Lost Season Three: Through the Looking Glass
With those words the third season of the ABC drama Lost came to a close. Spoken by a Los Angeles-residing Jack Shephard in the two-hour finale, “Through the Looking Glass,” the phrase was not uttered in the expected past or present but in the future instead. Although the first two seasons of the show centered on the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 attempting to survive on the island which they now found themselves stranded on, the third season evolved into Jack, the de facto leader of the group, executing a carefully constructed plan in order to finally be rescued. The irony, of course, is that not only does his plan apparently come to fruition, but a drugged-out, suicidal and off-island Jack Shephard later believes his actions were a mistake.
While the third installment of Lost started off slow and included such duds as the “how Jack got his tattoos” episode, the series picked up steam half-way through the season when it delved into an exploration of the Others—the mysterious inhabitants of Lost Island—as well further developed the growing dichotomy between Jack Shephard and John Locke. The series had already established Jack as the man of science and Locke as the main of faith, two men with strong wills who more often than not saw themselves at odds with each other in regards to the mystical elements of the series. While the two shared only a handful of scenes the entire season, their stories dovetailed nonetheless.
The greatest difference between the two centered on the island itself. From the very beginning, John Locke believed it to be special. “Do you think we crashed on this place by coincidence?” he asked Jack in season one. “We were brought here for a purpose, for a reason.” Jack naturally had the opposite opinion and more than once told Locke, “I don’t believe in destiny.” While these opposing viewpoints were mainly limited to brief philosophical debates in the past, the prospect of actually being rescued and leaving the island raised the stakes in season three. Thus while Jack was making deals with the Others to leave the island via a submarine under their control, Locke was doing his best to ensure such an agreement was never finalized by first blowing up the Dharma Initiative communications center and then the submarine itself. At the end of “Through the Looking Glass,” he again took matters into his own hands by throwing a knife into the back of Naomi Dorrit, the would-be rescuer of Oceanic Flight 815.
Although Jack Shephard and John Locke had separate storylines throughout season three, the differences between the two men became sharper and more focused. Before the plane crash, Locke had been a sad-sack loser raised in foster care who failed at everything he tried. Jack, meanwhile, was a medical surgeon who—despite relationship problems with both his father and wife—lived a successful life. On island, however, Locke transformed into the “special and with purpose” individual that he had always longed to be. Even the Others took notice, especially since Locke was confined to a wheel chair before arriving on Lost Island. Not only was he accepted into the group but at least one them, Richard Alpert, believed he should challenge leader Benjamin Linus for supremacy amongst the group.
Jack Shephard, on the other hand, found himself a captive of the Others at the start of the season and continued to be at odds with them throughout the 23 episodes. When he finally was able to escape, Jack brought along Juliet Burke despite her not only being an Other but one who appeared to have authority within their ranks. Fellow Lostaways James “Sawyer” Ford and Sayid Jarrah distrusted Juliet, and in turn Jack, keeping the would-be leader in the dark in regards to both Naomi’s presence on the island as well as the fact her freighter was only miles off shore. But like some sort of scale that allowed only one of the two—Jack or Locke—to be on the rise at any given moment, fate intervened and allowed Jack to finally assume the leadership role he was reluctant to fulfill while Locke was shot and left for dead by Benjamin Linus.
“Though the Looking Glass” thus became the story of Jack Shephard leading his people like some proverbial Moses to the rescue that they had long sought. While the title of the episode directly relates to the underground Dharma Station that was blocking all transmissions both to and from the island, it is also an indirect reference to Lewis Carroll’s sequel to Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Just as the world Alice entered was not necessarily what it appeared to be, the same is true in Lost’s version. Whereas everyone believed Naomi and her freighter were sent by fellow castaway Desmond Hume’s long-lost love Penelope Widmore, Charlie Pace finds this not to be true when he succeeds in shutting down the Looking Glass jamming system. Before he dies, Charlie is able to write the prophetic message “Not Penny’s Boat” on his hand in an attempt to warn Desmond of what he has learned.
Then there’s Benjamin Linus, who intercepts Jack Shephard on his way to the radio tower and basically tells him the same thing. Like some island manifestation of Tweedledum and Tweedledee—who told Alice that she merely resided in the sleeping imagination of the Red King—Ben warns Jack that his rescue mission will not bring about the outcome he desires. “The woman you’re traveling with,” he says of Naomi. “She’s not who she says she is. She’s a representative of some people who’ve been trying to find this island. She’s one of the bad guys.”
In the end Jack does not believe Ben, nor a still-breathing John Locke who makes one last plea for his counterpart to alter his plan, and in doing so apparently went through the “looking glass” himself. Throughout the episode, Jack Shephard was seen in “flashbacks” as a broken and desperate man who was strung out on prescription drugs and alcohol. Viewers realized, however, that the “looking glass” allegory extended to them as well when it was revealed in the closing moments not to have been a “flashback” but a “flashforward” instead.
While Lost had been about “how will the survivors get off the island” during its first three season, “Though the Looking Glass” not only changed the story but squarely put the series’ focus on Jack Shephard, the successful surgeon and island leader who apparently converted to John Locke’s way of thinking only to conclude that it was too late. It also transformed his repeated “I don’t believe in destiny” mantra to “We need to go back,” altering viewers’ perception of the series as well.