Sunday, May 23, 2010

Thoughts on The End...

BIGMOUTH: My immediate reaction is that "The End" gets a perfect 10 on the Sickness Scale for one of the great fictional endings of all time.  The real test of any book, film, or television show is whether you can't stop thinking about it after it's over.  I went to bed marveling at "The End," and woke up with the same thought on my mind.  It was beautiful, moving, and mysterious, much like the endings to the film versions of Solaris, both of which also rank among my all-time favorites.  In fact, the parallels were so striking that I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to learn the writers of LOST were inspired by these precedents.

Warning: Major Solaris Spoilers

I've often mentioned the influence on LOST of Stanislaw Lem's classic novel about a sentient planet that manifests the memories of scientists studying it.  The book spawned two equally classic film adaptations, one by Andrei Tarkovsky, and another by Stephen Soderbergh, both of which end brilliantly.  In Tarkovsky's original, the final scene is between the protagonist, Kelvin, and his domineering father.  The encounter seems to take place at their family home, implying that Kelvin has returned to Earth.  At the very end, however, the camera pulls back to reveal the home is actually on an island in the middle of the Solarian sea.


Soderbergh's remake also appears to end on Earth.  In a voice-over, Kelvin describes how he escaped the space station, returned home, and resumed his old life.  He's standing in the kitchen of his apartment when he cuts his finger.  Kelvin starts to clean the wound, but watches in surprise as it mysteriously heals by itself.  Things get even weirder when his wife Rheya, who committed suicide years ago, walks into the room.  Kelvin asks in wonder whether they're alive or dead.  To which Rheya replies, "we don't have to think like that anymore."  The implication is Kelvin never left and they're actually in a virtual afterlife created by planet Solaris.

I don't mean to suggest our Losties died in the crash of Oceanic 815, or that they never left the Island -- the last scenes confirmed quite the opposite.  But Jack's strange conversation with his father, and the way he died watching Ajira 316 depart, both echo these ambiguous endings to Solaris.  I'll expand on this in the full recap, but my initial take is that there is only one universe -- i.e, the Crash reality.  What we've been calling the Mirror "reality" is actually an afterlife created by the Island from their memories where they can work out their emotional issues before "moving on" to heaven.  Yes, they're dead.  Thanks to the Island, however, they "don't have to think like that anymore."

Update May 28, 2010: I promised above to expand upon why I thought this ending was so remarkable.  To do so requires that I eat some crow.  When the first clips of the Mirror reality aired at Comic-Con, Damon and Carlton asked us to trust them.  Around the time of "Happily Ever After," however, I decided they had lost my trust.  The Mirror timeline made no logical sense if Jughead was its cause, and the prospect of them cheating death via transfer of their memories to the Mirror struck me as a total copout.  Many of you chided me for doubting that the writers had one last twist up their sleeves.  I dismissed such speculations for lack of evidence.  I was wrong, and like Jack, I wish I had believed.  Them and you.

The brilliance of the ending was that it made me see the Mirror reality in a whole new light.  Until that last 15 minutes, I was sure the Mirror would render the sacrifices of the Crash reality painless at best and pointless at worst.  The prospect made me doubt whether I would re-watch the series when it was over.  Think about that for a moment. Someone who has blogged about LOST for the last six years had doubts about re-watching.  To my pleasant surprise, however, the ending had precisely the opposite effect of clearly affirming the reality of the Crash world.  It not only inspired me to re-watch Season 6 for what I missed, I see potential clues in earlier episodes, like the ghostly visitations from Season 4.

I can't think of another finale that similarly shifted my perspective on the entire series.  I have to look to films like Solaris and the Sixth Sense for anything comparable.  LOST transcended the medium, which is simply remarkable for a network television show.

So what's my take?  I believe the Island is home to the Source of all creation, including the afterlife.  "Heaven" is returning to the Source for rebirth after you die and find your soul mates in Mirror "purgatory."  "Hell" is having your soul trapped on the Island, unable to reunite with your loved ones and return to the Source.  I put those terms in quotes because their ascribed meanings only loosely approximate Judeo-Christian usage.  The concepts in question transcend any particular faith, whether eastern or western, which is why the church at the end contained symbols from all of the world's major religions.  The bright light when Christian opened the church doors was from the Source itself.

The fate of this entire afterlife apparatus -- heaven, hell, and purgatory alike -- hinged on the outcome of the final showdown between Jack and the Man in Black.  If the latter had succeeded in destroying the the Island, it would have disrupted the entire cycle of "life, death, and rebirth," quite possibly causing the Island's fertility problems to go global.  Even worse, destruction of the Island would have unleashed the entire contents of hell on Earth, causing malevolence, evil, and darkness to spread.  I previously assumed that Jacob's cork-and-wine analogy referred specifically to the Man in Black.  Now, however, I think he may also have meant tortured souls like Michael, who are prevented from returning to the Source.

The Man in Black ceased being Smokey after Desmond pulled the Plug.  I maintain this was always the key to his escape, which makes sense when you think about it.  The Man in Black could presumably have sailed away long ago if it were really that simple.  Destroying the Island's magic was the only way of releasing himself from the iron grip of the Rules.  The problem was that the Man in Black's merger with the Island's security system prohibited him from pulling the Plug himself.  He tried sending people into the Cave to do the deed for him, but without Desmond's immunity, they all succumbed to the electromagnetism.  We saw the skeletons of these poor saps littering the floor of the Plug chamber.

Even if destroying the Island wasn't necessary for the Man in Black to escape, however, those skeletons suggest he was obsessed.  Jacob no doubt knew of his  brother's obsession and realized that the only way to make the latter mortal again was to allow him to succeed.  Having Widmore return with Desmond was Jacob's desperate gamble that his brother would be unable to resist the prospect of sinking the Island at long last.  Jacob trusted Jack to intuit that killing the Man in Black required first pulling the Plug.  The Man in Black was so busy gloating over his apparent triumph that he didn't realize he'd been trapped until it was too late.  He really should have heeded Admiral Akbar's warnings.

