Monday, April 26, 2010

The Midside: LOST S6E13 The Last Recruit

aka All You Need to Know for the Last Four Episodes (of LOST)

I’d like to congratulate you. You’ve officially made it. Six arduous years later and you’re here, reading this column, waiting through the final LOST hiatus ever, in over your head with the rest of us. With this newest episode, the end of LOST is finally upon us. There will be no more extraneous episodes about the meaning of Jack’s tattoos or Nikki and Paulo’s diamond heist. (Now you understand the critiques of S3.) There will be no more exposition. There might not even be any more questions (I take that one back). No, from here on out, it’s going to be all action: Resolving action, falling action, action action. LOST is about to kick our butts, but mostly our minds.

First though, a set up episode was necessary, and that’s exactly what we got in "The Last Recruit." I’ve heard people call other episodes in the history of this show and other shows set up episodes, but none of those come close to setting up things the way this episode did. Hell, even the flash sideways didn’t go anywhere. The episode didn’t even revolve around one character. Besides season premieres and finales, the only other times a multitude of characters were the center of an episode were “The Other 48 Days” in S2 and “Confirmed Dead” in S4. All of these choices were made because it’s finally time to address the mythology for the final time.

Like S4, this episode took the focus off of the characters and put it back on fast movement towards reveals. Some people value this style of show because it keeps them constantly engaged. I call them fans of Heroes and Chuck. I understand the need to have episodes such as this one sometimes, but I don’t favor them because they take depth away from the story, most notably away from the characters, the heart of any story. I’m not attempting to argue that this episode was awful, however. Though it was arguably the worst of the season, it served its purpose well and had some strong moments. I’m simply trying to guide us on the path we must follow on our week off. (Oh no, he’s acting like Jacob; what a hypocrite!)

Consider this my set up for the ending of LOST, my argument as to how you should prepare yourself to properly enjoy and understand it. To start with, we’re going to look at the words of one of the show runners Damon Lindelof. In a recent interview with Wired, he explicated the basic theme/question of the show:
“It’s order versus chaos, which is what it always was. But first it had to start as science versus faith, because Jack is a doctor and Locke is a guy who got up from his wheelchair and walked. Now the question has been boiled down to its essential root—is there a God or is there nothingness?”
Sounds a lot like what I’ve been saying all season, doesn’t it? In this journey into The Midside, I’m going to examine the two sides of the (somewhat false) dichotomy Lindelof has created here. Then, I’ll look at the show from two perspectives. From the writers’ perspective, I’ll discuss the main technique they’re using to tell us about this universe, the same technique that makes any good mystery story work: Inversion. From the characters’ perspective, I’ll discuss how they’re supposed to live in this universe (the methodology) as I have been all season, rational self-interest, and then close with where the characters are trying to end up, “Happily Ever After,” by picking apart what it exactly means. Oh, and throughout all this information I’m going to be referring to tidbits from “The Last Recruit” as evidence. Yeah, I’m that good.

Sorry that was so academic sounding, sometimes you just have to lay it out there like that. I tried to keep it terse though, and to keep the jargon to a minimum. Anyway, buckle your seatbelts, it’s time we pressed the gas…


One of the biggest arguments about LOST that will rage on past the finale is the importance of Jack. Is he the main character? Is he a commentary on the typical main character in such group dramas? Was he supposed to be the main character, but his role was lessened due to a number of factors including audience response, Public Relations problems, and Matthew Fox’s poor relationships with the cast? You have to answer these questions for yourself based upon the evidence you see, but I will tell you the following. Jack is extremely philosophically important to the show and how should have been clear to you in this episode.

This episode sets up three things concerning Jack. 1. His relationship to the 815ers. 2. His relationship with MiB. 3. His relationship to the island. Numbers two and three can’t be separated in any sort of discussion, as that is the choice he will ultimately have to make, trust MiB or “the island,” but we can look at his relationship with the 815ers differently because that is the choice he made in this episode when he jumped from the boat. When your friends are all going one way and you decide to go the other, the statement is pretty clear.

