Every Lost season finale can only be described as a bittersweet event. The final episodes of the past three seasons all have offered a sweet, thrilling conclusion to a year of storylines, and set the stage for new ones. At the same time, the audience has no choice but to accept the bitter reality that they must endure many months of waiting before the story resumes. The audience is not alone in experiencing this range of emotions, as the characters themselves also experience both the pinnacles of joy (the Oceanic Six family reunions and Desmond’s rescue by the one and only Penny’s Boat) and the depths of sorrow (the division of the group and the apparent deaths of three classic characters: Michael, Jin, and Locke). The three-part Season Four finale, There’s No Place Like Home, lives up to the daunting reputation of its forerunners on both accounts.
Like so many other Lost episodes, the storyline of Exodus actually turned the literal meaning of its title around on its head. The episode began with the group’s efforts to find rescue on the raft, but in the end no one managed to escape. Instead, a series of flashbacks showed the characters moving in the opposite direction, making their mass migration onto the fateful Oceanic flight. The title of the Season Four finale, There’s No Place Like Home, also serves as its own enigma as it sets up a similar reversal. Throughout literature, there are countless stories about characters returning home from adventures mysterious faraway lands. Frank L. Baum’s famous story, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, which made famous this episode’s title phrase, offers one major example. Lost, however, by no means follows this typical story structure. Instead, the opening scene of the finale actually begins where most of these stories end: a group of lost characters safely returns home to their families after a harrowing journey abroad. From there, the series of flash-forwards reveals what happens next after that ‘happily ever after'. The momentary happiness from their return steadily transforms into a more lasting state of despair, and our characters remain as lost as ever.
Even the earliest flash forward scenes include plenty of suggestions of these trials ahead. The prevailing mood aboard their flight home is not the excitement for their homecoming, but regret for the people left behind mized with dread over the lifetime of lying that must await them. Kate’s supreme sense of isolation undercuts the sheer joy of the family reunion scene. She stands alone on the breezy runway, without parents to greet her, clinging to someone else’s child. After the press conference, Sayid finally reunites with his beloved Nadia after so many years apart. Meanwhile, the viewer already knows that their happy marriage is doomed to meet a violent end after less than a year. From the beginning, though, Sun stands out from the group as the most troubled and reluctant member of the Oceanic Six. Her spiteful remarks to Jack in the opening scene reveal a sense of resentment and hostility against the situation. In a later scene, she becomes the only member of the group absent from the memorial service for Jack’s father. Two later flash-forward scenes focus on her own vengeful dealings with Paik and Widmore, apart from the group. Whatever her plans might be, her motivations certainly stem directly Jin’s fate on the island.
The heated exchange between Sun and her father proved to be a main highlight of the first hour, as it offers some provocative turns for both plot and character. Sun confronts her father with the accusation that he hated her husband and she holds him responsible for his death. Season Three’s The Glass Ballerina revealed that Paik actually shared a closer relationship with Jin rather than with his daughter before the plane crash. Mr. Paik felt tremendous shame over his daughter’s affair, but proudly referred to Jin as his son. (Although the wordplay obviously would not work in Korean, could there be some intentional irony in the fact that Paik tried to name his daughter Sun?) As Paik’s daughter usurps control over the family business, she essentially transforms into her father. Sun mirrors his hardball negotiation tactics, his sharp vocal rhythms, his sly head tilts, and even his signature cockeyed facial expression. In Sun’s later confrontation, she even makes Widmore an offer he can’t refuse, which sets up an improbable new alliance for the coming season. On some level, old Paik must feel proud to see his daughter transform into a ruthless business executive, even if it comes at his expense. In an unexpected way Paik actually may have found what he wanted all along: a worthy heir to his empire. (Surprisingly for him, though, Paik’s true Sun also happens to look great in a bikini.)
The two remaining flash-forward scenes of Part One, which focus upon Hurley and Jack, offer some strong parallels to each other. Both scenes present the character with an opportunity to resolve their deep-seated emotional conflicts with their fathers. Both efforts then transform into nightmarish failures. In Hurley’s case, David Reyes gives him the keys to the Camaro, the symbol for their deepest hopes as well as of the bond between them. The cursed Numbers serve the opposite function of the Camaro image, as they emody Hurley’s fears that he will be doomed to lead a life of misery and insanity. Moreover, the numbers remind him of the lie resting between him and his father. Hurley tries his best to run away from his problem, and we all know that running is not exactly his strong suit.
