The Brig (S3, ep. 19)
Cooper: “Don’t you know, John? Don’t you know where we are?”
The Brig is 100% pure, undiluted Outstanding, with a side of Win. More than anything, for me the mood of the episode alone – the feeling of ancient tradition colliding with new people, of old hatred erupting anew, of something powerful and strange and unclear hovering just outside the field of vision – makes The Brig into a galvanizing installment. The episode contains so much of what I personally find fascinating about the show.
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• Let’s pretend the whole ‘magic box’ thing isn’t just one of Ben’s lies. Is the literal manifestation of this concept going to turn out to be The Temple? I’d say yes, if I had to take a guess, and if there’s any truth to the metaphor.
Ben: “You brought him here.”
• We know that some of the Others have the ability to appear from out of nowhere like jungle-y Criss Angels minus the douchebaggery, and we suspect (or I suspect, at any rate) that the Temple is somehow involved, is somehow enabling them to do so. Have they ‘leapt’ off-Island to grab Cooper? Or has Cooper really just popped into existence on the Island as Ben seems to be claiming? There’s good reason to believe that, as usual, ol’ Ben has his lying pants on and that Cooper’s arrival on the Island was engineered by the Others:
Cooper: “Island? OK. I’m driving down I10 through Tallahassee when bam, somebody slams into the back of my car. I go right into the divider at seventy miles an hour, the next thing I know, the paramedics are strapping me to a gurney, stuffing me into the back of an ambulance and one of them actually smiles at me as he pops the IV in my arm. And then, nothing. Just, black. And the next thing I know I wake up in a dark room tied up, gag in my mouth, and when the door opens, I’m looking up at the same man I threw out a window, John Locke. My dead son.”
More than anything, the scenario that Cooper describes sounds like the rough-and-tumble version of Juliet’s journey – instead of acquiescing and voluntarily drinking tranquilizer with orange juice, Cooper is driven off the road, loaded into a fake ambulance by smiling Others, and drugged for his trip to the Island. Since Locke destroys the submarine before Ben gives the order to get The Man from Tallahassee, it means that either the Others grabbed Cooper before Locke’s sabotage, or they transported him to the Island using a different method. We don’t know how long it takes the submarine to travel to and from the Island, but we know that the Others went to Tallahassee to fetch Cooper – a journey that would seem to take longer than the day or two of stubble that Cooper’s sporting when we see him. Stubble? I’m examining stubble now? Jesus. Moving on.
Ben: “We’re going to a new place – well, an old place actually. Would you like to come with us?”
• Ultimately, the ‘old place’ that Ben refers to here is the Temple – the place where the Others go to seek safety with the arrival of the Freighter. But it could just as easily refer to the field in which the Others set up camp. This episode again brings up the existence of some seemingly-ancient civilization on the Island – one that built impressive structures.
Great Sawyer Line: “You’re undercover with the Others.”
Cindy: “Don’t mind them – they’re all just excited you’re here.”
Cindy: “We’ve been waiting for you.”
• It seems safe to assume that the Others have in fact literally been waiting for John as a result of his (and the MiB’s) yet-to-come time-travel shenanigans. After all, John has met the Others before, even if that hasn’t yet happened from his perspective (more on this below). Lost seems to be making a point of keeping Cindy and the tail-end kids on our minds during Season 3 – she’s popped up twice now, and she seems like she’s happy as a fat kid in a cake factory being an Other. I’ve suggested before that Cindy may have been given the same mysteriously-undefined-and-quasi-supernatural treatment that Rousseau’s crew were given, based on how relaxed and at home she seems among the Others. But it’s also possible that whatever she’s been told about their group and their purpose was enough to make her one of them.
Ben: “I believe I have you to thank for this, John.”
• According to Ben, his previously-slow healing process kicked into a higher gear once Locke showed up. If we can trust this information (and who the hell knows, really), then the healing power of the Island seems to favor Locke in some way. Is this because there is some kind of intelligence behind the healing? Is the force that animates the MiB and all the Island’s apparitions responsible for restoring John’s legs? Or is John responsible for reawakening/strengthening whatever healing energy resides on the Island?
• Incidentally, I’d pay good money to watch a sitcom called “According to Ben” in which our favorite slithery Island leader takes Jim Belushi’s role as the head of a wacky suburban household – and unleashes psychologically-scarring mind games on all of them.
Ben: “When people join us here on this Island they need to make a gesture; of free will, of commitment. That’s why you’re gonna have to kill your father.”
• We’re back to the Old Testament again, and the story of Abraham and Isaac on Mount Moriah; Ben informs Locke that he must take literally sacrifice his father in order to proceed further into the ‘circle of trust.’ He must do this, or so Ben claims, in order to be ‘free.’ And ‘free’ in this context means free of the emotion and the conflict that Anthony Cooper creates in Locke – a definition that would seem to support my theory that, in order to truly join the Others, you must achieve a Zen-like state of being, one in which the demons of the past pose no threat to you or those around you.
Ben kills his own father during the events of the Purge, and I have to wonder whether this step was a requirement for him also; whether he needed to murder his father in order to pass into the ‘circle of trust.’ That’s brutal stuff – thou shalt not kill is, apparently, not one of the Island’s rules – but it also makes sense, given the show’s consistent theme of ‘letting go’ of the past and the sense that whatever force inhabits this Island demands sacrifice.
Naomi: “My company was hired by a woman named Penelope Widmore. I don’t know why. I never met her. She gave us a set of coordinates. We’ve been conducting a differential GPS grid search ever since.”
• Charlie, Hurley, Jin and Desmond have decided to keep Naomi’s existence a secret because Desmond isn’t sure if they can trust Jack. I can’t blame the Scotsman for being suspicious. Jack may not be an Other but he’s kind of a dick, and there’s no real excuse for his behavior. This whole subplot irritates me. We’ve seen next to nothing leading us to believe that Jack should, or would, choose to trust Juliet over the people he’s known since he crashed on the Island. The tension over his allegiances feels false to me, and not simply because I know what’s coming. It feels false because it’s unsupported – because Jack’s behavior is strange and unexplained and, frankly, pretty inexplicable.
• Sawyer, barefoot in the jungle, seems to be something of a theme. I wish I could drill down on this particular, strangely-recurring detail but I’m afraid I’ve got nothing of real value. What about you folks? Any larger meaning to be ascribed to Sawyer’s bare feet?
Locke: “It’s an old slaving ship. Mid-nineteenth century. My guess is they captured the slaves and brought them here to try and mine the Island.”
• Locke’s comment is an interesting one. What, exactly, would the slaves have been brought here to mine? If there’s a metal or a mineral of value on the Island I don’t remember hearing about it.
• This shot of the Others’ camp at night is one of my favorite shots in the show, period. The image of all those canvas tents, lit from within, is haunting and beautiful.
Locke: “Why are you doing this to me?”
Ben: “You’re doing this to yourself. As long as he’s still breathing, you’ll still be that same sad pathetic little man that was kicked off his walkabout tour because you couldn’t walk.”
• The ritual that Ben attempts to get Locke to participate in – the killing of his father – is not dissimilar to the aforementioned test of Abraham on Mount Moriah. Unlike that Bible story however, the test here doesn’t appear to be the willingness to kill for a higher power, but the actual ACT of killing. Which is, as mentioned, pretty brutal stuff. It suggests that leading the Others requires a life free of all emotional attachments and hang-ups – a monk-like casting off of past pain. It also suggests that being the leader of the Others means having the willingness to make cold, unforgiving decisions.
But is this really a ritual at all? Or is it simply Ben’s idea of a test of leadership? After all, we only know that Ben killed his father during the Purge – we don’t know that he was required to do so. Nor do we know whether any Others before Locke were required to literally kill their past (was Cindy required to murder someone?). What we know is that Ben apparently sets Locke up for failure – he gives Locke this task because he knows he can’t, or won’t, complete it. And that makes me wonder whether all of this – including the requirement of sacrifice – is Ben’s construct, created because Ben feels that only someone as ruthless as himself, as devoted to the Island as himself, willing to kill their own father as Ben did, could possibly be worthy of leading the Others.
• Locke’s ‘casual’ run-in with Rousseau in the Black Rock is the kind of grace note that makes Lost a much better show than it arguably could have been. There’s comedy and mystery in their brief scene together, and both actors play the absurdity and the seriousness of their situation with admirable aplomb.
Richard: “Ben has been wasting our time with novelties like fertility problems. We’re looking for someone to remind us that we’re here for more important reasons.”
Richard Alpert, the Island’s resident consigliore and ageless Merlin figure, is becoming more and more important to the fabric of the show in these episodes and it’s becoming clear that Richard and Ben have disagreements over the kind of leadership that’s expected on the Island. To Richard, the fertility problem is a ‘novelty,’ which indicates to me that from Richard’s perspective (and given what we’ve learned of Richard since this episode aired, it’s possible, even probable, that Richard’s perspective is Jacob’s perspective) the fertility problem isn’t a problem at all.
And speaking of perspectives, from Locke’s perspective he’s meeting Richard for the first time here. But from Richard’s perspective he’s met Locke already once before – in the Others’ camp during the events of ‘Jughead.’ It’s this meeting, along with Richard’s independent confirmation of Locke’s foretold birth, that seems to have keyed the Others into the possibility of Locke being their leader. Well, those two things along with the fact that Locke was healed of his paralysis when he landed.
We now know (or strongly suspect) that the MiB was directly or indirectly responsible for engineering Locke’s seemingly-messianic status on the Island during the time-tripping in Season 5, but we still don’t understand the how and why of Locke’s renewed legs. According to Richard, such a healing could only happen to ‘someone who was extremely special,’ but we don’t know whether this claim is true. After all, Rose was healed as well (although she was healed of cancer – something which appears not to exist on the Island generally, Ben’s tumor excepted).
Cooper: “You sure its an Island?”
Sawyer: “Well what else is it?”
Cooper: “Little hot for heaven isn’t it?”
Cooper seems to believe that he and the rest of the castaways are in hell – another echo of the Sartre-ian ideas that have been bouncing around the edges of the show for a while now. Moreover, he doesn’t appear to care too much about that possibility – something that suggests Cooper is either resigned to his fate or unmoved by it.
Sawyer and Cooper’s scene together (or is it “Sawyer” and “Sawyer”?) is riveting stuff. Both actors do a bang-up job with what they’ve been given, and what they’ve been given is solid. Cooper’s lack of repentance and Sawyer’s growing anger make for a perfect mix of combustible material, and the moment when Sawyer wraps a slave/prisoner’s chains around Cooper’s throat is both cathartic and terrible to watch – it’s a raw and vulnerable performance from Josh Holloway, one that he won’t equal until the closing moments of Season 5. We’ve talked about how events, themes and characters on this show tend to ‘mirror’ one another, and this scene is a perfect example of that. Two ‘Sawyers’ locked in a room (and this is, in and of itself, an echo of Sartre’s No Exit, a play that postulates that ‘hell is other people,’ and which features characters locked in a room together), the original Sawyer, now Anthony Cooper, represents everything awful, callous and self-oriented about the Island’s Sawyer. In a sense, Sawyer is strangling himself in this scene – he’s killing the past, yes, but he’s also killing a possible future – one in which he fully becomes the grinning, mocking man he’s hated, sight unseen, for so long.
Sawyer: “Hey. Is it true?”
Locke: “Is what true?”
Sawyer: “That he threw you out a window. That you were a cripple.”
Locke: “Not anymore.”
Moral questions of murder aside, Cooper’s death has freed both Sawyer and Locke. Locke is free to pursue what he sees as his destiny, and Sawyer is free to redefine himself in full after decades spent defining himself by the name of a man he hated. Regardless of the origins of the Kill-Your-Father/Kill-Your-Demons test, it’s arguably done substantial good for both men’s psyches. That’s kinda messed up, but it acts to literalize the same thematic drum that Lost has appeared to beat for most of its running time: Physician, heal and redefine thyself.
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Missed a column? Catch up here:
• D.O.C. (S3 ep. 18)
• Catch 22 (S3 ep. 17)
• One of Us (S3 ep. 16)
• Left Behind (S3 ep. 15)
• 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 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)