Much like everyone else, I have spent the last 8 months trying to understand which direction the show will take for Season 6. We've suggested whether the hydrogen bomb killed the characters or sent them back to 2008 with Locke and Ben at the statue's foot. Then the debate raged about whether we would have a reset that, for us, eliminates the last 5 seasons, and for the characters, the last 3+ years of their lives. But I don't think it's as simple as either of these. The characters are obviously still taking part in the story so "dead" is obviously a relative term. If the bomb does kill them, then they have to be alive in another timeline or in some other way. And how could they be shot back to Locke and Ben in 2007 if they've altered history, including the crash of 815? (I.e. if their actions prevent the plane crashing, they can't be spat to the 2008 where Locke and Ben are - that 2008 is one that exists only after Oceanic 815 crashed, and they have just prevented that. If they got spat to 2008, it would be a 2008 that is 4 years after the plane landed safely). Furthermore, the MIB as Locke would not be on the island because preventing the crash means Locke never gets there in the first place. So the detonation must have caused something else, which may actually be a combination of various theories previously brought up.
For a while, the 2 main theories that have been debated (Whatever Happened, Happened and the "reset" theory) were treated as mutually exclusive. I don't think that's true. In fact, I'd take it further to suggest that they will be combined.
Ever since this mysterious business with Ajira in Season 5, I've felt like we haven't been told everything about the similarities between Oceanic 815 and Ajira 316. While it all concerns recreating what happened on September 22, 2004, I think Ajira 316 is linked to what was supposed to happen on that day. Older Eloise was the biggest proponent of "course correction" in the show, in the Desmond-centric 'Flashes Before Your Eyes'. So when she popped up when Ajira was involved and then had a fair bit of information about it, it made me think that there was a connection between her and Ajira, more importantly, her idea of course correction. Simply, I think Ajira 316 was an implement of course correction for the Universe to correct Oceanic 815's crash. That crash should not have happened in the Universe's original historic timeline. Here, I'll create 2 new terms to help with the rest of the post. I think the plane was supposed to land in LA, but Jacob intervened. Therefore, the plane landing at LAX is the right timeline that should have occurred. The timeline we've seen for the last 5 seasons, where the plane crashes on the island, is the wrong timeline. Oceanic 815 should not have crashed onto the island. Why this event subverted the way things were supposed to happen isn't important for what I'm trying to say, but as a point of interest, I think Jacob was responsible for it, as part of his apparent ongoing search for progress in a greater plan. But that's another issue.
If Ajira 316 was course correcting the mistake in history that was 815, how was history originally supposed to go down in the right timeline? Like this: September 22, 2004 - Oceanic 815 takes off from Sydney and lands safely in LA. Its passengers go their separate ways. January 2007 - Ajira 316 takes off and crashes on Hydra island (without the assistance of the Swan station). Now, in the right timeline I just crudely laid out, Ajira was the actual flight that brings the characters to the island for the first time. Whereas, the Ajira 316 in the wrong timeline we've seen for 5 seasons actually brought them back. Hopefully that distinction is clear. Either way, they both crash. It is also important to note here that the wrong timeline we've seen for 5 seasons is true and won't be undone or reset. However, because this timeline wasn't supposed to happen, and the variables have the free will to change whatever they strongly feel they want to change, Jughead's detonation will create an imaginary timeline (the right one that should have originally happened) involving that very detonation eliminating the electromagnetic charge, allowing Oceanic 815 to land in 2004 and its passengers to live out the right timeline that should have occurred had it not been for Jacob's intervention. Season 6 will concern what was originally supposed to happen in history after Oceanic 815 landed. Note: the imaginary timeline idea would not have entered my stream of consciousness had it not been for Mittelman's recent posts discussing the 4 dimensions of real/imaginary space/time. I'm sure it is easy enough to access those posts and hope he doesn't mind my referencing him and them.
Now, just to unpack that idea of the 2 separate timelines. One of them involves what we have seen: 815 crashes, some get off, others travel through time. The "some" come back to 1977 or 2007 and Jughead will send those in 1977 hurtling through time to 2007. The other timeline would involve the plane landing safely at LAX, and the passengers living out their lives the way they had originally planned to. What I think we will see in Season 6 (if they still choose to give characters centric episodes) is what I call alterflashes (as distinct from flashbacks and flashforwards) where an episode is devoted to a specific character showing what would have happened to Jack, Kate, Charlie, Jin, Claire, etc. after 815 lands (Season 1 showed the main story on-island with flashbacks, as did Seasons 2 and 3. Season 4 showed the main story on-island with flashforwards). Season 6 will show the main story on-island with alterflashes.
