Wednesday, May 12, 2010

'Across the Sea' blew my mind

'Across the Sea' was a simple story, a devotedly simple story, its structure purposely unadorned with humor, suspense, romantic pique, or any story elements familiar to 'Lost' fans. I was nearly expecting the 3 principal cast members to simply utter their lines seated while an unseen chorus provides the little exposition needed. Whether the classical tones of the story resonated within the mythic framework of 'Lost' or were instead jarringly ponderous is a judgment that I wouldn't yet make for anybody but myself. However, I would suggest that such judgments should be postponed (as is necessary for almost every episode this season) until after a rewatch. The paranoia about 'answers, answers, answers' is so debilitating that it’s difficult as hell to pay attention to the present—the episode on the screen—the first time around. Thus, after my rewatch, I've made up my mind about 'Across the Sea'.

The episode...complicated me. It complicated my vision of what 'Lost' is. And, being the sort of viewer I am, that makes it the most gratifying episode of the season.

Mother was enough

The anonymity of the Mother allows the woman to assume an archetype rather than a personality, and her implacability girds the sense of timelessness that myth affords. Maybe I'm a cheap date, but I would happily exchange a fully manufactured and exposited origin for these few mythic brushstrokes. And I thank the writers for grounding the Island’s origin in the structures of myth without nailing it in place with some list of times, places, and people that might constitute some particular origin story.

It’s hard to state exactly, but: I'm *not* watching 'Lost' to discover 'what' the supernatural tokens of the story 'really' are. They aren't 'really' anything. Each succeeding level of explanation of, say, the FDW will require more minutiae, more 'facts' with a veneer of rationality. And eventually, somewhere in the secondary, tertiary, or subsequent rationalizations for such things, we will discover the nugget of impossibility that powers the whole machine. Only, by that point, with our sustained deployment of rational investigation, we will have unfortunately convinced ourselves that we are, in fact, considering a genuine thing of this world. It will end badly now, as the nugget of impossibility will be transformed into a pellet of bullshit, and that's all we'll see, smell, or think of whenever we see the FDW.

I *am* watching 'Lost' to find out about the 'who' and the 'why'. And regarding the Mother, I think the cocktail of the writers’ borrowing from the narrative devices of myth and ancient story, along with a harrowing and unnatural performance from the actress has communicated the 'who' and the 'why' to me.

The Man in Black is not the Man in Black. He is not any ‘body’

I can’t say I was thrilled when ‘Lost’ decided to personify evil in the opening and closing scenes of ‘The Incident’. If there is a thread that runs through all of its seasons, I would argue that it is the dilemma of free choice, unanchored from the surety of absolutes. But Lost’s focus does not cease at the moment of choice—it follows characters as the consequences of their choices shape their very nature and identity. The drama has always been existential, and rarely—if ever—moral. So, to introduce an important character who, simply by dint of his identity, cannot make a choice that isn’t evil seemed an uncalled for reduction in the autonomy of the main characters who must react to him.

After ‘Across the Sea’, I realize that the writers never intended such personification, and not for the first time, I have been conned.

What I mean is this: We thought that the man who shared breakfast with Jacob was the same man who freed Richard from his chains, and (at least for the first 40 minutes of ‘Across the Sea’) the fraternal twin of Jacob. Yes, he had a kind of superpower, but he could be understood as a man just as costumed supervillains like Magneto or Dr. Doom can be understood as men, though sort of pre-defined as ‘bad’ men. The profound reveal of the final golden cave scene is that the fellow who ate breakfast with Jacob and freed Richard is as similar a person to Jacob’s nameless twin as the Fake-Locke of Season 6 is to the man the Benjamin Linus murdered in the Westerfield Hotel. Following ‘Across the Sea’, the ‘eeeeevil!’ of that character has been dissociated from a personality, in the sense that the man we thought to be evil’s author (the nameless twin) died 2000 years ago. It *is* disorienting: we must now both negate Jacob’s twin from the identity of the man on the beach, and comprehend that fLocke’s true identity is, in fact, not Jacob’s bad twin, but the identityless man on the beach. It doesn’t seem possible. How can fLocke have an identity of no identity?

The astounding nature of ‘Eeeeevvvil!’ on ‘Lost’

He can because he is a liar, and because in the metaphysics of ‘Lost’, the root of evil is nothing more or less than a lie. In Christianity, the adversary of God is often described as the ‘father of lies’. In literature though, it’s a challenge to personify such a character, as their very personhood and agency are predicated on a coherent motivation: that is, there must be at least one lie that they do not tell themselves, and thus, if they wished to, that they might relate to someone else. In ‘Lost’, the dislocation of fLocke’s identity allows him to bypass these constraints: he can both have the motivations once attributed to the nameless twin, and not have the identity, the agency, that grew them. We could ask of the nameless twin “What is it that truly motivates you? What makes you tick?” , and we could know that there is a true, real answer to the question. Ask the same question of fLocke, and though he might reply with the same words, we know that it would be, in a both technical and important sense, a lie. For fLocke is not the Bad twin, and as much as he might think otherwise, he lied when he replied to Ben’s quivering query of “What are you?” with “I’m not a ‘what’ Ben, I’m a ‘who’”. And what is he? What is the ‘what’? He is that whose identity is no identity. He is no-person, no-history, no-motivation, he is a nullity. He is what would be loosed upon the world if the Island were no longer to constrain him. It is what Widmore is speaking of when he warns Desmond that unless he aids him, the world he knows will simply “cease to exist”. The awkwardly alluded to nature of the golden spring is, in a word—being—and the danger of the black smoke is its embodiment of the paradoxical concept of un-being.

Up until ‘Across the Sea’ the writers have thing-ified this un-being as a cloud of black smoke—not the worst choice for representing the presence of absence in prime-time television. I am truly astounded after ‘Across the Sea’ by the skill of the story’s creators—able to convincingly create a character, and a basis for ‘evil’, that is absent identity, personhood, or morality.


  1. thanks for giving me something positive to read!

  2. Good discussion on the evil of Smokey. Reminiscent of the "Nothing" in The Neverending Story.


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