Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Midside: S5E10 He’s Our You

We’ve officially hit double digits. It’s hard to believe. The second to last season of the greatest television show ever is entering its tail end. I’m writing my tenth column of the season. It’s amazing how quickly things pile up, and how fast time flies. And now I’m having the strange urge to quote Ferris Bueller. Since I hate that movie and it’s most famous quote, I’m going to move on quickly.

(Although, I will admit to utilizing “Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?” especially when teaching. That usage is more an homage to Ben Stein though.)

When you reach this point in a season, story, movie, book, etc, you should probably have a good idea of what you think about most things. I definitely do. You’ve read through a lot of my musing so far this season (and hopefully beforehand), so you probably understand where I’m coming from at this point. Thus, you should be able to understand my “beginning conclusions” that I’ll be stating here.

What are “beginning conclusions?” I am referring to the very early conclusions you can make about something (a show, a book, a person, a situation). I don’t mean predicting what’s going to happen. I don’t mean saying what the definitive vision of a character is. I mean your opinions and feelings on the issue. This stage of “beginning conclusions” is why endings to stories are so difficult to achieve, especially when early parts of the story are so powerful. A perfect example is The Matrix Trilogy. The first movie was so powerful that people were not willing to accept the ending of the third and final movie because they made their “beginning conclusions” before they even saw the second movie.

It’s important to note that the skill of a writer can be partially determined by how he handles this issue. What the writers of LOST have been able to do since the first episode is twist our “beginning conclusions.” They nailed me on it big time in this episode, which is why it’s the perfect time to talk about this concept.

I admit I formed some conclusions early on in the series. I hope they won’t hinder me from enjoying the conclusion of this season and the show. (But some conclusions are necessary to formed early as they are implications of your values.) In this edition of The Midside, I’ll talk about a two of the more important ones: the romantic tensions of LOST and the failings of Benjamin Linus.

BE THERE AND BE SQUARE ANYWAY

One of the things I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is the gigantic romantic mess between Sawyer, Juliet, Kate, and Jack that has come to be known as “The Square.” And you know what? I’m not so sure I want Sawyer and Kate to get back together anymore. I’m not even sure I want the lot of them to travel Back to the Future Marty McFly style. Sure, I don’t like Juliet, but do you know who does? Sawyer. For the first time in his life, he has a life. No, he doesn’t have what most people, like Jack or Ben or probably even you, would call a life, but he has what he wants. He has a nice little house. No one bothers him at home. He has a position where he leads and people listen to his expertise. He has a woman he loves who loves him back. What more could he want? Nothing and he said as much to Juliet.

So why, as fan’s of the character, should we want his life to be destroyed for some overly-romantic reunion with Kate? Is it because they are more right for each other and thus his life will be even better? To be fair, Juliet is a bit down on herself, evidenced by her comment “So it’s over.” Sawyer and Kate are equals. But if we take this perspective, we are assuming the role of the omniscient reader. And in the case of who’s the better match personality wise for Sawyer, we are omniscient and know Kate is the answer. However, situationally, could he find himself a better life and relationship than what he has with Juliet? I don’t think so, but we really don’t know, because, in that instant we aren’t omniscient.

What we do know, however, is that the life with Juliet has a definite and immediate end. The incident and the purge are coming. But don’t all over our lives have a definite end? Maybe the immediate part isn’t true, but would we strive for anything if we just focused on the fact that it would end? Besides, with Sayid’s shooting of Harry Potter, we don’t even really know if the purge is going to happen anymore. Apply this idea to your own life. Are you living, striving for some hypothetical possible perfect romance or are you trying to make the best life you can and find the person that best gives you that? Yes, I am defining the question through what the person does for you, because that’s what you should pick on. Besides, we’re talking about Sawyer. It’s every man for himself. That phrase means take care of you first. So where do I stand on the Sawyer and Juliet life? I’m for it for the reasons stated above. All opposed? That’s what I thought.

Of course, now we have to flip the square around and consider the other half of it, Jack and Kate. I’ve been opposed to this relationship from day one and I’m still opposed to it because neither of them will ever find happiness in it. However, to a certain extent they deserve each other. Let’s start with Jack. My thoughts on his general personality don’t have to be repeated. Let’s turn to “Something Nice Back Home.” His self hatred was so strong it manifested in his berating Kate. Does he really deserve a woman who’s going to be committed and loyal to him? If he finds her, all he’s going to do is bring her down to his level. Take his interactions with Juliet. Say what you will about her (and believe me, I do), but she has been much less annoying since committing to Sawyer. Around Sawyer, she carries the load for herself. Around Jack, she had to carry the load for two, because that’s what happens with someone like Jack who finds his self worth in other people, the other people have to carry his load for him. (Insert lame pregnancy metaphor or counterargument here.)

