In “The Incident,” Jack, Kate, Sawyer and Juliet all had different views on changing the past. Jack was obsessed with ‘fixing’ the present by erasing it; Kate passionately did not want him to erase the past, and she was hurt that he would prefer never to have met her; Sawyer was indifferent to Jack’s mission and wanted to make a new life with Juliet in 1970s America; and Juliet thought she wanted to go with him until she realized he would always come running when Kate whistled. But as Jack admitted his desire to leave was based on a desire to forget Kate. And as Juliet admitted her eventual decision to go along with him was based on her desire to never have to lose Sawyer, not her desire, say, to save Sayid, who was bleeding to death for most of the episode.

There was actually a lot at stake in the decision, and it was made more complicated by the fact that everyone on the island or buried beneath it had something significant to be won or lost by preventing The Incident. Locke would definitely have been alive but he would have been in a wheelchair for the rest of his life. Faraday, Ana Lucia, Libby, Shannon and Boone would be saved (not to mention the dozen or so DHARMA members that Jack shot at the Swan site.) But Aaron would never have known his mother.

If the series returns next year with the plane touching down at LAX the entire series is going to operate more in the world we’ve come to know in the flashbacks than the one on the Island, with different relationships and emotional dynamics. The survivors won’t even be the same people we met in the Pilot because they won’t have survived anything, and they certainly won’t have grown and changed by living on the island and meeting each other. So what will be left when the dust cleared? And what were Jack, Kate, Sawyer and Juliet really facing as an alternative to life on the island?

Jack Shephard

What He Left: Jack had recently testified against his father in front of a board of examiners and had succeeded in getting his medical license taken away. When Christian turned up missing he flew to Sydney to find him and discovered that he had died of an alcohol induced heart attack. Nine months earlier Jack had stalked Sarah after she left him for another man, and he was still completely obsessed with discovering who her new lover was. If he ever found out who the man was we never did.

What He’d Return To: Jack’s first order of business would need to be dealing with funeral arrangements for Christian. He likely could have counted on his mother to help and, incredibly, his sister, Claire, would have been in town. But since she never knew Christian’s name it’s hard to imagine how she would have known to attend. He still had a job at St. Sebastian hospital, but given the messy way that he’d left and the painful memories of everything that had happened with his father it wouldn’t have been easy. He would have still been single and felt very alone.

What Never Would Have Happened: He never would have fallen for Kate, found a circle of close friends or gotten a chance to prove himself as a hero.

Prediction: Sure, Jack could have finally obliterated Kate from his heart completely, but would he have gone back to missing Sarah? He was facing crisis in almost every aspect of his life. Counting to five is all well and good but when he opened his eyes and looked at his career, his family and himself he still would have been depressed by what he saw. He needed a new focus or outlet but he wasn’t at a point that he was going to prove a magnet for forming healthy new relationships or taking care of himself. He could have easily continued making self-destructive choices. Worst of all, could he truly have gotten Kate out of his life? Sure, they had never met and there’s no obvious reason they would have. But fate really wanted to pick on poor Jack bringing Kate back into his life would be the way to do it.

Kate Austen

What She Left: After evading Edward Mars across continents and throughout a marriage, Kate had finally been caught. She was being extradited back to the United States where she would face charges of first degree murder (not to mention evading arrest, identity theft and assisting in the robbery of a bank.) Her mother had vowed never to speak to her again, Tom was dead and she’d last seen her husband when she’d told him she was a murderer and left him lying.

What She’d Return To: If she was tried in Iowa she wouldn’t have faced the death penalty. Iowa doesn’t currently have a death penalty statute. She would have faced life in prison. In “Eggtown” Kate was tried in California, where there is a death penalty, but she only received  ten years probation. This time Jack obviously wouldn’t have been able to testify and she wouldn’t have been a celebrity hero, which means she may have done much worse.

What Never Happened: Kate never would have had an adopted son because she never would have met Claire. She wouldn’t have gotten off with just ten years probation. And she wouldn’t have found two men who cared about her or tortured them like legless insects.

