Now consider all the episodes that make up a TV series, chapters that make up a book, and movies that make up a trilogy. It’s no surprise that the same critiques that are being levied against LOST were also levied against The Matrix trilogy or The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. All of these works of fiction had a multitude of layers that, in the climatic moments, came together in a manner that many people understandably found overwhelming and overbearing. “What They Died For” can leave you perplexed for that very reason.
As Cuse and Lindelof execute the game plan for LOST’s two minute drill, there are three layers: Jacob and the MiB’s relationship, a philosophical treatise (?) on reason and faith, and the parallel universe. If each were given air time separately, they would likely be easy to understand. However, since they are all converging, the overlap seems to create a confusing mess of chaos, especially since the lines never seemed clearly defined to us to begin with--since we’re all still waiting to be sucker punched one final time. What I’m going to do is unspool each of these threads to demonstrate how the critique of faith in favor of reason is still in the driver’s seat, but acknowledge the few caveats that still leave room open for a “compromise” between the two sides or, what I could tragically call, a celebration of faith.
The key to this story is Desmond’s goal in the parallel universe. It’s been fairly obvious he would be the solution (“You are in the way of their firing solution.” I’ve been watching too much BSG.). But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I need to go over the MiB and Jacob’s motivations one more time, as they became clearer still. Then, I can discuss Desmond and the parallel (P) universe what that story has to do with the original (O) universe. Thanks to Ana Lucia, it may having nothing to do with O. (Is that the first time anyone has ever thanked Ana Lucia for anything?). Then I can finally expand on my final section of my “Across the Sea” column when I demonstrate how the original universe is the faith based universe and the parallel universe is the reason based universe.
Now, onto this week’s episode of Glee that’s directed by Joss Whedon and guest starring Neil Patrick Harris.
Wait, I mean…frak it, just put in the first section heading.
WHAT’S MY MOTIVATION?
The MiB, that evil evil MiB, has only ever wanted one thing, which is, as we learned in “Across the Sea,” to leave the island. Except, what makes him evil is that he kills people and, even worse, wants to, as we learned in this episode, destroy the island to do so. He’s evil! By the way, I keep repeating that he’s evil because I figure that If I repeat it so much, it’ll become true, just like every other argument people use in the LOST community such as “the CB was a smoke monster” and “Jack got to reason through faith.”
I obviously don’t think the MiB is actually evil, though. His goal, in itself, is neither good nor evil. It simply is. Part of the tragedy of his story is that his entire life has been consumed by such a simple goal. The other part of the tragedy is that because he’s internalized the idea that man sucks, he treats men in a Machiavellian way, as means to an ends. He doesn’t believe they deserve the dignity of being treated as individuals, and he believes he’s being forced into treating them in such a way because he sees his brother doing the same thing. He is so dehumanized that he dehumanizes other people. Rather than have an open and honest discussion with Widmore, he immediately threatened Penny. It was the quickest way to reach his end. Does any of this make him good? No, but it also doesn’t make him evil, as he’s just playing the hand he’s been dealt in the best manner he knows how. “He wants to kill people and destroy the island, though! That’s evil!”
The MiB’s two purported methods to reach the end of leaving the island reveal some very interesting things. First, I’ve never thought he wanted to kill people, and the way he treated Widmore and Zoe proves it. Why did he kill Zoe? She was pointless. Since she couldn’t speak, and thus think or act, she played no role in the game; she couldn’t be used as a means to an end. The way he killed her so nonchalantly also proves that killing doesn’t faze him. (Also, that he needs Ben to kill the candidates proves he can’t kill them, a thought I’ll return to in a moment). Second, that he needs to destroy the island to leave it demonstrates there is some sort of link between the light and his condition. By destroying the island, the light would go out. Putting the light out might be all he means by “destroying the island.” The island may still continue to exist as an island, just without the light. I have to wonder if that, when he destroys the island, he’ll simply continue to exist in Locke’s body no longer with the ability to turn into smoke. In this sense, destroying the island may just be an end around. Rather than kill all the candidates and Jacob, he can just take away all their specialness by destroying the thing that gives them that specialness. It’s, once again, treating people like pieces rather than individuals. It’s trying to end faith by killing God, sort of like how Nietzsche once wrote, “God is dead,” and we know that didn’t work out too well for him.
