Wednesday, May 12, 2010

LOST - Where Are We? - 6.15 - Across The Sea

With "Across the Sea," the humanization of Jacob and the Man In Black is now complete. Some viewers might prefer them to have been demigods with all the answers, but this viewer is very happy that LOST will ultimately remain a tale of human beings and their interactions with a mysterious Island's supernatural properties.

The Island:
We've known for quite a while that the Island has some incredible powers (healing, the inducing of visions, travel through time and space, the retention of ghosts, the granting of special powers, etc.). For almost as long, we've known that the show's representatives of modern science (Dharma, Widmore) have found that these supernatural properties emanate from Electromagnetic energy pockets deep within the Island. So it wasn't too surprising to find that the mother of all energy pockets is located at the "heart" of the Island, and is at the very core of the Island's need for protection. Human beings have apparently been drawn to the Island since before Jacob, and probably even since before the Mother character. We don't know who the first person to encounter the Island and channel its properties was, but like most mysteries of the universe, this is not likely something we will ever know. But we did learn a little bit more about the energy stored beneath the Island: there's a little in every person. I've previously stated that electromagnetic energy (or the Island's comparable variety) functions as a blanket source for all things supernatural on this show, we've seen the supernatural found off-Island in places such as the faith-healing grounds of Uluru (2.19 [S.O.S.]) and we've seen it in people such as Walt. So these revelations on the nature of the Island's energy aren't so much revelations as they are confirmations, further information, and further ways of looking at the Island's powers (since, obviously Mother isn't going to pull out modern technobabble to describe it).

Special People:
So if there's a bit of the Island's energy in each person, it stands to reason there may be more in some than others. After all, Walt isn't the only character to be considered Special on the show. Desmond has been describes as such; Hurley and Miles have been imbued with significant abilities from their time on the Island; and this week Mother refered to the Boy In Black as Special. What this boils down to is that certain people are able to tap into the Island's powers more than others. The possibility that Walt may have had this power ably explains the Others' interest in him. For the Man In Black, it meant seeing his dead (real) mother, possessing an intuitive knowledge of the Island's properties, and harnessing that knowledge to control the Island's powers: his creation of the donkey wheel device is a clear precursor to the Dharma Initiative's attempts to manipulate the Island's powers with more modern technology. But the most Special person of all in this story is clearly Mother herself -- able to set The Rules in motion by preventing Jacob and MIB from killing each other, able to destroy an entire village and fill up the well on her own in a matter of hours, and (most significantly) able to pass on her powers on to Jacob, even after he was shown to be the less-special son. When Jacob became "one" with Mother, he inherited the "most Special character" title, and had been making The Rules ever since. But we now know him to be just a man -- a man entrusted with both incredible powers and incredible responsibility.

The Man In Black and His Agenda:
Though while I feel for Jacob and his naive acceptance of an undesirable job, I feel even worse for the Man In Black. In 6.02 (LA X, Part II), he told us what he wanted more than anything was to go home. Now we know that home is a place he's never been. He may have been the more likely candidate for Island protector, based on his Special nature, but his mind has always been across the sea, trying to get away, trying to find out where he came from. We don't yet know why Mother restrained him -- was it simply a demented way of protecting him from the "evils" that lie out in the world beyond? (I suspect so). Or was there a more direct consequence of his leaving the Island even before his transformation? (possibly). Either way, his efforts to leave got him a rum deal: his life's work destroyed, his companions obliterated, and (after some heated revenge) his own life snuffed away as his soul endures something "worse than death." It's interesting that his body was left behind after he was dropped into the mother of all Island electromagnetic energy pockets and turned into the Smoke Monster we all know and love, but more interesting are the ramifications that he is a creation of the Island's heart: most likely a PART of the Island itself, intrinsic to the Island, and necessary to the Island. In a rather epic instance of poetic irony, the man who wanted nothing more than to leave the Island has become the Island's linchpin: the Island can't function without him, and if he leaves, all electromagnetic hell will break loose. At least now we know why seeing visions of kid Jacob pisses him off so much.

