Mysteries, by any name

Times Staff Writer

"Lost's" fourth season ended in a flurry of action, a few major revelations and some familiar beats. As a season ender, it ranks below last year's game-changing flash-forward and Season 2's four-toed statue and listening station surprise. But it's well above the disappointing hatch-opening at the end of Season 1.

The biggest shock, of course, was the identity of the person in the coffin at the end of last season. As we learn at the beginning of the episode, the bearded Jack exists three years ahead of the just-rescued Jack. Which puts the flash-forwards somewhere around 2008. And according to Kate in 2008, the man in the coffin is Jeremy Bentham. Don't feel slow if you had to rack your brain the first time you heard the name; there's a lot of loose ends on this show, and I think we all live with a little fear that we've forgotten some important clue.

But Bentham, it turns out, is just a pseudonym for none other than John Locke.

The Locke twist was reserved for the very last scene in the episode, but anyone multitasking while watching could have easily figured this out through a Google search. Bentham was a noted 19th century philosopher whose main claim to fame was his advocacy of utilitarianism -- a belief that the morality of any action is dictated by its utility to the overall happiness of the group. Bentham's rejection of the traditional view of individual rights was a reversal from the beliefs of such 17th century philosophers as John Locke. In the three years between his ascendancy as the leader of the Others and his death, it seems Locke underwent a pretty major change in his value system. Just what happened on that island after it moved?

Additionally, Bentham became well known in later years for the creation of the Panopticon -- a prison in which the jailer can observe the prisoners without them knowing they're being watched. It sure sounds like those Dharma stations.

But enough about dead philosophers. What about the action? For starters, we got an intense shootout in the jungle between Sayid, Kate, the Others and the Keamy Squad -- a fight the Keamy Squad lost. Then we got a bumpy helicopter ride, a thrilling dive from said helicopter by Sawyer, an exploding freighter and Ben going feral on Keamy.

All very exciting, but I have to be honest -- a lot of the beats seemed to have been lifted from previous season finales. I choose to think these recalls -- Oceanic 815 survivors adrift at sea from Season 1, the sky turning white from Season 2 and the discovery of a previously unseen Dharma station from Season 3 -- were done purposely. Like great epic poetry, the themes and imagery return in subtly changed ways.

The episode belonged to Michael Emerson, whose portrayal of Benjamin Linus gets deeper and richer with each passing week. One moment he was simmering with animal rage at Keamy's taunting, hiding in the dark like Rambo, until he sprang out and stabbed Keamy to death. Then he was back into coldblooded mode, channeling his inner Dick Cheney when Locke said that he was responsible for the deaths of everyone aboard the freighter. His response: "So?" Then he was in full-on tragic hero mode as he slowly turned the wheel that would at once save the island from destruction and ensure his permanent exile from it. The growing anguish on his face as the wheel moved was truly moving.

We do have to wonder about the fate of Jin and Michael. Though I'm not too worried about Jin. Remember that Daniel Faraday was on his way back to the freighter in the boat when it exploded. More troubling is Michael's fate. In his final moments, he saw Jack's father, who told him he could go. It's similar to Jack's father appearing to Claire before her disappearance, and I think we can begin to assume that Christian is now functioning a little like the Angel of Death.

Which brings us to the final scene -- Ben confronting bearded Jack over Locke's body. It seems the Oceanic 6 will indeed have to return to the island. The trick, according to Ben, is that they all must go back, including Locke. But in one of the most surprising twists, it seems Sun may have flipped to the dark side. After wresting control of her father's company, we see her meeting up with the evil, evil Charles Widmore. She's out to get Ben. And what that means for Jack and company remains to be seen.

For the first time in a "Lost" finale, it really felt like the story was winding down instead of building up.

Fewer grand mysteries were thrown at us. Instead we got smaller ones, little things for us to nibble on for the next eight months, instead of major questions to choke on. Desmond finally got reunited with Penny. For one couple, it seems life will move on. For the rest of us, it's stasis until 2009.


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