Live Together, Die Alone
Penny’s Letter: “All we really need to survive is one person who truly loves us.”
Season 2 is an interesting animal. It’s not the wreck that the show’s detractors make it out to be by any stretch of the imagination. At the same time it isn’t necessarily easy television to watch. There are a few reasons for this. Speaking as an armchair-critic, the middle section of the season drags whenever the Island’s swiftly-growing mythology elements aren’t present – most especially in the flashbacks. But above and beyond that criticism Season 2 is just dark, bruthah. Shot through with a murky, uneasy atmosphere, one strong theme for the season has been “relapse.” Relapse and regression, collapse and aggression. These are a few of Season 2’s favorite things.
On top of that darkness of mood, Season 2 increases the slightly trippy, Prisoner/Twin Peaks tone of the first season (best evidenced in the episodes “?” and “Dave”) and adds a dose of coldly clinical Kubrick to its melting pot of influences: Strange monolithic machines buried in the earth; 70’s-bedecked rooms captured with a grim, matter-of-fact tone that magnifies the odd, anachronistic and somehow sinister vibe of the Swan Station; Inexplicable visions and hauntings meant to perhaps elevate the consciousness or perhaps destroy it; half-glimpsed histories of secret societies at once inviting and off-putting.
There are no easy answers for us or for the castaways in Season 2. In fact, there are hardly any answers at all – it remains almost as enigmatic as it did when it first aired. On the whole I think that’s ultimately to its credit. Yes, the middle drags. Yes, it’s damned oppressive in tone for much of its running time. But throughout this run of episodes there’s an increasingly confident sense of dread, wonder and mystery that develops. Despite its somewhat-puffy middle, the majority of Season 2 is compelling stuff, well worth revisiting.
The finale for Season 2, “Live Together, Die Alone,” is great television. A ton of mythology details are revealed and/or elaborated on, a trio of important new(ish) characters surge to the forefront, much emotional drama crackles between castaways, and that final scene….
• AHHHHHH! So. Much. Stuff. Happens.
• The difficulty of leaving the Island becomes even clearer with this episode as we learn that Desmond set sail following the events at the beginning of the season but that he was unable, somehow, to get away from the Island. This is the first time we truly see the Island’s apparent inescapability and the impression I get here is one of immense gravitational pull.
• Charles Widmore enters the picture for the first time in the flesh. He’s played by Alan Dale, who claims not to understand the show at all. On Rewatch it’s been clear just how carefully Widmore’s presence has been introduced. I’ve got no idea whether the show’s writers knew in Season 2 that Widmore would turn out to be a former Island resident, but as they’ve constructed things his character develops wonderfully over the course of the upcoming seasons.
• Desmond, who became such a huge part of Lost’s emotional and mythological storylines (and subsequently became…much less huge in Season 5), properly re-enters the picture here. It’s good to have him back. We’ve never learned why he was dishonorably discharged, although Widmore indicates that it was because of cowardice.
Libby: “I have a boat. It was my husband’s but he got sick.”
• Though it hasn’t been addressed outright on the show, I believe that this episode gives us an answer to the ‘Libby’s in the mental institution????’ plot thread that was introduced in “Dave.” When Desmond runs into her during his flashback we learn that her husband David died of a mystery illness. David’s death, I’d think, lead to her institutionalization.
• The questions of fate vs. coincidence, of manipulation vs. free will, rear their heads when Libby offers to give Desmond her boat. Is this simply the kind, enormously magnanimous gesture of a stranger? Or did Libby give Desmond the boat knowing, as Mrs. Hawking knew about the ring, that Desmond needed it in order to get where he is ‘destined’ to go?
Hurley: “Did that bird just say my name?”
Sawyer: “Yeah, it did. Right before it crapped gold.”