Some complain that the finale lacked mythological grandeur.  But I think it did a nice job of bringing the core mythology full circle. The Plug, in particular, was the culmination of a recurring dynamic whereby visitors to the Island unwittingly release the dangerous power of the Source.  Metaphorical allusions abound, including when Charlie cracked the hornets' nest, when Ben summoned Smokey, and when Jacob analogized the Island to a cork.  Literal examples include when Locke caused the Swan implosion and DHARMA caused the Incident.  Now we learn they were all following in the footsteps of the ancient Egyptians, whose efforts to tap and exploit the Source apparently caused a breach that was filled with a plug in a giant dam just like the Swan station. 

And yes, the Plug was a little simplistic, though no moreso than a giant Wheel that moves the Island.  (Then again, so frankly is the notion of a magic tree or mountain supporting the cosmos.)  The point LOST seems to be making with such images is that the Source is so beyond our current understanding of physics that we can only comprehend it in mythological terms.  That's precisely why the Island needs protection.  Yes, the man of science within me would have liked more insight from everyone's favorite physicist, Daniel Faraday.  But the philosopher in me is quite satisfied with this commentary on the limits of the scientific perspective, which brings me to the other main complaint I've heard. 

Some say the finale sided too decisively with faith.  But that strikes me as entirely appropriate given the existential outlook of the show.  The core philosophy of LOST was embodied by Jack's leap of faith to return to the Island and reinforced by the Kierkegaard reference earlier this season.  As I've explained before, some existentialists argue that we attain free will though leaps of faith that liberate us from the deterministic operation of history.  Jacob's entire modus operandi was an expression of this existential ethos.  He wanted to give his Candidates what Mother had denied him: a choice whether to take the job of Island protector.  For that to happen -- for free will to trump fate -- the show had to side with faith.

Nor should this be confused as a purely religious message.  Anyone who's studied the history of science can tell you that leaps of faith abound.  As Thomas Kuhn showed in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, the notion that science progresses through falsification of old theories is actually an illusion.  Science evolves less by the orderly accumulation of evidence than by radical shifts between contradictory theoretical paradigms.  As brilliant as Einstein was, for example, he could never accept quantum mechanics because it defied his view of the universe.  Paradigm shifts thus resemble leaps of faith because both entail rejection of an entire existing belief framework, usually in the absence of conclusive proof. 

Lem's book version of Solaris contains similar existential commentary on the limits of the scientific method.  Ultimately, however, I keep returning to the Solaris parallel for a more basic reason.  Tarkovsky believed that the goal of art should be to personalize the abstract and metaphysical.  Both his film adaptation and Soderbergh's do just that, translating Lem's insights into character relationships that resonate with viewers emotionally.  LOST follows in this same grand tradition of showing us what big ideas like fate and free will mean in terms we can relate to personally.  Other television shows have done this, too, but few as effectively as LOST.  Witness the recently canceled Flashforward.

The power of that Mirror reunion in the church transcended the narrative revelation that these particular characters were eternally bonded by their shared love and memories.  I don't personally believe in the afterlife, but I still found myself contemplating who might move on with me, and what our particular version of the Mirror might look like.  I thought of my friends and loved ones -- living and dead -- who helped make me the person that I am.  I thought of you all everybody and the remarkable time we've had discussing this amazing show.  Those reflections, more than the character resolutions, were what made the last 15 minutes such a profoundly moving experience for me.

That's the end of this recap, but certainly not the discussion.  It's been a wonderfully whackadoo ride, my fellow Sickies.  Ago multas gratias vobis, and may we all move on together.  Over to you, Wayne...

* * *

WAYNE: A big 10 for the episode, but when we get around to bullet points, I'll be talking about parts of the episode that fell flat for me. Lost has always been about symmetry, and I wish I had connected the thought of purgatory being equated to the consciousness of the Island earlier. The producers did a nice job of keeping me away from those dark moments in the caves in Season 1, when Sun brought up the P word for the first time, by making the Mirror reality a sort of mystery.

For those who might think everyone found their true love, I didn't see Helen around. (Yes, she was never on the Island, but I think Locke being alone offsets any soul-mate ending that some might gripe over.) In fact, my first real nudge towards seeing the Mirror reality for what it ultimately was came when Helen didn't make an appearance before or after Locke's surgery. Props to NetProphet for his mention of the Dreamtime, as well as the line by Charles Ingalls in "Recon": "knowing that people aren't really gone when they die. We have all the good memories to sustain us until we see them again." And, of course, as Hurley said during the game of Risk in "The Shape of Things to Come," Australia was the key to whole game. The final scene at the Church of the Lamp Post made me think of Philip Jose Farmer's To Your Scattered Bodies Go, more deja vu than anything. I'll address the book in my bullet points.

This is a much better explanation to the Whispers, as well as why we saw no Helen, and even creepy old Eloise's wanting to hold on to son Daniel for a little while longer. And I have my answer now as to that cryptic scream from Charlotte in S5, "This place is death!" It really is. Much more to be said in future bullet points, including my assumption that the outrigger shoot-out must have happened In The Year 2525, and that creepy moment when Miles pulled that gray hair out of Richard's scalp. And I really can't think of a better ending scene, with Ajira 316's flying over a dying Jack. 

In that long-ago mobisode, Christian told Vincent that Jack had work to do.  Now we know that Vincent had work to do, too: be at Jack's side when he finally let go.

Update: June 7, 2010.  I see in the newest post that Bigmouth has listed answers to many of the questions posed by the show. I have been vocal in my comments after recent recaps that it is quite easy to come up with a plausible answer for many of these conundrums, but I've also said that it can be a bit of a cheat to simply accept things the way they played out. For every Room 23 question, there is also the mystery of the Outrigger Shooting.

