Friday, May 21, 2010

100: A JML Combo

An appropriate video for my 100th post, ESPN combines two of my favorite things: The New England Patriots and LOST. Though Tom Brady is not much like Jack, I can let it slide because they also compare Wes Welker to Claire. I almost died of pure glee (not to be confused with the show) when I watched this the first time.

The Midside: LOST S6E16 What They Died For

This episode demonstrated the difficulty of writing in a multilayered format, be it episodes in a television series, chapters in a book, or movies in a trilogy (or a longer series of movies). “Across the Sea” was like a brilliant short story. It’s a self-contained plot driven by a defined metaphysical position. Every element within it is carefully crafted to support that position. However, when you position that story within the framework of an even larger story, it becomes difficult to stay consistent with it, regardless of if you’re trying to blur those clearly defined lines in the bigger picture or not.

Now consider all the episodes that make up a TV series, chapters that make up a book, and movies that make up a trilogy. It’s no surprise that the same critiques that are being levied against LOST were also levied against The Matrix trilogy or The Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. All of these works of fiction had a multitude of layers that, in the climatic moments, came together in a manner that many people understandably found overwhelming and overbearing. “What They Died For” can leave you perplexed for that very reason.

As Cuse and Lindelof execute the game plan for LOST’s two minute drill, there are three layers: Jacob and the MiB’s relationship, a philosophical treatise (?) on reason and faith, and the parallel universe. If each were given air time separately, they would likely be easy to understand. However, since they are all converging, the overlap seems to create a confusing mess of chaos, especially since the lines never seemed clearly defined to us to begin with--since we’re all still waiting to be sucker punched one final time. What I’m going to do is unspool each of these threads to demonstrate how the critique of faith in favor of reason is still in the driver’s seat, but acknowledge the few caveats that still leave room open for a “compromise” between the two sides or, what I could tragically call, a celebration of faith.

The key to this story is Desmond’s goal in the parallel universe. It’s been fairly obvious he would be the solution (“You are in the way of their firing solution.” I’ve been watching too much BSG.). But I’m getting ahead of myself. First, I need to go over the MiB and Jacob’s motivations one more time, as they became clearer still. Then, I can discuss Desmond and the parallel (P) universe what that story has to do with the original (O) universe. Thanks to Ana Lucia, it may having nothing to do with O. (Is that the first time anyone has ever thanked Ana Lucia for anything?). Then I can finally expand on my final section of my “Across the Sea” column when I demonstrate how the original universe is the faith based universe and the parallel universe is the reason based universe.

Now, onto this week’s episode of Glee that’s directed by Joss Whedon and guest starring Neil Patrick Harris.

Wait, I mean…frak it, just put in the first section heading.


The MiB, that evil evil MiB, has only ever wanted one thing, which is, as we learned in “Across the Sea,” to leave the island. Except, what makes him evil is that he kills people and, even worse, wants to, as we learned in this episode, destroy the island to do so. He’s evil! By the way, I keep repeating that he’s evil because I figure that If I repeat it so much, it’ll become true, just like every other argument people use in the LOST community such as “the CB was a smoke monster” and “Jack got to reason through faith.”

I obviously don’t think the MiB is actually evil, though. His goal, in itself, is neither good nor evil. It simply is. Part of the tragedy of his story is that his entire life has been consumed by such a simple goal. The other part of the tragedy is that because he’s internalized the idea that man sucks, he treats men in a Machiavellian way, as means to an ends. He doesn’t believe they deserve the dignity of being treated as individuals, and he believes he’s being forced into treating them in such a way because he sees his brother doing the same thing. He is so dehumanized that he dehumanizes other people. Rather than have an open and honest discussion with Widmore, he immediately threatened Penny. It was the quickest way to reach his end. Does any of this make him good? No, but it also doesn’t make him evil, as he’s just playing the hand he’s been dealt in the best manner he knows how. “He wants to kill people and destroy the island, though! That’s evil!”

The MiB’s two purported methods to reach the end of leaving the island reveal some very interesting things. First, I’ve never thought he wanted to kill people, and the way he treated Widmore and Zoe proves it. Why did he kill Zoe? She was pointless. Since she couldn’t speak, and thus think or act, she played no role in the game; she couldn’t be used as a means to an end. The way he killed her so nonchalantly also proves that killing doesn’t faze him. (Also, that he needs Ben to kill the candidates proves he can’t kill them, a thought I’ll return to in a moment). Second, that he needs to destroy the island to leave it demonstrates there is some sort of link between the light and his condition. By destroying the island, the light would go out. Putting the light out might be all he means by “destroying the island.” The island may still continue to exist as an island, just without the light. I have to wonder if that, when he destroys the island, he’ll simply continue to exist in Locke’s body no longer with the ability to turn into smoke. In this sense, destroying the island may just be an end around. Rather than kill all the candidates and Jacob, he can just take away all their specialness by destroying the thing that gives them that specialness. It’s, once again, treating people like pieces rather than individuals. It’s trying to end faith by killing God, sort of like how Nietzsche once wrote, “God is dead,” and we know that didn’t work out too well for him.

The irony of this entire tale is that Jacob didn’t want his role in this game either. As he told Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley, he never had a choice in the matter. Thus, he’s always lived his life with two goals in mind: Find his replacement and stop his brother. The tragedy of his story, however, is there may be no need to do either of those things. The only reason he believes they need to be done is because he believes. Jacob can sit there and complain about how he never had a choice all he wants, but having a choice is about being human and being human is about coming to independent conclusions about the information at hand. Jacob has never, never, questioned whether the island needed to be protected or not.

Let’s pretend for a moment he decided the island didn’t need to be protected. Well, then he and the MiB could put out the light and move on with their lives. They’d have all the free will, all the choices, they wanted. Instead, he abides by the accepted premises of the CB, that island must be protected because man sucks, and everyone plays a part in this ridiculous game that most likely ends in their deaths. Even worse, most of this hoopla is because Jacob feels guilty.

Say what you will about Jacob (and believe me, I’ll throw him under the bus), but he did admit that his vengeful act against the MiB for killing the CB was a mistake, which is what he said, they died for:
Jacob: “I brought all of you here because I made a mistake, a mistake I made a very long time ago, and now, because of that, there’s a very good chance that every single one of you and everyone you ever cared about is going to die.”
Sawyer: “What mistake?”
Jacob: “You call him the monster, but I’m responsible for what happened to him. I made him that way, and ever since then, he’s been trying to kill me. It was only a matter of time before he figured out how, and when he did, someone would have to replace me.”
I’m going to side step the commentary on faith and original sin for the moment in order to save it for my next section, but what this explanation by Jacob shows is that, if not for the MiB being the smoke monster, Jacob could have continued to be the protector of the island indefinitely. Note how he told Jack that Jack would have to do the job for as long as he can. This fact means that what makes this story worth telling, what makes it unique, is the MiB as the smoke monster. It’s the reason “Across the Sea” didn’t have to reveal where the CB came from. It’s the ultimate refutation of “the CB is a smoke monster” argument. The MiB as smoke monster is something that’s unique in the history of the island, and his mere existence may support the theory that the island is going to be destroyed. When Jacob says it only ends once, he clearly means the game between himself and the MiB; however, that ending is not a true ending as the cycle of island protector just continues for as long as it can.

Along the lines of Jacob, the MiB, and the CB is that we finally have confirmation that being the protector gives you some sort of abilities, which will surely never be defined, most likely gained from the protector’s unique relationship with the light. Jacob and the MiB were told by the CB that she made it so they can’t hurt each other. While we saw Jacob and his brother punch the crap out of each other, I don’t think she meant it quite in that way. Consider what Jacob says when Jack figures out why Jacob has to die:
Jack: "You want us to kill him. Is that even possible?”
Jacob: “I hope so because he is certainly going to try and kill you.”
All Jacob knows is the rules set forward by the CB because even he doesn’t understand the true nature of the smoke monster. What he does know is there are rules that have to be followed, and he is making an educated guess that the next protector will be able to kill the MiB because he won’t be bound by the CB’s rules. It’s kind of like a game of Circle of Death. When that game is over, whatever rules were made during it don’t transfer over to the next circle. (I can’t believe me, Mr. Straight Edge, just made a reference to a drinking game.) And how does Jacob know the rules are real? Because it was confirmed that he does have special abilities.

As Hurley walked through the jungle, young Jacob ran up to Hurley and demanded his ashes. He took them, turned a corner, and Hurley found Jacob, confirming Jacob’s powers as he turned into his younger self. Why Jacob had to appear as his younger self is a bit beyond me; I guess it’s more rhetorically persuasive, but it does make a scene from earlier this season clear. As the MiB walked through the jungle with Sawyer, young Jacob appeared to him and told him he couldn’t kill him. We know now that young Jacob was Jacob and meant the MiB can’t kill Sawyer. Now we know why the MiB didn’t simply pick people off one by one and, instead, convinced them to leave the island. All he was trying to do was neutralize their candidacy, to make it so there was no one left to choose to protect the island. His choices were to convince them to leave or tricking them into killing themselves or each other. Obviously, he felt the former tactic was the easier.

Oh, and if you still don’t believe the protectors have special powers, consider when Jacob told Jack where the light is:
Jack: “Past the bamboo? There’s nothing out there.”
Jacob: “Yes there is, Jack, and now you’ll be able to get there.”
Apparently, part of the special abilities you receive is to be able to see the light, which explains why the MiB didn’t find it in 30 years of searching. Of course, now that Jack is the protector, this ability also means that, if the MiB wants to put the light out, he’s going to need to force Jack to bring him to it. What are the odds that Jack’s going to agree to that? (Not very good.)

Speaking of special abilities, what’s up with Desmond? In the original universe, the MiB said that Widmore called Desmond his “failsafe.” This term harkens back to Desmond’s turning of the key and releasing the energy, AKA, the light that was trapped by the button pushing. What we learned about that job was that it was ultimately unnecessary. Kelvin told Desmond that by pushing the button he was “saving the world,” but after the failsafe blew the hatch, the world has existed just fine. If the button pushing was foreshadowing of protecting the light, and I truly believe it was, as the situations are so similar, then protecting the light will ultimately be unnecessary and will likely end the same way.

For Desmond, turning the key meant addressing his greatest flaw: His cowardice. He was afraid of ever taking a risk because he didn’t believe it would pay off for him. Well, he turned the failsafe key, and he became the specialist, most neatest person on the island. The rules don’t apply to him. Likewise, he will have to face his fears and go into the light. What will happen to him? I’m not sure, but he seems to be, and the answer is in the parallel universe.

The biggest mystery left for me in this show is Desmond’s goal in the parallel universe. What is he up to? He wanted Locke to “let go,” but what did he want Locke to let go of, his bitterness, his life, the importance of the parallel universe? I’m not sure and that line gives supporters of either theory, that the parallel universe is good or bad, plenty of ammunition, but it’s not all we can look at when analyzing Desmond’s motivations. I also have to ask if Desmond intended to give Ben P a “flash.” On one hand, it could be argued the only reason he was there was to give Ben his flash, so the whole hitting Locke thing again was a ruse, but he didn’t seem actually intent on doing so until Ben demanded he tell him who he is. Then, he punched the crap out of Ben, but it seemed to be out of pure vindictiveness. (Note how Ben had a mirror moment after he had his flash thought.) Likewise, there was a quick key exchange between Hurley P and Desmond:
Hurley P: “She’s not coming with us?”
Desmond P: “No, she’s not ready yet.”
Why is she, Ana Lucia, not ready to receive her flash? More importantly, there’s only one episode left in the series, so when is she going to be ready for her flash? Are the writers going to devote screen time to her next episode? I wouldn’t think so. Therefore, do we have evidence that Desmond believes his mission will continue for a long time to come, which for us would mean beyond the season finale? Are we only being shown him giving flashes to the characters that are series regular in S6 because the story is about them? Of course, the other side of the coin makes me ask if he was lying to Hurley or not. His plan could be over soon, which is why he doesn’t need to give Ana Lucia a flash. Desmond P hasn’t lied yet, though, and the answer could be as simple as he wants to show everyone how to find their happily ever after.

Still, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that all of the threads in the parallel universe seem to be headed towards the museum. Miles P said the following to Sawyer P, “The benefit at my Dad’s museum. The concert I’ve been telling you about all week.” Desmond told Kate he’s bringing her to a concert. David wanted to make sure Jack was going to a concert, which surely means Claire will be there as well. It would also make sense that the other musicians we’ve met, Charlie and Daniel, will be playing. Thus, we can also place Eloise and Widmore at the benefit concert, too. We know PF Chang and Charlotte will be there. Things certainly seem to be heading towards some sort of apocalyptic event. But what about Ben, Locke, Jin, and Sun? What about more minor characters like Boone, Rose, Bernard, and Arzt? I’m sure they can come up with reasons for all of them to be there, and they probably will.

None of this, though, answers the ultimate question of which universe will win out, if any does at all. The only way we can properly address that quandary is to look at the philosophy behind it all, namely that the original universe is the faith universe and the parallel universe is the reason universe.


To take a closer look at the original universe, we must return to the conversation Jacob had with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley. It was Jacob’s version of the conversion speech the CB gave to him. There’s no need to rehash my “Across the Sea” column, but, based on Jacob’s explanation of “what they died for” as I already addressed, they died to protect the island, or, in other words, faith. This concept is certainly not new to the series, so what this conversation did was strengthen the critique of the concept, and, in case you weren’t clear they were going for a God metaphor, Sawyer concretized the metaphor for you, “And I thought that guy had a God complex before.” What was important, though, was Jacob’s disagreement with Kate, Sawyer, and Hurley.

Through Jacob’s responses, the writers demonstrated the way faith uses scare tactics, turns humanity bad, and takes away people’s free will. When Kate asks Jacob what happens if nobody chooses to protect the island, he responds, “Then this ends very badly.” He doesn’t offer any further explanation. This response is little more than a scare tactic and is akin to the heaven/hell or salvation argument for faith. In it, you are presented with an unsupported false dichotomy. You can either choose to give yourself over to God and be saved or live your life in eternal damnation. Likewise, according to Jacob, just like the CB told him, you can either protect the island or the world goes to hell. This dichotomy is of course exacerbated in Jacob’s case because he turned the MiB into the smoke monster, literally concretizing the scare tactic. But that concept is what the MiB as the smoke monster is the ultimate metaphor for.

Returning to Jacob’s explanation as to why he brought them there, we find a subtle explanation as to the effects of faith. Here is the relevant excerpt:
Jacob: “I brought all of you here because I made a mistake, a mistake I made a very long time ago and now, because of that, there’s a very good chance that every single one of you and everyone you ever cared about is going to die.”
Sawyer: “What mistake?”
Jacob: “You call him the monster, but I’m responsible for what happened to him. I made him that way…”
According to Jacob, the mistake was throwing his brother into the light. However, the mistake is actually one step back from that action. It is accepting the premise that men are bad. Because he assumed men are bad, he assumed the MiB killed the CB out of ignoble motives. What we know, though, is that he killed her because she killed all of the others and buried the well he had built. Now, proponents of faith are going to say that her actions were noble because she was protecting the light, but you need to remember her reasoning for why the light must be protected: Because man is bad. Thus, what we learn, is that the premise of man is bad becomes a rationalization to do bad things. In other words, the premise that man is bad makes man bad. In fact, it makes man bad in a way that is much more dangerous than the MiB’s Machiavellian methods. While the MiB realizes he is treating people as mere means to an end, Jacob and the CB do not. They believe they are treating people as they should be treated, and their outlook is ultimately shown in the result of their treatment of the MiB. They turn him into the “monster” and use that as evidence that man is bad. But before he was turned into smoke, what bad did MiB do? Don’t bother trying to figure it out. He didn’t do any. And this strange counter-intuitive truth is why the MiB always gives people a chance to speak and Jacob, unwittingly, denies their free will.

The depth of Jacob’s misguided beliefs is revealed in his response to Sawyer’s critique of his action. As I’ve noted many times over, Sawyer has always represented rational, independent thought in the series, and he didn’t disappoint in this episode. First, he argued against the concept of original sin, though probably unknowingly, by asking, “Tell me something, Jacob? Why do I gotta be punished for your mistake?” Then, he addressed the deeper issue of his humanity being violated:
Sawyer: “What made you think you could mess with my life? I was doing just fine before you dragged my ass to this damn rock.”
Jacob: “No you weren’t. None of you were. I didn’t pluck any of you out of a happy existence. You were all flawed. I chose you because you were like me. You were all alone. You were all looking for something you couldn’t find out there. I chose you because you needed this place as much as it needed you.”
Jacob’s reply is the only answer he can give. He has to take the higher moral ground and claim he knows better than Sawyer. He has to essentially say, “I am the ultimate judge of worth and, thus, have the right to act as I deem appropriate” which, roughly translates to, “I have the power, so I’m better than you. Shut up, bitch.” It’s why, in that moment, I called Jacob a “sanctimonious son of a bitch.” Yeah, I said the Sawyer line this episode. What’s unfortunate is that Sawyer didn’t get to say it because he doesn’t have all the information.

What Sawyer doesn’t know that we do is Jacob’s back story and the nature of the parallel universe. We learned in “Across the Sea” that Jacob ultimately does not think well of himself because the CB seemingly loved the MiB more than him (maybe they bonded over not having a name). The source of his self-dislike can’t be figured out, but if you pick apart his statement, you can actually figure out what he thinks of himself.

He tells the four of them that they are “flawed” and then says they are “like him.” Once again, the premise that man is bad rears its ugly head and we learn, what I believe to be, the root of it: Lack of self-esteem. Jacob won’t forgive himself for his mistake because he believes himself to be flawed (the return of the original sin argument and a parallel to Richard accidentally killing the doctor in "Ab Aeterno"); thus he looks to an external source, protecting the island, to validate his existence and cleanse himself (a parallel Jack and why he returned to the island). The proper response by Sawyer would have been, “Who are you to call me flawed, you sanctimonious son of a bitch?” He could then support his point with the following evidence.

With a quick slight of rhetoric, Jacob glosses over an important detail, and I don’t really know if he’s aware of his doing so. He is responsible for the poor existences he “plucked” all of these people out of. As we saw in “The Incident,” he touched them early in life, just as the CB metaphorically touched him and the MiB as children, setting them down a course that would lead to a poor existence. How do we know his touch did so? In the parallel universe, where the island sunk before he had a chance to touch them, none of them are in the same place they were at the time of the original flight. In fact, they’re all much better off (except for, maybe, Sayid). What’s the idea here? Faith touches you at a very early age, teaching you very dangerous things: You’re flawed and you must look to an external source to be fixed. And it gets more dangerous still.

What’s even scarier is Jacob’s lack of self-awareness. What makes his methods so dangerous is they are exactly the same as Jigsaw in the Saw movies: He takes away your free will and then tells you have it AND is willing to accept some people will die because of him. Look at what he says to Hurley:
Hurley: “So how are you going to pick?”
Jacob: “I’m not going to pick, Hugo. I want you to have the one thing that I was never given: A choice.”
He wants you to have a choice…but he touched you, changing the entire course of your life, and brought you to the island without your consent, just as Jigsaw kidnaps people and puts them in traps to “show them how to live” in the Saw movies, just as government officials limit our choices for our own benefit. Why does Jacob do this? Because he knows better. How does he know better? Because he is protecting the island. Why? Because man is inherently bad. This line of reasoning is a parallel to Jack all the way back in his “Live Together, Die Alone” speech:
Jack: “It's been six days, and we're all still waiting. Waiting for someone to come. But what if they don't? We have to stop waiting. We need to start figuring things out. A woman died this morning just going for a swim. He tried to save her and now you're about to crucify him. We can't do this. Every man for himself is not going to work. It's time to start organizing. We need to figure out how we're going to survive here. Now I found water. Freshwater, up in the valley. I'll take a party up there at first daylight. If you don't want to come then find another way to contribute! Last week most of us were strangers. But we're all here now. And God knows how long we're going to be here. But if we can't live together--we're gonna die alone.”
What both arguments do is treat people as a collective. Everyone is exactly the same, a uniform piece (as I noted earlier that Jacob and the MiB BOTH only treat people as means to an end). Likewise, in Jack’s speech he asserts he’s better (based on no real argument except maybe that he knows where the water is) by simply taking the moral high ground and taking a collectivist definition of success: The group’s survival. Likewise, Jacob is not defining success based on individual lives. He is defining it as the redemption of mankind as a whole. What’s scariest about this pseudo-utilitarian reasoning is what it’ll allow you to accept. Consider Jacob’s response to Kate when she asks if he’s responsible for everyone dying:
Kate: “So you’re the one who wrote our names on the wall?”
Jacob: “I am.”
Kate: “Sun and Jin Kwon and Sayid Jarrah, you wrote their names on the wall?”
Jacob: “Yes”
Kate: “Is that why they’re dead?”
Jacob: "I’m very sorry.”
Jacob has no choice but to accept the truth because there is no way around it. In his view, some people must be sacrificed for the greater good. Similarly, in Jack’s speech he says everyone has to find a way to contribute. In other words, forget what you were interested in doing for yourself while on the island, you have to curtail your will to the group. Our survival as a whole is more important than your survival as an individual. Faith wise, we’ve seen what this idea amounts to throughout the series: Suffering and self-hatred. Governmentally, it manifests in ideas such as communism, socialism, and, lately, libertarian paternalism, just as in the beginning of the series: Jack was running a “commie sharefest in cavetown” and Sawyer “never voted Democrat.” What all these forms of government do is, to some extreme, curtail your choices as an individual by defining success as a group outcome. How communism and socialism do so is obvious. Libertarian paternalism is a bit more complex as it is exactly like Jacob’s “I want to give you a choice” idea. Think of it this way: The government decides what supermarkets can stock, but you are allowed to buy anything supermarkets have in stock. Sure, you have a choice, but your choices are being controlled.

Ultimately, that’s what the original universe is about: Humanity is bad, so the greater good must be protected. The problem is, the path to the greater good is littered with deception, suffering, and violence. The supporters of the methodology will say it’s because man is bad, creating an irrefutable self-fulfilling prophecy of an argument. In other words, they are mistaking something for something else…which smart opponents of faith will point out.

The parallel universe as a reason based universe is best demonstrated by Jack P and Locke P’s conversation in this episode. Finally convinced by Desmond P to let go of his past, Locke P wheels himself into Jack P’s office to ask for the surgery (proving once again that the parallel universe is better). In typical Lockean fashion, John starts to err towards faith, but Jack corrects him:
Locke P: “Maybe this is happening for a reason. Maybe you’re supposed to fix me.”
Jack P: “Mr. Locke, I want to fix you, but I think you’re mistaking coincidence for fate.”
Locke P: “You can call it whatever you want, but here I am…and I think I’m ready to get out of this chair.”
While Jack’s line is a major sign, especially his calm and rational delivery of it, Locke P’s line is little bit of a cause for concern, especially because it will be used as supporters of a compatibilist view of the show. However, Jack P’s line echoes a certain important line from S2. Yes, I used the verb echo on purpose.
Mr. Eko: “Do not mistake coincidence for fate."
And mistake coincidence for fate is exactly what proponents of faith do. They need external meaning, so they order events in their mind. More deeply, they connect them to something of which there is no connection. In LOST, that connection is to the light. At some point, I’m sure we’ll hear someone say “everything on the island happened because of the light. The light is electromagnetism which is the source of the pseudo-scientific stuff that happens.” Well, they’d be wrong. Everything that happened did so because of choices people made, just as Locke P ended in Jack’s office because of the chain of events he described. Locke P gave the meaning to it by thinking “Wow, these events taught me I should try and walk again.” And how did he reach that meaning? He reasoned it out. What it boils down to is: I am giving my life meaning not something else, and that statement boils down to: I can give my life meaning, and that statement boils down to: I am good, and that statement boils down to, you guessed it: Man is good.

What makes the parallel universe even more positive, however, is the idea of “Happily Ever After,” which has become a strong theme since the episode of the same name. This episode was no different. To start the episode, Jack P’s wife was teased again, meaning we will find out her identity (I’m betting Juliet). Later, other pairings were teased. We left Ben and Rousseau on a poignant moment for their quasi-family. Sawyer and Kate seemed to be trying to connect, but couldn’t because of circumstances. And as far as non-heavily-foreshadowed pairings, if Charlie and Daniel are at the concert, they’ll surely find Claire and Charlotte. And who is Miles’ girlfriend? The touchy part about this issue is Desmond P’s goal, as I discussed earlier. If he’s trying to destroy the parallel universe, then this whole “happily ever after” thing was tongue-in-cheek. But why would he be trying to bring people together if his goal was to destroy the parallel universe? We have two other clues.

Appropriately, two Jack P moments hint at the future of the parallel universe, though I am admittedly unsure of what they mean. The episode opened with his eye opening, just as the “Pilot.” Then, he looked in the mirror again and saw the same cut from “LA X.” The writers are bringing us back to the beginning. Why? Are they hinting at a circle? Are they hinting at the parallel universe being a new beginning for the characters? I don’t know, but we’ll find out soon. The more important question was raised by Locke P. Reason, faith, it’s an either or dichotomy used to define the series of casual events that make up the universe, and you have to ask yourself:

What do you call it? (What did they really die for?)

Think about it.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

The Midside: LOST S6E15 Across the Sea

Are you confused, disappointed, angry? Do you feel hurt, belittled, violated? Well, I don’t know what those feelings are all about, but I’m here to help you understand LOST. But first let me make literary references for a few the Ayn Rand fans out there. Crazy Bitch, forever known as such from this point forward, is Ellsworth Toohey, Jacob is Peter Keating, and the Man in Black, tragically known as such from “The Incident” forward, is Gail Wynand. Confused? Good, then you’re right where I, and the writers, want you.

The inversion I’ve been writing about for years now did happen, and the key to understanding this episode is to understand quite simply that Jacob is the bad guy here. I said it in that manner, rather than saying “the Man in Black is the good guy,” for an important reason. I do believe that the Man in Black is the good guy in this episode, and the series, but as far as an actual good guy within the philosophy the writers have explicated, neither character is because they both hold a fundamentally flawed premise which the writers have used to subtly hide the true question of the show.

Like a good magician, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse distracted us in this episode, and the entire show, with sleight of hand. They put a pretty girl in front of us, their assistant, while they moved some boxes around in the background. In the context of this episode, they put a bright light in front of us, while saying some words in the background. In the context of the series, they put a mythology in front of us, while asking the same question in each episode. We missed the trees for the forest. Or, in LOST terms, we missed the people for the island.

We let it happen to ourselves, really. At the end of the “Pilot,” Charlie asked, “Guys, where are we?” and we all followed his lead, right down the rabbit hole to the next logical question: “What is the island?” because we know where they are. They’re on an island. People crashed on it over and over again. There is a bright light in the middle of it. These facts can’t be disputed. However, they also seemingly can’t be interpreted without some higher power telling us whether they’re good or bad. In the case of a story, that power is the writers. In the case of life, that power is “God.” So, we wait. In LOST, we wait for the writers to tell us the value of the island. We interpret the episodes, making educated guesses and defending our opinions. In life, we wait for God to tell us the value of the world. We interpret scriptures, making educated guesses and defending our opinions. By continually doing so, we look in the wrong place.

We ask the wrong question. In life, the question becomes: Why are we here? In LOST, the question becomes: Are we here to protect the light? Both, and the questions that lead to them, can be answered by asking a much more fundamental question, a question that the writers prove they know is fundamental in this episode. In life, the question is: Is humanity good?

In LOST, the question is:
Is humanity LOST?

By answering this question, you can understand this episode, and the entirety of LOST. Here is where it is easy to say that the question is open to interpretation in both life and LOST. However, I believe that, in both life and LOST, the question is answerable. In LOST, that answer is revealed in this episode, and I will explain how by first analyzing the Crazy Bitch and her motivations for protecting the island and raising Jacob and the MiB. I will then analyze Jacob and the MiB, explaining how the CB’s beliefs affected their lives. Finally, I will conclude with what this episode tells us about the entire series.

Now, cue the Buckcherry parody!

(MiB, couldn't do you right.
Jacob's been left intact to keep the light on.)

That’s the first time I’ve ever referenced Buck Cherry. Let it be the last.

The episode opened in the only way you could expect it to, with the introduction of two characters and, with them, a whole slew of questions. Who is this pregnant woman? Where is she from? Who is this other woman? Fortunately, this series is almost over, so there had to be some answers. The pregnant woman was Claudia, and she was the mother of Jacob and the MiB. Both of them spoke Latin, giving us an approximate time period. The other woman, well, she’s a bit more complicated.

The Crazy Bitch immediately informed us of what kind of episode that was in store. First, when Claudia asked her, “How long have you…,” she replied, “Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.” On one hand, this reply let us know we were in for a meta-episode, as the CB was also talking directly to us. We can keep asking the writers questions, but there will always be questions. Sure, it’d be nice to know how the CB got to the island, but there will have been somebody there before her and somebody there before that person. (It's Crazy Bitches all the way down!) There will always be questions about those people’s stories. This statement is a variation on the first mover argument, the other thing the CB’s statement was a commentary on.

Many people would respond to the comment with, “How can there always be another question? There must be an ultimate argument.” This response is the argument for the first mover. The universe couldn’t have begun by itself. Someone had to make the first move, and that someone is God. Likewise, by that logic, there had to be a first protector of the island, so if it’s not the CB, who is it? The CB’s answer is as follows, said to the MiB when he asked where he came from: “You and your brother came from me, and I came from my mother.” In other words, they are. There is no need to keep considering the line of causality. Why? The island is the island and has a protector. In other words, you have no choice in the matter, you can’t change it, so it’s futile trying to consider otherwise. This thought is a meditation on the overarching theme of the island representing life. The real life cognate is “existence exists.” It’s futile trying to consider non-existence, nothing. Don’t believe me? Go ahead, try. I dare you.

Back from your little fruitless escape? Good, because now we can turn to the important issue: The CB’s answer to the question of LOST. It was very familiar because we heard it before when the MiB said it to Jacob at the beginning of “The Incident.” For posterity’s sake, let’s reprint it here anyway. On the way to showing “her” boys the “heart of the island,” the CB said she never told them about the other people because they were dangerous and what makes them that way is:
CB: “The same thing that makes all men dangerous. They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt, and it always ends the same.”
In other words, people suck; people are metaphysically bad. Humanity’s nature is not good. Got it? I hope so because this statement is the underlying belief of the CB that she passed on to both boys, so not only is it important to understand what it is, it’s also important to understand where it was revealed in the episode: Immediately after the boys see the other people and immediately before the CB explains the theory behind protecting the island. It was written this way to mimic a philosophical argument. Observe humanity --> Determine they are metaphysically bad --> Thus, the island must be protected. But why does protecting the island follow from a negative view of human nature? The answer to that question is within the CB’s description of what the light is.
MiB: “What’s down there?”
CB: “Light, the warmest, brightest light you’ve ever seen or felt, and we must make sure that no one ever finds it.”
MiB: “It’s beautiful.”
CB: “Yes it is, and that’s why they want it. Because a little bit of this very same light is inside of every man. But they always want more.”
Jacob: “Can they take it?”
CB: “No, but they would try, and if they tried, they could put it out, and if the light goes out here, it goes out everywhere. And so I’ve protected this place…”
The important part here is not the identification of the light as “warm,” “bright,” and “beautiful.” While these qualities are often associated with goodness, they are not necessary links. I mean, have you ever seen a Michael Bay movie? Better yet, have you seen Avatar? Visually, it is certainly warm and bright, but it is most certainly not a good movie. (Read my reasoning as to why.) So, what we must focus on what the light is, what it does, and this is what we know: “a little bit…is inside of every man.” Ok, so it’s inside man, but what does it do? Is it the reason humanity is bad, or is it something removed from man’s nature? At first glance, it would be easy to say it’s part of man’s nature, it’s what makes him bad (especially because the MiB turns into the black smoke when he is thrown into it). However, we have to consider the rest of the CB’s explanation as to what happens if the light is not protected properly, as that is the justification for protecting it.

