Tuesday, June 1, 2010

The Midside: LOST S6E17 The End

Six years later, and it’s over. For those fans like us, who write and read columns, we feel like we are losing a friend or close relative that we shared many deep and important conversations with about the world. We are mourning their death. Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse expected such a reaction so they wrote an episode, and a season, about the mourning process and death. (As my friend Nate wrote about here.)

In actuality, S6 and “The End” were just a logical extension of the basic theme/metaphor of the series. LOST is about life, as I have been saying for a long time. The characters' journeys, and the faith vs. reason debate, are supposed to parallel our own experiences and existence. It starts in the “Pilot.” Jack’s eye opens. He wakes up alone in the jungle. Hearing noise in the background, he sprints to the beach. After initially being greeted with a beautiful view of a clear ocean and cloudless blue sky, he rotates towards the noise to see the fiery, twisted metal wreckage of a plane crash with passengers strewn about. In other words, he’s born, alone as we all are, and is immediately thrown into the middle of it all. There is no preparation. You’re born and enter into the world.

The next few S1 episodes are named: “Tabula Rasa,” “Walkabout,” “White Rabbit,” and “House of the Rising Sun.” All extend the metaphor. The first is a philosophical statement on how you are born. The second is an important moment at the start of life: Walking up right for the first time. “White Rabbit” is about how you find something to follow down into the middle of it all. “House of the Rising Sun” is obvious. You get the idea. The rest of the series progressed from that point on. We explored the world (opened the Hatch). We worried about the future (flash forwards). We encountered what we’d been hearing about our whole life (the Incident). Then, like all good things, it had to end (TNG FTW).

Quite predictably, the last shot of the series was the reverse of the first, Jack’s eyes closing, bookending the story nicely. The life on the island had been lived. To drive home the point further, Lindelof and Cuse wrote a season of flash sideways that act as a metaphor for the mourning process. Yes, the mystery of the “parallel universe” has been revealed, and many people have been conceptualizing it as some sort of purgatory or something, but the actual explanation is much simpler. Think of the metaphor of the mirror.

The Whatever-atory is a metaphor for reflecting on your life while on your deathbed. Now we know what the point of the mirror moments were. It is commonly said that when you die your life “flashes before your eye.” Similarly, it is thought that when your death is imminent you think of how you could have lived life differently or better. These characters imagined a life where the Jughead plan worked, the plane never crashed, and the island was submerged, so it never affected their lives. It was a giant “what if” scenario where the characters revealed their deepest views of themselves and their deepest desires. Kate truly believed she was innocent and helped Claire. Sawyer was a cop, but worried other people would find him out for what he is (an unloved person because his parents abandoned him). Sayid still said “I’m not that person anymore,” yet was that person. Desmond had Widmore’s approval. Jack loved his son and his son loved him. Sun and Jin were never married, but ended up together in America with Sun pregnant with Ji Yeon. These examples are just what I thought of off the top of my head. We could go back and watch each episode again and complete this analysis more complexly.

Need more evidence that it all came from the characters’ minds? Consider what Christian told Jack in the “church." “They made the place so they could find each other and it exists outside time and place. It exists outside time and space because it happens at a different time for everyone." Look at Sawyer and Juliet. Juliet died in “LA X” mumbling things from “Whatever-atory” such as “it worked” (plugging in the machine) and something about getting coffee (which they agreed to do). We don’t know when Sawyer died, as we saw him get off the island, but it is presumably years after Juliet, yet they both experienced the same “whatever-atory” moment, just as they were all sitting in the “church” together at the end (a common association we all share concerning death and funerals).

How is it possible they are all really in that place at the same time? That question is irrelevant. Don’t try to conceptualize it in terms of time, space, and reality. You can’t. That’s the point of the statements by Christian. It’s a metaphor for how we mourn. It’s the reason why we see the conversation between Jack and Christian in the “church” at the end of the episode. Jack is on his deathbed and his life is flashing before his eyes. Then, the flash to Whatever-atory ends, and Jack closes his eye to die--as we focus on the fact that on their deathbeds the characters attempted to find each other, which is the ultimate point of the show.

