Written by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse
Directed by Jack Bender
In which the danger to Claire’s baby comes from an unexpected source, while the survivors raid Black Rock for explosives to open the hatch and those on the raft hit unexpected trouble...
Status Report - Final Analysis
Now that the first season is over and the writers have effectively stunned or pissed off everyone in the audience, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what this finale says about the series and its approach to storytelling. Not the fact that character study is considered more important than simple plot progression; that’s been well established by now, and those who don’t get it aren’t going to be convinced. It’s something a little more subtle.
It’s one of those odd television conceits that the general audience, even when watching a story with deceptive individuals, take characters at their word. This is especially true when there are shadowy events taking place where secrets are traditionally kept and lies are traditionally par for the course. For some reason, the idea that people lie, especially those with questionable motives, doesn’t translate to the television audience.
Part of the problem is that people expect a clue or revelation to be an absolute, objective piece of whatever puzzle they want to solve. When there’s precious little information to work with, every little scrap becomes golden. But just like in real life, if characters are conceived and portrayed with human qualities, they don’t reveal the whole truth. In fact, they sometimes see things from such a skewed perspective that the idea of objectivity is wholly inappropriate.
Some viewers, upon learning that information previously revealed may not be true, cry foul. To them, it’s evidence that the writers are changing their story and playing games with the audience. In some cases, that’s true. But in others, it’s equally clear that the writers are intentionally playing on expectation and assumption. They present a character like Locke, show him as a bit unstable in “Walkabout”, and then have fun watching the audience continue to take him at face value and then complain when he does something unusual.
Similarly, this episode reveals that Danielle may not have been entirely honest with Sayid or Hurley when telling her story. When the details change, it’s quite possible that it’s not clarification, so much as a mixture of paranoid reinvention and outright revisionism. The writers spend quite a bit of time presenting her apparent case, and then they quickly pull the rug out from under everyone.
Here’s the thing: Charlie interprets the fact that there were no footprints or signs of life at the fire, and Danielle’s presence there, as a sign that she was the one setting the fires all along. Charlie states this opinion so vehemently that it has the bearing and appearance of truth. But it’s also quite clearly not true; the “others” are real, and they did in fact “take the boy”. Danielle misinterpreted what she overheard, and the fact that she’s hearing voices (like those she killed in the first place) doesn’t help matters. Add to that her complicity in Claire’s abduction, to some unknown extent, and Danielle’s motives are thrown back into uncertain territory.
Some are already claiming that this is a sign of bad writing, that all of this is somehow born of a desire to mess with the audience rather than remain consistent. Maybe so, but is that really the only explanation? Isn’t it far more likely, given the character dynamics already present, that the writers intentionally blurred the lines between objective truth and subjective belief? Taken in context with the “numbers” and the debate between Jack and Locke, doesn’t everything surrounding Danielle fit that theme?
For quite some time, there has been debate about whether or not the hatch and its place in the story is just another example of the writers’ evil intentions. This is nonsense. The hatch may have its place as a plot element, providing the initial starting point for the events of the second season, but it’s far more important in a symbolic sense. Locke’s comment about finding “hope” inside is a direct reference to the myth of Pandora’s Box. Similarly, hope may be inside, but the plot is more likely to center on whatever Very Bad Thing is unleashed at the same time.
The hatch, in the first season at least, was more important as a device for exposing the darker side of Locke’s psychology. That, in turn, led to the situation in which Boone was killed. That led to a number of subsequent character revelations. In that sense, the hatch could have been anything mysterious and just out of reach. All it had to be was something of intense value to Locke; the rest becomes something to explore after the consequences of its discovery are fully explored.
Similarly, the “numbers” were never supposed to be explained by the end of the season. That much is abundantly clear. Instead, what’s important is what the “numbers” represent. The “numbers” are a sign that there may be something more than random chance at work in the world. The exact nature of the “numbers” and their meaning may eventually be explained, but it’s the concept of the “numbers” that has meaning now.
