The Man From Tallahassee (S3, ep. 13)
Locke: “The man from Tallahassee? What is that? Some kind of code?”
Ben: “No, John, unfortunately we don’t have a code for ‘There’s a man in my closet with a gun to my daughter’s head.’ Although we obviously should.”
• Locke appears to be the one most level-headed about Jack’s potential defection, but we know better. He’s got no interest in helping Jack. He’s a man on a destructive mission all of a sudden, and he’s looking for that submarine. Once again it’s like Locke is operating on another frequency – like he’s receiving a transmission only he can hear. A typically-intelligent commenter from Chud’s message boards recently asked whether it’s possible that Locke’s unnerving Island-sense (like Spider-sense, I guess, but focused on things like sudden rain and the apparent ‘will’ of the Island) is a result of the MiB/Smoke Monster communicating to him this whole time. That’s a good question, but its one that we don’t have the answer to just yet.
• Locke’s flashback underlines his essential gullibility yet again, but it also points toward something else – that he and Jack really are two halves of a whole, the both of them unwilling and unable to let things go. Locke stalks his father the way that Jack stalked Sarah, the both of them reaching out for answers over and over even as they were swatted away.
…Of course, Sarah never pushed Jack out of an eight story window.
• Kate walks in on Jack playing piano – something we first saw him do in flashback before his wedding. He’s fond of grandly pensive instrumentals, apparently.
• Richard Alpert makes his second appearance in this episode – he’s ordered by Ben to get ‘the man from Tallahassee.’ This indicates to me that they were preparing for Locke; that the eye-for-an-eye initiation we’ll see detailed in The Brig was planned enough in advance for Richard to know what Ben’s instruction meant.
• Ben analyzes Locke so effortlessly. He knows Locke’s history, his weaknesses and fears. It’s fascinating to watch the two characters here, still somewhat new to one another, and see Ben sizing Locke up like a specimen under a microscope. Their history is a succession of manipulations on Ben’s part – manipulations that Locke is consistently unable to resist/avoid. Their history is a lot like the history between Anthony Cooper and Locke, as a matter of fact.
• Tom points upward when he lets Jack in to see Kate and warns him to be careful in the room, seemingly warning him about hidden mics. I hadn’t noticed that before, and it’s the kind of detail that makes me want to know more about Tom’s background. He’s kind to Kate, seems to have Jack’s back, and despite his participation in Walt-napping at the end of Season 1, genuinely seems like a nice guy.
• Ben asks Locke about the recovery of his legs, and Locke confirms that it was immediate – that he regained the ability to walk as soon as he landed on the Island. Locke guesses that Ben is wondering why it hasn’t happened for him yet – why he isn’t recovering with what we might suppose is the Island’s usual speed. This is maybe the beginning of Ben’s jealousy, and it brings up unresolved questions about the ‘Island’s’ power. Was it the Island that healed John? That healed Rose? Was it the MiB/Smoke Monster? Was it Jacob? That’s no clearer now than it was when this episode originally aired.
• Sayid is chained to the same swing set that we’ll see Charlotte using in Season 5.
• Sayid tells Alex about her mother – but before he can give her any specifics, replacement-Pickett gives him a whack.
Fun Locke/Ben exchange:
Locke: “Where do you get electricity?”
Ben: “We have two giant hamsters running in a massive wheel at our secret underground lair.”
As with “Par Avion,” this episode contains a chunk of juicy mythology-heavy dialogue smack dab in the middle of it:
Ben: “I was born on this island. Not many of my people can say that. Most of them were recruited and brought here and as much as they love this place, as much as they would do anything to defend it, they need to know they can leave if they want to. The sub maintains that illusion.”
• Ben wasn’t literally born on the Island, but he figuratively was, both through the still-opaque Temple incident and the events of the Purge. He tells Locke that people need the illusion of freedom.
Ben: “Let me put it so you’ll understand. Picture a box. You know something about boxes, don’t you, John? What if I told you that somewhere on this island, there’s a very large box… and whatever you imagined, whatever you wanted to be in it, when you opened that box, there it would be.”
• The way that Ben describes the Island’s ‘magic box’ makes it sound like he’s talking about The Secret, frankly. Or this ‘Radionic, Psionic mind machine’, or this build-it-at-home ‘Wishing Machine’ (God, I love the internet). Kidding aside, the ‘box’ that Ben refers to here sounds to me like power at a quantum level – literal mind over literal matter.
