Interestingly, the grade I would assign last night’s “Lost” episode is the same as my answer would be if you asked me what I thought of it:
Finally, after six seasons of buildup and mystery-upon-mystery; after thrilling me with two of the best seasons of television I’ve ever seen; after frustrating me enough to force me to Will-to-Skylar-“I don’t love you”-style dump it; after its sweet song of “One last season,” I reluctantly returned; after countless utterings of “TELL ME WHAT THAT FUCKING SMOKE MONSTER IS ALREADY!” -- after all that, we got “Across the Sea.”
While the episode didn’t address every remaining question (nor could it, nor should it), it seems quite clear that “Lost”’s creators understood that it was about damn time to feed the starving viewers. And what we got weren’t scraps. We’re talking filet mignon. Exquisite endangered polar bear filet mignon. The best mignon.
There’s a great LA Times “Lost” blog, and in its recap of “Across the Sea,” it had this to say on the topic of Answering the Big Questions:
"To that end, as a "Lost" fan, the success of "Across the Sea" is almost wholly dependent on what happens in the three-and-a-half hours that will close out the season. The cave of softly glowing light? I suspect we'll get an explanation for that. What happened to the proto-Man in Black when he went down in there? I hope we'll get an explanation, but I fear the producers think "He became the Smoke Monster! Or something!" will suffice. Who was the Woman who raised the twins? How long has the Island been around? Where did any of these people come from to begin with? I fear that the producers think these questions have been adequately answered. I'm not going to say I need all of them answered to be satisfied with the ending -- I daresay the show could get away with answering none of them -- but by raising all of them at once this close to the end, "Lost" risks disorienting its audience even more than usual, particularly as we still don't have a terribly good idea of just what happens if the Man in Black gets off the Island beyond vague rumblings of doom."
I disagree with much of this. I need no further answers from the writers regarding the Glowy Cave, the origin of the Smoke Monster, who The Woman was, the age of the Island, or anything like that really. (Except for how Jacob learned to leave the Island.)
Contrary to what the writer says, it is those questions that I've spent years already wondering about (rather, DEMANDED ANSWERS TO!!!), and finally, I feel like my thirst has been quenched. After last night, we know these Big Things (though perhaps without 100 percent clarity, but come on -- it's incumbent upon the writers to fill in, say, 3/4 of the circle; it's our job to fill in the rest with our own imaginations and rolling discussions):
1. What is the Smoke Monster and how was it created? (ALWAYS my biggest question, since the pilot episode)
Smoky was “born” when Jacob, in a fit of vengeance after seeing his murdered mother, kicked the shit out of his brother and thrust him into the Cave, which we are told is “worse than dying.” My best guess is that the Brother’s soul or essence or whatever you want to call it was torn from his body, transformed into the Black Smoke, and imprisoned on the island -- forever prevented from that which he always wanted: to go home.
2. What makes this Island so special?
The Cave, which is “life, death, and rebirth.” In other words, it’s The Thing That Is Everything. We need no further specifics, but basically whatever metaphysical or supernatural explanation you want to use is fine, as long as it’s along the lines of the Cave being the Most Special Place in the World.
3. What the hell is going on in this freaking show?
Well, the basic gist, it appears, is that there’s this Cave on this Island with incredible powers and properties, and it has a Protector. The Protector has been at least two people whom we’ve met (The Woman and Jacob), plus The Woman’s mother, and presumably, one of the Oceanic 815 survivors, who will be the next Protector. From The Woman’s comment that “Every question you ask will only lead to more questions,” we can ascertain that this Protector cycle has been going on for a very long time, probably forever.
The Island, specifically Jacob, attracts people as a way of testing them -- to see if Jacob or his Brother is correct about the nature of man: Is he inherently good or evil? Once on the island, all the people there go through various and extreme trials in an attempt to reach a final answer to that question. Throughout, the Smoke Monster plays the villain, tormenting and even killing many of the Island’s visitors, while Jacob seeks an example to prove he is right about people -- a candidate, if you will. Thing is, it doesn’t seem like the Smoke Monster cares all that much about whether men are good or evil; he has made his choice: Men are “greedy, manipulative, untrustworthy, and selfish.” What he cares about is getting off the damn island, which is all he has ever cared about since his true mother visited him as a ghost when he was 13 and told him that “there are many things across the sea.”
I’m guessing that whoever winds up taking over for Jacob (I’m leaning toward Jack, the obvious choice, yes; though there could certainly be a surprise) will somehow change everything. Otherwise, what’s the point of the whole story we’ve been watching for six years? Why is this particular cycle worth telling so thoroughly? Maybe this will be the last cycle. Maybe the Protector job will end with Jack letting Smokey off the Island. I know we’ve been led to believe that TERRIBLE THINGS will happen if Smokey leaves, but seriously, how much damage could he possibly wreak off-Island? If your biggest weakness is water, then are you really that big a threat to a planet 70 percent covered by it? And from what we saw last night, Smokey’s goal of leaving the island was never to destroy; it was simply to go home.
Now, it’s possible that when Jacob condemned his brother by sending him into the Cave that the “good” side of the brother was killed, leaving nothing but evil and malevolence in the form of Black Smoke. And it’s also possible that the Cave, along with the Smoke thing, endowed this monster with other supernatural gifts. (He can also turn into ghosts, after all.)
And then there’s this, also from the LA Times thing:
“So what do we think happened to the MIB when he disappeared into the cave? Was some part of the Man in Black absorbed into the Monster, leaving the body behind? Or did his soul somehow co-mingle with the Life Force of the Island, meaning that, in a very real sense, he IS the Island, and if he were to leave, it really would mean the end of all things? The latter is my wife's interpretation, and I sorta think she's right. (Added evidence: The light in the cave goes out.)”
That sounds very convincing.
Anyhow, “Across the Sea” managed to accomplish two essential things: answer Big Questions, and perfectly set the table for the final three and a half hours. By learning what we did last night, we can all now devote our full attention to the fates of the characters we’ve been getting to know for so long. And that -- regardless of how awesome the Smoke Monster is or exactly what happens down in the Glowy Cave -- is what really matters on “Lost.”
UPDATE: Uh, spoiler alert?