The on-island story will continue from where Jacob was killed by the MIB. Those in 1977 when the bomb went off will probably end up being shot through time to 2007 where Jacob was seemingly killed, i.e. "they're coming." And when the show cuts to the alterflashes with that familiar unsettling sound effect, we would see what would have happened to each character had the plane landed: One episode could show Kate going to prison; another might show Sun and Jin continuing their strained marriage and running from Sun's father; Jack burying his father and becoming addicted to alcohol and drugs; Charlie would still be a drug addict... you can fill in your own ideas here. But what they will all find is that something will draw them towards a flight to Guam taking place in January of 2008 aboard Ajira Airlines. For whatever reason, each will find a purpose for being on that flight. It won't be because they think it's going to get them to the island - they don't know about an island in this timeline. They will just have their coincidental reasons for needing to be on that flight. It will then crash on the island (without a flash to 1977 because this is what was originally supposed to happen, i.e. they went to '77 to cause this, so they don't need to go there again). To sum that up, the last 5 seasons have showed us what happened from the plane crash, to the moment where Ajira crashes and a bit beyond. The first half of Season 6 will show us what happened between Oceanic 815 landing to the moment where Ajira crashes and a bit beyond. The Jughead explosion in 'The Incident' splits the timeline into two, similar to a fork in the road, to show that in the right timeline, each character will live their lives as per usual, board Ajira and crash on the island, this time with everyone in the same time period. And days later at the moment that Jacob is killed, the split timelines will converge into one again, i.e. the "road" merges back into one, where in both the wrong and right timelines, Jack and co. are with the rest of the survivors in 2007 to "battle it out," for lack of a better term, for the last episodes. So at the end of the wrong timeline, Jack and co. blew Jughead and it sent them hurtling through time to 2007 with Locke and Ben etc. And in the right timeline, they crashed on the Hydra with Locke and Ben, eventually joining them on a trek to the statue's foot - the same place they flashed to in that wrong timeline after blowing up Jughead. Both timelines converge here.
To help illustrate this idea, Desmond's 'Flashes' episode is the key again. In it, Desmond lives an alternate timeline. Eventually, his short second life in that new timeline ends and he is taken back to the body that lies naked in the jungle. His actions underneath the Swan allowed him to go back to a particular moment in his life to relive. Whether that was just his consciousness or his entire self in an alternate imaginary timeline isn't important. But eventually, that second life ends. And I think this flash only happened for him and not Locke, Eko or Charlie because only Des turned the key and only Des was exposed to the radiation.
To relate this to what we see in 'The Incident': seeing as the bomb wasn't contained by concrete when Juliet blew it up, the radiation exposure would extend beyond her, allowing for the same thing that happened to Des in 'Flashes...’ to happen to Jack, Kate and Sawyer etc. (and by extension, the Freighter folk, as well as Juliet herself). So, like Des, those characters will be able to live that alternate timeline, in the same way that Des got to live his for a few days. Some might live it for just a few days but some might live it for the entire 3 years up until Ajira 316 takes flight, namely Jack and Sayid who seem to be the hardest to convince of the "Faith" angle in life. They might be two characters that need to see the entire 3 years of the right timeline play out up until they crash on the Hydra via Ajira 316 (as I just explained) before they can be convinced to believe in it. And it might be that their experience in the imaginary right timeline ends as soon as they, like Des in the 'Flashes...' episode, come to accept that they can't change the past, or can, whatever the point of it all is.
But that's not all. Here's the kicker that I hope will calm a lot of fans down. Assuming Des did live an alternate timeline when he "relived" those few days with Penny, while this shows a split and then a convergence, never once are we told that his first instance through that time in his life was wiped away or "reset". It still happened. He lived both. One didn't remove or reset the other. And everything that happened beyond those few days (either in the first or second iteration of living them) set up what happened for the rest of his life. So, if Jack and co. gets to live the last 3 years of their life upon avoiding a crash on 815, it doesn't wipe away what happened in the 3 years of life in which the plane did crash. Just like Des, they will be able to remember both lifetimes. Meaning all those lessons, all that redemption, and everything that's happened in the last 5 seasons will still exist in their minds, and ours. It won't be all for nothing. I can't understand all this worry about the writers eliminating everything that we have watched. If we can see how wrong that would be, don't you think they can too?
