Saturday, March 21, 2009

The Midside: S5E09 Namaste

This week, I’d thought I’d begin my column with repeated material from an old edition. Then, I’d put some small twist on it and exclaim: “See, it’s an all new column!” Yes, I took the idea from this season. I’m getting really sick of every episode starting with scenes from old episodes. I understand that they’re trying to make sure everyone is caught up, but if you don’t understand how to watch LOST at this point, why should the writers cater to you? We’re in Season Five. You have to watch every episode carefully, which means Tivo it, download it, watch it on ABC.com, or, for you old people out there who’ve just figured out how to use this new fangled thing called the “internet,” VHS it. I use to think I was crazy for watching each episode multiple times. I’m starting to understand that a lot of people do.

This week repeated a couple scenes: the pre-flash Ajira flight footage and the Sawyer and Kate reunion. The latter was so good they had to use it twice. The difference between last episode’s use of the footage and this episode’s use is this episode continued on to the next part of the reunion, the logistics of figuring out what to do with Jack, Kate, and Hurley. Likewise, the former footage was twisted by Frank’s perspective following his conversation with Jack. What I don’t understand is why the episode couldn’t just start in the cockpit with Frank. I think we’re all smart enough to be able understand what’s going on.

Regardless of this small nitpick, I am extremely happy to declare that LOST is back. Since The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham, the show has returned to the high level of quality that it hasn’t reached since The Constant and Through The Looking Glass before then. Do I think these past three episodes have been as good as The Constant? No, because I have a feeling that when the series is done we’ll all look back at The Constant as one of the best, if not the best, episode of all. However, these episodes have been close, very close.

Maybe I’m jaded because this episode signals the return of Sawyer’s character that we haven’t seen since Every Man For Himself. Brian K. Vaughn must have decided to start writing characters again like he did in his graphic novel “Y The Last Man.” He penned an incredible scene this episode. The majority of my column will focus on my pure joy at that scene and what it means for the show. If you hate Sawyer, I suggest you stop reading. Although, if you hate Sawyer, I would wonder what about The Midside appeals to you at all.

SAWYER VS JACK: NEW SHERIFF IN TOWN

The main overture of this episode was the divide between Jack and Sawyer and the passing of the torch between them. Everything slowly added to the burden each character was carrying until it finally culminated in the best scene of the season so far when Jack came to visit Sawyer. Thankfully, the scene was essentially a beat down of Jack. The character seems to have seen his moment in the sun. However, I recognize that the writers may be twisting us. I will address the possibility of Jack’s return to power in my analysis of the awesome scene at the end of this section, but we have to build towards it like the episode did.

The first thing that is extremely important to note is that even though Sawyer is in a leadership position, which means other people are following him and living their lives according to what he says, he is still working in his self interest. He is still number one in his mind. In his home with Juliet, he explains his thought process to her: “I don't understand it anymore than you do, but they're here, and I gotta find a way bring 'em in before somebody else finds 'em and they screw up everything we got here.” He’s worried about Jack, Kate, and Hurley blowing their cover and thus getting them kicked out of the Dharma Initiative. Sawyer’s got a nice life going on at this point. He’s head of security. He’s respected and liked. He’s living with a hot and smart woman. Sure, I’m not a fan of Juliet, but there are a lot of good things about her, I guess.

For a lot of the people who hate Sawyer and like Jack, this statement by Sawyer is certainly a major problem. We’re taught that doing “good” or being “good at something” is putting other people’s interests ahead of your own and worrying about the societal “good.” Sawyer is concerned with the opposite, his own good and in the process of protecting his good, it improves life for others. Jack, Kate, and Hurley could’ve been camping in the jungle, but instead are now living in comfort with Dharma. Likewise, contrast this perspective, summed up with the phrase “every man himself,” with “live together, die alone.” The latter phrase sets the premise that if you want to live, you do it as a group, and if you try to be alone, you will die.

To begin to drive home the point, Vaughn wrote a scene with the new plane crash survivors that was extremely similar to the original “live together, die alone” speech in White Rabbit. Frank stood in the middle of the beach while wearing a tie and delivered a speech about what they all had to do to survive. Caesar immediately disagreed and came up with other ideas of what they should do. The delivery of the speech and the rebellion was supposed to bring us back to season one and the early Jack and Sawyer dynamic. It was a brilliant piece of writing on Vaughn’s part.