• The Hurleybird makes its second and (to my knowledge) final appearance, calling out what sounds like Hurley’s name before flying off. That the bird is so obviously CGI, and that the show has now chosen to include it in two finales, suggests one of two things: (1) the show’s writers noticed that the audience had picked up on the (perhaps unintentional) sound of a bird seeming to call Hurley’s name in the Season 1 finale and decided to mess with us for fun, or (2) the bird from Season 1 really was calling Hurley’s name, and for as-yet-unexplained reasons, they have the bird appear again. It’s my theory that the Hurleybird is Smokey/the MiB in yet another form, but there’s nothing to support that apart from my unhinged ranting. Well, that and the fact that ENORMOUS GREEN BIRDS haven’t otherwise been seen on the Island, or, like, anywhere ever.
Desmond (to Claire): “You’re wasting your time, sister. I shot myself with that stuff every 9 days for 3 years.”
• More emphasis on the vaccinations that we’ve been shown all season. “Live Together, Die Alone” strongly implies that they’re a placebo of some kind – linking them to the useless HAZMAT suits that Kelvin and Desmond wear when they’re outside of the Swan. Despite this, I’m still going with my initial theory: that the Purge released poisonous gases over much of the Island, and the HAZMAT suits and vaccinations were required to survive outside of the Swan for an unspecified length of time following the Purge.
Penelope: “Desmond, what are you running from?”
Desmond: “I have to get my honor back, and that’s what I’m running to.”
• Again the narrative folds back on itself as we revisit Desmond and Jack’s encounter in the stadium, first seen at the beginning of this season. This time, instead of following Jack back to Daddy Issue Land, we follow Desmond as he encounters “Penny” in the parking lot, where we learn that Desmond hasn’t yet read “Our Mutual Friend,” Charles Dickens’ last completed novel. “Our Mutual Friend” deals with some very Lost-ian ideas – identity, interconnectedness, and rebirth through adoption of a new life. Dickens, as Lost writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have noted, wrote his novels in a serialized fashion, producing a chapter at a time for his audience in much the same way that television writers produce episodes.
• Desmond’s drive to win the Widmore-sponsored boat race again raises the ideas floated by Sartre in “No Exit” (to read more on this, click over to the latest Too Much Information column, “Sartre-speak,” and the Rewatch column for “Three Minutes”). It’s clear by the end of this episode that Penny doesn’t give a damn about her father’s approval of Desmond. It’s also clear that Desmond will never truly win Widmore’s approval, and that attempting to do so by winning a boat race is, yes, expansively romantic, but also grandly foolish. Instead of standing his ground and building a life with the woman he loves over her stuffed-shirt father’s petty objections, Desmond runs off to the races. All the romantic justification in the world can’t change the fact that he’s running away from what he wants. Sartre might say that this is because he hasn’t yet found the faith in himself that human beings should strive for, and this is pretty much borne out in other Desmond flashbacks.
• Desmond’s relationship to, and separation from, Penelope recalls the epic poem The Odyssey. In The Odyssey, Odysseus/Ulysses is separated from his wife Penelope due to war, and spends year upon year of his life attempting to return to her. During his long trip home he lands on several Islands containing mystical properties, creatures, gifts and threats. These first allusions to The Odyssey ripple out across the seasons still to come: in Season 5 you’ll find Ben reading James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’ during the episode “415.” We’ll talk more about this later in the Rewatch.
Sayid: “I don’t know what is more disquieting—the fact that the rest of the statue is missing, or that it has 4 toes?”
• The Statue’s four-toed foot makes it first bewildering appearance in this episode, and it remains a terrifically enigmatic touch. The foot’s appearance here makes for another strong echo between seasons. We now know that Jacob is sitting inside of it, working on his knitting, crafting a tapestry that we won’t see until the finale of Season 5. We also know that, in its original form, the statue was of an Egyptian god. Despite claims to the contrary, we still don’t know with certainty which god it is.
Eko: “Charlie, do you know how they got the Hatch door open?”
Great Charlie Line: “No, but if you hum it, I could probably play it.”