If I understand the ‘basics’ of it correctly (and be forewarned: there’s every reason to believe that I don’t) the field of Quantum Mechanics deals, in part, with the idea that the Universe is NOT deterministic – that it is, instead, probabilistic. If Lost has decided to adopt a Quantum view of things, then what the Island most resembles in Ben’s brief description is something not unlike the Infinite Improbability Drive, described in Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide books, or the ‘Possible Sword’ described by China Mieville in The Scar. If the Island is/rests on the hub at the center of the wheel of time and space (as it appears to), then it makes a certain amount of (wonky, weird, sci-fi non)sense that it could be used to generate desired probabilities, and that those probabilities would/could be generated by those with the right ‘karma’/’will’/’receptivity on a mind-over-matter level. The ability of the Island to generate possibilities/probabilities would potentially explain how Locke regains the use of his legs (in a Quantum universe, there would be many Lockes, and not all of them would have had their spines snapped), how Richard stays young (on a Quantum Island, would it be possible to arrest the aging process so that Richard lives in one perpetual day, while the world around him pushes forward?).
What do you think? Is the Island, in some sense, a probability machine of some kind?
Ben: “Why are you so angry, John?”
Locke: “Because you’re cheating – you and your people! Communicate with the outside world whenever you want to, you – you come and go as you please…you use electricity and running water and guns…You’re a hypocrite! A Pharisee. You don’t deserve to be on this island. If you had any idea what this place really was…you wouldn’t be putting chicken in your refrigerator!”
• There’s that word – the one I’ve been waiting to hear now for three seasons: ‘Pharisee.’ As Locke and most Christians have traditionally used it, Pharisee is a dirty word. The authors of the canonical Gospels reaaaaally didn’t like the Pharisees:
“Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” – Matthew 23:26
“But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.” – Matthew 23:13
“Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not, and the men that walk over them are not aware of them.” – Luke 11:44
“To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.’” – John 18:9-14
Now, I’m no Biblical scholar, but I can tell you a little about why the Pharisees were so reviled by Jesus and the Gospel authors. In the historical period wherein the Gospels are supposed to have taken place, the Pharisees were well-respected, well-learned leaders in the Jewish community who were known for their strict and unwavering obedience to and knowledge of Mosaic Law. Historical accuracy aside, the Bible portrays them as men who adhere to the letter of the law at the expense of the spirit of the law, and one of Christ’s most seismic acts was to deny that the Pharisees, for all of their strict rules and their community standing and their perceived self-righteousness (qualities not unlike, for comparison’s sake, a great number of Evangelical Christians in the United States today) had any greater access to God, or understanding of God, or claim to God, than any other person, no matter how lowly. To Christ and his early followers, the Pharisees represented snooty bouncers, keeping the ‘riff raff’ away from the party.
And that’s essentially what Locke is accusing Ben of here – of acting like a Biblical Pharisee and keeping him (and it’s all about him here – Locke’s idea of community seems to begin and end with ‘me’) away from the Island’s secrets. Locke’s right, of course. That’s exactly what Ben is doing.
On a larger, more generalized level, characterizing Ben (and by extension the Others) as Pharisees also emphasizes what I think is a pretty consistent thematic concern of the show: Power structures. Within the castaway group there’s been much noise made about the fact that Jack and Company are the ones sneaking off to find secret hatches, and that they don’t share any of this with the other survivors. The Others appear to have a similar need-to-know structure in place, with Ben and Richard near or at the top of the information pyramid, and the rest of the Others following their orders. Even in that arrangement, Ben is never allowed to see Jacob, and only the leader of the Others may go in to see Jacob, implying that no one has seen the Island’s deity-figure since Ben took charge. Dharma also had this same basic power structure, with the ‘circle of trust’ operating to keep the top-secret stuff circulating only to the people Horace trusted, while the rest of the group worked in the motor pool and made sandwiches.
Now that I’m done vomiting New Testament factoids, let’s consider the substance of Locke’s claims. With the exception of the glimpses we see of ‘Otherville’ under Ben’s command, the Others have always lived more-or-less nomadically, or so it seems. They’re like jungle-trekking Bedouin, camping in tents and building cooking fires. The village that Michael visits in Season 2 turns out to have been a good indication of their lifestyle after all. But Ben has changed this. He’s gone about ‘modernizing’ his fellow Others. This is, according to Locke, a corrupt way. According to Locke (or to whatever’s feeding Locke information), the only true way to reside on this Island is the ‘pure’ way – without contact with the outside world, without amenities like indoor bathrooms and refrigerators. And that insistence on purity is, oddly, the sort of thing that the Pharisees have been remembered for in the Biblical sense.
