Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Midside: LOST S6E12 Everybody Loves Hugo

Columns are a waypoint in LOST fandom. They serve as both alleviation for and worsening of your addiction. For an ever so brief moment, your jonesing stop, but soon begins again tenfold. Call them the Virgin Mary statue filled with LOST information. You’re going to need a whole stash of them because each one is really only about a quarter of the actual experience of watching an episode. In fact, the really good ones will make you do just that, go back and watch an episode again.

Columns come in many forms. There’s the recap column that rehashes everything that happens for your…memory? I‘m not really sure what the point of the recap column is. I’m always disappointed when I decide to venture into the wild of the internets (is that redundant?) and read a new column and it’s just a recap. Some say they’re more than a recap, but their new information is neither new nor insightful. Then there’s the “what can I connect LOST to” column. In this type, the author likes to take every reference the writers make and have it explain the entirety of the show (see: Doc Jensen). The close cousin of this variety is the “I’m going to be the first to come up with this theory” column. It’s exactly how it sounds, coming up with the most insane idea about the show before anyone else. It’s not really about theorizing though. It’s more an internet-ego-test for the writer. (see: Doc Jensen)

Then there’s The Midside, which is all of these things and more. Wait, no, it’s none of those things. I do like to be the first to come up with a theory, but only if it’s right. I don’t really read the message boards anymore (mainly because I’ve been banned from every one of them) either, so I don’t really have a point of comparison anyway. I think my riff of defending the MiB is pretty novel though, and I don’t see anyone else taking the self interest angle. Regardless, we can all agree, everybody loves The Midside. From humble beginnings to mass fortune to giving back, it is a model citizen, one we can all look up to for lacking an identity.

Wait, what? No, The Midside is a journey into the philosophy of LOST as embodied by the characters and mythology (but mainly the characters). The reason you keep coming back for more is (I hope) that you gain a deeper insight into your favorite Tuesday night friends. (No, not the cast of Glee. I could deal with Sue Sylvester on the island though. And Rachel. Yes, definitely Rachel.) My problem for preferring a, shall-we-say, off balanced type of woman aside (a parenthetical is an aside, J), I like to believe The Midside is unique in LOST fandom. I know I’m probably fooling myself.

Why did I start this column this way? I’m attempting to emulate PF Chang P’s (that’s a lot of initials) speech at the beginning of the episode. It was a unique opening that both caught my attention and gave us Hurley P’s back story. It also served as a joke about the entire series. No matter what happens, whether you like Jack or Sawyer, Kate or Juliet, the MiB or Jacob, we can all pretty much agree on Hurley’s likability. The episode continued in that direction, even trying to serve us with a mini-twist because of it. Before their arrival at the MiB’s camp, Jack and Hurley had switched places.

I’m aware (wolf) that claim is large and enticing. Why do you think I put it in there? Now you’ll read on as I discuss Hurley P (and self interest), Hurley O (and leadership), and Jack (and being an almost-was). See what I did there?


Hurley is going in different directions in either universe. In the original universe, he is becoming more and more of a pawn (though perhaps the new Jacob). In the parallel universe, he is moving more and more towards self actualization. As has been the trend all season here in The Midside, I believe the parallel universe Is the better universe for Hurley, so we’ll start there.

Once again, in the P universe, the idea of self knowledge and self interest reared it’s commonly-accepted-as-evil head. The writers brought the issue up in a very subtle way as well. In fact, it was so subtle I was worried at first. I thought they were just accepting the general understanding of the issue and running with it. However, I was quickly surprised, very surprised, at how they undermined that cultural convention in a way that probably few understood.

What I’m referring to is the speech PF Chang P gave at the Man of the Year award ceremony. He begins by stating, “In a world of conflict and strife, there is but one fact we all can agree upon. Everybody loves Hugo.” He then goes on to explain Hurley’s story. He was poor. He made Mr. Clucks huge and became rich. Interestingly, we’re never told how he got his first Mr. Clucks. Did he win the lottery and then buy it? Who knows. What we do know is that the reason Hugo is loved is not because he is rich. No, we don’t love rich people in America, we envy them and wait for them to fail. PF Chang P continued:
"But financial success wasn't the end. It was the beginning. Hugo and giving became synonymous."
It was Hurley P’s giving, his charity, his selflessness that made everyone love him. It wasn’t turning a business into a success that earned him adoration, it was giving away what he had earned from that business that did. It’s the commonly accepted America ethic. What you do for other people is what matters. That statement is why I added the word “selflessness.” If you truly embody that ethic, if you worry more about what you do for others than what you do for yourself, than you have no sense of self. Thus, you are selfless. I didn’t think the writers understood this line of logic, but they proved me wrong with the conversation with his mother.

