I'm going to have to watch that again.

Even taking notes, even looking at a few scenes a second time, I'm not 100% sure what I just saw, and I have a feeling that's exactly what Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse were aiming for.  Mission accomplished, gentlemen, because I'm hooked right back in, a junkie who didn't even realize he was jonesing until that first taste, and now I wish I could just download the whole season into my brain tonight so I could start sorting out exactly what they're up to.

There's a short recap at the start of the episode, and instead of trying to condense the entire mythology of the series into a few minutes, they carefully just highlighted a few key ideas and characters, starting with Jacob and the Man in Black sitting on the beach.  I think this sort of proves they're going to be the lynchpins to this final season.  Then we see Ben and the Alterna-Locke in the scene where Jacob is killed, and we hear the ominous line, "They're coming."  Then quickly, we're at the end of last year, and we're looking at Juliet in the base of that shaft, the bomb next to her, and as she hits it one last time, there's a flash of WHITE...

... and we're back on Oceanic Flight 815.  There's Jack, looking out the window.  The moments before the crash that started this whole thing.  We watch the build-up to the crash as he talks across the aisle to Rose, and then the plane starts to shake.  Here we go.  The whole thing's going to happen again...

... and then it doesn't.  The plane levels out.  Jack looks over at Rose, relieved.  "Looks like we made it."

"Yes," she responds.  "We did."  Bernard comes back from the bathroom, shaken up but no worse for wear, and Jack goes to wash his face.  He finds an odd cut on his neck.  When he comes back to his seat, Desmond is sitting in his row now, tired of his seat where some guy's been snoring since Sydney.

Wait a minute... Desmond's on the plane?  What the hell is going on?  Obviously something's been changed, but how did Desmond end up on the plane?  That was never part of the timeline in the first place.  He and Jack have a moment of deja vu, but then as it passes, we look out the window, then race out, down through the clouds, into the ocean where the Island should be.  We keep moving.  Down.  Down.  And we realize that what we're seeing is the Island, but it's completely underwater now.  We see familiar buildings, completely submerged and rotten, and then just after the Dharma Shark swims by (nice callback, everyone), we finally stop moving, staring right at a giant four-toed statue's foot.

Boom.  "Lost."

Nice start.  After the first commercial break, I expected we'd cut back to the plane, and of course, the show pulls the rug out immediately, because instead, we're back at Juliet trying to set off the Jughead again, and there's another flash to WHITE...

... and this time, we fade in on Kate.  Who is stuck in the upper branches of a tree, ears ringing so that everything sounds distant and underwater.  By the time she climbs down, she's starting to hear again, and Miles stumbles up to her, also dazed.

"What happened?  Where are we?"

"We're back."

"Back where?"

Turns out, they're at the site of the Swan Hatch that Desmond blew up.  They're back in the present.  They managed to get out of 1977, but they did not eliminate the events of the plane crash, which means that the entire pre-title sequence is... what?

I have a theory, and I think it's what we're going to see for a while, if not the rest of the season.  The explosion, which we've seen twice already this episode, has now created two divergent timelines.  In one of them, the Oceanic 815 crash never happened, and in fact, thanks to the bomb going off in 1977, the Island sank and everyone's lives were radically different leading up to the moments of the crash, so what we'll see is not just going to pick up where things would have been, but will in fact reflect some fairly major changes.  In the other timeline, the Oceanic survivors did manage to make it back to the present, but they're still on the Island, and things are simply moving forward from that point.

It's a risky narrative move, but based on the evidence of this two hour introduction to the conceit, it's a pretty damn cool one, and I think it could yield the craziest season yet.

One by one, all the Oceanic Survivors wake up, and as soon as Sawyer sees Jack, he's ready for blood.  Not only did they not go home, but Juliet died because of him.

From their conflict, we bounce back to the airplane, where we see Arzt, alive and well, asking Hurley to do the lines from his TV commercials.  He recognizes Hurley as the owner of Cluckin' Chicken.  He asks how Hurley ended up owning a major corporation, and Hurley tells him he's a lottery winner.  Sawyer, seated across the aisle, cautions Hurley to be careful who he tells that because people might try to take advantage of him.  Hurley isn't worried, though.  "Nothing bad ever happens to me," he says.  "I'm the luckiest guy alive."

Back on the Island, Sayid is bleeding out from his gunshot sustained at the end of season five.  He's dying.  And as they try to deal with that, Kate hears something.  A faint voice deep in the wreckage of the Swan Hatch.  It's Juliet... and she's alive.  As everyone starts to try and dig her out, Hurley stays with Sayid, and he hears someone moving nearby.  He pulls a gun, goes looking for the source of the noise, and comes face to face with Jacob.

