- Unnamed Woman (Alison Janney), "Across the Sea"
...and with that quote, the character who we actually first saw (sorta) waaaay back in the 6th episode of the first season, but who still has no name, summed up exactly what it is to view Lost.
(What's this, you wonder? Dan doesn't usually start recaps with pullout quotes...but then again, I don't usually recap episodes like "Across the Sea," because there's never been truly like it in 6 seasons of Lost. As such, a different structure this week. I'll recap the story in very broad strokes (because, once the speechifying is taken out, that's how it happened), and then dive into my crackerjack analysis).
So, here's what happened.
(1) A Roman (we're guessing, based on the Latin and the dress) woman named Claudia landed on our familiar island via shipwreck, very, very pregnant. She was found and taken in by a nameless woman who shortly thereafter delivered her son - Jacob - before delivering her other son - for whom she hadn't thought of a name, because Romans didn't have ultrasounds. She wrapped calm Jacob and cranky other kid in white and black, respectively, then shielded them from Claudia's view. Woman (who I will call C.J., Ms. Janney's last big character's name, keenly aware of the irony that the "C" stands for "Claudia") then bludgeoned Claudia to death.
(2) C.J., who spends an inordinate amount of time weaving, raised the boys (and, indeed, boy in black never did get a name onscreen, though presumably he didn't go through life known as "Jacob's brother" or "BIB") with all sorts of interesting notions. Chief among them? There is no world "across the sea," i.e. the island is everything. People, if you ever meet them, are dangerous. They lie, kill, destroy and corrupt, so it's best to stay away from them. Jacob and his brother are special, and C.J. has made it so they can't hurt each other, even if other people do hurt each other. Adolescent Jacob, incidentally, looks just like the boy who has been haunting Flocke throughout the season, reminding him of rules, like his inability to kill Sawyer.
(3) Boy in Black finds a game, the ancient Egyptian game, Senet, in which the pieces are black and white stones. C.J., upon learning that her sneaky son has this game, seems to lie and tell him she left it for him, because he’s special (her word for “dishonest trickster”). She tries to pretend it didn’t come from anywhere else, because there is nowhere else. She claims she had a mother on the island, but that mother died, but death is something BIB “will never have to worry about.” Over the years, BIB and Jacob would play the game often, each always playing with his corresponding color. BIB would chastise Jacob for moves that were “against the rules,” but would assure his brother that one day, Jacob could make up a game, and come up with his own rules that people needed to follow.
(4) It turns out Claudia was not the sole survivor of her ship, and the others formed a community, with an Etruscan-era version of the DHARMA barracks qua thatched huts. The boys see some of the men from the village hunting one day, which prompts C.J. to improvise that she always knew there others on the island, but she kept the boys from knowing about this to keep them safe from all that lyin' and destroyin' and fightin' and what have you. She then showed the boys a cavern, with a stream running into it, from which a brilliant glowing golden light poured out. She explained to the boys that this light is “the warmest, brightest light you’ve ever seen or felt,” and they must make sure nobody ever finds it. It’s beautiful, you see, and “that’s why they want it, because a little bit of the light is inside of every man. They will try to take it, and if they try, the light goes out. If the light goes out here, it goes out everywhere. She has protected it, but she can’t forever. Her replacement will have to be one of them.”
(5) BIB, like Hurley does centuries later, can see the dead. Jacob, however, cannot. BIB has a run-in with Claudia (much like Ben did with the dead mother he never knew). Claudia shows him the village, and tells him that she is his real mother, whereas C.J. was just the woman who killed her. Claudia tells BIB about ships – a way for people to get from one place to another – and about how, contrary to what C.J. told him, there are many things across the sea.
(6) BIB tries to convince Jacob to run away with him, to join the people and find a way back to where they truly came from. Angry and confused, Jacob starts pummeling his brother, bloodying his nose until C.J. comes and separates them. BIB accuses her of lying, and when she insists he’ll never be able to leave the island, he swears that one day he will be able to prove her wrong. With that, BIB leaves, and C.J. is left with her second choice, Jacob, the boy who cannot tell a lie, as her new heir apparent. She asks if he will stay with her, in light of her deception (which was intended to ensure he stays “good”), and he responds that he will, “for a while.”
