Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Midside: S5E16 The Incident

The fifth season finale of LOST carried three important themes through it: one mythological, one philosophical, and one interpersonal. Although, I would argue that the interpersonal is philosophical. But in that sense, isn’t the mythological also philosophical? Yes, you’re exactly correct. All three of these themes are intertwined in a manner that is almost impossible to unwind, kind of like Jacob’s tapestry (or our lives). We weave these complex designs and then want to focus on one string. The only problem is we can’t. All the strings support each other and must be considered together.

Why then have I separated the strings of this tapestry into three themes? The first answer is clarity and simplicity. I picked an organizational scheme in which to best discuss the episode. What is the best way to discuss the episode? The answer to that question is also the answer to the first question. I have a point to make and am going to design this column in a manner in which that point is going to be most apparent.

I’m leading with the mythology as to not get distracted by it. Yes, it’s extremely important, but it was created in order to make the deeper philosophical points. It’s not important that Jacob and Eddie exist. It’s important what they believe. Likewise, philosophically, I’ve discussed the compatibilism leanings of LOST many times over in The Midside, so having that be my main point would be counter productive. Thus, I am building this edition of The Midside towards what I believe to be a Randian undercurrent of LOST: self esteem.

True, I’ve also discussed that issue a million times over, but that’s because it’s the most important idea in the show, if not our culture. Every significant action that was taken in this episode was directly related to the self esteem of the character performing it. I don’t want to spoil that discussion though. Instead, let’s head onward on our final journey into The Midside for the season (now profanity free for the kiddies).

TWO PLAYERS:
JACOB AND…EVIL DUDE?

Five seasons later, we finally have our “two players, one light, one dark.” The most important three minutes of the final weren’t the big reveal at the end, but the big reveal at the beginning. Think about it. Locke’s body being in the box (and thus there being an imposter Locke) wouldn’t have carried the same weight if we hadn’t seen Jacob and Eddie. Why have I nicknamed the other guy Eddie? His name comes from my group’s discussions while watching the episode.

Immediately upon watching the opening scene, I called Jacob the good guy and his “opponent” the bad guy. Jacob was blonde and dressed in light colors (you might also recognize him from the first season of Dexter). His “opponent” had black hair and was dressed in dark colors. Symbolically, it would appear that Jacob is good and the other dude is evil. Hence, I started calling the other guy Ed for Evil Dude. My friends immediately turned it into Eddie as they reminded me that nothing in LOST is ever as it seems. I couldn’t disagree. I’ve argued for seasons that Widmore isn’t evil even though he was being made to appear to be. As of right now, I seem correct on that count. How could I not discount the possibility that Eddie is good? (And I know Esau is the popular nickname for Eddie, but I don’t want to delve into the Biblical implications of those character names.)

To better understand the two sides here, we must first consider their actions. Eddie’s actions are relatively simple. He killed Jacob, perhaps not with his own hands, but he plotted the murder none-the-less. I return to my ever repeated point about Ben and genocide. If you commit such an action, you’re evil. I understand there are many arguments about people making mistakes and learning, but there are levels here. Ok, so maybe you did drugs (Charlie) or had lots of meaningless sex (Sawyer), but, while those actions are harmful to yourself and the world, they can be overcome and combated. Genocide or plotting cold blooded murder cannot.

If killing makes someone bad though, aren’t we forced to decry a bunch of our favorite characters? Simply, yes, LOST has always put us in the tough position of liking characters who do extremely unlikable things. However, if we look at the concept on a more complex level, we can understand that killing does not always make someone bad or evil. Is a soldier bad or evil for killing in war? No, I would say not (though many people, aka hippies, would disagree with me). Is killing in self defense wrong? I would say not (though pacifists and some Eastern religions would disagree).