Still, though Jack left everyone behind, one point was yelled to us in this episode. He is bound to Claire and won’t be able to escape her. In the original universe, we saw how important he is to her, and we’re left to wonder how she’s feels about him jumping off the boat. The two people she trusts the most are back on the main island. She can’t like that fact. In the parallel universe, Jack P and Claire P met for the first time at Christian P’s will reading. Jack then, of course, ran off to the hospital, but I can’t see why they would have this introduction, of the characters and plot element, if it’s not going anywhere. As for Jack and Kate, sorry shippers, if they go anywhere with that relationship now, I just won’t believe it. This season has been completely devoid of anything between them except for small glances. Jack has clearly tied himself to figuring out what is going on with the island.

Basically, it all boils down to candidacy, which directly addresses questions one and two. By returning to the island, Jack committed himself to picking a side between the MiB and Jacob. Except, in Jack’s estimation, he is picking between the MiB and the island, as I’m not sure he understands the full scope of Jacob’s involvement. Regardless of his knowledge of Jacob, what he has done with this choice is make himself the last remaining candidate and the next Jacob. That’s what you need to understand about Jack, and to understand the full depth of that character growth, we need to look at the scene where he explained himself.

The conversation between Jack and Sawyer on the bow of the boat was by far the best part of the episode. It is an instant classic LOST moment, perhaps the last, but hopefully not, not-so-overtly-yet-still philosophical conversation between the pair. Their disagreement harkens back to all their conversations, from the S5 fight to the S1 “looting” of the fuselage. Essentially, Jack is defining himself externally, reacting to the world in an attempt to fix “the part” of him that “feels” the “mistake.” This outlook manifests in his loyalty to the island. Sawyer is defining himself internally, pursuing what he wants. We can see this difference most clearly at the end of their conversation. Jack says what the island wants with him. Sawyer says what he wants the island. Here’s the entire conversation:
Jack: “It doesn’t feel right.”
Sawyer: ‘What doesn’t feel right?”
Jack: “Leaving the island.”
Sawyer: “Wanna tell me why not?”
Jack: “Because I remember how I felt last time I left, like a part of me was missing.”
Sawyer: “They got pills for that, Doc.”
Jack: “We were brought here because we were supposed to do something, James, and if Locke, if that thing, wants us to leave, maybe it’s afraid of what happens if we stay.”
Sawyer: “Get off my damn boat.”
Jack: “What?”
Sawyer: “You got a decision to make, and you make it now. Either you’re with us, you keep that damn crazy talk to yourself, or you’re going in the water.”
Jack: “James, this is a mistake, and I know there’s a part of you that feels that. The island’s not done with us yet.”
Sawyer: “Yeah, well, I’m done with this island. So, if you want to take a leap of faith, Jack, then take it. Get off my damn boat.”
This sharp distinction between the pair continues moments later as the writers deftly distinguish their differences with one line of dialogue. Kate, as she refused to run away from Hydra Island in S3, doesn’t want to let jack float back to the island. She challenges Sawyer’s decision:
Kate: “We have to go back and get him.”
Sawyer: “We’re done going back, Kate.”
Sawyer’s line is a clear call back to Jack’s iconic line in “Through the Looking Glass.” Jack still thinks they have to go back, but Sawyer refuses, finally saying the line I’ve been waiting for someone to say since Jack first issued his mandate. There was never any evidence they had to return, and that’s what makes Jack’s character change so evident. He clearly has gone from a man of science to a man of faith. (The irony is, of course, that is was Sawyer in the parallel universe that said the faith-like line, "It's almost like someone's trying to put us together,” referring to himself and Kate P after her car smashed into his, though I have to wonder if he was just flirting when he said that.)