The irony of this entire tale is that Jacob didn’t want his role in this game either. As he told Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley, he never had a choice in the matter. Thus, he’s always lived his life with two goals in mind: Find his replacement and stop his brother. The tragedy of his story, however, is there may be no need to do either of those things. The only reason he believes they need to be done is because he believes. Jacob can sit there and complain about how he never had a choice all he wants, but having a choice is about being human and being human is about coming to independent conclusions about the information at hand. Jacob has never, never, questioned whether the island needed to be protected or not.
Let’s pretend for a moment he decided the island didn’t need to be protected. Well, then he and the MiB could put out the light and move on with their lives. They’d have all the free will, all the choices, they wanted. Instead, he abides by the accepted premises of the CB, that island must be protected because man sucks, and everyone plays a part in this ridiculous game that most likely ends in their deaths. Even worse, most of this hoopla is because Jacob feels guilty.
Say what you will about Jacob (and believe me, I’ll throw him under the bus), but he did admit that his vengeful act against the MiB for killing the CB was a mistake, which is what he said, they died for:
Jacob: “I brought all of you here because I made a mistake, a mistake I made a very long time ago, and now, because of that, there’s a very good chance that every single one of you and everyone you ever cared about is going to die.”I’m going to side step the commentary on faith and original sin for the moment in order to save it for my next section, but what this explanation by Jacob shows is that, if not for the MiB being the smoke monster, Jacob could have continued to be the protector of the island indefinitely. Note how he told Jack that Jack would have to do the job for as long as he can. This fact means that what makes this story worth telling, what makes it unique, is the MiB as the smoke monster. It’s the reason “Across the Sea” didn’t have to reveal where the CB came from. It’s the ultimate refutation of “the CB is a smoke monster” argument. The MiB as smoke monster is something that’s unique in the history of the island, and his mere existence may support the theory that the island is going to be destroyed. When Jacob says it only ends once, he clearly means the game between himself and the MiB; however, that ending is not a true ending as the cycle of island protector just continues for as long as it can.
Sawyer: “What mistake?”
Jacob: “You call him the monster, but I’m responsible for what happened to him. I made him that way, and ever since then, he’s been trying to kill me. It was only a matter of time before he figured out how, and when he did, someone would have to replace me.”
Along the lines of Jacob, the MiB, and the CB is that we finally have confirmation that being the protector gives you some sort of abilities, which will surely never be defined, most likely gained from the protector’s unique relationship with the light. Jacob and the MiB were told by the CB that she made it so they can’t hurt each other. While we saw Jacob and his brother punch the crap out of each other, I don’t think she meant it quite in that way. Consider what Jacob says when Jack figures out why Jacob has to die:
Jack: "You want us to kill him. Is that even possible?”All Jacob knows is the rules set forward by the CB because even he doesn’t understand the true nature of the smoke monster. What he does know is there are rules that have to be followed, and he is making an educated guess that the next protector will be able to kill the MiB because he won’t be bound by the CB’s rules. It’s kind of like a game of Circle of Death. When that game is over, whatever rules were made during it don’t transfer over to the next circle. (I can’t believe me, Mr. Straight Edge, just made a reference to a drinking game.) And how does Jacob know the rules are real? Because it was confirmed that he does have special abilities.
Jacob: “I hope so because he is certainly going to try and kill you.”
As Hurley walked through the jungle, young Jacob ran up to Hurley and demanded his ashes. He took them, turned a corner, and Hurley found Jacob, confirming Jacob’s powers as he turned into his younger self. Why Jacob had to appear as his younger self is a bit beyond me; I guess it’s more rhetorically persuasive, but it does make a scene from earlier this season clear. As the MiB walked through the jungle with Sawyer, young Jacob appeared to him and told him he couldn’t kill him. We know now that young Jacob was Jacob and meant the MiB can’t kill Sawyer. Now we know why the MiB didn’t simply pick people off one by one and, instead, convinced them to leave the island. All he was trying to do was neutralize their candidacy, to make it so there was no one left to choose to protect the island. His choices were to convince them to leave or tricking them into killing themselves or each other. Obviously, he felt the former tactic was the easier.