I can offer an example from one of my literary peers, Richard R. McCammon. In 1987, Rick wrote a post-apocalyptic novel, Swan Song, well within the length and scope of Stephen King's The Stand. A character known only as Sister came into possession of a magical ring that had seven spokes, the first two of which were used to defeat certain evils. Seven years later, only two of the spikes remained. For fans who asked at the conventions, his reply was always the same: "Did it matter to the story?" And, no, it didn't. And yet, as with Lost, we were still cheated several times over.

A couple of mentions here from my recent trip to visit family in Kentucky. Remember when the producers said that Lost would end somewhere in the Crab Nebula? It got people to think that maybe the Island was an alien craft. This is one of those questions -- what is the origin of the Island? -- that might have any number of answers. My older cousin questioned the hieroglyphs on the "plug." More specifically, he suggested that the writings were not a warning, but rather instructions on how to fly the Island craft at some point in the future. We had a spirited conversation, and I considered the possibility that stranded extra-terrestrials left behind both a How-To manual, as well as the energy to do it.

I took my oldest niece Ashley to an old Civil War cemetery on the outskirts of Shelbyville. Fragments of dirty stone tossed by tree limbs, a newer tombstone erected for a man who served in the Revolutionary War and died in 1794. A time when Illinois was still a territory. I thought of the Ruins, and of how visitors to the Island would fight, destroy, and corrupt. I looked down from the small bluff, grave markers and farmland to my back, and saw a Wal-Mart and a KFC. Not quite DHARMA, but certainly a mocking reminder of what type of utopian society many of us will settle for in this new millenia.

So what was with the outrigger scene from Season 5? I'm not sure how this works logistically, but it would have been cool if the occupants of the second outrigger were the same people who ended up leaving on Ajira 316, while the shoe belonged to Richard Alpert. Cool, but not plausible perhaps. Logically, it would seem to be Ilana's crew, as they knew about the two Lockes early on. Many of the questions of Lost can be answered with simple logic, as the producers always set up something in advance, foreshadowing later events but then leaving us with those unanswered queries. Locke saw the Source the first time he saw the smoke monster, which was why he was willing to be dragged into the Cerberus Vent in Season 1. This is what gave Locke faith, why he never tried to argue the point that he no longer needed a wheelchair.

Which leads me to this: the Lighthouse compass rose offered us views of at least three candidates' lives, magic boxes of homes and churches. After all the talk of who was at the Lamp Post Church and who wasn't, I've begun to wonder if there are multiple afterlifes on LOST.  This prrticular Mirror reality was the afterlife of Jack's consciousness specifically. He could see Sawyer becoming a cop, just as he could see himself married to Juliet with a son. Desmond flashed into Jack's Mirror because they both ended up near the Source. 

I mull this over a lot, because I still can't seem to grasp the dynamics of the Mirror. For example, when Sawyer dies in the future, will he have a whole separate Mirror reality play out, in which he meets Juliet somewhere else than the hospital? Will Richard be working at the hospital with Juliet when he dies and experiences his own Mirror reality? And does that, by extension, happen to all of us, or just those who spent time near the Source?

Winding up, big thanks to Bigmouth for letting me recap, and for keeping me focused. You see, my usual manner of narrative is more like Charles Bukowski if he wore a heating pad as a superhero cape and drank Aqua Velva from a Juicy Juice carton while huddled under an off-ramp on the Tri-State Tollway. A better friend one could not ask for. Namaste to you all.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Thoughts on What They Died For...

BIGMOUTH: I enjoyed "What They Died For," which gets a 8/10 on the Sickness Scale (3 for characterization, 5 for mythology).  This was one of the few times all season when they managed to recapture the urgency of Season 4, my favorite of the show.  This was particularly true in the Mirror reality, where crazy Desmond drove the action.  I really like Brian Gajus's suggestion that the Mirror storyline will climax at Daniel Widmore's concert where, as MikeNY hilariously puts it, there will be a "a mass enlightenment/Kumbaya moment."  In the Crash reality we received another mythological update via Jacob's fireside chat.  As I and many others surmised, Jack chose to assume the role of the Island guardian.

The main thing I didn't like was Zoe's pointless demise.  Again, why introduce a character at all if you're not going to pay her off?  Widmore could easily have spoken the expository dialogue Zoe delivered about the Island's magnetic anomalies.  At the very least, I would have liked to see her revealed as the daughter of Radzinsky -- her bespectacled intensity screamed such a link. I don't mean a whole Zoe-centric.  All it would have taken was Zoe's giving her last name to the Man in Black.  Indeed, I've often wondered if the latter was trying to sink the Island by pushing Stuart Radzinsky mentally.  It would have been very cool if the Man in Black had replied: "Radzinsky, eh?  I knew your father well..."

I want to see this.  Okay, let's talk a little mythology, starting with Ben's murder of Charles Widmore.  Many wonder how this was possible given their bedroom confrontation in "The Shape of Things to Come," where Ben said he couldn't kill Widmore.  My take is that Widmore and Linas were both Candidates, and the rules say Candidates can't kill each other.  But con men like Ben are adept at satisfying the letter of rules at the expense of their spirit.  When Miles reminded him of Alex's murder, Ben hatched a plan to exploit a loophole in the Rules.  He allowed the Man in Black to claim him, which meant he was no longer technically a Candidate.  Once that happened, Ben was free to kill Widmore.

The big question is whether Ben's commitment to the Man in Black will be as short-lived as his allegiance to Ilana.  Ben seemed to accept the Man in Black's offer of the Island after he leaves.  But later in the episode, the Man in Black makes it clear that his plan is to destroy the Island.  Maybe Ben's thirst to kill will be enough to sustain his turn back to the dark side.  I suspect, however, that Mr. Linas still has a few tricks left up his sleeve.  Look for that walkie-talkie he gave to Miles to figure in some final betrayal of the Man in Black.  Indeed, the success of Ben's budding Mirror romance with Danielle Rouseau may depend on it.  Things would sour quickly if she remembered the awful things he did on the Island.