• Clancy Brown returns! Our favorite Kurgan/Evil Preacher reappears on the show for the first time since the Sayid-centric “One of Them.” In Sayid’s flashback we learned that Brown’s unnamed character was a member of the US Army. Here we learn his name – Kelvin Inman – and that at some point after the events shown in “One of Them,” he landed on the Island.
• Radzinsky! Everyone’s least-favorite Dharma employee gets name-checked for the first time here. We learn that it was Radzinsky who edited the Swan Station orientation film, but not to what purpose.
My favorite Hurley/Sawyer exchange of the finale:
Sawyer: “So, these Others, you think they’re left over from the DHARMA folk?
Michael: “I don’t know, man.”
Sawyer: “My theory, they’re aliens. That’s why they use the fake beards—their heads are made of pathetic.”
Hurley: “Prosthetic, dude.”
• The reminders we get that Sayid is (in some sense) a religious man are always surprising to me. Seeing him pray on the deck of Desmond’s boat is strange, and it makes me wonder why we haven’t seen more of this from him – especially given that, judging from his method of prayer, Sayid does this five times a day.
Inman: “You should have seen Radzinsky do this. He had a photographic memory. I mean, this whole baby was his idea.”
• The revelation that Radzinsky created the blast door map that was seen in “Lockdown” suggests that the Swan inhabitants survived the Purge and were documenting Dharma bunker locations for posterity, ensuring (in the most roundabout, secretive manner possible) that they won’t be completely forgotten.
• We also learn that Radzinsky killed himself with a shotgun blast to the head – something that’s curiously satisfying, given what we’ve learned of the dickish engineer during Season 5.
• The word “Hostiles,” as used to describe Jacob’s army of Island-dwelling monk-ninja-junglepeople, makes its first appearance in this episode. Hostile is defined, variously, as “of, pertaining to, or characteristic of an enemy,” as well as “characterized by antagonism” and “Not belonging to your own country’s forces or those of an ally.” These sorts of labels serve the same basic function as “Other” – they function to draw a clear line between “us” and “them.” Then there’s the fact that, throughout history, indigenous people who resisted occupation and/or settlement by foreign people were typically labeled as “Hostiles” by those who were attempting to occupy the territory. Labeling Native Americans as “hostiles” made it psychologically easier for occupying forces to exterminate them, exploit them, and deal with them as “Others,” as different from, and less than, those who considered themselves to be settlers.
• The Incident gets more airtime in this episode as well. Desmond finds a drunken Kelvin hanging out underneath the Station near the ‘fail safe’ and Kelvin explains the presence of ‘unique electromagnetism’ behind the concrete barrier, the necessity of ‘venting’ that energy, and the fear he feels (and his inability to act because of that fear) at the idea of turning the fail safe key and releasing that energy. He compares it to ‘blowing a dam.’
• The show’s gradual dismantling of the Others’ hillbilly mystique continues apace here, with the discovery that the village Michael visited has been abandoned, and that the Dharma door there is a theatrical façade, with nothing but solid rock behind it. Another strong theme of this season has been disillusionment, and that theme is again reinforced as the characters’ ideas of who their ‘enemy’ is are stripped away.
Kate (reading from a Pearl Station notebook): “0400: S.R. moves ping-pong table again. 0415: Takes a shower. What is this?”
• As the rescue party makes its way across the Island they come across a large pile of pneumatic capsules, as well as the exit-end of the pneumatic tube we saw Locke try out down in the Pearl Station. The discovery of this implies that, as Desmond suggests, it was the Pearl and not the Swan which performed a ‘useless’ function. But I dunno – it may also be the case that, just as the Swan continued to be manned following the Purge, the Pearl may have been similarly occupied by Dharma-loyal people. If they too were sealed in to avoid death by gassing, they would have no way of knowing that the reports they filed were no longer being picked up (perhaps in a Dharma van). Then again, that pile is HUGE, man.
