TV Club

Season 6: More Literary References

Jack, it seems only fitting that you’d enjoy a Sawyer-centric episode. Not only is he your angry alter-ego, he’s also been hitting your pop culture g-spot this season. Iggy Pop. Steve McQueen. If next week’s episode shows him in a Detroit Tigers hat watching a BBC feed of Top Gear, we’ll know the writers are pandering to you.

I’m not sure why Watership Down continues to hover in Sawyer’s orbit. Something about exile and a small band of wanderers on a quest for safety and resolution? (I did notice that Kate later says she’s eating rabbit for dinner.) Lost throws so many book covers up on-screen—Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling! Chaim Potok’s The Chosen!—that they almost serve as a bibliography, signaling the series’ broad themes and interests. The stream of author shout-outs also seems like a quick and painless way for a TV show to advertise its literary gravitas. Lost is like that guy who purposely leaves his copy of Beloved out on the coffee table for when he brings home a date.

This episode’s flash sideways, with its glimpses of a Sawyer-Miles Lethal Weapon-style buddy cop movie that never was (crazy white guy, straitlaced minority partner), hinted at an intriguing possibility: What if each week’s mainland storyline tackled a different film/television genre? If Life on Mars could merge a police procedural, a period drama, and supernatural sci-fi, it seems like Lost could take the idea a few steps further. We’ve already seen Katey Sagal (aka Peggy Bundy) as John Locke’s wife, conjuring the delicious thought of a Married With Children-style sitcom with a beleaguered Locke as the straight-man lead.  Last week’s Ben Linus episode—a simple moral parable set largely in a high school—sort of felt like a demented Saved by the Bell.

As the season rolls along and we approach the finale, I’d love for us to talk a bit about how Lost has reflected its era. When the show debuted in 2004, I think it was pretty clearly influenced by the post-9/11 context. An airplane no longer controlled by its pilots. A bewildering, catastrophic incident. Community forming in the wake of tragedy. Ben Linus, with his sinister methods and veiled motives, called to mind the paranoia of the anthrax-in-envelopes days.

As the show evolved, it embraced an us-vs.-them dynamic. Charismatic leaders recruiting their flocks. Suspicions brewing. Allegiances forming. The eternal battle between two clans. Was this an allegory for the clash of civilizations—or a more general examination of human nature, religion-based conflict, and our ingrained urge to identify and confront “the others” in our midst?

OK, time for Formula Watch, in which we call out Lost’s tricks and tropes. We’ve already mentioned the book-cover fetish. I’d also note that there was a classic Lost stalling maneuver. Smokey gathers his followers and acknowledges that they probably have a lot of questions—causing the viewer to salivate at the prospect of a revealing Q&A session. Then he says, “I will make myself available to answer them—but right now we’ve got to keep moving.” Again and again they tease us!

Chad, please explain the significance of Charlotte and Miles (a pair of island babies, no?) showing up in Sawyer’s mainland timeline. Also, was Smokey’s “nobody’s perfect” retort to Kate a Billy Wilder reference (keep in mind that a previous episode was titled “Some Like it Hoth”)? And seriously, what is up with Claire’s fur-and-bone voodoo child?

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