Oh, and if you still don’t believe the protectors have special powers, consider when Jacob told Jack where the light is:
Jack: “Past the bamboo? There’s nothing out there.”Apparently, part of the special abilities you receive is to be able to see the light, which explains why the MiB didn’t find it in 30 years of searching. Of course, now that Jack is the protector, this ability also means that, if the MiB wants to put the light out, he’s going to need to force Jack to bring him to it. What are the odds that Jack’s going to agree to that? (Not very good.)
Jacob: “Yes there is, Jack, and now you’ll be able to get there.”
Speaking of special abilities, what’s up with Desmond? In the original universe, the MiB said that Widmore called Desmond his “failsafe.” This term harkens back to Desmond’s turning of the key and releasing the energy, AKA, the light that was trapped by the button pushing. What we learned about that job was that it was ultimately unnecessary. Kelvin told Desmond that by pushing the button he was “saving the world,” but after the failsafe blew the hatch, the world has existed just fine. If the button pushing was foreshadowing of protecting the light, and I truly believe it was, as the situations are so similar, then protecting the light will ultimately be unnecessary and will likely end the same way.
For Desmond, turning the key meant addressing his greatest flaw: His cowardice. He was afraid of ever taking a risk because he didn’t believe it would pay off for him. Well, he turned the failsafe key, and he became the specialist, most neatest person on the island. The rules don’t apply to him. Likewise, he will have to face his fears and go into the light. What will happen to him? I’m not sure, but he seems to be, and the answer is in the parallel universe.
The biggest mystery left for me in this show is Desmond’s goal in the parallel universe. What is he up to? He wanted Locke to “let go,” but what did he want Locke to let go of, his bitterness, his life, the importance of the parallel universe? I’m not sure and that line gives supporters of either theory, that the parallel universe is good or bad, plenty of ammunition, but it’s not all we can look at when analyzing Desmond’s motivations. I also have to ask if Desmond intended to give Ben P a “flash.” On one hand, it could be argued the only reason he was there was to give Ben his flash, so the whole hitting Locke thing again was a ruse, but he didn’t seem actually intent on doing so until Ben demanded he tell him who he is. Then, he punched the crap out of Ben, but it seemed to be out of pure vindictiveness. (Note how Ben had a mirror moment after he had his flash thought.) Likewise, there was a quick key exchange between Hurley P and Desmond:
Hurley P: “She’s not coming with us?”Why is she, Ana Lucia, not ready to receive her flash? More importantly, there’s only one episode left in the series, so when is she going to be ready for her flash? Are the writers going to devote screen time to her next episode? I wouldn’t think so. Therefore, do we have evidence that Desmond believes his mission will continue for a long time to come, which for us would mean beyond the season finale? Are we only being shown him giving flashes to the characters that are series regular in S6 because the story is about them? Of course, the other side of the coin makes me ask if he was lying to Hurley or not. His plan could be over soon, which is why he doesn’t need to give Ana Lucia a flash. Desmond P hasn’t lied yet, though, and the answer could be as simple as he wants to show everyone how to find their happily ever after.
Desmond P: “No, she’s not ready yet.”
Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that all of the threads in the parallel universe seem to be headed towards the museum. Miles P said the following to Sawyer P, “The benefit at my Dad’s museum. The concert I’ve been telling you about all week.” Desmond told Kate he’s bringing her to a concert. David wanted to make sure Jack was going to a concert, which surely means Claire will be there as well. It would also make sense that the other musicians we’ve met, Charlie and Daniel, will be playing. Thus, we can also place Eloise and Widmore at the benefit concert, too. We know PF Chang and Charlotte will be there. Things certainly seem to be heading towards some sort of apocalyptic event. But what about Ben, Locke, Jin, and Sun? What about more minor characters like Boone, Rose, Bernard, and Arzt? I’m sure they can come up with reasons for all of them to be there, and they probably will.
None of this, though, answers the ultimate question of which universe will win out, if any does at all. The only way we can properly address that quandary is to look at the philosophy behind it all, namely that the original universe is the faith universe and the parallel universe is the reason universe.
