TV Club

Season 6: Knights and Knaves

Jack, Chad, let’s pop the metaphysical cork and raise a glass of murky wine to the most satisfying episode of the season thus far. Romance, desperation, and, above all, a bearded Nestor Carbonell on horseback: These are the elements of awesomeness. Also, we got one of those scenes in which Jacob and Smokey chat shoulder-to-shoulder as they gaze at the horizon. More scenes like this, please—these two are the only characters who have island answers instead of island questions.

In an episode that revolves around a splintered slave ship, we saw a classic debate over whether humans possess free will or are cuffed and chained to fate. Jacob claims that Smokey believes it’s in people’s “very nature to sin.” Jacob brings folks to the island “to prove him wrong. And when they get here, their past doesn’t matter.”

A nature/nurture argument between two powerful beings, with human guinea pigs as test cases? You may recall this is precisely the plot of the 1983 film comedy Trading Places. Commodities broker Mortimer Duke is like Smokey—certain that our qualities are ingrained and irreversible, and that if he plucks hoodlum Billy Ray Valentine off the streets and places him in a corporate boardroom, it will still be in Valentine’s “very nature to sin.” Meanwhile, Mortimer’s brother, Randolph Duke, is like Jacob—certain that a person’s “past doesn’t matter” and that even the worst among us can shine when given an opportunity.

The movie portrays both brothers as evil scoundrels, willing to toy with human lives just to settle a philosophical debate. (And to settle a bet: They wager a dollar on the outcome of their experiment.) Which suggests the Losties would be best served by trying to defeat both Smokey and Jacob. (Or perhaps it suggests that the season will conclude with Smokey handing Jacob a crisp dollar bill.)

I’m not sure whom to believe anymore in this battle between darkness and light. The show seems to want us to think that Jacob is angelic and Smokey is malevolent. But Lost watchers have come to expect misdirection. Maybe Smokey and Jacob are illustrating Raymond Smullyan’s “knights and knaves” logic puzzle, in which one character always lies while his companion always tells the truth? If so, the solution is to ask Jacob what Smokey would say about the island.

I’m similarly perplexed by the extra six minutes of show last night. Could the writers really not fit that story into a standard hour? Evidence that I’ve been infected with a Lost-fueled need to find deep meaning in every random occurrence: I couldn’t help but wonder if the episode actually covered 66 minutes and 6 seconds of ABC airtime—corresponding to the newly raised specter of Beelzebub.

Jack, you referred to the waterboarding incident in which Jacob forcibly educates Richard by plunging his face into the surf. But did you catch the Coen brothers reference? Jacob is played by actor Mark Pellegrino—otherwise best known for his role in  The Big Lebowski as a thug who shoves the Dude’s face into a toilet bowl. I kept waiting for Jacob to shout, “Where’s the money, Lebowski?” as he dunked Richard under the waves.

Chad, I’m counting on you big-time here. The season has hit its stride, and the revelations are coming fast and furious. What do we know for sure today that we didn’t know last week?

Slate V: Previously on Lost

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