Later, the memorial service for Christian Shephard also offers Jack the chance to make peace with his own father. After months of delay, Jack finally gets his chance to respond to the loss of his father, and to move on with his own life. These feelings of closure last for only a few minutes, before he learns of a whole new element of the situation. The ghost of Christian immediately returns to haunt him more strongly than ever before. This time, the elder Shephard does not revisit him in the form of an apparition, but in the form of a message from Claire’s mother, Carole Littleton. Immediately after his attempt to bury his father forever, Jack learns that his father lives on, in the form of Claire (whom he was forced to leave behind on the island) and Aaron (whom Kate is raising falsely as her own). Both Hurley and Jack suffer from tremendous guilt complexes, and neither one can escape the truth for very long. As Locke predicted, the knowledge eats them alive, from the inside out, until they decide to come back.
By the time of the subsequent flash-forward scenes, which take place years later in the future, the members of the Oceanic Six begin to put themselves on a return course back to the island. The future death of Jeremy Bentham serves as the intervening act to begin to bring the survivors back together finally to address their situation. Jack and Kate come into conflict, Sayid releases Hurley from confinement, and finally Jack joins forces with Ben. By the end of the episode, the title phrase There’s No Place Like Home no longer refers to their return to the mainland. Instead, it becomes increasingly clear that the Island is the one true Home for all of these characters. Along the way, there are several other suggestions to this effect: Locke’s desperate plea to Jack, Miles’ decision to stay, the revelation about Charlotte’s birthplace, and Juliet’s reluctant acceptance of her fate. Even Charles Widmore himself seems to be yet another man obsessed with returning home to the island. Home meant one thing to these people before they came to the island, but it transformed into another.
Many elements from the Season Two finale Live Together, Die Alone also play a major role in the concluding moments of Season Four. That two-hour flashback episode introduced the story of Desmond’s odyssey to return home to his lost Penelope. After eight years apart, those two ill-fated lovers finally return to each other's arms. Meanwhile, Michael Dawson, out at sea on his third and final boat, reverses his actions from two seasons ago. Michael sacrifices his own life in an attempt to save the same group of friends he left for dead two seasons ago. John Locke finds himself repeating history as well, as he once again finds himself underground in another Dharma Initiative station with the fate of the island in the balance. Whereas Desmond once turned the failsafe key inside the belly of the Swan, now Ben volunteers to turn a much larger device at the Orchid, a mystical wheel far deeper below the island. The ‘purple-sky’ event caused by the destruction of the Swan station helped make the island visible to the outside world, but this second flash of blinding light creates the opposite result.
As expected, the climactic ‘movement’ of the island served as perhaps the most important event of the episode. Moving the entire island sounds like such a ridiculous scenario on many levels, and so the writing of the episode wisely decided to highlight its humor rather than avoid it. The interplay between Ben and Locke at the Orchid station ranks as perhaps the funniest sequence of the entire season. Afterwards, though, Jack’s reaction of intense denial of the event (“No, he didn’t.”) almost topped it for comedic effect. Hurley’s response to Jack comes across an open challenge for all men and women of science out there to ponder for the rest of the year: “One minute it was there and the next it was gone, so, unless we … like … overlooked it, dude, that’s exactly what he did. But, if you’ve got another explanation, man, I’d love to hear it.” Essentially, though, I actually think Jack may be right here: the island did not travel from one place to another in any conventional sense. In my assessment, two main theories about what happened deserve the most consideration.
