directed by: tucker gates. star director of the season, with 'ab aeterno,' and 'the substitute' under his belt. i think he was just totally unable to connect to the emotional core of this story, which should have been an incredibly complex triangle of love and hate between two brothers and their 'mother.' i should have been crying for them. there should not have been a flashback at the end.
cinematography by: stephen st. john. some beautiful shots in this episode, even if the cave of light was embarrassing. the sea turtle, the star wars sunset, the circling shots around man in black as he rages discovers uncle owen and aunt beru's charred bodies..
hoo boy: i've ridden a roller coaster of emotions over this episode, ranging from full on hatred to finally coming around and appreciating the ideas and information contained in it (despite questionable choices in the execution).
1. the real problems
2. the story in focus
3. the new game
4. the missing history
5. echoes of the future/past
6. other problems
8. next episode
1. the real problems
yes, there were so many problems with this episode. i could go on and on about them. it got to a point where i began deeply questioning whether damon and carlton would actually be able to write a satisfying finale. what most people claim to be bothered by are not the same things that bothered me. i love lost because the storytelling choices are always bold. to exclude the entire main cast in the episode before the finale suite? amazingly bold. to give us the largest mythological download we've ever had on the show? fantastic idea. give us 'the beginning' before sending us into 'the end?' genius. i'm glad that damon and carlton continue to stand behind their choices in conceiving this episode, because everything about it on paper is brilliant. after the success of 'ab aeterno,' i was ready to come out of this episode with my faith in the show fully renewed, perhaps twitching in ecstasy from having witnessed the most amazing episode of lost, ever. i can easily fall into the endless loop about what was wrong with this episode, but first lets talk about the intriguing ideas at play.
what has frustrated so many people is that, according to damon and carlton, 'this is what an answers episode of lost looks like.' and for an 'answers episode' it pretty firmly establishes the idea that no one on this island actually knows anything about what makes the island what it is. there is no answer to that question. but, and this is a capital b but, the reason this episode takes us to these specific events in history is because this is the true origin of the story of lost. that is the 'answer' we get. nothing before this point matters, and if it does, well, it doesn't.
another reason people hated this episode is because it is very cagey and mysterious about how it gives us those answers. like every episode, it has a larger picture that we're only getting a tiny glimpse of. at this point, the audience wants to see the whole damn picture already. my friends can attest that my faith was shaken, deeply. i was angry, annoyed. i thought 'wow, damon is so sensitive to criticism.. he must feel awful that this episode was such an abysmal failure..'
but after having watched it a few times, and after letting go of the problems in the execution, there is a nice little mystery story hinted at here. i'm going to re-tell the story of 'across the sea,' based on hints dropped, and my own theories.
2. the story in focus
we begin with claudia, washed ashore after a shipwreck, and speaking latin. is she egyptian? based on the beach photography, i think it is safe to assume that the events we're witnessing take place before the building of the statue, temple, and all other egyptian ruins.
claudia meets 'mother,' who delivers her twin babies then kills her. we see that mother does not age during the course of the 40 years covered in the story, so it's safe to assume that she has been acting as protector of the light for a very very long time. she distrusts people, which seems to be the reason she a) lives like a hermit, and b) hasn't found a replacement for herself.
when claudia washes ashore and has two babies in her, mother must have felt a tremendous amount of relief - 'finally, two little people i can mold, and if one does work out, i'll always have a backup!'
mother's life on the island has clearly included other people, otherwise she wouldn't speak the language, and she clearly seems to have personal experience with them given her speech later echoed by mib himself, 'they come, destroy, corrupt, etc..'
mother must have known that there were other survivors of claudia's ship, but for some reason, decided to let them live and build a village on the other side of the island. if she's the fierce protector of the light, why would she allow this? since she possesses mass-murder super-powers, why not just kill them all upon arrival? does she have her own candidacy-system that keeps her from abusing her powers?
