'The Incident's second instalment takes all the promise of the first and realises it tenfold, providing one hell of a viewing experience that'll have you punching the air, scratching your head, screaming at your TV and blubbing like a baby, all in equal measure. This is a roller-coaster ride for the emotions, jostling constantly between delivering satisfying character development and nail-biting dramatic tension, while throwing in a weighty amount of explanation and (as is to be expected) mystery to boot. The two major events - the race to the Swan and the race to Jacob - both come to stellar crescendos that threaten to change the shape of the show forever.
First, Jack Sheppard's mission to change history. This is fantastically intense stuff, with gun battles blazing here, there and everywhere, electromagnetic catastrophes threatening to cause the end of the world and a slue of brilliant two-handers between characters. Jack and Sawyer's fight in the jungle is a particularly strong example of this; the scene starts out refreshingly calm as, for once, the two share a semblance of honesty with each other and outline their entirely believable motives, but then, predictably, all hell breaks loose. With every aggressive punch to the face, the viewer feels every inch of Sawyer's pain, his reluctance to give up all that he has worked so hard for and come to love. And with every bloody retort, we yearn for Jack's troubled past to be erased, for all the sorrow he has to endure to disappear. The strength of our emotional investment in these most three-dimensional of characters keeps the debate at the core of the storyline completely ambivalent; it is incredibly difficult to side with either party because we understand so deeply, and care so significantly, about both of them. Matthew Fox and Josh Holloway are absolutely fantastic throughout the episode, not only in this particular scene. The former excels particularly in his storming of the Swan site, while the latter absolutely nails both of his harrowing moments with Juliet. The first of these seems a little absurd initially, as his lover effectively abandons their relationship for 'the greater good' or some such crap (the flashback sequence that clarifies her position seems rather artificial and out of place), but gradually, thanks in no small part to the incredible skill of both Holloway and Elizabeth Mitchell, the viewer is able to buy into their plight. The second excruciatingly emotional scene, however, is an absolute beaut from start to finish, as they desperately cling to one another in the midst of 'the incident'. There is nothing mawkish or clichéd about the moment, despite it being an oft-used conceit, because the dialogue is laconic and believable and the actors completely sell every terrifying beat. Holloway manages to pull off intense emotion through a combination of reserve and vocal despair, while Mitchell's oscillation between resigned calm and palatable fear makes her final 'I love you' and willingness to let go all the more poignant. It's an incredibly sad moment, (almost) signalling the end of one of the most loved characters on the show.
Of course, Juliet's actual (apparent) death comes at hour's end when she seemingly manages to detonate the hydrogen bomb. This has to be the single most infuriating cliffhanger since the opening of the hatch in season one. Leaving us on the realisation of the most intriguing trope in the narrative, without any semblance of a hint as to where this may ultimately take us, would seem like a bit of a kick in the teeth if it weren't for the fact that the show does it with such unquestionable style and panache. It's one hell of a point to leave the audience pondering for the next eight months, that's for sure. Is this going to change the course of events? Will this cause Oceanic 815 to actually arrive at its destination, rather than crash on the Island? It is very tempting to think that this is too simple a course for the narrative, especially when one takes the realisation of 'the incident' into consideration. Rather than have the bomb detonate immediately upon its launch down the shaft, Cuse and Lindelof begin the process of the electromagnetic release that causes Chang to lose his arm (very nice touch) and will ultimately lead to the change in the Swan station's purpose. No plot points that we know to have occurred post-1977 are changed here: Radzinsky and Chang both survive, while a number of others die. Is it possible, therefore, that the detonation of the bomb will simply have actually occurred as part of 'the incident' in the timeline as we know it? Will it somehow not be a cataclysmic event that destroys the Island? Will it react with the electromagnetic energy and cause something else to happen? Will it somehow propel the '77 Losties to 2007? Who knows? The writers' continued reiteration of the importance of the fact that 'whatever happened, happened' seems to dissuade the viewer from believing that Jack's plan has actually succeeded.
However, when one takes Jacob's little dalliances through our central characters' histories into consideration, further questions are raised: it certainly seems like he is giving everyone 'a little push' (to quote his scene with Jack) in order to get to where they are now. His scene with Hurley, in particular, hints strongly at this. Thus, is it possible that Jacob is using the '77 Losties to somehow prevent his untimely death in 2007? When he mutters the foreboding line "they're coming" before he is callously kicked into the fire, could he be referring to Kate, Sawyer, Miles, Jin, Jack and Hurley (and maybe Juliet if we're lucky)? Is he using them to change history and therefore prevent things occurring as they do here? Or is it that he has to get them to this place in 2007, but hasn't done so in time? So many questions and so much time to debate them... but the fact that any show can generate such a great level of intrigue, never mind a one as consistently well-written as Lost, deserves nothing but the highest of praise.
And it's not like they stop at 1977, oh no. The contemporary (well, almost) storyline is equally as loaded with beguiling material, ready to be picked at, scrutinised and over-analysed until January 2010. Once again, Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson outshine every other member of the cast, knocking not one, not two, but about twenty five out of the park with each passing moment, and it's made all the more impressive by the fact that their characters are both stepping outside of the box somewhat: Locke in his continued confidence and unusual manner and Ben in his subservience and honesty. Of course, Lindelof and Cuse proceed to give us a fantastic explanation as to the course of events, revealing that the bald headed one is, in fact, dead as doornails and that the man claiming to be the Others' leader is 'the other guy' from the opening scene of part one. Now then. There's a great deal of valid analysis to be made here and it's predicated on the notion that this 'opposing' force, Jacob's equal, if you will, is, in fact, the smoke monster (or indeed, that the smoke monster is a manifestation, a form, of this man). To begin, the 'white/black' parallel is implicit in both the dialogue and the clothing of the pair in 'The Incident's opening scene, which obviously ties to Smokey's favourite colour. Then there is the mural on the wall of the Temple in 'Dead is Dead', which clearly shows an Egyptian figure, identical to the statue (you know, the one that Jacob lives in), making some form of pact with a creature that looks rather like the monster. This suggests that the two have a symbiotic relationship, and it certainly isn't a stretch to believe that it is based on being bound to an agreement to 'look after' the Island, to be its caretakers. And finally, we have Smokey's penchant for creating manifestations of the dead, from Emi, Eko's brother, to, more recently, Alex, Ben's daughter. Within the confines of the show's mythology, it would therefore be entirely possible for him to manifest as Locke, now that he is deceased. It certainly all seems to tie together, with only the exact specifics of the 'loop-hole' that allow for Jacob's death remaining somewhat oblique. One possible interpretation of this is that, because only the 'leader' can see him, it could only ever be this person who could potentially kill him. Obviously, John is not the leader of the Others at this point because he is dead; therefore, the title falls on the last person to occupy the position... Ben. The moment between Linus and his much-revered superior is exquisitely executed. The juxtaposition of Ben's pent-up rage and hate and Jacob's calmness and serenity really intensifies the tension in the scene, and the fact that Pellegrino offers him a choice only makes things all the more poignant. This is top class stuff, providing the perfect marriage between satisfying revelation and tantalising mystery, and setting up an even more grandiose 'battle for the Island' in the sixth season than perhaps we were expecting.
The final part of 'The Incident' is the kind of edge-of-your-seat television that leaves you reeling for hours, days and, most certainly in Lost's case, months on end. The realisation of the finale's two-handed dramatic apex is absolutely superb on both fronts: the 1977 strand is loaded with excitement and emotion, while the contemporary plot draws together some of the show's key elements, hinting at, if not entirely delivering, answers that we've been craving for a very long time. It certainly looks like we are setting up for one hell of a battle in the show's final year, and it is very rewarding to feel like the pieces are finally beginning to slot into place. While the cliffhanger will have you screaming insanely at your television set for about three quarters of an hour, that just demonstrates that Lindelof and Cuse have achieved exactly what they set out to. After watching this, there's no way in hell you're going to miss season six. Roll on January.