Monday, May 17, 2010

Across the Sea

Orchid station door
This is another attempt to write about last week's episode of Lost, "Across the Sea." Spoilers are contained of course if you haven't gotten up this far in season 6.

My first viewing of the episode left me highly disappointed. In fact, season 6 thus far, climaxing with Richard's past in "Ab Aeterno", has been one fast-paced movement after another with a lot of "oh wow!" types of reactions nearly every five minutes per episode. There's also been less depth to characters themselves (except for the Richard episode, which was my favorite so far), and more of a tying up of all these loose ends the writers have set up. Though I still am absolutely enthralled by the show, I feel too many throw-away characters have been introduced and not enough of the continuity has been held together with substance.

Example: two episodes ago, Jin and Sun are killed. The timing of this was horrible. It's not that we'd forgotten Jin and Sun, but there was so much other stuff happening and such a long time had lasped between their last togetherness and the ultimate reunion, that when they were reunited, it was without depth. In fact, the viewers were so worried that they'd tip off the pylons in their run toward one another for that reunion kiss, that surely one of them would be fried, if not both. Fortunately, the pylons had been turned off, and, with some sad music, the reunion happened. But there was no time to focus on Jin and Sun, and then boom, they were killed in a freak accident wherein Sun got trapped in the submarine. They had a two-minute dying scene, with hands touching, before the show got back on board with the rest of the storyline that has been happening in season 6. So, I think a lot of people were disappointed in both the quickness and fickleness of the reunion and death. Jin and Sun had major character build-up, and I think though their fate may have been planned on paper, it was executed poorly.

That's just an example of the very quick movement in Lost these days. Stuff is always happening. A bomb is exploding, someone's getting shot, someone's makes a cameo in a  flash sideways, new characters were even introduced (Charles' Widmore's team), all things that are taking away from the slow build-up up a very character-driven first five seasons. There's so much going on in season 6, I suppose to help tie up the series end, that the producers forgot about character development. The whole show, in fact, is about redemption. I think some time needs to be allowed to see the entire course and aftermath of redemption. As with Jin and Sun, the redemption happened, they went forgotten for a few episodes, then came back and were poof, reunited and then killed off.

Anyway, "Across the Sea" went back to the slower-paced character development type of execution, which was good. In that way it was reminiscent of Richard's "Ab Aeterno," one of my favorite television times ever. But, things were a little sloppy (I liked this much better on a rewatch, however). I don't want to narrate everything that happened in this episode, but a summary: we were treated to the origins of Jacob and Man in Black. This origins episode was built up very high and hinted and teased at mythological epic proportions, which actually didn't happen. My two main beefs were:

1. The first half of the episode was weak with character study.

2. The mythos we've been teased with for so long just didn't happen at all. This sadly makes us invent our own!! See later in this post. Jacob and Man in Black, turns out, are twin brothers. This is not really too much of a surprise. The actors playing their younger selves were not well-trained, though upon a second watching of the episode, I was not as picky. Their childhood was rather simple and mysterious. It was clear that their fake mother (who killed the biological mother, who shipwrecked on the island) needed to protect the "light" of the island, a literal light appearing in a well, into which a creek or river ran. This light is magical, but has some sort of pseudo-science behind it as it is electro-magnetic, and combined with the hydro-power of the underground and above ground water system on the island, is how Man in Black began to craft the power behind the donkey wheel to work.

The biological mother was another throw-away character. We found out nothing of her. The fake mother was a good actress (Allison Janney rocks!), but we had such little information on her that for an "origins" episode, I felt not enough was given. All we know is that she was a protector of the island. Later, after Man in Black was visited by the ghost of his real mother and found out the truth, and then joined the other shipwrecked people on the island to go "home" and find a way off the island (Jacob was appointed the new protector of the island). You get the idea the fake mother was not the first protector (or first smoke monster if indeed she thrashed the village), and that the assignment is usually appointed, not gotten any other way.