I CALL IT "REASON"
To take a closer look at the original universe, we must return to the conversation Jacob had with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley. It was Jacob’s version of the conversion speech the CB gave to him. There’s no need to rehash my “Across the Sea” column, but, based on Jacob’s explanation of “what they died for” as I already addressed, they died to protect the island, or, in other words, faith. This concept is certainly not new to the series, so what this conversation did was strengthen the critique of the concept, and, in case you weren’t clear they were going for a God metaphor, Sawyer concretized the metaphor for you, “And I thought that guy had a God complex before.” What was important, though, was Jacob’s disagreement with Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley.
Through Jacob’s responses, the writers demonstrated the way faith uses scare tactics, turns humanity bad, and takes away people’s free will. When Kate asks Jacob what happens if nobody chooses to protect the island, he responds, “Then this ends very badly.” He doesn’t offer any further explanation. This response is little more than a scare tactic and is akin to the heaven/hell or salvation argument for faith. In it, you are presented with an unsupported false dichotomy. You can either choose to give yourself over to God and be saved or live your life in eternal damnation. Likewise, according to Jacob, just like the CB told him, you can either protect the island or the world goes to hell. This dichotomy is of course exacerbated in Jacob’s case because he turned the MiB into the smoke monster, literally concretizing the scare tactic. But that concept is what the MiB as the smoke monster is the ultimate metaphor for.
Returning to Jacob’s explanation as to why he brought them there, we find a subtle explanation as to the effects of faith. Here is the relevant excerpt:
Jacob: “I brought all of you here because I made a mistake, a mistake I made a very long time ago and now, because of that, there’s a very good chance that every single one of you and everyone you ever cared about is going to die.”According to Jacob, the mistake was throwing his brother into the light. However, the mistake is actually one step back from that action. It is accepting the premise that men are bad. Because he assumed men are bad, he assumed the MiB killed the CB out of ignoble motives. What we know, though, is that he killed her because she killed all of the others and buried the well he had built. Now, proponents of faith are going to say that her actions were noble because she was protecting the light, but you need to remember her reasoning for why the light must be protected: Because man is bad. Thus, what we learn, is that the premise of man is bad becomes a rationalization to do bad things. In other words, the premise that man is bad makes man bad. In fact, it makes man bad in a way that is much more dangerous than the MiB’s Machiavellian methods. While the MiB realizes he is treating people as mere means to an end, Jacob and the CB do not. They believe they are treating people as they should be treated, and their outlook is ultimately shown in the result of their treatment of the MiB. They turn him into the “monster” and use that as evidence that man is bad. But before he was turned into smoke, what bad did MiB do? Don’t bother trying to figure it out. He didn’t do any. And this strange counter-intuitive truth is why the MiB always gives people a chance to speak and Jacob, unwittingly, denies their free will.
Sawyer: “What mistake?”
Jacob: “You call him the monster, but I’m responsible for what happened to him. I made him that way…”
The depth of Jacob’s misguided beliefs is revealed in his response to Sawyer’s critique of his action. As I’ve noted many times over, Sawyer has always represented rational, independent thought in the series, and he didn’t disappoint in this episode. First, he argued against the concept of original sin, though probably unknowingly, by asking, “Tell me something, Jacob? Why do I gotta be punished for your mistake?” Then, he addressed the deeper issue of his humanity being violated:
Sawyer: “What made you think you could mess with my life? I was doing just fine before you dragged my ass to this damn rock.”Jacob’s reply is the only answer he can give. He has to take the higher moral ground and claim he knows better than Sawyer. He has to essentially say, “I am the ultimate judge of worth and, thus, have the right to act as I deem appropriate” which, roughly translates to, “I have the power, so I’m better than you. Shut up, bitch.” It’s why, in that moment, I called Jacob a “sanctimonious son of a bitch.” Yeah, I said the Sawyer line this episode. What’s unfortunate is that Sawyer didn’t get to say it because he doesn’t have all the information.
Jacob: “No you weren’t. None of you were. I didn’t pluck any of you out of a happy existence. You were all flawed. I chose you because you were like me. You were all alone. You were all looking for something you couldn’t find out there. I chose you because you needed this place as much as it needed you.”
