More than just a perfect setup for what will hopefully be a stellar series finale, "What They Died For" featured a couple major developments I thought for sure would be saved until "The End."
The Altered Universe:
Not too much to say here beyond the fact that everything is coming together in spades. Desmond continues to work his magic on Ben, Locke, Kate, and Sayid. Hurley's Island memories have fleshed out to the point where he remembers Anna Lucia fondly. Lots of people are going to a concert. And Jack's neck injury, previously glimpsed in 6.01 (LA X, Part I), is bleeding again. Whether the AU itself will live or die is perhaps the biggest mystery of the show, but one thing's practically guaranteed: our characters are all going to receive their island memories as they converge at that concert, and on-Island Jack's going to receive some sort of neck injury. AU Eloise Widmore is going to be PISSED.
Jacob & His Agenda:
Well, Jacob has chosen his successor -- or rather, a potential successor has chosen to take the job. This may seem like a small distinction, but it apparently means everything to Jacob. Having found himself thrust into the job of Island protector having never experienced the outside world, nor anything beyond his apparent Mother, Jacob took up the mantle having no idea what sort of sacrifice he was making. Being told of the Island and its powers was zero preparation for a man who knew nothing beyond his sheltered existence and his love for his Mother. So, with 2000 years of experience now under his belt, Jacob sought to find a replacement: like-minded in broken humility, and incapable of wanting the job for selfish reasons. He followed the lives of people he felt were kindred spirits, people he thought needed the Island as much as it needed them, and forced them to find their own way on the Island amidst all hardship and without single helping hand or explanation until the eleventh hour. Chances are he thought this the only way to lead someone to take the job with pure motivations: knowledge of the Island, and the truth about its powers and importance might only attract those with sinister intentions, or twist the intentions of those more properly inclined.
So now, having let his Candidates endure the confusion of facing his followers (The Others), coping with tragedy after tragedy, and figuring out the importance of the Island (mostly) on their own, Jacob finally popped the question. Maybe they didn't have much of a choice if they believed how important it was for someone to fill Jacob's shoes, but he did give them the choice not to believe, and Jack made it clear that he was certain becoming Island protector was what he wanted. And after a brief makeshift ceremony that mirrored Mother's actions in last week's episode, Jack has been given Jacob's job. And just how many of Jacob's crazy powers come with the title? We'll have one last chance to find out, but if I could only see one, I'd like to see Jack project himself off-Island to have a little chat with Eloise Hawking. And, of course, at first he'd appear to her talking backward (a la Walt) until he got the hang of the ability. A fan can dream ;)
On Widmore & Ben:
Jacob and The Man In Black may have thought their personal feud was more important than that of Widmore and Ben, but apparently no one informed Ben of the fact. It's fitting that Widmore was welcomed back to the Island as a method for Jacob to receive Desmond there. While this essentially aligned Widmore with Team Jacob (Team Not-Causing-The-Destruction-Of-Existence-As-We-Know-It), judging from just how (in)sincere Widmore sounded when he referenced learning the error of his ways, I certainly doubt Widmore was fulfilling Jacob's requests for any reasons beyond self-preservation and self-gain. He certainly turned squealer easily enough. But Ben lashing out and murdering his longtime rival served two goals: not only was it the delicious revenge he'd wanted for a very long time, it also shut Widmore up from blabbing anything further to the Man In Black.
I don't buy Ben's "Yeah, I'll murder anyone" attitude for a moment. He's out to ingratiate himself to the Man In Black until he can figure out how best to help the Island from this point on. Getting to take his personal revenge as a way of proving his mettle was just icing. Ben Linus is capable of quite a bit of evil to get what he wants, but he's not going to ultimately betray the Island he's given his life (and his daughter) to protect. The Man In Black manipulated Ben into murdering Jacob; now it's Ben's turn to repay the favor.
And Widmore's legacy on the show? Having completed his function as one of the principal villains, Widmore has left us with whatever that equipment in his canoe was. They made a very deliberate effort to linger the camera on the metal cases in that canoe, so I'm guessing we haven't seen the last of that stuff. Maybe Miles can find it. It's not like the poor guy's been given ANYTHING else of value to do beyond running around the jungle in terror with a walkie-talkie.
The Man In Black and His Agenda:
At the start of "What They Died For," I'm fairly certain the Man In Black's motivations were as simple as finding a way to bump off the remaining Candidates, and finding Ben at the abandoned Dharma Barracks presented a possible avenue for getting these murders accomplished. He offered Ben Island leadership if Ben helps him leave without saying anything about all of existence collapsing in on itself if he were to accomplish his goal (as Widmore and Richard's deceased Isabella have previously foretold). Chances are, the Man In Black doesn't believe any of this rot about the universe ending or perhaps he wouldn't be so anxious to cause it. But whatever his thoughts here, his goals clearly change (or at least are amended) by the end of the episode -- possibly because of what Widmore whispered to him about Desmond, possibly because he can sense that Jacob has been replaced and his efforts to prevent this from happening have failed. So it would seem the Man In Black's offer to Ben of Island leadership is now out of the equation, since once he's armed with Desmond, he intends to use the man labeled Jacob's "failsafe," to destroy the Island. MIB may think this is the only way to free himself, or he may be after revenge for not being allowed to leave, but if Jacob's even the slightest bit right about the importance of the Island and its energy, then it's paramount that someone stops him.
MIA - Missing In Action:
Richard joins Lapidus in the "Ignoble Death or Being Saved For A Surprise Reappearance" category. Since neither character has been given even a moment to be mourned on the show, I'm rooting for the latter.
And that's where we are!
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