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of these answers, my point is that you have to consider the idea that killing isn’t wrong in every instance, and if it’s not wrong in every instance, then not everyone who has killed is bad or evil. Is Sayid bad or evil? No. In fact, his character has always walked the line. You could even argue he has had to make the toughest moral decisions of the series. He was a member of the Republican Guard. He became Ben’s assassin. Perhaps he is dumb for making these choices (to enlist in the Guard and to serve Ben), but then we find ourselves in the Nazi solider argument. Was every member of the Nazi party/army evil or were some just doing what they needed to do to survive? Moving to another character, was Ana-Lucia bad or evil? No. Rather, she was psychologically unstable due to the murder of her child. Her case is much clearer cut than Sayid’s. Likewise, Sawyer is not evil either, he’s just really really dumb. He reacted to Hibbs claim that Frank Duckett was Mr. Sawyer. The evil person in that situation was Hibbs. The most distressing case in LOST is Kate. Is she evil? I don’t know. She plotted the cold blooded murder of her father, down to taking out an insurance policy for her Mom. You could argue she was reacting to the revelation of who her real father was, but that is a tough line to walk, although, to be fair to the point, Kate’s MO has always been to react.

What does any of this discussion have to do with Eddie? It brings about the point that we don’t know his true motivations. We were given an impression as to what they are (a philosophical difference with Jacob), but we don’t know why he truly wanted to kill Jacob. Perhaps Jacob is previously murdered someone (but is revenge good reason for killing?). Perhaps Jacob will bring about the end of the world (is preventing the apocalypse good reason for killing?). I don’t know, but I do think symbolically through out the series Eddie has been shown to be the bad guy.

Eddie is clearly the black smoke. In “Dead is Dead” Ben called it and Imposter Locke walked out of the jungle. Then, Imposter Locke brought Ben to the Temple, where the black smoke, by taking the appearance of Alex, demanded Ben swear his allegiance to Imposter Locke. The last time we saw the black smoke take such an action was “The Cost of Living” when it took the form of Yemi and demanded Eko’s allegiance. Like Eko’s death, we can also look back on other key moments. Was every appearance of a dead person an apparition of Eddie? What about animals, such as Kate’s horse (black, BTW), Sawyer’s boar, and Sayid’s cat? Now, consider when Ben was brought to the Hostiles. Alpert claimed that, if saved, Ben’s innocence would forever be lost and he would always be one of them. He then carried Harry Potter’s lifeless form to the Temple.

We know the Temple is the home of the black smoke and it would seem Eddie. Does that mean the Hostiles (and possible the Others) were always tools of Eddie while believing they were tools of Jacob? Could Alpert have been made ageless by Alpert and not by Eddie? As we’ll see when we consider the dialogue from the first scene in a moment, Eddie seems to want to keep the island hidden from people, which was the stated goal of the Hostiles/Others on many occasions. Of course, considering that Eddie and the smoke monster are one and the same and live in the Temple, we have to wonder who was in the cabin, as we were led to believe it wasn’t Jacob and thus had to be Eddie. Illana said that no one had been there for a long time. Consider though that before this episode (LOST timeline year 2007), the last time we had seen the cabin was “Cabin Fever” (LOST timeline date December 29th, 2004). The time lapse is about two to three years. We still have no idea who was in the cabin, how they got there, and how they were freed. I’m almost willing to bet we won’t get that answer until the series finale, almost.

Interestingly, answering the converse question (Is Jacob good?) is completely contingent upon the answer to the previous question. We haven’t been shown much of Jacob’s actions (besides visiting people’s past, weaving, and cooking a fish), certainly not enough to make any type of concrete claim. For all we know, his entire goal could be to destroy the world. And we will delve into his plan, just in the next section. However, we do have some clues as to his nature, if we consider the opening scene.

The first thing Jacob and Eddie seem to discuss is the nature of humanity. As a ship (the Black Rock?) sails into shore, they consider Jacob’s bringing people to the island:

Eddie: “I don’t have to ask. You brought them here. Still trying to prove me wrong, aren’t you?”
Jacob: “You are wrong.”
Eddie: “Am I? They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.”
Jacob: “It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.”

In this short exchange, Eddie seems to be taking the negative view of humanity, the same view espoused by Agent Smith in The Matrix:

“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure.”

