I don't know how to express how good tonight's episode of Lost was.
Let me think ...
I gotta say, and I've been feeling this all season, I am so happy for the producers of this show. They have taken so much crap from people questioning whether they can continue delivering a good show - as if they didn't deserve any faith for delivering the good show that made everyone so engrossed in the first place.
No, every episode was not pitch-perfect - there was a run of episodes that I watched passively, rather than on the edge of my seat like the ones over the final weeks this season - but that wasn't at the heart of the criticism. People doubted that the showrunners had a plan; they doubted that they had a clue. The level of impatience directed toward the show was through the roof.
I'm not denying people have a right to feel that way, but this wasn't like Cheers going off the rails as seasons progressed by not being as funny anymore. There was this widespread assumption that Lost had set up this mystery and hadn't given any serious thought about where to take it. People didn't just worry that it wouldn't be satisfying at the end - they also worried that the producers were just ad-libbing it. It amazed me, and yet you'd see it everywhere.
Turns out, Lost still is a masterpiece. It has given us the greatest character-driven mystery-adventure of our time.
Friday Night Lights was my favorite drama this season, and The Sopranos is spellbinding as it heads toward its oxymoronically violent-elegiac conclusion. But there weren't two hours of television this season that were as rip-roaring thrilling as tonight's Lost.
I think I went to cloud nine when Hurley came roaring out of the trees in the VW, because not only was just a perfectly designed rescue scene, but it validated so much of what the producers did this year. So many thought the episode with Hurley and the van was a waste of time. Some people didn't enjoy the episode on its face; some people, like me, did. But most people thought it was just a one-off, a stall tactic from producers who were out to sea, 80 miles offshore. But as it turned out, it was yet another example of the producers laying pipe well in advance of future payoffs - first with Ben's father, then with the rescue.
Perhaps I'm writing too angry when I should just be celebrating, but I just got so tired of defending the show. I just could never wrap my head around the lack of faith.
So before I go too far, let me take a breath. Let me forgive it. Assuming I have the right to forgive - I mean, who the hell am I? We're all human, as Lost reminds us each week, and faith is hard. Maybe I'm right to be worked up, maybe I'm wrong - but in the end, I'm just so damn pleased about how things turned out.
When I saw Jack in the opening scene, I thought we were in the future. I thought the first big twist of the season finale was that instead of a flashback, we were flashing forward. Jack just looked older. I didn't think that he had gotten bloated before the crash and then lost the weight. And with Heroes having flashed forward a few weeks ago, the concept was fresh in my mind. We were getting a glimpse of what might come.
But then, when they went to the island in real time, I decided I was wrong. It was a flashback, and we'd run the usual course.
In those first few minutes on the island, I reflected on how invested in these characters I am. Even the ones who have grown a little idiotic, like Kate, I am so invested in. Their quests, both individually for their souls and collectively for their rescue, feel important to me. The parting scenes between Bernard and Rose or Jack and Sayid could have been out of a '40s war film, but they touched me.
Meanwhile, the alarm in Ben's camp, springing from the capture of Charlie in the Looking Glass, ratcheted up the tension. (I loved Bonnie (Tracy Middendorf, veteran of the first episode of Angel), by the way - she was the sexiest all-business soldier I've seen in a while.) Dominic Monaghan continued his triumphant performance from last week's episode, and Michael Emerson, as much as ever, showed us the wheels turning in his brain like a Formula 1 car.
The ambush attempt, Mikhail and Desmond joining the underwater fray, it was like great speed chess, except a dummy like me could follow it.
Sawyer's anguish over killing his father and his inability to communicate it (or for Kate to drag it out of him) felt so right. And Juliet was a wonderful foil.
And I was completely sold on the almost back-to-back scenes of Juliet kissing Jack and Jack telling Kate he loved her. The love quadrangle.
But the episode headed into orbit with the showdown between Jack and Ben, with Jack not caving in, knowing what was at stake, and then actually feeling like it backfired on him with the apparent deaths of Jin, Bernard and Sayid. I didn't believe for certain they were dead - nothing's too certain on this island - but it was more than plausible. It was hardcore. You could immediately feel Jack's misgivings. His preservation of Ben's life in the aftermath was a little Bondian, but aside from the desire to make Ben witness his failure, I feel that Jack is a little afraid to kill Ben - that keeping Ben alive is almost like punching the numbers in every 108 minutes. You just don't know what you're messing with.
That brings us to the Hurley rescue, which was priceless - punctuated by Sawyer's new nickname for him, "Hero." The killings of Tom and the other two Others were brutal, as they stood in opposition to the three of them at least temporarily preserving Jin, Bernard and Sayid's lives, but Sawyer, who probably wanted to do anything but kill again so soon, had the perfect retort about Tom's surrender: "I didn't believe him." It was no longer time to mess around. I think you're meant to feel a little bit for the Others, who were beginning to question Ben, but there is the aspect of paying for their crimes in this cutthroat world. And they did kidnap Walt, after all. I mean, just from that one scene, so much to think about.
Lost continued to mix in some lighter moments with the high stakes. Beaten-up Ben's almost annoyed introduction of Alex to her mother, Danielle, was a hoot. In the Looking Glass, Charlie's eyes were alive.
Ah, Charlie ...
Charlie was a character some struggled with, but he truly transcended these final two weeks. And again, there was the perfect melding of character and plot development in Charlie's final moments, when he takes down the jamming system, talks to Penelope, learns the unfortunate truth twice over. (Penny doesn't know Naomi, and Mikhail is outside with a grenade.) It was a heartbreaking but fond farewell to yet another hero.
And so we come to the final scenes - Naomi making the call, Locke killing her with a knife and threatening Jack with his life if he doesn't put the phone down. I felt strongly Locke wouldn't be able to kill Jack, but I did think he might shoot the phone out of his hand, and begged Jack to hold it better than Wendell Tyler carrying the ball on a sweep. But instead, the call came through. And though we kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, it wasn't going to.
Flash-forward, and we are led to believe we are looking at a post-rescue Jack. And then a post-rescue Kate. And one is begging the other to go back to the island, insisting - as Ben predicted - that their departure was a mistake.
And a newspaper clipping that shows one tangible mystery to go with the intangible ones.
It's a bold and brilliant gambit. It does what the show does so well - opening up another world. And I just have to conclude by saying, I have every reason to believe the final three seasons of Lost will continue to be a great ride. I cannot wait until February.