I'll tell you what they died for.
  Let's also talk a bit about Jacob's campfire tale.  After "Across the Sea," I think we have to take what he says at face value.  That episode established by dialogue and example that Jacob is terminally incapable of lying.  There will always be some question whether Mother was reliable.  I maintain she instinctively knew the truth about the Island the way the Man in Black instinctively knew the rules of Senet, though I can see both sides of the argument.  Where Jacob and the Man in Black are concerned, however, I think it's clear the former speaks the truth about what the latter is and the horrible things that will happen if he escapes, information that didn't come from Mother. 

This doesn't, of course, mean Jacob's speech to his flock was clear.  Jacob says he chose them because their lives were miserable and they needed the Island as much as it needed them.  What wasn't clear to me was whether he used these criteria to select all of his Candidates, or if he just used them to narrow the field to six.  Jacob also explains he crossed Kate off the list because she became a mother, but says the job is still hers if she wants it.  This may simply underscore that, despite being a demigod, Jacob was still capable of the same arbitrary and whimsical decisions as any other human being.  Or he may genuinely prefer not to separate children from their mothers after his traumatic upbringing.

I'm gonna destroy the Island.  Jacob also tells them they must kill the Man in Black to protect the Light at the heart of the Island.  The Man in Black confirms this by announcing he will use Desmond to "do the one thing that I could never do myself... destroy the Island."  These comments suggest to me his plan has always been to destroy the Island.  Ever since he became Smokey, he's known where the Source is.  The problem is that, by merging with the Island's security system, the Man in Black became subject to its programming, which prohibits him from harming the Island.  But Desmond is immune to the Island's electromagnetism and can safely enter the Light to do what the Man in Black can't.

And that brings me to one last whackadoo speculation for your pleasure.  Jacob never told the Candidates how to kill the Man in Black, but I suspect that Desmond will somehow be the key.  It may be his immunity to the electromagnetism, his exception to the Rules, or some combination thereof.  However it happens, look for Des to make one last heroic sacrifice in service of humanity and his beloved Penny.  That's all for this recap -- over to you Wayne.

* * *

WAYNE: Another 8/10 on the Sickness Scale (5 for characterization, 3 for mythology) because there are a few things left unanswered that will have a conclusion, with the obvious exception of Desmond's role in the finale. In fact, that may be the only answer we really need, though I'd still like to see whether Jack remains the new protector of the Island.  I'm not convinced that role will stick...

Jack's cut.  My complaint with the Mirror reality has been the ham-handed way what happens there always has a parallel in the Crash reality. One  example was when Sun briefly experiences aphasia,  paralleling here inability to communicate the injured Mirror Locke at the hospital.  And I believe that the cut reappeared because it represented Jack's decision to take up Jacob's mantle. It's a leap, I know, but just as Desmond tries to make Jack remember a different, unhappy existence by simply tricking him with a phone call about his father's body being recovered, the cut represents a more mystical metaphor. Jack cuts ties with everyone else by drinking Jacob's cup of water.

Another comic-related reference? The Bleed is essentially the life force between the Source Walls, the veins and arteries of the multiverse, introduced by Warren Ellis as a logical extension to the concept Jack Kirby created decades earlier. I thought of this back in "LA X," when Jack was looking in the mirror on Oceanic 815.  Looking back, I think this represented how, throughout the whole of Season 6, Jack's  Mirror consciousness helped make him willing to accept his fate in the Crash reality.

Clean up your own mess.  This was originally Locke's line, but it applies as well to Jacob's admission that he screwed up where Smokey was concerned.  Sawyer replies with a pointed question: "Why do I gotta be punished for your mistake?" In the Mirror reality, Desmond is the analogue for Jacob, giving Dr. Linus and Substitute Locke pushes both large and small, mirroring the way Jacob pulled everyone to the Island in the Crash reality.

Ben remembers his Crash counterpart when Desmond beats on him, perhaps ensuring that he cannot find happiness with Alex.  Now that he knows she sees him as a father figure, the realization that he was responsible for her Island death will not doubt be traumatic. Was it Juliet's mistake in opening up the bleed to the Mirror reality? Was it Eloise's fault for helping Jack and Sayid remove Jughead's core and thus allow the Incident to happen? Right now, it is left to Desmond to "punish" people by cleaning up somebody else's mess. In another life, brotha.

Ashes to ashes. I'm curious as to what sort of enlightenment Jack was given after drinking the communal water. There are two ways we can look at this, both again coming from comic books. (I'm sure there are other examples to be found in science fiction novels and films, but I'm immersed in urban crime tales. Just this past week, I realized that I've been mistaken for decades on what an ewok actually is.)

Maybe Jack simply gains a general understanding of his duties. There's a character called Green Lantern re-imagined for the Silver Age over at DC. Test pilot Hal Jordan finds a crashed alien ship in the Mojave desert, it's occupant, Abin Sur, an intergalactic peace keeper, gives Jordan a green ring before he dies. The ring explains the pilot's new purpose, without telling him much about the millenia-old Green Lantern Corps.

Or maybe the process resembles the above-cited notion of the Bleed. Warren Ellis first mentioned the Bleed in The Authority, a series about a group of superheroes who appoint themselves protectors of the world (and, by extension, the multiverse) when all other heroes are content to fight arch-criminals without seeing a bigger picture. One character is simply called the Doctor, and each time one of these mystical physicians dies, his replacement can access the collective thoughts of every previous doctor through a type of ancestral garden.

I'm curious whether Jack is only aware of Jacob and his unnamed brother and fake mother, or if he knows the true secret of the Island's origins, the Temple, the little-seen Ruins, and whomever else preceeded Mother and the Romans on the Island. It may not matter, because one last twist may be that Jack will end up not being the Island's protector after Sunday night. Jacob tells him the job is his for as long as he wants it. What if he passes the torch (so to speak) to Hurley or Sawyer so that he might vanquish the smoke monster, thus dying in the process? One last plot-twist.

