Five seasons and five episodes into this most brain-addling of television shows and we still don't really know what that bloody monster made of smoke that makes strange noises and uproots flora, fauna and freaking human beings actually is. Oh sure, it's a 'security system', yeah, well, that's helpful. Now we have an additional titbit thanks to 'This Place is Death': it guards 'the temple'. Riiight. So how come it's made of smoke? And why do images people's pasts seem to appear 'within' it? Huh?! I suppose these questions are on their way to being answered, given that we're now on the home stretch but dammit, I'm getting a little impatient with the thing. And it's only because I love the damn monster so much: I mean, just look at it as it drags poor Montand to his inevitable doom and detaches his body from his arm. It's freaking cool, man. This is a rather nice nod back to the first season (Rousseau mentioned her armless colleague back in the day) and once again, signals that the production staff remain true to their word and are proceeding to provide answers to even the smallest of minutiae that have previously been introduced into the show's mythology. And how about the fact that the monster itself may be responsible for turning people a bit crazy? (My H-bomb theory was shot out of the water). Or is it the temple? Something else? WHAT?!
Remaining on the subject of answers, 'This Place is Death' seems hell bent on putting at least some of the pieces together for us: so now we know Charlotte's history, with official confirmation that yes, she was on the Island long ago and that she believes DANIEL told her not to come back. This, of course, ties with the events in the opening scene of the season as we see Farraday in Marvin Candle's time with the DHARMA Initiative. Doesn't look like he'll actually be able to change anything mind, even though he's apparently going to try (and he should know better... silly, heartbroken Physics expert). And what about her death, eh? Well, I've gotta say, that one threw me. I felt sure they'd save her somehow and that there would be some pay off for Daniel's infatuation but, alas, not. Although, one imagines this will now consume the man and that we're at least going to see little Charlotte very soon. Another prospective jigsaw piece from your friendly neighbourhood television reviewer: Charlotte = Annie? Ben's one true love from his young DHARMA Initiative days? I know it's been mentioned before (and you would think Benjamin might at least have an inkling) but the narrative does seem to be pointing more and more towards the possibility...
...and lo and behold, possibility actually becomes reality this week as Ms Hawking is revealed to be Farraday's mother. Well, no one saw that coming, did they? While her appearance did close the episode, thankfully the revelation did not, but rather her assertion that it is time to 'get to work'... without the other Oceanic Six members, it's worth noting. Honestly, anyone who hadn't figured Elouise out by this point really needs their head examined. Granted, the Elouise reference is rather oblique, given that it requires the viewer to remember a single name from a single episode last season (Daniel's rat, on whom he is performing time travel experiments, has been given this name), but the confluence of Desmond and co. at the church really should have triggered alarm bells if they hadn't been going off already. Personally though, I love this and actually shouted at my screen when the damn episode ended, just when things were about to bloody well get good.
To top all this meaty goodness off, Jacob actually makes a reappearance, helping John to turn the jammed frozen donkey wheel and send himself hurtling across the globe. All very intriguing, obtuse stuff this as it signals that Locke was wrong to let Ben go off the Island: the line 'since when did listening to what he says get you anywhere worth a damn?' is perhaps the most priceless of the season. And if course, more importantly, we actually get to see the time jumps have negative consequences as first the Orchid disappears before the Losties' eyes and then the well goes bye bye as John is descending it. It's about time we saw it impede their progression in a manner other than the food department, at any rate.
'This Place is Death' is a masterfully written, oblique blighter that moves from one tantalising plot strand to the next - Smokey attacks Rosseau and co.! They go crazy in its temple! Locke meets Jacob again and turns the frozen donkey wheel! Charlotte dies! The gang meet Farraday's mom and it's Ms Hawking! - and manages to throw a few answers our way to boot. It is very much a set up for major events to come, such as Locke's transformation into Jeremy Bentham and the plot to get back to the Island, but at this it works admirably. Plus we get some damn excellent individual scenes all round that demonstrate the wealth of acting ability in the cast: check out Farraday and Charlotte in the woods, Jin as he confronts Locke or, my personal favourite, Ben throwing a hissy fit in his van. A thoroughly successful way to whet everyone's appetite.