The first explanation is similar to the one offered by our trusted old friend Dr. Mark Wickmund in the orientation video: the island did not physically move though space, but it moved forward into the future. The island disappeared for some period of time, although much longer than the few milliseconds that the bunnies traveled. As the earth moved, it re-appeared in the future, perhaps in the same spot or at a different location. Apparently, Ben himself experienced this same effect, as he instantaneously arrived in the middle of the Sahara desert over ten months later. Of course, there are a few major problems with this explanation. Unlike a bunny (or a Benny), the island is not a movable object. Instead, the land mass must remain attached to the earth itself on the ocean floor. A person can be picked up and dropped anywhere, but the island could only be dropped back in the same location, or one with the exact same supports underneath it. Even then, there would be the nagging issue of displacing the ocean water that now occupies the same space at the same time. Although this theory might be correct, it certainly has some logistical issues to overcome.
The second main explanation (which I think is more likely) maintains that the island did not move through time or through space. Instead, the machine under the Orchid closed one pathway to the island and opened up another. In this case, the island still physically exists at the exact same place, but now it becomes impossible to reach its location by moving through that same region of the South Pacific. To use a metaphor familiar to everyone: do not think of the island as a conventional physical location, but instead more like a website on the Internet. A website cannot be reached by just any means, but you can only use specific pathways to connect to it. Similarly, the region of space around the island is bent, so that only certain pathways allow you to reach it (key bearings such as 305). This description actually fits pretty well with other accounts of how characters find the island. The island was always practically invisible in the South Pacific, because it was never there in the first place. Instead, that region contained only a gateway to it.
When the island appeared to move, the situation would be analogous to the following one: Suppose darkufo.blogspot.com suddenly changed its web address to shirtless-sawyer.blogspot.com, without notifying anyone. The content on the website did not change at all, but anyone typing in the old URL or clicking on the old links would be unable to find it. To make matters worse, no one has any information to help find the new address other than searching randomly. Anyone hoping to get their daily fix of Lost content would wind up lost in the middle of cyberspace. The people on the helicopter, trying to reach the island through that obsolete pathway in the South Pacific, encountered the parallel situation. From their perspective, the island disappeared, and left them floating over the sea without anywhere to land.
Apart from these details of the nature of the island’s movement, the chain of events that it caused it holds some different significance for the story. For the entire season, and indeed the entire series, Jack Shephard had been trying to lead his people as far away from the island as possible. In their final conversation on the island, Locke made one final plea to Jack to stay on the island before his descent underground to move the island. Thanks to the detonation of the bomb on the freighter, though, those plans to escape the island failed. In the last moments before the island disappears, the helicopter is not flying away to the mainland, but frantically trying to get back to the island safely. Jack did not lead the people away from the island as he wanted, but instead Locke actually moved the island away from the people, which he did not want.
This turn of events creates what is apparently a strange contradiction in Locke’s worldview. Locke believes that he was supposed to move the island, and that the people on the helicopter were not supposed to leave. However, moving the island actually turned out to be the primary cause of their escape. Thus, either both of those two things were supposed to happen or neither of those two things was supposed to happen. Personally, I think that this unexpected consequence of Locke’s plan was actually an intended effect of the instructions to move the island. Perhaps the purpose of moving the island was not only to hide it from Widmore, but to allow the Oceanic Six to complete whatever work they needed to do outside the island. Time and again, Locke affirms to himself that ‘everything happens for a reason’. If he is truly a man of faith, then his concept of everything must include everything that happens, even things that did not go exactly according to his own plans.
Last but not least, the Season Four finale shares its most important connections with Through the Looking Glass. Each of the first three finales involved escalating confrontations between the crash survivors and the Others. At the conclusion of Season Three, the castaways managed to defeat the most dangerous members of the Others by luring them into a deadly trap. A full season later, the Others finally make their triumphant return, seemingly stronger than ever. This time around, the Others collaborate with the survivors to spring another trap upon Keamy and his team of invaders. Ultimately, all it took to get these arbitrary, merciless kidnappers on their side was to introduce a group of arbitrary, merciless killers who sought to murder everyone for no apparent reason. (Has Lost stumbled upon the secret to world peace?) Keamy’s awakening from apparent death provides a nice echo to the similar resurrection of Mikhail Bakunin from the Season Three finale. Just like our cyclopean comrade, Keamy manages to go out with a bang. In that same episode, Ben Linus ordered to kill everyone at the Looking Glass station; now he has graduated to killing even more innocent people on the freighter, for even more selfish reasons.