Likewise, Kate is in that middle ground, always running between her self esteem and self doubt. When she is feeling strong and secure, she runs to Sawyer “the only other person who just don’t fit in” (because, to a certain extent, we all feel like we just don’t fit in because none of us are the characters and types we’re considered to be by most people). When’s she’s feeling weak and doubting herself, she runs to Jack, the societal conception of a “good guy.” By going to Jack, she thinks she can be given self worth, and ironically she finds it there, because she soon realizes how much stronger she is than him, but it’s thanks to herself, not Jack. At that point, she runs back to Sawyer, and the cycle repeats itself because Sawyer scares the crap out of her.

You see, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, Kate is the perfect metaphor for what a lot of women in our society go through. They want to be strong. They want to be independent. However, when they see Sawyer, it’s a very scary thing. He looks at her in a way Jack doesn’t. He looks at her as that strong and independent woman. In other words, in Sawyer, Kate sees everything she’s ever wanted. We all say we want it, but have you ever actually been faced with getting what you want? If you don’t truly believe you deserve it, you might piss your pants. In Jack, she sees everything she’s ever been told she deserves, the doctor, the leader, the altruist. Thus, being with Jack is a lot easier for her than being with Sawyer. Notice how Kate has only ever wanted anything with Jack when she ran from Sawyer, but makes up reasons to hang around Sawyer like “Carte Blanche.”

Of course, it’s important to mention one more thing that complicates matters further: Kate’s father. In “What Kate Did,” we learned how Sawyer reminded Kate of her abusive douchebag father. The difficulty with someone like Sawyer who is straightforward and says what he wants is that, at first glance, he appears to be very similar to the douchebags of the world. This appearance confuses matters even further, especially when someone like Kate has an abusive and/or painful history with douchebags. Everybody may love a Italian/Irish/Jewish/Insert-Ethinicity-Here Guy/Girl (and t-shirts that proclaim it), but nobody loves a douchebag. (Sawyer’s similarity to those douchebags is why he became and was good at being a con artist. His dissimilarity from them is why he lived a tortured existence. See also: Dr. Gregory House, Captain Malcolm Reynolds, Captain Jack Sparrow)

Considering Kate as the perfect metaphor though, makes us more deeply consider the introduction of Juliet into the square, and consequentially realize the brilliance of that introduction. Juliet is always the other woman. The question is why. What does she lack or not understand? She does not have enough self worth to fervently pursue what she wants. To her, the world and other people’s desires are more important than her desires. Consider her conversation with Sawyer in this episode. She wondered to him if it was over when she very clearly didn’t want it to be. She was privileging everyone else’s lives over hers. They were so important they were going to take away what she wanted simply because they showed up and changed the dynamic. This perspective is dangerous because people are always showing up and changing the dynamic. In contrast, Sawyer responded by saying he would take care of it. Yes, everyone else was there, but that was just another variable, another constraint in the rhetorical situation, for him to deal with when trying to achieve what he wanted (because, as I said, the variables/constraints are always in flux). Thus, since Juliet is not being straight forward and up front, she must always wait for someone to come to her, and even then she may not get the entirety person. Maybe she’ll be married and get cheated on (as with Edmund Burke), maybe, conversely, she’ll be the mistress for someone else’s husband (as with Goodwin).

It’s also important to note that these personality and situation types are not necessarily limited to genders or one person. I can think of guys who are like Juliet. I can think of girls who are like Sawyer. Also, people might end up as one character in one situation and another in a different situation. Generally though, I think all four of the characters and the square are a brilliant metaphor for relationships in our society. The question you should ask yourself then is: Which character are you and how has it affected your life? (Me? I’m a complex guy, sweetheart.)

Of course, it’s important to mention that these characters are in the middle of a journey. Once again taking on the role of the omniscient reader, we can say what we think will happen and what the best pairings are. For instance, Sawyer’s journey is more complete than most of the other three characters because he faced his “Big Bad” in “The Brig” in Season Three. He is the more actualized well adjusted version of Sawyer, commonly referred to by the other characters as James. In the long run, I think Kate and Sawyer will end up together and are a strong pairing. They compliment and understand each other. Likewise, Juliet and Jack are a strong pairing, as when Juliet finally takes a leadership position, she can lead her relationship with Jack as well, who will then be secure enough with himself to be the doctor and nothing more. I believe Juliet will learn these things from Sawyer. However, I’m not sure Jack’s character will ever reach his actualized well adjusted form. I think he’ll end up dying, either in misguided self sacrifice or a tragic murder that is the consequence of his misguided beliefs throughout the series.

ALL ABOUT THE BENJAMIN

Any discussion of this episode without an acknowledgement of the shocking ending would be hopelessly inadequate. I’ll be the first to admit I didn’t see it coming. My friend Susan said it was obvious to her after Sayid said he realized what his purpose was. I wasn’t so lucky. I was distracted. Kitsis and Horowitz set me up well. I thought the ending of the episode was going to be Sayid beating up Uncle Rico (Ben’s father) before running off to join the Hostiles. When the van pulled up at the end, I was pretty sure I was right. After all, Uncle Rico drove a van in “The Man Behind the Curtain.” However, Jin stepped out of the van, and I wondered what the hell was going on. You see, Kitsis and Horowitz got me to react rather than think. As a writer, I should have understood they set up an expectation to distract me. I didn’t and that distraction, of course, ended with Sayid shooting Harry Potter, who collapsed in what we assume was his death.

