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Looking at the Little Things — 5.05 “This Place is Death”

By SonyaLynn,

  Filed under: Lost Recaps, Lost Theories
  Comments: 31

(Author’s Note: Please pardon your humble author’s tardiness as she fell into a bit of a time-loop herself in trying to make her thoughts about “This Place is Death” semi-coherent in the face of all that’s come before.)

Well, that was a cheery name for a cheery episode, wasn’t it? Not that it wasn’t an adrenaline-pumping little slice of awesome like the rest of Season 5 to date, but wow was it ever dark. Poor Daniel, poor Charlotte, poor Locke, poor Jin, poor Danielle, poor Montand, poor “infected” (or is it re-programmed?) French Science Team…and things aren’t exactly looking peachy for the O6ers, Ben, or Des either.

If ever there was an episode showing us just how cruel a mistress the gears of time can be as they crush everyone unfortunate enough to fall into the machinery, this was it.

OK, let’s do this thing…

A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there’s no discernible difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned?

Doesn't he just have the warmest eyes?In my recap of last season’s finale, I went for broke on a Watchmen metaphor. And, now that the reference is all timely what with the big-screen adaptation of that most excellent of all graphic novels about to hit a megaplex near you, I find it timely (*rimshot*) that we get yet another reminder of just how hard the Island is on its toys. Much like Dr. Manhattan in the quote above, the Island seems indifferent to suffering and death of the humans ensnared in its causal web.

(Spoiler warning! If you haven’t read Watchmen and don’t want to be spoiled, you might want to click away now…)

It’s been noted before that Watchmen has a very strong parallel with Lost in that it also features a secret Island full of supremely talented individuals being used in the service of a daring plan for the greater global good, and involving science so advanced as to be indistinguishable from magic, who are thanked for their efforts with an untimely end (on an exploding ship, no less!). And that, furthermore, said plan involved the death of millions and the traumatizing of the entire human population of the planet in order to save us all from otherwise-inevitable extinction and give us World Peace™…tough love, to say the least. 

But more and more I also see Dr. Manhattan as an analog to the Island itself—capable of seeing past, present, and future simultaneously and of manifesting anything according to their desires. Dr. M does it through direct manipulation of matter, while the Island seems to do it by mapping causality backwards far enough and tweaking things to ensure that something or someone is in a certain place at a certain time (and that, kids, is “The Magic Box“).

Both could save or destroy their respective worlds. And, much like Dr. Manhattan needed to be persuaded first by Silk Spectre to involve himself and prevent humanity’s “mutually-assured destruction” by nuclear holocaust (*cough*Jughead*coughcough*), and then by Ozymandias to keep the secret of his deception in the service of the greater good to humanity, so too does the Island need persuading.

But I’m not convinced that it’s gotten that yet from Ben, Alpert, Widmore, Locke, or anyone else. Someone needs to be the conscience that keeps the Island’s own agency in check. Who’s going to be our Silk Spectre?

He's better than you, and he's going to prove it.But the Island has also shown the spoiled-prodigy arrogance of Watchmen’s resident schemer, Ozymandias, as well. Our much-discussed, four-toed statuary foot even calls to mind the “trunkless legs of stone” of Percy Shelley’s famous sonnet, “Ozymandias,” with its ironically hubristic declaration, “Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair.”

Like Ozymandias, who engages in a merciless beat-down of all the other main characters mainly to show how powerless they are to stop his machinations, the Island and its manifestations have often seemed petty in reminding its catspaws who’s in charge…most notably zombie-Christian. (Zombie-Yemi and zombie-Ana were no great shakes either. “Libby says, ‘hi!'” indeed.) It’s not enough that he makes you do things whether you want to or not without regard for broken bones, hearts, or minds because you “have to,” but he’ll be all snarky to you as he does it.

Ben’s tumor and exile…Locke’s numerous leg-wounds (the nastiest of which by far was this week’s protruding-bone special!), exile, and death…Michael’s denied release, then frigid dismissal…Claire’s separation from Aaron…Jin’s separation from Sun…the French team’s “re-programming”…Charlotte being the victim of a Cassandra-like prophecy of doom…the numerous worst-possible-moment time-skips preventing important questions from being answered. The list goes on and on.