But it also makes a certain amount of sense, this implied austerity. I’ve written before about the idea of the Others as monks who’ve divested themselves from material things and emotional attachments, and Locke’s little speech here seems to shore up that theory of mine. The question becomes: who or what is demanding this purity? Is it a choice that’s made in order to keep the Others from falling prey to temptation? Is it a choice that’s made in order to ensure their safety? Or is it an edict designed to keep the Others bound to the will of an unseen God, designed to keep them enslaved?
• Alex tells Locke that he’s doing what Ben wants by blowing up the sub – that Ben gets people to do what he wants by making them think that it’s what they want – but Locke doesn’t hear her. He’s oblivious in this way, as mirrored in his flashback. All signs can point to “DANGER,” but Locke doesn’t typically see them.
• Locke is wet when he appears, implying that he’s been planting c4 around the outside of the ship. It goes up like a fireball. We see the inside of the sub for the first time here.
• The word Apollo is shown on the wall in a framed photograph at Anthony Cooper’s apartment. If this were any other show I’d mark it as coincidence.
• We see that Cooper has an affinity for McCutcheon whiskey, just like Charles Widmore.
• John being shoved out of the window is brutal, and the pay off for three seasons of wondering about the cause of Locke’s paralysis is (to me) insanely satisfying. It will take us two seasons to learn what occurred directly after Locke hit the ground – that Jacob was there, seemingly waiting for Locke to fall. But why? Was it just to pay his respects to John, and to indicate his regret for all that’s happened and is yet to happen? Was it to ‘mark’ him in some way, as Jacob seems to have marked all of the Oceanic 6? Will the show answer this?
Locke: “Uh, no, no, please, I, I, I can’t do this.”
Orderly: “John. You fell eight stories and survived, OK? I don’t want to hear about what you can’t do.”
• Maybe that’s Locke’s real gift – survival in the face of terrible events. In any event, it’s interesting to see how Locke appears to have adopted this man’s mantra as his own.
• After Locke destroys the sub Ben reappears to him and explains that Alex was right – that Ben did manipulate Locke into using the C-4 to blow it up. With logic that’s as icy as it is air-tight, Ben proceeds to detail his thought process to both Locke and the audience, and it’s one of the few times during the course of the show that we get to see how his mind works. Being the leader of the Others on this Island seems more than a little like being its king. You have to worry about usurpation, about the respect and obedience of your ‘subjects,’ about threats from within and without. In the face of all of that, it’s easier to imagine how Ben became the conniving bastard that he is.
Ben: “I don’t know how it happened, but you seem to have some communion with this island, John, and that makes you very, very important. You have no idea what you’re talking about, of course, but in time you’ll have a better understanding of things.”
• Ben’s lying, of course. He has no intention of allowing Locke to get a ‘better understanding of things.’ But he isn’t lying about the communion that Locke appears to have, and the appearance of Richard Alpert at this point in the story signifies something worth keeping firmly in mind: Alpert has now met Locke once in the past (during the events of “Jughead”), has attended Locke’s birth, and has presented a young Locke with what appears to be a modified Dali Lama test. Alpert has already been deeply affected by the ways in which Season 5’s time-tripping has/will thrown Locke’s name and face all over the Island’s history, and starting with this episode it seems as though Alpert is beginning to push for Locke to ascend to ‘leader’ status, with Ben gripping the wheels of his chair and attempting to stop that forward motion with all of his might.
• But before Locke can become the presumed-leader of the Others, he needs to confront his father – something Ben successfully did many years ago. How did Anthony Cooper end up on the Island? Was he there already when Ben ordered Richard to go and get him?
Next up: Expose, which emphasizes the ferocity of Lost fans, as well as the ways in which watching television on DVD significantly alters the viewing experience.
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Missed a column? Catch up here:
• Par Avion (S3 ep. 12)
• Enter 77 (S3 ep. 11)
• Tricia Tanaka is Dead (S3 ep. 10)
• Stranger in a Strange Land (S3 ep. 09)
• Flashes before your Eyes (S3 ep. 08)
• Not In Portland (S3 ep. 07)
• I Do (S3 ep. 06)
• The Cost of Living (S3 ep. 05)
• Every Man for himself (S3 ep. 04)
• Further Instructions (S3 ep. 03)
• The Glass Ballerina (S3 ep. 02)
• Season 3 Premiere
• 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)