Monday, March 29, 2010

The Midside: LOST S6E09 Ab Aeterno

It’s strange, when something you’ve been looking forward to for so long happens. When it’s happening, it’s all a bit surreal. Am I really watching a Richard Alpert episode? Is this really his backstory? When it’s over, there’s a strange mix of awe and remorse. That really just happened. I’m never going to experience that for the first time ever again. On one hand, you’re happy it happened. On the other, a little bit of hope has died. You can no longer look forward to something you’ve looked forward to for a long time.

I’ve anticipated the Alpert adventure since S3, specifically after “The Man Behind the Curtain” when I became convinced that Richard was the man behind the curtain. And I was right, essentially. True, he was acting on behalf of Jacob, but my claim and that fact are the basic contradiction of Richard’s existence. While Jacob gives him the basic guidelines he must live by, he makes decisions in the moment of his own mind (because he necessarily has to). In other words, Richard Alpert is a secondhander. What does that term mean? I’ll explain further below.

The other vein of this episode was a critique of Christianity. From the doctor’s denial of medicine to the MiB and Jacob dichotomy, the writers subtly took on the Christian conception of religion. Since they’re continually trying to confuse us on their definitions of good and evil, it’s tough to say what their perspective on Christianity is in the episode, but the theme and symbolism are undeniable, and I ultimately believe that the episode was intended as a criticism (keeping in line with many themes of the series, most notably the John Locke arc).

Since religion seeks to answer the big questions of life (and the methods in which it does so is it’s ultimate failing), a story such as this one necessarily has an effect on our understanding of the big questions of LOST. I’ll try to sort out how to formulate these questions now, and perhaps answer them. Most importantly, I’ll explain how Jacob still isn’t necessarily the good guy.

Bare with me as we journey deep into the bowels of Richard’s flashback, from his cabin (hmm) to jail to the Black Rock to the island. I may stray into my least favorite type of column for a bit, a recap column. If I do, it’s out of a desire to hit every detail, not bore you with a rehash of what you’ve already seen.


It’s the return of the flashback section and the Duncan McLeod namesake really is pertinent. The opening scene to the Richard Alpert back story could have been an episode of Highlander as he returned to his cabin (symbolism for Jacob?) to his sick, curly-haired wife and vowed to save her. Of course, he couldn’t, and thus began his troubled life of immortality. Seriously, the director must have watched a lot of Highlander in order to create those opening scenes. Everything was the same, right down to the subtitle telling the location and date and Alpert’s beard that made him resemble Duncan. It was eerie.

Alpert’s character is best understood through the lens of two quotes. The first is what he said in present day right before the LOST logo. The second is what the doctor said to him when he tried to buy medicine for Isabella. The former quote describes Alpert in general. The latter describes his journey specific to his flashback (and perhaps the definition of good and evil on the show). Similar to “Flashes Before Your Eyes” and “Meet Kevin Johnson,” the majority of the episode was the back story, framed by the present day story in order to give us the proper understanding of Alpert’s actions. Thus, we can’t understand the ending scene with Hurley until we understand the past. But, due to the framing device, we also can’t understand the past until we discuss the key line. Illana, following Jacob’s command, asks Alpert what to do next. In his suicidal Highlander syndrome, he lashes out:
“So I'm not interested in what Jacob said. In fact, maybe it's time we stopped listening to him and we started listening to someone else. And that's exactly what I'm gonna do.”
What this quote demonstrates is Richard Alpert’s flaw: Second handedness, which essentially means living your life based upon other people rather than yourself. A bit more complexly, it means you derive your values and standards from other people and you make your decisions based upon other people. Look at what Alpert said. He was going to stop listening to one person and do what? Listen to another person. Why, at this point, wouldn’t you decide to trust yourself? Generally, the reason is that you don’t believe yourself worthy of trust. This point is never explained with Alpert, but we do see him putting himself on a lower level than those he lives by.

The first person (and current) he lives by is Isabella. As she lies on her death bed, he vows to do anything and give everything, quite literally, to save her. He doesn’t say so, but you get the sense that his life would be meaningless without her. He derives meaning from her, so much so that when the doctor denies him medicine, he goes into a rage, accidentally killing the man. Later he claims he didn’t murder him. While technically correct, under the United States judicial system he’d probably be charged with unintentional manslaughter and sent to prison. Not that I’m a lawyer or anything.

The scene with the doctor is extremely interesting for a couple of reasons. First, it is a typical storytelling convention to have the poor man show up and beg the rich man for goods and the rich man is thus demonized for not being charitable and giving the poor man the goods. The scene certainly began that way, as the doctor sent his assistant for blankets, not for the wet Alpert, but for the wet floor. (By the way, the going to get blankets in a scene with a shocking death was a nice call back to Libby’s death in “Two For The Road.”) However, as the scene progressed, at least to me, the doctor began to look better, and Richard began to look worse, leading up to the deserved guilt for the unnecessary violent action.

The second reason the scene is interesting involves the main symbol of the episode: The cross given to Richard by his wife. The symbol is confusing, as it can be interpreted three different ways, all of which I believe are valid. The first is as a symbol of Richard’s second handedness. In his toughest moments, he turns to it, not himself, for strength. The second is as a symbol of Christian faith in the flashback story specifically (where it represents faith in Jacob as God). The third is as a symbol of good and God in the episode as a whole (where it represents faith in the MiB as God.). The second purpose is most relevant here, as the doctor looks over the cross and throws it on the floor, calling it worthless.

The critique of Christianity begins here, as this line means much more than the cross not having enough monetary value to pay for medicine. A man of science, the doctor, is discarding a symbol of faith, the cross, and declaring it worthless. Could the writers make a more obvious statement against faith? One of the major dichotomies of the show is at center stage and one of the sides is given major preference over the other. The symbolism must be taken seriously.

This theme continues in the next scene as Richard begs the priest for forgiveness, and the priest denies him, telling him he can’t be forgiven because he doesn’t have enough time to earn it. Except, isn’t God supposed to forgive all those who except him in their hearts? Yes, this interpretation of Christianity is very Catholic, but, even so, as Richard is on the eve of his execution, he is showing penance. Essentially, the priest has denied him one of the seven sacraments, the anointing of the sick or the last rites, a chance to be forgiven one last time.

In contrast to the man of science, the man of faith is telling Richard he is inherently guilty, introducing the idea of original sin into the story. When Richard comes to the island (the world of LOST), when his life on the island begins (and I have always argued that life on the island is a metaphor for life on earth), he is inherently bad, as he is still guilty of the sin of killing a man. It is also interesting to consider that both the doctor and the priest are dressed in varying degrees of black and white, where the doctor is whiter and the doctor is blacker. The man of faith looks very bad here, especially as he sells Alpert into slavery; so much for loving all of mankind equally. It’s a truly cynical portrayal (yet probably historically accurate) of religion that continues as the episode goes on.

The ended mythological section of this episode then begins. I’ll get to the Jacob/MiB, Good/Evil stuff in the LOSTology section, but for now I’ll focus on what’s important to Richard. He’s sold into slavery on the Black Rock. The Black Rock crashes on the island. Everyone dies except Richard, who is spared by the MiB. An apparition of Isabella appears. I’m forced to wonder why guys on this show feel the need to yell the name of the women they love. The MiB talks to Richard.

That conversation is where the Christian conception of the devil kicks into over drive. The MiB descends into the bowels of the Black Rock (down, which is where hell is supposed to be). There, Richard is chained up, essentially being tortured, unable to eat or drink or free himself. It’s a position he has reached because of his sin, unintentional manslaughter. The MiB then tells him he is in hell, which could be considered a lie, but could also be considered a metaphoric truth. I just explained how this is hell for Richard; could it also be hell for the MiB? He is trapped on the island. Then, as the devil does, the MiB strikes a deal with his charge in hell and releases him from his chains.

The metaphor deepens still, as the now free Richard is “tempted” by the MiB, who uses all the argument techniques Christianity teaches us the devil will use. He emphasizes Richard’s personal desire, asking him if he ever wants to see his wife again. He tells Richard that in order to see Isabella again, Richard will have to kill Jacob or, if considered metaphorically, he has to deny God’s benevolence and omnipotence by insolently rebelling against him. The MiB gives Richard the same speech about Jacob that Dogen gave Sayid about The MiB, further confusing us as to who is bad and who is good (in the long term).

Richard, intent on killing Jacob, treks across the island and is met by the fists of his savior on the island. Jacob plunges him into the ocean, demanding that he express his desire to live; it is Richard’s baptism and a metaphor for born again Christianity all in one. Accepting God into your heart is supposed to be your acknowledgement of truly wanting to live because the only way you can do so is through God. Then, Jacob presents his argument, and his rhetoric is strikingly similar to the Christian conception of God. He brings people to the island to prove they can be good and “when they get here, their pasts don’t matter.” In other words, if coming to the island is being born into a life of Jacob, as he brings you to the island and looks over you when you’re there, then what you’ve done before the island is your original sin, most obviously symbolized by Richard’s unintentional killing of the doctor. And just like God, when you come to the island, when you’re born into his life, the original sin doesn’t matter (your past doesn’t matter), because he forgives you.