Sawyer then returned to pick up Jack, Kate, and Hurley. Two quotes show us that the mantle of power has officially been passed:

Kate: “So what are we supposed to do now?”
Jack: “I'm not sure yet.”
Van pulls up.
Hurley: “Sawyer's back!”

Symbolically, the van showing up is very powerful after Jack admits he doesn’t know, especially considering the pure joy that Hurley shows at Sawyer’s return. It’s like the answer literally showed up.

Jack: “What do you think?”
Kate: “I think we should listen to Sawyer.”
Hurley: “I vote for not camping.”
Sawyer: “Trust me. Do what I say and everything'll be fine.”

Jack looks for reassurance, because that’s what he always needs, and a vote in his favor and both of the people he’s with side with Sawyer. Of course, to a certain extent, you have to note the negative situation Jack was in here. Hurley and Kate are probably the two people on the show who like Sawyer the most. Why wouldn’t they side with him? It’s like a Survivor nightmare. You’re bound to be voted out. However, those two characters aren’t the only ones following Sawyer at this point. Juliet, Miles, Jin, and a whole bunch of Dharma listen to him. You could probably argue that the transition of power had already occurred before these lines, but these lines were definitely intended to drive the point home.

Most of the middle of the episode dealt with how Jack differs from Sawyer and how Jack is dealing with his new position. Several things stood out to me. First, Vaughn seemed to make it a point to drive home how unprepared Jack was for everything. Sawyer called him out on his suit not being “island wear.” Considering we, the audience, know he knew he would be returning, the critique does not speak well of him.

He also seemed pretty dazed and distant through much of the episode. It seemed as if all of this was too much for him to handle, so he shut down. Look at the way he reacted to becoming a workman. Say what you want about the old Jack, but he at least would have gotten indignant at what he would have seen as a slight. We don’t know who made him a workman (Sawyer or Juliet) or why (easy place to hide him or he isn’t skilled at anything besides medicine), but we do know he probably didn’t like it. Instead, he sat there and just sort of took. It was kind of tragic, actually.

Second, Jack is insistent upon calling James Sawyer. None of the other characters seem to be. It’s an interesting distinction. What makes it even more interesting is he tried to call him James but Phil chastised him: “But I wouldn't call him James. He hates it.” Even the Dharma flunky who used to play a comedian who annoyed Don Draper on Mad Men is telling Jack what not to do.

Finally, when Sawyer was talking to Phil in front of Sayid, he commanded: “Bring the man some damn food. We're not savages.” This line parallels Jack’s famous season one line: “We’re not savages, Kate, not yet.” The interesting difference is Jack’s use of the phrase “not yet.” Under Jack, they became savages with the way they treated Ben in the hatch closet. Under Sawyer, with Sayid locked up, they aren’t going to act like savages. Did Jack say “not yet” because he believed people would eventually degenerate into savages? If so, why does Sawyer have the positive view of humanity and Jack the negative? Wouldn’t we think the opposite is true?

After all this story was told, it exploded when Jack knocked on Sawyer’s door. I have to acknowledge how much the scene had to suck for Jack. He is no longer leader and both the women he wants are in love with Sawyer. Plus, he hates himself, so he doesn’t really have much to live for. How is he going to react when he finds out how involved his father is with everything on the island? How exactly is he not going to die in this show?

The pair starts talking and the parallels between this scene and the best scene of last season are apparent. Just like Ben slinking into Widmore’s bedroom, Jack has crawled into Sawyer’s living space. The scenes were also shot every similarly. Ben and Widmore’s faces were both half lit and half dark, Jack and Sawyer’s face were both half lit and dark. And that symbolism is the main crux of the scene: who do you agree with, Jack or Sawyer? Interestingly, Jack was seemingly mean to parallel Ben. This observation is especially appealing considering Jack is now basically aligned with him. Are Jack and Ben the bad guys? Has the transition towards the climax of the story begun?

