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Throwback Thursday - LOST - Through the Looking Glass

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Throwback Thursday is a weekly article in which we look back at our favorite TV episodes from the past.

February 2007: the launch of SpoilerTV. It’s nearly 14 years since this site began operations but, at the time, it was the sister site of another; the child of one of the internet’s premier spoiler websites. I’m talking, of course, about DarkUFO - the LOST site which began in 2005 and which very quickly became a worldwide hit for any and all LOST-mad fans looking for a place to discuss their obsession: news, spoilers, fan theories, recaps. You name it, it was there. Without DarkUFO, these words would not appear on this page right now.

But for all the highs of that site - and, indeed, this one - very little compares to the way “Through the Looking Glass,” the third season finale, impacted.

Some backstory first: an anonymous spoiler tipster, believed to be an ABC employee working on the show, named Lostfan108 provided full details of “Greatest Hits” and “Through the Looking Glass” in advance of them airing. These were initially posted on message boards elsewhere and quickly removed, before appearing on DarkUFO after a vote so narrow it makes the Brexit vote margin look cavernous. It meant fans had a choice of watching the episodes blind or going into what would be the most game-changing hours of LOST knowing everything that was to come.

My experience with the episode - and the series - is considerably different. I was a mere eight-year-old when this played out; it wasn’t until 2014 that I landed on The Island. I’d been in this game long enough by then to be aware of the popularity of the series and the controversies of its mysteries. I knew the show’s ending but not of the season three finale, nor did I know that LOST would switch from flashbacks to flash-forwards. But the more of the early seasons I watched, the more aware I became of the existence of this information and it became a choice: believe my inner cynicism that the spoilers couldn’t possibly be as bad as it was rumoured and glance, or watch the finale blind and check them after.

The DarkUFO ordeal provides a good commentary of the world in 2020. Not only does the desire for advance knowledge of our favourite pop culture still exist, but it’s rooted in a need for instant gratification that floods across the population. Short-form content dominates because people want to see what happens quickly; that’s true of TV too. Damon Lindelof reflected that “no one skips to the end of life” and that people should respect the show by watching it unfold naturally.

Doing so is a joy, and certainly the best approach with “Through the Looking Glass”. It’s a magnificent double episode, blending - as ever - the intense character drama with the brain-racking mysteries.

The cliffhanger - where else to start? - is a masterstroke. It Saw II of the Islanders, Jack and Kate, meet in the real world in a twist so blinding you’d think you’d been hit by a 40 foot wall of sulphuric acid. Keen viewers may have twigged - there are perhaps very minor clues - but truly the twist comes from nowhere. And yes, this is part of the mastery: so many twists are either telegraphed and lose their impact, or come from nowhere because they have no basis for existing. My recent mind flickers instantly to the glorious Hodor reveal in Game of Thrones, and no surprise to discover Jack Bender directed both this and that.

LOST's pivot to flash-forwards works in the moment because the reveal is so shocking, so jaw-dropping, yet so emotionally raw. But it works overall because the flashbacks were coming to a stall (remember Jack’s tattoos? Remember Paulo and Nikki?) and, at a time where the creators had finally lobbied ABC for a timeline to conclude the series, it changed the landscape of the show’s storytelling, both in terms of how much character work could be done and how much manipulation of time was possible.

Jack’s line to end the episode, and to end the season, has become iconic - arguably LOST's most remembered line (although there’s another we’ll come to shortly) - but the conversation between Jack and Kate is scripted and performed to perfection. Evangeline Lilly brilliantly balances Kate’s early apathy with her true feelings: it’s like she’s put up a wall to block any emotions with Jack, only for it to come crumbling down as he breaks down his breakdowns.