Consider the possibility that the “numbers”, from a purely metaphorical point of view, express a kind of chaos theory, in that they are the evidence of the order within seemingly random events. The “numbers” keep coming up; that’s what holds importance. It happens just enough to eliminate any impression of pure chance, but at the same time, there’s a lack of a direct source. Is it that someone else, in the past, noticed that the “numbers” keep appearing under certain circumstances, and thus those “numbers” were under study?
The “numbers” join the “white/black stones” and other symbols on the series as representative of the philosophical world in which the characters reside. The first season boils down to a question of objective reality (science) vs. subjective belief (faith), and in such a discussion, symbols and apparent patterns are incredibly important. Those concerned with objective reality look at the patterns and seek the objective and impersonal source. Those concerned with subjective belief look at the patterns and seek the meaning behind them, assuming a design (and often, a place in that design).
Jack wants to open the hatch because, based on the information at his disposal, he believes it to be the best chance for survival against an unknown and possibly unbeatable enemy. He weighs the risk and makes the call. Locke, on the other hand, wants to open the hatch because he’s certain that it will bring everyone on the island that much closer to understanding their purpose. And like the shaman with the unshakeable belief, he’s certain that the tribal leader will ultimately come to understand the path to true enlightenment.
The writers, of course, have made the case that there is something more than random chance involved, and Locke’s not the only one to make that observation. Hurley and Sayid have also noted the oddities surrounding the crash and how things appear connected, and so that lends credence to the idea that there is, at some level, an objective ability to recognize some kind of design. So the question turns back to the source, and what the various clues on the island reveal.
If the “monster” is some kind of “security system” (again, from Danielle’s subjective point of view), then what was it designed to protect? One reason that the writers have held back details regarding the “monster” could simply be that its nature might give away too much, too quickly. What is clear is that the “monster” is not itself visible, but that its movements can be traced by what it leaves behind. It sounds mechanical, and it also appears to operate underground much of the time. (And given that the hatch leads underground, that’s a little unnerving.)
But like the hatch and the “numbers”, the “monster” has more use at this stage as something symbolic. For Jack, the “monster” is an unseen and unknown threat, pure and simple. For Locke, it’s a representation of the powerful voice of the island. What the “monster” is pales next to what the “monster” means to the characters. Clearly it has a nature and purpose, but beyond that, the characters struggle to understand how it fits into their world view.
The “others” fit into the same category, but in that case, there is something more to work with when making assumptions regarding nature and motive. The “others” work on one level as a concept, the expression of the unknown, outside threat that is also disturbingly familiar. More than that, they are the “others” with an apparently deeper understanding of what might be at stake. They could be operating under a similar delusion as Locke, but if the presence of an underlying pattern is considered a given, and the extent of it being the only question, then this episode confirms that Walt and his abilities are connected to that pattern.
The “others” themselves can be the remnant of any number of previous “tribes”: the descendants of the Black Rock passengers, the descendants of some research team that began the transmission of the “numbers”, Danielle’s old crew (that she only thought she killed, perhaps), or (less likely) the other survivors of Oceanic 815 that Boone contacted. That they come from the island is, for all intent purposes, a given.
Danielle definitely overheard the “others”; how that was possible is another story. The suggestion is that they live underground, in whatever tunnel system the hatch may or may not lead to. If the “monster” is part of an underground security system, do the “others” live within the apparent tunnels? This would lend credence to the idea that they are either part of the group that created the “monster” or a group that has taken control of the technology. They have a boat, which is interesting information; the column of smoke was apparently a means of navigation They may also have Alex; she might have been the young woman who tossed that explosive device into the raft.
That covers speculation as to their nature; their motive is even less defined. They seem to be connected, via Claire, to the psychic’s premonition in “Raised by Another”. But now Walt is a target, which seems to connect that episode with “Special”. The natural assumption is that the underlying order behind the “numbers” is connected in some way to the abilities Walt possesses and Aaron may have, if he has abilities at all. There’s some kind of psychic, paranormal level to the universe of “Lost”, so in the end, the “others” are operating under some (apparently) common understanding of it.