What Sawyer doesn’t know that we do is Jacob’s back story and the nature of the parallel universe. We learned in “Across the Sea” that Jacob ultimately does not think well of himself because the CB seemingly loved the MiB more than him (maybe they bonded over not having a name). The source of his self-dislike can’t be figured out, but if you pick apart his statement, you can actually figure out what he thinks of himself.
He tells the four of them that they are “flawed” and then says they are “like him.” Once again, the premise that man is bad rears its ugly head and we learn, what I believe to be, the root of it: Lack of self-esteem. Jacob won’t forgive himself for his mistake because he believes himself to be flawed (the return of the original sin argument and a parallel to Richard accidentally killing the doctor in "Ab Aeterno"); thus he looks to an external source, protecting the island, to validate his existence and cleanse himself (a parallel Jack and why he returned to the island). The proper response by Sawyer would have been, “Who are you to call me flawed, you sanctimonious son of a bitch?” He could then support his point with the following evidence.
With a quick slight of rhetoric, Jacob glosses over an important detail, and I don’t really know if he’s aware of his doing so. He is responsible for the poor existences he “plucked” all of these people out of. As we saw in “The Incident,” he touched them early in life, just as the CB metaphorically touched him and the MiB as children, setting them down a course that would lead to a poor existence. How do we know his touch did so? In the parallel universe, where the island sunk before he had a chance to touch them, none of them are in the same place they were at the time of the original flight. In fact, they’re all much better off (except for, maybe, Sayid). What’s the idea here? Faith touches you at a very early age, teaching you very dangerous things: You’re flawed and you must look to an external source to be fixed. And it gets more dangerous still.
What’s even scarier is Jacob’s lack of self-awareness. What makes his methods so dangerous is they are exactly the same as Jigsaw in the Saw movies: He takes away your free will and then tells you have it AND is willing to accept some people will die because of him. Look at what he says to Hurley:
Hurley: “So how are you going to pick?”He wants you to have a choice…but he touched you, changing the entire course of your life, and brought you to the island without your consent, just as Jigsaw kidnaps people and puts them in traps to “show them how to live” in the Saw movies, just as government officials limit our choices for our own benefit. Why does Jacob do this? Because he knows better. How does he know better? Because he is protecting the island. Why? Because man is inherently bad. This line of reasoning is a parallel to Jack all the way back in his “Live Together, Die Alone” speech:
Jacob: “I’m not going to pick, Hugo. I want you to have the one thing that I was never given: A choice.”
Jack: “It's been six days, and we're all still waiting. Waiting for someone to come. But what if they don't? We have to stop waiting. We need to start figuring things out. A woman died this morning just going for a swim. He tried to save her and now you're about to crucify him. We can't do this. Every man for himself is not going to work. It's time to start organizing. We need to figure out how we're going to survive here. Now I found water. Freshwater, up in the valley. I'll take a party up there at first daylight. If you don't want to come then find another way to contribute! Last week most of us were strangers. But we're all here now. And God knows how long we're going to be here. But if we can't live together--we're gonna die alone.”What both arguments do is treat people as a collective. Everyone is exactly the same, a uniform piece (as I noted earlier that Jacob and the MiB BOTH only treat people as means to an end). Likewise, in Jack’s speech he asserts he’s better (based on no real argument except maybe that he knows where the water is) by simply taking the moral high ground and taking a collectivist definition of success: The group’s survival. Likewise, Jacob is not defining success based on individual lives. He is defining it as the redemption of mankind as a whole. What’s scariest about this pseudo-utilitarian reasoning is what it’ll allow you to accept. Consider Jacob’s response to Kate when she asks if he’s responsible for everyone dying:
Kate: “So you’re the one who wrote our names on the wall?”Jacob has no choice but to accept the truth because there is no way around it. In his view, some people must be sacrificed for the greater good. Similarly, in Jack’s speech he says everyone has to find a way to contribute. In other words, forget what you were interested in doing for yourself while on the island, you have to curtail your will to the group. Our survival as a whole is more important than your survival as an individual. Faith wise, we’ve seen what this idea amounts to throughout the series: Suffering and self-hatred. Governmentally, it manifests in ideas such as communism, socialism, and, lately, libertarian paternalism, just as in the beginning of the series: Jack was running a “commie sharefest in cavetown” and Sawyer “never voted Democrat.” What all these forms of government do is, to some extreme, curtail your choices as an individual by defining success as a group outcome. How communism and socialism do so is obvious. Libertarian paternalism is a bit more complex as it is exactly like Jacob’s “I want to give you a choice” idea. Think of it this way: The government decides what supermarkets can stock, but you are allowed to buy anything supermarkets have in stock. Sure, you have a choice, but your choices are being controlled.
