Left Behind (S3, ep. 15)

Welcome back to the Rewatch. After a few days of Lost-free vacation time I’m ready to jump back into the fray and slay some episodes. We’re officially closing in on the tail-end of Season 3, and we look to be on schedule to finish out the Rewatch before Season 6 begins in January. If you’re joining us for the first time I encourage you to check out Back To The Island, the rewatch archive site that houses all the pre-Chud columns on one handy-to-navigate (read: barebones) site. If you’ve been following along please accept my thanks for your loyal peepers, as well as your uniformly-excellent commentary, both on the Chud.com message boards and in the comments section at Back To The Island. If those discussions are any indication, Lost has an impressively intelligent audience, and your thoughts are a pleasure to read. Keep up the comments and the criticism, please.

Thoughts:

• Juliet remains six different kinds of awesome, combined into a figurative Valu-Pak of feminine cool, vulnerability, shadiness and good ol’ fashioned ass kicking to list a few notable traits. The way that they have her flip Kate in this episode’s opening scene puts a Big Damn Smile on my face. There’s still no explanation as to why the Others all seem to be such outstanding fighters/marksmen/woodsmen, but I’m assuming that Room 23 and/or the Temple have something to do with the acquisition of judo skills and apparent super strength.

• The seemingly-random meeting of Kate and Cassidy in this episode won’t bear real fruit until Season 5. Despite the baby growing in her belly, Cassidy doesn’t seem to have a problem slugging back a drink or two at the bar.

Locke: “I don’t want to go home, Kate. I want you to know, I made a strong case for you. I told them that you were a good person. Reliable, smart, honest. And then they told me who you were and what you had done. Let’s just say forgiveness isn’t one of their strong suits. Good luck.”

I find Locke’s editorializing here to be interesting. If what he’s saying is true, it continues to cement the idea of the Others’ adhering to Old Testament-styled justice, as opposed to the new-age, ‘namby-pamby’ New Testament stuff that the show as a whole seems to champion. The word ‘good’ pops up here again, and as Locke defines it the word doesn’t necessarily refer to morally ‘good’ people, but to people who are ‘reliable, smart, honest.’ Locke’s willingness to cast off his relationships with the castaways he’s known since the crash would seem to mirror the show’s larger theme of ‘letting go’ of past guilt and pain (or not). I was somewhat surprised that Locke hadn’t gotten wind of Kate’s criminal past at some point in Seasons 1 or 2.

Hurley: “Might wanna ask yourself about all the good stuff that comes from being a part of this society. I mean you can’t even feed yourself. You use our latrine; drink the water that Steve brings every morning to the trough…”

Hurley continues to prove himself someone capable of uniting people in a subtler way than Jack or Locke. The way he essentially cons Sawyer into being nice shows both his craftier side (rarely displayed) as well as his humane, thoughtful side. Hurley and Sawyer make for an entertaining team as far as I’m concerned, and their storyline here helps to re-emphasize the ideas about community that the show has been circling and exploring all season long. We’ve discussed, on a philosophical level, Mikhail Bakunin’s ‘collectivist Utopia,’ an ideal that the castaways on the beach have emulated to some extent. We’ve also discussed Ayn Rand’s ‘objectivism’ as illustrated in Sawyer’s capitalist character and in the novel ‘The Fountainhead,’ which we’ve seen him reading. These discussions have been largely theoretical – ideas floating around the edges of the actual stories being told. But “Left Behind” switches things up by taking the theoretical and figurative, making it practical and literal. We’re shown, explicitly, the value that Sawyer gains by being a part of the castaway community, and we’re shown the consequences of choosing to live as a Rand-ian individual under the ‘real-life’ circumstances on the Island. Based on what we’ve seen the show seems to come out firmly in support of community and its practical value, while still celebrating the importance of the individual within that community.

Kate: “Why would they handcuff you to me and then drag us all the way out into the jungle?”
Juliet: “Ben has a thing for mind games.”

• Cuffing Juliet and Kate together makes for a pleasing tableau, but the show is running in place in terms of its larger mythology and its character pieces – a feeling that increases during Season 3’s middle section. On rewatch I have to admit that I’m conscious of this, and that the repetition can get tiresome, but that it doesn’t bother me terribly (though I’m aware that it does bother some, if not many, much more). One reason for my lack of real venom towards this ‘padding’ is because I’m aware of the problems the show’s writers were having in determining how to proceed without any kind of end-date in place for the show. Another reason for my relative largesse: while some of the character stuff in these episodes are obvious retreads of past themes – or are just plain uninteresting in comparison to, say, flashbacks of Juliet’s past – they remain solid in their construction. They’re not as interesting, but they aren’t flat-out dull. Watching the writers tap-dance through the middle of the season awaiting network permission to end the show on a defined timeline creates a certain sense of ‘been there, done that, bought the t-shirt,’ but there’s never a sense that the show has abandoned its overarching plans, or that they’ve betrayed the characters. And while there’s a certain sameness to the proceedings, it’s the sort of sameness that I’d compare to the individual chapters in a Stephen King novel like, for example, ‘It.’ Digression time!

Lost’s writers have spoken fairly often of their creative debt to Mr. King, citing The Stand as a major inspiration for/influence on their show, and going so far as to include a bunny with the number ‘8’ on it in a visual homage to King’s ‘On Writing.’ Lost’s writing shares some similarities with King’s, including an emphasis on a sprawling, varied cast of characters, a delight in mixing high and low pop culture into the storyline, and a populism that’s smarter than it appears on the surface. And, due to uncertainty about the show’s future with the network, Season 3 shares King’s tendency toward a certain ‘bloat’ and/or repetition.

