Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Midside: LOST S6E14 The Candidate

Here’s my summary of this episode in 280 characters or less:

"I think you're a candidate." "Fair enough." "Just get it in the water." "Nothing is gonna happen." "It's going to be you." "Aw, hell." "I won't leave you." "It was my fault." "What happened, happened." Jears. "Wait, where are you going?" "To finished what I started." LOST

Read through those quotes. Any LOST fan should be able to get a sense of what happened in the episode from them. Though simple, their placement and delivery speaks to the skill of the writers and actors. The list doesn’t even include the best line of the episode, arguably the best line of the season so far, either.

“There is no Sayid!”

Like “There is no spoon” in The Matrix, except not at all, the line stands out because of absurdity and delivery. Who ever yells something like that? Of course it would have to be Jack. It’s sort of like Locke’s “You want your 30 dollars back? I want my kidney back!” rant. The way Terry O’Quinn delivered those lines made them unforgettable and epically quotable. Really, someone needs to make t shirts for both of those classics.

Classic is the one word to describe this episode. I know that statement is controversial, but, upon greater reflection, this episode will go down in LOST history for its classic moments and themes, not it’s overall story. Surely this episode was lacking as a one off self contained story. The flash sideways carried that weight, though parallel Jack’s revelations didn’t seem to go anywhere. In the original universe, the improvements and continued weaknesses of Jack were on display in a manner that will spark major debate, probably beyond the finale of the show.

The two questions this episode focused on are:
Who was the MiB trying to kill, everyone or just Jack?
Which universe is better, the original or parallel?

Both questions now seem to have an obvious answer. In regards to the first question, it seems to be commonly accepted that the MiB was trying to kill everyone. I, however, think differently, and base it upon one of the primary rules of LOST: Jack is always wrong. I’ll explain how that rule is relevant by dissecting Jack’s argument in the submarine and then present compelling evidence about the MiB’s motives. In regards to the second question, I still believe the parallel universe Is the better universe as I have all season. However, Locke P’s guilt and self flagellation must be addressed as his life is now seemingly bad.

Yes, I’ve thrown the typical structure of the column out the window this week, for, even though the episode can be described as classic, it was nowhere near typical.


Jack’s argument for the MiB trying to kill everyone is as follows, a series of quotes from an exchange with Sayid and Sawyer:
1."Don't pull those wires out. We're ok. Nothing's gonna happen."
2."Locke can't kill us. This is what he wanted. This is what he's been waiting for. Everything he's done has been to get us here. He wanted to get us all in the same place at the same time, a nice enclosed space where we had no hopes of getting out of."
3. "Locke said that he can't leave the island without us. I think that he can't leave the island unless we're all dead. He told me that he could kill any one of us whenever he wanted to, so what if he hasn't because he's not allowed to? What if he's trying to get us to kill each other?"
4. "No, if he wanted that thing to blow up, why would he put a timer on it? Why not just throw it inside?"
I numbered each of them because I am going to briefly addressed each to explicate what Jack is basing his reasoning on and show how his line of logic does not apply to the specific situation there are in.

1. This quote is essentially just the faith we’ve seen Jack develop over the series, more specifically in the last two seasons. However, it more specifically refers to the scene in the Black Rock in “Dr. Linus” with Richard and Jack. In that scene, Jack lights a stick of dynamite and supposes it’s not going to blow up because Jacob’s plan isn’t for him to die there. He is once again using the same logic here. It can’t be part of Jacob’s plan for him to die here. However, there is one importance difference between that situation and this one. Jack didn’t arm the bomb. The reason the dynamite stick didn’t blow up was because Jack lit the fuse, just as Michael couldn’t shoot himself when he was off the island in “Meet Kevin Johnson.” Clearly, candidates can’t kill themselves. (Maybe they can’t even be killed by anyone.)

2. Jack gets this argument from one place: earlier in the episode the MiB uses the same exact argument to explain why Widmore wants them all to get on the plane. This parallel shows how Jack’s reasoning fails. First, if the MiB wanted them all to die in an enclosed space with a bomb, why wouldn’t he just force Jack to get on the plane with everyone else, arm the bomb (or force Frank to take off), and jump off the plane? That opportunity was a much better chance to kill everyone than the submarine. Second, where is Jack’s premise that the MiB can’t kill them coming from? I’ll discuss that thought in points three and four.