It’s enough to make you bang on a hatch in the middle of the night screaming your frustration at cruel fate.

(Aside: While it would probably be futile to attempt to draw direct correspondences between the ensembles of Lost and Watchmen characters for a variety of reasons, one does seem very clear: that of Jack to Dan Dreiberg, aka Nite Owl II. Like Dreiberg, Jack was all too willing to lay down his burden of heroism, only to find himself impotent and adrift in “normal life” before being reluctantly called back into action. And no, that doesn’t make Locke Rorschach! 😛 )


“Did it hurt?”
“I felt my back break. What do
you think?”

Help! I've fallen and I can't get up...'cause my bloody leg's broken!As both fellow DocArzt & Friends recapper Fishbiscuit and EW’s Doc Jensen (among others) have aptly pointed out, descents played a very key role in the proceedings of “This Place is Death.” And the place of the journey into the underworld in the great Western monomyth is pretty well established by now. Locke crashes to the bottom of the well and almost meekly accepts his role as wheel-axle-righter and soon-to-be-corpse. Robert and the rest of the French Science Team chase after Montand (well, most of him anyway). Charlotte falls into the well of her own timeline. Danielle begins her long descent into solitary madness. Ben, Desmond, Jack, and Sun prepare for their own descent into the time-witch’s lair.

And, as always, you do not return from the underworld unchanged…if you return at all. Charlotte didn’t, succumbing at last to a particularly nasty case of Time Travel Sickness™, but I’ll get back to her. Robert and crew seem reprogrammed or replaced by smokey pod-people (providing us with an unexpected answer to the question of the “sickness” which made Danielle gun her team down like rabid dogs, and showing us a new ability of Smokey’s). Danielle becomes the “crazy French chick” we all came to know and love before her brutal slaying by the mercenary team. The off-Island folk will presumably return from their descent ready to cast away the outside world once and for all and return to the Island for the end-game.

Which leaves Locke, the miracle man. Locke, the Island’s answer to the Hero With 1,000 Faces™. But also Locke, the eternal patsy.

Look at the expressions that adorn John Locke’s face as he survives another nasty fall and confronts yet another broken part of himself, then interacts with zombie-Christian. He looks just like a whipped puppy as yet another father-figure uses and abuses him. We also know that Locke will end up giving his life during his particular trek through the underworld, which for Locke would also include his time off-Island. Anything that takes him away from the Island that let him walk again could only be considered a form of purgatory or hell for John Locke.

But, despite that, and despite knowing that certain doom awaits, Locke struggles on one good leg with help denied him by Christian and puts the wheel back on its “axis” (which struck me as odd…shouldn’t it be “axle?”), while yet again being denied an answer by the Island.

And, once we see the clearly-impending story of his time as Jeremy Bentham which culminates in his death, will we have seen the last of gullible, approval-seeking patsy Locke? I think we will. Somehow, some way, our monomythic hero will rise as they all do and win the day, providing his hard-acquired boon to his people (both the Others and the Lostaways) and to the world.

Wheel of morality, turn turn turn! Tell us the lesson we must learn.

But, before we leave Locke’s portion of this episode, let’s look at one very key exchange between Locke and Christian:

CHRISTIAN: You came to see me in the cabin. You asked me how to save the island and I told you you had to move it. I said that you had to move it, John.

LOCKE: But Ben said he knew how to do it! He told me that I had to stay here and lead his people.

CHRISTIAN: Since when did listening to him get you anywhere worth a damn?

Don't MAKE me turn this van around!This segues us very nicely into Ben, since this dismissal by the Island’s mouthpiece provides a very stark contrast to the Ben of “This Place is Death” who has to pull his Reincarnation Van full of ungrateful brats over to tell them what’s what about how he’s been shielding them from forces far worse than he. (And, really, how cool was that, eh?) Here we see one of Ben’s few truly unguarded moments of sincerity on the show to date, right up there with his rumination on what kind of girl Destiny is and his assertion to Juliet that she’s his. It’s clear that he truly believes he’s “one of the good guys” and that he has, in fact, protected the Oceanic 6 from evil.