• The Whispers return again, and there again seems to be a strong connection between them, the Others, and their ability to seemingly appear out of nowhere. I’ve got a theory on this. We’ll talk more about it in Season 3, when Harper (briefly) enters the picture. I love the detail of the stun darts being used to capture Jack’s group. It hints at the Others being more advanced than we know and it also references a kind of primitivism. I also love, love, love this screenshot of Sawyer getting darted. He looks like a Looney Tunes outtake.
Desmond: “I think I crashed your plane.”
• Desmond’s time with Locke in the Swan reveals something major we didn’t know before. Desmond’s failure to enter the code on the day that he killed Kelvin seems to have been responsible for crashing Oceanic 815. In the Season 5 finale it’s strongly implied that Jacob is responsible for bringing groups of people to the Island throughout history, presumably in order to be ‘tested’ in some way (is it time for Season 6 to start yet?…..how about now?). From what we see in this episode, and what we’ll learn in the seasons to come, Jacob’s method for doing this is circuitous and near-invisible. Much like, say, some conceptions of the Judeo-Christian God, Jacob appears to be moving behind the scenes and touching the pieces on a giant game board in just the right ways – spinning them in new directions, setting them to bounce off of one another, so that the desired big-picture result of bringing them to the Island is accomplished without direct interference from him. In other words (assuming Jacob wanted the folks on O15 to come to the Island): Jacob is all about valuing free will in a deterministic system. He doesn’t ‘cause’ the plane to crash directly, therefore ensuring that what he wants will come to pass. He relies on humanity to interact in just the right ways, with those interactions bringing about a result that he wants.
• The rocks which Desmond initially crashes on, and where he finds Inman working on his boat, are apparently the same place that Miles lands in Season 5. I can’t remember off the top of my head whether Miles senses Dead Inman there.
Desmond: “Three days before you came down here, before we met, I heard a banging on the Hatch door, shouting. But it was you, John, wasn’t it?
You said there isn’t any purpose—there’s no such thing as fate. But you saved my life, brother, so that I could save yours.”
• Stepping away from any ‘spiritual’ explanations of fate or destiny, I really love how humane and life-affirming the above conversation is. Locke saved Desmond’s life when Desmond was on the verge of ending it. And now, as Locke is on the verge of committing a kind of suicide himself, Des steps in to save him. “Life begins on the other side of despair,” indeed.
• The pier that Jack, Mike, Kate, Sawyer and Hurley are taken to is labeled with a sign reading “Pala Ferry.” Pala is the name of Aldous Huxley’s fictional Island Utopia in the novel “Island.” Huxley’s novel contains a great many connections to Lost. Namely:
Huxley’s Island’s primary religious practice is Mahayana Buddhism, a system of belief that melds eastern and western traditions in a way that’s not dissimilar to Dharma’s melding of science and faith, or to the way that various faiths have been seen expressed on Lost’s Island.
The people of Huxley’s Island practice ‘selective modernization,’ by embracing certain technological advances (like refrigeration) while rejecting more overt industrialization, not unlike the way that the Others choose to take over the Dharma barracks but resist Dharma’s ‘industrialization’ of the Island through their installation of multiple hatches. They also, like the Others and like Dharma, utilize drugs and ‘trance states’ to achieve faster learning and greater consciousness and focus on fertility.
Huxley’s novel gives us this provocative passage, which links together a bunch of stuff that we’ve been discussing this season, and which, I’d guess, comes close to what Lost is attempting to say about the idea of faith in general:
“Faith is something very different from belief. Belief is the systematic taking of unanalyzed words much too seriously. Paul’s words, Mohammed’s words, Marx’s words, Hitler’s words – people take them too seriously, and what happens? What happens is the senseless ambivalence of history – sadism versus duty, or (incomparably worse) sadism as duty; devotion counterbalanced by organized paranoia; sisters of charity selflessly tending to the victims of their own church’s inquisitors and crusaders. Faith, on the contrary, can never be taken too seriously. For faith is the empirically justified confidence in our capacity to know who in fact we are, to forget the belief-intoxicated Manichee in Good Being. Give us this day our daily Faith, but deliver us, dear God, from Belief.”