As I’ve stated many times before, the theme of faith in LOST has been a proper metaphysical critique. Faith is anti-knowledge, as you are sidelining your rational mind by unquestioningly trusting an external source. Jack is now doing so with the island, and this concept was otherwise best demonstrated in the episode by Claire. Her initial conversation with Jack about the MiB went as follows:
Jack: "Actually, I haven't decided if I'm coming with you."
Claire: "Yeah you have.
Jack: "What do you mean?"
Claire: "You decided the moment you let him talk to you, just like the rest of us. Just so you know, whether you like it or not, you're with him now."
What Claire is explicating here is how her mind turns off when she trusted the MiB. His judgment overrode hers. This is exactly how faith operates. However, Claire clearly contradicts this supposed belief of hers at the end of the episode when Kate convinces her to get on the boat. Notice how Kate appealed to her values to change her mind (more on this later). Her faith was lost when she began to think about herself. The most interesting development here is that it’s much clearer that the MiB is also being seen in a faith-like manner. As he told Richard talking to Jacob was bad, Dogen told Sayid talking to him was bad. If Jacob really is the argument for God and the MiB is the argument for nothingness, then the writers may be arguing that belief in either equates to faith and is thus equally bad. It’s an interesting point that I would be impressed if they finished with.

At the end of the episode, Jack has seemingly fallen prey to faith in the MiB as explicated by Claire. However, I believe the line, “You’re with me now,” will take on a different meaning by show’s end. Does the MiB believe he has recruited Jack? Yes. Has he? No. Rather, where they both are together is trapped on the island forever as the cycle begins again with Jack as the new Jacob and Locke as the new MiB.


The forgotten center of LOST is John Locke. With a total of ten centric episodes (only counting episodes that had flashes exclusively for his character), he comes in at a mere one behind Jack. The only other two characters who come close to Jack and Locke’s episode tally are Kate, also with ten, and Sun, with nine. Locke even took a centric episode away from Sawyer, as “The Brig” should have been all about Sawyer because hunting the real Sawyer was his arc for the first three seasons. Yes, Locke has been the other side of the coin to Jack since S1, and Jack has always said he was “going to have a Locke problem.” Now, it’s not exactly a Locke problem, but the character was so important, that one of the most philosophically important characters has taken his image as his own, even to the point that there’s confusion as to what Sun P means when she looks at Locke P and says “It’s him.” Why have things developed this way? Because, if we refer back to the Lindelof quote in the introduction, Locke’s arc has always been about the failings of faith, so it’s logical for him to become associated with the “nothing” side of things.

The most insane moment of this episode was the conversation between Jack and the MiB. Literally, everything I’ve been claiming about Locke’s arc since, well forever really, was spelled out by the MiB. Does this voicing of my ideas in the show demonstrate the truth value behind them? I certainly think so, but if you don’t come down on the side of “nothingness,” then you’re going to disagree. At the very least, it speaks to how well I understand the show. Here I have to refer to Dr. Cox. Here’s the exchange:
Jack: “Why John Locke?”
MIB: “Because he was stupid enough to believe he was brought here for a reason, because he pursued that belief until it got him killed, and because you were kind enough to bring his body back here in a nice wooden box.”

Jack: “John Locke was the only one of us who ever believed in this place. He did everything he could to keep us from leaving this island.”
MiB: “John Locke was not a believer, Jack. He was a sucker.”
To briefly rehash, Locke’s self-esteem was so low and self-defined by his relationship with his father, that he sought out another external factor to replace that father figure and give him self-esteem. The island became that new father figure, especially after it healed him so that he could walk again. Locke was a sucker because he bought into Jacob’s game hook, line, and sinker the same way Jack currently is. You see, Jacob creates the same (false) dichotomy that Lindelof explicated in the quote in the introduction. He makes it seem as if you believe in him, or the world will be evil--as without him there is nothing. The problem with that position is it’s observationally false and metaphysically dishonest.

