(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?
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?
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! 😛 )
(***END OF WATCHMEN SPOILERS***)
“Did it hurt?”
“I felt my back break. What do you think?”
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?
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
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.
I 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.”
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.