Boy in Black: “So… do you want to play or don’t you, Jacob?
Jacob: “Yes. I want to play.”
• As has been pointed out thousands upon thousands of times by now the game that Jacob and the MiB play is similar/identical to a game called Senet, aka The Oldest Game in the World. Older even than Backgammon. That’s older than Jesus Christ. You can see a depiction of the game board here. I say similar/identical to, because there’s no consensus on how the game should be played – a very nifty subtextual comment on the seemingly-arbitrary Rules of the Island. Want to know more?
According to Egyptian belief, the game itself was a talisman meant for the journey of the dead to the Underworld (hey there now). According to that Wikipedia page, the Egyptians were big Determinists, students of the “Whatever Happened, Happened” school of hard knocks. But Senet includes an element of luck, or chance, or, if you’d like, free will, and this aspect of the game apparently lead the Egyptian people to regard a successful player of the game as having been given protection by the gods (hmmm).
• Let’s talk Rules, since I just brought them up.
Do you think this is all we’re getting? That whoever’s in charge can do what they want on the Island, from moving cabins around to making fertility issues to preventing people from dying? To set what are essentially arbitrary rules as they see fit? Is that going to drive you crazy? I’m good with it, actually, since the show potentially told us that three seasons ago, with Ben’s remark about the Island as “Magic Box.” Just don’t throw another CGI-marred, on-the-nose Hole in the Ground, and I’ll get behind the idea. And speaking of Ben and the rules…
Ben: “He changed the rules.”
Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse gave an interview where they stated that they wouldn’t be directly commenting on the “rules” between Ben and Widmore, but that you can infer those rules from what we’re learning in the end game of the show. Based on what we learned this week, can we consider that it wasn’t Widmore who changed the rules? That it was instead Jacob? We know that something on the Island, whether it’s the position Jacob occupies or some residue from the Light or whatever, allowed Mother to keep her boys from killing one another. Could Jacob have granted that kind of protection to Ben’s Alex at one point? And could he have decided to start turning Ben’s heart against him by allowing her to die when she did, setting in motion the death that he may have been hoping for?
Can we take this thinking further, and wonder whether there ARE any rules to the Widmore/Linus conflict, or whether Ben’s simply let his self-appointed role as Special Leader go straight to his head – assuming that his daughter would be protected by Jacob because that’s what happens when you serve your “God” faithfully?
• These folks love their looms, don’t they? Maybe meaningless, maybe meaningful: Mother’s weave has no discernable story, no pictures, just sameness. Jacob’s Season 5 tapestry depicted what now seems like a potential history of the Island, and what looks like a depiction of the act of elevation. You can choose to view this as a representation of how they’ve spent their respective times as Island guardian, or you can choose to say that’s ridiculous. What I like is that, no matter your opinion, you can have that conversation because the question itself is not ridiculous within the context of the themes of the show.
• What does Mother really want with these children? They’re her Candidates – one of whom will inherit a position similar to that of Desmond’s in the Swan Station. She clearly cares about these children, but she’s also clearly grooming them to assume her role. While I think Alison Janney flits in and out of being convincing during her moments of Island Expositionizing, I think she does a great job with the creepy, homicidal, manipulative aspects of the character and in fostering a mixture of maternal warmth and untrustworthiness.
• Mother’s use of Jacob and the Man in Black as her Candidates, knowingly sacrificing their lives (there’s that word again) for a cause that she believes in but which her children do not truly understand sets up an effective mirror to the saga of Daniel Faraday and Eloise Hawking.
Mother: “Jacob doesn’t know how to lie. He’s not like you.”
Boy in Black: “Why? What am I like?”
Mother: “You’re… special.”
• Can we assume that those who see the dead on the Island are the Special ones at this point? Hurley, Sawyer, Ben, assumedly Walt, the Man in Black? Do you want/need more than this? I’m of two minds. I want to know why Walt is important to Lost’s storyline, and I suspect that to get that information we need to understand why some people can see and communicate with ghosts and others can’t. At the same time, I don’t want that information delivered in a manner that makes me groan.
Boy in Black: “What’s dead?”
Mother: “Something you will never have to worry about.”
• It’s increasingly clear through the episode that Man in Black was Mother’s choice to protect the Island. What’s unclear is whether she intended him to someday venture into the Light and become a Smoke Monster (something that, based on her one-woman killing spree, she may have already done herself) or take the oath that Jacob takes. I like that ambiguity as well.
• Jacob and MiB’s romp through the jungle on a boar hunt recalls William Golding’s Lord of the Flies, a tale of the descent into savagery made by a group of “civilized” schoolchildren.
• Jacob and his brother’s first sighting of the Other Island inhabitants mirrors Jin and the tailees’ sighting of them back in Season 2, crouched behind the foliage, watching their faceless bodies dressed in primitive, intimidating clothing.
• Y’know, they’re not going to win any Emmys, but I don’t have any problem with the kids who play Jacob and the MiB. They’re natural enough. I think I appreciate their work overall more than I do Alison Janney’s.
• The kid playing Jacob really does look eerily like him. How stoked were the show’s casting people when they saw him?
Jacob: “What makes them dangerous?”
Mother: “The same thing that makes all men dangerous. They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt… and it always ends the same.”
• Mother’s words here provide us with the context for the Man in Black’s comment to Jacob, talking on the beach in the Season 5 finale. It’s an echo between mother and son, and it highlights for me again one of the things I really dig about this episode – the way that Mother is portrayed in such a morally ambiguous fashion. She’s a mass-murderer and a baby-stealer with a very dark view of mankind.
What’s personally interesting to me about this is that Mother will claim that the Light they need to protect exists in every person, which would imply to me that the Light is a “good” thing, and that, therefore, each person has the capacity for “good,” to do what’s “right” – something that’s emerged as Jacob’s defining philosophical trait, despite the intentionally muddy waters of his own personal morality. Yet, despite the fact that Mother knows this to be true about the Light and humanity, she has absolutely no faith in them. Either the Light is not a “good” force then, and instead represents human “sin” (a possibility that I’d find enormously cool, personally, for reasons I’ll elaborate on below), which shores up Mother’s negative opinion, or Mother is willfully blind to the “truth” about humanity’s potential for goodness due, likely, to her own experiences. Either way, that’s complex enough to be really interesting to me one a pure character level.
• Mother blindfolds her boys when she takes them to the secret of the Island. I can’t help feeling that this has less to do with physically obscuring the location than it is about metaphysically limiting the people who are able to find it. The secret of the Island is a hole that visibly glows with golden light. At night, that golden Light comes poking out of the earth in bright, distinct beams. No one has seen this while wandering the jungle at night? Over 30 years? Yeaaaaaaah….I’m not buying that. So, I’m assuming that the Light can only be located by the Island’s protector, in an echo of the way in which only Hurley could lead Locke and Ben to “Jacob’s” cabin, or the way that Hurley leads Jack to the Lighthouse, which Jack remarks they haven’t seen because maybe “they weren’t looking.” Hmmm…Does this mean Hurley is the new Jacob? Color me satisfied if so, but I doubt it. Still, I think that’s what we’re looking at here – it’s accessible only through the guardian, who’s perhaps “drawn” to it in the same way that the Castaways may be drawn to the guardian and to the Island. Much more on this below.
Anyway, the point is that I’m guessing the blindfolding was meant to suggest that only one of the boys was meant to know where the Light was, and that once you’ve been lead there by the guardian and know how to get there, you can find your way back.
Mother: “I’ve made it so you can never hurt each other.”
• What’s with that claim anyway? Why can’t they hurt each other? I assume “hurt” actually means “kill,” since we see Jacob knock the snot out of his lil bro twice. Two reasonable (ha!) options that I can see: the guardian position on the Island (or more accurately maybe, the abilities given to a guardian) allows the guardian to manipulate energy/electromagnetism/Quantum-whatever and keep them from releasing their “souls” by one another’s hand. The other explanation? Mother hasn’t done anything to either of them, and is conning them. She can’t keep them from hurting one another – we watch Jacob bloody his nameless brother. I like option 1 better, surprisingly, essentially because I can’t imagine the Man in Black at least trying to hurt Jacob himself if only for what he’s become.
Mother: “[A] little bit of this very same light is inside of every man. But they always want more.”
Jacob: “Can they take it?”
Mother: “No. But they would try. And if they tried they could put it out. And if the light goes out here… it goes out everywhere.”
• The “Light” that Jacob and his Mother are self-tasked with protecting is wonderfully abstract as an idea. Had Janney mom’s explanation not been delivered with a stilted, unconvincing quality, and had they not gone, once again, for TERRIBLE CGI, I think I’d have found this aspect of the episode eminently satisfying precisely because it further answers one of our oldest questions about the energy at the Swan Station and the nature of the Island and yet remains elusive in just what it actually MEANS. I like that combination. What I like less is Janney-mom’s wobbly exposition meant to describe said-light. On the one hand, I really like how they’re continuing to keep the “heart” of the Island a mystery while revealing its basics. On the other hand, I think the way that they handled the exposition was clumsy, and difficult to defend.
That said, I do think that there’s another way to look at this exposition-dump to make it feel less painfully New Agey, clunky and on-the-nose: it’s another instance where a character actively mythologizes the unknown using the tools at their disposal, something that’s a theme of the show in general on multiple levels. In essence, Mother doesn’t REALLY know what the light is, or if she does, she’s reducing that knowledge to its simplest level of complexity for the benefit of her children. She’s telling them, in essence, the “myth” of the Light.” And in that sense, this approach works for me in theory, if not in execution.
I talked about Lost’s interest in myth-creation extensively during my rewatch of the show. Lost’s preoccupation with myth, and more specifically how we as people create that myth, is at this point a firmly established theme. I like that theme. I’ll link you to the past columns where I’ve discussed it before a little further down. I believe that it was an intentional decision on the part of the writers to make the Island’s “heart” abstract, and I admire that intent enormously. But as we discussed during our lively drinking session Wednesday night, I wish that they’d chosen slightly different words for Janney to speak in that moment. And most of us wished that she’d managed to deliver the words that were given to her with the same weirdly-credible matter-of-factness that Terry O’Quinn and Michael Emerson regularly display. Terry O’Quinn can take a potentially-hilarious-for-all-the-wrong-reasons line like “If you had any idea what this place really was, you wouldn’t be putting chicken in your refrigerator” and make it, somehow, a stirring condemnation of a “decadent” lifestyle. Alison Janney is a phenomenally talented performer, but she didn’t pull it off for me the way I’d have liked. The scene veers a little goofy for me not because the idea is goofy (love the idea, and will spend much of your time talking about it), but because the typically-middling CGI and the delivery make the idea seem goofier than it could, or should. That got better the second time around, but it’s still not my favorite thing ever. I’ll be taking this awkward expression of an interesting idea the same way that I took the idea of “Garbanzo” on Twin Peaks. I love the idea, but still cannot believe that Lynch chose creamed corn as the means to convey it. Creamed. Corn.
• Like I said – CGI Hole? Not a fan. I like the idea here – a natural, untouched place on the Island that is essentially an abstract concept made slightly less abstract – but they really couldn’t have picked a less appealing visual representation of that idea as far as I’m concerned. Two of the people who joined me for drinks and a chat about this episode mentioned that they’d have preferred it had they shown us nothing at all when Mother took them to see the Source. Either just the reaction of the children to a Light, without seeing the source of it (since Light is all we see anyway), or no Light at all. Let the Island itself be the Source, and let that be the secret. Frankly, I like both of those options better than what was dramatized in the episode, but I like the basic idea we’re given, and I like how ultimately interpretable it could end up being. I like how that idea fits with what Lost has been saying (to me anyway, but I’ve been off those meds for….gosh, I don’t even remember anymore) about Ultimate Questions. I find value in it. I like how it makes for a strikingly Gnostic outlook (at this point anyway, ‘til we discover that the Light is, like, a an Ancient Egyptian spaceship or something – what’s Doc Jensen saying?), and a movingly existential one. If this is the only explanation we get for what lies inside the Island – if Desmond goes down there and sees a big yellow ball of light, and nothing else (because he’s going down there – you know it and I know it) I’m very, very good with that. Because that feels right to me. All we really need to know is that the Island is the Source, as Janney says. That’s it. It lives in each of us. Done. That’s what this show has been saying all along. And I can prove it, at least as far as my interpretation of this thing goes. Back in September of ’09, muddling through the first half of the show, in one of my Too Much Information columns, I wrote the following:
“The Island is the Source. It is the well-spring of Creation. It is good and evil, black and white, ‘right’ and ‘wrong,’ progress and entropy. Like Solaris, like the Gnostic conception of God, it cannot be understood, it can only be encountered.”
That column was devoted to Gnosticism and Manichaeism – two entwined belief systems that I’d suggested could have importance to Lost’s themes. Tonight’s episode strengthened the thematic ties in some fascinating ways. I’m in no way saying that the stuff that follows is all intentional. What I am saying is that I believe this narrative has been intentionally constructed in such a way as to make drawing these sorts of comparisons possible.
To understand one of the ways in which Lost functions as an “Ur myth” let’s look at how Gnostic beliefs fit together with the mythology of the Island. Under a Gnostic conception of the universe, a “true, transcendent God” exists beyond everything. Everything in the universe emanates from this “true” God, one called “The Unknown Father” (pertinent to Lost? Arguably so) and all of humanity contains a “divine spark” (think the Light that exists in every person, and about The Conference of the Birds, the poem that I wrote about in the column for Lighthouse). In other words, we’re all a part of God. Everything is. But there’s Trouble in Paradise. Think of the “true” Gnostic God as the Island. Think of the ocean, and the world around it, as a series of reflections, extending outward from it like outward ripples in the water or a like a web, a vast, web-like tapestry of potential Oceanic connectedness. The Island sits in the middle of everything like, as one of the folks at drinks pointed out, the Dark Tower. The Dark Tower of King’s novels performs essentially the same function as the Gnostic “true” God. It sits in the center, and everything revolves around it, emanating from and and yet somehow also existing inside of it. I’ve talked about Lost’s debt to King’s Tower books before, and this is arguably a major piece of evidence for that claim, but the notion of a central fulcrum, an origin point that, like the Nietzsche book, is “Beyond Good and Evil,” isn’t an idea that Stephen King invented. It’s an ancient notion.
All Gnostic myths refer to Aeons, deity-types who aren’t the “true” God, but who exist on a different level than you and I. In Gnostic belief, the Aeons and the “true” God make up the “realm of Fullness” where divinity operates freely (think, the Island). Mirroring the Fullness is our own existential state, a state of comparable “emptiness.”
Perhaps the most well-known Aeon is Sophia, who’s name means “wisdom,” and who “emanated” (think, gave cosmic birth to) a “flawed consciousness,” called The Demiurge, a false god who preys on the ignorance and weaknesses of mankind because it believes mankind is fundamentally flawed (sound familiar? Calling Mother Sophia would fit both Lost’s ironic naming tradition – see Anthony Cooper – and the fact that she “creates” the flawed “god” that is the Smoke Monster through her terrible, terrible parenting style and he refusal to give her children the answers that they arguably deserved – an aspect of the show that smarter people than I have pointed out reflects the ways in which we as an audience are frustrated by the willfull refusal of the show to Just. Answer. The question. Already.). Under Gnostic belief, human nature is divided between the darkness of the Demiurge and the light of the true God – a divine spark that is a portion of the true God (so, basically every cast member – including Jacob and the MiB – none of whom are really conventionally, simplistically “good” or “bad”). Material attachments are considered anchors of enslavement under Gnosticism, an outlook with obvious parallels in many world religions and with relevance to the ways in which the Castaways have been attempting to leave behind the pain of their past lives to start again (see: the continual return of Charlie’s heroin). Bringing Lost’s interest in reincarnation into the mix, Gnostic belief involves the release of the “spark” at death, and holds that if the soul has not undergone substantial work toward Gnosis (“knowledge”), then the spark will be thrown back to be reborn into the suffering of the physical world again (Hums “Catch a Falling Star”).
Gnostic salvation includes the idea that every person has the potential for Gnosis, and for salvation brought about through and of themselves. Physician Jack Shephard, heal thyself in other words. Yet, Gnostics also believe that true awareness – Oceanic awareness if you will – must be brought about by certain “Messengers” (think Desmond, Quantum Leaping around, reminding people of their sideways memories).
I could go on, and will, in Back to the Island: The Book. The point is that we’re able to see a number of world myths and religions reflected in the “mirror” of the Island. Gnosticism seems particularly relevant in this episode, with a removed “true” source that’s (for now) inexplicable, and emanations of that “true” God which act on a level above that of the rest of humanity who possess fragments of a Light that connects them to the Source of being.
Of course, it’s also possible that the Light is the Demiurge itself – that the Light and the Island function as the “false god,” keeping people fixated on fighting over it and protecting it in order to distract them from moving past it and finding their true connection to the world at large and their fellow man. Again, ambiguous, and either way this aspect rolls I’m onboard for it.
Boy in Black: “You can’t do that, Jacob.”
Jacob: “Why not?”
Boy in Black: “Because it’s against the rules.”
• Notice what Jacob’s done when the Man in Black calls him out on breaking “the rules” – he moves one of his pieces sideways. He couldn’t do that when