Wednesday, February 17, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.04 - The Substitute

Locke has always been a compelling character. He was compelling as a pre-crash, wheelchair-bound desk jockey with delusions of grandeur. He was compelling as a born-again, boar-hunting jungle man on a mission. And now, he's somehow remained compelling as a sandcrab-covered corpse. That Terry O'Quinn has been able to play two all-new, completely different shades of Locke after the character has been dead for half a season is testament to just how weird - and completely awesome - this show is.

Locke was tapped very quickly by the island and/or the Man In Black (MIB) as someone "amenable for coercion" (3.03 [Further Instructions]), and ever since, Locke's faith in both the Island and his own greater purpose has led him to deeds equal parts mad and heroic. But Locke's final destiny has been to give the MIB what it saw in Locke from the beginning: a loophole. Traipsing around in Locke's likeness, the MIB's mission is now center-stage, while the real Locke's delusions of grandeur lay buried with his body. But can the John Locke we've known and loved for 5 seasons somehow find and fulfill his life's purpose after death?

We'll have to wait and see, of course - but here's what we learned this week:

The Altered Universe: The jury's still out on what the ultimate purpose of the AU is to the over-all Season 6 story and the Original Timeline (OT). We may have been thrown a major clue in the form of some of the MIB's accusations against Jacob, but more on that below in the "Fate and Free Will Factors" section. For now, let's just note that there were even more OT character appearances in this week's Locke story than there were in last week's Kate story. Helen still somehow found her way to Locke despite he and his Dad being on good terms in this timeline (recall that they met in the OT when Locke attended anger management classes). Randy (Locke's boss) still switched jobs even though that meteorite probably never hit newly-lucky Hurley's initial Chicken Shack (first referenced in 2.01 Man of Science, Man of Faith). We've had indication that Hurley owned Locke's box company ever since 1.18 (Numbers), so not too big a surprise to see him show up. But the wacky fortune-teller that Hurley's dad bribed in 3.10 (Tricia Tanaka Is Dead)? And Rose!? And Ben!?!?! A couple of these are clever cross-overs... More than a couple are contrived (albeit fun) writing... But this many is pretty clearly meant to set off warning bells in our heads. Even with the Island-based hand of fate removed from the equation, these characters certainly seem to congregate...

The Island: The mother of all LOST mysteries -- "What Is The Island?" -- has been on everyone's mind since Charlie asked this column's titular question in the series' pilot. This week, the MIB tells us something very important: Jacob thinks the Island needs protecting, but he doesn't because it's "just a damn Island." Say it with me together folks: "It's just a damn Island." Yeah. Freaking. Right. And LOST is just a TV show. The source of this information makes me instantly believe that the exact opposite is true. Be it simply the untapped time-bending potential of its electromagnetic stores, or the magic-box manipulations of its oft-implied semi-sentient will, this place is important. Perhaps so important that its protection even warrants all the Others' cold-hearted, un-informative, extremist tactics. Perhaps so important that finding it a new chief-protector warrants multiple lifetimes of searching for candidates and bringing people to its shores...

The Man In Black (MIB): We’ve watched the monster roam the island for five seasons, sizing up our heroes and sometimes attacking them. We’ve seen it take the form of Eko’s dead brother Yemi; we’ve seen it bounce of the sound barrier “walls” of the Dharma Initiative’s barracks; we’ve seen it respond to Ben’s underground murky-water toilet flush summons. We’ve applied animal instincts to it, and the basic rationale of a simple-minded agenda. When we met the Man In Black and saw him take the form of John Locke, the monster transitioned from an “it” to a him, and became the show’s new “big bad” – a seeming representation of darkness and evil. But this week, the game has completely changed.

First, just when I had begun to conclude that the MIB was responsible for all the crazy island visions and dreams our survivors have experienced through the course of the show – HE GOES AND HAS A CRAZY ISLAND VISION OF HIS OWN. I think so much about this show that even when surprising things happen, my mind tends not to be blown. But I’ll admit it: When the MIB – the monster itself - was shocked at seeing that bloody-handed Kid that Richard couldn’t see… my mind was indeed blown.

And second, as swiftly as surprise was brought into the monster’s repertoire, so is humanity. And the implications of this, are even greater. Sure he’s still the show’s current “big bad,” but he’s no longer just a floating cloud of “evil for evil’s sake” – he’s a living, breathing, emoting, fearing, plotting man. Just try and watch any Smokey scene from any season past in the same light you did before. This one episode has turned every previous monster encounter on its head. Our attempts to categorize animal-like behaviors over the years can now officially be replaced with honest-to-god character analysis. Let the Lit-majors rejoice: If you prick him, he may not bleed, but Smokey has become a villain with Shakespearian depth.

The MIB and His Agenda: So he wants to “go home,” he’s “trapped,” and he wants to be “free.” I think this much of what the MIB tells us, we can believe. I also believe him when he says he suffered betrayal and loss – probably at the hands of Jacob. What’s a little more muddy is what going home and being free actually means. He tells Sawyer that this involves getting off-island, but for all we know this is just a means of getting Sawyer’s assistance. After all, getting off-island wouldn’t necessarily require wanting “everybody dead” as Richard clearly believes to be part of the MIB’s agenda. More likely to my way of thinking is that the MIB wants freedom from whatever boundaries being a magic smoke monster brings. Maybe like Barbossa and the crew of the Black Pearl (In Pirates of the Caribbean), he longs for humanity again - the abilities to eat again, lust again, die again. Whatever he needed done to take Locke’s form, perhaps it’s given him a taste of this humanity (Just look at how joyously he ate that mango in 6.07 The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham), but I’m guessing he’s not all the way there yet. There’s a good chance Jacob himself is responsible for making the MIB what he is now, and for some reason (perhaps Jacob’s death?) he apparently can’t change his face anymore. If Jacob did “trap” the MIB in this way, perhaps he’s still trapping him from beyond the grave…

Jacob and His Agenda: Since 5.16 (The Incident), we’ve had pretty good indication that Jacob specifically chose many of our heroes and somehow “brought” them to the Island in the same way the MIB accused him of bringing that Piratey Ship that is probably the Black Rock. But now, we (along with Sawyer) have been given physical proof of Jacob’s tactics: He’s been writing names on the wall of that cavern for lifetimes, assigning them numbers for unknown reasons, and crossing them off one by one. The MIB says Jacob was looking for candidates to be his Island-protecting successor, and considering the tone through which the MIB belittles Jacob’s mission, I can’t currently think of a reason he’d lie about it. So here’s a major answer-chunk for you: the crux of Jacob’s Agenda was to protect the Island and find someone to carry on his work. Next we need to find out why someone apparently ageless needs a successor? Was he going somewhere else? Or was ALL of his searching in anticipation of Ben’s stabbing him? Time (and the writers) will tell.

Jacob’s Candidates: The revelation of the Candidates brings many new questions, but they all still fall neatly under the “Jacob” mystery heading. We first heard the term ‘candidate’ in 5.16 (The Incident) when Illana and Bram speculated that pilot Frank Lapidus might be a “candidate.” Did they mean in the word in the same sense that Jacob and the MIB use it? One name that was crossed off the Candidates Wall was “Goodspeed.” I wonder if this was Horace or Ethan. One name that was very conspicuously absent from the wall was Austin. All the other heroes we saw Jacob touch in 5.16 (The Incident) were listed… why not Kate? And why didn’t Jacob include all his candidates on whatever lists he sent the Others (re: Danny Pickett’s line “Ben just put his life in the hands of one of them! Shepard wasn’t on Jacob’s List!” in 3.06 [I Do] – incidentally, the show’s first time naming “Jacob.”)? Hopefully we’ll also learn all this, along with the significance of the numbers (The Numbers) that Jacob selected for our heroes.

Visions and Whispers – The Kid: In my master mysteries list (which I’ll get around to publishing on here eventually), I group all Visions and Whispers together as one mystery under the “Wacky Island Happenings” category, even though I freely acknowledge that the various dreams and sightings our heroes have seen may have different sources and/or explanations. As I said earlier, however, I never expected The Monster itself to experience a vision! There’s a chance the Kid was Jacob – but I’m not buying it. Even if the Kid did indeed resemble a young Jacob, I don’t believe that was Jacob himself talking to the MIB. I think the MIB would know if Jacob had just come back to life in front of him, and would have had a much bigger/angrier reaction. Plus, the confidence with which the MIB continued to refer to Jacob in the past tense throughout the episode, as well as his confidence in chucking Jacob’s rock into the sea, lends at least a bit of credence to my theory. So what exactly was the Kid? To my way of thinking, he’s proof there’s more going on here than simply two powerful entities (Jacob and the MIB) duking it out on an electromagnetically charged island – proof that the Island itself is still somehow an entity in play. “You know the Rules,” the Kid tells the MIB. “You can’t kill him.” Whatever’s causing these visions, and whatever its “Rules” are (assumbly the same set, Ben, Widmore and the Others follow) – it’s clearly pissed at the MIB – and he’s clearly not free of it even after Jacob’s death. Why Richard can’t see the Kid, but Sawyer can is a topic for another day - these Visions and Whispers tend to be able to pick who they want to be seen/heard by…

Richard and the Others: Beneath the MIB and Jacob, Richard’s always seemed like the guy who knew the most about everything, so it’s fascinating to here that Jacob never revealed his Candidate Quest to Richard. What else has Jacob kept from Richard? What has Jacob told Richard that earned (and retains) his loyalty? The MIB, on the other hand, is probably “disappointed” with the Others for the same reason he’s disappointed with Richard. The MIB always wanted Richard to follow him, and Richard has always refused. It’s interesting that Richard was still the MIB’s first choice for a lieutenant, before Sawyer. And it’s equally interesting that he lets Richard live. Clearly Richard still has a part to play in his agenda.

Illana and the Shadow of the Statue Folks: I can’t wait to find out Illana’s backstory. She seems sadder than anyone that Jacob is dead – and movingly so. She seemingly knows about the Candidate Quest, she knows a good deal about Jin and Sun, and she knows something about the capabilities and limitations of the MIB. Hopefully Ben will quiz her more persistantly on her knowledge base in the near future.