Just like the Ben and Widmore scene, Jack was totally beat down when he tried to call Sawyer out similarly to how Widmore beat down Ben:

Jack: “So where do we go from here?”
Sawyer: “I'm working on it.”
Jack: “Really? Because it looked to me like you were reading a book.”
Sawyer: “I heard once Winston Churchill read a book every night, even during the blitz. He said it made him think better. That's how I like to run things. I think. I'm sure that doesn't mean that much to you because back when you were calling the shots, you pretty much just reacted. See, you didn't think, Jack. And as I recall, a lot of people ended up dead.”
Jack: “I got us off the island.”
Sawyer: “But here you are, right back where you started. So I'm gonna go back to reading my book. And I'm gonna think. Cause that's how I saved your ass today. And that's how I'm going to save Sayid's tomorrow. All you've gotta do is go home and get a good night's rest. Let me do what I do. Now ain't that a relief?”
Jack: “Yeah.”

This exchange features three interesting points:

1. Sawyer critiques Jack’s leadership skills by pointing out how many people died. Jack tries to defend himself by saying he got everyone off the island. Sawyer responds by saying that they’re back on the island now. This part of the exchange basically points out what I’ve said from day one: none of Jack’s plans have ever worked. This fact finally being acknowledged within the show is huge as it means Jack’s plans failing was an intentional piece of writing.

2. Jack responds that he is relieved he no longer has to lead. He is downtrodden and tired. This state of mind also harkens back to season one where Jack tried to convince himself he was the leader. Maybe he’s not the leader he or anyone thought he was. Does his not being the leader mean his character is a failure and the tragic hero? Maybe, but if he finds a sense of self worth over the rest of the series, I would argue no.

3. The most complex point in this scene was the amazing distinction between thinking and reaction. Sawyer thinks. Jack reacts. Notice how Jack has always dealt with issues. He cries. He yells. He doesn’t understand his emotions. He simply feels them. In contrast, Sawyer is a con man who is always in complete control of himself, making every movement intentionally. He knows what he feels and why he feels it. This dichotomy is extremely relevant to a book Sawyer once read: “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. Here’s a key quote from the novel:

Howard Roark: “When you suspend your faculty of independent judgment, you suspend consciousness. To stop consciousness is to stop life.”

The quote is spoken by the novel’s main character, who Damon Lindelof explicitly compared Sawyer to. Extremely briefly, what defines humanity for Rand is our rational minds, our ability to think. Thus if you aren’t thinking, and thinking independently, you aren’t living. Consider how Jack’s reacting was coupled with death in this conversation. He doesn’t think and life quite literally stops. How can we not say that the writers favor Sawyer? Once again, every time I think they might disappoint me, they don’t.

I think (we now know how powerful of a statement that is) it’s important to pick apart this dichotomy of thinking vs. reacting. What distinguishes between the two? Don’t we all react? If so, how do you avoid reacting and start thinking? The main issue here is a matter of perspective. It’s making a decision to approach life from the perspective of thought. Let’s use Sawyer and Jack to contrast. In this scene, Sawyer was reading and Jack chastised him for it. What does Jack do when he is in charge? He immediately launches into the first plan that comes to his mind. The Others took Walt and said don’t cross the line? Let’s make an army!

Changing your perspective to thought makes you step back and say, “Ok, they took Walt and made the line, why? What will we do?” It also means that your reactions will be guided by the perspective. When you think, you know what’s important to you. That hierarchy of values guides your reactions. So, whereas all Jack has is his reactions, Sawyer has his values.

This hierarchy of values goes back to the beginning of the episode where what guides Sawyer is his self interest. It also goes back to my powerful statement of “I think.” Who thinks? I think. You can’t make that statement without talking about yourself first. If you value thought, you are going to value yourself and your self interest above all. What was guiding Sawyer’s decisions in this episode? Protecting the life he has. What was guiding Jack’s decisions throughout the series? His sense of inadequacy. Still, just because I agree with Sawyer and laid all of this stuff out for you beautifully doesn’t mean you like him, or that I’m even right about the writers. And that ambiguity was the last intriguing part of this scene.

Josh Holloway’s performance and the music at the tail end of the scene seemed very dark to me. I might just be acting paranoid due to past experiences where Sawyer-esque characters are treated like the villain or forced to change, but I’m not sure we’re supposed to be behind Sawyer as much as I am. Maybe the writers are setting up Sawyer for a fall of false pride or, still, the “ultimate sacrifice” for others when he has an epiphany that living for yourself is, of course, evil. Man, that story arc would make me so angry. However, I did ask several of my friends and they seem to think the ominous nature of the end of the scene was more supposed to symbolize Sawyer being powerful and having a strong sense of self worth.

