Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Midside: S6E04 The Substitute

…and every once in awhile an episode comes along that you just don’t know what to do with.

Except, that statement’s not true. I do know what to do with this episode: Rewatch it over and over again and celebrate it. The problem this episode presents is that it’s hard to conceptualize where to begin (and end) a discussion of it. Though only two characters were featured, the story was so content-heavy that I have to imagine everyone’s brain going into content overload the way mine is. After viewing the episode, my spool unspooled threads about Jacob, the MiB, Sawyer, Eko, Christian, Claire, the final scene of the series, and Walt. Yes, I even found a way to explain away the Walt storyline. Are all these threads suitable to share? No, not at all. Why do I mention them? To illustrate that we’re now at a point where any new information that is revealed will be backwards applicable on an absurd amount of levels--so many levels that it may be hard to distinguish which are important and which are frivolities as a result of our overexposure to this series.

This week, I will be focusing on four major ideas: The faith journey and John Locke (P), Sawyer’s apparent “turn” to the “dark side,” candidacy, and the morality of the MiB (and, by association, Jacob). Hopefully, I’ll pinpoint the really important issues and not inconsequential gibberish. (Although, sometimes the latter can be much more fun.)

Not to give Sarnoff any credit as a writer, but it all basically boils down to one line, said by Rose. (OK, so maybe this episode is the best Sarnoff has penned, and maybe it represents talent on her part that there’s a theme and it’s encapsulated in one line. I admit these things reluctantly.) While lecturing Locke, Rose said the following about her cancer and life:

"...I had a hard time accepting it, but eventually I got past the denial part and I got back to living whatever life I've got left."

Denial is evasion. Acceptance is living in accordance with reality. That choice (yes, evasion is a choice) is essentially what this episode was all about.


As we all could have, and probably should have, predicted, this episode showed John Locke becoming the opposite of what he is on the island: A man of self-esteem.

Wait, didn’t I just say that this episode was about evasion and acceptance? That choice doesn’t have anything to do with self-esteem. You’re stupid, Jay. I’m never reading your column ever again.

OK, done with your childish outburst? Good, then let me explain it to you, through the character of John Locke, his walkabout, and his catchphrase.

Locke’s walkabout is, and always had been, the embodiment of evasion for his character. Rather than planning to do something he could actually possibly do, he wished the world to be something else and acted accordingly. As we saw in "Walkabout" and this episode, this wishing ultimately led to his suffering, which we saw manifest in different ways. The initial version of his suffering was his screaming of, “Don’t tell me what I can’t do,” the ultimate evasion catchphrase. Like an insolent child rebelling against his parents’ rules, the yeller of the phrase is refusing to acknowledge that he is bound by the same laws as everyone else. In the case of Locke, he was refusing to acknowledge that being in a wheelchair meant he couldn’t do certain things. (And yes, the obvious necessary statement now is that the MiB is also evading reality by uttering the catchphrase as well. He is refusing to acknowledge the rules he is, apparently, forced to play by.)

The walkabout, in both universes, became the embodiment of his evasion. He knew if he could just go on it, it would prove that he could do what he wanted, that he wasn’t bound by the laws of reality. He set an impossible standard for himself by living outside of reality. He knew he could never live up to it because doing so made life easier for him, or so he believed. In actuality, it demonstrated a lack of self-esteem. Rather than live the best possible life he could, he dreamt the best possible life he couldn’t. And when he was actually given his walkabout, through a plane crash, he turned to the only explanation that he could: Faith.

Faith is the ultimate evasion. Sorry, religious people; check it at the entrance to the Midside. You’re more than welcome to pick it up when you leave, but when you’re here, you acknowledge the truth. Faith is the refusal to look for explanations. You don’t seek to understand the world, you seek to take from the world. Without any conception of the causal relationships that bond us, you exist within them, fulfilling your end automatically, not out of choice. You don’t think. You simple are. And the reason you act this way is almost always a lack of self-esteem.

Like Locke banging on the hatch asking to be told what to do next, with faith you refuse to think about what to do next because you don’t believe you can figure out what to do next. Since you can’t figure anything out, you pass the buck to something higher, whatever name you want to give it to, because there must be something higher that "understands" better than you. Here is the lack of self-esteem. You don’t believe you can understand. That statement is a profound, and often very difficult to understand, perspective on self esteem. It’s also why these types of people, like Locke, believe in ideas like destiny. If there is destiny, your life is out of your control. It doesn’t matter what you can’t do.

But all of this is Locke O. It doesn’t have anything to do with Locke P, does it?