(Note: An interesting thought now that we know that Desmond was dead for a bit in “Happily Ever After” and flashing to “Whatever-atory” is: Was Desmond dead after turning the fail safe key in the Hatch and flashed to a unique “Whatever-atory” for just himself based on his personal problems at that time?)

What this whole series is about is other people. Lindelof and Cuse answered the question, "Is humanity LOST?” with a yes and an explanation of “because we believe it is.” Their reasoning is that an improper application of faith corrupts us (as evidenced in the MiB/Jacob story) as we focus on the wrong things (God and not people). Logically, they then present us with a new definition of faith, which is based upon the idea that other people are what make life worth living.

More complexly, the meaning of LOST is a resolution of the faith vs reason debate with what I call “Hurleyism” or “humanistic faith.” In the first part of my column, I will explain how the episode (and series) leads us to this conclusion by discussing the rivalry between the MiB and Jacob and how that affected Jack’s life. I will then prove how Hurley is the most important character in the show and explicate what the writers’ idea of faith is from there. The idea, however, is self-contradictory, and I will prove so by discussing morality, decision making, and the idea of the self in relation to Sayid in the second part of my column.

Understanding the overall philosophy behind LOST will also reveal why Lindelof and Cuse focused so heavily on the characters and not the mythological answers in the final season and “The End.” Fortunately for me, I agree with them to the point that I understand why they did what they did with the mythology and characters. There’s a lot to appreciate about this series. It’s truly the best television show ever. It’s just “Hurleyism” that bothers me, so let’s get into it, shall we?


I’m about to delve into the mythology, but, be warned, the end point I reach will undermine the importance of the mythology. Huh? Yes, that statement is internally contradictory, but let’s save the critiques for the second part of this column. My intention right now is understanding. I’ve read a lot and heard a lot of people tell me that they think the mythology is irrelevant. How it is relevant is twofold. First, the mythology of the world shapes the context we live within. Second, the mythology was designed in a way to build a critique of the contemporary conception of faith so that Lindelof and Cuse could put forward their new definition of Hurleyism. This transition is best understood by looking at the failings of the MiB and Jacob, how those mistakes affected Jack, and how Jack ultimately passed the torch to Hurley.


The important thing to remember when looking at the brothers of MiB and Jacob is that they are both wrong and that condition causes them to be opposing forces rather than allies. While the MiB is turned into a cloud of black smoke, Jacob gains the supernatural ability to shape people’s life. It all begins with the CB and her misguided teachings and ends with the fruition of Jacob’s long con, and, tragically, it was all at the expense of the MiB.

The lasting impression of “Across the Sea” will always be the CB’s teachings to the boys. She taught them both that the basic nature of humans is bad. They come, they destroy…you know the mantra by now. In the MiB, this premise manifested in a sort of nihilism, a futility with dealing with people. You could say he had a “can’t live with them, can’t live without them" mentality. In Jacob, this premise manifested in a savior mentality. He spent his whole life trying to redeem humanity. The problem is he was trying to redeem them for his mistake.

Though the MiB fills the role of a villain in S6, his overall story is actually tragic. Upon his birth, he wasn’t given his name. Then, he discovered who he really was and was punished for trying to pursue it. Worse yet, he began to explore the island based upon his natural ability and was punished for it. The tragedy doesn’t end there. As he began his fall from grace, he used the curiosity of men to try and get off the island. The vengeful CB smote the people, causing him to respond by murdering her, which in turn caused Jacob to throw him into the light, taking away his body and humanity. How was his humanity stolen? His free will, the exercise of his mind, was taken away from him. He was forced into an oppressive either-or: Live on the island as an inhumane creature or destroy the light. Thus, his goal became to destroy the light, something which he never previously cared about. In this way, the CB turned the MiB into the villain with her poor teachings and actions. If she had simply let the boy figure out how to leave, no problem would have ever occurred. However, her basic belief was that man is so bad that reason can’t go unchecked. Her teachings had a similar effect on Jacob.