Blam.  Second commercial.  And already, I felt dizzy from all the ideas being thrown at me.

After the commercial, we're back on the plane.  For the sake of clarity, let's call this TIMELINE A.  Sun and Jin are seated together, and they're back to the way they were when we first met them.  Jin speaks only Korean again, and he's a dickhead, and Sun seems tense.  Nervous.  Boone and Locke, sitting near each other, start chatting, and Locke talks about the walkabout he just enjoyed.

TIMELINE B.  On the Island.  We finally return to Alterna-Locke, blood still on the knife, as he kicks Jacob's dead body into a fire.  Ben sits in shock, unable to process any of what's just happened to him.  "Why didn't he fight back?" he asks, baffled.

Alterna-Locke tells Ben to go get Richard.  "Tell him I need to talk to him."  Ben goes outside, where he finds Ilana and the rest of the Shadow of the Statue cult still standing around.  Ben tells Richard he needs to go inside to see what's going on, and for his troubles, he gets thrown on the ground where he comes face-to-face with the dead body of John Locke.  Remember... until that moment, Ben didn't know what was going on, and he didn't know that the person inside was not the real Locke.  You can practically see Ben's brain running out of one of his ears by this point.

And then boom, we're into the third commercial.  Did I mention that there were a LOT of commercials tonight?  Because there were.  An overwhelming number of them, actually.  Thank god for the DVR.

TIMELINE B.  Everyone's trying to dig Juliet out of the wreckage of the Hatch, while Jacob and Hurley have a little conversation by the van about what to do with Sayid.  Hurley warns Jacob that Jin is on his way, but Jacob seems unconcerned.

"Jin won't be able to see me."

"Why not?"

"Because I died an hour ago."

"Sorry, dude.  That sucks."

No one outside of Jeff Bridges can wield the word "dude" better than Hurley, damn it.  Get a laugh from me every time.  Jacob tells Hurley he's going to have to take Sayid to the Temple or he'll die.  He tells him to take the guitar case with him, and he tells him that Jin knows where the Temple entrance is.

As the rest of them work to dig Juliet out, Kate tries to calm him down, but the look on Sawyer's face says that there's nothing that will calm him short of her rescue.  "If she dies," he growls, looking at Jack, "I'll kill him."

TIMELINE A.  The flight attendents ask over the intercom if anyone's a doctor.  Jack identifies himself, and they take him to the bathroom, where someone's been locked in for a half-hour now and isn't responding.  They're worried.  Sayid steps up to offer his help, and he kicks the door open.  There's Charlie, slumped over on the toilet, not responding, not breathing.

Aaaaannnnnd... commercial.

When we come back, it's still TIMELINE A.  Sayid and Jack are trying to revive Charlie.  There's something blocking his windpipe, and Jack struggles to clear the passage.  He is about to try an emergency tracheotomy when he manages to grab the blockage with his fingers and pull it free.  It's a teeny little baggie of heroin, and as soon as it's loose, Charlie comes to.  Looks around.

"... am I alive?"

TIMELINE B. They're still trying to get to Juliet.  Finally, they break through and Sawyer moves in to retrieve her.  He finds her in fairly bad shape, weak, but alive.  She tells him she hit the bomb, and he asks what she was thinking.  "I wanted you to be okay.  I wanted none of this to have ever happened."

Topside, Hurley tells everyone what Jacob told him, and tells them what they're going to have to do to rescue Sayid.

On the beach, Ben is pretty much useless at this point.  He's more lost than the people watching the show at home by now.  Richard asks him what happened, and Ben snarls, a wee bit of the old nasty showing through, and tells him he should go inside and find out.  Instead, Ilana's team grabs Ben and pushes him back inside, following him, guns at the ready.

What follows is one of the most important scenes of information we've seen in the entire six-season run of the show, and also one of the just plain coolest things they've shown us.  When they walk in, Alterna-Locke is sitting there calmly, waiting for Richard.  When the Shadow of the Statue guys come in instead, he tells them that Jacob is dead, burned up in the fire, and they're free now so they can go.  They open fire on him, and he ducks out of view.  They look for him, ready for blood, but he's gone.

And then there's a sound.  A familiar sound.  A very, very bad sound.

And Smokey comes pouring into the chamber, kicking ass, breaking skulls, and generally going haywire on everyone.  The only one who manages to avoid Smokey's grasp is Bram, who quickly pours a ring of ash around himself.  He's pretty damn pleased when Smokey comes up short... until Smokey grabs a rock and flings it at his head, knocking him out of the circle, at which point, he dies just like everyone else.