The Fate and Free Will Factors: If “The Island” is the mystery that holds the spot of honor at the top of my master list, “Fate and Free Will” is the mystery that holds the spot of honor at the bottom. When all is said and done, when all the workings of the Island and the motivations of Jacob have been ticked away one by one, the ultimate theme of the show will lie here: in the shadow of the Fate Vs. Free Will debate.

Ever since 5.16 (The Incident), fans have been speculating that Jacob and the MIB have something of a disagreement over whether Fate or Free Will is the more prevalent force. In their beachside conversation, the MIB told Jacob, "They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same." And then this week, he went on to tells Sawyer that Jacob manipulated him, made his choices for him, and pushed him to the Island, denying Sawyer his Free Will. So even if MIB is in favor of Free Will, he certainly doesn't believe in its relevance for our heroes.

Jacob, on the other hand, claimed on the beach in 5.16 that "it only ends once" and the rest is progress. For him the behavior of Island visitors is an ongoing, growing effort that has slowly improved over time, and has yet to reach its conclusion. Here Jacob comes off believing in the power of Free Will - the power of our characters to choose to better themselves. Even if Jacob hasn't been quite as manipulative as the MIB claimed to Sawyer, these are odd opinions coming from someone who has clearly exerted some kind of force/influence on our heroes through their lives.

This being LOST, we're obviously dealing with a mixture of both Free Will and Fate here -- this show doesn't like dealing in absolutes, and I hope it continues to avoid them. The MIB sees Fate (and Jacob’s hand in it) as a burden that limits and wastes lives and is opposed to Free Will. Perhaps Jacob appreciates a more nuanced merger of the two. Perhaps for him, Fate is made up of the responsibilities people have that they cannot avoid: the character traits that are part of their nature and lead them to value/protect/uphold certain things. Meanwhile, Free Will in this view is comprised of the choices, motivations, and efforts that people make, both because of their Fated inclinations and that have led to their Fated inclinations.

It's a chicken/egg scenario. We fight for what we believe in because it's our nature to do so; but our nature is also built on the beliefs we have chosen. Our nature (Fate) guides us, but our decisions and experiences (Free Will) have been largely responsible for its definition.

Which brings me to that Alternate Universe clue I promised earlier! It's too early to say how things are going to pan out with the AU, but how they do will be major evidence in the Fate Vs. Free Will debate. The MIB accused Jacob of subverting our heroes’ Free Will, but the Altered Universe is showing us play by play how our characters lives would have turned out without Jacob's influence. Sometimes the changes seem huge, but other times the more things change, the more they seem to remain the same. Locke setting aside his "faith" may be the biggest character difference yet... but even his story might not yet be complete.

Maybe when the Altered Universe meets up with the Original Timeline, it will be as the evidence and answer to what was intrinsically part of these people of their own volition (Free Will), and what precisely was Jacob's and/or The Island's doing (Fate)…

CharacterWatch – Locke:
It was very sad, and very final feeling, to see Locke’s overseas-travelling body finally laid to rest on the same beach we’ve seen so many of our characters buried. But as Locke told Nikki before she and Paulo ended up buried alive in that same spot: “Things don’t stay buried on this Island.” His body may be gone, and this may just be wishful thinking, but I haven’t given up entirely on the John Locke we know and love somehow returning to some form of existence, having his revenge on the MIB, and somehow helping the rest of our heroes save the day. If the MIB yelling “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” is any indication, there’s still a lot of Locke left in that Smokey-fabricated body. Maybe more than memories… Maybe more than the MIB thinks…

And that’s where we are!


k. sequoia said...

Excellent! My head is swimming os much at this point I can't even create a cohesive response. Save for: Yes!
K Sequoia
(aka Mama Lost)

Molly said...

Hey - super well thought out reflections. We will continue to follow your thoughts.

The mention of the MIB being stuck in one body, and of Locke's influence on that form carrying on beyond his death, reminded me of Voldemort's fate in the Harry Potter series. He unwittingly obtains a fixed form in a body that carries the seed of his own destruction. I feel something similar may be at play here.



William said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sagacious Penguin said...

@ K.Sequoia - Thanks! I've been wanting to collect my thoughts like this for a while now and realized this would be my last season to do so!

@ Molly - Your Potter mention reminded me of something I read last April (as Season 5 was winding to its close). A fan met Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse and all he had on him was a copy of Half-Blood Prince, so he had them sign that. Damon wrote "Locke is VERY similar to Snape!" - Damon's punctuation and emphasis, not mine.

After Season 5 ended, this statement seemed to relate to Locke being dead earlier than the show's endgame but perhaps still playing a major role. Now, from what we've seen of Season 6, maybe - like Snape - it's something contained in a memory of his that save's the day and leads to the villain's downfall...

Teebore said...

I definitely think that Jacob is protecting the island from, amongst other things, Smokey himself. So of course, from Smokey's perspective, the island doesn't need protection. :)

Interesting idea about the HP/Lost parallels. I like it, and freely hope that the currently-dead incarnation of Locke somehow manages to play a role in the show's endgame.