Jacob takes the opposite view, in what is actually a pretty deft argument tactic. He accepts Eddie’s premise, but defines it has progress by subverting one of Eddie’s assumption. Eddie says there are multiple ends, each fight, each destruction, each corruption, it ends. Jacob says there is only one end and that the fighting, destruction, and corruption is necessary to reach that end. In other words, Jacob is espousing the old adage of you have to make mistakes to get to where you want to be (or however it goes). Notice how Jacob’s point of view plays perfectly into our discussion of who is good/bad above. Jacob wouldn’t call Sayid, Sawyer, or Kate bad. He would say they’re making progress. And that analysis is why I can’t call Jacob bad and Eddie good. Considering how LOST blurs good and evil, Jacob’s claim seems to be THE ultimate statement of the show’s morality.

LOST = COMPATIBILISM LIGHT?

It’s also Jacob’s final statement that gives us a better view on LOST’s fate vs. free will dichotomy. More specifically, we have to consider each sentence in the statement independently before we can understand how they work together. I will then end this section with a discussion of Jacob’s plan in relevance to what we learn here.

“It only ends once.”

This claim is the more important of the two as it addresses all the issues brought up with the time travel this season. Additionally, it reconciles two concepts that seemed contradictory up until this point: whatever happened, happened and Faraday’s Variable. The first thing this claim does is put a limit on time. There is an end. Time is not circular. Time is not endless. Time is linear (mostly) and finite. The second thing this claim does is state that end can only occur once. In other words, there can be only one iteration (kind of like in Highlander). Once the end is reached, you can’t go back and do it better. It’s very much like our lives (which I’m sure is intentional on the part of the writers).

“Anything that happens before that is progress.”

To roughly translate, in order to pick it apart, anything will mean events and that will mean progress. Thus, events that happen before the end are progress. The definition of progress contains words such as “advancement,” “development,” and “growth.” All of these concepts carry with them the idea of change in a positive direction (which is the reason Progressives are so scary politically, they think they have the market on the definition of a “positive direction”). Thus, any event that occurs before the end can change the end. If such a statement is true, isn’t whatever happened, happened invalidated then?

We have to consider the idea that time is linear. If time is linear, small endings (as Jacob accepted Eddie’s premise of small endings occurring) constantly happen and build towards the (big e) Ending. Thus, when an event ends, it happened. Whatever happened, happened. It can’t be changed. However, what can be changed is the most up to date present of the time line. Yes, you’re correct. This discussion carries with it some interesting implications for the plot.

First is the idea of relativistic physics. The only people’s present who matter are the people who are in the (big p) Present or people who are from the Present. This fact grants a large amount of power to time travelers. Consider our characters that went to the past. They couldn’t stop or change any events that happened because the events were in the (big p) Past and each character’s past. However, their futures are still unwritten, so they can make changes that will progress towards the End. In other words, actions taken in the Past can affect the Present (but not the characters’ present if their present is the Past). The writers established this fact through two important plot decisions. First, the time skips never ever went to the (big f) Future. There was no way to go to the Future because it isn’t written then. In fact, in this theory of time travel, if you live in the past, the only way to regain your ability to make changes is to travel to the Future. Second, when Faraday knocked on the Swan door, the memory came into Desmond’s head in the Present. In other words, the actions Faraday took in the Past affected the Present (the most forward spot on the timeline). God, I don’t feel like I’ve written anything this complex since my analysis of Live Together, Die Alone and my electromagnetism of The Swan.

What does all this mumbo jumbo tell us about The Incident and Jack’s plan to stop the plane crash? Sorry Jack, your plan failed (like that’s a surprise). The plane crash happened. It can’t be changed. However, detonating the nuclear bomb will have an affect on the Present. Rather, the events the characters in the Past will affect the way they address events when they return to the Present. Did Juliet detonating the bomb cause The Incident? No, it was always part of The Incident. Consider how underneath The Swan concrete was poured as thick as with Chernobyl. However, what detonating the bomb did do was enact Jacob’s plan as Eddie’s plan ended, which is why the colors of the end screen were inverted for this episode.