The timeline in which the plane lands will also have adverse effects on Juliet and Desmond's lives. This is where I take a bit of licence. Juliet would theoretically still be with Ben and the Others by the time 2007 and the Ajira crash rolls around. This is where it gets complicated, but also allows for infinite scope for what the writers can do with her character. If the timeline splits at the point that Jughead explodes and then converges again eventually, then that means in the timeline where Oceanic landed in LA, just like the timeline where it didn't land in LA, she would end up dead. But in those 3 years between Oceanic not crashing to Ajira crashing, the writers could do anything with her. Did she stick with Ben and the Others? Did she do something else? And what consequences would that have for her, others and for the history of the island? Similarly with Desmond, if Oceanic 815 lands at LAX, then how would his life be different? Would he commit suicide as he intended? Would he continue living there? Would he decide to try and escape and ignore the Quarantine warnings? Would someone else knock on the Hatch door? Juliet, even? Would he even be down in the Swan, or somewhere else on the island? Perhaps he joined the Others? Now, this is all silly speculation because the writers could do absolutely anything. And on top of that, we know that the "rules don't apply" to Desmond so this means all bets are off on predicting what they do with him in this alternate timeline. The thing that worries me, though, is that Elizabeth Mitchell has her new show and probably isn't going to be able to spend a great deal of time in Hawaii to film many flashback scenes, if at all. But the point for them would be the same for the other characters - that no matter what path they take, no matter how different, the end will be the same. Juliet will want to get off the island but die. And Des will get off the island with Penny. To paraphrase Eloise Hawking, it will be the means that are different; the end will always be the same (unless Desmond's anomaly regarding the rules changes things. Personally, I think his ability to subvert the rules was only for Daniel to create that new memory in 'Because You Left' and that's all).
I think this alternate timeline thing can also link in with the apparent inconsistencies we see during 'Namaste' when Frank and Sun meet Christian at the Barracks. The Dharma signage is still there despite the Others removing them when they moved in, and the Processing Centre is still there, with the equipment it had back in 1977 rather than looking like the rec room we see in Season 3. And the fact that one of the houses still has the Risk game that Locke, Sawyer and Hurley were playing confounds the mystery. But perhaps the reason these barracks look different to the last time we saw them (in 'The Shape Of Things To Come' when the monster attacked the mercenary team) is because they exist in the alternate timeline. And what could make this beyond confusion is if I'm wrong and the timelines don't converge: if Jack and co. live out the right timeline by landing at LAX, then crash on the island via Ajira 316 in 2007, but on an island that exists in a different timeline to the one in which Ben, MIB, Jacob etc. are at the end of 'The Incident', then the scope for confusion is just endless. In Season 5, Sun and Jin were separated by time rather than space, now they're separated by... timelines? I don't know if I'll be able to wrap my head around that. Nevertheless, moving on.
(Note: In the timeline in which 815 never crashed, the Swan station does still exist. Radzinsky living there down there still happens. Desmond's adventures, Juliet's time, the Dharma Initiative, the Black Rock. Everything that we have seen happen before the survivors crashed on the island still actually happens. Everything except anything that happened when Jack, Hurley, Sayid and Kate + Sawyer, Juliet, Daniel, Miles, Jin time traveled to the 70s. If it wasn't obvious already, I believe their travels back there weren't what always happened. Whether Jack and co. showed up on the day that Radzinsky drilled into that pocket of energy doesn't matter - they still hit the pocket before the bomb went off, therefore, it would still be necessary to build the Swan.)
What this does is leave the audience with the events of two timelines: one where they lived for 3 years after the crash of Oceanic 815, and one where they lived for 3 years after the landing of Oceanic 815. And it will be up to the audience to decide which one they choose to believe in. Some might think that the timeline where they landed is just imaginary, a way to show the characters (and the audience) what would have happened, but still never actually happened, a way to convince them all that their destinies belonged on the island all along. Some might think it's imaginary, but that their actions in one can have some sort of effect on the "real" timeline, and vice versa. Or some might think both actually happen and the point isn't to choose which one to believe.