Having seen the Island’s callousness on numerous occasions now, it really is enough to make you wonder if perhaps Ben’s assertion of being on the side of the angels might not have some merit. Granted, Locke has been strung along by Ben quite a bit, but the Island’s manipulations of Locke have been, if anything, far crueler. It demanded the sacrifice of Locke’s follower, Boone, only to subsequently ask the ultimate sacrifice of Locke himself and it played “Indian giver” on several occasions with Locke’s legs. All the Island’s gifts seem to come with some rather nasty strings attached.

So here’s a question to bake your noodle: what if the Island has exiled first Widmore, then Ben, and finally Locke to ensure that no one with a strong enough will or talent could challenge its plans, and its plans are decidedly not good for humanity? We know that the DHARMA Initiative was supposed to harness the Island to “save the world,” after all.

Or, conversely, are the plans of both Ben and Widmore perversions of the natural order so grand as to force the Island’s hand to the degree that it has to break quite this many eggs in the making of a light and fluffy global omelet? On the one hand, the Island is part of nature. Well, sorta. On the other, it meddles with natural processes like healing and pregnancy to serve its ends.

Obviously, this is a question whose answer is going to remain unclear right through the end of Season 6.

Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not

A moppet so cute, she requires goggles for safe viewingAm I the only one wondering if Lost: The Next Generation (that is to say, Aaron, Ji Yeon, Charlie the Younger, and possibly Walt) are intentionally being left off of the manifest of returnees?

The action of getting the O6 back to the Island is happening at far too breakneck a pace to allow for wee Ji Yeon to be flown in from Korea. Desmond is at Lady Hawking’s Temporal Oracle without the wife and child in tow. And why do I get the distinct presentiment that Aaron’s going to become similarly inaccessible?

While we’re at it, weren’t children born or conceived on the Island supposed to be somehow special? What about Waaaaaalt’s magical mystery abilities to affect probability and/or causality and project himself into places he’s not?

To me, this raises the broader question of what role in the show’s endgame the outside world will play…will people question the O6’s flimsy story after they suspiciously all disappear together, leaving even their children behind? Will the world find out about this bizarre Island on which no less than the fate of all humanity seems to rest?

And last but least, am I the only one who find’s Sun’s whole vengeance storyline’s apparent end more than a little perfunctory? Just askin’.

Invisible airwaves crackle with life. Bright antennae bristle with the energy. Emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength…bearing a gift beyond price, almost free.

Montand (still with two arms) tries to find some surf-rockI know I’m not the only one to say this, but count me in among the chorus of voices saying that the voice the French Science Team overheard on their radio rattling off the Numbers was none other than Hurley’s.

If I’m right, this will create the fifth confirmed predestination loop on the show:

1. That the time-skipping Lostaways themselves assured the crash of Oceanic 815 by giving the Others 50 years to plan for it and ensure its occurrence. 

2. Locke was the one who first made Alpert interested in Locke, eventually precipitating his arrival on the Island and his seeming ascension to Others leadership. 

3. Daniel cemented his own grooming as a temporal troubleshooter by demonstrating to his future mother, Eloise Hawking, that time travel was possible. 

4. Charlotte confirms that it was Dan Faraday whose warning to stay away from the Island on pain of death no doubt had the reverse effect, guaranteeing it. 

5. It was Hurley’s own voice heard by Leonard Simms and Sam Toomey at their listening station broadcasting the Numbers which found their way to Hurley, allowing him to win the lottery and secure his place on flight 815.

This would also strongly imply that 1) the O6 will get back to the Island, and 2) that they’re going to spend some time with the DHARMA Initiative in the past. I’m also betting that we’ll see at least a few more of these loops before we’re done.

Again, I put it to you that the big question we all need to be asking about time travel is, “from how far into the future have time travelers come back, leaving a warning of their existence?” I’d be willing to bet that at least the Island and Eloise Hawking have knowledge from farther in the future than the O6’s departure on their return trip to the Island.