(7) After Jacob has grown into the man we recognize (at least physically, right down to the weaving skill), he spies from time to time on his brother, who has grown into the Man In Black we’ve come to recognize. He watches MIB work with “his” people (or so they have become after 30 years). But the brothers often secretly meet, and play their Senet game. MIB, for all the time he has spent living with the villagers, agrees with C.J. – they are greedy, manipulative, untrustworthy and selfish, but, to him, they’re also a “means to an end.” MIB tells Jacob they’ve discovered a way to leave the island, and, flinging the knife that Sayid failed to kill Smokey with towards one of the (newly constructed) wells, demonstrates...magnetism!
The smart men among the villagers dig wells every place they find on the island where metal acts strangely, and this will enable their escape. MIB begs Jacob to come, because what will Jacob do when their “mother” dies, but Jacob insists she never will.
(8) Having secured the whole story from Jacob, C.J. at last goes to see her other “son” in the bottom of one of the wells. He tells her spent 30 years looking in vain for the glowing cave and waterfall she’d shown him, but then realized he might be able to find the light from another directions. Indicating his unhooked donkey wheel, he points her to a wall – one which predates his people’s time on the island. Prying away a stone, he shows her the gold light pouring through, and says their plan is to hook the wheel up to a system they’re building amongst the wells, which will channel the light and water, and let them leave. Thinking he’s convinced her of his need to leave, he is caught completely off-guard by her grabbing him and ramming his head into the wall, knocking him out.
(9) C.J. knows the time has come, so she leads Jacob back to the cavern of light, which is now his to protect. She pours him wine – wine from the green bottle Jacob would centuries later show Richard as a metaphor for the island’s purpose, and tells him what is in the cave is “life, death, rebirth. The source, the heart of the island,” which he must promise never to go down into, because that would be worse than dying. By drinking the wine she’s given him, he accepts responsibility to protect the place for as long as he can, until it’s time for someone else to. Reluctantly, he drinks, and she assures him, “now you and I are the same.”
(10) MIB awakens outside the well, which has completely collapsed. He sees a plume of black smoke, and discovers his entire village, and everyone in it, burned to the ground. He finds his Senet game in the fire and retrieves it.
(11) C.J. returns to her cave after sending Jacob to collect fire wood. When she gets there, she finds her weaving destroyed and the cave a shambles. She spots the Senet game...then jerks as MIB’s knife protrudes through her chest. She says the word, “nothing,” and when he asks why she wouldn’t let him leave, she says, “because I love you.” She thanks him, and then dies. Jacob returns and sees what his brother has done, and administers another beating. He then drags MIB back to the cavern, and MIB is shocked, “she brought you back here?” Jacob assures his brother he won’t kill him, then throws him down into the stream. MIB hits his head and floats down the waterfall, into the cavern. As MIB disappears from view, the light goes out, and is replaced by the smoke monster roaring out of the cave, past Jacob, and into the jungle, its crackling lightning trailing behind.
(12) Jacob finds his brother’s lifeless body on a pile of rocks and logs, then carries him back to the cave where their “mother” lies. Jacob takes one black and one white stone from the Senet game, puts them in a pouch, and places the pouch in his mother’s hand. He then lays C.J. and MIB side-by-side in the cave, and we flash back and forth to the scene from the Season 1 episode, “House of the Rising Sun,” in which Jack, Kate and Locke find the bodies and the white and black stones. Finally, Jacob says good-bye to his brother.
What Lost is About – As I thought about this episode, and the other “mythological download” we got this season in “Ab Aeterno,” it occurred to me, I finally know what Lost is about. Yes, folks, it’s all summed up in that blowup quote I opened this post with. “Every question I answer will only lead to more questions.” Now, think back to “Ab Aeterno,” in which Jacob explained to Richard that he could not explain what people who come to the island must do, because they need to figure it out for themselves. Hold those thoughts...