It would seem, she protects the light to stop it from going out, because if it goes out on the island it goes out everywhere. From her earlier explanation, we know that “everywhere” is inside of every man. Essentially, the CB is protecting the light to stop it from going out in every man. Ok, so we know what she’s doing, but we don’t know why. We do know her appraisal of what she’s doing. She’s protecting the light inside every man. You don’t protect bad things. You protect good things.

Long story short, the CB is protecting the light to redeem man. Because man’s nature is bad, the light is the only thing keeping them from being completely awful. If it were to go out, it would mean, wait for it, hell on Earth, just as Jacob told Richard back in “Ab Aeterno.” However, if you’re very clever, which I’m sure you are, then you’ve noticed what I’ve noticed. The CB’s job as protector is only necessary if you believe humanity is bad. If humanity is good, then the light is just a light, another part of the world to interact with. This analysis continues the anti-faith / pro-human rational themes of LOST, as the same line of logic can be applied to God. Belief in God only works if you accept that humanity is bad, otherwise there is no need for humanity to seek out someone/thing else. Think of it this way: If you’re Michael Jordan, are you going to seek out another basketball player to teach you how to play? No, because it’s unneeded. However, if you’re a 14 year old kid trying to learn how, of course you’re going to seek out another basketball player because your skills are bad. The same logic applies to human nature and God. (This discussion, of course, applies to the parallel universe. I’ll return to there at the end of the column.)

Except now we have to question the CB’s original statement: “Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.” If her point is simply existence exists, then she has accepted her role of protector without questioning it as a fact of reality. Except, we know her reasoning behind being the protector, so really, her intent in making that statement was to stop Claudia from questioning her because, any line of questioning will inevitably end up at the necessity of protecting the light. Really, the CB wasn’t saying “there always has been, always will be, and always must be a protector.” She was saying, “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.” She didn’t want Claudia to realize what we did in the previous paragraph: The role of protector is only necessary if you believe in a negative view of humanity. In this sense, the protector is actually the metaphor for God and the light is the Holy Spirit. God must only exist to protect if it is needed to redeem humanity. Interestingly, this comparison sheds light on how religion utilizes the “existence exists” concept negatively. Rather than saying, “existence exists and you should learn about it,” religion says, “existence exists and you should accept it unquestioningly (including the idea that humanity is bad).” The latter is, if you think about it, is exactly what CB taught “her” sons.

The CB’s other motivation, though less complicated, must be acknowledged. At the core of it, she was tired of living, and Jacob and the MiB were the candidates to replace her as protector of the island. How she affected them when attempting to mold them into this role is extremely important to understand.

Where I used to sit
All alone in the dark
And dream about things
That I cannot say
You always said destiny
Would blow me away
And nothing's gonna blow me away

At Cavanaugh Park
Where you used to take me
To play in the sand
And said to me, 'Son, one day you'll be a man.
"And men can do terrible things.'
Yes they can

And there was never any place
For someone like me to be
Totally happy
I'm running out of clock and that
Ain't a shock
Some things never do change
Never do change

At Cavanaugh Park
We used to get high
Watching teams as they fought
They loved my friend Adam
But he always got caught
Man, that kid made fucking up look cool
Aren't we all so cool? No, No...”

Apparently this is the musical edition of The Midside, not to be confused with “Once More with Feeling” from Buffy the Vampire Slayer, “My Musical” from Scrubs, or any episode of Glee. Going into composing this column, I didn’t intend the theme, but while writing the previous section I was listening to Something Corporate’s greatest hits album Played in Space (great band, get the album somehow) when “Cavanaugh Park” came on. I paused for a second to listen and thought, “Wow, this song really fits Jacob.” Let’s break it down.

The basic theme of the song is the basic theme of Jacob: Accepting the destiny, the determinism, that is told to him by the CB, but not being too happy about it. This contradiction points to one of the strengths of the episode, the use of children. The first half of the episode used the children to good effect. They began by asking a billion different questions, both representing the audience and representing the wonder with which humans enter the world. Regardless of personality or ability, we all have a certain curiosity about the world when we’re young. In the lyrics, this is described as “dreaming about things I cannot say.” Jacob was no different.

Except, the differences between him and his brother soon emerged based on the symbol of the game that washed up on shore, a Senet board (subtly explaining the Egyptian influence on the island). The first time he sits down to at the board with his brother he asks, “How do you know how (to play)?” and, “Why can’t we tell [the CB] (about the game?” Jacob’s curiosity has a natural limit, not based upon any sort of desire. He ends the scene by emphatically putting a piece down and saying, “Yes, I want to play.” Rather, what he is limited by is ability. He can’t look at the game and figure out how to play it. He can’t even consider that by looking at the game you can figure out how to play it. Likewise, he can’t consider other possibilities enough to think that the CB might lie to them or take away a game. I’m not saying that he would be unable to consider these things at all. These ideas are not at the upward threshold of human intelligence. Jacob would, and certainly does, learn them eventually. However, that’s the point, he learns slower. This trait makes him an easy target for the CB.

Though the CB doesn’t realize it at first, Jacob is actually the better candidate to replace her, and it’s because his lesser ability makes him question things a lot less, causing him to embrace her negative view of humanity on a deep level. In the lyrics, this idea is demonstrated by being brought to “play in the sand” and being told, “Son, one day, you’ll be a man, and men can do terrible things.” We already know that the CB tells Jacob that, and we know he eventually agrees because he spends his life protecting the light. However, the important thing to understand about Jacob is how is awareness of his lesser ability and the way the CB treats him makes him view himself.