Came the last night of sadness and it was clear she couldn’t go on. Then the door was open and the wind appeared. The candles blew then disappeared. The curtains flew then he appeared…saying, “don’t be afraid.”

Struggling with prophecy is always a losing propositionWhich brings us at last to a moment even sadder than Locke’s compound fracture and death-march to off-Island Jeremy Bentham-ness…Charlotte’s death in Daniel’s arms.

Going back to my initial premise, this has to be one of the crueler examples of the Island’s “ends justify the means” modus operandi. A girl escapes the Island with her mother, spends her whole life making herself someone who could find her way back, actually manages to get back, and then turns out only to be there so that she can, in her dying throes of Time Travel Sickness, tell Locke to look for a half-remembered well from her intentionally-repressed childhood.

That is just plain cold. I know that, if I were bereaved enamorato Daniel Faraday, once I figured out how this particular temporal game had been rigged, I would be doing my damnedest to go from being a temporal troubleshooter to being the most dangerous monkey-wrench the Island has ever seen thrown into its gears.

What’s more, the verification of her DHARMA Initiative upbringing (who else listened to Geronimo Jackson?) has bred a lot of speculation about the identity of her parents. The two most compelling couples I’ve seen bandied about are Ben and long-lost love, Annie, and Horace & Olivia Goodspeed. Both pairings would seem pretty likely to produce a redhead like Charlotte, but I have to kind of give the edge to Ben & Annie here, given Ben’s piercing blue eyes which Charlotte shares.

Given that we know Daniel will go back in time to DHARMA days, I think it’s a fair bet that we’ll actually get an answer to this question. If it is Ben, how horrible would it be for him to lose not one, but two daughters to the draconian game into which he was pulled as a neglected and abused child?

But that’s just how big, bad papa Island rolls. This place, as the lady said, is death.

  • Section header references:

    “A live body and a dead body contain the same number of particles. Structurally, there’s no discernible difference. Life and death are unquantifiable abstracts. Why should I be concerned?”
    —Dr. Manhattan, Watchmen

    “Did it hurt?”
    “I felt my back break. What do you think?”
    —Ben Linus and John Locke, Lost, “The Man From Tallahasse”

    “Wheel of morality, turn turn turn! Tell us the lesson we must learn.”

    “Suffer the little children to come unto Me, and forbid them not”
    —The Bible, Mark 10:14

    “Invisible airwaves crackle with life. Bright antennae bristle with the energy. Emotional feedback on a timeless wavelength…bearing a gift beyond price, almost free.”
    —Rush, “The Spirit of Radio”

    “Came the last night of sadness and it was clear she couldn’t go on. Then the door was open and the wind appeared. The candles blew then disappeared. The curtains flew then he appeared…saying, ‘don’t be afraid.'”
    —Blue Öyster Cult, “Don’t Fear the Reaper”

    • Hipster Doofus

      Heh, animaniacs. Cartoons have some intense wisdom. I saw some of the most sound financial advise I’ve seen in ages from a clip of Ducktales on youtube.

      Good review. I also, for the first time this episode, saw the island as something bad. For seasons now, we’ve been explaining away all of the bad things that have happened, but maybe we need to take a second look.

      Speaking of Watchmen — back when Desmond started getting future-flashes in Season 3, people started comparing him to Doc Manhattan…especially after he got taken apart and put back together naked after the hatch went blooey.

      • Heh…so much of what I know I learned from cartoons as a kid. 😉

        As for Des, hm…never really saw him as a Dr. Manhattan-like character despite the similarities you mention, if only because at the core of Desmond’s character is a sense of being storm-tossed and not in control. Particularly at that point in the story! That was where he went from Odysseus to Billy Pilgrim to me. But he’s also never had the resigned acceptance of being “a puppet who can see the strings,” either. He’s fighting the future in a big way.

        And the Island? I’ve been ambivalent about the Island’s motivations ever since Smokey executed Eko in cold blood. Until that point, I had a notion that it was only bad or unworthy people who ran afoul of the Island’s rather harsh form of (usually poetic) justice. But the second the Monster did that to Eko, I started to wonder if the Island wasn’t perhaps more capricious in the mold of the Greco-Roman Gods.

        • Hipster Doofus

          Hm. Good points about Desmond. I really have to read Slaughterhouse Five.

  • Changetheworld

    “puts the wheel back on its “axis” (which struck me as odd…shouldn’t it be

    – Could it have to do with this : In astronomy, axial tilt is the inclination angle of a planet’s rotational axis in relation to its orbital plane. It is also called axial inclination or obliquity. The axial tilt is expressed as the angle made by the planet’s axis and a line drawn through the planet’s center perpendicular to the orbital plane.
    (Source: Wikipedia.) By the way: Great review!

  • Andy

    Ben’s being Charolette’s father presents a problem for me in that – he tried to shoot her last season. I know some speculate that he knew she had on a bullet proof vest but I don’t know of any proof behind this guess work. We do have a pattern of others being good with guns but make lousy decisions of where to aim (i.e. Richard and the Keamster)

  • johnpatrick

    Ben shot Charolette the first chance in got in season 4. If she is his daughter then he certainly doesn’t know it.

    • johnpatrick

      ***The first chance he got in season 4.

  • strymeow

    one thing I haven’t read anywhere is the fact that we know that Locke will return to tell Richard to go help him mend his wounded leg.

    in the season premiere, Richard arrives at the downed plane to remove the bullet from Locke’s leg. when Locke asks why he came with a first-aid kit, Richard’s response is basically, because you told me to, drill sergeant. since we haven’t seen Locke give Richard this order, we can deduce that Locke will return to the island alive, right? Or are we supposed to have assumed that Locke told Richard this at the same time he gave him the compass (back in 1954)?

    • hyperRevue

      hmmmm, interesting.

    • Hexonxonx

      Richard didn’t say Locke told him to give Locke first aid, he said that Locke told him that he was shot.

      LOCKE: How did you know there was a bullet in my leg, Richard?
      RICHARD: Because you told me there was, John.
      LOCKE: No, no. No, I didn’t.
      RICHARD: Well… you will.

      The conversation where Locke tells Richard about being shot occurs off screen in 1954, which leads to:
      RICHARD: After you were shot in the leg and I… wandered out of the jungle to patch you up?
      LOCKE: That’s right.
      RICHARD: Then why don’t I remember… well, any of this?
      LOCKE: Because it hasn’t happened yet.

      • Lottery Ticket

        Just because audio information is becoming important: If you listen to the conversation between Locke and “Alpert” you will hear Ben speaking. You will see “Alpert” using specs like Ben in scene with Sayid where he removes bullet. I think that this implies that Ben is manipulating future John to convince him to find past Richard and give me the compass with false attributes future leadership to Locke.

  • I started reading your article and was loving it, I should have known better than to read on because, sadly, I never read The Watchmen graphic novel and wanted to see the movie and I spoiled it for myself:( so I stopped reading on.
    Maybe a apoiler warning for the lame few, like me, that have no idea what The Watchmen is about? 🙂

  • Something that occurred to me that I have not seen mentioned in any of the recaps here (forgive me if I missed it):

    When Locke fixes the broken donkey wheel, will that effectively mean no more time skipping? If so, where does that leave Sawyer, Juliet and Daniel? If they are in the year 10,000 BC, will they be stuck there then? If the Oceanic 6 (or a subset) make there way back to the island, will they find them as old people, or not there at all? Seems like this may be part of the adventure of the rest of the season!

    • Kristina


      they are in the same time period as the Dharma Initiative

  • brent


    There are some huge loops opening and closing lately. Now that Locke may have stabilized the Island in who knows what time, will it ever get unstuck again? If they are now in 1980, for example, will the Left Behinders have to live for 24 years on the Island (fulfilling destiny) just to gaze into the sky to see themselves crashing? Did they always see themselves crash? Maybe that first night, the Smoke Monster ate all the Left Behinders up while the recent crash survivors thought there might be a dinosaur in the trees. Nope, just yourself getting chomped. Pay no attention to those super loud noises over there.