Unanswered questions. I'm still wondering how Aaron and Ji-Yeon fit into all this even though they have been rarely seen since Season 4. The ultimate answer was that we would see Jacob and the Man in Black as children, but I am holding out hope that, just as we saw Jacob touching a young Kate and an older Sawyer, Jack (or his successor) will touch the two children of the Island, perhaps offering a helping hand to Charlie Hume, as well.

So many deaths with so many questions this season. Perhaps it's as Ben said after Ilana's death, that the Island was through with her, as it was with others before her. Or perhaps it's what the Man in Black said after slitting Zoe's throat: if you don't have anything to say, or if you are not being allowed to speak for yourself, what good are you? Was Zoe's last name Radzinsky? If Stuart killed himself in the Hatch, I think not, but I can see her wanting to continue his work, perhaps funded by Widmore as Faraday was. Of course, there is that 1977-1992 gap for DHARMA that we likely will never know about. Who were Ilana and her crew and why did she train her entire life to protect the final six candidates. Does Jack have all the answers now? 

See you all everybody at the concert.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thoughts on Across the Sea...

BIGMOUTH: I previously analogized my attitudes toward Season 6 to the five stages of grief.  But an even better metaphor would be Jack Shephard's transformation from a man of science into one of faith where the Island is concerned.  After smashing the Mirror in recent posts, I spent a while looking out at the ocean, and am now finally ready to let the fuse on the dynamite burn.  The Jack metaphor is fitting because I think whether you loved or hated "Across the Sea" has a lot to do with whether you identify with his conversion.  Indeed, there are two equally valid ways of viewing this episode, depending on whether you watch it from the perspective of science or faith.

The man of science is cynical about the seemingly simplistic mythological revelations therein.  Like the Man in Black, who was himself a scientist, he's convinced that Mother was crazy and the Island is just a big magnetic rock.   The man of faith, by contrast, sees the simplicity of these answers as a virtue.  Like Jacob, who trusted Mother even after her lies were revealed, he believes that the Island's mysterious power can't be reduced to purely physical terms.  As I say, both interpretations are valid.  This duality, which I believe was fully intended, is part of what makes the episode so brilliant.  Hats off to writers Damon and Carlton, whose effort earns a 9/10 on the Sickness Scale.

In terms of the little things, I loved how Claudia and Mother started out the episode conversing in Latin.  The shift to English was also timed perfectly.  Props to Wayne Allen Sallee for touting the the Island's Rome-Carthage-Tunisia axis.  Props as well to Dr. Todd Hostager who predicted a connection to Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who founded Rome.  Like their Vestal Virgin mother, the woman who bore Jacob and the Man in Black was named Claudia.  I even enjoyed the revelation of Adam and Eve's identity.  It didn't pay off Damon's promise that the reveal would confirm they had this planned all along, but it still worked well as retroactive continuity.

My main complaint was the occasionally stilted dialogue, which I forgave because the episode was obviously allegory.  Specifically, the story of Mother and the Man in Black was a metaphor for the Gnostic myth of Sophia and Demiurge.  In Gnostic mythos, God is living energy -- pure spiritual light -- a tiny spark of which burns inside each of us.  Occasionally, this divine light produces avatars of human form, one of whom was Jesus.  Another was Sophia, an expression of the divine feminine.  Sophia became estranged from God and tried to cure her loneliness by creating a son.  But something went terribly wrong, and she gave birth to Demiurge, a being of pure evil with many names, including Satan and Samuel.

Neither Mother nor the Man in Black was ever named.  But you can bet if they had been, those names would be Sophia and Samuel.  Indeed, the original casting call for "The Incident" referred to the Man in Black expressly as Samuel.  And Jacob all but called him Satan in "Ab Aeterno" by describing him as the personification of malevolence, evil, and darkness.  Beyond that, Mother's description of the "warmest, brightest light you've ever seen or felt" a little bit of which "is inside every man," clearly evokes the Gnostic notion of the divine spark of living energy inside all human beings.  With these strong mythological parallels in mind, let's examine the episode, starting with the following picture:

My friend MB complained that the show did a poor job of casting Claudia.  And looking at that picture, it does seem that her boys, with their blue eyes and light complexion, more closely resemble Mother.  But what if that's precisely the point?  What if Jacob and the Man in Black were actually children of the Island?  Back in Season 1, Walt was reading a textbook about bronze cuckoos, which lay their eggs in other birds' nests.  I believe this is a metaphor for how Candidates are created.  The Island impregnates human vessels like Susan and Claudia, then calls them home from across the sea.  As an avatar of the Island, Mother was the boys' true mother.

I suspect she orchestrated Claudia's pregnancy and shipwreck on the Island.  But things went terribly wrong with Mother's plan, starting with the birth of twins, when she was expecting only a single child. In her surprise, Mother panicked and killed Claudia, which wasn't supposed to happen either.  These dual Black Swan events set history on a drastically different course than Mother intended. The birth of two children, both of whom would grow up to become avatars, separated the Island's two sides, faith and science, into Jacob and the Man in Black.  Claudia's murder, moreover, set these two avatars on a path toward perpetual antagonism, which wasn't at all what Mother wanted.

I've long maintained that the division of the Island into opposing avatars is the key to understanding the meta-conflict of the show.  "Across the Sea" confirmed this through Mother, who was apparently the Island's only executive during her tenure.  This gave her sole control over its magic, including the Smoke Monster, which she unleashed upon the Roman castaways and used to fill the well.  Some say Mother actually was Smokey based on the way the Man in Black killed her before she spoke.  I note, however, that the Man in Black gave Richard the whole "stab him before he speaks" spiel before sending him to kill Jacob, suggesting all Island avatars share this vulnerability.

