At exactly the 30-minute mark in tonight's episode, the strike-shortened fourth season of Lost will reach its halfway mark. At the 31-minute mark, we'll have seen more Lost this year than we will see for the rest of the year. And by the 60-minute mark, we'll have just six more episodes of Lost left until the show waddles into its cave for another nine-month nap. This kind of thinking makes me kinda sad. Didn't this season just start, like, yesterday? As Kool and the Gang taught us long ago, we should cherish the time we have. So I invite you to savor this, our sixth-to-last tease of the year, an enticing tidbit about ''Ji Yeon,'' tonight's Jin/Sun-angled installment of Lost, brought to you by executive producer Damon Lindelof:
''Yes, we know you have all figured out who Ben's man on the boat is. But once we've confirmed that for you, there's still TEN MINUTES OF SHOW LEFT.''
Damon is undoubtedly responding to the fact that for several weeks now, all of us (or enough of us to create the impression of an ''all'') have assumed that our old friend Michael — the raft-building, desperate dad who killed Ana Lucia and Libby in order to get his abducted son back — is Ben's spy on the freighter. It's not like we're a bunch of great detectives. As reader Lenny Picker points out, Lost has been running the risk of ruining this reveal since announcing Harold Perrineau's return last summer. In fact, he's been listed in the credits for several episodes now! ''Speculation that he's Ben's man on the boat would have been less if everyone didn't know that Michael would return this season,'' writes Picker. ''Had he not been listed in the credits, his eventual appearance would have the dramatic impact the Lost creators intended.'' Picker says that a key revelation in last week's episode was similarly spoiled for him: ''The inclusion of Alan Dale [the actor who plays Charles Widmore, Penelope's father and Desmond's nemesis] in the credits in the last episode made it obvious that he was going to be the person behind the freighter.''
I know many of you feel the same way as Lenny. I share your small disappointment, to the degree that I find myself hoping against hope that we're being set up for a shocker. Like, wouldn't it be awesome if the spy actually turned out to be Sayid's lost love, Nadia? Or Charlie's ex-junkie rocker brother, Liam? Or even — my crazy conjecture of the week — a returned-from-the-dead Libby, resurrected via the magic of course correction?
Still, I don't want to get your hopes up. All signs point to Michael. But spoiled surprise or no, there is some mystery surrounding his return to Lost, a riddle that can be summed up in one word: How? Think this through, my fellow Lost theorists: Michael's return to the Island defies storytelling logic. According to the well-researched timeline housed at lostpedia.org, Michael and Walt left the Island 67 days after the crash of Oceanic 815 — in other words, late November 2004. But the freighter has been offshore since mid-December. Surely it took longer than just a couple weeks for Ben to get Michael in position.
So: How? How can Michael really be on that boat?
TIME TRAVEL: BACK TO THE FUTURE
Theory: The coordinates Ben gave Michael and Walt led them not only to a place, but also to a time — in the near past.
Weird Science explanation: The Island is located within a time-space anomaly that extends out into the ocean. Different points along the boundary of the anomaly lead to different places and/or different times. For example, after the chopper flew through the perimeter, Lapidus, Sayid, and Desmond landed on the freighter a full day after they left the Island, even though they had spent just 20 minutes in the air.
Prediction: Ben intentionally sent Michael (and Walt) to a certain date in the past (I'm betting...four years ago) for the purpose of putting Michael in a position to serve as his freighter spy. To avoid the possibility of history-altering paradox — like, say, Michael seeking out his past self, or trying to prevent the crash of Oceanic 815 — Ben controlled him by holding Walt as leverage.
Does this theory make sense? Absolutely. This take on time travel best explains the narrow gap between Michael's departure and his return. It would also explain how Walt grew into a strapping teenager.
Estimated Chance of Accuracy: My money's on this one. 91%
BORN AGAIN: A POCKET UNIVERSE THEORY OF LOST
Theory: Michael and Walt left the Island...and were magically transformed into new people — people who may have never been passengers aboard Oceanic 815.
Weird Science explanation: The Island could exist in its own pocket universe. In order for this place to exist within our world but remain separate from it, special accommodations are made. For example, when the Island swallowed up Oceanic 815, the outside world had to account for the disappearance of the passengers. Hence the wreckage at the bottom of the ocean, which may be the result of a cosmic conspiracy, not a human one. By this logic — if you can call it logic — the cosmos would have to come up with a continuity-smoothing solution for the reintroduction of Michael and Walt into a world in which they are technically dead. The answer: creating whole new identities for them. In this scenario, should Michael 2.0 and Walt 2.0 return to the fully contained pocket universe of the Island, they may or may not know the castaways (at least, not from personal experience), but the castaways would certainly remember them.
Prediction: Michael's seeming anti-climactic return becomes supercharged with intrigue when he looks at Sayid and says, ''I'm sorry... Do I know you?''
Does this theory make sense? I could see this ''pocket universe'' business working. Yes, the producers have disavowed alternate-reality theory, but this is a form of alternate-reality theory that neutralizes the problems of paradox, the negation of life-and-death stakes, and the mutability of the flash-forward future. But it does rob Michael of a powerful motivation for returning to the Island: redeeming his murderous past by saving his friends.
Estimated Chance of Accuracy: Too convoluted — AND I LOVE IT. But whatever explanation Lost comes up with for Michael's return, earning his redemption MUST be an issue. 43%