The portrayal of young Jacob as a bit slower and a bit kinder was not by accident. Before the CB, he was a harmless person. Afterwards he manipulated people over the ages for one purpose: To fix his mistake. What was his mistake? He vengefully threw his brother into the light, but, as I explained, vengeance was the CB’s MO. Jacob was too kind to act in such a manner naturally. Yet, over his life he grew to be that way because the CB planted poor ideas in his head about humanity and his brother. He accepted they were bad. He accepted that the light needed to be protected. He went about doing both and as he witnessed the results of his efforts, the MiB as smoke monster roaming the island, he realized his grave error. He hadn’t questioned his faith in the CB. He hadn’t been given a choice. Thus, he designed an elaborate scheme, a tapestry of lives that factored in free will to his design, not realizing his new mistake that you can’t plan pre-will, that a grand design is a contradiction of free will. Here’s where Jack Shepard enters the story.


Jack is Jacob’s solution. He is the perfect candidate to complete Jacob’s life goal, as he is similar to Jacob himself. Like the CB, Christian told Jack he wasn’t good enough. Christian made Jack feel like he wasn’t special. Thus, as with Jacob envying the MiB, Jack spent his entire life attempting to fill his need to prove himself. It’s why he needed to fix things. If he could just fix something important enough, his life would have meaning, and his worth would be proven. Note how Jacob’s entire life was spent trying to fix something, his mistake. The parallels between Jack and Jacob are not coincidental or unintentional. They’re the reason Jack became like him.

Then Jackob finally fixed something, with an assist from Kate. Except, as they stood on the cliffs on the shore, the island shook below them, and Jack realized, Jacob’s mistake nearly brought an end to the island itself (the metaphor of the island as the world is pertinent here). He also understood what he needed to do to fix it. He needed to go back down into the Source and put the cork back in the hole, an action that would lead to his death, a death that would be the last negative consequence of Jacob, his mistake, and his tapestry. And the journey into the Source taught us some interesting things about Jacob and his unquestioned faith.

The most interesting thing about the Source is its design. It appeared to be excavated. There were skeletons strewn about. Most importantly, the cork itself was most definitely man made. Do we have our answer to the origin of the job of protector? Do we know why the CB hated reason? Imagine the following scenario, if you will. A group comes to the island and discovers, as the MiB did, that there are areas on the island where “metal behaves strangely.” They search and search and eventually find the greatest concentration of the explanation as to why, what we know as the Source. They dig down, punching a hole into the light, and what happens? The island begins to shake and break apart as the release of the magnetic energy is too much for the infrastructure of the island to withstand, perhaps explaining the existence of Hydra Island. What do these men do? They rush for a solution, creating the cork and plugging the hole. Except, they have to make sure the cork is never removed, so they create the job of protector and use the story of evil escaping into the world as a reason for it. Who knows, maybe they really believed evil was tearing the island apart. What’s most interesting is we can see why they would begin to distrust reason, as it nearly destroyed the island (in their view), and that this story strongly parallels Dharma drilling into the ground, hitting the pocket of energy, and creating the Swan Station and button pushing mechanism.

The actual truth value behind that story is unimportant, as it will never be confirmed. The point of telling it is its plausibility. What does that plausibility tell us? The need to protect the light to “save the world” is still unproven. Yes, Jack believed himself to be right, and clearly so did Desmond (as evidenced by their exchange where Jack admitted this was the first time he was ever right). However, throughout the series, characters constantly believed they were right (or wrong) erroneously. We have to judge Jack’s actions and beliefs on our own. If the major thing Jack believes at the end of the series is left ambiguous, what’s the point of him then? What’s his story?