Behind it all is the ongoing impression of a higher power, controlling or guiding events, perhaps as a means of evaluating the survivors under extreme conditions. Taken in a meta-fictional context, the writers are doing exactly that. But is there a “higher power” in the narrative, and if so, was it found? Or are the “numbers” some representation of that power that someone discovered, something that (as the audience now recognizes) jumps out as a pattern once mentioned, but seems innocent taken out of that context?
Here’s an interesting speculation: are the hatch and “monster” artifacts of some scientific expedition meant to find the meaning behind the “numbers” themselves? Is it possible that the answer was never found, and thus the meaning of the “numbers” resides in how each characters chooses to react to the design they reveal? Do the “numbers” serve to represent, to a certain extent, the larger belief in “God”?
Locke believes that “the island” has a purpose for all of them, and that their survival is not an accident. Locke represents an extreme level of belief in a predetermined universe (he and Arvin Sloane would have some interesting conversations, to be sure); he is the fanatical shaman in every respect. Hurley has a similar belief in the “numbers”, but in his case, they are an expression of fickle, almost cruel fate. Sun looks at the pattern of experience and wonders if the survivors are on the island to be punished for their previous mistakes. Locke would likely agree, since he sees the island as a path to self-enlightenment, the means of becoming who they were all meant to be.
If one takes the meta-fictional point of view, then this finale serves to show just how much the island has changed the characters. It’s not, as some have claimed, just a way to rehash old information and waste time. As this season has aptly demonstrated, the story is about how the past impacts the present and therefore the future for each and every character, sometimes in unexpected combination. If one considers the title of the series to be more philosophical, describing where these characters are in a psychological and even spiritual sense, then this is appropriately not a question of “where this is all going”, but rather, “how they get there”. The point of the journey is not to arrive.
As such, it’s actually quite important to consider how far Jack has come in terms of leadership. He has always had all the potential in the world, but he had those infamous “daddy issues”. Sawyer gave him reason to get over it in the first part of the finale, and now he’s asserting a bit more confidence. That self-realization, of course, has also diminished Locke’s power over him, which comes on the heels of the doubt engendered by Locke’s decisions regarding Boone. Jack is becoming a leader just when one is becoming vitally important.
Kate doesn’t necessarily like that side of Jack, but then again, she has issues with voices of authority as a whole. Herein lies the problem: the doctor and selflessness in Jack reminds Kate of Tom, and she loves that, but the leader in Jack reminds her of the authority figures that have betrayed her time and again. Jack’s not the only one with “daddy issues”, after all. Kate wants to feel like she’s in control, and so far, she’s only found that level of certainty when she’s on her own. Kate has a lot to get over before she finds peace, if ever.
On the other hand, Jack shouldn’t feel too comfortable, because there’s another capable leader with no great love or trust for Locke in the person of Sayid. Sayid is also more suited, it seems, to the quick and dirty field medicine that the survivors are going to need. Sayid has no reason to question Jack’s judgment at this point, but that could quickly change if things go badly with that open hatch. Sayid was dead set against opening it, after all, and that could be meaningful. It would have been nice to get a better idea of his thoughts on Nadia, since “Solitary” and “The Greater Good” seemed to be in contradiction as to her fate, but his apparent reunion with Shannon was enough for now.
Claire and her son are propelled into the forefront of the story when Danielle abducts Aaron. Aaron is an interesting name (the Biblical connection to Exodus alone could be meaningful), though why Charlie reacted so strongly to that news is unclear. This is the episode where Claire’s trust in Charlie is cemented, and so of course, it’s also the episode where Charlie finds a motherlode of heroin and temptation. The “others” may have used Aaron as a decoy this time around (as did the writers), but in the future, Charlie’s possible reversion to addiction could be that much more tragic.
Hurley remains the comic relief, but his tortured side comes out as well. Beyond the hapless streak of extremely bad luck, there’s the soul that has to endure it all. And frankly, Hurley seems to be picking up on the momentum of dread that has gathered over the course of the season. He covers it with wry observations and a comic timing that is beyond perfect, but when he sees those “numbers” on the outside of the hatch, his fear is primal. That fact makes Locke’s decision to proceed despite the warnings that much more damning; Locke might know exactly how bad it’s going to be.
