LOST wraps up for the hiatus with an excellent episode heralding the return of one my all-time favorite characters, Michael. In a uniquely-structured episode, we see some present-time action on the Island and the freighter before switching to an extended Michael flashback, then bookend with a few more Island scenes. And boy, what scenes.
Locke holds a town meeting with everyone in the barracks, insisting that there will be no more secrets. Ben is now free and walking amongst the survivors. It's interesting to note all of the things that have taken place between these characters; so much has happened that it's easy to lose track. In Island time, it was just a month ago that Ben was brutalizing Sawyer in a cage. Before that, Rousseau and Alex had helped Claire escape from the Staff hatch when she was being held by the Others, and Rousseau had shot Ben through the shoulder with her crossbow. That's just to mention a few things.
Apparently it's all now water under the bridge, as Ben and Locke lay out the danger that faces them. If Ben is to be believed, the freighter people are going to kill every last person on the Island as soon as they get their hands on Ben Linus. It seems that Widmore wants the Island, and doesn't want anyone getting in his way. He may want Ben simply because he knows Ben can tell him things about the Island, or it could be something more. It will be interesting to find out how Widmore knows so much about all of this; is it possible he was once an Island inhabitant himself?
Ben tells Karl, Alex and Rousseau to leave for the Temple. I was immediately surprised (and somewhat disappointed) to learn from Ben's map that the temple is not an actual temple, but yet another Dharma station. However, I think this may have been a production error; every now and then, the people who design props like maps make mistakes. Last season, when the Others were moving out of the barracks, Ben said they were moving to a "a new place... well, an old place, actually." I can't imagine that being used to describe another Dharma station, but rather a place like a temple that would expand on the early history of the Island, as the writers have promised us is coming.
On the freighter, Sayid and Desmond wake to see Captain Gault beating one of his crew into submission. It seems things are falling apart fast on the freighter, due to the "illness" that is causing suicides and bizarre behavior. Sayid approaches Michael, who tells him he is "here to die." Soon after, Sayid and Desmond corner Michael in the engine room, and we finally get to hear his story. Michael made it back to New York, but the guilt of Libby and Ana-Lucia's murders (and the fact that he estranged Walt by confessing to him) has made him suicidal. In a somewhat awkward suicide attempt, he plows into a freighter storage box with his car. In the hospital, he sees a vision of Libby before awakening. His next attempt is with a gun, but before he gets the chance to try, Tom confronts him in an alley.
Tom says something important here that many people probably overlooked. When Michael shows surprise that the Others can leave the Island, Tom tells him "some of us can." This is another clue indicating that the Others are made up of at least a few different types of people. So, who can leave and who can't, and more importantly-- why? We know it's not the very old Island natives who can't leave, because Richard Alpert was off-Island recruiting Juliet last season. We know Ben can leave (and does often).
My theory is that some of the Others have become so connected to the Island that they are essentially a part of it. I believe Jacob to be the ultimate example of this-- a person so ingrained in the fabric of the Island that he is no longer a person so much as an entity. It may not have to do with how long someone has been on the Island, but rather, how much of a bond someone has formed with it. Take Locke, for example. There may come a time when we learn that he CAN'T leave the Island. The Others may share a common purpose, but they are made up of a mish-mash of natives, long-time residents and recruits, all of whom have different capabilities.
Michael now learns an intriguing fact, and one that nicely fits in with my overall theory of the Island: he cannot kill himself until he has fulfilled the purpose that the Island intends for him. This is clearly demonstrated when he puts a loaded gun to his head, pulls the trigger and it does not fire. Astonished by this, Michael goes back to Tom and finds out the new "work" the Island has for him to do: to go undercover on the freighter.
It has long been my belief that the Island's power comes from its ability to use electromagnetic energy to affect small changes in the space-time continuum that result in changes that push events toward a certain conclusion. The conclusion is determined by the wishes of people on the Island. Electromagnetism has been connected with human thought in the past; it has even been theorized to be a psychic conductor or a bridge between the physical world and the world of thought. If this is the case, the Island's properties may enable it to affect worldwide events by making small changes, by removing a firing pin from a gun in a pawn shop, for example.
Shortly after he begins his mission, we finally get to witness some of the true danger of the freighter. Until now, these supposedly murderous freighter folk have seemed harmless-- our four new cast members we've come to know as the Freighty Bunch don't look like they're going to start any beachside wars. But the same can't be said for the sketchy young crew of paramilitary wackos whom Michael stumbles upon on the freighter. Shooting clay pigeons off the side of the freighter with automatic weapons, these sinister young men look positively bloodthirsty, and they quickly dismiss Michael's question about the freighter being on a rescue mission.
This was a truly scary scene, because I believe it's a harbinger of things to come. At San Diego Comic-Con last year, Tom told us in a video that the people on the freighter would make the Others look like humanitarians. It looks like we'll soon see that to be the case. There are two types of people on the freighter-- those with innocent intentions, and cold-hearted killers in waiting. Ben confirmed this too, when he spoke to Michael after getting him to detonate a fake bomb. "Consider yourself one of the good guys, Michael," he says, and maybe now we can actually begin to believe him.
We now know Michael is willing to die to redeem himself for betraying the survivors. Though working for Ben, he is back for his own reasons. I'm glad that the writers didn't take a tired approach, such as having the Others kidnap Walt again, to bring Michael back. His quest for absolution adds yet another layer to one of the most complex characters on the show. Unfortunately, Sayid made the rash decision to immediately turn him over to the captain, in one of those "oh no you didn't" moments comparable to last week's scene when Juliet blabbed about Sun's affair.
While I don't have any predictions on what's going to happen on the freighter, with Michael revealed as a spy, I do have a pretty good idea who the snipers are who took out Karl and Rousseau at the end of the episode. Last week, Frank had left on an "errand," and we haven't seen him or the scary paramilitary guys since. I believe he dropped them off on the Island, and that the assault on the survivors will soon begin. "We're gonna get bloody on this one, Rog," and the first victims were Karl and Rousseau. For the record, I don't think Rousseau is dead. She's too popular a character for them to kill of so abruptly. As many people have pointed out, the writers have said that they want to do a Rousseau flashback down the line.
The other popular theory on the identity of the shooters is the Others who left at the end of last season for the temple. Some believe that Ben set up the shooting to get Rousseau and Karl out of the way in order to get his adopted daughter back. I doubt this, because I fail to see what it would accomplish. As soon as she learned Ben's people were the shooters, Alex would hate Ben more than ever. I also believe Ben when he says that the Others have pretty much abandoned him at this point. No, it makes much more sense that the freighter troops will now take Alex to use as collateral against Ben.
This leads me to my predictions on what will happen for the remainder of the season. It's a good time for this kind of speculation, since we won't have a new episode until April 24 (mark your calendars!). With only five episodes to wrap up this season's story arc, I think we will see the conflict with the freighter kick into gear quickly when the show returns. As the conflict escalates, I think Ben will begrudgingly lead the survivors to the temple, where they will go into hiding with the remaining Others as the freighter troops take over the Island.
Ultimately, Ben will leave the Island to wage war against Widmore on another front with Sayid. The rest of the Oceanic Six will be some sort of collateral, with Jin insisting that Sun go, and Claire insisting that Kate take Aaron. I think the next season will feature flashes back and forth between an Island storyline and a mainland storyline as the Six reunite and figure out a way to get back to the Island.