Jacob, in a manner similar to Jack, does not have an inward sense of self, so he reaches for approval externally from his parental figure. This lack of self-esteem is demonstrated in the lyrics by, “there was never any place for someone like me to be happy” and the story of the friend Adam, in the case of Jacob his brother, being “cool” punctuated with the revelation “aren’t we all so cool? No no.” Jacob just doesn’t think he’s as good as his brother. He identifies the different levels of ability and the fact that the CB treats him differently. In the short term, this lack of self-esteem causes Jacob to stay with the CB, as when he confronts her about loving his brother more, she says she just loves them differently (worse explanation ever, by the way, never use it) and then convinces Jacob he needs to stay with her to be good (as the other people are bad and staying with her made him good). In the long term, it causes him to have one basic desire that manifests in two different ways that intertwine in a complex way.

Jacob accepts the role of protector because the CB convinces him it’s the only way to be a good person:
CB: “It has to be you, Jacob.”
Jacob: “No it doesn’t. You wanted it to be him, but now I’m all you have.”
CB: “It was always supposed to be you, Jacob. I see that now. And one day you’ll see it too, but until then, you don’t really have a choice.”
He doesn’t have a choice? The CB was playing off of Jacob’s lesser ability to trick him into accepting the role as protector of the light. The truth is, she really did believe it was supposed to be him. What she realized is that someone with lesser ability won’t question that they don’t have a choice, and, as Jacob drinks from the cup in a communion metaphor, the anti-faith / anti-religion themes of LOST return. Just as Jacob was a deconstruction of God in relation to Richard, here the CB is a deconstruction of God in relation to Jacob, as she preys upon his insecurities and shortcomings. She’s convinced him since he was a child that man is bad and he is bad, so, by accepting those premises, he really does have no choice. By being protector, Jacob can prove he is good, but that role is not enough for him to prove himself.

Jacob is using his role as protector to also play a game with his brother. Whereas the CB only had two candidates, Jacob has had an insanely large amount spanning the years all with the intent of proving one thing: People can be redeemed. Why does he need to prove so? Not only will it will legitimize his role of protector of the island, but it will prove he is better than his brother. That desire to be better than his brother is why he does it in game form. The main way they interacted as children was through the game, which we get the sense that the MiB was always better at, but in which the MiB also says a very telling thing. When Jacob doesn’t like that the MiB has made up the rules to the game he found, the MiB replies, “One day, you can make up your own game and everyone else will have to follow your rules.” And he has done so, as we have seen throughout the series.

All of the above is what fuels the inversion, what turns Jacob. He sees people as bad. He sees himself as bad. His overriding goal is to be seen as good. He wants everyone to play by his rules. Give him some power, and he throws his brother into the light, seemingly transforming the MiB into the monster, except, we now understand that Jacob is the true monster, taking everyone else’s lives into his hands because he believes that he can redeem them. The first person he did so with was his brother, sending him into “a fate worse than death.” That fate was the denial of his humanity, trapping the MiB on the island in the form of smoke that is forever linked with the light, making it so the MiB’s goal is literally the opposite of Jacob’s. To leave, the MiB needs the light to go out. Truthfully, we can’t understand Jacob’s true evil until we understand the tragic tale of his brother.

“I'm mired in hypocrisy
Yet I’m still down with JC.
I guess that everyone includes me
And that's why I'm a humanist.”

Continuing the musical theme of this edition of The Midside, I present to you “Hate Everyone” by Say Anything as a good example of the mentality of the MiB. In all honesty, I could find lots of quotes for Say Anything’s new self-titled album (also a great band, get the album any way you can), but we’ll stick with the above quote above for simplicity. It points to three important ideas: His acceptance of the CB’s view of humanity, his dislike of everyone else, and his dislike of himself. If I had to use one word to describe him it would be “guilt.” In Randian terms, he is the man who does not believe he has a moral sanction to live. To best understand him, we need to look at three scenes, his conversation with the CB when he was a child, his conversation with the CB as an adult about the wheel, and his conversation with his mother when he was a child.

Much of the MiB’s life revolves around the idea that he is “special,” a theme that harkens back to the first season Michael/Walt flashback episode “Special.” The only problem is, the CB leads the MiB, and us, down a path that says being “special” is bad when, really, all it means is having more ability. When he is a child, she confronts him on the beach, and we get our first glimpse into what she means by “special:”
The MiB: “Jacob told you what I found.”
The CB: “Of course he did. Jacob doesn’t know how to lie. He’s not like you.”
The MiB: “Why, what am I like?”
The CB: “You’re…special.”
By the CB’s phrasing, special becomes associated with lying, which associates it with bad in our minds, because we believe lying to always be bad. However, by focusing on the lying, we are looking at the wrong part of the sentence. The important part is “Jacob doesn’t know how.” What special is really associated with is ability. The MiB knows how to lie because, as shown in the scene where Jacob first plays the game, he knows how to look at all angles of a situation. Lying is a method of doing so; it can be good or bad. It’s a method that Jacob doesn’t know how to use, like many methods. Interestingly, the CB then proceeds to lie about there being nothing across the sea. The MiB picks up on this falsity, and his path toward guilt begins.

The MiB leaves his fake family and joins the “others.” He begins to use his ability to figure out how the island works. He later tells Jacob about it, “There are very smart men among us, men who are curious about how things work. Together we have discovered places all over this island where metal behaves strangely.” Just as Jacob’s lack of ability is associated with not knowing, the MiB’s ability is associated with curiosity and discovery. He uses it all to work towards one goal, leaving the island, which has a way point, finding the light. Eventually, he does find the light, and that discovery forces a second confrontation with the CB which further reveals this notion of special meaning ability, and also reveals the MiB’s guilt.
The MiB: “But then I began to think. What if the light underneath the island, what if I could get to it from someplace else? Figuring out how to reach it took a very long time.”
The CB: “The people with you, they saw this too?”
The MiB: “Yes. They have some very interesting ideas about what to do with it?”
The CB: “Do with it? You don’t have any idea…”
The MiB: “I have no idea because you wouldn’t tell me, mother…I’m going to make an opening, one much bigger than this one. And then I’m going to attach that wheel to a system we’re building, a system that channels the water and the light. And then I’m going to turn it. And when I do, I’ll finally be able to leave this place.”
The CB: “How do you know all this? How do you know it will work?”
The MiB: “I’m special, mother.”
The CB: “Please don’t do this. Don’t go.”
The MiB: “I have to go.”
The CB: “Why?”
The MiB: “Because I don’t belong here.”
Once again, the idea of being special is linked with knowing. The MiB knows it will work. He knows how to build the wheel and channel the light and water. Interestingly, if Jacob and the CB represent faith, then the MiB represents science, one of the basic dichotomies of the show. Also of note is what the MiB says at the beginning of the excerpt, “I began to think.” If you remember, one of the most important conversations of S5 was when Sawyer told Jack, “I think. You react.” Thus, we can link thinking with science and reacting with faith, proving this analysis is in line with the overall themes of the show. However, what’s most interesting here is the way in which the MiB says he is special.