While Sun was around for some useful philosophy, Locke takes the cake for throwing down the intellectual gauntlet. When Locke expressed his point of view regarding Boone’s death, that it was a sacrifice that the island demanded, the depth of his personal need to believe was fully revealed. Locke’s entire life has brought him to the point where having a purpose is the only thing keeping him relatively sane; if the experience on the island is revealed as random or coincidental, Locke could lose his mind even more than he already has.
Out on the raft, Sawyer’s reason for being on the raft is revealed as something of a death wish. After “Outlaws”, it’s not hard to see why that’s the case. He loathes himself and every choice he’s made in his life, and he can’t seem to escape the momentum of his choices. Depending on how badly he’s wounded, Sawyer may get his moment of revelation when he finds himself struggling to survive, suddenly wanting to live, if only for revenge.
Michael is faced with perhaps the most terrifying moment since his son left his life in “Special”. The “others” were obviously keeping a close eye on the survivors, so they knew when the raft was ready to launch and made sure it would. It was easy to forget that Ethan was able to use the water to infiltrate the survivors’ camp, and thus forget that those on the raft weren’t safe. But once that blip on the radar came along, it was easy enough to recognize what was coming. Thus Michael loses Walt after learning that his son is the most important thing in his life.
Jin was revealed as running from his life of crime in “…In Translation”, so it comes as a relative shock when that escape turns out to be much harder than it seems. It really places Jin and Sun on the same level; both were at a serious crossroads thanks to earlier choices, and both were choosing to remain in their metaphorical cages until the island gave them the power to choose freely. It’s a testimony to Jin honorable nature that he dedicated his life to getting Sun the life she deserves, and that he didn’t hesitate to jump into the water to save Sawyer.
That said, all three of them are in deep, deep trouble. They were 15 miles from the island when they encountered the “others”, and they have no transport, no shelter, no food, and no water. Unless something unexpected happens, they don’t have a prayer. Of course, if the “others” aren’t the other survivors of Oceanic 815, then it’s possible that those potential other survivors will be the ones to find Michael, Jin, and/or Sawyer. But this is a very easy time to lose a cast member.
Central to this episode is Danielle’s psychology, which is warped, to say the least. It seems simple enough to say that Danielle thought that the “others” were coming for Aaron, so she thought she might make a trade for her Alex. The implication is that she was still thinking of Alex as a baby, but who can say? The real question is how she was implicated in Claire’s abduction. Did she help Claire get away, or was she trying to take Claire back to the “others”?
This episode, despite being double-length, still managed to cover more material than one would have expected. An enormous amount of plot is covered, whether critics want to acknowledge it or not. The dynamic between Locke, Jack, Kate, and Hurley could have been an episode in and of itself, but it was only part of the story. The Sayid/Charlie thread coincided nicely with the slow build towards disaster on the raft. Add to that the flashbacks, and this was quite dense.
It also goes a long way towards demonstrating why the writers need to focus on a single character during the regular episodes. The finale widened the focus to all the regulars, and while it came together well, it also left the audience hungering for more. Each character brings a fresh perspective to events on the island, and the collective disagreements and motives are what make the series work.
With so many complaining about the pacing of the plot (ignoring the true focus of the series in the process), it’s easy to forget that this has been an extraordinary first season. Only a few episodes didn’t work as well as they could have, and none of them were entirely disastrous. This season gets a solid mark of excellence, and more shows should focus on character and consequences to the same degree. Then again, it could be that this is just the right writing team for the right concept, and it wouldn’t work under different circumstances. Hopefully, the producers won’t back down and sacrifice the integrity of the story in favor of pleasing the fickle masses.
Overall, the finale ends with a number of unexpected moments of pure narrative joy. While the fate of those on the raft could have been predicted, another plot thread effectively diverted attention away from the fairly obvious. Small revelations in plot were more than matched by strong character development, especially pertaining to what could be the central philosophical debate at the heart of the series. In the end, this is the perfect ending to one of the best seasons of television in recent memory.
Final Rating: 9/10
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