    As far as loops getting closed, I love that the rope that Sawyer was holding on to may be the reason someone may have dug a well there in the first place. Love, love, love. That may have been the first “discovery” of the wheel since it was originally built perhaps centuries ago. Great use of “what you hold comes with you.” But perhaps the biggest loop of the show is the actual creation of the wheel. Doc has his theory that it was Faraday, missing foot and all, that created it.

    • simplevincent

      wow i’ve yet to hear that the roop-in-ground gag may in fact be the reason why the well was built in the first place. that’s amazing.

  • Nikita

    Something I haven’t seen mentioned….

    Christian Sheppherd tells Locke, “There’s a wheel here that’s slipped off it’s axis. All you have to do is give it a little push.” Locke doesn’t give it a little push, he pulls the Donkey Wheel.

    Now, that may be splitting hairs, but I’m wondering since he didn’t push the wheel, it leaves the Island skipping. Somewhat like Ben pushing the wheel, wasn’t what the Island wanted. It wanted Locke to do the job. If you notice, Ben did in fact PUSH the wheel…..

    • hyperRevue

      Push and pull is all relative to which way is “forward” and which way is “back.” I didn’t see any directional arrows on it. I believe he “pulled” it in the same direction Ben “pushed” it.

      I think you’re right: splitting hairs.

      • Nikita

        Perhaps, but maybe Locke’s way is the right way. If you notice the difference in the two ways the wheel was turned…..

        Ben’s way pushed the wheel handle to the wall. Locke’s way, left his body’s width between the wheel handle and the wall.

        Is Locke the “key” to stopping the skipping? Is he the only one with the right “space” that makes the right adjustment for the axis?


        • hyperRevue

          There are several “handles” on the wheel. So, there is no way to tell if the “handle” Ben “pushed” is the same one that Locke “pulled.” I dunno. I think you’re over analyzing the scene.

    • rivum

      i, too, think you’re probably splitting hairs and it doesn’t matter whether you push or pull, but another interesting point springs to mind: how did locke know whether to move the wheel clockwise or counter-clockwise??

  • the_professor

    ARGH! And I was going to write a full-blown Watchmen/Lost comparison article, SonyaLynn! But after reading your once-again-finely-written review, I think you’ve got it down. None other than Jeff Jensen blurbed Damon Lindelof in a Watchmen article in EW a few years back, saying that he’d been greatly influenced by Watchmen, as all of us 30-something geeks have been.

    In any case, bang-up job as usual. For my money, Ben and Widmore are two halves of Ozymandias, more in their fascist methodologies than anything. And Locke’s blind faith/ambition does remind me a little of Rorschach — just a little. I love that the man who once believed Boone was the sacrifice the Island demanded is now, well, the sacrifice the Island demands.

  • jen

    I wonder who Adam and Eve are from the first season?

    Losties in the wrong time?

    Others? Is it a Parallel Universe?


    • CelticFan96

      Rose and Bernard are/were Adam and Eve, I believe.

      • hyperRevue

        As I said in a previous thread: god I hope not.

        Am I the only one who really dislikes those 2 characters? And, besides, where the hell have they been?! We haven’t seen them since the beach got pelted with flaming arrows.

        • simplevincent

          I completely agree…i’ll be incredibly disappointed if rose and bernard are Adam and Eve, unless they’re gravitas increases asap in the remaining episodes.

          Also I’m almost more interested in, not WHO Adam and Eve are, but why and how they come across the white and black stones (another reason it shouldn’t be bernard and rose…that’s too easy).

  • dpretty

    could be rose and bernard that would explain their odd absence. But they arent in a parallel universe jen cause their remains would be in that universe cool idea tho.

  • josh

    There is no way that Charlotte is Ben’s daughter. I have heard this theory over and over. Everyone forgets that when the Freighter people first came to the island, Ben grabbed a gun and shot Charlotte twice in the chest. I really don’t think he would have shot his own daughter.

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