3. Where does this either or dichotomy come from? No evidence has been presented for them being all dead as being the condition for the MiB leaving the island. Every other time all the candidates died (think back to the conversation at the beginning of “The Incident”) the MiB couldn’t leave the island. True, this time is different because Jacob is dead. In other words, there is no one alive with the powers of Jacob. Logically it follows that all the MiB needs is no one without the powers of Jacob around. Well, everyone is a candidate. Being a candidate means you are not the full version of what you could possibly be. Assuming that they are all candidates to be the next Jacob, then there is no one with Jacob’s powers…yet. Thus, if the MiB’s goal is to leave the island, his means of doing so would be to stop candidates from becoming the next Jacob any way possible. While we don’t know what disqualifies someone from being a candidate (except death), disloyalty to the island seems to be a big thing, and leaving the island is extremely disloyal. This line of thought would explain why the MiB is trying so hard to get them all to leave the island. Factor in, though we know death disqualifies someone, the MiB’s desire only to kill as a last resort. Whenever he has killed anyone, he has described it or kill or be killed, and generally he gives people a choice. Note how he gave Jack several chances to change his mind and leave the island. This observation brings me to my final point. Jack’s statement “He told me that he could kill any one of us whenever he wanted to, so what if he hasn't because he's not allowed to?” is self contradictory. If he’s not allowed to kill them, he can’t kill them. More importantly, what if he can kill them? What if Jacob has the power to give life, and the MiB has the power to take it? These questions are all speculation though, which is the ultimate weakness of this part of Jack’s argument: it’s pure speculation. He has no evidence for it. Just like the plane situation, if the MiB wanted them to kill each other, it would have been easier to get them to do so in all the aside conversations he had with them. This perspective brings me to my final thought here. Jack is still bogged down by his collectivist thinking. He is worried about the MiB is doing to all of them, not him personally, which blinds him to the obvious answer to his final question.

4. Though the timer point seems like Jack’s strongest point, and it is relevant, it is the second question that reveals the truth. Why didn’t he just throw it in the sub? First, he wanted to be on the sub. Second, and more importantly, where was the bomb, Jack? It was in the backpack you had on! Who gave you that backpack? The MiB! What did he say to you right after he gave it to you? “You sure you won’t reconsider, Jack? Well whoever told you you needed to stay had no idea what they were talking about.” That’s right. He was trying to convince Jack to leave the island again. So, we know the MiB put the bomb on Jack thinking Jack wasn’t going to want to leave the island. Going off of the premise that he needs no Jacobs around, and loyalty to the island seems to be a qualification to be Jacob, then he needs to stop Jack from becoming Jacob. We have our answer as to why he didn’t throw the bomb into the sub. It was intended for Jack, not anyone else. If the MiB can kill them, then the timer runs down and Jack blows up. If he can’t kill people, then the timer ploy was intended for Jack, who would pull the wires and cause his own death. (The difficulty here is the whole not being able to kill themselves thing. However, by attempting to diffuse the bomb, Jack wouldn’t be trying to kill himself, he would be trying to save his life. As we actually saw, Sawyer wasn’t trying to kill himself, he was trying to save his own life, yet the bomb still blew up…unless you want to argue that Sawyer wouldn’t have been killed by the explosion or that he’s no longer a candidate.)

All of this argumentations points to two important points. First, Jack is still bogged down by collectivist thinking. He sees them all as a group, not individuals. When talking to the MiB, he doesn’t say he can’t make choices for other people, he says they’re not his people, as if they’re still a group and the only reason he can’t make decisions for them is they’re not “his,” whatever that means exactly. Second, and more importantly, Jack is THE candidate. Seeing how this episode is called “The Candidate,” that fact is my greatest piece of evidence for my theory. This episode was all about Jack. It was all about the choices he made and how they affected the story. Well, based upon the “Jack is wrong” theory, Jack’s collectivist thinking and desire to not leave the island led to the deaths of Sayid, Jin, Sun, and Frank. In the end, it all comes down to Sayid’s final words:
Sayid: "Listen carefully. There's a well on the main island half a mile south from the camp we just left. Desmond's inside it. Locke wants him dead, which means you're going to need him. Do you understand me?"
Jack: "Now why are you telling me this?"
Sayid: "Because it's going to be you, Jack."