once the boys discover other people, mother is forced to show them something they were not quite ready to see: a stream leading into a cave of illuminated midichlorians. apparently this cave is an entryway to the source of the energy of life. she tells them it is their 'reason' for being there, that she is the protector of it, and one of them will have to take over some day. it seems like a mighty vulnerable treasure, what with how it glows yellow light all day and night, but apparently it can only be found by the anointed protector of the island. boy in black will spend his next 30 years walking every inch of the island in search of it.
the next revelation is that boy in black shares hurley's power of being able to see the dead - claudia appears and tells him his true origin, causing boy in black to suffer a kind of 'truman show' syndrome in which he begins a quest to find the true world 'across the sea.'
right then and there, mother probably should have hit him with the same rock she used to kill claudia. instead, mother allows him to go. perhaps he'll learn the true nature of men and decide to come back to her eventually? or perhaps she likes him so much more than jacob that she can't give up hope on him becoming protector of the light just yet? or maybe she sees a spark of hatred in him that will come in very handy one day..
another key point is that man in black develops his manipulative attitude towards men while living amongst these people. he sees that they embody all the things mother warned him about, and yet remains with them because they are 'a means to an end.'
we can only assume that these people have been doing experiments with the light for decades, much like dharma had done - and however it is that man in black came to 'just know' that attaching a wheel to a system that channels the light and the water would send him home, we do know that his proposed machine actually works, and spits the user out in tunisia.
when she gets jacob to the cave, she makes him promise that 'no matter what you do, you won't ever go down there.' is this possibly because mother has been down the cave herself, and is trying to save jacob from a fate worse than dying? how else would she know what happens? clearly there is no smoke monster running around, or else mother would be focused on protecting her sons from it - unless at this point in time mother herself was the smoke monster.
next, mother is murdered - stabbed with the same knife that man in black will eventually give to alpert, who will use it to try and kill jacob. jacob will later give it to dogen, who will give it to sayid, who finally gives it back to the man in black by ineffectively stabbing him in the chest. when the man in black tells alpert how to kill jacob, his instructions are based on the successful murder of his mother, who also did not age. he tells him that jacob must be stabbed before he says a word, otherwise it will be too late (dogen says the same thing to sayid about killing the man in black, though mib managed to get out 'hello' before being stabbed. did this save him?).
it seems like whether or not the intended target actually gets words out is not as important as 'the rules.' jacob says plenty of words to ben before being killed - jacob was successfully killed because his brother had 1) gained an audience with jacob and 2) manipulated someone else into killing him.
so how is it that mother was able to be killed? mother doesn't seem to have a candidacy system in play (does she have a cave with two names written on it, jacob and the prince symbol?) - i think once a successor has been anointed, the previous protector becomes susceptible. after leaving man in black alive and then burning the village and filling in the well, i think she was only waiting for him to come back and kill her. and, perhaps mother actually used her favorite son as her escape route - much like man in black had to manipulate ben into killing jacob, mother orchestrated her own death by driving her favorite son to enough hatred to make the act a certainty. mother saw in the birth of the twins a perfect opportunity: she could mold these boys into becoming her successor and murderer, respectively.
3. the new game
the death of mother and the transformation of brother into smokey is the true start of the story of 'lost,' because before these events, the struggle of life on the island was simpler: there was a light to be protected, and there was one person assigned to protect it. the protector possessed two supernatural powers, imbued upon them by the light itself: agelessness (or a kind of immortality with limits), and (though we didn't see it directly) a smoke-monster-like ability to quickly kill an entire village (purge #1) and fill in a very deep well without any assistance.
when mother gave jacob the wine, she transferred to him the powers of agelessness and the ability to locate 'the source.' perhaps she intended that the smoke entity, an existence 'worse than death,' die with her, but when jacob threw his brother into the cave, i believe that this manifestation of her power was reborn, essentially splitting the numerous powers of 'the protector' between the brothers. the result was that the primary goal to protect the light became overshadowed by the rivalry between the brothers, both of whom now have powers originating from the same source, preventing them from harming each other. the new game is that jacob must find a successor before his brother finds a way to kill him. jacob came to see himself as smokey's warden, rather than the island's protector.