Nothingingness doesn’t mean there is nothing; it means there’s nothing more. Observationally, there is something. We see it around us every day. It’s called existence. Metaphysically, what that means is the meaning of our lives is to live them. It’s a really simple idea, I know, but one we never hear. Why is that? Because people like Jacob perform a metaphysical conceit on us. They tell us the searching for “the meaning of life” will never be complete because there must be more than existence, there must be more than us. They then subtly twist this statement and tell us, if there is something more, that is what’s really important, and thus what is and what we know is nothing. Notice how Jacob does the same in his conversation with Richard in “Ab Aeterno.” He essentially convinces Richard “if you don’t choose me, evil will corrupt everyone” or, in other words, “if you don’t choose my something, everyone will become nothing as their souls will be lost to sin.” It’s a very deft rhetorical tactic, except that it's not true, and the writers showed us how in this episode as Sawyer and Hurley discussed who to take on the boat with them:
Hurley: “What about Sayid?”
Sawyer: “Sayid ain’t invited. He’s gone over to the dark side.”
Hurley: “Yeah, but you can always bring people back from the dark side. I mean, Anakin.”
You can bring people back? But, once they are corrupted, they’re corrupted, right? Once they become nothing, as we’re supposed to believe Sayid is now, they can’t ever be something. Except, maybe Sayid isn’t nothing. Maybe our entire conception of nothingness is wrong. Maybe it’s more like I’ve outlined it above. Really, nothingness is impossible or, at the very least, irrelevant, because in order for us to even be talking, there has to be something, making a discussion self-defeating--a false paradox.


This type of false paradox is what the writers have been utilizing to continually hit us over the head with the best method to make a mystery: inversion. It works as follows. You set up a situation. You set up what is normal in that situation. You set up expectations. You fill expectations. At the end, you defy those expectations by showing that what was accepted as normal is not actually normal. The writers have done this in small ways throughout the series, but, as Lindelof describes in another quote from the same Wired interview, the entire series itself has been one long inversion:
“The paradigm has shifted from [man of science versus man of faith] to, were we brought here for a very specific reason, and what is that reason? Locke is now the voice of a very large subset of the audience who believes that when LOST is all said and done, we will have wasted six years of our lives, that we were making it up as we went along, and that there’s really no purpose. And Jack is now saying, ‘the only thing I have left to cling to is that there’s got to be something really cool that’s going to happen, because I have really, really fucking suffered.’”
Now think back to the beginning. Jack was freaking out because he saw his father walking around. Now think back to S2. Jack refused to push the button. Now think back to now, err. Jack is completely the main of faith whereas Locke, the old man of faith, is dead, and someone else is using his image. There has to be an identity theft joke in here somewhere. What’s my point? They’ve inverted things, and we’ve accepted it. Why? Because they’re not really inverting things; they’re showing them for what they actually are. The difference between Jack and Locke, Jacob and the MiB, isn’t that big. In fact, I believe Sawyer told Kate the same thing back-in-the-day, referring to himself and Jack. “The difference between us ain’t that big, sweetheart.”

Whatever you’re expecting to happen, expect the opposite. Whatever you think is true/good, think the opposite. Me? I’m lucky enough that I think differently already that when they invert, they’re more in line with my thinking than before they invert. Ever read the book Atlas Shrugged? Well, I even saw that inversion coming. It was so obvious to me that the book isn’t really a mystery novel in my eyes. Of course, these observations are what I’ve been sharing with you since The Midside came into existence, so you’re already on the right path, the path to understanding the importance of self-interest.


Before you can properly exist in the world, you must accept that the world exists independently, that you can understand it, and then attempt to understand it. Only when you do that can you begin to properly be self-interested because you have a proper sense of context in order to differentiate yourself from the rest of the world in order to best understand yourself. Those two types of intellectual explorations are what LOST is all about.

LOST began as an opening up of our eyes to the world. Why do you think a convention for so long was the close up of the eye opening? It all began in the “Pilot” and was perfectly punctuated with the Charlie quip, “Guys, where are we?” It’s kind of like life. Here’s the world. Let’s figure out where we are. And that’s what everyone did most of the first three seasons, fans and characters alike. Except, along the way, we all got entwined. Each of us not only found characters we identified with, but situations and relationships we preferred them to be in, choices we preferred them to make. Should they shoot the Marshall or keep him alive? What should they do with the b-o-d-y-s? Should Locke be punished for Boone’s death? Should they open the hatch? Should they push the button? Just like life, you’re forced to start making decisions before you have all the tools to make those decisions.