And now...think back to Season 2. John Locke (and we the viewers) opened up and got into the hatch, and sure enough, everything we thought we knew about the show blew up on us. Locke found himself pushing that damn button; the island had given him a task, and, like clockwork, he was going to complete it. But then he went to the Pearl station, and saw the “Mark Wickmund” video in which the artist formerly known as Pierre Chang basically told knowing insiders in the Pearl station that those people pushing buttons in the Swan hatch were being duped into thinking their task mattered, when, in fact, they were just being played with for an experiment. Locke completely lost faith, but this same experience taught Mr. Eko that “pushing that button is even more important now than ever.”
Ok, Dan. What on Earth are you babbling about? Let me explain. Lost is, to me, about faith, and the search for meaning. But that search is compromised if there is a single “meaning” out there to actually find. In truth, what makes Lost such a special show is that every question answered really does lead to more questions. If the critique about TV or film is that, unlike the written word, it provides no room for imagination, then Lost is the answer. Because Lost does guide its viewers, not to the “actual” answers (of which there may be none), but to a place where they can try to answer the questions themselves. Lost makes water cooler talk, and, for that matter, blogging, into work, but, if approached correctly, a labor of love. As Jacob said to Richard, he (as a stand-in for Lindelof and Cuse) can’t just show us what Lost is about. He has to just sit back and hope those of us who are here to prove our people are worthy can do it ourselves.
So what’s this about the hatch and faith? I liken the first 5 seasons of Lost to the parable of the button. We got an ever-increasing mystery that seemed to flow and build on itself, but always offered the promise of answers just past our grasp. The flashforwards were like the Lockdown – they showed us that we could glimpse a sense that this was all going somewhere, but we were not yet ready to know where. The time travel in Season 5 was like Ben’s taunting Locke. On the one hand, it seemed so random, it made us wonder, for a moment, if this was all going somewhere. On the other, by taking us back to DHARMA time, and giving Jack an actual plan beyond just “go home,” it renewed our purpose.
Then along came Season 6, and right off the bat, we got these flash-sideways. These weird stories told of a parallel universe in which the island stories we’d watched for five years didn’t matter anymore. I know a lot of you started to feel like Locke did when he saw the
So do not expect Lost to answer all of your questions (or mine). Indeed, Damon and Carlton admitted that one of the questions they planted last year to be answered this year – who was shooting at Sawyer and company’s outrigger during the time jumps – got tossed aside because it forced the story into an unnecessary quagmire. Rather, expect every answer to pose more questions. And with those questions, Lost will continue to live beyond its finale and inspire the imaginations of countless fans for years to come in the same way that Star Wars did a generation ago. As Doc Jensen put it this week, “It's the meaning of life in the raw. It is physical proof that life actually has meaning. To behold it is to take a metaphysical Rorschach text. I might see God and a call to worship. Someone else might see science and a call to investigate. Someone else might see a practical joke and start looking around for Ashton Kutcher. I suspect Lost would say that no single interpretation is correct; that those who insist on a single interpretation couldn't be more incorrect; that the history of human catastrophe on The Island is comprised of eras of dogmatic, abusive interpretation run amuck. I don't think Lost is saying to stop pursuing truth. Not at all. I think it's more concerned with how we conduct our search and how we can labor with our neighbor in their search. Because lord knows that the bloody, brutal fight over all this stuff remains more troubling and terrifying than ever.”
On Island motifs In an interview with Alan Sepinwall of hitflix.com this week, Damon and Carlton confirmed that a great deal of “Across the Sea” was meant to demonstrate that certain broad brushes of story repeat themselves countlessly throughout the ages on the island:
DL: What our intention was is that there is a repeating vicious cycle that seems to happen on this island, where people come to the island, they try to figure out what makes the island work, and the closer they came leads them to their own inevitable demise.
CC: Like Icarus
DL: The more curious you become about why the island has its properties, inevitably the protector of the island feels the need to engage in some form of mass genocide. It was more our attempt to say that history repeats itself, and this is an ongoing and continuing motif.
