For a few years now, I’ve structured each of my “Lost” recaps the same: I’ve based them around categories inspired by The Numbers as a way to cover the show completely, do so in an entertaining manner, and still also offer up a few bits of analysis to finish things off. But we’re in the final stages of the show now, and “Across the Sea” is an episode that would utterly defeat the normal way in which I offer my insta-analysis of the show. So given that, let’s just look at what happened tonight. Because maybe by writing about it, I can figure out what in the hell I just watched. If all the best cowboys have daddy issues, well, then I guess all the Island demi-gods have mommy issues.
Now, this feeling of complete confusion isn’t new to either myself or any “Lost” viewer in general. No episode has ever left my screen with me saying, “Know what? I totally get what’s going on now! Thanks, ‘Lost’!” But tonight’s episode managed to be nothing like anyone expected, while simultaneously being nothing anyone actually asked for. Interesting mix, that. The stated goal, as I understood it: give us the origin story for Jacob and The Man in Black. And while the episode did that, it didn’t solve the fundamental question at the heart of this season, and indeed, possibly the entire series: why exactly CAN’T The Man in Black leave the Island? After all, that’s kind of a big question.
But let’s step back and look at what the show did answer: Jacob and The Man in Black? Twin brothers. Why didn’t the latter ever have a name? Because their mother, a fetching woman named Claudia, only thought she was having a single son and didn’t have time to name the second one. Why? Because a nameless woman already on the Island (played by Allison Janney, a jarringly familiar face so late in the game) beaned Claudia over the head and claimed the twins as her own. (Looks like Smocke wasn’t lying when he told Kate about his crazy mother in “Recon.”)
At first, I was annoyed that they never gave either Janney’s character nor the Man in Black a name. Now? The implication, I think, is that her lack of identity spoke to the history of the Island, in that Jacob/The Man in Black were just the current cycle of a system that’s gone on since the dawn of time. The continuation of her tapestry by Jacob long after her death by episode’s end speaks to the continuity between eras as well as the sheer length of time during which their protection of the Island has endured. The magical incantation she spoke over the suddenly Magic Merlot? As unimportant as the words spoken by Billy Murray to Scarlet Johansson at the end of “Lost in Translation”. These words have power, and have always had power, and you either went with this moment as a viewer or had a deep-seeded feeling to suddenly jump into the Cave of Light and turn yourself into a smoke monster.
So yes, let’s talk smoke monsters. Or rather, smoke mothers. After all, there was a heavy implication that She Who Shall Not Be Named (Voldemom?) was herself a form of this entity herself, tempted to open Pandora’s Box after her accidential arrival on the Island and shunning all others away from its source. Why? Because when she insists that others corrupt, she counts herself among those corruptors. That’s why she relates more to the rulebreaker that is The Teen in Black (who looked like the love child of Zac Efron and Edward Furlong), even while she intuitively understands that the Island’s best chance for protection lies in Jacob. (And props to all that saw the “Peter Pan” boy throughout the season as a younger Jacob haunting his brother.)
Voldemom doesn’t age, but desperately wants to die. She doesn’t kill Claudia out of any twisted maternal desire, but instead to find a protector to end her ageless agony. She insists that she’s devised ways in which the two brothers can’t hurt each other, but there are at least two brutal beatdowns that suggest otherwise. She keeps them ignorant of the outside world, even in the face of people on the Island. Most of all, she insists they can’t ever leave the Island, a fact the brothers take on face value until Claudia’s ghost shows up during a prototypical game of backgammon between the two brothers.
This supernatural appearance, added to Voldemom’s actions and The Cave of Light, suggest a world that connects to an age that once existed in our world, but has been largely extinguished through modernity, warfare, and Justin Bieber’s inexplicable popularity. (OK, kidding about the last part. Kind of.) I’m fond of the idea of this source of light once been part of the very fabric of the earth, only to be drained slowly by the infection of human greed. (It’s sort of like the sci-fi version of “An Inconvenient Truth.”) The idea that the magic and mystery of the Island predating the birth of the man we once thought was its eternal god? That sits fine by me.
Also sitting fine by me? The confirmation of the theory, which I floated back in “Everybody Loves Hugo,” that The Man in Black was one of the men that originally dug the wells, as well as having a hand in the infamous donkey wheel that mysterious froze up long after its initial dig. The actual insight that led him to conceive of the wheel as his way off the Island? Um, yea, flew right over my head like so many of the late, great Daniel Faraday’s theories. But I liked that he was behind it, using those settlers like he eventually used the Lostaways as a means to an end in getting off the Island. I also liked that he once again established clever workaround to seemingly unsolvable problems: just as he decided to (metaphorically) break the wine bottle rather than try and remove the cork, he helped dig wells to find the source of the cave’s light in lieu of being able to find the Cave that his mother led a blindfolded Zac in Black to as a child. Too bad Voldemom decided to brain him before he could implement his plan.