So in true LOST tradition, we can now sympathize with a character who hurt us possibly more than any other character by essentially murdering three of our favorite heroes just last episode (6.14 [The Candidate]). To anyone wondering why the writers chose now to reveal this back story, THAT's the reason. It's the narrative moment wherein understanding what past torments the Man In Black has suffered contributes most powerfully to the present day story. The writers love revealing a "big bad" character and then making us feel for them by revealing their prior woes -- and I love it every time. So we may despise the Man In Black still, and of course we want him to fail in his objectives, but now we can truly pity him. And the endgame of the show will be all the more powerful for it.

Jacob & His Agenda:
I hold by my previous assertion: Jacob brings people to the Island because he wants humanity to prove that humanity is worth protecting the Island for. It might not make logical sense to allow folks like Dharma to run around when your mission is to make sure no one screws with the Island's electromagnetic heart -- but it makes PERFECT sense to do so, if you were never certain that your mission was valuable to begin with. We have to wonder why Mother bothered to protect all of existence if she hated other people so much; and I believe Jacob wondered this as well, and conducted his experiments on humanity in an effort to figure it all out. He'd been told they were corrupt, but he never wanted to believe that -- not as long as it was his long life's purpose to protect them. So he continued his mission to protect the Island, but tolerated so many people putting it at risk upon his "summons" in order to see if they deserved protection. And now that he's dead and it's up to his Candidates to finish the job, he's primarily sitting back to watch and see who will step forward for the sake of humanity and existence as we know it.

On the Anatomy of Disappointment:
As a side note, a lot of fans seem down on this episode -- and it's certainly their prerogative to like it as much as they please -- but having been thrilled by it myself, I'm really not satisfied by that most common of internet-propagated explanations: that "it sucked." It really didn't. I tend not to get excited by things that suck. So where was the disconnect here between fans and writers? Certainly the usual complaint that few clear answers were given applies here once again, but perhaps it hits harder for people due to the unique nature of the episode -- I think many viewers really wanted Jacob and the Man In Black to KNOW everything about the Island and to be able to provide us with a checklist of explanations. Instead, we were here shown that they were once just as clueless as the survivors of Oceanic 815. And we were shown how they were led and/or duped into their current roles as Island protector and energy embodiment by someone else once drawn to the Island. What this episode did was to completely and thoroughly humanize the two characters, flaws and all. Letting their story unfold over the course of the episode allows us a level of understanding of their mindsets that will service us well going into the Series Finale. The "answers" everyone wants will be elaborated on further in what's to come, but now we'll understand on a psychological level where Jacob and the Man in Black are coming from. And personally, I'm very glad they took the time to allow us that level of depth.

And that's where we are!


Anonymous said...

I, like you, enjoyed the episode... where my husband didn't. I feel that we got a lot of clear answers- they are brothers, thats how he became the MIB, thats who the 2 skeletons belong to, etc.

I didnt LOVE Allison Janney's delivery but otherwise took the journey with them.

RowanRaven said...

Fantastic!! Yes, I agree. Especially after reviewing the episode again. The first time, there were some moments where I rolled my eyes and such, but it was so powerful to see how the MIB became Smokey! So awesome.

Thanks for a great write-up. I, too, am mystified by those who say "it sucked." What show have they been watching all these years?? You are spot-on with your observations regarding LOST writers inspiring us to now pity MIB, even though he murdered some beloved characters.


Thank you,
--Kimberly F.

Marshall Dunn's Satire Emporium said...

Given the details and layers of clues for which LOST has been known for six years, I found the "pot-o-gold-in-the-cave" explanation rather....sterile. It was actually the EASIEST explanation for a complex phenomena: magic.

The two chief protagonists/antagonists of the show being men (instead of demi-gods) was perfectly fine. But, unless I missed something, the "unconscious body of MIB in, Smoke Monster out" explanation of it's origin was neither an answer nor an expanation that lived up to any of the backstories of the other characters.

So simply judging LOST by it's own past episodes, this episode felt thin.

Based on this particular episode coming so late in the series run, I realize I just have to give up on finding out how "The Man From Tallahasse" came out of the box for Locke to kill. It's magic. Or how the lighthouse worked. Magic. Why Patchy was so hard to kill. Magic. How Eko's brother's plane ended up so far off course and on the Island. Magic. Eko's building a church. Magic. Charlie's Dream of Baptising get the point. What first seemed to be a Christian allegory is simply...magic.

And that's fine. But, you also have to understand how some of us who expected either more science or more religion might be a little disappointed in a Harry Potter resolution. But, can't always get what you want.

Sagacious Penguin said...

@ Marshall Dunn: I completely get how someone wanting more science or more religion in the show could be disappointed. And I respect that. What gets me sometimes is how many folks who are disappointed decry everyone still enjoying the show as foolish or mindless followers who would laugh and clap their hands if the show de-evolved into a series of pratfalls and fart jokes. I suppose my ultimate goal is the attempt to shed light on where the immense value plenty of viewers are actually still finding in the show has been coming from.

I just posted a rather lengthy editorial on dissecting the show's unique combination of science and faith and I'd be interested in your take on it.

I think the only thing I disagree with in your statements is that the show is leaning on magic as a crutch. I would say that if the show's leaning on anything, it's the unknown. For some keeping the source of the Island's powers (the light, energy, electromagnetism) enshrouded in mystery is a cop out and reduces it to magic. But I really think I'd be let down if the Island's energy source were ever explained as any one scientific, religious, or even magic thing, and I'm happy it's (thus far) being left open to interpretation. We can only know the Island through the human beings that encounter it and their interpretations. If Jacob and Smokey's story proves anything, it's that no human being has the answers.

You're right that man-in, Smokey-out is not an explanation -- it's another mysterious happening in a long line of them. But as all mysterious happenings get refined back to a single point of origin (the Island's energy), I find the details of them to be more significant than the 'cause.' Knowing that it's something Jacob willingly DID to him. Knowing it's the result of contact with the largest Electromagnetic energy pocket on the Island. Knowing it discarded his physical body. I find that interesting stuff, even though we can't really KNOW how it works. I do think we may learn a few more words on what "science-fiction-tifically" happened to him though...

So while not getting an explanation of how the smoke monster works is perhaps disappointing for anyone who wants it -- and I get that -- what I do think lived up to previous episodes was the human side of the story including, as said, that it was the MIB's desire to know himself that led to his betrayal, and Jacob's own human flaws that led him to take revenge on his Brother and cause the transformation. It's no wonder Jacob seeks to understand humanity.

But who knows, I wouldn't be surprised at all if we see a bit more science and religion overtones in the finale. Just don't expect any one thing to be the final word on the matter. If the Island and its energy have been around for as long as anyone can remember, than no human being SHOULD have a full explanation of or understanding for it. It's enough (for me at least) that we're able to watch science, religion, magic, etc., all seek to interpret it -- that way we can apply/adapt/ammend our own beliefs to the show.

Just my take though :)

Ana (PandaVamp) said...

Great analysis! :D

I am also one of those who truly enjoyed Across the Sea, even more after the re-watch. The story, the pace, the setting, the top notch acting... I am quite glad they kept the mystic alive without introducing us to explicit answers.

As it is an episode which has a lot to give, I'll probably watch it another couple of times to absorb more out of it before the next episode. I bet those who didn't like it will come to appreciate it at some point.

Thirty-Fiver said...

@ Marshall and Penguin,

I'm going to read Show of Faith, Show of Science right after this so I apologize if this repeats anything said in that thread.

I think we're going to get more of a science explanation sometime in the last 3 1/2 hours of the show. We must remember that Across the Sea took place in the 1st century so Mother referring to the heart of the Island as 'the brightest, warmest light you've ever seen or felt' makes sense given the time period. But in the present, the Island has a bunch of geophysicists (well, maybe not a bunch after what Smokey did to them in The Candidate) that can explain things in scientific terms. In a way we already have some of our scientific answers because of Pierre Chang and the Orchid station he built (which harnesses the power of the 'heart' of the Island).