Grave Ben was digging for himself

I've always thought, or maybe just hoped, that the main characters on the show were related to each other, and part of a lineage, and that the candidates for replacement are related somehow to the previous island protector(s) or inhabitants. But we did not learn in this episode why the candidates ever need to be replaced. They don't age, and they seem "special", but something happens that will eventually call for their replacement. In the fake mother's case, we learn that she is "tired". However, there's also a strong hint that she has been corrupted as well ("smokey-ized"), and at that point maybe it's time to replace with someone supposedly more pure. We don't know how she arrived at the island, but do know she gotten there "by accident". Did everyone get there by accident, and was there ever really an original deity?

And as we know from other accidental shipwrecks and plane crashes, these accidents were not accidents at all, rather they were planned. Not sure what the point would be in this continuous cycle of replacement, other than this island has been strongly compared to a game between two opponents, with the storyboard containing much recycled pieces (similar dialog, situations, names, etc.). But then that is pretty much life, with the history repeating itself, isn't it? It's no secret that the Lost is a big cultural phenomenon, representing sort of a holistic viewpoint of a story by attacking it at various angles: literary, mythological, and otherwise. 

The episode ended in Man in Black killing the mother after she attempted to kill him, and then Jacob throwing his brother down the well. When that happened, the well light (a natural very ambient bright light) went out, at least temporarily, and out flew Smokey.

We learn at the end of this episode that the same "Adam and Eve" skeletons found in the caves by Kate and Jack, and which Locke coined "Adam and Eve" in season one, with the black and white game pieces, were actually the fake mom and Man in Black (neither were given names, a sure plot to have the viewers thus later term them Adam and Eve instead of fake mother and Man in Black).

Now, a little Adam and Eve background. We assume that the Biblical story of Adam and Eve is about a couple. And it is. Adam and Eve were supposed to multiply, spread their generations, etc. The story is that another man in the garden spoke to Eve and tempted her to eat from the tree, which she did. I think this myth could just be she had sex with the man who was not God's chosen mate for her, or Adam. And then later tempted Adam with the same "fruit". There was the punishment: the tempter turned into a snake, and Eve had to experience pain in childbirth. Then they both were expelled from the garden, and God placed a cherubim there to forever protect the garden.

Back to the island, the real mother of the two boys has picked out only one name, Jacob, and has no idea she is carrying twins. The second child born, not given a name, is not known about before, and never named until the ending reveal, when he is tied with the name Adam. The not-real mother helps to give birth to the boys, and later in the episode it is shown that Jacob thought the fake mom had always loved the second twin more. She said no, she loved them in different ways, but it is clear she identifies more with "Adam".

It was also shown via Jacob's mind, that the second born would carry on the island protection role, but that turned out not to be true either because he left his home to learn more about the outside world. I think Man in Black (Adam) represents the fake mother's (Eve's) chosen partner for ensuring that the island (Garden of Eden) survives. But, they both eat from the knowledge of the tree (in this case, I don't believe it's sexual but represents going into the light in the water (which we know has good and evil), and thus are expelled from the "Garden of Eden". Jacob is the only one left to guard the island "garden" or "Eden".

*While we do only see Man in Black enter the light, we sort of assume the fake mother has already done so, and may have already become "Smokeyized"--for instance, when we assume it was her who killed an entire village of shipwrecked and armed people, leaving behind smoke.

If the writers even partially were attempting this sort of mythos behind the scenes, I would like the last episode better. This interpretation covers original sin, which I don't believe was sex, but may be interpreted in two ways:

1. Literal: The island/garden represents righteousness in which a woman and man must be faithful to one another, and not tempted to cheat. To have remained in this sacred garden, the parents must stay sacred with each other.

2. Figurative: The island/garden represents a sacred place whose inhabitants must not go out and seek worldly ways (knowledge/life learning), which will bring back corruption to the island, thus ruining it.

Both these scenarios are overwhelming in Lost.

