Every Man For Himself (S3, ep. 4)

Ben: “We did all this because the only way to gain a con man’s respect is to con him. And you’re pretty good, Sawyer. We’re a lot better.”

Four episodes in, and I’m already impatient during Sawyer’s flashback. I think this is going to be a problem for me during the first half of Season 3 – when the guest stars aren’t stellar and the flashbacks aren’t tied into the Island, or truly giving us something new and different to chew over, I suspect I’ll be tempted to hit that FF button.

…But I won’t. As I’ve been rewatching, I’ve been noticing the way that Lost can sometimes squirrel away a reference, a clue, a nifty mystery, into pretty much any corner of its narrative, and since one of the reasons to rewatch the show in the first place is in order to try and spot/put those clues in some sort of appreciable, meaningful order – an attempt that might just be Apophenia in action.

In any event, I didn’t find anything significant lurking inside Sawyer’s largely-uninspiring stint in the pokey. On the Island, though? That’s a different story.

Thoughts:

• Desmond’s growing Power Cosmic crystallizes again for me why he became such an immediately-arresting character. Making Desmond the resident Dr. Manhattan of the Island instantly drew people to him in a very similar fashion to the way in which Locke’s brand of magical mystery juice drew people to him in Season 1. Speaking only for myself, I didn’t much care one way or the other about Des until this story arc started taking shape. It makes me wonder, quite honestly, whether Nikki or Paulo would still be on the show today, and whether I’d have come to love them over time, had they suddenly manifested a bewildering and unexplained psychic super-power to go along with their ability to ignite fiery hate in the bellies of Lost fans.

Great Charlie Line (he’s on a roll this season): “I was building a church before Eko exploded.”

• The cartoons that the Others play for Jack’s benefit are a great, weird little flourish.

• Bill Dukes shows up as the Warden in Sawyer’s flashback, another example of Lost’s tremendous casting department. He does not, unfortunately, dry-shave his face over and over and over in this episode.

Juliet: “Well, It doesn’t work that way over here, Jack. We make decisions together.”

That’s the Utopian ideal. It’s the sort of thing that, say, Aldus Huxley or Sir Thomas More advocated for when creating their idealized (and Lost-referenced) Island Utopias. But the reality of these sorts of Utopian ideals is often far from the ideal, and as Jack points out here, and as we’ll witness for ourselves as the seasons roll on, the Others are Ben’s gang. He’s Peter to their Lost Boys, and he decides what games they’re going to play.  Ben underlines this when he comes a-bargin’ in, demanding that Juliet follow him.

An idealized civilization, Lost seems to be saying (in many ways, via many methods, over many seasons) is a golden, insubstantial dream. It exists, in the past, or at some point in the future, and the distance that we have from the ideal allows us to maintain a belief in its potentiality. But when we finally reach Utopia – when we step into the Dharma Initiative in Season 5, or as we sink into the society of the Others in Season 3, we discover the truth about Utopia – it is, literally, “No place.”

In life, we build flawed communities with flawed people. Lost reflects this, and it seems to be saying that to expect otherwise – to expect to find a community free from the potential for collapse, for corruption, for dissolution – is to be disappointed. To attempt community in the face of its flaws is a kind of grace.

• Jack’s confinement is a reversal – a mirror- of Ben’s confinement in Season 2. We see him sowing the same seeds of leadership discontent in Juliet that Ben sowed in Locke, and Sawyer’s imprisonment reflects the physically-abusive portion of that confinement, with Danny Pickett functioning as a kind of redneck-Sayid.

Great Sawyer Line: “Soundin’ a little stuffy there, Chinatown.”

• Sawyer is shown tripping the Bear Cage’s ‘reward circuit as he’s thinking, a wry take on the Skinner-box aspect of it. His plan, which is pretty ingenious and crazy all at once, fails because he’s not thinking on their level – because he underestimates the real measure of control that the Others have over them – something that Ben will explicitly underline to him at the episode’s end.

Tom: “Two days since the sky turned purple – we’ve been blind, our comms are all down and I can’t get them back up again.”

• Our first indication that the purple-sky event has had some kind of repercussion, even if it’s still not clear what happened. Electromagnetic pulses have the ability to interfere with and/or shut down anything electrical/electronic, and what we know of the Swan indicates that some kind of electromagnetic release was in effect until Desmond used the fail safe key, but we’re no clearer on what that rise in energy meant, where it originated from, why and how it seems to also power the frozen wheel, etc. For Lost to end satisfyingly for me I think it’s got to answer a question or two about all of this.

• Lost pays homage to Pulp Fiction’s Uma-overdose scene with a big honkin’ needle slammed directly into Sawyer’s chest. So much fun.

Paulo: “Take the five-iron. I never use it. That way, when you die in the jungle, I don’t have to go looking for it.”

• Here’s a perfect example of where the show went wrong with Nikki and Paulo. He’s written as an ass from the get-go, but he’s got none of the wry wit of Sawyer or Miles. We’re never given an opportunity to sympathize with him, or laugh with him, or feel as though we should want to care about the character on an emotional level (til Expose at least, and even there not so much). Worse, we’re never asked to care on a plot level – Paulo has no real reason to start interacting with Lost’s main castaways. He just starts doing it, and he’s an ass about it. No wonder people reacted negatively.