The duo converse until Richard makes the point that if Jacob doesn’t step into people’s lives on the island, the MiB will. Jacob looks like Richard said something he hadn’t thought of, and then asks Richard for the one thing God always asks for. Rather than encouraging him to follow his own selfish desire, Jacob asks Richard to do Jacob’s work on the island for him, to give his life selflessly for the agenda of Jacob, which is supposed to improve life on the island for everyone.

Richard accepts Jacob into his heart and is thus rewarded the only way Jacob can reward him, the major promise you’re given for accepting the Christian way of belief: Eternal life. Richard asks for his wife back. Jacob can’t do that. Richard asks to be absolved of his sins. Jacob also can’t do that. (Which is an interesting little trick of Christianity no one really talks about; it’s not that God erases your sins, it’s that he’s so generous, he loves you anyway. Basically, you still suck, but God doesn’t care, because he’s the only one that doesn’t suck.) But eternal life, that Jacob can do. So he touches Richard and sends him back into the jungle after the MiB.

The flashback story is completed as the symbol of the cross returns, and so does our second interpretation of it. Having found his faith in God (Jacob), his cross is returned to him (by MiB). He buries it in honor of his wife, because he’s accepted her death the only way it is possible for man to: By accepting the pain and suffering inherent in life and giving his life over to a higher purpose. Richard can now work toward his penance. He’s acknowledged he’s a sinner, and that his life is pain, and through Jacob he can overcome.

Except, as we know in the present, all Richard wants to do is die, because if life is suffering, and Jacob means nothing, then what is the point in living? Here’s another dirty little secret of Christianity: That first sentence is the basic logic of most Christians. Actually, it’s the basic logic of most religious people. Religion is an easy answer to the search for meaning in life. And Richard’s S6 plot is about what happens when you lose that faith, when that meaning is lost. What did happen? Richard essentially became a suicide bomber.

Thanks to Ghost Whisperer Hurley (can we trade him for Jennifer Love Hewitt?), Richard was able to finally come to real terms with Isabella’s death as she told him, “My love. We are already together.” If you know your wife loved you, and she dies, she doesn’t stop being with you. She was never disloyal. She always loved you. True, you can never interact with her, but you will always have the memories and knowledge of the truth of her and your relationship with her. Except, it isn’t quite that simple for Richard.

Richard dug up the cross and began yelling for the MiB, saying he changed his mind. Our third interpretation of the cross starts here. Looking at this scene without the confusion of the flashback, it seems to be the portrayal of a man repenting, asking God to take him back after the mistake he made, because the MiB told him that if he ever changed his mind, the MiB would still be there (a very God-like statement). Except, something interesting happened here, which will lead will into the LOSTology section.

In one final twist, Isabella told Richard what he had to do next: Kill the MiB. This command raises a couple important questions: How did Isabella know about the MiB? Where did the command come from? It also reminds us of what the MiB told Sawyer in recon: It’s kill or be killed.


Based upon Isabella’s life, how she never knew about the island, there is only one possible way she could know about the MiB to tell Richard, as Hurley said, “She said you have to stop the Man in Black. You have to stop him from leaving the island. Because if you don't, todos los vamos al infierno.” We already know whose agenda it is to stop the MiB from leaving the island. We also know he’s dead and in ghost form. It makes sense that ghosts would be able to talk to each other or, at the very least, Jacob could talk to Hurley who could talk to Isabella. Either way, the point remains the same, Jacob had to have told Isabella what was going on and what to tell Richard. (The other option is that Isabella has been watching Richard since she died, which is possible, but there is even less evidence for that, especially considering how/where she died.)

Let’s return to Isabella’s statement for a moment, which will return us to Jacob’s explanation of the island. She told Richard, “You have to stop him from leaving the island. Because if you don't, todos los vamos al infierno.” From the perspective of Jacob, this statement is completely true. The pair of the MiB and Jacob represent diametrically opposed viewpoints that became more fleshed out in this episode. The MiB wants to make deals with you, trading with you as an equal, encouraging you to acknowledge and pursue your own desires, or to think selfishly. Jacob wants you to live for his plan, to trust him, to do as he says, accepting his argument about what the island is means accepting his command as to how to protect it. Even with Jack, who he wants to find his own way, Jacob isn’t letting Jack “figure it out” for the sake of Jack, he is letting Jack do so for the sake of “protecting the island.” In other words, Jacob wants you to live selflessly, as best demonstrated by Richard as I explained above. Except, Jacob’s perspective is even worse than that.

Considering that Isabella could have only known about the MiB from Jacob and that Jacob told Illana that Richard would know what to do next, the ending of the episode confirms what the MiB claimed to Sawyer: For him, it’s kill or be killed. In Jacob’s worldview, the MiB cannot exist. There is no choice. There is no selfishness. There is no unprotected island. You either follow Jacob’s command selflessly and protect the island, or you are an enemy. This truth, of course, in turn makes Jacob the MiB’s enemy, because if someone is trying to stop you from even existing, then you have a right to protect yourself from them.

Now we understand why Jacob and the MiB are enemies, and the key line is what the MiB told Richard: “You aren't the only one who's lost something, my friend. The devil betrayed me. He took my body, my humanity.” The body part raises some interesting questions (Is Jacob’s body the MiB’s original body?), but the key part is Jacob taking the MiB’s humanity. By trapping him on the island and telling him what he can and can’t do, Jacob is inhibiting the MiB’s humanity, as what makes us human is our ability to choose freely with our minds--free will and reason.

Yes, the obvious following statement is that Jacob has done the same to all the people he has brought to the island. By choosing the path of their lives, he has taken their humanity from them. I point back to the “deal” between Richard and Jacob. In order to have eternal life, Richard had to give up his humanity, he had to live for and by Jacob’s word. Applying this idea to Jacob’s touching of certain characters and the parallel universe is even more interesting.

As I asserted last week, the parallel universe is the world in which Jacob didn’t affect the lives of the characters. However, based upon this week, it is also the universe where the MiB is freed from the island (because the island is sunk). Therefore, based upon Jacob’s description of the island, the parallel universe must necessarily be the worse of the two universes. Except, at this point, it isn't. Based upon the original timeline, Jacob would have already touched Kate, Locke, Jack, Sawyer, Sun, and Jin at the times we saw (will see) into their parallel lives.

Left to their own humanity, as Jacob did not control their lives, each of these characters seemingly improved their lives. Having not been made to feel guilty about stealing the lunchbox because Jacob never reprimanded her for it, Kate did not believe herself to be bad, declaring to Claire that she was innocent of her crime, and not running away when Claire needed help. Having not been made to feel sorrow for what happened to him because Jacob never expressed his condolences over it, Locke accepted his condition and found a job and woman he was suited for. Having never held onto the idea that he needed “a little push” from his father because Jacob never told him that, Jack was able to be open and honest with his son, establishing a good relationship with his son David. Having never held onto the sense of injustice writing the letter reminded him of because Jacob never gave him a pen to finish it, Sawyer was able to become a cop and eventually open up to his partner Miles. The only problem with my pointing all of these changes out is, they’re from a selfish perspective, which is opposed to what Jacob believes.

I am considering each character from his perspective and asking myself what would be best for his life. This viewpoint is selfish, as I am not asking about humanity as a whole (an indefinable concept, really), but each individual person. In contrast, Jacob’s view is for “the greater good” (the name of a S2 Sayid episode, hmm). The response would that viewpoint would be: It doesn’t matter if each of their lives is better. It matters if everyone’s lives are better throughout the world (a utilitarian, numbers-based argument; the greater the number of better off people, the greater the morality in the world).

The interesting thing to see is where the writers will go from here. Will they go in the obvious and easy direction and make the parallel universe end up sucking? Will they go in a difficult decision narratively and have the parallel universe end up as the only remaining universe, seemingly cheating us? Will they leave the ending ambiguous, making us decide on our own which side we agree with? Personally, I think they will leave the ending ambiguous, as to not piss any specific group of viewers off, but there will be only one valid interpretation of the series material. (Hence their statement that there will be a short term reaction and a long term reaction. The short term reaction will be acceptance. The long term reaction will be understanding.)

What is the only valid interpretation? I have to return to John Locke’s faith in the island, in Jacob, and harp on the fact that it lead to his death. Seeing as how the MiB is no longer synonymous with the island and Jacob is so very obviously selfless about the island, we can now reconsider S5. I do not believe the S5 long con was orchestrated by the MiB to kill Jacob, but was orchestrated by Jacob to bait the MiB into killing him as a small part of an overall series long con to keep the MiB trapped on the island. Consider how Jacob let Ben kill him. Now think about Jacob’s question to Ben, “What about you?” It’s not about you, Ben, at least according to Jacob. Jacob thinks your selfishness is what caused you to kill him. (Even though it was your selflessness in ignoring developing your own ego that lead you to killing him). In fact, Jacob’s death is a logical outcome of his own belief system: Like Jesus, he selflessly gave his life for the betterment of mankind as a whole. He gave his life as part of a series long con to keep the MiB trapped on the island.