Hurley P’s mother got to the heart of the matter. I didn’t mean that pun when I thought of that sentence, but I’m rolling with it as she brought up Hurley’s lack of a love life which, not so coincidentally, is the theme begun in “Happily Ever After.” She said to Hurley, “Another trophy. Everybody loves Hugo. You know who doesn't? Women.” Her point? Hurley is alone. The broader point? That’s revealed in the next couple lines of dialogue. First, I’d like to make an important distinction. I don’t mean to say that if you’re alone that you don’t have a sense of self or that having a sense of self is determined through having a relationship. Being in a relationship can be just as selfless as doing charity for the wrong reasons. How Hurley lacks self was revealed when his mother brought up a possible blind date. He quickly made up an excuse as to why he’s alone.
Hurley P: “...and I'm too busy to meet someone.”
Hurley's Mother P: “You're not too busy. You're too scared.”
This fear Hurley P’s mother is referring to comes from another issue I’ve addressed in depth in previous columns, most notably when discussing Jack and Ben, self esteem. Hmm, Jack had a big change in this episode, coincidence? (No.) People who lack self esteem will seek the approval of others. Hurley P did so through altruistic behavior. It’s also the reason he didn’t pursue women. Need more proof? How about that Hurley O has acted the same way in the original universe? Remember Starla? Better yet, remember his exchange with Libby O that was replicated in this episode? It all centers on his weight, and we saw this issue in the following exchange while on his date with Libby P:
Hurley P: “Why do you want to be with me?”
Libby P: “What?”
Hurley P: “Come on, look at me.”
Libby P: “I want to be with you because I like you.”
Hurley P: “Yeah, but, you like me because…well, you’re delusional.”
If someone has to ask why someone likes them, they have low self esteem (see: Dan’s discussion of She’s Out of My League). Hurley P then says it has to do with his size. Libby P breaks it down to the simplest level, that she likes him, but his self esteem is so low, he can’t accept it. He calls her delusional. He’s actually lucky Libby is so mature and secure, as most people probably would have flipped out. Anyway, the pair kissed, and Hurley P moved a step closer to self actualization. He addressed his major issue, self esteem problems due to his size, and was able to pursue a value he desired that he previously could not bring himself to, in either universe. In contrast, Hurley O is rapidly losing his sense of self.

The change in Hurley O this episode (and season) and my claim about it may seem contradictory, but they’re not. In fact, Hurley’s rise to power is exemplary of the mentality of the followers of Jacob: listen to somebody else. That’s all any of them are doing. Illana was listening to Jacob, but Jacob told her to listen to Richard, who was originally listening to Jacob, but is now listening to Isabella (who may or may not be listening to Jacob) via Hurley. Hurley is no different.

Not even five minutes into the episode, Hurley was taking orders from everyone else. Most disturbingly, he took orders from Michael of all people. I know Michael is trapped on the island and feeling remorseful, but why would you listen to a murderer? Of course, Hurley’s been acting this way all season, taking orders from Jacob. While it’s true Michael’s plan was more a suggestion than orders, the point remains. Hurley went along with it without questioning it, to the point that he blew up The Black Rock, one of the coolest places on the island. Also notice how right after Michael tells Hurley what to do, Jack walks and tells Hurley, “Come on. We’re leaving.” And what does Hurley do? He listens.

That dynamic, Hurley and Jack, inverts by the end of the episode though. As I’ll discuss in a moment, Jack abdicates his power position to Hurley. Hurley is now officially the leader (which is why Illana had to die in this episode, as she acted like the leader much of the time). This episode was Hurley’s coronation, where the writers showed how being beloved and in charged often carries with it a sense of selflessness. How is Hurley selfless In the original universe? It’s all about what he asks Jack, “Why’d you come with me?” It’s a question that mirrors Hurley P asking Libby P why he likes her, except Hurley O’s question points out something much more dangerous. He took charge without knowing what’s going on. To his credit, he does say that going to see “Locke was his idea,” but he then quickly admits that he has no idea where he’s going. Making choices and decisions without any basis is as selfless as letting other people tell you everything.

Which Hurley do you think is better off, the one who is pursuing Libby and attaining happiness or the one who is basically afraid and leading based on what everyone else is telling him and/or nothing? Clearly, these two version are going in opposite directions.


Similarly, Jack is going in the opposite direction of his parallel self. Whereas Jack P is addressing his issues by understanding and overcoming them (through conversations with his mother and son), Jack O is constructing false dichotomies that undermine his sense of self. Though he finally said a few of the words I’ve been waiting for him to say since S1, he fucked it up in true Jack style. My reaction to his speech went as follows: “What? No way. Yes, good. No….no, no, no. Too far, Jack. Too far!” Why did I react that way? What’s the false dichotomy? First, we need to remember the speech:
“Ever since Juliet died, ever since I got her killed, all I’ve wanted was to fix it. But I can’t. I can’t ever fix it. You have no idea how hard it is for me to sit back and listen to other people tell me what I should do. But I think maybe that’s the point. Maybe, maybe I’m supposed to let go.”
This speech certainly represents a huge turning point for Jack, one that began in S5 and is very similar to when he refused to fix Harry Potter, but it’s a negative transition. It is very good that Jack has finally decided to accept reality. Admitting there is something he can’t fix, that parts of reality are out of his control, is a huge step. However, Jack then uses that acceptance as an excuse to evade by swinging to the other extreme. He’s constructed a false dichotomy along the lines of free will and determinism, and by accepting the latter his abdicating his own moral responsibility as a human being.