During the chaos, Ben just sort of huddles off to the side, rightfuly terrified.  Once everything stops, Alterna-Locke steps out, back in human form and gives Ben a truly malevolent smile.

"Sorry you had to see me like that."

O.M.F.G.  And then a commercial.

TIMELINE B.   Juliet's fading fast.  Sawyer's crumbling at the idea of losing her again.  "James... kiss me."

"You got it, blondie." 

He doesn't want to let her go, and when she speaks again, she's barely audible, barely coherent.  "I have to tell you something... really... really important."

Before she can do so, she's gone.  And when Sawyer steps out of the wreckage of the Hatch, Juliet's body in his arms, the look on his face is pure Hell.  All of it directed at Jack.

"You did this."

TIMELINE A.  Jack goes back to his seat.  Desmond's gone.  No one else saw him there.  Why do I have a feeling this is one of the biggest clues of the episode?  They start their descent into Los Angeles, and for the remainder of the first hour, we watch these people enjoy the landing that they were denied five seasons ago, the landing they never made.  It's emotional, all played silently.  Cops step onto the plane and arrest Charlie.  Kate's led off by the Air Marshall.  Finally, the last two people on the plane are Jack and Locke, and Jack sees the flight attendents bring in Locke's wheelchair.  As they disembark, hour two begins.

TIMELINE B.  It's morning now.  Everyone prepares to leave for the Temple with Sayid, except for Sawyer, who wants to bury Juliet.  He asks Miles to hang back with him.

TIMELINE A.  Jack gets paged, and when he reports to the Oceanic ticketing counter, he's informed that his father's coffin was not onboard the plane.  They're not actually sure where the coffin is.  It's just gone.

TIMELINE B.  Everyone reaches the outer wall, where Jin and the French team found a way into the Temple, and they all head inside.  Kate gets separated from them, then Jack loses everyone else, and then suddenly, they're all captured and led further inside, where they come face to face with the true Others, the ones we've been waiting to meet all this time.  Hurley's the first to break the awed silence with, "Guess we found the Temple."

Another quick commercial break, and thenit's back to TIMELINE A.  Kate and the Air Marshall are checking in, and she asks to use the bathroom.  She manages to escape, knocking him out in the process, and as she tries to get away, Sawyer helps her a bit, just playing the bad guy looking at a hot girl.

TIMELINE B.  Sawyer reveals why he wanted Miles to stay behind with him.  He asks Miles to find out what Juliet was going to say.  At first, Miles demurs, but then Sawyer sort of forces the point by jamming his face into the dirt.  Miles listens, and then suddenly his eyes go wide.  "It worked."

"Then tell me what she said."

"No, that's what she said.  It worked."

How does Juliet know that?  Can she somehow sense the rift between these two alternate paths that we're watching?  If so, what does that mean?  Can these two realities be brought together, and if so, will the Oceanic survivors end up on the right side of the equation?

At the Temple, the survivors meet the Others, and we see Cindy, the long-missing flight attendant, and we meet two important (I would assume) new characters played by Hiroyuki Sanada and John Hawkes.  At first, Sanada just wants to shoot the survivors and be done with it, but Hurley tells them that Jacob sent them.  He proves it by giving them the guitar case.  Inside, there's an ankh, and when Sanada breaks the wooden icon in half, he finds a note.  Whatever's on that note convinces Sanada to bring Sayid inside to try and save him.

Commercial.  And then we return to TIMELINE A, where Sun and Jin are trying to get through customs.  Jin's lack of English makes answering important questions difficult, and Sun can't reveal that she understands what's being said.  This gets more complicated when the customs officer finds a buttload of US currency in their luggage, and Jin is dragged away for questioning.  Sun still keeps her silence though, offering up only "No... English."

TIMELINE B.  The survivors are led into a room that houses The Spring.  What should be a clear pool of water has gone muddy red, though, and even Sanada and Hawkes seem surprised by this.  Sanada cuts his palm and submerges the bleeding flesh into the water, then warns them that there are risks involved if they try to revive Sayid.

The Others carry Sayid's body into the water and submerge him completely.  At first, it appears to revive him, but they keep him held under.  Sanada watches an hourglass, and they don't let him up until every grain of sand has fallen, by which point, his struggle has stopped.  Sayid's body is laid out and Hawkes tells them bluntly, "Your friend is dead."  Everyone except the survivors file out, and Jack tries CPR, finally giving up, defeated.