An epic ending to LOST would be to have the MiB trapped in the form of Locke stuck with Jack as the new Jacob with us realizing the giant con that was played on the MiB just as he does. However, I don’t think this ending will happen, as it would be too definitive a statement as to which side is right and which side is wrong. I do, however, think we will see some sort of similar ending. Locke walks down to the beach and says to Jack who is roasting a fish: You have no idea how badly I want to kill you right now. LOST.


Next week will be a big episode as to much of what I theorized. Jacob touched Jin and Sun, telling them how important their marriage was. In the parallel universe, Sun was called Ms. Paik. Are they not married in that universe? Did Sun not run at the airport and leave Jin in the original universe because Jacob touched her? If they aren’t married in the parallel universe, will their lives be better? We shall see.

In other news, 24 has been officially canceled and is ending the day after LOST, May 24th. It’s going to be a rough two days for me, but it’s really cool that 24 is ending on the 24th…which makes me think:

LOST is ending on May 23rd. Who is candidate #23? Jack Shephard. It’s too perfect, and if you don’t agree, I only ask that you do one thing:

Think about it.

Monday, March 22, 2010

The Midside: S6E08 Recon

It’s hard for me to declare this episode the best of the season so far. It’s certainly my favorite, but I am going to need some distance from it before I move it to the top of the list. However, I can safely say it’s of comparable quality to the episodes that are already the best of the bunch: The Substitute and Dr. Linus (which sounds like a teaching team). What gives me pause about this episode is who wrote it, Elizabeth Sarnoff.

Sarnoff has always been my least favorite writer on the staff. I’d describe her as surfacey. Yes, that word is made up (I think it’s a Whedonism, actually), but I chose it because I didn’t want to use “shallow.” I wouldn’t call her shallow. This episode certainly had plenty of depth to it, which I’m sure she understood. I’m just not sure how much of it was her idea and how much of it was from the themes already set up in LOST from the first season onward (the first season writing staff truly was insanely talented) and the brainstorming session in the writers’ room for this episode. Maybe the better metaphor for her then is “paint-by-the-numbers.” When given the skeleton, or the outline, she does admirably at writing compelling scenes and a flowing narrative, but her composition lacks creativity. The easiest place to see my critique is her dialogue, especially when it comes to Sawyer. Mainly, she just has him being sarcastic, sans all of his S1 (and somewhat S2) wit. Seriously, go back and re-watch S1. The contrast is stark.

Regardless, the episode, as I noted, was packed with information. We learned a lot about Sawyer and the MiB. Kate’s character took an important turn. Motivations were revealed and guilt was alleviated (or earned). Most importantly, as always, Sawyer was at the brains of the themes and philosophy of the show. So do we finally have our answer then? Is it “live together, die alone” or “everyman for himself”? These are the right questions, but the answer is, of course, not that simple.

I believe I understand why Sawyer has been absent the last two episodes (and perhaps was lacking a centric episode in S4). I believe I have evidence for my rational self interest theory for Sawyer (and LOST). To address these ideas, we have to consider two important themes of this particular episode. First, Sawyer O and Sawyer P compare to each other in a unique and interesting way (and there will be graphs to show it). Second, “live together or die alone” is a false dichotomy, and this episode subtly demonstrates so.

Essentially, this episode boiled Sawyer’s story for the series down to three characters: himself, Miles, and Kate. Who is the most important? The answer may surprise you. (Ok, so it’s him, but who is the second most important might surprise you.)


The way the flashsideways have been structured so far has been very intricate, very intentional, and very philosophical. What do I mean by philosophical? Philosophy is all about specificity of thought. You define ideas by boiling them down to their essential elements. To figure out what thing A is, you learn all its qualities and then figure out what qualities are unique to thing A in comparison to all other similar things. Through this process, you find the differences that compose the definition of thing A. It is an intense method that requires many permutations. Many permutations like, say, episodes of a television series focusing on a new character each time.

The first time I began to notice something strange with the flashsideways was the Sayid episode. There was no difference between Sayid O and Sayid P. (For a more in-depth discussion of those “two,” check out my column for Sundown.) Basically, Sayid was stuck at the same point in both universes, saying “I’m not that guy anymore,” yet resorting to his military training to solve issues. The key phrase in that explanation is “stuck at the same point.” What has to be considered is each character’s arc or journey. In every story, a character travels from one place to another. I don’t mean physically, but metaphysically, or personally. Commonly, this idea is considered as a person growing, changing, maturing, or whatever word you understand it by that you’d like to add to this list. The flashsideways timeline has given has a giant “what if” in that we ask ourselves, “What if the events in the character(s) life had been differently? Would they have then progressed on their arc differently?” The answer, as we saw with Sayid, is not always yes.

An arc though, does include a point A and a point B. There is a place a character starts and a place a character ends. This linear travel is where the idea of a happy ending or a tragedy comes from. In a “happy ending,” the character properly reaches point B. In a tragedy, the character never reaches point B (or actually makes negative progress towards it). Sayid is the latter type of character, in both the original and the flashsideways timeline. It is my contention that all of the other characters exist on a unique point on that spectrum, as illustrated in the following graph that was created, conceptualized, and composed by my cohort Daniel T. Richards.

What’s most interesting to note about the graph is that out of all the characters, Sawyer is the only one at an equal positive point in both timelines. Both Sawyer O and Sawyer P have reached the same conclusions and are working towards the same goals. Because of the brevity of the Sawyer P story we’ve seen so far, it would actually be possible to argue that Sawyer O is further ahead in his progression (another first). However, due to Sawyer O’s “setback” and depression due to Juliet, I don’t believe the case is as strong as the one I am about to make.

The stories of Sawyer O and Sawyer P in this episode focused on the same themes and question, lies and loyalty, will he (be a) con (man) again? Hence the title, Recon. Likewise, while Sawyer O went out on a recon mission to Hydra Island for the MiB (which we later found out was actually a recon mission for himself), Sawyer P went on a recon mission to Australia which boiled over to telephone recon for himself.

Each Sawyer began in the only place he could: alone. Sawyer O emerged from a tent, meaning he stayed behind from the Temple mission freeing him from any guilt of being associated with the MiB, went to the fire, and uttered his catchphrase, “Son of a bitch.” Later, talking to Kate after she arrived with the MiB, he asserted his solitude:

Kate: "So you're with Locke now?"
Sawyer: "I ain't with anybody, Kate."

In the original universe, the original Sawyer returned. In the flashsideways universe, he looked to have returned as well as Sawyer P seemed to be running the same con we saw twice in S1, first in Confidence Man, then again in Outlaws. Except this time, the woman was wiser to it than Cassidy and pulled a gun on him. Here, Sawyer P explicated where he was at, which could likely be his catchphrase, “I don’t need saving.” With just that one line, Sawyer P simply seems to be asserting his independence. It’s important to consider this quote in its entirety however:

"I don't need saving...because you're gonna do the right thing and put that gun down. But if you don't, well then all I gotta do is say the magic word and that door busts open."

Here, three beliefs of Sawyer P, and I would argue Sawyer O, are revealed. The first is self reliance. He says he doesn’t need saving and pauses. The pause asserts that the statement must be taken on its own. He doesn’t need saving because he can take care of himself. The second is a belief in justice and the moral ability to man. Shooting someone is wrong, and he trusts that people will do the right thing when given the chance. Here is a major departure from Sawyer O from most of the series, which I’ll turn to in a moment. Before that discussion, the third belief is in the role of government. The other reason he doesn’t need saving is because, if other men don’t act in a just manner, he is protected by others, namely the police force. In this specific instance, it is because he works for the police force, but the metaphor still holds, as the police are supposed to protect all citizens equally. Sawyer P simply gets more immediate attention because of his job.

The second belief revolves around an important tension of Sawyer’s character that I’ve discussed: the belief in justice in the universe and the goodness of man. Upon the death of Juliet, we saw Sawyer O sink into a very dark place, fearing the universe was cold and lonely and blaming Jack’s ineptitude for his loss. But we all know (including Sawyer) that Jack isn’t a good sample to judge humanity on. This episode featured Sawyer acknowledging that truth and climbing out of the hole. How did he do so? We must consider the Sawyer P plot in order to understand. More specifically, we need to turn his date with Charlotte P, the hottest ginger ever.

The date was arranged by Miles P. Charlotte P is a friend of his father’s, working at a museum with him. And if you think that’s not going to come back, you’re a fool. Presumably, Miles P’s father is PF Chang P. They probably know Charlotte P from the island. Regardless, Miles said two important things. First, after Sawyer doesn’t really want to go on the date, Miles asks him, “What is your deal, Jim? Do you want to die alone?” It would seem as if Miles is bringing back the live together or die alone dichotomy, but the point is much more subtle than that, demonstrated by the duo’s next exchange:

Miles P: "You know you can tell me the truth, about anything. Are you lying to me, man?"
Sawyer P: "Why the hell would I lie?"

Why would Sawyer P lie? To answer that question, we first have to consider what lying means. Lying is the privileging of someone else’s view of reality over your own. You allow them to believe information you know to be false in order to preserve their view. In this specific case, Sawyer P wasn’t telling Miles P about Anthony Cooper and his parents being conned and murdered because he wanted to preserve Miles’ view of him. As a cop and Miles’ partner, he was seen as just and honest. By pursuing a con man with the intent to murder him, he might have proven to be vindictive, blood thirsty, and unjust. By being abandoned by his parents, he might have been proven to be unworthy of loyalty and devotion (which he needs from his partner). What all of this explanation means is that Sawyer P lied because he didn’t like himself. He believed himself to be inherently bad (just as Sawyer O did at the beginning of the series).

After Miles P declared he was no longer partners with Sawyer P, Sawyer looked into a mirror and punched it. Not only was this his “mirror moment” (as my buddy Doc D pointed out that each character has one in his flashsideways), but it actively demonstrates his self loathing. It is this self hatred that stops him from trusting anyone. You can’t believe everyone else is capable of good if you don’t first believe you are good. Why not? You are your first, most immediate, and largest sample of humanity. You are going to extrapolate outwards from yourself. No matter how much evidence is presented to the contrary, if it doesn’t hold true for you, you wouldn’t believe it of others. And there’s nothing wrong with thinking in that manner. It’s the nature of humanity. But you need to believe you’re good. And Charlotte P was the one who showed Sawyer P how to do so.

After some obvious flirting (though I’m not sure how well the Indiana Jones stuff would work on an actual archeologist), Charlotte P demonstrated her intelligence and worth by challenging Sawyer P. She didn’t buy his comparison of himself to Bullitt (but she might have if she IMDBed the movie on her iPhone and read the plot like you should be doing right now). Instead, she demanded one thing, “Ok, James, do me a favor and don't treat me like all the other girls that ask you. Tell me the truth.” She wanted to know his real view of reality, because that’s how you really connect with someone. You see, the Steve McQueen line is one that allows Sawyer P to easily play off of the cultural preconceptions of being a cop, to let people their assumptions of him based on his job are correct. His response to Charlotte P’s demand was much more revealing.

Sawyer P explained that he got to a point where he was either going to become a criminal or a cop and chose cop. This choice refers back to the first scene of the flashsideways, Sawyer P’s sense of justice. He obviously believed more in justice than Sawyer O did, as he chose cop and Sawyer O chose criminal. What was the difference? In the flashsideways universe, we have to assume that Jacob never enabled Sawyer P’s writing of that letter, as he didn’t have it (if he did, they would have shown it). Writing and subsequently holding onto the letter in the original universe only reminded Sawyer O over and over and over again about the grave injustice that was done to him. It jaded his sample, himself, of humanity in the universe. Essentially, Sawyer P had a better starting point than Sawyer O. While both have self esteem issues, Sawyer P believed in the goodness of the universe, whereas Sawyer O, thanks to Jacob, didn’t. That’s why Sawyer O took Juliet’s death so hard. She was his evidence to the contrary. Sawyer P’s “relationship” with Charlotte P was intended to parallel this struggle.

After she discovered his secret, Sawyer P threw Charlotte P out (in a scene that resembled his throwing out of Kate in Eggtown). He still felt the need to lie to her, not tell her about his past, because he still believed she wouldn’t like him for it. Then, in a very intentional parallel, realizing his mistake, he brought the same sunflower to Charlotte P that he brought to Juliet in the original timeline. And he did it for the same reason. He asked Juliet to stay on the island because he didn’t want to be alone. He went back to Charlotte P because he didn’t want to be alone. To act on that desire first means you have to believe you’re worth not being alone. It represents a growth in character. Though he’d learned, Sawyer P still got a door in his face for his troubles, as Charlotte P reminded him of his flaw, “Look I don't know if you're just lonely or guilty or completely mad, but, you know what, I don't care. You blew it.” He’s all three of those things, in both universes.

Except, in both universes, Sawyer overcame these flaws by expanding his relationship with another character. In the flashsideways, Sawyer P had a discussion with Miles P (and then ran into Kate P). In the original universe, Sawyer O had a discussion with Kate O (and brought up Miles O). While many people are probably swooning over the apparent rekindling of the Sawyer and Kate romance in both universes (seemingly ending the hopes of Jack and Kate), my contention is that the friendship between Sawyer and Miles is much more important.

In the final scene of the episode, a strong parallel was drawn to the S1 scene near the end of Born to Run where Sawyer and Kate said goodbye by the fire as the raft prepared to launch. Sawyer told her there was nothing on the island worth staying for. She told him to be safe. In contrast, this time, as Sawyer tries to get off the island, he wants to bring her with him. It not only represents growth within the episode and the season (all the themes I’ve discussed so far in this column), but it represents growth over the entire series, as it’s a complete 180 from the Born to Run scene (on Sawyer’s part). It’s also important to mention, in an earlier scene, Sawyer asked Kate about people getting out of the Temple and specifically asked about Miles, not in a list with other people such as Jack and Hurley, proving his concern for him over everyone else. Sure, the Sawyer and Kate stuff was nice, but it has never been as consistent and normal as the Sawyer and Miles friendship.

To understand Sawyer and Miles’ relationship, you only have to consider two things. First, they are the two most similar characters on the island, even more so than Sawyer and Kate. If there were no Sawyer, Miles would certainly fill his role and often does in regards to humor, sarcasm, and boiling things down to their most important elements. Second, we have to consider the final scene of the flashsideways between Sawyer P and Miles P. Specifically, what is important is the following exchange:

Miles P: "Why didn't you tell me any of this?"
Sawyer P: 'I knew you'd try to talk me out of it."
Miles P: "Damn right."
Sawyer P: "Fair enough."

Sawyer’s “fair enough” seems like more than a mere acknowledgement of Miles’ point of view. It seems like an acceptance of his argument. Furthermore, Sawyer’s admittance that he knew Miles would try to “talk him out of it” demonstrates that he already knew about the immorality of his actions. By lying to his friend, Sawyer allowed his evasion of reality to continue. By finally opening up to Miles, he had to move on. There was no other choice. Why is it so important that he’s opening up to Miles? Couldn’t it be just anyone? We’ve seen him open up to several characters throughout the series (Kate, Hurley, Juliet) and none of them have had the same effect because they don’t have the same sense of life and share the same values as Sawyer. Both Sawyer and Miles have a strong sense of reality, a strong sense of justice, and a strong sense of the nature of humanity. By seeing these things in another person, by seeing themselves in another person, they can’t deny their beliefs and values or they’re denying themselves.

Here we return to my overarching theory about Sawyer’s story and my mini-theory about why he has been absent for the past couple of episodes (and perhaps had no centric episode in S4). As demonstrated by the chart at the beginning of this section, and explained since, Sawyer is the furthest along in his journey and most represents the themes and philosophy of LOST in general. His absence is out of necessity. His revelations are the greater reveals of the show. Notice how his flashsideway occurred about halfway through the season. Notice how, though we were led to believe he would be evil by being recruited by the MiB, he has been the most good and actualized person. But wait, how is Sawyer good? Didn’t he lie to both the MiB and Widmore and pursue his own agenda?

Sawyer is good in a Randian sense, or, as I’ve argued many times before, from the perspective of Objectivism, as he best pursued his rational self interest given the circumstances presented to him. I’m disappointed that The Fountainhead wasn’t one of the three books on Sawyer P’s dresser, but that lack of an explicit reference doesn’t take away from the themes of the episode. As always, Sawyer’s story was about the goodness of the nature of man and the supposed loneliness that living a life of rational self interest brings. A common critique of that view point, is that people who believe the arguments of Objectivism or behave like Howard Roark in The Fountainhead (the character that Damon Lindelof compared Sawyer to) will lead lonely solitary lives.. However, this episode continued LOST’s refutation of that critique.

For those of you who have read Atlas Shrugged, the Sawyer and Miles bond closely parallels the Hank Rearden and Francisco D’Anconia relationship. For those of you that haven’t read it, the basic idea is feeling an intense loneliness, a desire for a kinship you believe is impossible, because you’ve never met anyone who shares your values and life experiences, and then finding him. Thus, as we saw from Miles P’s saying so to Sawyer P in this episode (and many characters have said to Sawyer throughout the series), your loneliness is so apparent that others begin to tell you that you must make the choice of acquiescing to the community or dying alone (live together, die alone). Notice how Sawyer’s arc over the first five seasons addressed this point directly, and it wasn’t until that he made choices for himself that he began to “live together.”

