even in this last season, which has had many episodes that I’ve really liked or loved, they basically had our characters being led around by mysterious forces for the first three quarters of it because they had made the decision to save the big revelations and surprises until the end, including the big one about the nature of the sideways world that we’re presumably going to get on Sunday. I kind of like it because the snaky, changing structures of their storytelling is one of the things I’ve always found most engaging about the show so I really enjoy thinking about why they decide to reveal information when and how they do it. I certainly understand and don’t blame the people who have been frustrated or confused by the bigger or bolder (or occasionally poorer) leaps they’ve made in their storytelling. The other thing I like most has been the redemption/forgiveness/healing themes they so focused on in the first couple of years, and I’ve found this season has been a welcome return to that after the turn the show took in the fourth and fifth seasons.

    Also, with Jack and Locke being two of my favorite characters, I’m excited that the finale looks to have dueling storylines with one Jack trying to save a Locke, and the other Jack trying to kill one.

    When you type up your list of the best Lost characters, don’t forget that Keamy’s first name is Martin. And he makes good eggs.

  • 2. katie  |  May 19th, 2010 at 4:41 pm

    Please let this happen:

    “My guess that the finale will end with the entire cast at the museum benefit dancing and singing along to a rousing performance of “You All Everybody”. LOST”

  • 3. michelle  |  May 20th, 2010 at 9:58 am

    I just want to revise my wishlist from last week: what I REALLY want is to see Vincent in sideways world. Tied to a parking meter outside the concert hall? Whatever.


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