Their answer helped alleviate my fears, and I wish I could share their perspective. Hopefully I’ll get there one day. Until then, Sawyer’s awkward wave to Kate to end the scene will just be too much angst for this man to handle.

FREDDY ADIEU

There’s not much else to talk about this episode. Actually there is, but I’d really like you to focus on the ideas I’ve already put forward here. As far as the rest of the important information, I’m going to include a list of questions I’d like the answers to. (And yes, very good, you could change all of these to when questions):

Why was Sayid in handcuffs?
How did Hurley get out of jail?
Where is Aaron (and how are he and Ji Yeon important)?
Why didn’t Sun flash to 1977 with everyone else?
Why is everyone still surprised when she lies even though she has been a liar since season one?
Am I the only one who doesn’t give a crap about Jin and Sun anymore because Sun is a lying deadbeat mother?
Can someone (Hawking, Desmond, Jacob) control time as a whole (see: the runway being built for the Ajira flight)?
Why didn’t I figure out that “We have to go back” was a double entendre concerning space and time earlier?
Why was there a need for a second unsuccessful Punisher movie?
Are the Hostiles and the Others really the same people or is that just a misconception of the main characters?
Is the actress playing Alana putting on an accent or was she putting on an accent in New Amsterdam?
Does being born on the island give you super strength (explaining how Ethan beat up Jack so easily in season one besides the fact that Jack is Jack)?
Where is Faraday? Although, this one probably is better as:
When is Faraday?
Who is John Galt? Although, the LOST version probably is:
When is John Galt?

And if you think you know the answer to any of these questions, well then, the odds are you need to hear:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

5 comments:

*a said...

Amazing, I could be speechless, but I thought it was worth saying that I agree with everything you wrote this week.

Well, all except one not-especially-LOST-realated thing:

Crying doesn't mean you don't understand your emotions or why you're feeling them, and not crying doesn't mean you do. Feeling and thinking are not mutually exclusive. However, I don't say this because I think Jack has more self-awareness than you credit him. I say it because (a.) it's true and (b.) it's important.

Jayemel said...

Of course feeling and thinking are not mutually exclusive. Feeling is an outcome of thought.

The important distinction in demonstrating a person's understanding of his emotions is when and how he feels them. Jack experiences them very publicly and out of control. Sawyer experiences them very privately and in control.

*a said...

Controlled, private emoting does not necessarily indicate a persons’ understanding of his (or her, thankyouverymuch) emotions. Public emoting does not necessarily mean a lack of control or a misunderstanding of one’s emotions, and simple observation is not enough information to judge whether or not a person understands their emotions.

For instance, let’s say a girl you know, a girl who is generally cheerful and friendly, suddenly stops laughing and smiling. She gets quiet and occasionally cries in “inappropriate” places at “inappropriate” times. Is your assumption that she does not understand her emotions, because if she did, she would be able to control them? If you don’t know what’s going on in her life, how do you know her personality change isn’t justified? And why would you assume she wants to ”control” (read: numb) her emotions?

Now, let’s pretend you care about the girl, so you ask her what’s going on. Pretend she tells you her aunt died after a 2 1/2 week stay in a hospice, her friend’s mom died, a plane crashed in her hometown killing 50 people -4 of whom she knew, and a friend of hers committed suicide. She says that this stuff, among other things, all happened in the last 3 weeks. Knowing this, is her public sadness really all that ridiculous? Sure, it’s not how you would react, but do you honestly think her response is the result of not understanding her emotions?

Isn’t it possible that she was so quiet and teary because she’s self-aware enough to understand what she’s feeling; she respects herself enough to experience emotions as they come, and she is secure enough not to give a damn about the judgments of others - particularly those who don’t care enough about her to acknowledge she’s acting out of character and ask what’s wrong? I don’t see how you can argue that this girl has less understanding of her emotions than a girl who numbs herself until she’s alone and it’s okay to emote. I mean, wow, talk about betraying yourself. I’d expect someone like you, someone so concerned with acting in your own self-interest and staying true to yourself despite any societal expectations, would understand this.

I still don’t like Jack, and I do agree with your character observations.

Jayemel said...

Your analysis of the rhetorical situation is flawed. This column is about LOST.

*a said...

Oh...so your other comments are protected from critique because they're adjacent to your primary topic? Huh.

In my initial post, I offered a disclaimer. I don't know why you bothered to respond.