Jack is the undermining of the conventional hero in order to emphasis the transition to a new character type. From the beginning, he was full of self-doubt, never really accepting his position of leader, nor did others really accept it. The conventional hero is always beloved, despite any questionable actions he might take. Some fans flock to Jack as if he is that archetype, but they simply are responding to what they’re used to, not what is displayed on screen. Likewise, when the conventional hero sacrifices himself, completing the Jesus myth (not the use of the Jesus statue in Whatever-atory), he is celebrated by many for his altruism. Take Neo in the Matrix trilogy as an example. After he sacrifices himself to the machines, the Oracle, little Indian girl, and the Architect (three programs that represent humans, programs, and the machines respectively) all spend the last scene of the movie reflecting on Neo. The little Indian girl makes a sunset for him. In LOST, Jack is only greeted by Vincent after he puts the cork back in. No, there is no fanfare for his death. It is a quiet tear jerking moment. It is tragic. He was taken advantage of by Jacob in order to fix a mistake that never should have been made. Except Jack realized this result (finally understanding himself and the world) and passed his role onto Hurley before he embarked on his suicide mission.


From the beginning of the show, Hurley was the most beloved character. His innocence and simplicity was charming. In many ways, he was the most identifiable character. I don’t even think any of the characters disliked him. More importantly, I don’t think he disliked any of the characters. He always saw the good in people and worried about their happiness. Let’s briefly recount the things he did. He built the golf course to give people a break. He took the census to learn who everyone was and protect everyone. He distributed all the food found in the Hatch. He turned Sawyer into a leader by duping him with the “worst con ever.” He fixed the Dharma van he found in order to prove you can “make your own luck.” A lot of the time, he also served as the voice for the audience, asking about the dinosaur theory, expressing confusion over Scott and Steve’s similar appearance, and infamously arguing with Miles over time travel. He was the character we were most meant to identify with and like. He was the character that was most concerned with positivity and helping other people.

These personality traits best embody Hurleyism, the era that began as soon as Jack told Hurley, “Now you’re like me.” This transition, and what it means, is best explained through two quotes. The first is how Ben advises Hurley to approach the role:
Ben: “I think you'll do what you do best: Take care of people. And you can start by helping Desmond go home.”
Hurley: “How? People can't leave the Island.”
Ben: “Those were Jacob's rules. Maybe there's a new way, a better way.”
Ben openly encouraging Hurley to make new rules, along with saying there’s a better way, is a signal to us that faith is being redefined. Protecting the island won’t be accomplished by making sure people stay away from the light. Besides, it’s nearly impossible to find it anyway, so focusing on it so much was never the point, especially because we can’t know if it actually needs to be protected or not. What should be the focus then? Ben tells Hurley he should do what he does best, “take care of people.” The focus here shifts from the light, or God, to people. In other words, faith isn’t about our relationship with God, it’s about our relationship with other people, especially because we can’t know if God actually exists or not. See how all of the mythology is coming together? But wait, focusing on people doesn’t tell us how to deal with people. We know saying their bad like the CB doesn’t work, but what is the alternative?

To understand how Hurley deals with people, the best place to look is his scene with Sayid in Whatever-atory. Sayid is the character who struggles the most with a moral appraisal of himself. He constantly says, “I’m not that person anymore,” because he doesn’t like the violent tactics he uses, yet he continues to use those tactics. His story in Whatever-atory stood out because it was the only one that wasn’t better, happier than the on-island story. This emphasis was intentional, as it lead to the following pay off, the speech Hurley gave as he attempted to help Sayid have flashes of his life:
"I think you're a good guy, Sayid. I know a lot of people have told you that you're not. Maybe you've heard it so many times you started to believe in it. But you can't let other people tell you who you are, dude. You have to decide that for yourself."
Once again, we see Hurley’s focus on making sure the other person is okay and happy, on making sure Sayid believes in himself. (The tidbit about deciding yourself is also interesting, but I’ll return to that in a minute.) Hurley’s speech is followed by Shannon being attacked in the alley, and Sayid rushing out to save her. They touch and both have flashes, ready to move on, just like all of the characters have flashes in Whatever-atory when they touch or connect with another person. This trope fits perfectly with what Christian tells Jack in the “church” at the end:
“The most important part of your life was the time that you spent with these people. That's why all of you are here. Nobody does it alone, Jack. You needed all of them and they needed you.”
“The most important part of your life” is not what you accomplished, your job, or yourself, it is other people. Why? Because you needed them. Just like Sayid needed Hurley to tell him he was a good guy before he could believe he was a good guy, we all need the same. This idea also fits nicely with how Hurley told Jack, “I believe in you, dude” right before Jack went off into the jungle with the MiB. And that statement is the mantra of Hurleyism. “I believe in you, dude.” Still though, the picture of this version of faith is still not complete.

