Well, we now know how the Oceanic 6 got back to the island, but because this is Lost and not Two and a Half Men, what appears to be the burning question is instantly supplanted by a more complicated one: Why did they go back? While Jack and Sun were already on board with Ben's plan to return, all of a sudden Kate, Sayid and Hurley were all queuing up at the Ajira Airways gate, and we have no idea why. It opens up possibilities in the already-twisty narrative that give us much to anticipate about future episodes.
I won't dwell on my futile Googling for a deeper knowledge of the title of this episode: "316." Suffice it to say that not only is it the area code of Wichita, Kansas, and the year that Constantine attempted to end the schism between the Roman Catholic and Donatist churches (whatever that means), it is also the Ajira flight number... and the number of a very telling Biblical passage, that being John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." We'll get to see who Lost's resident Jesus figure is in good time, but in the meantime, Mrs. Hawking has something to tell the Oceanic 6 — and the audience.
The episode opens on a signature tweaky eyeball shot. It's Jack, waking up on the island. At first, it appears to be a flashback to the moments immediately following the original Oceanic crash, but it's quickly established that this is something else entirely, as both Kate and Hurley are there too, under a waterfall. "It really happened," says a groggy Kate, and before we can wrap our heads around exactly what it is, we whoosh back 46 hours and we're on the set of The Da Vinci Code again with Mrs. Hawking.
FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL
I love when the show gives us a different perspective on a scene we've seen before, and a second viewing of the moment when the Oceanic 6 meets Mrs. Hawking reminds me that Desmond's head must be exploding because he's met her before! But no time to dilly-dally, class is in session, and Mrs. H. will not tolerate the interjections of this dilettante.
The room contains a rapidly changing train station-like board that displays measures of longitude and latitude and that intimidating pendulum. Even Ben looks impressed. But don't get distracted by the shiny — pay attention! — because while Mrs. Hawking is addressing the Oceanic 6, she's really talking directly to us, the viewers, as one astute colleague pointed out to me.
The Dharma Initiative called it The Lamppost, and indeed its portal bears a Dharma insignia, like it's just another hatch. "This is how they found the island," Hawking explains. The room sits over a unique pocket of electromagnetic energy similar to others all over the world, through which "a very clever fellow" (Alvar Hanso?) realized they had to stop looking for where the island was supposed to be, and start looking for where it was going to be. You see, the island is always moving. "Why do you think you were never rescued?" Hawking purrs. But there are windows of opportunity to get back to the island, and theirs closes in 36 hours.
Desmond is all: You've gotta be effing kidding me, and in short order delivers her the message from Faraday, to which she has little reaction. She tells Desmond that the island isn't done with him yet. "I'm done with the island," he replies, and exits stage left. Desmond's justified tantrum makes me wonder why Sun is so ready to go back, in particular because she has a baby back in Seoul.
After Des storms off, Hawking continues that the Oceanic 6 must replicate the conditions of the original crash as closely as possible on Ajira Airways Flight 316 from Los Angeles to Guam. "It must be that flight, and you must all be on it," she warns. If not, the results would be "unpredictable." But before she sends the class home to pack their "I'm going on vacation FOREVER" bag, Hawking is keeping Jack after school to give him a private extra-credit assignment: He has to give something of his father's to the rotting corpse of John Locke, who will step in to play the role of Dead Christian Shephard in the sequel. She also gives Jack Locke's suicide note, and he's surprised to learn that John hanged himself. Hawking scolds him for his justifiable scoffing at her instructions. "Stop thinking how ridiculous it is, and start asking yourself whether or not you think it's going to work. That's why it's called a leap of faith, Jack," she spits. Were you all paying attention? (The previous message from Mrs. Hawking was approved by Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse.)
Upstairs in the church, a miracle is occurring because Ben is praying and the roof has not caved in. "Who is she? Why is she helping us? Why does she know all this?" a confused Jack asks Ben. Which Ben characteristically non-answers (but answers!) by telling the story of Thomas the Apostle, who earned his "Doubting" nickname because he needed to touch Jesus' crucifixion wounds before he would believe that he had risen from the dead. "We're all convinced sooner or later," Ben muses, and announces that he has to see an old friend to tie up some loose ends and that he'll meet him at the airport. Old friend, my foot.
There's a quick interlude in which Jack visits his grandfather, Ray, who has attempted to escape from his nursing home for the fourth time. And who can blame him? Magic shows — seriously? When it's my time, take me out back like a can of tuna instead, thanks. The upshot of this conveniently timed meeting is that Jack takes a pair of his father's shoes and heads home.
Back at Casa de Sad Beardo Jack, Jack finds a disheveled Kate asleep on the couch, and all of a sudden she's in the mood for an island vacation. "Where's Aaron?" Jack asks for the audience. "Don't ask me that question again," she says weepily. "If you want me to go with you, then you'll never ask me that question again." The hell? And since we know that Kate responds to stress by initiating angry hate sex (cough, Sawyer in the bear cage, cough), she polishes Jack's tonsils for him, and all is right again with Operation Scary Island II: The Early Years (spoiler alert?).