To get the speculation out of the way, I don’t think Ben is permanently dead. My guess would be that the island is going to bring him back to life next episode. For one, we still don’t know how he ended up all bloody before getting on the Ajira flight (though it probably has to do with trying to kill Penny). For two, he seems inextricably tied up with the mysteries of the island. He seems to know whereas most characters don’t seem to know. Besides, Harry Potter could just not be dead for all we know. We’ve seen people get shot and not be dead on this show. Maybe he’s missing a kidney. Although, to be fair to the death side, next episode could be a Ben episode ending in his death the way several flashback episodes have in the past.

In general, this episode shows us how Ben is weaker than he portrays himself to be. There was a key line near the beginning which returns us to our discussion of who is “The Man Behind the Curtain”? Harry Potter asked Sayid if Richard Alpert sent him and then followed with “he’s your leader, right?” This line doesn’t confirm that Alpert is the leader, as Harry Potter doubts it, but it does grant more credence to the idea that he is. I’ve said since “The Man Behind the Curtain” that Alpert is the real leader. So where does this leave Ben?

In my mind there is little difference between Ben and Locke beyond the fact that Ben is a sociopath. Both have horrible relationships with their fathers. Both have self esteem issues. Both became leaders of the Others/Hostiles. How did they become leaders? Both experienced the same two series of events. First, Alpert approached them, Ben in the woods, Locke by handing him Sawyer’s personnel file. Second, they interacted with “Jacob.” Here’s where the father issues come into play. What if Alpert created Jacob as a way to provide a father figure to people who are looking for one, people with special abilities and/or talents that can aid Alpert’s agenda with the island? Note how Walt was taken and then let go. At the beginning of the series, Walt and Michael had an awful relationship. However, after Michael went crazy and saved Walt, their relationship improved. In other words, Walt was looking for a father figure and eventually found his real father. Is that why the Others let him go? He wasn’t useful anymore? Is that why the episode was called “Special”? On the same note, Locke has been told many times throughout the series that he is special. So, If Ben and Locke are similar in this instance, then Alpert has always been the leader of the Others/Hostiles and manipulated them using “Jacob.”

I have to bring up Christian here. Who is he? Is he Jacob? Is he the real leader of the island? His role in this series could destroy my whole fictional Jacob theory. His mere presence casts it all into doubt. However, consider this alternative. What if the two players are not Ben and Widmore, but Alpert and Christian. Maybe Christian showed up in the cabin to tell Locke to move the island because Alpert didn’t want him to move the island. Notice how he said he was speaking for Jacob. Was he using the same technique as Alpert, pretending to be speaking for a more powerful force? His name is Christian Shepherd. Considering all the religious imagery, does this show have a cynical edge towards religion? Jack at times seems like a destruction of the Jesus story technique. Likewise, now Locke has assumed the mantle of the Jesus character, and he is extremely weak.

Alternately, Christian could be under Alpert, or vice versa, and Widmore could be working against them. The only thing we know about the Widmore and Alpert relationship is that Widmore used to be an Other/Hostile. Widmore did say he was once the leader. Was he another father figure-less person manipulated by Alpert? He certainly doesn’t seem to be a person who is in need of a father figure anymore, although, if he is living for the island still, then the island is his father figure.

In the end, I think we’ll discover Ben doesn’t know nearly as much as he pretends. He has mastered the art of saying little and speaking enigmatically when he does. His answers can always be interpreted multiple ways and say little more than is necessary. He’ll end up being just another pawn in someone’s master plan, and we’ll find out he just felt the need to act more important because of his self esteem issues that are extremely apparent when we see him as Harry Potter.

FREDDY ADIEU

I know I didn’t really talk about the specifics of the episode this time, more the greater storyline and philosophical implications of them, but I still feel like it was a fair treatment of the material. I know a lot of people are probably upset the square has become such a large part of the mythology of the show, but it has, so we either have to address it or, I would argue, stop watching the show. Besides, there are greater issues tied up in it beyond “who’s doing who.” I believe I have touched on them this week (with the discussion of personality types in relationships) and last week (with the dichotomy of thinking and reacting). And the writers are doing all of this very intentionally and very subtly.

If you don’t believe me, consider what Uncle Rico said to Harry Potter while berating him: “I’ll tell you what to think.” Knowing what we know about the importance of thinking for yourself, and the writers’ agreement with that sentiment, we see how important it is that one of the few clearly bad characters in the show said such a line.

And if you still don’t believe me, well then, you know what to do:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

6 comments:

*a said...

Of all the various JML-authored texts I've read, "The Midside: S5E10 He's Our You" is by far my favorite.

Jayemel said...

Then you don't read enough.

*a said...

So give me more.

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