The first five seasons of LOST were the enacting of Eddie’s plan to kill Jacob and the laying of the groundwork for Jacob’s plan to combat his death. In order to prove my point, I refer to three things: Locke’s ability to be manipulate, Jacob’s flashbacks, and Jacob not fighting his own murder.

Locke has been an easy mark since day one of the season (in the same way Ben has been). He has looked for a father figure and a purpose (externally, rather than within himself) to the point that his father conned him out of his kidney. Likewise, Eddie conned him out of his life (using tools such as time travel). All the events were part of a plan with Locke and Ben being the key pieces. However, Jacob has a greater plan, as evidenced through his flashbacks.

As noted in lots of place, Jacob made it a point to touch all the characters he saw in flashbacks (except for Sawyer, but I digress). Most notably, when he touched Locke, he apparently brought him back to life. If Jacob didn’t have a greater plan, why would he bring back to life the guy that would be such a key pawn in the series of events that would lead to his death? Likewise, what significance does his touching of each of the characters (except Sawyer) have? I can tell you why he visited Hurley. Now that we know Jacob is dead, we can understand why he told Hurley talking to the dead is a good thing. I can say with 100% assurance that Hurley will talk to Jacob next season. We can also come pretty close to saying that Jacob is the one who made it so Hurley could talk to the dead. Hurley said it made him crazy and Jacob assured him he was not crazy, thus proving Hurley’s dead talking is all part of Jacob’s plan.

Do you need further proof? Consider Ben’s plea to Jacob. All Ben wanted was some comfort. He asked the old question that demonstrates low self esteem, “What about me?” All Jacob could reply with was, “What about you?” which is pretty much the worst response you can give to that question, especially if it’s asked by a violent vindictive person like Ben. (Although, Jacob’s response is actually also the best response, but we’ll get that into a second).

So, Jacob clearly has a plan and knew he needed to die. The only question is how Jack, Kate, Jin, Sun, and Sawyer fit into it. Oh, and Desmond. In case you were wondering, yes, he still is a character in this show…maybe.

WHAT’S DONE IS DONE

This season of LOST (and arguably all of LOST) came down to the same thing life does: self esteem, and the writers did a brilliant job of pulling the theme throughout the episode. More specifically, the episode was about not allowing your past to hurt your self esteem to the point that it hinders your present decisions. The exchanges that demonstrated these ideas occurred in the second half of the episode, mostly centering on Jack and Sawyer, the two characters that have always embodied these ideas. I’ll use their conversation to frame this section.

The first important thing to note is Sawyer basically quoting whatever happened, happened to Jack. As they sat on that log and tried to sort out their differences, Sawyer explained his past to the doctor and why he didn’t try to change it:

Sawyer: “Right now it's July 1977, which means that happened last year, so I could've hopped on the sub, gone back to the States, walked right into my house, and stopped my Daddy from killing anybody.”
Jack: “Why didn't you?”
Sawyer: “Because, Jack, what's done is done.”

What’s done is done. Not only does that statement mean whatever happened, happened, it means that you shouldn’t even want to change what has happened. Yeah, Sawyer had an awful past, but look where he was at the time of this discussion. All he tried to fight for this season was to maintain his present (all it wasn’t the Present). While he was presented with the opportunity to directly confront his past through a science fiction story element of time travel, the rest of us will never have that chance, so what’s done is done speaks even more loudly. We have no choice but to live today. Even if we focus on the past and let it affect all our decisions, the decisions are still being made today. As the discussion with Jack continues, we see how focusing on the past can be so debilitating. Jack explains what is fueling his plan:

Jack: “I had her. I had her, and I lost her.”
Sawyer: “Kate? Well damn, Doc, she's standing right she's standing right on the other side of those trees. If you want her back, just go and ask her.”
Jack: “No, it's too late for that.”