Mother's unitary control over the Island also let her set the Rules for Jacob and the Man in Black.  These Rules were supposed to govern the competition between them to determine who would succeed her as Island avatar.  Here again, however, we see the limits of Mother's foresight because it apparently never occurred to her that both might someday control the Island.  Mother clearly believed the winner would be the Man in Black whose strong connection to the Island was evident from an early age.  A great example was his instinctive knowledge of the ancient Egyptian game Set Senet, which suggested he was the reincarnation of some past Island avatar.  No wonder she judged him "special" like her.

As with Sophia, the result of Mother's miscalculations was the creation of a monster.  By merging with Smokey, the Man in Black became a blind god like Demiurge.  Jacob understands the Island's cosmic significance because he drank the "new wine" of Gnosis.  But the Man in Black's materialism prevents him from seeing this spiritual dimension.  His 30-year quest to return to the Cave of Light is a metaphor for his inability to transcend this material perspective.  The Island wasn't designed to be a prison -- Smokey was originally a security system for the Temple -- but that's what it's become by necessity.  The Man in Black wants to return home, even if that requires his destroying the Light.

That brings me to one last whackadoo speculation for your consideration.  In prior posts, I've speculated that Aaron and Ji-Yeon are destined to replace Jacob and the Man in Black.  That possibility is still in play, but recent episodes seem to be pointing us in another direction.  Particularly after "Across the Sea," I wonder if resolution of the Island's meta-conflict will involve consolidation of power once again in a single authority-figure who unifies science and faith into one enlightened perspective.  Someone like Jack Shephard, a committed man of science whose reluctant embrace of faith has been a defining narrative of the show.  That's all from this end -- over to you, Wayne.

* * *

WAYNE: It's gotten to be a routine with me and my ubernet pals.  Most everyone I know is a nay-sayer, but accepts my word that Season 6 is not an abysmal flop, the way one acknowledges the neighborhood loon without actually conversing with him. These days, I'm down to repeating the same line, again and again: I wish you had believed me. That said, even without the oddities of the Mirror reality and the certainties of the Crash, there's a lot going on in this episode, which I give a 9/10 on the Sickness Scale (five for mythology and four for character development). Much love, in particular, for Titus Welliver, whose ability to casually seduce the audience as easily as S6 Terry O'Quinn is a true wonder.

Mother's Daze.
  A few episodes back, the Man in Black told Kate about his own mother being a little off in the head, and we now know that he wasn't simply rooting through John Locke's memories. But they do share the same past, both having raised by another Mothers, with Locke's mother's claim of immaculate conception a nice comparison to how one might consider the births of Jacob and the Man in Black. One could consider that, through Allison Janney's character, the twins were immaculately conceived by the Island.

The Island certainly wants pregnant women brought to this Island, as was the case with Rousseau and Claire. In fact, this episode's title hearkens back to "Whatever The Case May Be" (S1E12), where Shannon translates a portion of Danielle's notes as the lyrics for "La Mer," a French song written by Charles Trenet in 1939. The song, with new lyrics, was covered two decades later by Bobby Darin, as "Beyond The Sea." Here's a line from the French version: The sea, sheperdess of azure infinite. And all this time we've been given the impression that everything was about daddy issues. Another nice bait and switch by the producers.

Make Your Own Kind of Music. We learn that the Man in Black became the Man of Science, spending almost twenty-five years with "his people," those of the former Carthaginian empire. (I'm assuming that we'll not get an answer as to why Tunisia is the exit point for leaving the Island.) I can envision a seven-year-old Man in Black being taken under his wing by a young Roman leader, echoing Ben and Ethan's similar teaming in 1988.

The Man in Black couldn't find that golden cave again, the one that faux Mother had shown the twins years before.  But he didn't need Island faith, just good old fashioned science to find the light: if knives start moving in their holsters or sticking to things, start digging wells. Why bother finding the cave when you can make your own entry point, even creating the wheel to harness the water and light that could let him leave the Island? Was this last part guesswork on his part, or inherited wisdom because he was special, the one that Mother had seemed to want to be her replacement?

But the Man in Black got pissed when he found out Mom wasn't Mom (after seeing the ghost of Claudia, his real mother).  He ran off and returned years later to kill fake Mom.  This angered Jacob, who threw his brother head-first into the cave's waterfall, and the smoke monster belched out. Was this because the Man in Black was dead when he landed in Smokey's lair? Jacob found his brother's dead body soon after, but the smoke monster was free because he now had a human form, an empty soul.

The Source. At first blush, I thought of the Source Wall, another comic-book reference. Jack Kirby, who co-created Captain America in 1941, was off his chain in 1971, when he created The New Gods, along with a slew of other mind-bending concepts and characters. The Old Gods who had tried to harness the "Source" found themselves chained forever to the Source Wall, which separates each reality in the multiverse. (My main reason for thinking this was because I thought the cave might lead to mirror realities.) The main villain throughout the various books was Darkseid, who was constantly searching for the Anti-Life Equation. Think Alvar Hanso and Valenzetti.

But then I heard from my writer buddy Sid Williams, and I kicked myself for not thinking of the Mickey Spillane novel Kiss Me, Deadly. In the book, Mike Hammer and his assistant Velda are investigating a divorce case. They encounter a woman, supposedly escaped from a mental institution, and end up in hard-boiled intrigue. Crazy Christina's roommate, Lily Carver, has struck a deal with the evil Dr. Soberin to sell a valise filled with a warm, glowing substance. (Spillane's novels were driven by punches, not plot.) The radioactive isotopes in the satchel hit critical mass, the bad guys die, and Mike and Velda escape by running into the ocean. There are parallels to Lost and the Island's own magic box of electromagnetic energy, and what could happen if the wrong people get their hands on it.

Make Your Own Kind of Rules. When he was a kid, the Man in Black found a magic box of sorts on the beach, the Egyptian game of Senet. An early form of backgammon, it is played with black and white stones. Known as "the game of passing," a senet is also a talisman of protection in the afterlife. When Jacob complains about his brother's version of the game, the Man in Black tells Jacob that one day he can make up his own rules.

