Boy in Black: “Why can’t Jacob see you?”
“Claudia”: “Because I’m dead.”

• This may really be Claudia. I’m okay with that explanation. I thin kits human and relatable to want to know where you come from, and that’s ultimately a question that this episode explores on a lot of levels. We want to know where the Island’s power comes from, where Jacob’s abilities come from, the Boy in Black wants to know where he came from geographically, etc. etc. That curiosity is to be celebrated, not condemned (and I don’t believe that the point of this episode was to condemn the Man in Black’s curiosity, though I think it’s understandable and instructive to know that some folks are saying just that). So, giving the Man in Black that motivation through the genuine love of his dead mother is totally cool by me.

And yet. Somehow the Man in Black learns about how to leave the Island. He learns this because, as he tells his mom, he’s Special. Does that mean that his mother’s been instructing him? If it does, then that means one of two things: (1) being a ghost on the Island gives you insight into how the Island “works,” or (2) this isn’t Claudia. It’s another Entity all together. And that implies that perhaps something else, the Light, or something that exists alongside the Light, wants to be freed. Wants to be used.

I’m fine either way. But I sort of hope it’s the latter. Because that leaves room to explain apparitions like Claudia and Christian in a very cool, very spooky fashion: as potential Island avatars. Lost has always been about repetition, the cyclical nature of life, of outcomes, of impulses, of everything. It makes sense in a certain, utterly Peyoted out way then that just as Sawyer cons his fellow castaways, just as the Man in Black cons them on another level, that the Island itself might have agency. Might desire the same freedom that the Castaways and the MiB have desired. And maybe, ultimately, the release of the Island is a good thing. Maybe it’s what enables the triggering of another world, in which the Castaways can have a second chance without the Island, free of all outside influence and capable, for better and for worse, of choosing their own paths in a universe that no longer guides them. Maybe it’s the ultimate turning of the “failsafe key,” releasing the trapped souls who reside there.

Or maybe not. Maybe it’s the unleashing of total Hell. It all depends on how things shake out.

Boy in Black: “There’s nothing across the sea.”
Claudia: “There are many things across the sea…You come from across the sea, too.”

• Ladies and Gentlemen, Proto-Dharma.

One of the things I like about this episode is the idea that all of the various groups who’ve built structures on the Island have done so to try and exploit what lies at the center of it. I like what that says, potentially, about places like the old temple walls. I like that this allows those places to retain a sense of the unknown and of mystery, a sense of undisclosed history, while giving us enough to construct meaning. Yet more myth-building, really.

Mother: “My love, you need to know this. Whatever you have been told, you will never be able to leave this island.”

• Again: Who tells the Man in Black all of this? Is it Claudia, hoping for the release of her “soul”? Is it the Island, hoping for it’s own release and freedom? The difficulty determining this at this point in the narrative can be looked at, after the fact, as sloppy, but only if the eventual answer we receive doesn’t adequately address this stuff in the general, thematic sense, while hopefully leaving the CGI as far behind as possible (or, at the very least, finding a way to make whatever special effects are headed our way compelling, not cringe-inducing). 

• Its shots like this one that in turn frustrate me about the look of some of the rest of the episode. This is a wonderful shot and it has the same “cinematic” scope that Ab Aeterno had. Why can’t we get that same “widescreen” sensibility throughout – especially when we’re at The Source?

Jacob: “Am I good, Mother?”
Claudia: “Yes, of course you are.”

• This exchange calls back for me Lost’s interest in “good” people. The people who self-identify as “good” on this show seldom are good in the conventional, black and white sense. Ben and the Others refer to themselves as “good” throughout the show, and yet they go traipsing around tying people to pillars and demanding blood sacrifice, they kidnap children from their families, seemingly to raise them in the “way of Jacob,” they brainwash their dissidents, use women to further a man’s deep-seated mommy issues, and carry out the occasional genocide.

Jacob is told he’s good – but he has no point of reference for what that actually means save for the teachings of a homicidal mom who thinks that all of mankind is bad. That’s really interesting to me, because Jacob doesn’t take away the same lessons from his mother that the Man in Black does. He holds a quiet faith in humanity’s ability to know right from wrong. By the end of this episode, he’s still childlike, having been raised in the wild, in a cave, with two other people – one of them another child – as his entire world.

The Adam parallels for both children are right there, if we want to see and appreciate them. They aren’t one-to-one parallels either, because this isn’t an Eden tale any more than it’s a tale of Shambala. It’s an Ur myth just like all of this is – the kind of universally-potentially-relevant template that might have inspired any number of world religions, from the Egyptian myths of Apep/Set and Horus/Osiris to the Biblical story of Jacob and Esau to the Eden myth and etc and et al and so on.

And I like that we see Jacob here at his beginnings, simple and yeah, a little slow, and naïve for certain, and prone to flashes of rage, and utterly human – in no real way definably “good” except in his willingness to obey his Mother and to tell the truth. I like how that contrasts with the Jacob we saw in Ab Aeterno, like a teenager, confident of humanity’s ability to win his game, clueless at the prospect that the Man in Black might be “cheating” and involving himself in matters, and how we see Jacob evolve through the introduction of Richard, who offers Jacob insight into the human codition that Jacob, alone and removed and self-exiled, does not have. Jacob in Season 5 seems to know something that gives him a calm and beneficent demeanor – a wise weariness – and through this progression we get the sense that any wisdom he may have at this point isn’t innate, or god/Island-gifted, but self-earned. We only get flashes of this in the show, and yet it’s enough to sketch for me someone that’s human enough to relate to, even if that isn’t nearly the same kind or strength of connection that I feel toward the show’s main characters.

Is Jacob ever “good”? Only insofar as he believes he’s doing a good thing. Is he doing a good thing by protecting the Island? We don’t know. We have to rely on interpreting the reactions of the show’s characters to all of this. We have to decide as an audience if Jacob is “right” to keep Smokey on the Island by listening to what people like Jack and Sawyer have to say about those things. I love that. I love that this so readily and organically reflects the choices of belief we make each and every day. Even more than this, I love that this isn’t simple “fanwank” on my part. This kind of stuff is verifiably intentional. Lindelof and Cuse’s interview with Alan Sepinwall at Hitfix discusses the Island protector’s cyclical need to commit mass genocide, a recurrence that’s present and able to be worked out through this episode’s events, but it’s nice to hear them confirm that, and to hear them talk about their awareness of that level of the show.

Some folks seem profoundly uncomfortable with the idea of Jacob having a potentially “good” cause, but inarguably-horrific means of serving that cause. The boards here are stuffed with arguments about this. Speaking for myself, I think the idea of Jacob sending the Dharma Initiative to their collective death for the sake of a “Greater Good” and of the Island protector needing to engage in genocide to fulfill his function makes for thorny, uncomfortable, interesting questions and problems – it leads to all kinds of philosophical debates about free will, necessity, ethics, and the meaning of “good” and “evil.” That this was seemingly intentional makes me feel respect for the ambition of this show. 

People seem irritated in Jacob’s complicity in the deaths on the Island, I say that’s very much the point. Despite Jacob’s evident humanity in tonight’s episode, he’s clearly served as the Island’s god-figure, and God, no matter the religion, is one complicated Ineffable Entity. The Qur’an stacks promises of hellfire and damnation literally right alongside promises that God is all merciful and compassionate. The Bible places God’s appointed protagonists in harms’ way, over and over and over again, shows God tormenting a faithful man just to see if he can break him. The prototypical image of God as a white-bearded referee in the sky with a prayer line is not the image of God that one gets when you actually read those books, or explore virtually any religion. The God or gods of most religions tends to be schizophrenic, especially the Old Testament, Old World, Ancient People sort of gods. They contain good and evil, chaos and order, mischief and benevolence. That this should also be true of both the Island’s “mythical” figures is both apt and supercool. It also continues the arguably-Gnostic undercurrent of this episode and this series as a whole.

Jacob: “They don’t seem so bad to me…”
Man in Black: “That’s easy for you to say. Looking down on us from above.”

• Much too on the nose for me. But hey, if anyone out there doesn’t get it, they do now. Jacob has functioned in this narrative as a god-figure. This episode more-or-less takes that away in the literal sense, assuring us that Jacob began as a very human, human being, but on a thematic level that comparison is still very valid.

• Jacob sees something “good” in the Man in Black’s people, but he perceives it from “above” them. He “walks among them but is not of them.” You can take this negatively, as the MiB does, and claim that a hopeful view for humanity is only possible by removing yourself from the fray of daily life. Or you can argue that this kind of distance also evokes the notion of Buddhist detachment. Commence bickering. 

• Other aspects of the episode that I enjoy: the sense that these brothers actually do love one another, actually do care for one another at this point in their story and the performance of Titus Welliver throughout, who grounds his stuff in a way that Janney doesn’t, quite.

Man in Black: “There are very smart men among us. Men who are curious about how things work. Together we have discovered places all over this island where metal behaves strangely. When we find one of these sites, we dig.”

• Dharma. The various structures on the Island. The Temple, with the carvings of Smokey. Can we assume that all of these projects to dig into the earth of the Island were spearheaded by the Man in Black in one way or another?

After all, why would the Ancients have chiseled the image of the Smoke Monster into the stones beneath the Temple and built what appears to be a place of worship unless they worshipped the Smoke Monster and/or were inspired by him to dig into the earth and arrive back at the Light that he’d attempted to access. Even if Mother possesses the power of the Smoke Monster prior to her death (very debatable) she wouldn’t have allowed Others on the Island to dig down into it the way that we’ve seen. So that leads me to believe that the Man in Black guided those people. Why was the Dharma purge ordered? Presumably because Hanso’s group got too close to the Heart of the Island.

• This scene and this episode in general also offers us a chance to reexamine those who’ve been brought to the Island and to consider just how that’s happened. Stay with me here:

We’re told that each of us possesses a piece of the Light. We see that Mother and Jacob take on supernatural-seeming aspects in the service of protecting it and that the MiB has been exposed directly to the Source. In this scene we’re shown the image of Man in Black’s knife flinging itself against the side of the well due to the strength of the Island’s magnetism. This magnetism may mirror how Jacob/the Island “draws” people to it.

Where am I going with this? In the past I’ve suggested that the Castaways may be the literal descendants of Jacob. Myth and religion are chockablock with stories of “divine” lineage, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the Candidates represent the end of one of those superlong Bible passages where soandso begat soandso begat soandso. All people have this Light in them, according to Mother. It makes a certain amount of sense then (haha!) that any people directly descended from Jacob, who’s become the guardian of that Light, would have something distinctive about them that would draw them to him, and to the Island. Using myth to define it we could say that it’s the result of the Light within the Castaways being connected to the Light of Jacob and the Island in a stronger way than others. Using science to define it, we could say that the Light behaves electromagnetically, and that the Light inside of the Castaways causes them to be pulled to the Island in the same arcing, inexorable sense as the knife blade.

We’re assuming that Jacob has been actively guiding people to the Island, but the image of the magnetized knife makes me think it’s possible we’re wrong. It may be that it’s whatever Jacob is intrinsically that draws the castaways to the Island. It may be that it’s what’s inside each person that’s responsible for the drawing of the Castaways, continuing Lost’s preoccupation with the struggle for self-determination in a seemingly Deterministic setting. It may be that, as the Island’s guardian and a beneficiary of its power, Jacob has essentially become a walking electromagnet, and that his descendants are essentially polarized in the opposite way, pulling the two together.

This basic concept of scientific attraction explains how such a thing could conceivably be possible, and it contains any number of mythic elements. It’s also potentially, totally wrong.

• Chud member “Diva” pointed out to me that, while the Man in Black’s knife goes flying to the well with substantial force when he throws it, none of the other metallic objects in the well seem affected by the electromagnetism at all. She’s right, that’s a pretty obvious plot hole. But I’m cool with this one. My suspension of disbelief can handle the disparity.