Ready for a great Lost-type flashback coincidence? Sepinwall, the interviewer in this piece, was in my local,
The Meaning of What We Saw Part 1 – “The Rules”
Alas, the “mother” character was another in a long line of unreliable narrators (Ben Linus, anyone?) who told us so much, but left us to question what we just learned. See, for example, this passage from Jeff Jensen:
“'I've made it so you can never hurt each other.' This little line holds a lot of significance. Besides explaining why the Man In Black had to use a proxy to slay Jacob, Mother's line said something about the power that an Island guardian wields — including the ability to make 'the rules.' ...Why can't the Man In Black leave The Island? Can he or can't he kill the candidates? Can or can't the candidates kill each other? What's the difference between the gift of agelessness that Jacob gave Richard and the protections (if any) he bestowed upon the castaways he touched?
“I know a lot of fans were hoping 'Across The Sea' would answer those questions, and it appears many of those fans are deeming the episode a disappointment because it didn't. I share their desire to know, but not their impatience or cynicism...Still, I think 'Across The Sea' offered a revelation about 'the rules' that's just as important if not more so than the rules themselves: they are entirely subjective. I think many fans have assumed that 'the rules' exist as external truths that regulate all life on The
“'The rules' are, for the most part, pure whimsy — an expression of the unique interests and will of The
The Meaning of What We Saw – Part 2
Upon first seeing the final sequences of this episode, I thought, as did Jensen, that what we learned about MIB and Smokey was that Smokey was born of MIB’s soul being untethered from his body in the glowing cavern, the very wrong MIB would spend centuries curing Jacob for.
But then, the next morning on Facebook, my friend Steven Rosenaus posted a comment about Smokey that prompted me to a different understanding, one I actually think makes more sense. To test this out, I put it in an email to Jeff Jensen, hoping to get an honorable mention in one of his last ever Doc Jensen columns this weekend. Time will tell. For now, here’s the theory (touched up ever so slightly for my own blog, and thanks again to Steven, for getting me started on this):
Smokey is not MIB's disembodied soul. Rather, Smokey was forever trapped in that wormhole cavern, under a rule (those pesky rules!) that said a certain type of murder was the only thing that could free him/her/it. Jacob fulfilled that condition when he threw his brother down the hole, killing him.
But there are other rules, and one such rule is that Smokey, to act in any meaningful way, has to take on a human shape, and he is limited in selection to dead bodies on hand (in much the same way Miles is limited in which dead souls he can contact, i.e., those whose bodies are present in his immediate area). So Smokey, finally free, took on the form of the nearest dead body - the nameless MIB. But there is a consequence to picking a form. Smokey takes on, at least subconsciously, some of the attributes of the person he mimics. Hence, as Christian, he had to lead Jack to water. As Locke, he bellowed, "don't tell me what I can't do!" And, as MIB, he eventually came to actually believe that he was once Jacob's brother. I think Jacob, in his loneliness, came to indulge that mistake, just for the companionship (and, in his own way, to be with his brother, since we learned this week that Jacob cannot see dead people). In reality, other than seeing dead people, Jacob's brother was a wholly unremarkable mortal, who died at his brother's hand shortly after murdering his fake mother. Finally, I think this is the meaning behind Desmond’s practically accusatory tone when he answered Flocke’s question of “do you know who I am” with “yes, you’re John Locke.”So, yeah, I was hoping for more on the Rules, as Jensen said above. But a new understanding of how Jacob and Smokey really fit into island legend (at least in theory), and a new perspective on what Lost is really about, made this one worthwhile, even if a little slow in the execution. But next week, we return to our normal narrative, and pick up the pace for the final 3 1/2 hours, with “Why They Died.” Between that episode, and the finale (entitle “The End,”) I’m accompanying my buddy Grant to one of the videoconference sites where Damon and Carlton will conduct their last ever public address on Lost (at least the last one until they shoot some extras for the DVD/ Blu Ray release in August). So there will be lots and lots to talk about over the next week and a half. Until next time, Namaste.