Jack is so focused on the past that it makes him incapable of going after what he wants today. In fact, he doesn’t even believe it’s possible. He needs to erase everything. Truthfully, in the past, he probably was incapable of getting her, but what’s to say he isn’t capable of getting her in the present? He has had a bit of a change of character. It’s like Sawyer said, she’s just on the other side of the trees. However, Jack’s flashback shows the deep rooted issues he has that hinder him:

Jack: “It's bad enough that everybody in this hospital thinks that the only reason I got this residency is because you're my father, but then you, you put me in a timeout during my first major procedure, in front of my entire team. Dad, I know you don't believe in me, but I need them to.”
Christian: “Are you sure I'm the one who doesn't believe in you, Jack?”

With Jack, the issues have always been with his father. Except, there is one major fact that needs to be pointed out: Christian has been dead since before the show even started. He died in one of Jack’s flashbacks. Still, Jack can’t get over it because he couldn’t even get over it when Christian was alive. Even more poignant is Christian’s response to Jack. Our memories are often highly fictionalized accounts of what occurred that become more and more fictional over time. Focusing on them warps our perceptions of reality and, more importantly, ourselves. In the case of Jack, and many other people, it causes them to search for their self esteem in external sources. Jack’s not the only character to make this tragic mistake either. In her exchange with Sawyer, Juliet makes the same error, which eventually leads to her tragic death:

Sawyer: “I don't care who I looked at. I'm with you.”
Juliet: “And you would stay with me forever, if I let you, and that is why I will always love you. What we had was just for a little while, and just because we love each other doesn't mean that we're meant to be together. Maybe we were never supposed to be together. So if Jack can make it that none of you ever come here then, he should.”
Sawyer: “Why are you doing this, Juliet?”
Juliet: “If I never meet you, then I never have to lose you.”

Just as with Jack, Juliet’s flashback revealed the error in memory that hindered her self esteem: the lie her parents told her when they explained they were getting divorced. By internalizing that lie, she always saw herself as the other woman. She never believed the love she was feeling was true love because she was always expecting something to happen and her partner’s true feelings to be revealed. You could even argue that this false belief caused her to be drawn to situations where she would be the other woman, such as with Edmund Burke, Goodwin, and Jack. She hasn’t exactly had the best taste in men. Then she had three years with Sawyer and her issues probably largely subsided. However, then Kate returned and her self esteem issues kicked in, causing her to search for even the slightest sign that she was the other woman, and she found it in a look. How unimportant and inconsequential is a look? How many looks have you shared with people, perhaps people you never saw again? Juliet took it to heart though and it caused her to detonate a nuclear bomb setting next to her. If that action isn’t low self esteem hurting your ability to make rational decisions, I don’t know what is. Then again, she could have been Ben. His diatribe to Jacob was disturbing:

Jacob: “Benjamin, whatever he's told you, I want you to understand one thing. You have a choice.”
Ben: “What choice?”
Jacob: “You can do what he asks or you can go. Leave us to discuss our issues.”
Ben: “Oh, so now after all this time you've decided to stop ignoring me. Thirty five years I lived on this island and all I ever heard was your name over and over. Richard would bring me your instructions, all those slips of paper, all those lists. And I never questioned anything. I did as I was told. But when I dared to ask to see you myself, I was told, 'You have to wait. You have to be patient.' But when he asks to see you, he gets marched straight up here as if he was Moses. So, why him? Hmm? What was it that was so wrong with me? What about me?”
Jacob: “What about you?”

Like Jack and Juliet, Ben focuses on the past. He mentions the past 35 years and that Jacob would never see him. He mentions his loyalty and obedience. Then, rather than considering another explanation, he assumes the answer is his not being good enough, returning to his parent issues in the same way as Jack, Juliet, Locke, et al. And like Sawyer, Jacob tells Ben to focus on the present. Except, unlike Sawyer, he sums it up in one word: “choice.” Sure, Ben has done and been through some messed up things, but he still has one thing: the ability to make a choice. However, his low self esteem prevents him from making a choice. It has already been made for him, as Jacob points out with his return question, “What about you?” Sure, Jacob is egging Ben so Ben will murder him, but he is also making a point. You’re focused on the past, Ben. You’re focused on Jacob, Ben. What about right now? What about the decision of whether to kill or not to kill? You see, Imposter Locke used Ben’s low self esteem to cause him to make the decision before he even knew he had a decision. He took away Ben’s present by making him focus on the past. The middle of Jack and Sawyer’s exchange explains this point more fully and brings our discussion full circle:

Sawyer: “Then what is it about?”
Jack: “Three years ago, Locke told me that all this was happening for a reason, that us being here was our destiny.”
Sawyer: “I don't speak destiny. What I do understand is a man does what he does because he wants something for himself. What do you want, Jack?”