To explain the “decide for yourself” portion of Hurley’s speech to Sayid, we have to look at his “#2” Ben. Ben is to the MiB as Hurley is to Jacob. Part of the tragedy of the MiB and Jacob story is if they had just worked together to protect the light, Jacob’s innocence would have been put to good use, whereas the MiB would have never been turned into the villain. Likewise, Ben always wanted to protect the island, but went about it with Machiavellian methods that the MiB used. He purged Dharma. He used his superior intelligence to lie to, manipulate, and con other people. Now, by putting it at the discretion of Hurley, his ability will only be used to help other people. Their relationship is similar to the relationship Hurley has with Desmond in Whatever-atory, as Desmond is the one focused on giving knowledge (flashes of their lives), and Hurley is the one everyone loves. Thus, we can also look at what Desmond tells Kate before he brings her to the concert:
Kate: "Hang on a second. You bust me out of jail and make me put on this dress so that we can go to some concert and you won't even tell me why we're here."
Desmond: "No one can tell you why you're here, Kate, certainly not me."
Kate: "You're the one who brought me here."
Desmond: "I'm not talking about the church. I'm talking about here."
Just like Sayid having to decide who he is himself, Kate has to decide who she is herself. How are they going to do that? They’re going to use reason. Except, just like Sayid, someone had to tell Kate she had to figure it out on her own. She had to be given the go ahead, the OK, the moral sanction (if you will). Someone had to have faith in her. It’s exactly like how Ben is the #2 and Hurley is the #1. In other words, faith is first and reason is second. But don’t forget what faith is about. Faith is about other people. They’re what make life worth living, the relationships you form with them. It’s about having faith in other people, faith that they’re good. Then, they will also believe they’re good and use the reason to figure out the how and why. It is what I call “humanistic faith” or “Hurleyism.”

There you have it. The meaning of LOST: Humanistic Faith. Hurleyism. “I believe in you, dude.” It’s why the focus was on the characters, not the mythology. We’re all born into a world with a complex mythology that sets the context for us, but the odds of us learning everything about it are almost nonexistent. To reveal all of the mythology would have violated the life metaphor of the show and blurred the point: “I believe in you, dude.”


The term “humanistic faith” is an oxymoron as well as the ideas it identifies, that reason should be secondary to faith, that people are what make life worth living. Holding such an ideas, living your life by them, actually produces a contrary goal to the one that Lindelof and Cuse portray it as reaching in LOST. To best understand the contradiction, we should look at the character of Sayid and how his mantra “I’m not that person anymore” demonstrates a negative view of self that inhibits him from properly understanding “good” even though he is making moral decisions most of the time.

What Sayid is good at is being a soldier. He understands the best methods to make someone talk and the best methods to protect people. In a way, he is LOST’s version of Jack Bauer. When he finds himself in difficult situations, he relies upon those abilities to find a way out of them. Take his story in Whatever-atory for instance. Though he doesn’t want to hurt Keamy and company, the best way for him to protect Nadia and his brother is to use his training as a soldier. He doesn’t go anywhere with the intent of harming anyone, but when he decides the situation has reached a point when he needs to, he uses his skills. Likewise, when the Oceanic Six end up in Dharma times, he decided he should shoot Harry Potter. He did, but then punished himself for it afterward. He made himself feel guilty for nothing but trusting the judgment of his own mind.