Prediction: Kate is extremely resourceful. Her gift had always been making alliances and using them to further her own ends, and I don’t mean that have as critically as it sounds. But her loyalty and ability to see something in Cassidy allowed her to earn Cassidy’s above and beyond the call of duty help in contacting her mother. She did it with Kevin, and then again with Ray Mullen, to say nothing of Tom, Jack or Sawyer. She seemed doomed but she may still have found a way to escape with minimal damage because she’s bewitching. Maybe she would have made the jury fall in love with her, or inspired someone to perjure themselves for her on the stand again. Or maybe she’d go to prison, someone would feel sorry for her and they’d find a way to help her. But no matter what there’s bound to be at least one man in the middle of it all who would do anything for her and I have an inkling it might be Kevin. She never gave him an opportunity to respond to her news. If she’s as addicted to her as Jack and Sawyer he may have been able to use his resources as a police officer to clear her in exchange for a few more months of blissful drama.

James “Sawyer” Ford

What He Left: After getting out of prison Sawyer went back to being a con artist and the Tampa Job went badly, apparently because Hibbs either screwed it up or betrayed him. He was tricked into killing Frank Duckett, then head butted the Australian Minister of Agriculture and he got deported back to the States. Cassidy and Clementine were still out there, but he made sure Clementine never knew who had set up a fund in her name because he didn’t want her to go through the heartbreak of depending on him.

What He’d Return To: He was in almost as dire of a situation as Kate. Sooner or later The Tampa Job and/or the murder of Frank Duckett would be discovered and he would end up on trial too. Much like Kate, he didn’t have a career, and didn’t have any loved ones hurry home to.

What Never Happened: He never met Juliet or Kate. He never got a nice, normal job and had an ordinary life. But more to the point, he never learned how to be a functional person or form meaningful, reciprocal relationships.

Prediction: Sawyer would have been in the worst trouble of the four. You can’t get out of jail only to return to society and kill someone – not if you ever want to see the light of day again. Unlike Kate, he probably wouldn’t have found a lot of sympathetic people who wanted to help him because he was brash, independent and lacked Kate’s, well, dimples. If ever he had a moment to turn his life around it was right after he got out of prison. If he took that opportunity to just go out and do the Tampa Job it seems unlikely would have realized the urgent need to change even if he wasn’t discovered as Frank’s killer. I don’t think he saw having a normal life as a realistic possibility so he probably would have pushed his luck just to see when it would run out for good.

Juliet Burke

What She Had: Technically Juliet never left and wouldn’t be allowed to return. She was being held on the island against her will when the plane crashed and she would still be on the island if history were erased. Juliet was in a relationship with Goodwin, and Ben was extremely jealous. Ben told her that Jacob had promised to cure her sister Rachel’s cancer, but later showed a video proving Rachel was alive and had a son. Since Ben wasn’t in contact with Jacob, and since he was the one who told Juliet her sister’s cancer had returned, it’s likely the entire story was a lie concocted to emotionally manipulate her.

What She’s Return To: If the plane had never crashed Goodwin never would have gotten killed trying to investigate it, and he would still be working with Juliet among The Others. Her relationship with him would have continued but so would Ben’s jealousy. Her sister would once again be pregnant back in Miami.

What Never Happened: Goodwin would never been killed; Juliet would never have escaped The Others and found a new community; She wouldn’t have met Sawyer and joined the DHARMA Initiative. Before the plane crash she was sullen, insular, sad and had terrible self esteem. Her courage, self awareness and ability to connect with people would be erased.

Prediction: Juliet may have eventually managed to escape The Others anyway. It’s possible she could have defected to the DHARMA Initiative or that Edmund would have been willing and able to somehow set her free. But she didn’t have the ideal life back in Miami, either. Even with Edmund dead and no longer putting quite so much weird stress on her work life she hadn’t proven her theories yet enough to really set up her career. She was a quiet, smart, professional woman and she probably would have found a decent job in a laboratory someplace. She would have met someone who loved her, and learned to love him. She could have had much of the life she’d built with Sawyer, just with a guy who hopefully didn’t know Kate. But there would have been a rough period of despair there before that happened.

Will we see these scenarios unfold when the series returns for its final season? And what would have become of Locke, Hurley, Sayid, Charlie, Claire, Boone, Shannon, Ana Lucia, Libby, Ben, Ethan and countless others?  I’d love to hear your theories.

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