The major change in Sawyer was when he jumped from the helicopter. From that point on, he began to live in line with reality, to live honestly. What I mean by live honestly is not necessarily tell the truth, but to be honest about his motives, with himself and with those people he most cares about. This episode was all about that tension. In the flashsideways, Miles P told Sawyer P not to lie. In the original timeline, Sawyer seemed to be lying, back to his “every man for himself” agenda, lying to Widmore and the MiB. Except, as Sawyer P came clean to Miles P, we learned that Sawyer O was pursuing his own valid and good agenda as he shared that information with some he cares deeply for, Kate. Here, the subtly of not choosing “live together, die alone” or “every man for himself” becomes clearer.

Just as Ayn Rand herself distances herself from the latter mantra through the character of Peter Keating, Sawyer distances himself from it by being honest with himself and his friends. However, he doesn’t indulge in the former mantra either, as he decides what he wants and how he’s going about doing it by himself and himself only. In other words, he is acting in his rational self interest. It’s even possible to argue that the writers are trying to take back the phrase “every man for himself” as Rand tried to take back the word selfish.

Ultimately, that is what LOST has been about so far: finding YOUR way. Throughout the series, we’ve had a bunch of characters defining themselves externally and have only taken positive steps when they looked inward. And that standard is what we’ll judge Kate and the MiB on in the next two sections.


Kate has finally seemed to find what she has been looking for: forgiveness. In her conversation with the MiB (which began at the bamboo trees where she kissed Sawyer in Confidence Man) he forgave her for taking and raising Aaron. He did so by repeating her reasoning back to her, about Claire being gone and crazy, giving it external validity. Likewise, she was further soothed by Claire’s apparent forgiveness when they hugged near the end of the episode. While this is progress, the need for external validity is still Kate’s problem.

The difference between identifying with someone and seeking external validity is one of values and differentiation. When you have values, you can differentiate between people, understanding that certain people have more, well, value than others, and thus their opinions carry more weight. Your values are internal. Thus, when someone with similar values agrees with you or validates your opinion, it is a reflection of you. In the case of Kate, who is seeking external validity, you just want to hear positive things from anywhere. It does not matter what it’s based on (demonstrated in the case of the MiB, as Kate definitely has no ideas what his values are) as long as it’s positive. Kate is looking for such validation because she feels a lot of guilt over what she’s done, sees herself as such a bad person, that she wants someone else to tell her she’s innocent so she can believe it. Remember, she did what she did because she thought it was right. The problem was that the person she thought shared values with her, her mother, disagreed with her and told her she was guilty. (Another theme of LOST is that all of the self hatred goes back to family issues.) Interestingly, in Kate’s flashsideways, when Claire P asked her what she did, Kate P replied “Would you believe me if I told you I was innocent?” It was almost as if she thought she was innocent. Thus, we understand Kate’s placement on the chart. She is a lot more ok with herself and her choices in the flashsideways than she is in the original universe


One of the most disconcerting things about the MiB is that he has always seemed so sure of himself and his choices when everyone else called him evil. How could someone so evil seemed to think he’s so good? Throw in the facts that he never bother to explain why he isn’t evil and that he kills people and it’s understandable why someone looking at only a surface level would consider him evil and/or the villain. However, he has proven to be a much more complex character, and this episode demonstrated how even more so. He has an agenda he’s pursuing, getting off the island, and he believes whole heartedly in. We finally found out why in his conversation with Sawyer:

MiB: "I gave them the opportunity to leave peacefully, and they didn't take it."
Sawyer: "Why not?"
MiB: "Because they're convinced they're protecting the island from me when in fact all I wanna do is leave. So it's either kill or be killed, and I don't wanna be killed."

Essentially, he sees it as a war, where a choice not only has to be made, but is necessarily made. By staying at the Temple, the people there chose Jacob and choosing Jacob meant believing they were protecting the island from the MiB. Here again he claims all he wants to do is leave. This apparent dichotomy presents an interesting scenario.

The MiB is saying you either want to leave the island or protect it, but protecting it has nothing to do with him leaving. However, what if the scenario is, if the MiB stays on the island, the island is safe, if he leave, it’s not. Thus, Jacob and his people are protecting the island by keeping the MiB on it. (His requirement to stay would be part of the Jacob/MiB rules). However, the counter point to this scenario is the MiB’s earlier claim that it’s just a island and doesn’t need protecting.

Additionally, once again in this episode, the MiB proved that he doesn’t lie. He certainly doesn’t always tell the whole truth, but he never gives false information. He had the following exchange with Cindy at the beginning of the episode:

Cindy: "We want to know what happened to the people that stayed behind at the Temple."
MiB: "The Black Smoke killed them."

The answer is technically not a lie, and we later saw him reveal to Sawyer that he is the smoke-thing, once again adhering to the truth. Likewise, the MiB has always taken on a caretaker role. Look at his relationship with Claire. Also look at what he said to Zack and Emma, “Hey, I know what happened back there was really scary, but it's over. You're with me and I promise that I'm going to take care of you.” What does it all mean? It’s more evidence that he’s the good guy.

Although, perhaps the most interesting thing the MiB said was to Kate. While explaining his personal issues to her he said that he had "Problems that could have been avoided had things been different." Was this line simply the writers nodding to the parallel universe or did it mean more? In the flashsideways, a lot of the characters seem to be avoiding a lot of problems because things are different (notably they didn’t interact with Jacob). Also, the only way the MiB can seem to keep all of his promises (most notably Sayid and Nadia) is if the parallel universe because the true universe. This line seems to be a major hint, of what exactly though, I’m not sure.


I’ve given you a lot to chew on, per usual, and hope you consider it. This column was particularly long because Sawyer truly is my favorite character, so I know, and care, the most about his story. I also apologize for not getting this edition to you until Monday. I put it on the backburner to make time for Florida and travel back from there. I think the depth of information here more than makes up for the time delay though. If you don’t, I only ask that you do one thing:

Think about it.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

The Midside: LOST S6E07 Dr. Linus

Here I am. Saturday night, 8 PM, Florida, Spring Break, sitting at a random kitchen table writing a LOST column. Doesn’t seem much different than normal, does it? You’re right, and do you know why? There’s nothing I can think of that I’d rather be doing right now. I guess I could go to a bar or find some random people to hang out with, but I’d doubt it’d be as much fun as I’m having right now. I’m writing a LOST column. I’m drinking a Cherry Coke. College basketball conference tournaments are on in the background.

Why am I opening with this story? I have two reasons. First, I want to make a philosophical point. Do what you’d most like to be doing in your everyday life. Don’t let prescribed days of celebration or enjoyment be the only time you live life in the way you want. What’s the point of living if you’re not, well, living? (The question is rhetorical. The point is that there is none.) Second, I want you to understand that you’re getting my best effort. I’m not saying you don’t usually get it, but I feel like emphasizing it right now.

This week, my best effort consists of writing this column based on my memory of the episode. I did rewatch it, but that event was a couple days ago. Since then, I’ve driven ten hours, slept in my car, spent an hour in an airport, spent a day at the beach, talked to lots of randos, and slept on the floor (definitely not in that order). The good news is, I get to move to the couch tonight. The bad news is, I don’t have a downloaded copy of the episode on my computer to open whenever I need an exact quote or want to recall a precise moment. Thus, I will be going off of my own mind. (Yes, I understand I could use LOSTpedia or another such recap, but those write ups are filtered through other people’s minds and I trust myself more than them.)

The following assertion is more than safe: This episode was the best of the season so far. It recalled S1 in tone, content, and style. Like most of the episodes this season, the story followed only a few characters and mainly focused on the incredibly personal journey of two. I love how when such an epic battle is supposed to be going on, the writers are able to use such a limited scope. On one hand, S4 and S5’s larger nature makes them feel more important (because we’re told what happens to more people/everyone else is important). On the other hand, we learn more and experience more of what life is like (because life is lived on an individual level). More than any other centric this season, Ben’s story was truly about him and no one else; and you know what? For all 44 minutes, I didn’t care about anyone else (well, except for Richard…and the inexplicable absence of Sawyer).


Ben’s character has become symbolized by one decision: His allowing Keamy to kill Alex rather than giving up his own freedom. Before we delve into the moral discussion of the episode, I’d like to make a relevant point that sort of makes the whole discussion moot (not mute, moot--pet peeve). Ben is not morally responsible for Alex’s death. A person cannot be held accountable for someone else’s action. Keamy made the decision to kill Alex. The guilt is solely his. His attempted coercion of Ben was nothing but a rhetorical tactic, an attempt to pre-guilt Ben for something Ben should have no guilt for. We know, though, that Ben has had guilt for it ever since, as the MiB used Alex’s form to manipulate him in S5’s "Dead is Dead." This episode took on a similar tone.

While the Ben P story revolved around another decision of whether to sacrifice Alex or not, the Ben O story revolved around guilt he really does have: Guilt over his decision to kill Jacob. On a very basic level, Ben’s character seems to be about a key, loaded word in our culture: Selfishness. Ben does “evil” things because he is selfish. Think of the two actions I’ve discussed so far in this column.

First, he allowed Alex to die so he could be free. In other words, he chose himself over another person--his adopted daughter. Second, he killed Jacob because he felt that he had been neglected by the man (if Jacob is indeed a man) without any concern for Jacob’s involvement with anyone else’s life. In other words, he chose himself over everyone else. You can apply this sort of analysis to every other action we’ve seen Ben O take throughout the series. For instance, take the way he treated Juliet. He wanted her, so he acted like a psychopath, essentially stalking her (not that stalking is hard on the island) and sending the man she was sleeping with to be killed by Ana Lucia (not that he thought Goodwin would be killed, but he knew it was an extremely dangerous mission). In other words, he considered himself over the supposed object of his affection, Juliet. Likewise, consider his most horrific act: The purge of Dharma and the extremely personal murder of his father. Once again, he chose what he wanted over everyone else, quite literally. Hell, he didn’t even consider his father---HIS FATHER. Even Luke Skywalker felt bad about his father’s death in Return of the Jedi. Man, Ben must be one selfish jerk, right?

WRONG (says Kevin Spacey in Superman Returns)!

It is my contention that Ben O’s actions demonstrate extreme selflessness rather than selfishness. First, we must consider what he always claims to be working for: “The island.” (Note: It is interesting to ask yourself here why Widmore, Ben’s nemesis, wants to return to the island.) In other words, Ben O never claimed to be making decisions based upon himself; he claimed to be making them based on the island. As the show developed, we learned that he was actually making decisions based upon what Jacob told him (which he learned through what Richard told him). This fact changes the way we look at Ben’s murder of Jacob. As I noted in my column for "The Incident," Jacob’s last words were a question to Ben: “What about you?” By asking it, Jacob was pointing out that Ben’s decision to kill Jacob was entirely based upon Jacob and not Ben…huh?

What all this convoluted mumbo jumbo means is: Ben defined himself through external things: Jacob, the island, and Uncle Rico (the guy the guy who played his father played in Napoleon Dynamite). Ben went from taking self-esteem from one father figure to the other: Uncle Rico to the island to Jacob. Ben O was never Ben O; he was the dude who did stuff cause of these other things. He ran away and met Richard in the jungle because Uncle Rico was a depressed drunk douchebag (awesome alliteration FTW). He then started doing things to protect the island. Later, he started to do things based on the island.

What does all of this Ben O stuff have to do with Ben P? Ben P faced a similar decision that similarly seemed to be based upon selfishness vs. selflessness. However, if properly understood, the situation once again turns these ideas on their head. Initially, the definition seems to be pretty clear. Does Ben choose himself, pursuing power, or Alex, allowing her to have a wonderful recommendation written for her by the principal. However, the complexity of this situation is revealed through a couple important details.

Ben P’s value for children (somewhat ironic considering he was obsessed with the fertility issues on the island) was apparent through two elements. First, he expressed such a value to the principal. The principal claimed that History Club was about Ben. Ben retorted that it was about the kids. Second, Ben actually acted on that value, giving extra educational attention to his best.student.ever, Alex. Thus, the conflict of the episode seemed to be whether Ben would choose to pick himself over the children. However, it actually wasn’t that conflict at all.

In actuality, Ben P was deciding the best way to help kids have the best education. What he ultimately decided was that a utilitarian ethic does not work. You can’t help kids become educated by sacrificing the education of one--in this case, Alex. The only reason we believe this decision was about Ben P’s self-esteem is because of our preconceived notion of Ben O, a man with no self-esteem who sought to gain it by taking power positions and thus having others see him as powerful. What is our evidence that Ben P is indeed different from Ben O? The only logical option is what I haven’t mentioned yet--the scene between Ben P and Uncle Rico P.

While Ben P was still taking care of his father, the roles in the relationship seemed to be different: Uncle Rico P was at the mercy of Ben P rather than Ben O being at the mercy of Uncle Rico O. Uncle Rico P showed concern and sympathy for his son. Ben P showed trust in his father, opening up to him. Here we did see Ben P still looking for self-esteem to a certain extent, expressing that his PhD doesn’t even get him respect. The end of the scene is, then, extremely important. Alex rings the doorbell asking for Ben P’s help, and he has a bit of a moment of clarity. He is important, and it’s because he is good at what he does and his values are strong.

Yes, Ben P is still stuck in high school, clearly evidenced by the fact that he is friends with Dr. Arzt P when we all know Dr. Arzt O was obsessed with high school himself, droning on about things like the A Team (and not the Mr. T version). However, he is different from Ben O in that he never talked about doing things because of other people. Sure he did things for people, but doing things for people is an action you choose. This tension is the real difference between selflessness and selfishness.

In selflessness, you do things because of other people/things. In selfishness, you do things because of yourself. In either, you can do things for other people, but what is important is your basis for doing those things. This distinction also gives us a new light in which to look at Ben O. After baring his soul, Illyana asks him why he is going with the MiB. Ben replies, “Because he is the only one who will have me.” Illyana replies that she will, and he follows her.

Ben O is still making decisions based on other people. He didn’t figure where he wanted to go; he went where he was accepted. What is interesting is that he did end up choosing Jacob’s group over the MiB. However, I would put forward that this choice is similar to Jack’s. Both are looking for self-definition, but rather than pursuing it, they are putting their trust in someone who will give it to them: Jacob. (I’ll return to this idea in the LOSTology section.)

In summation, I quote my co-blogger at CulturEsponse: “If Ben Linus ends up on the ‘good guy’ side, I'm writing an angry letter to Lindelof.” I concur and will tweet at him incessantly until he admits his and Cuse’s error. Ben O’s purge of Dharma for completely ridiculous reasons is inexcusable. However, his apparent siding with Jacob is strong evidence for my inversion idea. At the very least, it means the writers have a similar understanding of morality as me, and that I may simply disagree with them on their end conclusion, as all my favorite characters will be on the “bad” side. Ben O being a good guy is inconceivable, even if he did say, “We’re the good guys, Michael.”


Besides Miles being awesome and totally owning Ben multiple times, this episode really only featured development for two other characters: Richard and Jack. With Richard, we finally learned what his real personality is like. With Jack, we continued to watch his downward spiral.

Richard Alpert kind-of-predictably has Highlander syndrome. As I pointed out to my group that I watch with, his character in this episode specifically reminded me of Connor McLeod’s plot in Highlander Endgame. I know the movie was unpopular among fans of the franchise, but I liked it, damn it. Basically, Connor is so sick of living, since he is immortal and lives forever (or until his head is cut off), that he removes himself from the game by being placed in a chemically induced “sanctuary.” When that safety is destroyed, he then (spoiler alert) gives his life to Duncan. Richard pulled the same whiny crap, but took it a bit farther, actually complaining about a similar thing both Ben and Jack did. “Whaaa, my whole life is meaningless because some external force didn’t make it meaningful.”

Of course, Jack then swooped in and tried to prove their lives were meaningful because Jacob “stopped” a stick of dynamite from blowing up. Am I the only one that caught onto Jack’s twisted logic here? Richard told him that people who Jacob touched couldn’t kill themselves (as evidence by Michael in "Meet Kevin Johnson"). Jack, then, in an attempt to prove he and Richard had a greater purpose, lit the fuse for the dynamite and waited for it not to explode. For me, there was no tension. The dynamite couldn’t blow up because Jack was touched by Jacob. If it blew up, Jack would have killed himself. Thus, all that was proved was that Jacob touched Jack. Instead, Jack thinks he now has some higher purpose. Has anyone ever changed their belief system so much and still been a total tool? There’s like two scenes in the entire series where Jack is kind of badass. Every other time he’s an idiot.

Also, this is why I hate Jacob. He uses this mysterious thing to manipulate people by pretending to be a God or something. Oh look, perfect transition FTW.


I’d like to point out another important distinction between Jacob and the MiB. I may have pointed it out before, but I don’t think so, so bare with me if I did. Jacob makes promises. The MiB makes deal.

Jacob promises people happiness and self worth. He then disappears and does nothing to fulfill his promise. This action is how he pretends to be a god. It would be easy to argue here that he is actually allowing people to be self-reliant, which is consistent with my philosophy explicated in these columns. However, this argument fails for the same reason faith fails, as I pointed out in my column for "The Substitute." Jacob does not present reasons and decisions to people. He presents commands and/or limitations/abilities (see: Touching). Then, he expects people to accept these commands and limitations/abilities without questioning them or him. People never say Jacob presented a good argument or Jacob asked them to do it. They say Jacob told them to do it. God is considered exactly the same way. You don’t question God. God has reasons beyond our understanding. Look at how Jacob treated Hurley. Exactly.