And Matthew Fox, sheesh. The jittery energy he has, the trembling, desperate aura about his every word as we see again the true nature of his mindset. The emptiness on the bridge, the sorrow in the driver’s hospital room, the rage at the pharmacist and at Dr. Hamill - it was all a prelude to this conversation with Kate. Here we see everything laid bare, the self-hatred for daring to leave the island, the dark pit into which he has fallen as he flies across the Pacific begging to crash-land or, failing that, drink himself to death. Everyone remembers Jack screaming “We have to go back,” but Fox’s true artistry comes in the minutes before. Awards would be less stupid if they went to the right people.

By this stage, we’d already seen another hugely significant moment. “Greatest Hits” is one of the show’s best episodes for the way it approaches Charlie’s inevitable death, the exploration of the “five best moments of [his] sorry excuse for a life” while making it feel like his demise is imminent. When it finally comes here, it’s more heartbreaking than the show could ever have prepared us for.

Again, everyone remembers Charlie’s hand. “NOT PENNY’S BOAT,” he writes, indicating to Desmond that the rescue ship everyone is relying on is not what it seems. Logically, in the moment, you wonder why Charlie sacrifices himself when he could surely shut the door from the outside. But Desmond’s prophecy cannot be ignored. It’s yet another selfless act from a character who, by his own admission, has never been the best person, but it’s a reminder of how the island and those he’s met on it changed his life. Meeting Claire was his greatest hit for good reason.

Dominic Monaghan is immense from minute one, his jolly, fearless approach inside the Looking Glass, joking in response to Bonnie and Greta’s interrogation later turning to acceptance and, in a way, happiness at his ending. He knows there’s no escaping fate and he knows that nothing is more important than other people - and especially Claire. It’s why he insults Hurley an episode prior, keeping his friend alive, and it’s why he sacrifices himself. Monaghan’s final smile to Desmond is as memorable as the words on his hand. Few moments in the show’s history are as powerful and moving - or as devastating.

“Through the Looking Glass” is packed to the brim with content. There’s the charade on the beach, as Sayid, Jin and Bernard gear up to ambush the Others as every other survivor heads for the radio tower. This is a storyline which features one of the great lines - “I am a dentist, I am not Rambo” - between one of the great couples; seriously, rewatch it and try and prevent your heart from melting, I dare you. It’s a classic bait'n switch once Ben gets involved, Tom and his crew opting not to kill our protagonists at his behest but ending up dead themselves thanks to Hurley’s heroics. That’s a joy to see, especially after Charlie and Sawyer belittled Hugo for his weight as reasons not to come on excursions.

Speaking of LOST's greatest character: yet again a tour de force from Michael Emerson, whose calculated mannerisms blend wonderfully with his quick wit and power of persuasion. Ben remains an incredible adversary who so often transforms from a character in need of empathy to one in need of hatred.

There’s the love square between Jack, Kate, Juliet and Sawyer, a rare blemish on a predominantly spotless episode. To the show’s credit, the dynamic between the quartet generally worked and I never found the relationship side of things too grating and CW-like - and, indeed, that’s still true here, where the issue instead comes because Jack’s “I love you” to Kate feels completely random within the rest of the episode.

There’s Locke’s vision of WAAAAAALTTTTT and the latest of his many, many, many showdowns with Jack. There’s the first meeting between Alex and Rousseau, a touching moment which goes full LOST in turning from affectionate greeting to tying up Ben in a matter of seconds - it’s irresistible viewing. And, of course, there’s the call to the mysterious freighter designated as the beacon of hope - good luck with that one, folks.

But really, this finale is all about the flash-forwards and Charlie.

It’s a subjective view, of course, but there are better episodes of LOST than “Through the Looking Glass”. Not many, but a few. But there are no episodes which better convey the ethos of the show. There are no episodes which pack quite as significant a punch as the flash-forward does here. There are surely no episodes which in answering one question, several more arise more significantly or more rapidly than here. Crucially, few episodes in the history of television have thrown such a gigantic curveball at its audience and seen it work to perfection.

Simply put: “Through the Looking Glass” is a masterpiece.

Oh - and yes, I chose to watch the episodes spoiler-free. No decision in my TV-watching life has been better made.

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