Jacob: “I am.”
Kate: “Sun and Jin Kwon and Sayid Jarrah, you wrote their names on the wall?”
Kate: “Is that why they’re dead?”
Jacob: "I’m very sorry.”
Ultimately, that’s what the original universe is about: Humanity is bad, so the greater good must be protected. The problem is, the path to the greater good is littered with deception, suffering, and violence. The supporters of the methodology will say it’s because man is bad, creating an irrefutable self-fulfilling prophecy of an argument. In other words, they are mistaking something for something else…which smart opponents of faith will point out.
The parallel universe as a reason based universe is best demonstrated by Jack P and Locke P’s conversation in this episode. Finally convinced by Desmond P to let go of his past, Locke P wheels himself into Jack P’s office to ask for the surgery (proving once again that the parallel universe is better). In typical Lockean fashion, John starts to err towards faith, but Jack corrects him:
Locke P: “Maybe this is happening for a reason. Maybe you’re supposed to fix me.”While Jack’s line is a major sign, especially his calm and rational delivery of it, Locke P’s line is little bit of a cause for concern, especially because it will be used as supporters of a compatibilist view of the show. However, Jack P’s line echoes a certain important line from S2. Yes, I used the verb echo on purpose.
Jack P: “Mr. Locke, I want to fix you, but I think you’re mistaking coincidence for fate.”
Locke P: “You can call it whatever you want, but here I am…and I think I’m ready to get out of this chair.”
Mr. Eko: “Do not mistake coincidence for fate."And mistake coincidence for fate is exactly what proponents of faith do. They need external meaning, so they order events in their mind. More deeply, they connect them to something of which there is no connection. In LOST, that connection is to the light. At some point, I’m sure we’ll hear someone say “everything on the island happened because of the light. The light is electromagnetism which is the source of the pseudo-scientific stuff that happens.” Well, they’d be wrong. Everything that happened did so because of choices people made, just as Locke P ended in Jack’s office because of the chain of events he described. Locke P gave the meaning to it by thinking “Wow, these events taught me I should try and walk again.” And how did he reach that meaning? He reasoned it out. What it boils down to is: I am giving my life meaning not something else, and that statement boils down to: I can give my life meaning, and that statement boils down to: I am good, and that statement boils down to, you guessed it: Man is good.
What makes the parallel universe even more positive, however, is the idea of “Happily Ever After,” which has become a strong theme since the episode of the same name. This episode was no different. To start the episode, Jack P’s wife was teased again, meaning we will find out her identity (I’m betting Juliet). Later, other pairings were teased. We left Ben and Rousseau on a poignant moment for their quasi-family. Sawyer and Kate seemed to be trying to connect, but couldn’t because of circumstances. And as far as non-heavily-foreshadowed pairings, if Charlie and Daniel are at the concert, they’ll surely find Claire and Charlotte. And who is Miles’ girlfriend? The touchy part about this issue is Desmond P’s goal, as I discussed earlier. If he’s trying to destroy the parallel universe, then this whole “happily ever after” thing was tongue-in-cheek. But why would he be trying to bring people together if his goal was to destroy the parallel universe? We have two other clues.
Appropriately, two Jack P moments hint at the future of the parallel universe, though I am admittedly unsure of what they mean. The episode opened with his eye opening, just as the “Pilot.” Then, he looked in the mirror again and saw the same cut from “LA X.” The writers are bringing us back to the beginning. Why? Are they hinting at a circle? Are they hinting at the parallel universe being a new beginning for the characters? I don’t know, but we’ll find out soon. The more important question was raised by Locke P. Reason, faith, it’s an either or dichotomy used to define the series of casual events that make up the universe, and you have to ask yourself:
What do you call it? (What did they really die for?)
Think about it.