A whole bunch of characters achieved their capital-D Destiny on Lost last night - which mostly seemed to involve reverting to being the people they'd started out as. You can run from the Smoke Monster, but not yourself. Spoilers below!
It's really hard to judge "What They Died For" on its own, since it's so clearly just setting the pieces in place for the series finale - and we'll have an extra-long recap of that episode as early as we can pull it off on Sunday evening. So this will be a fairly short recap.
But it was pretty interesting to see how "achieving your Destiny" turned out to be a matter of reverting to type. Consider:
Jack stepped up and became the new Jacob, to the surprise of probably about three viewers. This action ended a year or so of Jack relinquishing his original role as leader of the band of castaways. It also required Jack and Jacob to bond a bit over how guilty they both feel over stuff.
Ben, meanwhile, has spent the past season repenting all his past misdeeds and atoning for killing John Locke and Jacob in particular - and, of course, spurning the Man In Black's recruitment attempts. But now, he goes right back to being a Tool of the Man (In Black), willing and apparently eager to kill whoever Smokey wants. I loved the bit where he asked if there were other people who needed killing. (Although you just know Ben is up to something. Why else would he have made sure Miles and he both had walkie-talkies? He's got a plan. We hope.)
Island Locke finally worked his way through his long, meandering storyline about not wanting to get "fixed," only to end up as the Locke we all know and love - full of faith in mysterious invisible hands, and eager to get out of his chair so he can stop us from telling him what he can't do. Why exactly was the question of whether Locke gets the spinal surgery so central to this final season? I get that it brings Locke and Jack together, but beyond that? (And will Locke somehow have the surgery during the finale? Don't these sort of things have to be scheduled months in advance usually?)
Desmond actually seemed to be the one character who was evolving radically - not on the island, where we didn't get to see him, but in the flash-sideways universe. This "trickster Desmond" persona is something new and weird, and kind of awesome. Calling Jack pretending to be from Oceanic Airways, putting the smackdown on alt-Ben, turning himself in, and organizing a crazy prison break with the help of Hurley and Ana-Lucia - by far the best bits of the episode were Desmond's freaky road show.
At this point, I'm along for the ride, so I'm not going to be quibbling too much about this episode - although Sunday's big finale had better bring the goods, is all I'm saying. But I did have moments where I kept wondering what it would have been like if "What They Died For" was the middle of the season instead of close to the end. What if we'd gotten this amount of clarity and this level of mission statement a month or so ago? And then we'd had a month of episodes dealing with Jack as the new Jacob, Smokey wanting to destroy the island, and exactly what it means that Desmond is herding the passengers of Oceanic 815 towards something? Maybe it would have gotten boring, but I had a few moments of feeling like we might have gotten to this point sooner without losing anything of value from the "Temple Others/Lighthouse/Locke's Recruiting Spree" stretch of the season. Just a thought.
Some cool moments from the episode:
Hurley trying to tell Kate to stop sassing Jacob.
Kate being the one who actually remembers that Sun and Jin had a kid, and they weren't just redshirts.
Ben offering the Smoke Monster some lemonade - and didn't you sort of wish Smokey had taken him up on the offer? The two of them sitting and drinking lemonade for like 10 minutes would have been kind of great.
Desmond being a lunatic in general.
Miles sensing that they're walking over Alex's grave, and Ben having a moment of human decency before descending into the pit.
Claire being a cool auntie to Jack's creepy Damien: Omen II son.
OMG Ben and Rousseau having teh awesome romantic chemistry! If those two don't end up together, there will be some shoes flung at television screens on Sunday. Oh, also the return of the Ben=Napoleon thing.
Pressing questions that actually got answered:
Why did Jack wake up in the bamboo field, so far from the crash site, in the first episode? A question we figured we'd never get an answer to, but we were wrong! Apparently, that's close to the heart of the island, where the glowy light is. Perhaps a sign that Jack was earmarked for this role all along.
Why did the immortal Jacob decide he needed to search for his replacement? Because he figured the Man In Black would eventually find a way to kill him.
Why isn't Kate a candidate? Because she became a mother. But now that she's ditched Aaron, she could be a candidate again — if it weren't too late.
Why did Widmore order his Freighter thugs to kill everyone on the island, but then later decide to help John Locke bring the Oceanic Six back there? Why the change of heart? Because Jacob came to see Widmore and convinced him of the error of his ways.
How was Widmore able to return to the island, after we were told he could never return? He got an engraved invitation from Jacob.
Is Ji Yeon the Kwon who's a candidate? Apparently not. Jacob seemed to confirm that it was Sun and/or Jin.