If you focus on the past, you essentially create determinism for yourself. Your past controls all your actions by subverting your decision making process, causing you to react rather than think However, if you focus on what you want, your desires will guide your choices, causing you to live in the present. What do you want to do? I want to eat. Then go get a sandwich. What do you want to do? I want to talk to her. Then call her. Maybe you ate a bad sandwich or dealt with a girl that didn’t answer your questions in the past, but currently the odds of that happening again are small.

The smart critique here is the need for self improvement, which only comes from self analysis. I do agree that self analysis can be a powerful tool, but what’s important to note about all the cases above is that the characters weren’t focusing on themselves in the past, they were focusing on others. Jack was focused on his dad. Juliet was focused on her parents. Ben was focused on Jacob (and his dad as well). Self analysis and awareness is healthy, the danger is that when most people try it, they focus on other people. Think about when a girl says, “All guys are jerks.” She’s focusing on the bad people in the past, not on how she brought herself to that bad outcome, thus illegitimately painting all guys as the same.

So, from this season of LOST, remember:
What’s done is done.
What do you want?

FREDDY ADIEU

Wow, it’s been a long one, which is to be expected from a season finale. However, we’re still not done. We finally saw Rose and Bernard once again, in what I believe to be their final scene in the series. It was extremely important as it echoed the main philosophical thrust of Eddie and Jacob’s discussion. I point to two quotes:

Rose: “It’s always something with you people. Now you say ‘Jack’s got a bomb.’ And what, you guys are all going to try to stop him, right?”
Kate: “Yeah, that’s right.”
Rose: “We traveled back 30 years in time and you’re still trying to find ways to shoot each other?”

Rose is essentially proving that people can overcome what Eddie says is the basic drive of humanity: fighting, destroying, and corrupting. She is sick of it and wonders how many ridiculous things have to happen before they realize it’s unimportant. To a large extent, she’s right. If they had decided to live peacefully on the island, almost none of the danger and violence would have happened. The problem is, this idea partially conflicts with “What do you want?” (you have to fight for what you want) and the way the world is (even if I decide to stop, everyone else has to too). Juliet then tries to argue the point, to which Bernard responds with his line:

Juliet: “Rose, we just need to know which way the Dharma barracks are from here so we can stop Jack, or you’re gonna be dead. We all will.”
Bernard: “So we die. We just care about being together. It’s all that matters in the end.”

Considering how heavily romantic LOST is, a stable romance in the middle of being demonstrated and expounded by the two most content characters we’ve ever seen. All that matters in the end is being together? Think of how many relationships on the show are messed up because of people’s poor decision making, and think of what other ramifications it caused. Just in this episode we saw Jack and Juliet detonate a nuclear bomb because they couldn’t be with Kate or Sawyer (or so they believed). No think of the history of humanity. Think of your own lives. Is that all that matters? The older I get, the more I soften to the idea. And if you disagree with that…

Actually, I probably agree with your critiques of the stance, but if you disagree with its importance in the LOSTverse, then I’m forced to say…

Shut up, you’re wrong.

(See you in January.)

3 comments:

Daniel T. Richards said...

Lostpedia argues that "dharma" means "religion, moral duty." Interestingly, I was reading Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance and the author, Robert Pirsig, argues that a more accurate translation is "duty toward self." Thought you might find that interesting.

Excellent post.

DTR

*a said...

i agree with dtr: excellent post - minus the final parenthetical. i hope LOST's hiatus doesn't mean one for the midside.

troglodytes said...

Great analisis !! Best Lost review of the season.