What defines humanity is our ability to reason. No other creature has the capacity for rational thought, to understand the world. It is how we make decisions. It is how we know what is important. As Desmond and Hurley both said, reasoning is something only you can do for yourself. Only you can decide who you are and why you’re here. If you don’t believe in yourself, it doesn’t matter how many people tell you that you’re good and believe in you. Let’s look at it a little more complexly.

Since we are rational creatures, what is moral is living by the judgment of your own mind, but then, what is good? The point of life is to live. Therefore, good is anything that promotes life or promotes your best possible life. Your best possible life is a life that reflects your values. Your values are, of course, derived by your mind. Thus, a good decision is one that promotes your life and values and a moral decision is one that is made by the judgment of your own mind. Notice how a bad decision can be a moral one. Go back to the case of Sayid shooting Harry Potter. It was probably a bad decision, as it didn’t really accomplish much, but it was a moral one, as Sayid thought it was the best course of action. However, because it failed, Sayid felt guilty over it. What he forgot, though, is he is not omnipotent. We often make bad decisions because we don’t understand the complete context. You should endeavor to gather all the information you can, but sometimes you just don’t know everything. Still, the only way to pursue a good life, a life based upon what you value, is to trust the judgment of your own mind, yourself, above all.

What does all of this explanation have to do with Hurleyism? This conception of “humanistic faith” is built upon the idea that the ultimate value in life is other people. You need other people. You need them to believe in you. You need them to make your life memorable. The problem this presents is that it directly contradicts the notion of pursuing the judgment of your own mind. If what is most important is other people, then their values are more important than yours, as the quickest way to making someone like you and believe in you is to promote their values instead of their own.

Other people and relationships definitely present a very important value in life. However, those relationships must be based upon values that are decided upon independently. If a person in a relationship lacks a true sense of self, the relationship will ultimately fail. The Sawyer and Juliet relationship is a perfect example. She considered herself to be “the other woman” so much that she allowed Kate’s return to end her relationship with Sawyer…and her life. It didn’t matter how much Sawyer told Juliet that it was her, that he believed in her and loved her; she believed it was Kate. End of story. (It's interesting to me that the writers wrote this event into the story, but don't seem to understand its relevance to their overall philosophy.)

The problem with Sayid is not that he has no one that believes in him. Nadia is a perfect example of someone that always believed in him. The problem with Sayid is that he has a negative self-image. He makes the best decisions he can, but then feels guilty for making them. Why? Because he believes he is a bad person and can’t let it go. Here is where we find the internal contradiction of humanistic faith.

Faith is concept that has nothing to do with thought. Sayid thinks about his decisions, but believes he is a bad person. He has that division inside of him, and it causes his internal strife. Faith is based on nothing. It is trust for the sake of trusting. In contrast, humanism is a philosophy that is focused on humans. What defines humans? As I already stated, it is the capacity for rational thought. By making faith #1 and reason #2, you are subjugating reason to something that is anti-reason. It is no coincidence that Hurley, a character that couldn’t spell bodies in the first season, is the figurehead of this new definition of faith. Is that really who you want to model your life after?

This critique doesn’t mean LOST isn’t an amazing show. In fact, I think it’s the best television show ever. However, I disagree with their final philosophical point (though agree with many of their points along the way). Mostly, I appreciate their sense of life and think they understand people on a complex level, which would make sense if they truly believe other people are what make life worth living. Me? I’m just really glad Sawyer, Miles, and Frank survived until the end. I only wish we had found out who Miles girlfriend in Whatever-atory was. What’s my guess? Someone he met after he got off the island.


There you have it, the final Midside about LOST, the completion of six years worth of work. Some of you have been here since the beginning. Some of you have joined me more recently. Some of you called me crazy to Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse. Some of you know me as a stoner Ayn Rand fan (I’ve never done a drug or drank alcohol in my life, btw). All of you took the time to read something I wrote. I appreciate it, hope you enjoyed it, and ask that you only do one thing as you go on to live your life:

Think about it.

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