Maternity Leave (S2, ep. 15)
“Unlike him I had been unable to escape into the simple complexities of science. All he had to do was solve the mystery of the universe, which may be difficult but is not as difficult as living an ordinary life.” -Walter Percy, Lancelot
Ethan: “It’s a vaccine – we don’t want him to get sick.”
First: my apologies for taking so long to write this episode up. Real life intruded in a big, unpleasant way last week. Compound that with a desire to look into the potential meaning of one of Lost’s literary reference points and you have a recipe for delay.
Eko advised us earlier in Season 2 not to mistake coincidence for fate, and I’m heeding his advice. Otherwise, the confluence of the week’s events and this medically-saturated episode might have seemed eerie. As it is, I’m just grateful that Lost had such an intriguing and entertaining episode ready for me to re-watch. Hell, I’m grateful to be writing this at all. Life is short, folks – get living.
• This episode centers firmly around the questions of sickness, infection, and quarantine. Many questions are raised which have not, as yet, been fully addressed. Given what we’ll later discover as the seasons roll on, it would seem as though ‘the sickness’ isn’t a single mysterious virus, but rather an inclusive term for (a) the infertility and baby-hating aspects of the Island, (b) the sinister personality changes associated with the Temple, the Monster, and Rousseau’s crew, (c) the fear brought about by all the ‘quarantine’ signs, which may not refer to disease at all.
• The word ‘Quarantine’ has several definitions, and like ‘good,’ Lost may not be referencing the most common/likely definition when it utilizes the word.
Quarantine can refer to:
1. A period of time during which a vehicle, person, or material suspected of carrying a contagious disease is detained at a port of entry under enforced isolation to prevent disease from entering a country.
2. A place for such detention.
3. Enforced isolation or restriction of free movement imposed to prevent the spread of contagious disease.
All of these definitions focus on diseases and carriers. But there are two others, both potentially applicable to Lost:
4. A condition of enforced isolation. (See: The Swan Station)
5. A period of 40 days.
Note that 40 days is explicitly referenced as the period of time that Eko is silent for after murdering two Others his first night on the Island. By refusing to talk, Eko undergoes a period of enforced isolation. By landing on the Island every castaway experiences their own form of enforced isolation from the larger world.
• Rousseau conflates Aaron’s sickness with the ‘infection’ that changed her crew into ‘hostiles.’ Yet, we’ve since seen no evidence that the two are related at all. I’m going to suggest that Rousseau is essentially behaving superstitiously when she does this, and not without some justification.
• “Maternity Leave” shows us that Kate’s protectiveness of Aaron and Claire goes back a lot further than I’d remembered. She’s there for both of them throughout this episode, and it illuminates her later actions really well.
• We get a brief glimpse of Hurley and Libby hanging out on the beach catching fish. Awwwww.
Ben: “Dostoyevsky….You don’t have any Stephen King?”
Locke and Ben meet face-to-face for what is really the first time in this episode. Locke gives him ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ to read. Ben’s response is funny on its face, and it’s clever on rewatch, since we know now that Ben and the Others were discussing Stephen King’s Carrie in their book club just before 815 shatters above the Island.
The Brothers Karamazov is an interesting book to include at this juncture, given that the novel’s concerns include the existence of God, questions of existentialism, and a mirrored inversion of the Russian Philosopher Nikolai Fyodorovich’s idea of a Christianity in which sons redeem the sins of their fathers (sound familiar?) in order to bring about human unity through a universal brotherhood (Everything That Rises Must Converge, anyone?).
• Jack really is a prick here. It’s hard to think of him as a hero, or root for his POV, when he’s an unmitigated jackass to Locke so much of the time. This constant dismissive contempt really grounds Locke’s end-of-episode actions, and it gives new weight to Locke’s plaintive suicide note in Season 5: ‘I wish you had believed me.’ The note might as well have read ‘I wish you had believed in me.’
Claire: So, you’re a shrink, right?
Libby: I’m a clinical psychologist, but “shrink” works, too.
• Libby yoganotizes (hypnosis through apparent yoga?) Claire on the beach in order to help her access the blocked memories of her kidnapped time with the Others. This whole plot thread really propels the episode along, and the lack of weepy, woe-is-me flashbacks is a real relief, to be honest.
• We get our first glimpse of Alex in “Maternity Leave.” I’d forgotten that she appeared this early on in the show. I like the character, and her demise is maybe the gutsiest character death on the show so far in my estimation.
• Ethan is shown here in an entirely different light than before. Gone is the psychotic jungle-ninja that strung Charlie up like a stuck pig (and he’ll lie to Claire here about him, telling her that he let Charlie go back to their camp). It would appear as though Juliet, the fertility doctor who we’ll see bringing Ethan into the world in S5, has inspired him to a similar line of work. He’s unfailingly calm and polite around Claire, and we get the sense throughout this episode that Ethan is sweet on her. He’ll break unspoken rules twice in this episode, just to see her smile.
“What if you could show me a sin? A purely evil deed, an intolerable deed for which there is no explanation? Now there’s a mystery. People would sit up and take notice. I would be impressed. You could almost make a believer out of me…..The mark of this age is that people are either crazy, miserable, or wonderful, so where does the ‘evil’ come in?”
Walker Percy, “Lancelot”
Sawyer’s latest beachside reading is “Lancelot” by Walker Percy, and as Ned Ryerson would say, it’s a doozy. The novel concerns the title character’s theological/philosophical quest for “The Unholy Grail” – i.e. true sin, true evil. Its main character has been jailed for murdering his wife and three others, and the near-entirety of the novel is a diatribe from his perspective. “Lancelot” operates as a dark mirror to the title of the book we see Jacob reading in the Season 5 finale – Flannery O’Connor’s “Everything That Rises Must Converge.” This is not an accident.
O’Connor and Percy have been compared and contrasted more than a few times, both of them ‘Southern Gothic’ authors fascinated by themes of sin and redemption. In the book “Peculiar Crossroads,” author Farrell O’Gorman examines the two authors and discusses their continued influence (considerable), their similarities (also considerable) and what O’Gorman considers to be their essential ‘Christian Existentialist’ outlook.
The title of O’Connor’s novel is a reference to the work of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a French Jesuit Priest/Philosopher/Paleontologist/Geologist (!!!) credited with inventing the term “Omega Point” to describe “a maximum level of complexity and consciousness towards which the universe appears to be evolving.” This is, in the view of O’Connor and Teilhard, a moral, spiritual, and intellectual rising up toward a kind of universal consciousness (another Lost reference to the idea of a universal mind, Philip K. Dick’s “VALIS,” will be popping up later on down the line). You can read up on a ‘secular’ version of Teilhard’s Omega Point by taking a look at Raymond Kurzweil’s “The Singularity Is Near.”
From the (very very) brief encounters the audience has had with Jacob, it would seem that the Island’s resident Christ/Ra-figure is attempting to achieve this convergence in some as-yet-unexplained way. As he tells the Man In Black, “It only ends once. Everything that happens before that is just progress.”
By contrast, the title character of “Lancelot” could stand in for the Man In Black and his argument that “it always ends the same.” Lancelot believes that the Omega Point that the universe is evolving toward is not a higher level of consciousness, and is not the cooperative model envisioned by Teilhard, but is instead a state of primal selfishness. These two opposing viewpoints set up another mirror between the seasons.
“We should not mistake Lance’s proposal of a new ethical absolute as Percy’s own. It serves, if anything, to confirm Lance’s damnation. All his talk about stern morality and knightly intolerance is nihilistic to the core. For it is based on the graceless conclusion that only such moral supermen as himself can put an end to the universal buggery. Anyone finding themselves encouraged by this courtly righteousness should remember that as Lance slits the throat of his wife’s lover he feels nothing except his neck itching.” – Author Ralph Wood, in a 1977 review of “Lancelot”
This kind of moral certainty is shared by Jack and Locke – two self-defined ‘supermen’ in their own minds who come to believe that only they have what it takes to save a person’s life or to lead the Island despite deep personal flaws and failings that render them just as human as the rest of the castaways.
Whew. That was a lot to digest. Here’s a quick palette-cleanser:
• Ethan seems to be giving Claire the same type of injection that Desmond was giving himself at the beginning of Season Two. The vials in the ‘Caduceus Station’ (named after the medical Caduceus Staff featured in the Dharma logo for the Station) also have The Numbers marked on the label.
• The sight of a pregnant woman getting a needle in the belly makes me queasy. No more belly-needles, okay, Lost?
• I love the look of this Station and the way that its rooms neatly straddle the line between ‘creepy-like-a-Saw-movie’ and ‘welcoming.’ The contrast between the empty, florescent-lit, water-stained halls and the soothing warmth of the child nursery is jarring and I like it.
• If you take a look at the mobile over Aaron’s Other crib you’ll see a number of Oceanic airplanes. Who the hell knows what this is/was supposed to mean or suggest. Even weirder: the mobile plays the song “Catch a Falling Star” – the same tune that Kate will sing to Aaron in Season 5. Another echo.
Tom Friendly: What the hell happened? You were supposed to make the list and then bring her in. Was I unclear?
Ethan: It’s not my fault. They knew I wasn’t on the plane. They had a manifest.
• Tom Friendly shows up again, mostly off-screen, but we see that he’s clean-shaven here as opposed to the Halloween II-style hillbilly beard he was sporting in The Hunting Party. We find out through him that Ethan never made his list of the beachfront castaways, explaining why none of them were snatched the way the Tailies were.
• The sound accompanying Claire’s sudden memory flashes is FREAKY.
Ethan: I’m going to miss you. I wish — I wish you didn’t have to go.
Claire: Maybe I don’t have to go?
Ethan: We’ve been through this, Claire. There’s not enough vaccine for you and the baby.
Claire: Well, I’m not, I’m not sick.
Ethan: Thank God. And once you’ve delivered you can go back to your friends and hopefully you’ll stay that way.
It’s implied that whatever Ethan gives Claire to drink from his canteen is yet more medicine. But it’s unclear what purpose this has, if any. I suspect that it’s how he keeps her happily druggy. It’s also heavily implied again that Ethan has a thing for Claire.
Another question raised by this scene: Why is it that Claire can’t stay with the Others/Aaron? If the ‘sickness’ is something real, independent of the apparent mind-control Rousseau encountered among her crew, then it’ll need to be conclusively addressed. I get the feeling, though, that Ethan’s playing her here – that only the baby needs to worry about vaccination. That is, unless the vaccination has something to do with residual poison in the air as a result of the Purge.
• We find out that the Caduceus Station also functions as the Others’ Dressing Room. We see torn and ragged clothing neatly hung in Dharma lockers, fake beards and spirit gum. This was a neat reveal when the episode first aired. On rewatch it gains significance, further underlining the thematic current of cons and misdirection, of people pretending to be what they aren’t.
Claire: “She wasn’t like the others (Others). She was good.”
The Rousseau/Alex story thread gets stronger here, as Claire tells her about a teenaged girl that helped her to escape the Caduceus Station. More than ever, this episode makes it clear just how little Rousseau cares about dying. She’s succumbed to the literal and figurative isolation that the Island can create without the healing qualities of community but despite this, she saves Claire from whatever fate the Others had planned. It’s interesting again how the concept of “Othering” is being explored again here – how Claire draws a distinction between Alex and the other Others (ugh) based solely on the fact that Alex kelps her escape. Were Ethan and his crew really going to cut Claire open and kill her? We won’t know until the final season. Is it January?
…how about now? January yet?
• Jack’s apparently come around on the necessity of keeping Ben a prisoner. Why?
Eko: The first night I spent on this island I was dragged into the jungle by 2 men. They never spoke a word to me, nor I to them. I killed these men — smashed in their head with a stone, felt their blood on my arms. I need you to know how sorry I am for this. I need you to know that I am back on the righteous path now. And that I regret my actions. I ask you for your forgiveness.
• Eko uses his knowledge of Ben’s presence in the Swan to get in to see him, essentially blackmailing Jack to do so. What follows is an affecting scene in which Eko confesses his sin of murder to Ben and asks for forgiveness. I love this character. Short-lived as he may have been he left an indelible impression on the show and his outlook continues to seem the most healthy of anyone’s to me, and it reinforces the possibility that Eko is killed precisely because he is so (comparatively) well-adjusted in his outlook.
The episode ends with Ben Linus exerting his powerful manipulative abilities overtly for the first time, effectively driving an emotional splinter into Locke’s mind. Locke will come to embrace “Lancelot”’s wrong-headed notion of a nihilistic superman as he heads down the road to self-annihilation.
Missed a column? Catch up here:
• One of Them (S2 ep. 14)
• The Long Con (S2 ep. 13)
• Fire + Water (S2 ep. 12)
• The Hunting Party (S2 ep 11)
• The 23rd Psalm (S2, ep. 10)
• What Kate Did (S2, ep. 9)
• Collision (S2, ep. 8)
• The Other 48 Days (S2, ep. 7)