the great irony is that jacob was able to leave the island many many times in order to recruit his candidates, (it's likely mother did this as well, bringing claudia's shipwreck) an act that must have driven his brother mad - if only the brother had known the truth about the source, the limits of the job and the purpose of it, he might have accepted the responsibility of becoming protector at the cost of only being able to visit the places across the sea.
many questions have been asked about 'the rules' that govern jacob and the man in black - what forces uphold these rules? it seems that the answer truly is the island itself. this source, the light, has its hands in both jacob and man in black, and because they are 'cut from the same cloth,' they cannot harm each other - a rule that only became true once the two were imbued with mother's former powers.
4. the missing history
though we don't see them there are many missing discovery beats to the story of jacob and his brother that we can fill in using our knowledge from the show's history:
- man in black discovers that his shapelessness is actually capable of resuming his previous form.
- perhaps accidentally, man in black discovers that he can also take the shape of other dead bodies on the island.
- man in black appears as mother in order to freak jacob out. jacob probably cries.
- jacob likely has a similar journey of discovery that jack had regarding the visions of his dead father. jacob probably chased the ghosts around the island before finally deducing that his brother is behind it and did not actually die. that must have been a very weird day.
- a good amount of time probably passed while the two tried very hard to kill each other in various ways. similarly to how jack was prevented from jumping off the bridge, or how michael was prevented from shooting himself in the face, or how keamy was prevented from shooting michael in the face, fate (or the island) intervened in every murder attempt. this is probably known as the 'groundhog day' period in island history.
- jacob realizes that he needs to figure out how to find a willing successor before his brother figures out how to kill him. does jacob even care about the light? jacob somehow begins travelling off-island, touching people, and bringing them to the island.
- for centuries, people are brought to the island by jacob, who, eternally bitter at his mother, never interferes with the actions of the people he brings.
- the initial group of people brought to the island are egyptian, and exposed to the two forces at play. they take sides. the statue of tawaret is built in honor of jacob. those who join the man in black complete construction of his frozen donkey wheel. they dig the tunnels underneath the dharma barracks. the system developed by the man in black to channel the light and the water is used by his followers to create the lever that summons him when pulled. the inscription is carved depicting the battle between the monster and the statue.
- once construction on the wheel is complete, man in black realizes that 1) it works! and 2) it doesn't work on him. d'oh. i suspect that purge #2 happened around this point.
- jacob uses magnus hanso and his ship, the black rock to bring the next group of people to the island. they all die. richard alpert becomes jacob's spokesperson - it is at this point that 'the others' as we know them are officially formed.
- 'the others,' or jacob's people, grow in numbers throughout the years, many of them candidates, many of them not.
- 1954: the us army finds the island while doing nuclear bomb tests. jacob orders that they be purged (purge #3). jacob's people procure their tents and equipment. young charles widmore and eloise hawking are among jacob's people at this point.
- 1960's: the dharma initiative arrives on the island to research its properties. it is unclear if dharma's presence is connected to influence from the man in black. they clash with jacob's people, but also have a fence designed to keep smokey out - they are perhaps a neutral third party with purely scientific goals.
- 1973: truce between dharma and jacob's people is reached.
- 1977: last known successful on-island-conception birth: ethan
- 1977: the incident
- 1992: purge of dharma (purge #4?), ordered by jacob. were they getting to close to messing with the light? that whole detonating a nuclear bomb wasn't grounds for purging?
- 1992-2004 ben becomes leader of jacob's people, who move into the dharma barracks and continue the project operations.
5. echoes of the future/past
many images in this episode are meant to evoke earlier motifs - the structure of the episode also loosely mirrors the structure of the six seasons.
- the boys discover that other people are on the island in a way meant to evoke our first discovery of the others in season 1. the primary narrative complication of season 1 was the discover that 'we are not alone.'