And Jacob did just that by making a list of candidates. At some point, the Man in Black must have understood the importance of the candidates and, as the smoke monster, killed them through lies. He used Montand's voice to trick the science team -- all likely candidates-- into entering the hole in the Temple wall. He appeared as Yemi to Eko, and as the Medusa spiders to Nikki (the latter's last name, Fernandez, is on the compass rose).  And he appeared as something "beautiful" to John Locke, the man of faith and ultimate sucker.

WHY THE MIRROR REALITY IS SO IMPORTANT. I'm using caps because I think this is it. Claudia had twins in the Crash reality.  And for the first time, an Island protector was forced to deal with evil incarnate. In 2007, Jack has shifted into Locke's role, having left science behind. This is apparent when, instead of methodically defusing the bomb on the sub, he wants everyone to simply trust that it will not explode. (I'm certain Jack would have reconsidered and ordered Sayid to place it as far away as possible if Sawyer had not yanked the wires off.)

In the Mirror reality, Jack is both man of science and man of faith. He is willing to try a new procedure on Locke, having the total belief that he can cure him of his paralysis. Locke will have none of this as he is happy to be trapped in his own magic box. The realities are merging, the Mirror reality is already experiencing the time dilations that Faraday explained in S4 when Regina sent the payload from the freighter to the Island. Mirror Desmond knew he had to get Locke and Jack together. Maybe the Mirror reality is at the bottom of the glowing waterfall, and Desmond is going to plug up the cave from both ends. I'll let others figure that one out. But things will be screwed if the Mirror reality doesn't have it's own version of Jacob and a benevolent analogue to the Man in Black.

John Locke, walking and ready to kick ass. On faith alone.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Thoughts on The Candidate...

BIGMOUTH: Elizabeth Kubler Ross famously hypothesized that people react to tragedy in a series of stages.  First there's denial, then anger, followed by bargaining, depression, and lastly acceptance.  Over the course of this season, and the past few weeks in particular, I've experienced these stages in response to the depressing realization that LOST generally, and the Mirror storyline specifically, probably won't end the way I'd hoped.  This process has been unpleasant and very public -- I apologize to you all everybody for the negativity.  But I've finally accepted that characters in the Crash reality will transcend death through memory transfer to their Mirror-reality counterparts. 

And I'm okay with that.  Really.

My acceptance reflects a dawning realization that such an ending flows naturally from the notion that the Island is a keystone for both Crash and Mirror realities.  As you all everybody know, my defining analogy for Season 6 has been The Dark Tower series by Stephen King.  The Island is like the Tower, which anchors all realities in the King multiverse.  The Candidates are like the beams supporting the Tower -- the Island draws on them for its magic.  A great example was the ash around the Temple, which depended upon Dogen to repel Smokey.  Sayid's killing him was like shutting off the power to the sonic fence around the Barracks.  That's why the Man in Black needs the Candidates to die.

Still, one question has always nagged me: how can the Island be the foundation of the Mirror reality when it lies broken on the bottom of the sea?  Only recently did it occur to me that this is precisely the problem.  The whole reason why the Mirror reality seems so wrong is that the Island should exist but doesn't.  The key to making things right, therefore, is to raise the Island.  I don't mean literally in some kind of Raise the Titanic! scenario, though that would be cool if there were more time left on the show.  Instead, we're seeing them raise the Island metaphorically by having Mirror characters recover their Crash memories and identities, bringing a little Island magic with them in the process.

Before closing, let me say a few words about "The Candidate," which scored an 8 on the Sickness Scale (4 for mythology, 4 for character).  First, Jin and Sun's deaths still moved me despite my confidence they will be resurrected in the Mirror reality.  With due respect to Desmond and Penny, the Kwons have always been my favorite love story on LOST.  Part of what I like is that their their dialogue is usually in Korean, but therein lies one quibble with "The Candidate."  Did Jin and Sun's last words to each other have to be in English?  I'm sure it was setup for a scene in the Mirror reality where both miraculously speak English.  Still, compared to Sun's tearful speech in Korean at Jin's grave in "Ji Yeon," it felt kind of weak.

Speaking of death, I was pleased to see the Man in Black unmasked as pure evil.  I've frankly been surprised by fan resistance to this possibility.  Many seem determined to see his behavior as morally equivalent with Jacob's.  While the latter certainly has blood on his hands, he's never done anything remotely this malevolent.  Indeed, the Man in Black's fiendish plan to have the Candidates kill each other reminded me of the scene in The Dark Knight (2008) when the Joker traps two groups on separate ferries that are rigged to explode, claiming that both boats will detonate at midnight unless one group destroys the other first.  I'm sure the Man in Black has his reasons, but it's hard to sympathize very much.

Finally, I was briefly thrown by Locke's refusal of Jack's offer to perform spinal surgery.  But then I remembered a point raised by you all everybody during our recent debates about "happy endings" in the Mirror reality.  What happens when Mirror Locke begins to remember the awful things that Anthony Cooper did to him in the Crash reality?  I'll bet Locke gets over his guilt at the old man's vegetative state and decides to have that operation after all.  Over to you, Wayne.

* * *

WAYNE: I rate this 8 on the Sickness Scale, 3 for mythology and 5 for characterization.

That sound you heard was me whipping the towel back before I threw it against the wall. I'm still seeing this through to the end; every time I feel deflated, I start seeing connections, like with a spineless Locke in the Mirror reality, as opposed to the man who stood up to Jack before the O6 left the Island, as well as  some thoughts about Widmore's true presence on Hydra. On with the bullet points.

Secret societies and cults. After one of the early recaps, some discussion was made of the Island having such a society, and I argued that the Others themselves were more like a cult. I can see Jacob, the Man in Black and, hell, even the Island itself as a secret society. But, and even though it's a cop out on a grand scale, seeing the Others as blind followers to Jacob explains the deaths of S6.