The next morning, we learn why Christian Shephard was always walking around in old tennis shoes like he just finished painting the garage. It was one last "Sayonara, sucker" from his disappointed son who thought he didn't deserve the black wing tips of rich Corinthian leather that Locke's tootsies will soon enjoy. "Why don't you get rid of them?" Kate asks of the borrowed shoes. "Why do you hold on to something that makes you feel sad?" News flash! The writers are NOT TALKING ABOUT FOOTWEAR, people! Before we can reflect, though, on all the sad things being held on to in this scenario, a bloodied Ben calls from what appears to be a marina. Where they have boats. Like the one that Penny, Demond and baby Charlie (sniff) live on. Hmmm...
Ben's going to be a little late to the airport because apparently someone has whacked him about the face repeatedly with a sock filled with eight rolls of quarters. As a result, Jack will have to take Locke out of the butcher's fridge and check "Jeremy Bentham" in with Ajira. "You wanted me to go back; I'm going back," Jack says, tucking Locke's unopened suicide note into the cadaver's breast pocket.
HOW DID THIS "HAPPEN"?
At the airport, the gang's all here! Kate ignores Jack in the check-in line. Sun sort of not really answers my earlier question and says that if there's a chance that Jin is alive, then she has to be on that plane. But what about the bay-bee, Sun? Mothers in the audience, are you with me on this one? How can she abandon little Ji Yeon?
But hey now, is that Sayid being escorted in handcuffs through security? I thought he said he didn't want to cross paths with these people ever again. And even though he didn't attend Wacky Time Travel-Inducing Plane Crashes 101 class last night with the rest of the gang, he has had the foresight to get arrested and deported (?) so that he can play the role of Kate in the sequel. At the gate, there's Hurley, who — softie that he is — purchased all the remaining seats on the plane so that innocent people could be spared their own existential nightmare redemption journey. Hurley isn't forthcoming about how he got out of the slammer in time to make the flight. "All that matters is that I'm here," he intones solemnly.
What's today's in-flight movie, kids? Might I suggest something from The Chronicles of Narnia canon? Hurley has a momentary freak-out when he sees a running-late Ben board the plane, but is quickly reassured. The flight attendant returns to Jack Locke's suicide note, which they discovered in a routine search of his "cargo." Then it's like a normal take-off, and once they reach cruising altitude, the cheery pilot comes on to welcome the worst passenger manifest ever. But what's that? The pilot's name is... Frank J. Lapidus! Thump. I didn't see that coming.
Jack talks to Frank, who, looking around the cabin, sees the rest of the Oceanic 6 and observes, "We're not going to Guam, are we?" Which begs the question: Why didn't they just book a charter and further avoid any "civilian" casualties? Did it have to be a commercial flight in order for the sequel to be a success?
"Did you know that Locke killed himself?" Jack asks Ben, which qualifies as polite chit-chat with this crew. "No, I didn't," Ben replies. If the previews for next week are accurate, his pants are most assuredly inflamed. Jack tells Ben about the suicide note, and Ben offers to give him some privacy so he can — finally! — read the damn thing. "I wish you had believed me," the note says, and though it was addressed to Jack and from "JL," it might as well have been a "Dear Thomas" letter. Amirite?
Then... my own personal nightmare, there's really bad turbulence. "Dude, you'd better fasten your seat belt," Hurley says to the Indian (Latino?) man sitting next to him, who appears to be one of only two non-Oceanic 6 passengers on the flight. (The other is the female agent who is escorting the shackled Sayid.) The same guy also offered Jack creepy condolences on the death of his friend at the check-in counter, so he's clearly significant.
FRIEND OF THE DHARMA
Just when we think we're going to see another plane crash, there's a bright light and that stretchy flash noise, and Jack wakes up on the island, back where we started at the beginning of the episode. After gathering Kate and Hurley, and wondering where Sun, Sayid and Ben are, they're greeted by the putt-putt of a very familiar-looking Dharma Initiative VW bus, the Grateful Dead playing from its radio (could anyone ID the song?), which is our cue that it's not the present on the island. Its driver pulls a gun on the trio — island sign language for "hello" — but the absurdity of the number of times these folks have seen the business end of a rifle is supplanted by excitement when we discover that it's Jin! Holy crap! I guess this might explain why Shagaday was working the Dharma electromagnetic salt mines in the season premiere. I can't wait to see what happens next.
What did you think of "316"? Are you as excited as I am to learn why Sun, Sayid and Hurley decided to return? Can we all agree that Jesus Locke will be resurrected next week? Did you miss the island-based crew this week?
Need to take a second look? Watch "The Incident: Part 1" and "The Incident: Part 2" in our Online Video Guide