Getting Lost (Redux): Through The Looking Glass

So when did you catch on? “Through the Looking Glass” is probably the most pivotal episode in Lost’s history—the point where the question changed from who these people had been to where these people were going. We open on Jack—a bearded Jack—on a plane, heading back to Los Angeles. It’s a familiar feeling, of course, but something is different, and not just facial hair.

No, we’ve jumped three years into the future, and now we’re not just seeing a Jack dealing with spinal surgeries, divorces, and bad dads—we see a Jack who is permanently scarred from what went down on the Island. After the flight attendant gives him a newspaper instead of a drink, he sees something—which we later find out is an obituary—that causes him to drive to an overpass with the intention of jumping off. Before he brings himself to jump, though, a car crashes nearby, and Jack’s hero-complex kicks in, as he saves the victims.

At the end of the first hour, Jack drives to the funeral home to see the body whose death caused him such anguish (the identity of the body is of course left unsaid), only to find out that nobody else showed up. When asked if he is a friend or family of the deceased, Jack says, “neither.” Between all this, though, we find out that Jack’s divorce is over, that he is no longer the chief of surgery, and that he is addicted to painkillers.

Of course, the kicker is that all of this is presented as if it were a flashback—there are no obvious clues to the date (except for, apparently, his cell phone, which some gave away the big reveal to some tech-savvy viewers), and there are even things that throw us off the scent: Jack’s dad is mentioned and discussed as if he were alive, Jack’s ex-wife shows up at the hospital as his emergency contact, implying that the divorce was recent, etc.

In retrospect, all of this feels obvious, and there are surely clues that could have tipped off the audience at various points throughout the episode: When Jack arrives at the hospital to visit the woman he saved, the doctor calls him a hero “twice over.” When a pharmacist threatens to call Christian Shephard’s office, Jack says “don’t bother” and walks out. The moment for me, though, was when Jack says to the doctor, “You have no idea what I’ve been through.”

The final scene of the episode, in which Kate steps out of the car, confirming that we are, in fact, in the future, is one of the most shocking in the show’s history. It wasn’t simply that the show had abandoned its traditional flashback format in favor of flashforwards, but that Jack was distraught not in spite of leaving the Island, but apparently because of leaving the Island. When he yelled, “We have to go back!”—one of the series most oft-repeated phrases (along with “Don’t tell me what I can’t do,” “Are you him?” “Live together, die alone,” and so many others)—at Kate, it totally changed the framework of the series. The question went from “Will these people leave the Island?” to “Why should they stay on the Island?” and “How can they get back?”

All of this takes on a new sense of urgency with the on-Island happenings of the episode. Like all finales, this episode involves a lot of going-from-one-part-of-the-Island-to-another. Like “Exodus,” it’s juggling a lot of balls in the air. First, there’s the camp at the beach. The group has been warned that the Others plan on coming to kidnap the pregnant or fertile women, a plan hatched with Juliet as a spy. Juliet, though, is now a double-agent, having told Jack about the plan. The response: To abandon the beach, but leave dynamite by the tents Juliet has marked as containing the pregnant women. When the Others show up, Sayid, Jin, and Bernard will fire at the dynamite, killing the Others.

Meanwhile, Charlie has arrived at the Looking Glass station, where he needs to turn off the equipment being used by the Others to jam radio signals. If he does that, then the survivors can use Naomi’s satellite phone to call for rescue from her boat. Unfortunately, the Looking Glass is being guarded by two female Others, who capture Charlie. Since Charlie knows, via Desmond’s visions, that his mission will be a success, he feels fine telling his captors that Juliet has switched sides. They tell Ben, and Ben realizes that Jack is leading his group to the radio tower. He also sends Mikhail (who is somehow still alive in this episode) to the Looking Glass to kill Charlie.

Once Mikhail arrives at the Looking Glass, Ben orders him to kill not just Charlie, but the two guards; they know that Ben lied to the other Others about the Looking Glass being flooded. Mikhail shoots the first guard, but before he can finish the second one off, Desmond—having swam down to rescue Charlie—emerges from hiding and shoots Mikhail with a harpoon. Before she dies, the last guard, realizing that her beloved leader Ben ordered her death, tells Charlie the code to jamming equipment.

Back on the beach, Sayid and Bernard have successfully triggered their dynamite, but Jin misses, leaving enough Others alive to capture the three gunmen. Ben and his daughter Alex cut Jack & Co. off on the way to the radio tower, and Ben tries to convince him not to call Naomi’s boat. If he does so, Ben says, “every single living person on this Island will be killed.” When Jack refuses to give in, Ben tells him that the Others have taken the three shooters prisoner, and that if Jack doesn’t give Ben Naomi’s satellite phone, Sayid, Bernard, and Jin will all die. But Jack doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, even as the shots ring out over the walkie-talkie (Matthew Fox, it should be noted, does a good job of selling Jack’s anguish at hearing the shots that he knows he could have prevented).

Of course, nothing Ben says can ever be the truth, and we soon find out that the shots we heard over the walkie were merely fired into the ground (providing more evidence to the “if the death doesn’t happen on-screen, then it probably isn’t real” theory of Lost); Sayid, Jin, and Bernard are still alive, though still being held captive by the Others. Sawyer and Juliet, having broken off from the rest of the camp to rescue them, debate how to free them with no guns and smaller numbers—but it is Hurley that comes to the rescue with the Dharma van, once again proving that adage that if you introduce a van in Act One, that van better run over someone in Act Three. Hurley runs over one Other and Sayid, in all the commotion, kills another with his feet (have I said enough during this “Redux” series that Sayid is awesome?). That just leaves Tom, who surrenders. But Sawyer’s not one for taking prisoners: He shoots an unarmed Tom “for taking the kid off the raft.” I always liked that callback to Tom’s role in “Exodus.” With all Ben’s talk of “we’re the good guys” and Tom’s friendliness at various points in Season Three, it’s easy to forget that the Others have done some terrible things to the Oceanic crew—things Sawyer is not likely to forgive.

All that’s left to be done now is for Charlie to punch the code down in the Looking Glass and turn off the jamming equipment. It doesn’t even look like Charlie is going to drown. He types the code in, turns the switch…and receives an incoming transmission from Penny Widmore (who, of course, started looking for the Island in “Live Together, Die Alone”). Before Charlie can call Desmond over, though, he learns that Penny is not on a boat—she doesn’t know anything about the boat Naomi came from, despite Naomi’s claim. Just then Mikhail, who still isn’t dead, shows up swims by the control room with a grenade, blowing open a window, and causing the room to flood.*

*Like most Lost fans, I would rank Charlie’s death as one of the—if not the single—most moving death scenes in the show’s history. Charlie is both selfless and brave, and he has the presence of mind to write “Not Penny’s Boat” on his hand for Desmond. But I have one big problem with it: Why did Charlie need to die? After he sees the grenade, he closes the door and locks himself in the flooding room, but why didn’t he just leave? He had already turned the switch off and got all the information he needed from Penny. He didn’t really need to contain the flood—it would have taken a while for the whole station to flood. Desmond and Charlie certainly would have had enough time to swim back to the surface.

The big revelation, then, is that Ben, who has lied time and again throughout the season, and twice already in this episode, was actually telling the truth about the boat being dangerous. Jack, though, doesn’t believe him, and just as the jamming equipment is turned off, the survivors arrive at the radio tower and shut off Rousseau’s message. Just as Naomi gets her phone to work, though, Locke shows up and throws a knife into her back.

Locke doesn’t get much to do in this episode, but what he does is pretty big. Having been left for dead by Ben in “The Man Behind the Curtain,” Locke is about to kill himself at the beginning of the episode, when an apparition of Walt appears to him and tells him “you have work to do.” That work, apparently, is to give Jack one last chance not to call Naomi’s boat. He even pulls a gun on Jack and threatens to kill him, though he ultimately can’t bring himself to shoot (not being able to kill having been a theme for Locke in Season Three).