It is important to discuss these matters because we must draw the distinction between the two characters to understand the point of the episode (and ultimately the point of LOST). I have argued over and over again that Locke O was the ultimate dupe of the universe. I have endorsed a negative view of the faith themes on the LOST. However, the debate is not as clear cut as I am saying it is, and Locke P’s story brings to light this issue.

Locke P’s journey in this episode was one of acceptance--of accepting his life the way it was and realizing he had the right to be, and the ability to be, happy. The story began as a parody of itself. The opening scene of the over-the-top tragic and self-hating Locke is one of the funniest moments of the series (and brilliantly acted by Terry O’Quinn, I might add). It let us know what they were going to be discussing: How does a man who hates himself this much continue to exist?

Except, we quickly learn that he doesn’t hate himself as much as Locke O did. He has people who care about him. Most notably, he hasn’t pushed Helen away, and they are engaged. Also, he seems to have some sort of a positive relationship with his father. No, this Locke seems to have some sort of self-esteem. He isn’t exactly Locke O, but how they are similar is extremely important.

The John Locke archetype is about the physical inadequacies that we all see in ourselves and can either hate ourselves for or accept as part of reality. With Locke, it is taken to the extreme, as he was given a disability. He was confined to a wheelchair, unable to walk. It’s extreme because that’s what Romanticism does. It exaggerates certain themes in order to make a point. With Locke, we are meant to identify with him, to consider how we address our own physical inadequacies. Me? I’m a short guy. I’ll never play in the NBA. Do I tell Rose to not tell me what I can’t do? No, I ask her what my options are and work within them. And if I don’t like those options, I ask what I can do to change them. Are my choices limited by reality? Yes, but they aren’t destroyed.

This realization is the journey Locke P took. It is the exact opposite journey that Locke O took. One character is dead. The other is living and evidence suggests he will be happy (based on Rose’s quote). Surely we’ll see more of Locke P in Ben P’s episode. The dichotomy is drawn again. The flash sideways was about the problem with faith, but the island story seemed to be about having faith. As Ben O eulogized Locke O, he called Locke O a man of faith and a better man than he would ever be because of it. So, which is it?

(Not so coincidentally, this question is heavily tied up in the Jacob and MiB relationship. Who Ben thinks he didn’t have faith in was Jacob. Who he really didn’t have faith in was himself. So, in a way, didn’t Jacob actually cause Locke’s death. Welcome to left field.)


And among the anti-Sawyer fans there was much rejoicing. We have truly returned to the S1 dynamic when Sawyer seemed like the bad guy. I recently started watching S1 again (I’m an addict, I know). Now that I am more rational than when I first watched the series, I can intellectually understand why people disliked Sawyer at the beginning. However, the moment he begins to speak the truth, I find it difficult to believe anyone can honestly dislike him. This theme continued in this episode.

There is no arguing that Sawyer is in a dark personal place right now. Whereas Locke’s archetype is about physical inadequacies, Sawyer’s archetype is about a just universe. At the beginning of the series, he believed the universe was just, but reconciled his unhappiness with it by hating himself. It wasn’t that the universe sucked. He sucked. He wasn’t meant to be happy. He wasn’t allowed to be happy. Ironically, this happens to a lot of people with a positive sense of life. People who believe the universe is just but are unhappy themselves and blame themselves for some uncontrollable inadequacy. (Notice how this idea is similar to the faith idea, hmm.)

It took him five seasons, but Sawyer finally believed he was a good person and deserved happiness, and he did it the right way. He did it through thinking. He did it through understanding the universe. His character has always been very smart and understood that to exist in the world you must understand it. He took that belief to its logical conclusions in S5, lecturing Jack on its merits, living his life by it, and ultimately finding happiness.

The only problem is, the rug was pulled out from under his feet. His world was destroyed. He lost the love of his life (so far). He lost his job as sheriff. He lost the only home he ever had. Consequentially, he is now questioning his most fundamental premise: The nature of the universe. He said it in "What Kate Does." He’s going to let Jack suffer like he is. He believes the world is suffering. He doesn’t hate himself anymore, he hates the world.

Except, he doesn’t hate the world as much as he would like. He can’t. He’s Sawyer. He would like to evade. He was trying to in this episode, playing up the redneck stereotype, drunk off his ass, destroyed house, listening to angry music--but he can’t. When the opportunity presented itself to learn, to find out about how the world works, he had to try. If someone tells you that they have the secret to the universe, how can you not listen to their argument? You don’t have to agree with them, but how can you not hear them out?

