Last night's Lost was all about Jack's God complex, both in the Island and "flash-sideways" realities. Why won't people listen to Jack? He can save them all. Really, he can. Spoilers ahead...
I have a feeling "The Candidate" is a major step on the road back to Jack being the main hero, who takes some kind of leap of faith to put the universe to rights. In the previous episode, in the immortal "Get off my damn boat" scene, Jack took a literal leap of faith, and now he's surer than ever that he's meant to stay on the Island. But Jack's still being ultra-passive and letting the wind blow him - Flocke wants him to posse up? He's game. Sawyer wants him to betray Flocke? He's game.
It's only towards the end of the episode that Guilt Guy finally transforms back into Action Jack. First he's willing to stake everyone's lives on his hunch that Flocke's bomb can't kill them. And then I have a feeling that bit where Sayid tells Jack "It's going to be you" is some kind of anointing moment. Jack is "The Candidate" of the episode's title. Maybe.
Meanwhile, in the "flash sideways," Jack offers to do an operation that will restore Locke to full mobility. He's so put out by Locke's refusal of the operation, he starts digging into Locke's past, leading him to discover more and more coincidences involving fellow passengers of Oceanic Flight 815 from Sydney. All of these coincidences don't really lead to any great revelation - in this episode, anyway - but we do finally find out how this version of Locke got paralyzed - in a plane crash that was Locke's fault, and which messed up Locke's dad pretty horribly.
Guilt Guy, of course, is just the flipside of Messiah Guy - Jack feels guilty for stuff because as the center of the universe, he's responsible for everything bad that happens. But luckily, this episode does plenty to remind him that being the center of the universe also makes him ultra-awesome. Now that he's only one of a few remaining candidates - and arguably, the one with the most resolve and faith, since Hugo seemed happy to leave the island - he's more special than ever. He's been shown that he didn't just come to the island by accident, and now he's finally accepting that he has something super important to do.
I did love the final conversation between Jack and Locke, in which Jack admits that he has a really hard time letting go of stuff, and he's hoping Locke goes first. Matthew Fox does a great job of putting a lot of humility and passion into a Jack who's confronting his limitations, in a lot of scenes lately. It was also neat that Jack started quoting both Daniel Faraday and Locke himself, from the island.
Meanwhile, the Smoke Monster's endless baby-kissing and hand-shaking came to an end, as he finally stopped trying to win over the Candidates. And we learned his real ultimate aim. All this time, Flocke's been saying he needed to get all the "Candidates" together so they could leave the island with him, and that's the only way he's allowed to leave. But now it turns out that Smokey really needs all the Candidates dead. He's not allowed to kill them, so he has to maneuver them into a situation where they kill each other.
This was one of those episodes where it felt like characters were doing stuff just to get the right elements of the plot into position. Like Jack agreeing to help Smokey and Sayid "rescue" his friends from Widmore. Why did Jack agree to that? Because the plot required it. Ditto with the weird moment when Jack says he doesn't want to leave the island, but he's willing to take part in a suicidal attack on Widmore's sub anyway. And then there's the moment where Hurley suddenly remembers that they're not supposed to let the Smoke Monster leave the island, but then he sweeps that realization under the rug again.
At least it's made clear that nobody really trusts the Smoke Monster, and they're all just playing along until they can stab him in his nebulous back. And maybe Jack believes Smokey at the start of the episode when Smokey says he can kill Jack right now - even though by the end of the episode, Jack somehow knows that's not true.
Sorry if it seems like I'm quibbling - there was plenty to love about this episode, but it did feel a bit as though there was a bit of housecleaning going on.
So let's talk about the housecleaning, shall we?
In retrospect, I'm not sure why Sayid couldn't have just died in the season opener. On the island, anyway. I guess the subplot where Sayid was brought back to life "wrong," and then got "claimed" by the Smoke Monster, helped us to see the Smoke Monster's true ruthlessness. And it was good that Sayid managed to redeem himself before the end, by sparing Desmond and then sacrificing himself for the others. But honestly, ever since he shot a little child, it's felt as though the writers were as pissed at him as we were. And they've been finding ways to punish him. I did feel a rush of affection when he started to act like the old Sayid for a few seconds before going boom, though. And yay for free will and stuff.
And then there's Sun and Jin, who've also been lurking in the background of scenes a lot this season. After their somewhat brief reunion last week, we got to see a lot more of them this week, and it was mostly lovely. Sun gives Jin his ring back, Jin talks to Sun about seeing pictures of Ji Yeon, and they reconnect. And then they get another long, beautiful moment together on the doomed sub, as Jin chooses to die rather than leave his wife again. The shot of them slowly drifting apart in the water is an amazing piece of composition. Altogether, a really lovely and romantic end, although now Ji Yeon is an orphan. And I promise this isn't just me trying to prove I'm a Reel Kritik (TM), but am I the only one who was intensely bothered by the fact that they were speaking English? It made everything they were saying seem insincere, as if they were just saying this stuff for the benefit of a third party who doesn't speak Korean. Given how intent this show was on making us read subtitles in the past, it was a really weird choice, and seriously undermined the emotion of their scenes together. Or am I just being a nitpicker?
I guess we're supposed to think Frank died too. Right? About the only thing I can remember about Frank this season is the nicknames Sawyer came up with for him last week.
Actually, the most moving part of the whole slew of deaths might have been Hurley's lone sob after the four survivors washed up on the beach together. Man, poor Hurley. I wonder if he's remembering that it was his idea to go talk to Locke.
So did Widmore die? Or just most of his men? I replayed the Smokey smackdown scenes a few times, and I didn't see Widmore at all. Given that we still don't know what Widmore's plan was, it's good that he's going to be around a bit longer. (You might have thought that instead of locking everyone in a cage, Widmore could have just taken them to a secure building, given them a cup of tea, and told them what he was planning. But sadly, no.)
Finally, it was really nice to see Jack reach out to Claire and acknowledge that they're family and he owes something to her. And the shot of them sitting together looking in their father's music-box mirror was both beautiful and a bit creepy - the Shephard clan all together at last. It was an interesting contrast with how unconcerned about Claire the Island version of Jack seemed.
All in all, this was a pretty amazing, island-shaking episode, despite the reservations I mentioned above. The show managed to give three of its most memorable characters worthy send-off, and the Jack/Locke relationship took on some fascinating new permutations, in both universes. Most of all, this felt like the "all seems lost" moment in a story that knows where it's going. It's looking like the final few chapters are going to be a wonderfully bumpy ride.