Now, here’s where I might be getting things wrong (hell, I might be getting ALL of this wrong, quite frankly), but here it goes. Voldemom brained him, which I thought initially meant she killed him, but all she did was knock him out. Why? So she could drag him up top, smoke monster up, fill in the well, and torch the whole freakin’ village. After doing so, she installed Jacob as the new Island Immortal, thereby accepting her fate to die (much as Jacob did at the end of “The Incident.”) Enraged at the ensuing matricide by The Man in Black, Jacob tossed his brother into The Cave of Light, which created a new monster with the memories of The Man in Black even though the actual body of The Man in Black died during the transformation. Whew. I need a drink.
In any case, at episode’s end, Jacob lay these two, nameless figures in the cave in which the two brothers were born. The very same cave, as it turns out, in which Jack found water in “White Rabbit.” The two stones pocketed by Jack? Pieces of the backgammon-esque game played by the ancient brothers, belonging to “Adam” and “Eve.” Sort of fitting that after a few thousand years, John Locke finally gave them names. Not sure how to square the supposed “40-50” years of clothing deterioration mentioned by Jack in “House of the Rising Sun” with this information, but maybe if Tim Gunn had been on Oceanic 815 and chased HIS dead father into the jungle, we would have had a better frame of reference for these two figures. (Though honestly? I can’t BELIEVE they intercut the “Rising Sun” footage with this episode. What “Lost” fan wouldn’t make the connection between Jacob’s actions and Adam/Eve? Once the stones were in play, it was completely and utterly obvious. Sigh. Worse than that whole “The Whispers are ghosts” reveal in terms of not trusting the audience to understand something onscreen.)
So what does all this mean? Well, th
at “The Man in Black” as we know it died a long, long time ago. His form/memory lived on in the smoke monster, much in the way that John Locke’s form/memory now live on in the monster. All the scenes in “The Incident” and “Ab Aeterno”? Jacob interacting with the facsimile of his dead brother, aka The Man in Black II: Electric Boogaloo, the copy of a corpse collecting dust. This copy has the same motivations, however: reach “home,” a place we realize now is not specific but more of the “anywhere but here” variety. He’s like James Dean in a black sleeveless T, anxious to get out of this Island and hit the open road. His cardinal sin? The classic one from The Book of Genesis: the desire for knowledge.
Voldemom’s line to Claudia at the outset of the episode seems instructive in the way “Lost” sometimes treats the desire for answers: “Every question I answer will simply lead to another question,” she days. OK, well, yes, I get that, to a point. There’s no magical set number of answers that “Lost” can give that can ever be truly satisfactory for the audience as a whole. (The visual nod to the ginormous turtle on the beach reminded me of this particular phrase once again.) Whether these be questions about Walt, Annie, the glass eye, The Purge, or a thousand other topics that collectively feel important to the viewing audience, we simply can’t get those all solved in the final three and a half hours. No way, no how. But is simply stating, “The Island has always drawn people into this conflict for as long as people have been upright,” really a satisfactory answer to why neither Jacob nor The Man in Black can leave the Island?
That’s not meant to be a leading question. It’s at the heart of what’s going on in the present day Island, as well. Just as Voldemom sought candidates to take her place keeping the cork on the Island’s wine bottle of potential evil, so too has Jacob spent centuries trying to find his. One thing this episode made ABUNDANTLY clear is just why Jacob values choice so much: he never had one of his own. So many characters on “Lost” could relate to Jacob’s dilemma outside the Cave of Light: too often in the show’s history, people have been presented with choices that aren’t really choices at all. Take Michael’s position in Season 2: was bringing those four people to The Others in exchange for Walt ever really a CHOICE? For Jacob, it’s the same: by the time he’s asked to assume protectorship of the Island, he’s in no position to say deny the request.
As such, his life’s work can be seen as that of so many children: the direct rebuttal of the way in which (s)he was raised. Know someone that raises his/her children strictly? Probably the byproduct of parents that let them roam free. (Same trend works vice versa as well.) Jacob spent the new few centuries/millennia trying to find someone that would openly, willingly, and without any prodding step up to take up the mantle of Island Protector. By the time Richard Alpert stumbled onshore, he’d pretty much given up, frustrated by the repetitious sins of those that came to its shores. The smoke monster was born from grief and murder and a few of the Devil’s favorite things cooked up inside the source of The Island’s magic and spit out as its dark side. Always two there are, like Siths: a protector, and the would-be conqueror. Neither are truly light, nor dark, except thinking makes it so. So would say Hamlet, himself all too familiar with mommy issues.