At the end of Season Three, Charlie Pace played the biggest heroic role with his dramatic dive down to the underwater station. Michael similarly sacrifices his life to help his friends to safety, but his role was nowhere near as prominent in this episode. In only a few brief scenes, Michael’s martyrdom (as well as Jin's) received barely any attention from the script. Instead, the powers that be send Michael away with a decidedly cold-blooded farewell from Christian: “You can go now”. (Not surprisingly, actor Harold Perrineau took offense to this unceremonious exit.) Personally, I have no idea why Christian appeared in this scene instead of Taller Ghost Walt or even Libby, either of which would be a better fit the tone of his story. Instead of giving Michael due credit for his dying actions, the episode chose to lavish more attention on Sawyer as its biggest self-sacrificing hero. His drop into the ocean was not quite as dramatic as Charlie’s dive into the abyss, but reminiscent nonetheless. Still, one element of this scene seemed particularly strange to me. Why exactly did Sawyer need to ask Kate to see his daughter for him right at that moment? The audience knew that Kate would make it off the island without him, but Sawyer did not know what was going to happen. At that point in time, with the helicopter flying back to land on the freighter, there was no reason to believe that the boat would need to sail away without him. Unless Sawyer actually expected to die from the fall, then he really did choose to stay on the island for his own reasons.
The flash forward scenes of There’s No Place Like Home also provide a direct connection to Jack’s original forward flashes from Through the Looking Glass. Part Two of this finale begins exactly where the third season finished, with Kate meeting Jack outside the airport. The core mystery of that episode, the identity of the man inside the coffin, also becomes the centerpiece of the final two hours. Instead of piecing together screen-shots of Jack’s newspaper clipping here, characters now openly refer to the man by the name Jeremy Bentham. Many people, including myself, mistakenly believed that the name on the obituary was John Latham, a 20th-century artist and sociologist famous for his concept of Flat Time. In a series of cryptic conversations about him, Kate, Jack, Walt, Hurley, and Sayid each reveal different clues for the man’s identity. Michael, one of the leading suspects to be the man in the coffin, dropped out of contention fairly early in the contest, but other prime candidates emerged. The alias Jeremy Bentham served an inspired, ambiguous choice that kept the coffin mystery alive until the final frames.
The most direct clue rests right in the letters of the last name. In a pleasant coincidence, the name BEN stands out within the name Bentham. Philosophy buffs, though, will recognize the larger significance of the name selection. Our deceased character Jeremy Bentham shares his name with an influential 19th-century English philosopher. In the canon of political philosophy, Bentham ranks right alongside two of the other famous historical figures referenced in this story, the Scottish philosopher David Hume (namesake for our Desmond David Hume) and the Englishman John Locke (a man who needs no introduction). Although Bentham falls much closer to Hume chronologically, his work shows a strong influence Locke’s ideas. The episode included some subtle foreshadowing that Desmond’s life was in danger off the island, and the show's makers even filmed an alternate ending in which Desmond was inside the casket. Sawyer also filled the coffin in another possible ending, which would have made even less sense in the context of the story. Ultimately, though, John Locke became the best fit as the one to end up back inside yet another box. (Did the final scene also intend to make one last hint, an extraordinarily bad pun on Jack breaking the 'lock' to the funeral parlor? If so, then I like it.)
The death of John Locke no doubt shocked many dedicated fans of his character. John survived some phenomenal near-death experiences in the past, but he would need to accomplish his greatest miracle yet to return from this one. The story of Lost seems almost unimaginable without the man who is arguably its most popular character and its most central protagonist, who is also played by its most acclaimed actor. After Cabin Fever, the episode that immediately preceded the finale, many viewers judged that Locke was destined for much greater accomplishments. Personally, I argued that Locke was headed down a much darker path, toward villainy or tragedy rather than triumph. (For the more detailed argument, check out the Luhks review entitled ‘The Alpha Male’.) In some of his last words to Locke, Ben makes a painfully ironic prediction to reassure him about his destiny: “You’ll find your way, John. You always do.” The prevailing themes of Locke’s back-story always proved the exact opposite. John lived his life as a perpetual journeyman, roaming from one idea to the next while trying to find his calling. In light of his past, no one should feel surprised that 'some very bad things' happened under Locke's command, leading Locke to his ultimate destination.
