The writers have definitely taken the gloves off, and this new format allows them to arrange the pieces of the puzzle in whatever order they see fit. This helps to keep the audience guessing, because those external factors need to make up for a subsequent loss in the depth of character exploration. The flashbacks and flashforwards served to expound on the psychological and emotional resonance experienced by the characters over time. Now, the plot appears to be taking more control.
That's not necessarily a bad thing. The fourth season essentially served as a prelude to all the actions about to take place among the Oceanic Six. Now that the "future" status quo has been firmly established, the writers can use Ben's plan to return to the island as a launching point. That's exactly what happens in this episode.
Unless the subtle signals are completely deceptive (and with Ben, that's certainly possible), it appears that Locke's death is not what it seems. Locke may, in fact, have to die for everything to work out in the end, but that might only apply as long as he's off the island. After all, the dead don't necessarily stay that way on the island, and if the island's influence can stretch into the rest of the world (as Michael's story last season suggested), then why couldn't Locke be resurrected like Mikhail?
The war against Widmore is also heating up, as Sayid's little encounter aptly demonstrates. Breaking out Hurley was rather public, and Hurley's usual luck isn't going to make things any easier. Ben is having a hard enough time trying to convince Jack to have faith in his plan without trying to handle this!
And that doesn't even begin to cover Kate and her latest issue. Who would challenge Kate on her relationship to Aaron, especially this late in the game? It seems more likely that this situation was designed to flush her out of her current comfortable life, thus making it an easier decision to return to the island. That points to Ben, and it certainly fits his usual methodology.
Meanwhile, back on the island, the story is actually pretty simple. Daniel, Sawyer, Juliet, and the rest of those left behind are trying to find shelter as they leap back and forth through time. The beginning of the episode seems to suggest that they will end up in the time of the original Dharma Initiative, perhaps right around 1987, when there was a catastrophic explosive event (referenced often in the second season).
For now, however, they're still jumping around in time, and since they are "unstuck", that's a problem. Daniel seems to be quite aware of that fact, especially since he already went through it once with Desmond ("The Constant"). Now he needs his own constant, and that means finding Desmond. That certainly explains why he's so focused on finding the Swan Station and as soon as possible. The question is: will finding his own "constant" do a damn thing for the rest of the group?
Locke's experience (parallel to the Daniel/Sawyer gang) provides more evidence for the "Locke will be resurrected" theory, and also supports the notion that Locke will be known to Richard during the Dharma era (which would explain why he was so willing to embrace Locke in the fourth season). It was good to see them touch on the plane crash site that was so important in the first season; it's quite likely that the open questions from those earlier seasons will be directly addressed as the characters jump through time.
This premiere is largely devoted to setting up the new storytelling status quo, and in that respect, itÃ¢â¬â¢s enormously successful. In fact, it's such a smooth transition and such a logical direction to take that it's easy to take it for granted. One cannot stress enough how this completely opens up the possibility of resolution for every open question on the table. That freedom, combined with a good number of remaining episodes for both the season and the series, is quite e