1. Nearly all the characters, if not all, are products of divorce and/or abandonment by parents. This has led to a lot of hurting and victimization, upon which the characters all had some trying times growing up, and their secondary (i.e. not original) sins were the result and ranged from: theft, murder, incest, living a con's life, and so on. I think if you chose a set of sins such as ten commandment breakings or the seven deadly sins, you'd get pretty much the main characters doing them. The island is the area of redemption. Redemption leads to a second chance (i.e. alternate timelines) and a chance to not do what their parents did (abandonment). Still waiting to see if there's a beautiful "what should be" timeline at the end where Claire has Aaron, etc. The whole fertility problem on the island may simply be reduced to the fact that there is too much electromagnetism for it to be healthy, that time travel paradoxes can't be created, or that, in a more literal sense, until the characters are completely redeemed they cannot continue carrying on the "original sin" of not staying with their mates or providing a substantial, loving home in which they stay with and guide their children.

2. It's clear that the island holds powers strongly desired, which have been represented from healing powers to great energy to time travel. So there are things on the island that men want. And men who feel trapped on the island (like Man in Black) want to get away from it, and want to discover the world beyond the island. I don't think either is bad, per se, but that greed is a strong motive that can result out of "wanting more" all the time. And to go off and pursue of life of greed breaks some original ideas of sanctity and purity. There's also the idea that two distinct places (island vs. rest of world) simply cannot cohabit together due to numerous reasons, whether scientific (invasivity problems) or spiritual (clash of rules and ideology). If these scenarios were true, and if Lost was trying to make a statement in the midst of storytelling, I think the creators are studying the positives of cohesive family structure and possibly monogamy. I really do think that in the past of our characters, they all had relatives who were candidates for coming to the island for redemption. We learned in earlier episodes that Man in Black doesn't believe that they can come and redeem themselves, though Jacob has faith that they will.

There's this famous dialog from "The Incident" episode:

MAN IN BLACK: I am. How did they find the Island?
JACOB: You'll have to ask them when they get here.
MAN IN BLACK: I don't have to ask. You brought them here. Still trying to prove me wrong, aren't you?
JACOB: You are wrong.
MAN IN BLACK: Am I? They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.
JACOB: It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress. 

Compare this with Shakespeare's Julius Caesar: "Cowards die many times before their deaths. The valiant never taste of death but once."

So anyway, Across the Sea was set in 23 AD, and all the Egyptian and biblical allusions we have been teased at for years never really came to fruition. Though we see some Egyptian hieroglyphics on the game the mother gave the boys, there was nothing about the statue in this episode. Nothing about why the waters are healing, the light is magical, etc. No name like "Esau" given to Man in Black. "Adam" isn't even his name, just a parallel.

We had to take it at face value while coming up with our own ideas, but it's too late, I think, for the season (which ends this Sunday) to really give us a mythology of the island, especially when they didn't in the Jacob/Man in Black origins episode. And while I don't want any scientific explanation or drawn-out answers, it would have been cool for some of these things to be answered, creatively, in this past episode. All we really know is that the light is "worse than death" and that in the light are "life, death, and rebirth." And that men coming to the island want more of the light, but it is corruptive, perhaps simply out of the greed men exhibit in trying to harness this magical power.

All the rest is guesswork.

About the fake mother, when she hands over the protector role to Jacob, it is nothing but a simple ritual where she mumbles some Latin and gives Jacob some wine (from the same corked bottle Jacob shows Richard later), and that's it. She said, "Now you are the same as me."
Jacob becomes protector, and he is the only one left on the island that we know of it at this point. His brother's physical body washed up near the river (or was thrown down to the river), Smokey is a live entity now, though as we learn later he wants to kill Jacob for taking away his humanity and denying his desire to leave the island. The mother, we presume, has killed the other shipwrecked people with whom Man in Black was living and learning from. And then he kills Mother.
So, even with those complaints, I still enjoyed the episode. It was rather simplistic, drawing yet on more mythology (Latin speaking, Egyptian speaking, etc.). Many viewers have pointed out that the original entire show may have been meant to be in Latin language, but was changed to English.
Then there is always the final week's (starting tomorrow's episode!) that could explain these things further, giving rise to even less mystery. 

For the record, I want continued mystery after the show ends. This isn't Sherlock Holmes. This is a mysterious island and show. I hope some basic findings come from the show, not from the related ARG, podcasts, etc. later.

Finally, I liked this episode mainly for its lighting and beautiful scenery.

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