A previous Luhks article from the Theories section, entitled “What’s in the Box?”, discussed the implications for the story if Locke did indeed end up inside the coffin:
The final two scenes in Through the Looking Glass call attention to a mirroring between on-island Locke and post-island Jack. Locke warns Jack not to make the phone call by claiming, “You’re not supposed to do this.” In the final scene, Jack agrees, “We were not supposed to leave.” Jack's complete reversal of perspective recalls Locke's famous prophecy from Exodus ("I don't believe in destiny"; "Yes, you do. You just don't know it yet"). In this interpretation, the Season Three finale essentially depicts how Jack evolved from Locke's greatest nemesis to become Locke's spiritual successor, the man to carry on Locke's work after his death. Even Matthew Fox's physical acting in the flash-forward scenes is so strong that he seems to be channeling Terry O'Quinn. Off the island, Jack became an emotionally crippled man, who believed that there was only one destination on earth that could make him whole again. Essentially, Jack Shephard became the new John Locke. (As much as I love the John Locke character, and as sad as it would be to deal with Locke's death, I have to admit that this version of the story would be both extremely satisfying and true to the tone of both characters.)
Since the early days of Season One, the Jack-Locke relationship has remained one of the core conflicts of the work as a whole. The seminal episodes Walkabout and White Rabbit (still my two personal favorites) intertwined the fates of Jack, Locke, and Christian in a way that continues to gain new shades of complexity. Jack first arrived at upon the island while trying to bring his father’s coffin home for burial. Now, the final scene of Season Four establishes that Jack must bring Locke’s coffin back home to the island. Essentially, Locke assumed Christian’s place as a primary force in Jack’s life, clashing against him time and again, but also challenging him to achieve his potential. Cabin Fever added an even stronger connection between Locke and Christian, as the ghost of Shephard also became John’s own personal island guide. In their final discussion on the island, Locke not only speaks for himself, but also delivers Christian’s message to Jack from the other side.
Certainly, there is still a major chunk of Locke’s story left to tell. Regardless of what happens, Locke will always be a major part of the show over the next two seasons, in one form or another. Many fans speculate that, if Locke’s body returns, he will rise from the dead to walk on the island once more. Personally, I do not expect that John's body will be literally resurrected. Instead, I would predict that Locke will return to the show in the same form as Christian. When Jack returns to the island with his new sense of purpose, Locke would seem to be the ideal choice to serve as the next spiritual guide. Ultimately, then, the younger Shephard can resolve his old conflicts with John and Christian as they lead him to his true destiny.
Over the course of these four seasons of Lost, two opposing trends have defined the overall direction of the original group of characters. First, the group physically has moved further apart from each other. During the first two seasons, aside from a few exceptions, every character more or less lived together and interacted with one another in the same place. In Season Three, different sets characters began to branch off in different directions for extended periods of time. The fourth season brought more drastic changes, first with the split of the camp in the premiere episode, and then with the ultimate departure of the helicopter. The number of future scenes between classic sets of characters seems to be diminishing. Many of the show’s key relationships have been suspended indefinitely, and some characters were forced to say their final farewells.
At the same time, though, the story also deepened the levels of connections between all of its characters. Family relationships dominate many of the off-island scenes, but the character interactions on the island also emphasize the family-like nature of the group of survivors. The show not only highlights the number of literal connections between husbands and wives, parents and children, brothers and sisters, but also the undeniable sense of kinship between different members of the group. More than ever before, There’s No Place Like Home affirms that these characters represent a family unit. Teamwork is evident almost everywhere from start to finish. Everyone is interconnected and dependent upon others for their survival. The core concept of ‘live together or die alone’ never held more relevance than in this particular episode. In the final scene, the words of Jack’s former adversary offer him a surprising reminder of his forgotten mantra.
“The island won't let you come alone. [...] You have to do it together. All of you.”
No one is an island. No one, not even John Locke himself, can survive this crazy world of ours on their own. Locke may have died alone, but through his death, he might have ensured that everyone else might once again live together.