Another commercial.  TIMELINE A.  Sayid's at baggage claim at LAX, alive and well and looking at his photos of Nadia.  Kate is still trying to get away from the airport, and she makes it all the way to the curb, where she has to wait for a taxi after Frogurt reprimands her.  The Air Marshall spots her, and she panics, jumping into a cab where there's already a passenger.  She pulls the Marshall's gun and orders the driver to leave, and we see that the other passenger, suddenly scared, is none other than Claire.

TIMELINE B.  Food is brought for Jack and the rest of the survivors, and Sawyer and Miles are dragged in and dumped, having been captured in the jungle.  Hawkes comes back in and tells Hurley that Sanada wants a private audience with him.  As they talk, Hurley mentions to them casually that Jacob is dead, and the reaction is anything but casual.  They flip.  They go into lockdown mode.  It's all hands on deck and everyone to their battle-stations.  They start pouring ash protectively around the the Temple and then send up a flare.  They know that trouble is on the way.

Back at the beach, Ben looks around at the aftermath and asks Alterna-Locke, "What are you?"

"I'm not a what, Ben.  I'm a who."  Easy enough to say, but not many normal "whos" run around turning into crazy pissed-off smoke monsters.  Alterna-Locke tells Ben what the real Locke's last thoughts were when Ben was killing him:  "I don't understand."

Smokey talks about why he liked and respected Locke, and how he admired him.  He says that Locke was the only one of the survivors, right from the start, who didn't want to leave the Island.  He points out that that's the major difference between them.  "I want to go home."

Where is home, you ask?  Good question.  And now that it's been asked, I'm sure we'll find that out this year.  Another commercial, and then it's back to The Spring, where Hurley says goodbye to Sayid's dead body, and tells him that if he ever wants to talk, Hurley will be around.  Miles hears this and realizes that Hurley might have the same talent that he does.

Sawyer wakes up, and Kate is taking care of him.  He tells her not to worry.  "I ain't gonna kill Jack.  He deserves to suffer on this rock just like the rest of us."

TIMELINE A.  Jack's suffering as he tries to sort out the missing coffin problem.  Locke is also reporting some missing luggage, although his only contained knives.  Locke tries to comfort Jack.  "They didn't lose your father.  They just lost his body."

Before Locke can wheel away, Jack asks about the injury that put Locke in the chair, explaining that he's a spinal surgeon.  Locke tries to brush him off, but Jack tells him, "Nothing is irreversible."  Important line, I'm guessing.  Jack offers him a free consultation any time he wants one, and Locke takes his card.

TIMELINE B.  On the beach, everyone sees the flare.  Alterna-Locke comes strolling out, and Richard's jaw just about hits the sand.  "Good to see you out of those chains," Alterna-Locke says to him just before he cold-cocks him.  He slings Richard over his shoulder, tells everyone else on the beach that they disappoint him, and strolls off, right past the dead body of the real John Locke.

In the Temple, John Hawkes comes back to get Jack, and he tells him that they're going to have a conversation no matter what.  Jack starts to struggle, but he's interrupted by a very surprised Hurley saying, "Jack?"

They all turn to look, and there's Sayid, sitting up, alive and well.  "What happened?" he asks, and before anyone can answer...

... LOST.

Two hours flew by.  Tons of material to process in there.  My first reaction is that we're going to see some very interesting things play out in TIMELINE A, such as Jack perhaps giving Locke back his legs in a tangible way that the Island could only flirt with.  Kate and Claire have ended up together, and I'm sure that's no accident.  I'm curious to see what happens to Kate as she tries to survive on the run with a pregnant hostage.  Jin's in trouble, Christian is missing, and Charlie's going to jail.   Rose and Bernard seem happy, but without the Island, her cancer isn't going anywhere. 

And on the Island, it looks like a war is brewing, and now that we've seen what Smokey can do, I'd hate to be on the wrong side of this one.  Jacob may have been stabbed and burnt, but I don't believe for a second that he's gone.  I think there's a reason he ordered Sayid's body to the Temple.  I think that body died.  And I think now Jacob has a new place to hang his hat, which means it's going to be a very interesting battle coming up between Pseudo-Sayid and Alterna-Locke.

We've met new characters.  We've got a whole new narrtive structure to wrap our heads around.  And we've got fifteen episodes and sixteen hours ahead.

Welcome back, "Lost."  And thanks for the most delicious headache imaginable.

See you back here next week for another recap.

[At 3:30 in the morning, when I originally posted this, I made a truly boneheaded mistake and mistook Hiroyuki Sanada for John Lone.  Don't ask me... but thanks to our commenters, I am well aware of my mistake, and corrected it in the above article.  Thanks, guys.]

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