Jack’s argument is simple. Either free will means you can control everything up to and including reality itself (we now understand why he thought he could change the past) or you can change nothing at all. This is an extreme form of the free will and determinism debate, one that leads down the path to such ideas as relativism and social constructionism on one hand and religion and nihilism on the other hand. If you can control everything, if you can change time, then everything must be relative to the minds of people and we must construct reality based upon what we believe. Thus, if we all believe strongly enough, we can change the world. Notice how this is an argument of not only many fans of the show, but many people about life in general. On the other hand, if you can’t control everything, than nothing is in our control, we’re merely cogs in a giant cause and effect machine that includes the chemical reactions in our brain we call thoughts. Notice how this argument is similar to Locke’s idea of destiny and Jacob’s idea of touching people and the loom. Now flashback to Jacob’s conversation with Hurley in “Lighthouse.” Was Jacob really letting Jack exercise his free will or had Jacob manipulated the series of casual events such that Jack could only end up giving the this speech in this episode?

(Note: I believe in free will, such that the only way for Jacob’s determinism to hold true is if you believe in determinism. Jack is only seeing that he’s supposed to do something because he wants it to be out of his control. It’s an evasion on his part. By not being morally responsible, he doesn’t have to fix the one thing he has the most control over, himself. Yes, this idea continues the, as I see it, Jacob as God critique.)

Throughout the series Jack has represented the negative views of both sides of one of the major LOST debates: free will and determinism. If there’s free will, he believes in socially engineering everything. If there’s determinism, he believes in doing nothing. Essentially, Jack is an accidental nihilist. Since he doesn’t believe in himself, he holds no values sacred. With free will, that means everything is up for discussion to be changed. In determinism, that means he easily accepts whatever value system is told to him, because none is inherently better than the other as they're all just accidental.

Jack is such a tragic figure. How can he not die or accept a bad fate (such as becoming the new Jacob)?


This week there are three mythology questions: Why did Desmond O have no fear and let the MiB throw him down the well? Why did Desmond P hit Locke P with his car? Are these two Desmonds the same person?

The interesting answer to the first question is that Desmond wasn’t afraid because he doesn’t value the original universe. What he learned from his flashsideways was that there’s a better universe out there and whatever happens in this universe is irrelevant, hence being thrown down the well doesn’t bother him. The other interpretation, of course, is that he understands being thrown down the well has to happen, so he lets it happen, and his knowledge of the plan gives him peace.

(Did you notice how those answers are all about free will and determinism?)

Likewise, Desmond P either hit Locke P to give him all the knowledge so that it’s possible for him to kill the best possible life (free will) or to kill the MiB (determinism).

The answer to the third question comes from where you fall on the free will and determinism debate and which universe you think is better. If you believe in the determinism of LOST, then Desmond must be in both universes at once, as all of these events are part of a master plan to keep the MiB on the island. In that interpretation, the P universe is a fail safe, a course correction for the nuclear explosion that fits into Jacob’s overall scheme. The most pressing evidence for this theory is Eloise Widmore’s seeming knowledge of both universes as she told Desmond, “You’re not ready yet.”

In contrast, if you believe in the free will of LOST, Desmond must be two separate entities who understand much of this broader context we’re discussing. By talking to Daniel Widmore and flashing between the universes, Desmond came to understand the fundamental nature of what was going on. Thus, he wanted to help everyone exercise their free will as best as he could by giving them as much information as possible. In this case, Desmond O knows the P universe is better because there is actual free will in it, so he doesn’t value you the O universe. Another interpretation is that the MiB is off the island in the P universe, so Desmond O understands that the MiB means free will, so he is not threatened by him or afraid of him getting off the island. However, I don’t think he’s aware of the MiB or Jacob as he called the MiB "John Locke."

(A possible third interpretation is that Desmond is the same in both universes, but values the P universe more for its free will.)

What do I think? Free well and self interest, of course. Like I asked at the end of the Hurley section, when you look at those two Hurleys, isn’t it obvious Hurley P is better off? The only way you can say he isn’t is if you argue “the greater good” is worse off in the P universe, and that kind of argument is flawed in its inherent utilitarianism (and Jack-esque social engineering).


Obvious prediction of the week: Locke P is brought to Jack P’s hospital where Jack P fixes him, making him walk again.

And if you don’t see how that prediction is obvious, I only ask that you do one thing:

Think about it.

No comments: