Though it featured lots of Jack and Kate, Lost delivered the goods last night... with a couple of exceptions. At least, I thought they were discordant notes, but let's discuss and recap after the jump.
I suspected that whatever followed last week's fabulous episode might seem weak by comparison, but "316" more than held its own. What disappointed me was the reveal of Mrs. Hawking as tough-but-lovable elementary school teacher. Oh, I understand that there's more to her than meets the eye - hence Desmond's warning to the others, but after her cold, black stare of the past couple of weeks, I wanted more creepiness, and less sparkly eyed "that's why it's called a leap of faith"-ness. Speaking of which, every time the show veers into Christian parable, it makes me want to gag (my reaction to organized religion in general). I understand wanting to reach into Biblical imagery and allegory for literary purposes, but if "the meaning" of Lost really turns out to be a death/rebirth story along the lines of the new testament, I WANT MY MONEY BACK. I have enough trouble with the name "Christian Shepard" as it is. But don't let my crankiness fool you: I think this may be Lost's best season yet.
Anyway, "316" begins with a great shot echoing the very first scene of the very first episode: a tight close-up of Jack's eye opening, then the reveal that he's lying on the jungle floor dressed in a business suit. Clenched in his fist is a scrap of paper reading "I wish," but when he hears a call for help, he drops it and runs. Hurley is struggling in the middle of a pond, holding on to a guitar case. Jack of the Jungle dives off a waterfall and drags him to safety. Kate is unconscious on the rocky shore. "Are we?" she asks when she comes to, and Jack confirms: they're back on the island.
We cut to 46 hours earlier, and after what appears to be a alternate take or edit of last week's last scene, Ben, Jack, Sun and Desmond follow Eloise Hawking into her subterranean lair, located behind a steel door with a Dharma logo. In fact, the room with the Foucault-like pendulum and funky old computers is another Dharma station, The Lamp Post (which, as one of my Lost friends, Luke, pointed out to me last week, is where one enters Narnia in C.S. Lewis's The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe).
Mrs. H pulls out a file marked "9/23/54 U.S. Army OP264 Top Secret" (perhaps another clue that she was on the island that year) and goes into schoolmarm mode. She explains that the station is built over a unique pocket of electromagnetic energy, connected to similar pockets all over the world, including the island. "A very clever fellow" built the pendulum to predict the island's whereabouts. The island is in constant motion, you see - which perhaps explains how Eko's brother's Nigeria-bound plane, and maybe even The Black Rock itself, found their way to it (Mrs. Hawking says this is also the reason the survivors of Flight 815 were never found).
Anyway, the clever fellow devised an equation to predict where the island will be at a certain point in time. These windows of opportunity don't stay open very long; in fact, the survivors have only 36 hours to get back to the island. Luckily, there's a scheduled flight (Ajira #316, from L.A. to Guam) that's going to go right over its coordinates. When they're on the plane, they will need to recreate as best they can the circumstances that brought them there in the first place. Without all the people, Mrs. Hawking notes, the result will be unpredictable.
Meanwhile, Desmond can't believe his ears. They may be there to go back to the island, but he's there to deliver a message to Mrs. Hawking from "your son, Daniel Faraday" that he and the others on the island need her help. Mrs. H neither confirms nor denies the relationship, and her cool, "But I am helping, dear," really sends Desmond over the edge. Of course, he recognizes her from the jewelry shop where she refused to let him buy a ring for Penelope because going to the island, not married bliss with Penny, was his "bloody purpose." He warns the survivors that they are being used. When Mrs. Hawking tells him the island isn't done with him, Des says he's done with the island and storms out.
Mrs. Hawking then has a private after-school session with Jack. She hands him Locke's suicide note, and explains that Locke is going to be a proxy for Christian Shepard, thus Jack needs to give something of his father's to Locke (which makes me wonder if the guitar case Hurley is carrying is a proxy for Charlie). She tells him he needs to make "a leap of faith." Ben drives home the notion a moment later, when he explains the biblical story of doubting Thomas. "We're all convinced sooner or later, Jack," he says. Then he's off to "tie up a loose end" and Jack's off to the airport bar.
His solitary cocktail is interrupted by a phone call from Grandpa Ray's nursing home, putting in a motion a visit which allows Jack to get a pair of his father's shoes for Locke (and we get to see white and black Dharma-style bunny in a magic show). When he arrives home, Kate is on his bed in the dark. She'll go back to the island with him, she says, if he promises to never ask her about Aaron. (All right, my fellow haters, which one of you stole him? After all, no baby means no annoying Mommy Kate. Yay!) Sexy time ensues. The following morning, a guilt-ridden Jack tells Kate he buried Christian in a pair of old white tennis shoes - thus explaining Christian's distinctive footwear.
A beaten-up Ben calls Jack from the Marina, and asks him to pick up Locke's body at Simon's Butcher Shop (though he's not the patron saint of butchers, St. Simon is associated with the saw, because he was allegedly sawed into pieces - just fyi). Jack puts his father's shoes on Locke, and places the suicide note on top of his body.
Jack, Kate, and Sun are at the airport - but so is Hurley, who has thoughtfully purchased an extra 78 seats, thus saving 78 lives (or so he hopes). He won't explain how he got there, but it might have something to do with the fact that a hand-cuffed Sayid is being ushered on to the plane in the presence of what appears to be an officer of the law. Ben arrives late with his arm in a sling, and Hurley freaks out. But everybody settles down in time for the pilot's announcement and - my favorite moment of the night - it's Frank Lapidus. When Lapidus comes out to say hi to Jack, he sees Kate, Sun, et al, and says "We're not going to Guam, are we?" (Best line of episode!) And if Lapidus has to be part of the island expedition, chances are good that Desmond does too - both escaped the island with the O6. The island's not done with him, indeed.
It's night. The plane is in the air. Ben's reading Ulysses, a book I carried around a lot in college, but never actually read. When Jack asks, Ben lies (I think) and says he didn't know Locke killed himself. Jack's massive ego is worried that it's his fault that Locke did so, guilt that is probably not assuaged when, at Ben's urging, he reads the suicide note: "Jack, I wish you had believed me. JL." Just then, the plane starts shaking. There's a white flash, and Jack wakes up in the jungle, rescues Hurley, and finds Kate again. None of them remember the crash, and there's no wreckage. Where's Sun? Sayid? They decide to spread out and search the jungle, but they are interrupted when a Dharma van pulls up. A jumpsuit-wearing Jin jumps out and aims his rifle at them until, shocked, he recognizes them.
The island, it appears, is on 1970s time. Which might mean that Daniel's appearance during the construction of the Orchid a couple episodes ago was a flash-forward, not back (i.e., it has yet to happen). And because it's the Seventies, the recently deceased Charlotte is still a little girl. I'm guessing we're going to see her meet that crazy-man Daniel in an episode to come. We're also going to learn a lot more about the Dharma Initiative - hooray!
But the biggest question of the night has to be where is Aaron (he was after all, on Flight 815, albeit in utero) and why doesn't he have to go back to the island? Will he get there some other way? Or … is Kate preggers - and her womb acting as a proxy for Claire's?