In contrast, the MiB offers deals. He told Claire he would get Aaron back. He told Sayid he would get Nadia back. He told Ben that Ben could run the island. He told Sawyer that Sawyer could leave the island. In exchange, they have to help him. See, he’s making deals, like a businessman (and a businessman is returning to the island, hmm). Plus, he sticks around. He talks to people. He does things. Most importantly, he explains himself. Remember that scene with Richard. “Oh, Jacob only tells Jackie Chan about candidates. Yeah, that makes sense to me.” Doesn’t make sense to me either, MiB.

Which one of those two people sounds good and which sounds bad? I’m just sayin', it’s the first one.


In conclusion: Widmore (is awesome). I’m just sayin'.

Think about it.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

(The Problem with) Sunday Morning Pensive

I don't know if you're like me, but when I'm pensive, the emphasis is not really on the "thoughtful," it's on the "wistful." I don't really think. I reflect in an awkward way, re-imagining past events as having different outcomes and picturing how myself and my life would be different.

I suppose I actually am thinking. This method is practiced in my head. I suppose the point is that I'm thinking poorly. I don't utilize logic and these scenarios are necessarily outside the realm of reality as they didn't happen. It's my evasion, and I need to figure out how to stop it.

To a certain extent, it probably, mostly, has to do with the way I grew up. I wouldn't call it a necessary evasion (evasion is never necessary as it is always harmful), but I would call it a coping mechanism. The only subject I'm ever like this about is social situations. For a long time, I found it safer, easier, and more rewarding to conceptualize permutations in my head than experience actual instances. In high school, when I wasn't too bad with this, the permutations were fleeting, as work and sports dominated my mind. In undergrad, when I was the worst with this, the permutations were intricate, as I had far too much free time and focused far too little on school work. Grad school featured a return to my fleeting nature. I was focused on the two tasks of earning my degree and learning how to teach. I simply didn't have the mental capacity to worry about more than those things.

Then I graduated and found myself with the luxury and resources, for the first time in my life, to address this issue. Days like this are far less frequent now, but they still happen, especially on Sunday mornings, and that's far too frequent for me. I think the only remedy is a higher dose of reality.

(Btw, the No Doubt song isn't really relevant beyond the title, but whenever I think of Sunday mornings, I always think of it, and I won't pass up an opportunity to promote Tragic-Kingdom-era No Doubt.)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Midside: S6E06 Sundown

"For every man there is a scale. On one side of the scale there is good, on the other side evil.” -- Dogen
The difficulty of this episode has made it hard for me to begin this column. For the first time in the history of the show, LOST gave us exactly what we expected. The MiB maneuvered his way into the temple, killed everyone, and left with more followers. Sayid and Claire, the infected duo, aided his conquest. Dogen and Lennon, the followers of Jacob, declared him evil incarnate (although I wonder how someone who doesn’t exactly seem to be a person or in-the-flesh can be “incarnate”). It was a paint-by-the-numbers episode that made many of us, at least in my circle, feeling empty at first. It was like we had been had. After all the quality of the show so far, LOST had degenerated into a typical TV show where everything was simple and could be taken at face value.

Except this thought is a conceptual error. LOST has never been that way, so there is little reason to believe it suddenly became that way except cynicism (that the good must necessarily become bad) or fear (that even though you believe there is good in the world there is really only bad). Thus we’ve reached the reason I began with Dogen’s quote above. While at first glance this episode appears to be a simple portrayal of evil running rampant on an island, it is actually much more complex.

Evil may have been running rampant. Whether the MiB is evil or not is the reoccurring theme in the LOSTology section, which I now expect to stay there all season and beyond the end of the series. (Yes, I expect that tension to be the unanswered question of the series.) However, the motivations of such evil (as I will be referring to it in this edition) where nowhere near as simple as we consider them to be on a daily basis. We say Hitler was evil. We say Stalin was evil. We say Jack the Ripper was evil. We say Ted Bundy was evil. I could continue this list for pages. What’s more important than these names is how we describe them: Violent monsters. There seems to be little other consideration into the phenomenon.

I am no expert on evil, philosophical or otherwise. I have done little reading on the subject. All I know is this: "Sundown" focused on the character that has always walked the thinnest line between good and evil on this show (besides Ben Linus, who, not-so-coincidentally has his episode next week). Since the beginning, Sayid Jarrah has been an interesting combination of many dualities, science and faith, violence and pacifism. He has struggled in both action and psychology. The writers have clearly built him up for the purpose of this episode. Ignoring psychopaths (House did a good job of portraying them in an episode this season), considering Sayid can help us learn about the source and reasons for evil.

You know a show is doing well when it can take on such issues. I’m still not sure where this episode stands in a list, of this season or all time, but I suspect my and others’ appreciation for it will go up as we see the rest of the series and time passes. For now, let’s try to appreciate it as much as we can.


Sayid’s flashsideways seemed to be disappointing because they deviated from the others we have seen in a major way: Sayid P was no different from Sayid O except that his job was translating for an oil company. Except, the writers so obviously making the two Sayids the same allows us to go back and consider the What Kate Does more intricately. Was "Sundown" supposed to be the first episode where a character was the same in his flashsideways as he is on the island or was that Kate’s episode? I’m more inclined to believe the former, but that also means the Kate episode was probably a failure, in either acting or writing, and I’m very reluctant to declare any LOST episode a failure (except "Stranger in a Strange Land"). Regardless, that discussion could take up a column of its own. Let’s move to the subject of this column.

In his flashsideway, Sayid was dealing with the same two things he always deals with: His past as a soldier and his desire for Nadia. (Notice how his on-island plot dealt with the same two issues.) Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there’s just nothing else for the writers to dig up for this character. I don’t think believe so, though. The flashsideways plot was setup too intricately as Sayid went from: Good, conflicted, evil. At least, that’s how we’re led to believe those events are classified. Still, the three major moments in the story are there.

First, Sayid arrives in Los Angeles at Nadia’s doorstep. Finally it seems as if he’s found Nadia, the happy ending that has been set up for him since Claire asked if his name was Sayid and gave him the letter he thought he had, well, lost. Quickly though, we realize that things aren’t happy, as one of the kids that ran over, and could have been part of their happy family, calls him Uncle Sayid. Not long after, Sayid’s brother walks into the room and everything begins to unravel. The brother takes a shady phone call. The kids find a picture of Nadia in Sayid’s bag. This tale isn’t the journey of self discovery Locke P or Jack P took. It’s going somewhere dark. Still, Sayid seems happy. He seems good. There are no hints of the violent man we’re used to.

Then the turn begins. Sayid’s brother ends up in the hospital due to the loan he took out that wasn’t from the bank (because I always go to place other than the bank for loans, it’s a good idea). Nadia realizes what’s going on and discusses it with the man she loves, who isn’t the man she married. Realizing where Sayid is going as he’s about to storm out of the hospital, she begs him to just pick up the kids. Surprisingly, he does. Except, his inner turmoil is best summed up in an earlier conversation with his brother. As he is told about the loan and asked for protection by his brother, Sayid says he’s not that man anymore. How many times have we heard that statement? Many. And almost every time we have it has been a precursor to him being that man again.

Likewise, the third act of the flashsideways featured Sayid coming face-to-face with the man his brother took the loan from: Martin Keamy. Keamy, one of the most violent characters of all in LOST. Keamy, who Sayid had one of his most epic fights with. This fight wasn’t epic though. As naturally as always, Sayid dispensed Keamy’s two henchmen and then Keamy himself. And then he found Jin. OK, so he doesn’t always find Jin, but he does seem to kill people easily. Look how easy it was for him to kill Dogen and Lennon on-island. What’s interesting here, though, is what preceded Sayid’s turn in both the flashsideways and on-island story.

What tips the scale of good and evil inside of a person? This episode so very clearly seems to say it’s a choice. First, consider the flashsideways arch I just explicated. Through the majority of the episode, Sayid chose not to be “that man.” Finally, he gave in and became him. True, he was in a tough situation, but Keamy did say the debt was forgiven. Shooting the henchmen could have been an act of self-defense, but Keamy’s murder is much harder to justify. Likewise, throughout the on-island plot, Sayid seemed to choose to be good--even seemed to understand he was choosing to be good. Then, he killed Dogen and Lennon and believed himself so evil that even Ben was afraid of him. The key quote here is the last question Dogen ever asked and Sayid’s answer:
Dogen: "It's sundown. Will you choose to stay or go?"
Sayid: "I'd like to stay."
At that moment, Sayid finally gave into the inner battle he has been fighting the entire series and became evil. He chose to be evil. It’s why the exchange between him and Ben went as follows:
Ben: "Sayid, come on. I know a way out of here. There's still time."
Sayid: "Not for me."
Except, I’d like to point to a scene in the flashsideways and argue that the writers are actually making an even more intricate claim about the source of evil. Yes, evil is a choice, but the motivations behind that choice are also important.