In his novel ‘It’ Mr. King spends a large number of pages repeating what are, more or less, the same sort of sequences over and again. It isn’t enough for the reader to see Pennywise the clown terrorizing one child, or four children, or even ten. In his novel King presents dozens of arguably identical – yet at the same time carefully-varied – encounters with his titular monster. This gets, it must be said, a little old. And yet, the strength of King’s storytelling voice is so strong that the repetition of these encounters becomes a kind of shaggy strength, lending the novel a sort of Dickensian sprawl that it might not contain otherwise, had it been streamlined. ‘It’ would probably be a tighter read if King or his editor had removed some of the ‘bloat,’ but it would probably also lose something in the process as well.

Like ‘It,’ Lost would arguably be a tighter, leaner, faster ride of a television show without some of this extraneous, arguably repetitive stuff. But, at the same time, the style of the writing and the overall-compelling central narrative make these ‘chapters’ engaging enough to revisit. On a thematic level, revisiting these stories from new angles, focusing on new time-frames, allows Lost to train its thematic lens on the characters in a sharper fashion, and while I can feel the show circling around itself to some extent in these episodes, I’m also impressed anew at the ways in which Lost continues to underline and/or advance its textual and sub-textual concerns while playing the running-in-place game. Sawyer’s quest to make amends and escape ‘banishment’ during this episode is a perfect example of this. The way in which Kate’s flashback comments on and informs the present-day stuff is another great example.

• Watching Kate and Juliet have their catfight is the sort of running-in-place exercise that I heartily applaud and condone.

• And, oh, hey…..Monster! Once again, the presence of banyan trees seems to stymie and confound our favorite sentient column of soot. That’s at least three times that the trees have served as weirdly-effective protection against the Monster’s attack.

• As the Monster approaches them it appears to ‘scan’ them. The white light it produces probably accounts for Locke’s comment to Eko earlier in the season about seeing a very bright light when he encountered it in Season 1.

Claire: “Is…err…is there anything I can do for you?”
Sawyer: “No. I just came by to say, your baby’s… he’s not as wrinkly as he was a couple weeks ago.”

• Watching Sawyer try and act like a decent person is, for lack of a better term, flat-out adorable. This conversion is motivated by political thinking – as he’ll say to Desmond in this episode, he’s looking to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of the castaways. This is a cute call-back to the season 1 episode of the same name, but it also illustrates that Sawyer is a man in transition, not a man transformed. I admire the way in which the writers slowly allow Sawyer to stumble toward responsibility and decency, in a manner that I’d describe as naturalistic. He’s still looking out for himself, for his own standing within the camp, but Hurley’s encouragements have tilted that self-interested outlook in a communal direction.

Kate: “I wanna know why you told them what I did to Wayne.”
Diane: “I thought maybe you came ‘cause you wanted to say you were sorry.”
Kate: “I’m not sorry. He hit you, he treated you like a dog, and you…”
Diane: “You can’t help who you love, Katherine. And for good or bad, I loved him. And you burnt him alive. You turned on the gas and you lit a match. You murdered him in cold blood.”
Kate: “I did it for you.”
Diane: “No. What you did, you did for yourself.”

• I think we see Kate ‘grow’ a little in the present day during this episode, something that hasn’t been as evident in past Kate-centric episodes. As her flashback makes clear, Kate killed Wayne for herself, not for her mother, but she never really comes to terms with that. Instead, she denies it. Here, when she realizes that she has essentially destroyed Jack’s chances of leaving the Island, she owns the responsibility for it and seems sincere and penitent.

• We get another snippet of information about the Monster in this episode – not only do banyan trees work as a kind of weird Smokey-repellant, but so does the sonic fence. We know now, based off of Richard’s dramatic entrance into the Dharma compound in season 5, that the sonic fence poses no real threat to the Others. I think it’s fairly safe to assume that the fence’s primary function is to keep ol’ Smokey out of the barracks area.

Sawyer: “You son of a bitch. There wasn’t ever gonna be no vote.”
Hurley: “But, wasn’t it nice, being nice?”

• In a way, Hurley acts as the pseudo-Richard of the castaways here, as an advisor and as a kind of philosophical compass for the larger group, helping to select that group’s ‘leader,’ while electing to stay on the sidelines, so to speak.

• Watership Down makes a return appearance in this episode. I last discussed this book back in Season 1, and its reappearance here, alongside Desmond’s future-flashes, helps cement the subtextual connection between Fiver’s visions and Desmond’s. It’s also interesting to note the similarities between the Efrafra Warren and Ben’s Others – and between Ben and the novel’s General Woundwort.

• The Others have evacuated the barracks area – seemingly because of Locke’s arrival. While some aspects of the show continue to tread narrative water, aspects like these signal a shift toward what the show will become shortly. They also speak to the notion that Ben has somehow lead the Others astray by having them live in ‘decadent’ comfort like suburban soccer-parents. We’ll talk more about the Others and their secret society as the season rolls on.

• The episode ends with Jack, Kate and Sayid headed back to Castaway Beach, with Juliet in tow. We’ll discover that she’s an intentional plant, that she was ‘left behind’ on purpose to serve as Ben’s eyes and ears. But, because it’s Juliet, things are never that simple.

*****

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Missed a column? Catch up here:

Season 3

• Exposé (S3 ep. 14)
• The Man from Tallahasse (S3 ep. 13)
• 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

• 
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)