The lead up to the mysterious Temple, the idea that Dogen could keep the Man in Black at bay unless he died, well, here we are yet again with Jacob talking the talk. This is how I accept the idiocies of S6. Ilana's lack of knowledge and sudden death, Richard not knowing just what the blue blazes Ilana was talking about. Whatever purpose Lennon had that he at least was given a name. The Temple massacre. If I accept that everyone simply answered to Jacob without question--think Ilana saying that she trained her entire life to protect the candidates --then I'm fine with it. I was conned just like the Others, like those with so-called jobs, Dogen, Ilana, Richard and Ben. And if we see Vincent stroll out of the jungle talking in Tom Cruise's voice, don't say I didn't tell you so.

Further Instructions. This is the episode in Season 3 where Locke is temporarily mute, after the implosion of the Hatch. He builds the sweat lodge, gets stoned, and has that dream that is both trippy as well as exceedingly scary, with Boone explaining things to him. We see a paralyzed Locke, crawling up an escalator at the Sydney airport, struggling to lift himself up. Here's the thing: Boone is telling Locke all about Season 6.

He explains, of the passengers waiting to board Oceanic 815, that Charlie and Claire would be just fine, but only for a while. Hurley is the confident ticket agent. In Season 6, he's been the real leader, giving instructions to Richard and Jack, eventually accepting Locke's knife offered as an act of false truce. Desmond is on another escalator, descending and accompanied by three stewardesses. "Forget it." Boone says. "He's helping himself." 

Then the most telling of scenes: Jin and Sun are arguing, Sayid shows up, and Boone tells Locke "I think Sayid's got it." All three died together, and the two Kwons did argue over Jin insisting to be with Sun in death instead of saving himself. And the last image of Ben waving a security wand as Jack, Kate, and Sawyer await boarding. Boone's prophetic words: "There's nothing you can do for them. Not yet. First you have to clean up your own mess." In the Mirror reality, Locke had turned his father, Anthony Cooper, into a vegetable. Perhaps in the Mirror he refuses Jacks offer for the spinal surgery because he cannot clean up the mess he made of his father's body and brain.

The way we are. Early on in Season 1, we saw a reflection of the social structure that governs our everyday lives. We saw the tribalism that Locke embraced, with Jack now seeming to do the same, and we also saw socialism and capitalism. Jack wanted to share, Sawyer wanted to stash. The survivors kept secrets, many times to benefit themselves. After Juliet's death, Sawyer reverted to his old ways, telling Jack to "get off my boat." In this last episode, he made the decisions, against what Jack wanted, and the end result was that the timer on the bomb accelerated. 

Even though Sayid ran off with the ticking bomb, it was Sawyer who effectively killed him, for a Candidate cannot kill him or herself. Sayid was not on a suicide run, although one might say that he found redemption in those last moments. And my guess is that Sun was the candidate Kwon, otherwise Jin would still be alive. I cannot see the same argument that Jin was killed as a result of Sawyer's actions -- Jin chose to stay with Sun. I'm glad that neither mentioned Ji-Yeon at the very end; I'm not heartless, but at the same time I didn't want to see a Very Special Episode of LOST. Save that crap for Grey's Anatomy. But wouldn't it have been funny if, instead of his wedding ring, Sun gave Jin the DriveShaft ring that belonged to Charlie?

The E6 get deep-sixed. For those wondering how the Man in Black had the knowledge to rig the C4, go back to "Exit 77," when Locke blew up both the Flame and the Galaga submarine with C4. We also know that the smoke monster can be stopped with dynamite, which might be why the entire "hidden" basement of that DHARMA station was lined with C4. We know the Man in Black has Locke's memories, and I am starting to believe that he also retains Mirror Locke's, as well. This would explain his extreme cockiness since "The Incident," he knows that, whatever happens will happen with his Mirror self in a wheelchair. Spineless. A sucker. 

The Sixth Candidate. Ilana had a list, and she knew the names of the Candidates. With Locke dead, Ilana told Sun there were six Candidates. So there is still one unaccounted for. Let me throw this out first, something I've been wanting to say about the Man in Black for awhile. He is a container for the smoke monster, and I go back to the massacre inside the statue, when it looks as if the Man in Black was moving into a prone position. There's a comic character from the 1960s, Negative Man, a member of the way-cool sounding Doom Patrol. Through a freak accident, a test pilot named Larry Trainor had to be wrapped in bandages, though he was able to release a form of negative energy for sixty seconds. If the radioactive form did not return in that time limit, Trainor would die.

I see it like this, the main reason the Man in Black sailed the Elizabeth to Hydra was because he needed to be close by when the smoke monster killed the Ajira passengers. And this is why he rebuffs Sawyer--paraphrasing here-- when asked why he doesn't just turn into smoke and fly [over there]. The time limit prohibits this. I'm certain we can find instances throughout the series where we see similar moments involving Christian and Yemi.

Which brings us back to Hydra. And the fact that the smoke monster kills Seamus and his group around the cages, and later kills the others on Widmore's team as the Man in Black, but leaves Widmore alone. In that famous scene in S4 when Keamy kills Alex and Ben says "You broke the rules," he was talking about Widmore. The surname Rousseau is on the Lighthouse compass rose, and I believe it belonged to Alex, not Danielle. Widmore likely killed other candidates, as well. We saw Mattingly and Jones crossed out -- they were part of the Army expedition in 1954.

The Man in Black allowed the game on Hydra to play out, to let the episode on the submarine run it's course. There is a reason the Smoke Monster did not kill Widmore, just as the ghost child told him that he could not kill Sawyer. I believe that Widmore intends to get the Man in Black to turn into the Smoke Monster, then imprison the prone body of Locke within the padlocked room in the main building. Widmore is the sixth candidate, and he will have the power of Jacob with no interference from anyone else. Until Jack and Desmond start figuring things out, that is.