We just got a mythological overload from last week's episode, and with the show's foundation as the dichotomy between science and faith I can see us getting the other half before it's all said and done.

I just found this blog about a half hour ago and I really enjoyed the first entry I read. I'm off to read your latest one, Sagacious Penguin, and I look forward to reading your recaps for these last couple of episode we have left.

Sagacious Penguin said...

@ Thirty-Fiver -- thanks for the comments, I'm very glad you like the blog!

I agree with you in hoping (and betting) we'll get a few more scientific words on the Island's nature before all is said and done. Also, if someone DOES become the new Jacob, chances are the writers are waiting to explain all the ins and outs of having the Island-protector job until we can see it through the eyes of one of our main characters.

@ All who've posted - thanks for your comments, too. I think I'd still write about LOST even if I were just shouting to the wind, but it's awesome to know that there are readers actually enjoying my thoughts :)

JS said...

Why aren't you publishing as a re-capper on sl-lost or darkufo, or doc arzt? I think your perspective should enjoy a broad audience, and would be a good balance to some of the other stuff on there.

Balat said...

I just found your blog and your review changed my perspective of this episode (Across The Sea) very good work Sir :)

Saludos from Mexico!!

Craig said...

The episode did suck. It sucked because nobodies motivations make any sense.

Like Hurley just deciding to go after smoky a few episodes back, and Jack just going, "oh, okay, lets roll." Then, last week, Sawyer just going, "I know it will probably kill quite a few people, but I'm pulling out the damn wires cos' I cant wait til we surface!"

Now, this week, we find out that Jacob is in charge of protecting a glowing light (dumb) which he essentially seems to destroy as the first thing he does when he becomes in charge (dumb).

Then we find out the MIB is probably an unchanging consciousness imprinted onto an electromagnetic energy source who can heal cripples and cause time-travel (dumb), but cannot hurt his brother or any candidates because his mother said he couldn't (dumb). Worse, he goes from not being able to grasp magnetism to being able to harness it to create a 4D teleporter (dumb) and the only explanation is... what, he just seemed to intuitively know how to do it? He's special? I'll tell you something, the only thing this episode proved was that the writers of this show probably misunderstood the way the word was used whenever someone called them "special".

Finally, their fake-mother is revealed to be a psychopath, and yet both brothers essentially still believe most of what she told them (dumb), and she has the amazing power to create magical rules as dictated by the plot and with no further explanation (dumb).

Seriously, this episode was stupid. This is probably the one episode where even Daniel Faraday would have admitted he didn't have a metaphor to describe what was going on. He'd probably have tried, "Imagine a record on a turntable, and then you scratch it with a key, and then play it backwards and it makes no sense. That's what my head feels like thinking about all this."

I'm just gonna watch the last few, and then file this whole thing under "Another American show thinking manifest destiny nonesense is a substitute for plot, character and motivation."

Marshall Dunn's Satire Emporium said...


I appreciate your perspective on my remarks. And let me say that the discontent exhibited by some fans to who DON'T like the show with those who do is indeed alive and present. But, there's another element missing from the LOST boards of the old days: the discussion.

Disagreement did not used to be such a case for dislike and disrespect. So your blog and it's comments is a refreshing return to the days of intense, but civil debate of a show rich with material to dig into.

Afterall, if a show generates no dialog, then it stimulates no thoughtful contemplation. So your statement:

"it was the MIB's desire to know himself that led to his betrayal, and Jacob's own human flaws that led him to take revenge on his Brother and cause the transformation."

made me think twice. So I revisited the issue and
taken in context, what I first considered an inadequate explanation of the origin of Smokey actually adds a better perspective of the incident. Whereas I approached it "nuts and bolts" style, you demonstrated that the human element here better explains the "origin" of the Smoke Monster. And in that light, I'd say the episode suceeded afterall, only in conceptual terms rather than hard science. And that's OK.