Here's why I loved tonight's episode.  And I did.

"Lost" in increasingly defined as a battle of wills between two men.  Benjamin Linus.  And Charles Widmore.  Almost every other dynamic on the show can be defined by how it relates to one of these two or, even better, both.

Last night's episode was written by Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof.  Two in a row now, and I'm not surprised.  These were both pivotal moments, and I would imagine they wanted to be able to fine-tune and calibrate all the reveals themselves.

[Continued after the break..]

Although the episode focused on John Locke in his time off the island, what the episode actually accomplished was a further clarification of just how much the Oceanic Six and John and the Skippers are all just pieces on a chessboard, and on one side, we've got Widmore, and on the other side, we've got Ben.  And no one is going to stop either one of those people from getting what they want.  What's fascinating is thinking back to the very first episode, and the very first time we see John Locke.  He talks about the game of backgammon to Walt.  Makes me wonder... just how long have the producers of this show been building to the reveals we're getting now.  I know people who love to claim that the show never had any idea where it was going until they set the end date, but there's just too much evidence now in the way it's playing out to contradict that.  I think they did know, and more than that, I think that aside from some padding when they thought they were going to have to stretch things out more, they've remained a pretty remarkable sense of focus as they've built the story.

When we last saw John a few episodes ago, he was dropped down a well, broke his leg, and took the Frozen Donkey Wheel for a spin.  Now, sure enough, he starts this episode spit out in Tunisia, leg still broken.  There's a video camera watching him.  And within a few hours, he's picked up and whisked away to a field hospital.  When he finally wakes after passing out during them setting his leg, he finds himself sitting with Widmore, who is, understandably, stunned by the appearance of John Locke.  After all, the last time he saw him, Widmore was 17 years old, and Locke hasn't changed at all.

I'm intrigued by the notion that both Ben and Widmore want the exact same thing, and even by the same methodology.  Both of them want the Oceanic Six back on the island.  Both of them need to use Mrs. Hawking to get back to the island.  Both of them seem perfectly happy to lie or kill if they have to, and they're both watching the Oceanic Six, just in case.  So it's not like they have opposing goals... it's just that they each want to be the only one to benefit from whatever happens if the Oceanic Six do get back.  And I have a theory about what their return to the island signifies, although I'm not 100% sure yet.

My theory is based on what seems to be the situation on the island.  It seems that thanks to the time skips, there are groups trapped now in totally different times.  There's one group back in the '70s, and one group in the present.  I'm guessing that the rest of this season is going to be about Daniel Faraday working to get his group out of the past and reunited with everyone else, and that the Oceanic Six are going to serve as the Constant for that group, anchoring them as they try to snap through time again.

Oddly, though, this week didn't feel like it was all about exposition and story.  There were some big ideas in the material, but for the most part, it was just a simple linear story of what happened as Locke tried to convince Jack and Kate and Sayid and Hurley to come back to the Island with him.  And as they turn him down, and as he realizes just how crazy he sounds as he asks, little by little, Locke breaks down again.  And this is one of the things I dearly love about this show... Terry O'Quinn's performance is just awesome, week in and week out.  His swings between believing that he is special and has a Destiny-with-a-capital-D and thinking that he is a fool and all of his feelings of being special are just a delusion.  And that emotional see-saw has taken a real toll on him over the course of the show, all of it building up to the episode's last big sequence, one of the most emotionally raw of the season, where Locke faces his own failure and Ben in a cheap motel room.  It's sad and awful, and the more everyone insists that John is special, the less he believes it.  And, boy, if there was any question about whether or not Ben is a rotten evil little man, let the end of that sequence serve as a major piece of the puzzle.  It seems that as soon as Locke mentions Mrs. Hawking's name, Ben goes from trying to save Locke to trying to kill him.  Was that the piece of information he needed but didn't have?  Or was that an indicator to Ben that John was aligned with forces that posed a real threat to him?

There are a few other major occurrences this week that I haven't even mentioned yet, like the fact that Ajira Flight 316 actually landed on the island, or the idea that the Oceanic Six simply disappeared from the plane during the white flash.  We're introduced to the New Castaways who seem to be most important, Caesar (Saïd Taghmaoui) and Ilana (Zuleikha Robinson).  Caesar seems particularly interested in the Dharma Initiative, while Ilana, who was Sayid's captor when they got onboard the plane, seems cagey about her own identity.  I would assume both of these characters are going to play some sort of major role in the weeks ahead, but it's hard to predict where or how at this point.

All I know for sure is that the game has changed once again on "Lost," and now we're looking at a great back half of the season ahead, and then the "war" that Widmore mentions as the overall spine of the show's final season next year.  At this point, I can't imagine any scenario where the show doesn't stick the landing.  There's so much that they've laid out for themselves to play with over the remaining episodes that it should be pure pleasure to watch how they bring it all together.

Can't get enough of Motion/Captured? Don't miss a post with daily HitFix Blog Alerts. Sign up now.

Don't miss out. Add Motion/Captured to your iGoogle, My Yahoo or My MSN experience by clicking here.

Not part of the HitFix Nation yet? Take 90 seconds and sign up today.