How all this played out for you is of course personal preference. I find myself warming up to the IDEAS of this episode as I wrote about it, albeit not the actual execution of them. I still don’t think it was actually a great episode by any stretch. It wasn’t awful, just not up to the level I would expect from an episode this close to the finish line. First up, like in “Ab Aeterno,” it was tonally different from other episodes of “Lost” in a way that accentuated just how silly this show could be were it not grounded in recognizable, relatable characters. Dropping modern-day people into this long-festering sci-fi psychodrama gives us an entry point into what’s going on, a toehold to the craziness. Putting people in ancient garb speaking Latin in front of caves of glowing light distances us from the action onscreen. Secondly: Voldemom was so vague in her speechifying that I felt like I was back in the worst parts of Season 3, where Cindy would tell Jack she was there to watch and we all threw our remotes six inches away from the TV screen. Thirdly: absolutely nothing in tonight’s episode did a thing to help illuminate the sideways timeline, a timeline that’s intimately connected to the modern-day Island action which itself is dominated by Smocke’s desire to find his way across the sea once and for all. Since that’s the main mystery of the show’s final act, I felt like this episode should have done something to at least add to it.
Now, I didn’t need THE ANSWER to the sideways timeline tonight. I understand we have some time left to suss that out, even if it doesn’t FEEL like we do. But if The Man in Black’s first attempt to leave the Island resulted in him turning into a pillar of psychic smoke, what would the second attempt actually do? Ostensibly, the sideways timeline is either the result of The Man in Black leaving, the potentiality of what such a departure COULD mean (and thus possible to actually prevent, from an Island timeline perspective), or the result of what happens if The Man in Black is defeated/eradicated/recorked. We know no more about WHY him leaving the Island is bad than when we started the hour. And since this episode might have been the perfect time to explain that to us (as opposed to the characters in the show currently crying on the beach), the lack of even an implication leaves me a little cold.
All this gets back to my original, hopefully non-leading question: is “The Island has always drawn people into this conflict for as long as people have been upright” a good enough reason to put Jacob/The Man in Black through the ringer then, and our Lostaways through it now? I argue no, but I also think that ultimately the show will completely agree with that assessment. In fact, the nullification of this question is what I feel will be at the heart of the show’s final few hours. If you want a great example of a text related to the senseless, seemingly endless iteration of an act meant to save the world, read Stephen King’s short story entitled, “N.” I’ve written about this at length before, so by all means, read more about it there. But I think at some point, Jacob realized that to truly protect the Island, he’d have to take his brother’s advice when they were children and create his own rules of his own game.
The rules that he created? We’re seeing them played out now, with numbers and misdirections and casual touches and so many moving pieces that The Man in Black II can’t possibly keep up. The Man in Black II THINKS he knows the rules, and thinks that he’s killing off the people that will take over Jacob’s position in order to secure his freedom. But Jacob’s plan for some time now has been something different: he’s not looking for someone to protect the Island, but someone who will ensure that protecting it is no longer necessary. Ultimately, this is the choice Jack has to make, along with a little help from his friends. I don’t have a remotely clear idea of how Jack will make this choice, or in what form it will take, or how it will tie into the sideways timeline. But Jacob’s not looking for the start of the next era on the Island. He’s looking for the end of the Island, period.
That’s all good stuff. And there were seeds for that planted in tonight’s episode. But as a stand-alone hour? Just didn’t float my boat. The problem sometimes with opening a mystery box is finding out exactly what’s inside. Having the t
wo demigods of the show turn out to be siblings, one the bad twin of the other? Not a bad choice. Giving them vague motivations around protecting a freakin’ Cave of Light that may or may not contain the essence of everything ever? Not a good choice. (Anything that reminds me of an MST3K movie is NOT a good thing. See this clip at the 1:00 to see what I mean.) I’m not jumping off the “Lost” train or anything, but I’ll be plenty happy to get back to the characters I know and have loved for the past six seasons, take what little I liked of this episode, and move onto what will hopefully be a powerful final two episodes.
Well, those are my thoughts in the immediate aftermath of this confusing, sadly disappointing episode. What did you think, “Lost” fans?
Ryan writes about “Lost” over at Zap2it’s Guide to Lost. He invites you to join the hundreds already in Zap2It’s Guide to Lost Facebook group. He also encourages you to subscribe to the Zap2It’s Guide to Lost Twitter feed and Zap2it’s main feed for all the latest TV, movie and celebrity news.
Photo credit: ABC