- the light emanating from the top of the source cave is meant to evoke the light emanating from the hatch.
- the revelation that the island houses an energy source needing protection and a line of replacement protectors evokes desmond's job and trial at the hatch in season 2.
- boy in black's decision to join 'the others' is reminiscent of the narrative turn in season 3 when the show suddenly shifted to their perspective.
- revelation of the origin of the donkey wheel recalls the biggest surprise of season 4
- the scene depicting the construction of the well is deliberately meant to recall the hatch construction site, where 'the incident' occurred at the end of season 5
a major question we should be asking now is: if smokey's true purpose is to be the guardian of the light, is it really such a bad thing if he gets off the island?
6. other problems
- allyson janney. girl can rapid fire the sorkin dialogue but cannot latinspeak her way out of a wet paper bag. the role was conceived for and written specifically for her - damon and carlton were thrilled that she made time in her schedule to do it. whether you like it or not, hers is the face they envisioned as 'mother.' i would like to have seen someone with more otherness and mystery, someone like isabella rossellini.
- the kids. i think part of the problem with this episode is that it all just felt too modern and too midwestern american - whereas a strength of 'ab aeterno' came from having the bulk of the episode in spanish. yes it was a big, bold choice to set this episode in the time and place they chose to do it in, but the three central actors kept bringing us back to wisconsin. the kids could not carry it. the whole thing would have been immensely better if everyone was at least a foreign actor speaking english with an accent.
- the cave of light. also known as the midichlorian toilet. a wholly unspectacular visual to anchor the show's central struggle to. in the geronimo jack's beard podcast they reference that the source is described as a waterfall, not a cave - and man in black's line even refers to it as a waterfall.. was it just not possible to find a suitable location? are there no spectacular waterfalls in hawaii?
jacob: goodbye brother, goodbye
yes, the flashback to the scene in 'house of the rising sun' is horribly frustrating - really its inclusion cemented the episode as a failure in everyone's mind. it's irritating to see a show that so often relies on subtlety succumb to such blatant pandering. they have used other flashbacks this season in ways that didn't bother me because they were relevant to the characters - in 'the substitute,' as locke is showing sawyer the names scrawled in the cave, the show flashes back quickly to the moments that jacob touched each person, culminating in sawyer's realization that jacob did indeed touch him.
the problem with showing this flashback is that the identities of the bodies are totally inconsequential to kate, jack, and locke - it doesn't matter a whip to any of them who these people are. it seems like the intended effect was to have a big revelatory feeling of 'woah, so that's how the puzzle fits together' but instead it felt like 'see? see! we planned it! we did!' it treated us like idiots, which makes this perhaps the most hated preboomer in the entire history of 'lost.' damon and carlton have tried to defend the choice of showing the flashback by saying that they wanted to remind us how far the characters have come - but this interviewer pointed out quite well that the entire sideways plot serves that very purpose just as well.
the inclusion of the flashback is, i believe the weakest aspect of the episode - and based on the vitriolic reaction of jorge garcia's girlfriend in their latest podcast, the flashback scene was not in the original script.
8. next episode
is titled 'what they died for,' and is the beginning of the 'finale suite,' meaning damon and carlton consider this and the finale to be all in one. we don't know the full details, but i'm expecting that we will discover in retrospect that we did in fact need to know the events in 'across the sea' in order to fully understand what happens at the show's conclusion. will the island sink? does this mean the light goes out? is the parallel world the result of the light going out? is the sinking of the island actually a solution to a problem? does it free the island from needing a protector and finally allow smokey to go home? does smokey going home blink everyone into the parallel? or does the parallel blink itself out of existence?
it was extremely difficult to come to terms with this episode. at one point i was so disillusioned i said 'mission accomplished, damon and carlton: i'm ready to leave the island.' they didn't quite lose me, but they nearly did, and they have definitely lost others who are not so willing to give it a second (and third) look. but now the major mythological download is over. all that is left are our characters and the final fate of the island, and them. a week from now, all this will be over.