• The final confrontations between Locke and Eko still feel sorta unfocused to me on Rewatch, and I think that’s because we still don’t have a clear understanding of what Locke’s refusal to push the Button has done, nor what Desmond’s turning of the fail safe key accomplished. What I (kinda, sorta) presume at this point: Ben wanted the Button to go un-pushed. He’s the only one on the Pala Ferry dock that doesn’t seem freaked out/pained/bewildered by the ‘purple sky event,’ and he’s the one who planted the seed of doubt in Locke’s mind about the Button to begin with.
What does this mean about the energy behind the barrier? About the true purpose of the Swan? About the Others’ motives in letting it apparently remain in Dharma’s hands long after the Purge? I have no friggin’ clue. I invite you to enlighten me.
Ben: “I’m not happy about the arrangement that was made with you Michael, but we got more than we bargained for when Walt joined us, so I suppose this is what’s best.”
• What does this mean? One of the Season 4 mobisodes elaborates (ever so unhelpfully) on Walt’s time with the Others and makes it seems as though there’s something spooky and/or unnatural about Walt but this is another story thread that Lost pretty much leaves alone when they leave Season 2. Will we get any answers about Super-Walt in Season 6? We’d better.
• The bearing and instruction that Ben gives Michael and Walt echoes the importance of ‘staying on the path’ when leaving the Island – something that will be explored in much greater, wonkier detail when we hit Season 5. There, when Daniel instructs Frank to stay on the same bearing, its 305.
So long, Michael and Walt. We’ll see you again, but be no less confused by you when we do.
• Charlie’s utterly-suspect amnesia with Claire irritates the hell out of me. I can’t imagine that the final season will stop long enough to explain why someone at ground zero of a massive electromagnetic event would say that ‘nothing happened’ – especially when that person is earning their way back into the good graces of someone who hates liars. This is either the worst case of “we’re stubbornly and inexplicably not going to talk about obvious, crazy things” that Lost has ever had, or it’s a hint of some kind. I suspect it’s the former. But, on the off-chance it’s the latter, I’ll note that some of the promo stuff at Comiccon this past summer seemed to hint at the existence of multiple parallel universes.
• And juuuuust when you think that your brain can’t possibly be scrambled any more completely, we cut to…the Arctic?
In a bewilderingly-cool coda, the purple sky event has been spotted by a duo of researchers – one of whom looks strikingly like Jack Shepard:
As the episode, and the season, comes to a close we discover that Penelope is looking for that Island, and that these mysterious men may have found it. This raises more questions that subsequent seasons have more-or-less answered indirectly. Penny presumably knows about weird electromagnetic events and their possible connection to Desmond’s disappearance because of her father, Charles Widmore, former leader of the Others. And we can assume that Penny’s discovery here is the spur which propels Charles to assemble his team of mercenaries and scientists for their three-hour tour.
Also of potential interest: the conversation that these two men have directly before they discover the anomaly.
Man #1 (Subtitled from Portuguese): “I crush your defense and that is the last you shall see of your rook.”
Man #2 (Subtitled): “All part of the plan, my friend.”
Subtle meta-commentary on the struggle between Jacob and the MiB behind the scenes? Was the Swan a piece in the game that has now been eliminated? Or do these two gents just enjoy a good, rousing, non-subtextual chess game once in a while?
Whew. Did I cover it all? What did I miss? What did you pick up on? Are you as sorry/grateful to see this season end as I am?
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Missed a column? Catch up here:
• Three Minutes (S2 ep. 22)
• ? (S2 ep. 21)
• Two for The Road (S2 ep. 20)
• S.O.S. (S2 ep. 19)
• Dave (S2 ep. 18)
• Lockdown (S2 ep. 17)
• The Whole Truth (S2 ep. 16)
• Maternity Leave (S2 ep. 15)
• 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)