Then came S6 and the mirror moments, something I haven’t really talked about as of yet. Up to this point, we thought we had it all figured out, flashback, flashforward, time travel, the island moves, there was DHARMA, ok, this is a piece of cake. The characters thought that way too. Daniel Faraday was introduced to us. He explained all the rules. Then, he learned, as was the journey of S5, and we finally knew enough to make an epic decision. Let’s blow up a nuclear bomb to change the timeline. It’ll stop the crash. Except it didn’t. And it did.

The parallel universe was born and the mirror moments began. In every flashsideways, a character would see a reflection of himself and make a change. In other words, he was forced to look at who he was, what he wanted, and make whatever the decision was based upon that. Kate P sees one and decides to help Claire P, something that took her a four and half seasons to do normally. Locke P looks in his mirror right before he tries to call Jack P, but decides to hang up in the process. Jack P looks into a mirror twice, both times considering his past and how he got to where he was. Sawyer P punches the mirror before he decides to open up to Miles. All of these moments, and the ones I didn’t mention, become more concrete when Desmond travel’s between the two universes and understands the kind of self-knowledge that can give you.

Desmond P seeing Charlie P put his hand to the glass was literally a mirror moment and it caused him to remember/learn about the original timeline. Likewise, Hurley P kissing Libby P was literally a mirror moment and had the same effect. The theme of both of these episodes was the character finding true happiness by taking an interest in himself. No more would Desmond P live for Widmore P. No more would Hugo P live for everyone else (p?). They would pursue what they themselves wanted, and by doing so would gain the self-knowledge to finally live happily ever after.


The one thing I’m most uncomfortable about concerning LOST is that they’ve seemingly linked a happy ending with finding true love. Twice in “The Last Recruit,” Jin and Sun finding each other was linked with some sort of finality. In the original timeline, Jin said, “Well never be apart again. I promise you.” In the parallel timeline, the line was much stronger, as Jin said, “It’s over, and we’re all going to be ok.” Yeah, I saw Slumdog Millionaire. I didn’t buy the ending. Then again, maybe I’m just letting my personal experiences through and being bitter about issue rather than addressing it objectively. Humans are social creatures. Part of the point of our lives is to bond and procreate. Still, to dumb us down to a purely biological level is wrong, and the writers have been sure not to do so.

In “The Last Recruit,” the scene between Desmond and Sayid was very telling about the idea of “happily ever after.” Desmond asks Sayid why it is Sayid is going to shoot him. Sayid explains, and Desmond essentially asks him if that is sound reasoning, by referring to how Nadia would assess the action if he went through with it:
Desmond: “So what will you tell her?”
Sayid: “What do you mean?”
Desmond: “This woman, when she asks you what you did to be with her again, what will you tell her?”
Sayid then doesn’t shoot Desmond and even lies to the MiB about it. Desmond’s appeal was completely based upon values and, like Kate’s appeal to Claire; it seems to have brought Sayid back from wherever he was. Essentially, Desmond was saying that without the proper values to base a relationship on, a relationship is meaningless. Proper values are come to through self-interest. So, in other words, the writers are demonstrating a good end to a journey of self-interest through emphasizing the importance of proper values to a relationship. By these characters attaining strong relationships, it shows their character growth. Look at Sawyer and Juliet. Those two characters didn’t really belong together, their senses of life were so divergent, but their relationship was strong, and beloved by fans, because it represented the result of personal growth for both of them, especially Sawyer

It all really makes you look at the triangle in a new light.
(Yeah, I mentioned the triangle again. What now?)


It’s been a long time coming, but here it is, the end of the setup for the end of LOST. Now we can journey forward into the last four episodes and past the ending of the show to the rest of our lives. When it is all said and done, and you want to know what it all means, I ask that you only do one thing:

Think about it.

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