• Jack hears Sawyer through the ‘dead’ intercom, implying that it wasn’t hunger and/or cabin fever that lead him to hear his father’s voice in “A Tale of Two Cities.” We also hear another voice through the speaker, saying “it was a mistake bringing those two here.”

• Things I’ve learned in this episode: All Scots play golf.

Ben: “Come on, come on, come on, come on. Let’s move it. Let’s move it. Let’s move it. Hippity-hop! Hippity-hop! Hippity-hop!”

• One of the wonderful things about Michael Emerson’s performance in the role of Ben is the way in which he gives his line readings simultaneous comic and sinister tones. The way Ben shakes the bunny in this sequence is like some lost sequence from Blue Velvet. I half expect him to huff some gas and murmur “Ooh, I’m slutty,” ala Dennis Hopper in that flick, or, if you prefer, ala Pauly Shore in “Biodome.”

• The bunny has the number “8” on it, which is a reference to Stephen King’s “On Writing” in which King asks the reader to picture a bunny with the number 8 on it as an exercise in the power of reading-as-telepathy. The numbered bunny also echoes the one we’ll see at the end of season 4 in the Dharma Orchid Orientation video.

• Ben tells Sawyer that they’ve wired him with a pacemaker that will kill him if he gets too excited for any reason, effectively mentally crippling him. And if he tells Kate about any of it, she’ll get one too. This is a great, suitably-manipulative touch, one that reinforces the psychological testing motif that’s been a concern of the show since the introduction of the Swan. It further underlines the show’s ever-underlying thesis that we create our own realities.

• Sawyer’s backstory is ehhhhhhh. It’s notable, in that Cassidy shows up to visit him in the clink, and tells him he has a child named Clementine. In Season 4, he’ll ask Kate to look after her. That’s about it for my interest in this flashback.

• Kate continues her oddly-consistent pattern of climbing things. This time she conquers the Bear Cage.

• The alarm that the Others use to move Jack into the surgical area without hearing Kate’s calls is LOUD AS DAMNATION. Good lord, Lost.

• The show is beginning to introduce Ben’s tumor into the storyline by degrees, letting Jack catch a look at an unknown person’s spinal X-rays before he’s whisked off to try and save Colleen Pickett. But poor Colleen kicks it, leaving a devastated Danny behind. His scene with Kate and Sawyer is excellent. The fact that Sawyer doesn’t believe he can fight back without killing himself turns what should be an even brawl into a one-sided beatdown.

• We get our next Sawyer Book club selection, “Of Mice and Men.” No larger relevance to Lost that I’m able to suss out. But I very much enjoy the way that Ben uses the dialogue in that book at the end of the episode.

Jack: “The crash cart, now. Juliet, I need paddles.”
Juliet: “It’s broken. We’ve had… Jack, we haven’t had anything happen before. We didn’t — we have — I don’t…”

This is an interesting exchange. On the one hand, the fact that ‘they’ haven’t had ‘anything happen before’ could simply refer to the fact that, until the crash of 815, there weren’t any outside threats to the Others around. But its also possible that her words tie into what appears to be some sort of growing failure on the part of the Island to sustain/create life – something we’ve seen playing out in the fertility issues related to the Island, in the growth of a tumor on Ben’s spine, and now, in the shooting of Colleen.

There’s a sense, real or imagined by me, that the Island may be ‘breaking down’ in some way.

Juliet: “Um, I’m a fertility doctor. I’m not used to death.”

That’s not true. As a fertility doctor on the Island, she’s very used to death.

Great Jack/Juliet Exchange:

Juliet: “Are you just saying that to make me feel better?”
Jack: “I don’t care about making you feel better.”

• Desmond continues to build his odd device, and we see lightning strike his makeshift rod. Once again, Hurley bears witness to the weirdness, and Desmond grows more interesting.

• Sawyer sets up an anonymous bank account for his daughter with the money he gets in the flashback. Aww.

Ben: “You’re heart’s not going to blow up, James. All we put in you was doubt.”

• The pacemaker that they supposedly placed in Sawyer doesn’t exist – only the threat of punishment existed. As Ben points out, it wasn’t threatening to kill Sawyer that ‘broke’ him, it was threatening to hurt Kate. We’re vulnerable creatures, us humans, and never more so than when someone or something that we love is endangered. But this episode isn’t satisfied with suckerpunching us just the once, and so Ben reveals to Sawyer that they’re not on the “Island,” proper. They’re on a satellite Island. This is a detail that I quite like, and that’s not been explored much. We know that when the main Island moves through space, this satellite Island moves as well. What I think it may suggest is that, under the surface of the water, the two Islands are connected somehow.

*****

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Missed a column? Catch up here:

Season 3

• 
Further Instructions (S3 ep. 03)
• The Glass Ballerina (S3 ep. 02)
• Season 3 Premiere

Season 2

• Season 2 finale
• 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)