You’re going to stop the MiB from leaving the island, Jack. You’re the candidate, Jack. Those of us who fear the series being all about Jack though, fear not. This storyline is consistent with everything I have been saying all along. Jack’s story is a critique of the contemporary American hero. Jack’s story is a demonstration of how collectivism and altruism fails. At least, when contrasting the story of the original universe with the story of the parallel universe, the intent is to make us consider which perspective is superior.


Seizing the opportunity of a disastrous event that made the original universe look dreary, the writers subtly undermined the seeming utopia of the parallel universe to make an important point: even the better universe isn’t without struggle and tragedy. Though the flashsideways followed Jack, it was Locke we learned the most about (and much seemed to be foreshadowed for Jack P).

The last major mystery of Locke P is revealed. We figured that his paralysis had to do with another altercation with his father, but we didn’t know what exactly. Now we do. Locke P had just got his pilot’s license and crashed a plane, paralyzing himself and leaving his father in a vegetative state. I’d still like to know the details of the overall relationship between Locke P and his father, but it’s largely irrelevant to the plot. In contrast to the fall from the building in the original universe, Locke P holds himself accountable for what happened. In the original universe, Locke blamed everything in his life on other people, specifically personified in his father. Ironically, in the parallel universe, he takes responsibility for things, which is also personified in his father.

The problem with Locke P’s perspective is his flawed reasoning as told to him, ironically, by Jack P:
Jack P: "What happened, happened, and you can let it go."
Locke P: "What makes you think letting go is so easy?"
Jack P: "It's not. In fact, I don't really know how to do it myself, and that's why I was hoping that maybe you could go first."
Just as Locke used his father as an evasion in the original universe, Locke P is using his father as an evasion in the parallel universe. Rather than living in the present, he is living in the past. Yes, he did a bad thing, made a mistake, but that error doesn’t guarantee him as a bad person forever. Here we can refer back to Richard’s flashback. He believed that because he committed unintentional manslaughter, he would be soiled forever. Remember my discussion of Original Sin? Now you understand where it comes from. People believe that if there is an objectivity morality, if there is right and wrong, once you do wrong, then you are a bad person, and since you are necessarily going to do something wrong at some point, you must be a flawed and bad creature, you must be born with Original Sin. Locke P is making a similar error in judgment. What type of a person you are is what type of a person you are today, not yesterday. Your actions today, not yesterday determine who you are. Locke P, however, is letting yesterday shape his today, and it shows us, that even in the universe where everyone is alive and living for themselves, there can still be errors and reasoning and imperfection. If the parallel universe were truly a utopia, it just wouldn’t be good storytelling.

On the positive side, Jack P was able to let something go. Though he pursued the truth about Locke P fervently, when Locke P refused his help, he said, “I can help you, John. I wish you believed me.” and watched Locke P roll away. It was a poignant moment, but also rounded out the flashsideways well as a contrast of the two universes. At the beginning of the episode, presumably remembering the original universe while in a hazy state, Locke P said, “Push the button. I wish you had believed me.” The contrast here is stark. For Locke P to believe Jack P, he has to believe he is a good person and worth fixing. For Jack to believe Locke, he had to disregard his mind, as there was no reason to believe anything Locke said, and take what was being said on faith. Notice how in this episode Jack even told the MiB that Locke was the one who told him he had to be on the island. Now, switch back to the parallel universe.

We once again had a mirror moment. This time, Claire P’s music box had the mirror in it, and the moment was shared by her and Jack P. However, the point remains yourself: this universe is an inversion of the original universe where you remember to keep yourself in mind. Even though Jack P offers to help Claire P at the end, he does it because of something he values: family, not because of a silly claim such as “live together, die alone.” The only question that remains for concerning him in this universe is what he will do with the knowledge that so many of them were on the same flight. Several of the scenes, most notably the scene with Bernard P (wonderfully acted by Same Anderson channeling his role as Hollis on Angel), foreshadowed some greater end point as Bernard P stated, “Well, then, maybe you're onto something here, hmm?"



In closing, I’d like us to take a moment of silence to remember the character who will be mourned the least in this episode (well, besides fake Patton Oswald): Frank Lapidus. Some people don’t even think he’s dead! Well, he is, and I’d like to thank him for his gruff lovability, his piloting skills, and his plainly witty quips. He will be missed.

See you next week, and until then, I ask that you do only one thing:

Think about it.

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