It is important to contrast the way Sawyer acted in this episode with the way Richard Alpert acted, a deft little bit of writing (why am I praising Sarnoff so much?). For the first time, Richard looked weak. Like a child, he ran away, frightened. Confronted with his lack of knowledge as MiB told him there were things Jacob didn’t tell him, rather than ask, rather than try to learn, he ran into the jungle, ran into the Temple. Essentially, he evaded (hmm, faith = evasion, Temple = place of faith, interesting). By contrast, when Richard tried to get Sawyer to evade with him, Sawyer would have none of it. Rather than seek out safe shelter, Sawyer dared to risk his life, in so many ways, for the answers.

Did he get answers? We don’t know, but he got a whole boatload of information, and he did it by listening to Rose’s advice. He stopped denying what happened and got back to living whatever life he had left. Right now, one character, ONE, is trying to figure out the answers on LOST, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

(Also, it’s extremely interesting how Locke and Sawyer’s plots are always intertwined. This episode really made me think of The Brig and how it should have been a Sawyer flashback. This episode could have easily been a Sawyer flashsideways as well.)


One of the most puzzling lines from "The Incident," was when Illana and Bram (RIP) discussed the possibility of Frank being a candidate. We had no idea for what. Now we have somewhat of an idea. Of course, we don’t know if MiB is telling the truth or not, but for the sake of understanding and enjoyment, let’s take his claims at face value for a moment.

The island exists (OK, we accept that premise. If you don’t, stop reading my stuff.) and needs to be protected (a much more tenuous claim). The way the island is protected is that one person is appointed to that job. We can extrapolate some other cognates from there. This selection process seems to be some sort of a contest, where a bunch of candidates are brought to the island and the last one standing (living?) is named as the protector. There also seems to be an opposite force on the island.

Except, wait, didn’t Rousseau call the smoke monster the island’s security system? Doesn’t a security system protect something? Could it be that both Jacob and MiB are assigned the task of protecting the island? Maybe that’s why they can’t kill each other. Their role is shared.

Tangent aside, we’re not exactly sure what makes someone a candidate. Locke, Hurley, Sayid, Jack, Sawyer, either Jin or Sun (or Ji Yeon). Interestingly, Jacob touched all these people, literally, at some point in their lives. Is that what makes them candidates, or did Jacob touch them because they’re candidates? And what about Kate? Jacob touched her, and she’s an important character in the series. How can she not be a candidate? What role does she play in the series then? (Hold onto that thought for a few paragraphs.)

Jacob’s touching brings into question the morality of Jacob and MiB. So far, we have been led to believe that Jacob is good. He is free will and humanity. In contrast, MiB is bad. He is determinism and anti-humanity, death. But, what if like with the Jack and Sawyer dynamic, the opposite of our initial impressions is actually true? Hear me out (and notice what I did there).

Besides Seth Norris and Mr. Eko, the only people MiB has killed is those people that have threatened him. I’m not attempting to avoid or ignore the Norris and Eko situations, but an entire column could be written on that issue, and I’ve yet to figure it out. If you’d like to share with me, I’d love to hear your thoughts. However, my point is, besides the two anomalies, the large body of evidence is that MiB does not kill senselessly or arbitrarily. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. He seems to kill only out of self-protection. (Perhaps Eko was killed because his faith in the island, Jacob, was dangerous?)

In this same vein, MiB made the claim that Jacob is the evil one for all of his supposed manipulation of, well, everyone. Here is where the inversion of Jacob’s supposed representation of free will begins. In "The Incident," Jacob seemed to emphasize choice, especially when Ben killed him. However, now we realize that he did touch everyone and that touch seemed to control the path they were on. It is a reasonable idea that the flashsideways are the way the characters’ lives would have turned out had Jacob not touched them.

So here we have a more refined question as to the morality of LOST; we see two sides, but we don’t know which is light and dark. However, LOST is doing what it always does well, portraying both sides for what they actually are, and what they appear to be. If Jacob really does symbolize faith and the evasion it carries with it, it is extremely interesting how the writers have been able to make him appear good even though he is bad. Their talent cannot be understated.

If you notice, the Jacob and MiB relationship is starting to resemble another LOST relationship that I have already mentioned in this column, Jack and Sawyer. I won’t go into the details, but I will say this: In the past, I have argued that Kate is supposed to be symbolic of the viewer; who do you choose, Jack or Sawyer? The triangle has dragged on because the question still remains. Now I wonder if the triangle will ever end. Maybe it has dragged on because it’s the point of the series. Maybe the series will end with Sawyer telling Jack, “You have no idea how badly I want to kill you right now.”


Epic Quote of the week: “This is the weirdest funeral I’ve ever been to,” Frank. You have to enjoy his style of humor by filling the “normal guy” role on the show.

I’m quite satisfied with a lot of the ideas I’ve written here. You don’t have to agree with them, but they are important to consider when trying to understand not only LOST but life. I only ask that you do one thing:

Think about it.

No comments: