It thrilled me. It frustrated me. It thrilled me in frustrating me. I love this show – now as much as ever. I understand why some of my friends and fellow fans struggle, but I am a believer and I’ll try and convince anyone who’ll listen just how important and brilliant LOST is – ‘Across the Sea’ included. Every fan will view this episode in different ways. This recap is just my reading of it and my feelings on that (be kind):
‘Across the Sea’ was not simply an episode of LOST, though it did a pretty good job of that as well, it was an episode about LOST. We are used to the show’s constant referencing of itself through scenes, dialogue and recurring plot points – all things that are common in many forms of post-modern art and entertainment. But never have I seen something refer to the experience of the viewer and speak so directly, and without apology, to the audience about what it has been like to actually watch LOST and how we shall hold it’s mysteries, loose ends and open threads when the story has finished. This hour of television was bold, risky and totally unique. Only LOST could do it, because only LOST is this big, this important and this special. When the Man in Black says ‘I’m special’ as a way of side stepping the issue about how he knows how to get off of the Island – it is really saying ‘Not every mystery needs solving, because this show is special’. That has infuriated and frustrated many fans, including me, but the truth remains – it is special. How many times have you spoken to someone who has said “What are you going to watch instead of LOST?”. The answer I give is this: Nothing. There are other great shows, and there will be other great shows, but this is special. The six years we’ve had have been amazing, They have been captivating. And FlashForward cannot even begin to compare.
‘Across the Sea’ was a story within a story. It is the last crucial frame of reference to understand the final chapter of this epic which will conclude for us in just over a week. The family history of Jacob and the Man in Black is helpful for us to understand their motivations and longings and how they have shaped the whole tale. But this story within a story was not only about the origins of the brother’s feud, but the episode’s other key concern was the Island itself; it’s heart and source:
“Light. The warmest, bright light you’ve ever seen or felt”
But let’s talk about the brothers first.
We finally have found out the Man in Black’s name. He has none; his mother had chosen only one for one son. So to us he remains ‘Esau’ or ‘Man in Black’ or ‘Smoke Monster’ or ‘Smokey’ or, more recently, ‘Locke’. But what is in a name? What significance is there to him remaining unnamed? Well ‘names’ provide us with identity, they bring clarity and they give us heritage. By not having a name MIB lacks these things, in a more real way than for his twin Jacob, and he feels that pain acutely. He knows he doesn’t belong on the Island but he has no other idea of his origins or his home other than they lie ‘Across the Sea’. He yearns to leave but he cannot express why. In his conversation with Ben during ‘LA X’ he says that he just wants to go home, yet he doesn’t know what that means. Perhaps it is to be free of the Island. Perhaps it is to judge and corrupt the rest of the world. Or perhaps it is simply to die because his life now is worse than death. Much worse.
Jacob & MIB’s mother’s name was Claudia – one of the given names of the virgin who gave birth to Romulus and Remus, the twin founders of Rome. (If you want to read all the Lost allusions in that story you can go down that particular rabbit hole here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romulus_and_Remus – most interestingly Romulus and Remus are found and raised by a She-Wolf!). As with many of LOST’s special people (Locke; Ben; Aaron) these brothers were ‘Raised by Another’. Like for all the audience, the answers Claudia receives on her arrival to the Island only lead to more questions. When we first came across the Others we wondered: Who are these people? Then we wondered who their leader was? Then who or what was directing him? And then finally who is Jacob and where does he come from? Now we have been given that answer and told, pretty categorically, that we could ask these ‘origin’ questions forever and ever and never get an answer. Many will now demand to know ‘Where did “Mother” (Allison Janney) come from and who is she?”. Some will be frustrated by the fact we will never find out. ‘Mother’ and ‘MIB” are literally our Adam & Eve – they are as far back as the writers are willing to give us.
On the one hand this episode is a ‘Mythological download’ but on the other hand it is very much an encouragement from the writers to accept what we do not understand. “Mother” came to the Island by accident, that is all. We won’t know how or when or how she found the waterfall of light or worked out what it was or what it did. We know that MIB is ‘special’ similarly to how Walt was ‘special’. But we don’t know how or why. For 3 seasons now I’ve taken the view that LOST is not a televisual Sudoku puzzle that needs solving or a show like CSI that only exists to explain whodunnit and how-they-dunnit. The writers are working on a tapestry. We’ve asked through blogs and forums “Can we help you?”. They’ve replied “If you like you can sort that”. LOST is the tapestry, rich and complicated. We have spent, and will spend, months, years and terabytes sorting through the loose threads.
Can I cope with that? Yes I think I can.
I had thought the nature of Jacob and MIB would be left more ambiguous. Now it actually seems pretty clear. The Man in Black believes humanity is destined for destruction and he wants to leave the Island and will do whatever he wants to get away – lying, manipulating, killing. His motives are selfish and evil. Seeing him as ‘The Boy in Black’ gave us a glimpse into the fact that it wasn’t always that way, but it is that way now, where it matters. I was certainly expecting Jacob’s intentions to be more abstruse, but it seems the conversation given to us at the foot of the statue in ‘The Incident’ is an accurate portrayal of their beliefs and motivations. Locke’s actions in ‘The Candidate’ confirmed his evil intentions. ‘Across the Sea’ confirmed Jacob’s relative innocence and benevolence. Put simply, he believes in Mankind. He believes in our redemption and he chooses to protect the Island. After six seasons of varying degrees of ambiguity we can now say that in the LOST universe there is definite good and definite evil. Though one thing remains, good and evil are not positions on a chess board, they are choices. Jacob and MIB have the same upbringing, the same heritage, the same environment, all the same external pressures. Their destinies of good and evil are not determined by genetics or circumstance or by particular experiences, they are defined by choices. It is our choices in life that determine how for each of us ‘the scales are balanced’.
So let’s now talk ‘Waterfall of Light’:
I was genuinely surprised to see something like this. Visually and musically it felt like a real ‘Spielberg’ moment. It was a little corny but only in the way that ET/Raiders of the Lost Ark/Star Wars can be corny and that’s okay with me. Certainly if you’re going to get a brand new character to explain the central mythological conceit of the show you might as well get Allison Janney. She was excellent and she managed to sell this crucial moment to us in impressive fashion. Compare her acting with that of the other elder female oracle of the story, Elouise Hawking, whose hammy readings of lines have often taken the drama out of big reveals.
“Yes it is. And that’s why they want it. Because a little bit of this very same light is in every man, but they always want more.”
“Can they take it?”
“No but they’ll try and if they try then they’ll put it out and if the light goes out here it goes out everywhere”
Take a moment to read 1 Timothy 6 from the New Testament. Done it? No! Well, I did it for you and it contains a lot of themes that match this scene; greed; corruption; faith; unapproachable light. This chapter is famous for the often misquoted verse “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”. It talks of how greed can kill a man and bring ruin and destruction. I think we’ve found what Widmore is looking for:
“Life. Death. Rebirth. It’s the source, the heart of the Island”
But like the Ring of Power in Tolkien’s saga holding this power, trying to gain it or ‘take’ it will only lead to corruption. ‘Mother’ warns of the dangers of this light to both brothers and later on to Jacob, who after having a ‘Take this cup away from me” moment he finally agrees to drink the wine and become the next protector of the Island.
Jacob, filled with rage at his ‘Mother’s’ murder, drags his brother to the light. His brother has been tainted and corrupted by the murder and when his body floats into the waterfall ‘Smokey’ is immediately expelled. Minutes later Jacob finds his brother’s body which he then places in the caves. So what is Smokey? We are still unsure. My reading of it was that the best way to describe him is as the “Man in Black’s corrupted soul”. If the LOST universe has a heaven; it is this light. If it has a hell; it is the light being extinguished. I am now convinced that in ‘Walkabout’ John Locke somehow got a glimpse of this light. We’ve always presumed it was Smokey he saw, but his description of it to Jack in the next episode now feels truer to the light we were shown here.
Much of LOST has been analogous to religious stories and there has always been a supernatural element to the show. We are now being told this is the ‘heart and source’ of the Island. This last season has driven deeper and deeper into the spiritual aspects of the show, so deep now that we’ve hit the light at the depths of the tale. The core of LOST’s mythology is spiritual. Some, like me, are happy with that (I love it) others will have a genuine sense of being robbed or being duped into watching a spiritual story. Yet it is near impossible now to deny that this is what the story is (not that a myriad of bloggers and theorists are doing that as we speak – ‘Across the Sea’ is a difficult episode if you are a ‘Man of Science’). Take last week for example – after seeing Jack pull out the bomb from his backpack it read 3:54 – knowing that LOST has referenced Bible verses before I tried to find a verse that it may relate to. As it turns out there is only one 3:54 in the Bible and that is in the book of Lamentations, the book of grief, and do you know what it says?:
“The waters closed over my head”
Two minutes later they are all submerged in water. Coincidence? Possibly, but at this stage it is more likely that the spiritual aspects of the show are what are driving the plot of these final episodes. Of course it isn’t all just a religious analogy, that would be lame – the Sci-Fi and philosophical elements are still there and they are still important, but it seems that the story certainly has a ‘Meta-Narrative’ (Google it). I think that is pretty cool and should make for a high concept, meaningful ending. I hope so anyway. I also hope that those who don’t like the way the mythology has played out can still enjoy, and love, this story and remember the great ride it gave us – and remember the real story of LOST, the characters, has yet to finish. Even if the mythology let you down, I am convinced the resolution of the finale won’t. I’d like to encourage all those fans who weren’t at all disappointed with ‘Across the Sea’ to remember that you are not stupid or gullible or simple minded – your only crime is to love this show and find meaning within it.
Two brothers, raised the same way, with the same experiences. One is unhappy about the answers given to him. One wants to escape the Island and be rid of its mysteries. One rages against the story given to him by his “Mother”. The other brother chooses to stay. Chooses to protect the Island. Chooses to take his “Mother’s” cup? Chooses to bring others to its shores and share its mysteries. Which brother are you?
I’m not intending on doing a recap for 6.16 “What They Died For” (though that may change) but I am writing a preview of the last episodes which I will post before Tuesday and then I will do a total recap of the last three episodes after the finale.