This final scene, in which Jack maintains his resolve, is the culmination, in many respects, of Jack’s three-season-long arc: Ever since the crash, Jack’s primary goal was to save everyone. First, that meant healing them after the crash, then leading them through the Island’s perils, then protecting them from the Others, and finally securing rescue. This is why it is so jarring to see Future Jack, in that final scene, yelling, “We have to go back!” The triumph of success is followed inevitably by the realization of failure.

This is what makes “Through the Looking Glass” such a pivotal episode, in a literal sense of the word. So many storylines get closure—Jack tells Kate he loves her, Rousseau is finally reunited with her daughter, Charlie dies, etc.—and so many new ones get introduced.

There are many big questions raised by this finale: If it’s not Penny’s boat, then whose boat is it? Do they actually want to kill everyone on the Island? Is Ben telling the truth? How will Jack and Kate get rescued? Will others get rescued with them? Who is the “he” Kate refers to their final scene together? Why does Jack want to go back? Why doesn’t Kate want to go back? In my mind the biggest one, and in some ways the key to all of these, was: Who was in the coffin that Jack goes to see?

By now, we know the answers to pretty much all of these questions: Charles Widmore sent the boat; he sent it to kill Ben; Jack, Kate, Sun, Hurley, Sayid, and Aaron all get rescued, leaving the rest behind; they lie about what happened to protect those left. It is Locke (who else could it really have been?) in the coffin.

Nevertheless, there are some lingering questions from this crucial episode. All of them basically center on the Ben/Widmore feud. We know now that Ben banished Wimore for breaking the rules of the Island, and that it was something of a coup, since Ben assumed leadership afterwards. But that doesn’t really explain why Wimore wants to kill Ben, or anyone else on the Island. It’s also unclear if Widmore’s presence is a threat to the Island itself, or just Ben. In Season Six, it’s seemed like Widmore has been working for Jacob, implying that perhaps he was only working on behalf of the Island in trying to oust Ben.

All of this, of course, is another example of the importance of explaining the rules. Things only make sense when we know the characters’ motivations, and we can only know the motivations when we know the rules. Hopefully, though, the finale will clear all that up.

Tune in tomorrow, as “Getting Lost (Redux)” looks at “The Constant”…

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4 responses to this post.

  1. […] arguably the most popular episode of Lost ever, which in a lot of ways is quite astonishing. Unlike “Through the Looking Glass,” which had a twist that anyone could have anticipated getting a big reaction from fans, “The […]

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  2. […] none of these were actually treated as a death—in the traditional TV sense—by the audience. In “Through The Looking Glass” we didn’t know it was Locke in the coffin. In “There’s No Place Like Home” we find out that […]

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  3. […] Through The Looking Glass: Jack has to go back […]

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  4. Posted by drush76 on July 16, 2011 at 4:03 AM

    [“That just leaves Tom, who surrenders. But Sawyer’s not one for taking prisoners: He shoots an unarmed Tom “for taking the kid off the raft.” I always liked that callback to Tom’s role in “Exodus.” With all Ben’s talk of “we’re the good guys” and Tom’s friendliness at various points in Season Three, it’s easy to forget that the Others have done some terrible things to the Oceanic crew—things Sawyer is not likely to forgive.”]

    He doesn’t forgive Tom for kidnapping Walt, but fails to remember that Ben had ordered the kidnapping? The only reason he tried to hurt Ben in the Season 4 premiere, because the latter hinted that Kate loved Jack a lot more (which proved to be true).

    Sawyer was nothing but a murderous hypocrite who used any excuse to inflict violence upon those he bore a grudge against. He was a scapegoater and beneath contempt, as far as I’m concerned.

    Reply

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