The castaway exodus provided the backbone for the sprawling story. They began on the beach, with tearful goodbyes said to the brave trio of sharpshooters tasked with blowing the invading Others to hell. Rose made Bernard repeat, ''I am a dentist; I am not Rambo.'' I also loved the line Naomi said to Jack as they trudged along the shoreline and into the jungle like Israelites marching toward the promised land: ''What did you do before you became Moses?'' (Even Jack the Shepherd had to laugh at that one.)
Of course, Jack's ''blow 'em all to hell'' gambit to avert the Others' Passover-style abduction plot didn't go off exactly as planned: the sharpshooters succeeded in detonating only two explosions instead of three, killing some but not all of Tom's posse. When the castaways realized something had gone wrong at the beach, Kate wanted to go back, and wanted Sawyer to go with her. The shaggy con man sleepwalking through life since killing Anthony Cooper in ''The Brig'' seemed not to care. But like the latter-day Han Solo that he is, Sawyer roused himself to reluctant valor, though he refused to take his Princess Leia with him. Jack later had to spell it out for her: ''He only wanted to protect you.'' Then, the whopper: ''I love you,'' the doc told Kate. Though she didn't say it, Kate's eyes finished the implied Empire Strikes Back homage: I know, they said. It hit me like Cupid's arrow: All these weeks of Jack cozying up to Juliet may have been a ruse, perhaps an attempt to draw info out of the former Other. Clearly, next season will focus on the Jack-Kate-Juliet-Sawyer quadrangle.
It also appears that next season will see Ben rejoin the beach bunch as a prisoner. Tipped off by the lovely ladies of the Looking Glass that the castaways were en route to the radio tower, the Lord of the Otherflies moved to intercept them, determined to prevent them from leaving the Island. And having learned that his daughter, Alex, had betrayed his plans via her boyfriend, Karl, Ben brought her with him, telling her that he was abandoning her to the castaways, her ''new family.'' We learned that the reason Ben was so determined to keep Alex and Karl separated was that he didn't want her to get pregnant and fall victim to the Island's curse which means that at least one of the 1,193,004 theory/predictions that I've made this season actually came true! (That's one more than last year look at the big brain on me!)
When Ben caught up with the castaways, he and Jack retreated to a quiet place for a superpower summit that played out like some Art of War scenario from hell. What came out of Ben's mouth was either a torrent of lies or some serious foreshadowing of next season's central conflict. He alleged that Naomi was not the woman she said she was but rather a representative of a group of people who've been trying to find the Island for a very long time, presumably for nefarious, exploitive reasons. These people, he claimed, were ''the bad guys,'' and bringing them to the Island would be very, very, very bad for the Others, for the Castaways, and especially for the Island. Ben's deal: Naomi's satellite phone in exchange for Jin, Bernard, and Sayid, who could be heard yelling, ''Don't negotiate with terrorists!'' over the walkie-talkie as Ben laid out his proposal. Jack did the Bushy thing and refused. Ben ordered that the hostages be killed. Bang! Bang! Bang! Jack responded by beating Ben into a bloody pulp, an act of violence as terrifying as it was cathartic. Boy, did Ben deserve it. And boy, do I worry about the rage in Jack's heart, especially when he followed it up by swearing War on Terror vengeance on all the Others. His ultimate dream: humiliating Ben by making him watch as the castaways get rescued then killing him. Heavy stuff. I wonder: Did George Bush have these kinds of daydreams about Saddam Hussein?
The twisted twist of Jack's rage was that back on the beach, Sayid and company were still alive. Ben's order was, apparently, a coded bluff: Pryce actually fired his bullets into the sand, even though Doubting Tom increasingly disenchanted with Ben's leadership wanted to blow the captives away. But the mercenaries paid the price for not killing and running when the castaway cavalry arrived in the form of...Hurley, charging onto the beach in his magic Dharma bus! Sawyer, Juliet, and Sayid sprang into action. Bullets were fired, necks were broken, and the Others were subdued and then executed. In a move that left Hurley and Juliet shocked, Sawyer put a bullet into Tom. ''That's for taking the kid off the raft,'' said Sawyer, referring to the Others' abduction of Walt in the finale of season 1. ''Dude, it was over,'' Hurley said. ''He surrendered.'' Sawyer's response: ''I didn't believe him.'' Like Jack, Sawyer's ''heroism'' in this episode was darkened by the complexity of personal history, unresolved angst, and deep-seated fear. Sawyer, it seems, is still stuck in the brig of his damaged past. Here's hoping season 4 will see a prison break.
NEXT PAGE: The fate of Charlie