Sitting at the kitchen table, Sayid and Nadia discussed their relationship. Nadia, in an admirable and ballsy move, flat out asked Sayid why he pushed her to be with his brother. He responded, “For the last 12 years I've been trying to wash my hands of all the horrible things I've done. I can't be with you, because I don't deserve you."

In other words, what motivated Sayid to believe he was evil was guilt--guilt over the actions he committed as a soldier. We’ve seen him deal with those issues many times on-island, in the flashbacks, the flashforwards, and now the flashsideways. Ultimately, that guilt pushed him towards the choice of siding with someone who was described to him as evil incarnate. I’ve seen this manifestation of guilt many times in my life. People who feel bad about their past continue to sabotage themselves because they don’t believe they deserve happiness. They don’t believe they deserve to be good.

I’d actually like to take this discussion one step further and contrast Sayid’s life with Eko’s death. Ignoring the motivations of the MiB when killing Eko, consider what Eko said before his end. He refused to apologize for the actions in his life because he did what he needed to in order to survive. He felt no guilt over his actions. This discussion helps us understand how a character we know did so many bad things seemed so good. He didn’t feel guilt over this action.

In my experience, the difference between Sayids and Ekos, and the source of their guilt, is one thing: Self-esteem. Eko believed he had a right to do the things he did because he had a right to survive. In contrast, Sayid doesn’t believe he had a right to do the things he did. Unfortunately, in the series, there is little evidence Sayid’s guilt comes from self-esteem, but you have to wonder why a man who constantly claims to have convictions of pacifism violates them over and over again. A man who truly believes he is right, as Eko did, doesn’t waver, even in the harshest of conditions. Here is the other key difference between Eko and Sayid. While Eko loved his brother Yemi, he did not place Yemi’s safety and happiness above his own. In the flashsideways, Sayid P placed the safety and happiness of his brother and Nadia above his own.

That fact makes it interesting to consider what convinced Sayid O to join the MiB: The pursuit of his personal happiness. Sayid O chose to side with the person who could give him what he wanted. It was at that point that he said he couldn’t stay and there was no longer any time for him. Perhaps the real issue with Sayid has never been a dichotomy between violence and pacifism, but pacifism being a front for Sayid’s poor self-image. Rather than be proud of what he is good at, being a soldier, he carried it around like a burden.

And maybe that guilt and low self-esteem is the true source of evil. I mean, really, who wants to destroy the lives of others besides someone who doesn’t value his own?


Consider this discussion with one of the characters who has always been on the fence: Kate. She has always shown self-sabotaging behavior, not only putting herself in situations where she can be kidnapped or harmed, but also running away from situations where she can find happiness. She was married to Nathan Fillion and didn’t think herself good enough. How many sci-fi fan girls who watch LOST instantly started to hate her after that moment? I’m betting it was all three of them.

Now, Kate leaves the Temple and is reluctantly following the MiB. She certainly doesn’t seem to be allied with him, but the same can be said of her often cohort, Sawyer, who was conspicuous by his absence in this episode. It’s also interesting who Kate is trying to associate herself with now: Claire.

The theories that Claire died in S4 are well known and probably widely accepted now as she seems to be infected. Except, what if the infection is different. What if the infection is guilt? Maybe Sayid didn’t become infected when he died, but when he shot Harry Potter. Likewise, Claire became infected when she realized she, well, lost Aaron. It’s interesting that the only really evil action we’ve seen her commit is killing Justin. Even in this episode, when the MiB sent her into the Temple, she didn’t seem that evil, asking if the MiB was going to hurt everyone. That concern doesn’t seem to be very evil.

Then again, the portrayal of Ben has seemed to pull back from his evil nature earlier in the series, and I except that trend to continue next episode when he seems like a normal person in his flashsideways. However, it is at this point that I’d like to remind you of my self-esteem discussion in my column for "The Incident." Perhaps Ben is beginning to find himself, and that journey is the one we’ll witness next week.

Finally, there’s Miles. I have a sneaking suspicion he’s going to be the equivalent of Andrew in S7 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Constantly, we’re going to ask ourselves why he’s around, what purpose he serves, and when he’s going to do something. We’ll come to expect his demise every episode. Somehow, he’ll manage to survive until the end, disappointing and pleasing us at the same time. At least, I see his character that way right now. I hope they do more with him.


This episode actually was a gamechanger in that we now believe the MiB is evil. Before we had our doubts; now he has killed everyone in the Temple and tempted Sayid and Claire into helping him. Likewise, we finally seem to have an explanation for Eko’s death. As I danced around at the end of the first section of this column, the MiB seems to seek out people with guilt (Sawyer, Sayid, Claire) and uses that guilt against them. In the form of Yemi, the MiB wanted Eko to admit his guilt. Eko refused. He was then killed. I can’t think of a better explanation of Eko’s death, as it both explains the MiB’s motivations and maintains the philosophical undertones of the episode and show.

However, I don’t want to buy what the writers are selling hook, line, and sinker. I’d like to point to the message Sayid delivered in order to check ourselves before we wreck ourselves. One line in particular stands out to me:
"He wants you to know that Jacob is dead, and because he is gone, none of you have to stay here any longer. You're free."
The MiB’s agenda is revealed more, and it is beginning to become more than a simple anti-Jacob hatred. He seems to be supporting some sort of freedom from the island, a freedom that Jacob prevented people from having. This idea is actually quite in line with the possibility of Jacob being evil that I previously discussed.

As I’ve previously stated, Jacob is incredibly manipulative. We saw this character trait once again. Jacob sought out Dogen in his weakest moment and bargained with him. He brought his son back to life, as he brought Locke back to life after falling from the building, in exchange for Dogen living on the island with some sort of anti-MiB power. It now likely seems that Dogen somehow blessed the ash. It also now seems that Jacob probably gave Richard Alpert the power of immortality. I’d imagine we’re going to learn more about Jacob’s deals in Alpert’s episode.

Before then, though, I’d like to introduce a new idea. So far, we have been considering Jacob and the MiB as inherently good and inherently evil, as if those traits define their nature. What if some other traits define their nature and being good or evil is a choice, just as it is with everyone else? In other words, maybe they are humans with enhancements that have to do with their relationship with the island (perhaps given to them by that kid the MiB saw). What there powers are is evident.

Jacob has the power to give life. The MiB has the power to take life. Since they have free will, they can use those powers anyway they choose. This idea explains why we would see them as good/evil. It’s very easy to see the life giver as good and the life taker as evil. Except, if we mainly see those powers as tools, then we have a different perception of the characters of Jacob and the MiB all together. Of course, this idea also presents the idea of Jacob and the MiB both being evil because they are using their powers to place themselves on a higher level than everyone. Here is where I return to the idea of Jacob manipulating, or forcing people, into certain outcomes and the MiB offering bargains.


Phew, big breath out. I’m actually pretty proud of myself this week, even if there is no epic quote or moment of the week. I did enjoy Sayid’s fight with Dogen and Miles playing solitaire as a shout-out to the name of Sayid’s first episode, though. And I know I introduced some tenuous and tough ideas here, but that’s why I’m proud. I took an episode that seemed tough and shallow and found out what was lurking beneath the surface. I don’t really care if you agree with me or not. I just want you to do one thing:

Think about it.

(More importantly than LOST, think about your scale and how the decisions you make add weight to either side. Also, are you motivated by guilt? Remember, what’s done is done…)

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Your social life: NOT personal.

For my job, I'm currently working on a project that involves me combing through the economic aspects of Atlas Shrugged. My belief is that the economics of the book (and real life) are consequences of the philosophy the book explicates that allows you to live the best possible life (because, necessarily, if a philosophy maximizes a good life it will maximize economic prosperity). In my research, I found the following quote that illustrates my point.

A man’s work is not a personal matter, it’s a social matter. There’s no such thing as a personal matter—or a personal life. That’s what we’ve got to force them to learn.
During a discussion, a character makes this point in an argument for passing an extremely socialistic law. On its face, it seems to be about work being a public "matter," not a private one, but it's important to work backwards to understood its roots.

Fundamentally, the quote is about who your life belongs to, you or everyone else. When it says that work is social, or public matter, it is saying your life belongs to everyone else

Now take the word social and consider how we typically use it. What types of people are more social? They know more people. They go to parties more. They have a "good time." Their lives are very public (in the circles they run in). Everyone knows what they do and who they do it with it. In other words, their lives, essentially, belong to everyone else.

Now consider that we say that those people are the ones who have personal lives. Except, we can now see the inherent contradiction in that idea. By being "social," as we've come to understand it, their lives are necessarily not personal. A personal life is a life that belongs to only you.

I'm not suggesting that having a social life is bad. Rather, it's important to consider what a true social life is, and where (if) that diverges from your personal life. Think about what I've written here and observe the most "social" people you know. You'll probably discover that they have the least personality of anyone you know (because they generally reflect/emulate the people with whom they are currently being "social.")