• The Man in Black’s story arc here is wonderfully sympathetic, and that’s one of reasons for my liking the idea of slotting it in earlier in the season. It’s good to have this kind of finely-shaded sketch of a man who isn’t “bad” in any real sense shown to us, especially when we’re still unconvinced about both Jacob and the MiB. But we’ve seen that Anti-Locke is willing to kill all of the Castaways for his freedom, and no matter how much I sympathize with the MiB, I’ve come to care for the show’s main characters and the act of murdering a bunch of them means that, sympathetic or not, I now consider the Man in Black to be “evil” if only in the sense that doing whatever it takes to get what you want is evil. I don’t need this ambiguity at this point in time.
• Some folks have complained that the apparent storyline here is “Science and curiosity, bad! Blind faith, good!” I don’t think it’s that simple at all. I won’t argue that the show succeeded in conveying this, but my impression on the second viewing is less that curiosity itself is a bad thing, it’s that this kind of curiosity is a bad thing for the MiB’s health, and potentially for all of mankind. It’s the kind of curiosity, if we choose to believe Mother when she tells us about the whole worse-than-death thing, that lead to the creation of the Hydrogen Bomb. But more than that – more importantly than that – it’s the kind of mythical hubris that always leads to bad endings in stories and legends. It’s the opening of Pandora’s Box, the choice to stare into the Ark of the Covenant. It’s “some thing man was not meant to know.” In fact, after this episode the Pandora comparisons seem even more apt. Back in the column for Ab Aeterno I talked about how Pandora’s Box was originally a Pithos, or jar, with a lid. Like a wine bottle with a cork in it. When Pandora opened the jar, all manner of evil was loosed in the world, but hope stayed in the lid. That evokes the ending of this episode, with Smokey erupting in a dark funnel, leaving Jacob behind.
Mother: “What is that?”
Man in Black: “It’s a wheel…We’re going to make an opening, one much bigger than this one and then, I’m going to attach that wheel to a system we’re building. A system that channels the water and the light. And then I’m going to turn it. And when I do…I’ll finally be able to leave this place.”
• Some folks had some serious problems with this bit of exposition, but I thought Titus Welliver sold the heck out of this nonsense – which it is – and so I was just fine with it. That line doesn’t explain anything about how the whole thing works, at all, but I’ve never wanted to know “how the Wheel works.” I’ve wanted to know why the Wheel beneath the Orchid was built, was important. And now I do – it was built after the design of, or at the instruction of, the Man in Black. Ben and Locke’s exit from the Island was supposed to be MiB’s exit from the Island. Is that his end-game? Once the Candidates have all been killed will he go to the Wheel and leave that way? Or will he choose, as one of Back to the Island’s readers suggested, to go back to the Light instead – conning Jacob’s final Candidate into leading him back to the spring – one he might still be unable to find?
• I also like the implication that this is the first time Mother has ever seen a wheel.
Mother: “How do you know all this? How do you know it will work?”
Man in Black: “I’m special…Mother.”
• When the Man in Black says this, is he indicating that his ghost mom has been instructing him? His he been visited by other apparitions? How else can he know any of this? We need some kind of an answer for this to make “sense” in the larger story, without it being, essentially, a convenient cop-out in terms of disclosing further answers.
Jacob: “What’s down there?”
Mother: “Life, death, rebirth. It’s the source, the heart of the island…Just promise me…No matter what you do, you won’t ever go down there.”
Jacob: “Would I die?”
Mother: “It’d be worse than dying, Jacob….much worse.”
• What this means exactly is up for much debate. But from the evidence of what we see by the episode’s end I think we can start drawing some potential conclusions. More on this further along in the column.
• I think that continuing the theme of Island protectors who don’t seem to truly understand what they’re protecting, or why, is a fascinating one. It brings me back to what I was talking about above with regard to the Island’s “heart” being, potentially, an essentially unknowable thing. You can call something “The Source,” and you can try and wrap your mind around everything that really means, but you’re pushing against a veil that seems to continually recede without fully lifting. As Back to the Island commenter Lon Koontz put it, the Light is a little like the Big Bang, in that you can attempt to explain it, but there will always be a question for the answer you’ve received. Science can probe the beginnings of the universe, and still there’s the question “but what happened before that?” Religion can explore the idea of God, and there’s still the question “but why should we believe in God?” That’s because Ultimate Questions (Free will? Determinism? IS mankind “good”? “evil”?) have no objective answers, and I think the show both recognizes this and is attempting to dramatize it – ambitious, ambitious, ambitious. How well it ultimately does this in this episode is arguable. I’d say “kind of.” But in the context of the series as a whole I continue to love the essential idea of it.
• The intentional abstraction of the Light and it’s representation as consisting of “life, death, rebirth….the Source” keeps things vague enough so that it’s relatively easy to hook all sorts of beliefs and ideas, religious and philosophical and scientific and otherwise, into the concept. As already mentioned above, this show has an intense interest in myth, in its creation and distortion, in the power of belief to save and to damn, and about the ways in which we mythologize. It’s even invited us to mythologize along with it. I’ve talked a ton about this. Here are a few past examples, with links back to their original sources. I’d incorporate them more artfully into this column, but Friday is swiftly approaching and I’m running out of time. If you’re interested in this aspect of the show, shoot me an email and I’ll keep you up to date on the progress of my book, which will go into more detail on all of this stuff.
“Many of us, when confronted with the mysterious and/or the unexplained, are drawn to explanations that defy or seem to defy rationalism – typically as a result of something that appears to be more ‘magical’ or ‘miraculous’ than it appears.
This impulse, which I’d argue is not so much ‘religious’ as it is ‘mythological’ (though the latter definitely feeds the former) has always been with us and serves to explain, at least in part, the myths and legends of past cultures (see: Gilgamesh) as well as our own present culture (see: The myth of GW Bush as Warrior King/the myth of Obama as Anti-Christ).
As Lost is exploring what ‘faith’ and ‘reason’ mean, within the context of a network TV show, they are littering their fictional landscape with clues, references and allusions to works of myth, legend and storytelling in which this sort of myth-building plays a central part (see: Watership Down). They are further creating myths and mysterious signs of their own, which when followed by the characters on the show tend to lead to unwanted/disastrous conclusions. The best, most recent example of this: Locke’s resurrection, which was not a resurrection or a miracle as we understand it, but which was embraced by characters like Richard as if it was one.
As we’re watching the show we the audience are actively participating in that very act of mythologizing, postulating about the mysteries of the Island with a wide range of imaginative theories. I’ll suggest that we are drawn to explain the unexplained this way not because those answers makes the most ‘sense,’ or because they are the simplest explanations, but because, in part, it’s exciting and stimulating to do so. Lost is commenting, both directly and indirectly, on the impulse to make legends and myths where no obvious answer exists, and it’s doing so both on-screen and in the relationship between show and audience.”
“The Beatles are in the process of becoming myths, essentially. And as they’re introduced to new generations through increasingly-abstracted mediums (see: Rock Band Beatles Edition) they’re becoming less and less ‘human,’ and more and more ‘iconic’; stripped to their essentials, traits exaggerated or downplayed, abilities exalted. Tomorrow’s children won’t know The Beatles as people – they’ll know them as simulacrum, as icon, as myth.
What does this have to do with Lost?
It’s my theory that Lost is, in part, operating as a means to comment on myth – how we create it and why we create it. This preoccupation runs through the show on several levels:
First, the show is festooned with references to myth, from ‘Apollo bars’ to Gilgamesh and Enkidu crossword details to statues of ancient Egyptian gods.
Second, the show has created a story arc in which John Locke essentially becomes myth, detailing how that’s achieved and how it affects both Locke and those who interact with him.
Third, the show’s mysteries operate to include the audience in the mythologizing, leaving open-ended questions revolving around characters like Jacob and Richard, around the Dharma Initiative, around ‘the Smoke Monster,’ around the Island itself, and in the process encouraging us, the viewers, to construct our own potential explanations for characters, places and events (The MiB is satan! The castaways are all in literal purgatory!).
It’s what we do, us humans. We mythologize, and often we worship what we’ve mythologized. As the late, great, David Foster Wallace once said: “In the day-to-day trenches of adult life, there is actually no such thing as atheism. There is no such thing as not worshipping. Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship.””
“Since the ending of Season 5 there’s been much theorizing about who, exactly, the Man In Black is. Is he an Adversary for Jacob, ala Satan? He appears that way – in his color-coded outfit and his pessimistic outlook. Season 5’s opening scene is practically a rewrite on the Book of Job, after all. It’s also been suggested that the MiB is a personification of, or allusion to, the Egyptian god Set.
But Lost, as this Rewatch is making clear, has never been content with such a simple one-to-one comparison – it isn’t interested in functioning as a new riff on any one myth. It’s more concerned with the idea of myth, and how people (ie: the audience) construct myth and legend, by using the bits and pieces of information we have at our disposal, and filling in the blanks via our experiences and our influences.”
You get the idea.
ANOTHER PAGE BREAK?? AM I MAD? FIND OUT – AFTER THE PAGE BREAK!