From the moment of their plane crash until last night's season 4 finale, Lost's castaways have wanted nothing more than to go home. But there's a sort of observer effect of the heart that keeps home, like the island itself, from being permanently fixed in space or time. Getting back to civilization isn't exactly the balm our characters hoped for. Maybe that's why last night's episode was filled with references to The Wizard of Oz. At least in that movie, a happy homecoming was possible. In Lost's world of grown-up sorrow, nobody is going to get back to Kansas — or if they do, they're going to hate it there. Spoilers ahead, of course.

In Lost, Home Is Always Moving Away

Dorothy was lucky: All she had to do was click her heels three times while repeating the mantra, "There's no place like home," and boom — she was back in Kansas. It's been considerably more difficult for the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815, but after some eighty episodes, we finally saw them get off the island last night. Of course, we already knew they would, thanks to the writers' introduction of the flash-forward at the very end of last season.

Indeed, the flash-forwards were a brilliant save for a show that during its third season sometimes felt perilously close to becoming hopelessly mired in its own mythology, breaking down under the weight of too many questions and not enough answers. The flash-forwards at once liberated the action from the island while giving us tantalizing glimpses of the future. They answered enough questions that during its fourth season, Lost again felt like it was headed towards a definitive ending, even as they aroused sufficient mystery to keep us coming back for more.

In Lost, Home Is Always Moving Away

Showing the future lives of the Oceanic 6 gave the show a chance to explore the implications of getting off the island, something that, until Jack bayed, "We have to go back!" at the tail end of Season 3, I don't think many people were pondering. What much of Season 4 explored in turn was simply, wistfully, that you can't go home again. (I'm waiting for characters named Thomas Wolfe and Eugene Gant to pop up next season.)

We think of home as a "constant," but sometimes even though you think you know what home looks like, when you get there it's not at all what you remembered. Of course most people aren't plagued by visits from dead friends and fathers — how much did you love Hurley's chess game with Mr. Eko last night? — at least not on the corporeal plane. There's also the issue, raised during last night's finale when Locke tells Jack he's not supposed to go home, of whether leaving the island means evading one's destiny. Indeed, "home" has changed its location as the Oceanic 6 must now return to the island — will they be able to find it?

This season also truly established Benjamin Linus as one of the greatest and most complex scoundrels of the television pantheon. I'd say "villain" but in Lost's ever-shifting mosaic of "good" and "evil," it remains uncertain exactly where Ben's sympathies lie — and as was made clear in the aftermath of his daughter's death, Ben suffers the consequences of at least some of his actions. This gives him a depth of character we haven't seen before, as did the flashback to his (by turns hilarious and disturbing) unrequited crush on Juliet. Yes, Ben's ruthlessly manipulative, cunning, and wicked, but he's also willing to turn that frozen donkey wheel in service to a greater cause, all the while knowing it will separate him from his beloved island. He is the ultimate soldier in Jacob's army.

For me, the biggest disappointment of Season 4 was Rousseau's death. A powerful woman, a survivalist and a scientist, Rousseau was an excellent antidote for the show's occasional forays into "me manly man; you girly girl, so go watch the baby" territory. Along with Rose, she seems to have been the only woman on the island over 30. Indeed, both she and Rose are middle-aged and thus, as every woman over 40 knows, all but invisible in a culture that values extreme youth. Danielle is the person who set up the numbers transmission. She's been on the island 16 years and would appear to have valuable information to share — and yet, to date, there's never been a flashback explaining her story. That may come in future seasons, of course, but given that she's already dead and buried, I rather doubt it. After all, they trotted almost everybody out for last night's finale, even a deep-voiced Walt, but Rousseau was nowhere to be seen.

In Lost, Home Is Always Moving Away

Finally, I love the way Lost has turned a generation of couch potatoes into textual critics as they parse each line in an attempt to squeeze out every meaning from all those references to literary figures and enlightenment philosophers, not to mention the island's own mythology. But I'm somewhat ambivalent that it takes blogs, podcasts, websites, mailing lists, and constant IM-ing between friends to make sense of it all — and even then it's not possible. Like Frank Lapidus, we're all Flight 815 conspiracy theorists, whether we want to be or not. I'm beginning to think I need to set up a whiteboard in the living room to keep it all straight.

A few random thoughts on the finale:

  • When I was a kid, I had a book about mummies that included a few paragraphs on Jeremy Bentham, illustrated with a rather gruesome picture of his head. Bentham's will stipulated that his body be preserved and brought out to attend meetings of University College London's College Council. Wonder if that's a clue as to how the Oceanic 6 will get Locke/Bentham back to the island? And I'm with Hurley: Locke doesn't seem like the suicidal type to me, either.
  • Locke is, however, enough of a rules-follower to be bugged when Ben tosses all sorts of metallic objects into the Vault immediately after the orientation video explicitly says not to do that.
  • As always, Ben gets some of the best lines, delivered with expert deadpan by Michael Emerson. Last night he confirmed for Locke that "time-traveling bunnies" were indeed the gist of the Orchid orientation film, then explained away Keamy's murder with, "Good command decisions get compromised by bad emotional responses. I'm sure you're going to do a much better job than I ever did." Zing!
  • Hurley's best line: "I've been having regular conversations with dead people. The last thing I need is paranoia."
  • I was so surprised and pleased by Desmond and Penny's reunion that I could barely type my notes. Enjoy it while it lasts kids, because you know the wrath of Charles Widmore will soon descend upon you.
  • Charlotte suggests she may have been born on the island, which instantly makes her much more than the annoying redhead on the beach. I'll be interested to see where they go with this storyline—and in fact, I want to see more of Miles and Daniel as well. Except than the latter, these characters didn't get quite as fleshed out as they probably would have if the season hadn't been shortened.
  • All in all, it was an excellent season. I can hardly wait to see what happens next!