The MiB spits the words “I’m special, mother” at the CB as if they are something to be ashamed of, because to him they are. He had to go live with the others to use his ability. Others that the CB had convinced him are bad people. Others that he tells Jacob the CB was right about because they’re greedy and selfish. In order to be smart, the MiB also had to be bad, falling right in line with the CB’s premise necessitating faith, necessitating reacting. It’s also a clever bit of philosophical thought that points out how we undermine ourselves. Though we embrace science and though, we do so based on a premise that ultimately undermines those things, that humanity is bad. And what’s most interesting with the MiB’s use of his ability is its association with his pursuit for the light.

For both Jacob and the MiB, the light is a metaphor for truth. However, the difference is how they view that light. For Jacob, and faith, the light is about redemption. The truth is about making sure your bad nature is rectified. For MiB and science, the light is about discovering a way to get off the island. The truth is about gaining the knowledge to achieve a goal. This difference in perspective gives us two very different understandings of young MiB’s conversation with his (dead) mother.

Bathed in the light, Claudia appears to the young MiB to show him something. Here is where the association of “special” as ability becomes tricky. As Jacob can’t see Claudia, it would seem as if the MiB has some sort of supernatural power…but he doesn’t. What does Claudia tell the MiB? She tells him the truth, that he comes from across the sea and that she is really his mother, just as Michael appeared to Hurley and told him the truth. Once again, the light represents truth, and it sends the MiB on his course of discovery and enLIGHTenment.

The faith based response, of course, is going to be that the island is the ultimate answer to the show. The island is God. It manifested in the form of Claudia to send the MiB down the path that would make Jacob the protector, and insure humanity’s redemption for years to come. However, that interpretation just doesn’t jive with this episode (or the show). The key to seeing how is looking at how Jacob stole the MiB’s humanity.

I’ve already explained how throughout the episode faith, in the form of the CB, attempted to stop enlightenment. When the CB realized the others learned of the light, she burned them all, or, she smote them in an act of vengeance. This idea is clearly in line with the story of, wait for it, Adam and Eve, and what were the two bodies called at the beginning of the series? The question is rhetorical. Just as God told Adam and Eve eating from the tree of knowledge is bad because it gives you the knowledge of good and evil, the CB told Jacob that bathing in the light is “a fate worse than death.” So what does Jacob do? Fueled by his self-hatred and his disdain for his brother, he throws the MiB into the light, at once taking away his humanity and turning him into the symbol for enlightenment.

All the MiB ever tried to do was use his mind and body. He wanted to discover a way to leave the island. By the end of the episode, he was told his mind is bad and his body was taken away from him. He is forced to roam the island as a disembodied mind. Essentially, his right to self-determination (to think), his free will, was denied for “the greater good” of redeeming humanity, just as Jacob denies free will to the candidates by touching them and summoning them to the island. Except, the MiB was transformed into the smoke, which we’ve seen use light time after time. John Locke looked into the eye of the island, the smoke, and what he saw was beautiful, the light. The Smoke scanned Eko and flashes of light revealed Eko’s past. The smoke scanned Kate and Juliet with flashes of light. The MiB is the embodiment of enlightenment, yet is continually demonized because he is forced to make harsh decisions within the game, within the rules, that have been set up for him by faith.

Not that the MiB is anywhere near perfect. He still accepts the CB’s premise, which is why, as he tells Jacob, he sees people as a means to an end, a Machiavellian turn of logic. However, as I started this column, the nature of humanity is the question of LOST, and the show has clearly come down on the side of humanity and enlightenment being good.


Desmond’s use of the word “brother” and his early catchphrase seem all the more important now, as they foreshadowed two important elements of the show: The relationship between the MiB and Jacob and the parallel universe. The former has been revealed and demystified. The latter will be reconciled in the remaining episodes. Except, we now know the difference between the two universes. In the parallel universe, the island sunk and the light went out.

The main trope of the parallel universe is the mirror, symbolizing self-knowledge. An early trope of the show is the eye opening, symbolizing waking up to the world and learning about it. In fact, the first shot of the show is Jack’s eye opening. I could rehash my analysis of John Locke’s arc here. I could go into depth about how the flashbacks, and forward, represent knowledge. How we learned about the characters and they learned about themselves. However, none of that explanation is necessary. All we have to look at is S6 and the parallel universe arc, one that the writers said would be self-enclosed so that if you never saw the show before you’d be able to watch it and get a complete story.

Through the use of the mirror, the majority of the characters have better lives in the parallel universe due to self-reflection and knowledge. This theme was deepened by the re-introduction of Desmond to the plot. By helping people gain more knowledge, by helping them have flashes of the other universe (which, if you notice, were very bright), they were able to move closer towards “happily ever after.” It would even be logically consistent now if the parallel universe was the fulfillment of the MiB’s promises to the characters. Since he is the symbol of enlightenment, it would make sense that the universe in which they moved towards knowledge is the universe in which they gain what they want.

It’s entirely possible that the writers will undermine the parallel universe in the remaining episodes, but doing so is not necessarily inconsistent with the anti-faith, pro-humanity, pro-reason message. However, the difficulty here is, no matter how they craft their show to deliver a certain message, which universe you see as better, who you see as good and bad in the series will ultimately come down to your answer to the question of the series. Not so ironically, this idea of it being up to you is consistent with the message. You have to think to discover the answer to the question.

Is humanity LOST?

Think about it.

(Be sure to check out my addendum to this edition of The Midside.)

The Midside: LOST S6E14 The Candidate

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

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

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

“There is no Sayid!”

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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



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

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

Think about it.