There was a lot of subtle - but really heavy - religious undertones in this episode. The two main storylines of the episode featured two characters having serious crises of faith. On the one hand, we had Richard Alpert attempting to kill himself after feeling as though he wasted a really, really long lifetime dedicating himself to Jacob, who promised him that there was a "master plan"... only to have Jacob die, without ever letting him in on this plan.
On the other hand, we had Benjamin Linus, who found himself alone on the Island, ready to side with "evil incarnate" (SmokeLocke) because he was the only one who would accept him. Sure, he may have killed Jacob - but he came to the realization that he did so because it was the only way for him to hold onto the only thing that he had left - power and control of the Island - and after sacrificing Alex for the sake of the Island, it was the only way that he could justify that terrible act.
But that's not all.
It also featured Ilana finding a way to forgive Benjamin Linus for killing "the closest thing she ever had to a father", and in the process perhaps saving his soul from the darkness of Anti-Jacob.
Finally, the show continues to test the faith of the audience. I'm not going to lie, the Off-Island Ben storyline was pretty great, pulling heavy on the parallels from his life on the Island and showing that he had learned from his actions - but compared to the mega-awesomeness happening on the Island, every time the action shifted away to the Flash Sideways, I cried a little on the inside. The writers have told us that we have to trust them - we have to have faith in them - that in the end we'll understand why these Flash Sideways are so important. So let's do exactly that.
Keep the faith.
What to discuss?
Benjamin Linus. As I mentioned, there was plenty of heavy parallels between Dr. Linus Off-Island and the Benjamin Linus that we've seen over the past four seasons of Lost. In the Off-Island action, Ben seemed to get a "second chance" at life. He had a positive relationship with his Father (at least better than his On-Island one), he had the chance to sacrifice Alex to gain a position of power - but chose to save her instead, and was a man who was happy to sacrifice his own personal gains for the sake of others. Pretty much the exact opposite of the Benjamin Linus we've come to know and love.
For another week, the Off-Island Flash Sideways felt like a "Second Chance" for our characters to get things in their lives right - but unlike Sayid's story, it felt less like a "Deal with the Devil" that had a cruel twist, and more like Ben maturing to realize the benefits of sacrificing for others over his own personal gain.
Maybe we'll see that the Flash Sideways really do represent "Happily Ever After"... and the seeming "Cruel Twists" that we've seen in some of them are just showing us that life isn't always fair - or sunshine and puppies... but if you get a second chance and learn from your mistakes, you make the best of what's around.
Richard Alpert. Let's contrast all that happy talk with the suicidal Richard Alpert. Ever since SmokeLocke told Alpert it was "finally out of those chains", we theorized that perhaps Alpert came from the Black Rock, and has been living on Island, never aging, ever since. This episode confirmed it. When Jacob touches you, you don't age and can't kill yourself. Could this be the explanation for Michael's inability to commit suicide? Did Jacob visit and touch him at some point in life? For that matter, why couldn't he have touched Walt so that he didn't age so fast, rendering his character useless on the show even though he seemed so important in the first two seasons?
It makes you wonder if Ben was aware of this rule - maybe, just maybe he KNEW that Locke wouldn't be able to commit suicide in his hotel room... but KNEW that Locke had to die in order to complete Jacob's master plan. On the other hand, maybe Jacob KNEW all of this, and positioned Ben to be in a position to murder Locke, and Ben was once again just a pawn in Jacob's master plan.
The good news is, thanks to Jack becoming Bauer-esque and having total faith in the Island and Jacob's power, he was able to somehow convince Alpert that there might be a bigger plan in play, and Jack is a part of it.
The best news is that all of our characters are now back together in two nice groups (aside from potentially Jin and Sawyer). We've got Team Jacob vs. Team SmokeLocke, and everyone is neatly divided between the two sides.
Oh yeah, except for Charles Widmore.
Charles Widmore. Damn me and my episode previews. I'm honestly about one week away from giving them up. The Widmore reveal would have been about a thousand times more powerful / shocking if I didn't spend a few hours thinking and writing about Widmore in the episode preview, trying to figure out how he would fit into the episode. At the episode's end, I realized that he hadn't appeared yet - which either meant they lied in the Guest Star list... or we were due for his shocking appearance.
Enter Widmore on a submarine.
It seems a little impossible at first. Didn't Ben move the Island to prevent Widmore from finding it again? And it took him nearly twenty years to find the Island the first time, but only a few days (or weeks?) to find it a second time? Remember, in December 2007 Widmore is standing outside Desmond's hospital room getting slapped by Eloise Hawking. The Oceanic Six boarded Ajira 316 the next day. They spent 4 days in 1977, followed by the Incident, followed by a few days in "the present" (late 2007 / early 2008?). So over the course of that small of a timeframe, Widmore got a submarine, hired a crew, and headed straight for the Island? I guess he could have used the Lamp Post with the help of Eloise Hawking? Still - a little weird. But I'm keeping the faith!
On the down side, that submarine looked pretty small, given that Widmore was sitting inside of it crammed next to the periscope operator. If Widmore is coming with the calvary to save the day, it doesn't look like he brought many people along for the ride. But let's hold out hope that Desmond is tucked away inside there as well!
The Hydra Station. It sounds like Team SmokeLocke is heading back to the Hydra Station. You know what that means? We're going to revisit the scene with Juliet shooting someone in the back outrigger! Could it be she'll kill a bad guy? A good guy? I don't know yet, but I'm pumped to see us heading back in that direction!
Nikki and Paulo. Loved the Nikki and Paulo reference in this episode. Loved it even more that Miles ended up with their millions of dollars of diamonds, getting his payoff for coming to the Island in the first place. Do you think the writers are so forward thinking that they introduced the Nikki and Paulo storyline all those years ago just to have it payoff in this episode with Miles having an excuse for not helping Ben escape? Nah, me neither.
Ilana. So Jacob isn't her father - but the closest thing she ever had to one, which makes it sound like she's some orphan that Jacob took under his wing and in return became a "bodyguard" for him. I definitely like the idea that she's been protecting the Island through what she has been doing Off-Island, and even working to help carry out Jacob's various Off-Island activities over the years (like touching all the Candidates). She continues to prove that she knows EVERYTHING, even calling out Kwon for being a potential Candidate. Someone sit this girl down and make her talk!
Alex. So somehow Danielle Rousseau ends up in Los Angeles? Yeah, I don't see any way the Flash Sideways can be anything except a "Second Chance" for our Survivors or some type of "Deal with the Devil" scenario. There's just no way that all these variables and characters from all over the world could fall into place so easily. Also - Alex was super hot in this episode. Good work, Jeff Goldblum.
Dharma Initiative. Even though the Island is underwater, apparently Dharma still was there, alive and well - but Ben and his father left before the Island sunk... interesting.
Okay - that's plenty from me. What about you?