TV Club

Season 6: Lost’s God Complex

Gentlemen, sorry I’m late to the party. Slate sent me on a special assignment to search Scandinavia high and low for proof that Alvar Hanso, the Danish magnate funding the Dharma Initiative, actually exists. So far, nothing, but I’m pursuing a lead to a mysterious island called Svalbard. I’m told there are polar bears there.

I have watched the episode, albeit on an iPhone at 35,000 feet. (The gracious TV Club readers of Oslo are hosting me Saturday night to watch it again, this time on a slightly larger screen.) Jack, I’m pleased that you were pleased about Jacob’s sudden willingness to answer questions. Note how quick and simple they were. These were the answers we’ve been seeking for 5.5 years, yet they were rattled off as easily as Hurley’s winning Lotto numbers. (Speaking of: A question that wasn’t answered this week was why Jacob assigned The Numbers to the candidates in the first place.)

This is why I’ve never understood the clamoring that Lost won’t be able to answer all that it needs to answer before it fades off the air. (What it needs to answer, of course, is another matter entirely.) Lost’s mysteries are no longer mysteries; they’re just questions. And questions demand only short, one-sentence explanations.

Seth, just as you want us to talk about what message Lost is offering, I’d like us to discuss how it offers it. Lost’s legacy will likely be defined by the flashback gimmicks, I’m-not-dead-yet twists, and cliffhanger episode endings. But from a critical perspective, more interesting is the way Lost unravels its mysteries. We’ve already discussed the show’s technique of answering a question with a question. But when Lost answers with answers—and just answers—it’s remarkable how unsurprising they tend to be.

Let’s take Jacob and Kate’s exchange as an example. How many of those “revelations” really shocked you? We suspected that Jacob selected candidates who were flawed and who could profit (emotionally) from the island; Jacob used the word choice so often, he obviously wasn’t going to pick a candidate, but rather let the candidates decide among themselves; we’ve been told over and over that the castaways were there to save the island, so it came as no surprise to learn they had to save it from Smokey.

Lost’s approach to storytelling, then, is that of the slow drip. While we were all distracted by new questions, characters, and torso wounds, Lost was giving us hints. And when the explicit answers arrived, they were anticlimactic. By the time Lost spells things out, it feels like the scene is just an explicit admission of what fans decoded long ago.

Now, Seth, on to your very good question about what Lost is trying to tell us—its moral or message beyond basic plot points. My thought: The show is one long commentary on how free will and fate depend on your perspective. Lost often dwells on how small, even split-second decisions can set a character on a particular life path—and how little control they seem to have over how those decisions are made. It’s tempting to think of such complicated chain reactions as “fate.”

Case in point: When Jack volunteers to be the next Jacob, he says it’s because he knows it’s why he’s on the island. It’s his so-called destiny.

But flip the perspective. For Jacob, there’s nothing fated about this. He has been in control the whole time—he’s the one who made the selfish decision to toss the Man in Black down the toilet, he’s the one who chose Jack as a candidate, he’s the one who set up rules so Smokey couldn’t kill the candidates.

But because Jack had no control over any of this, he can’t help but think it was fate that brought him to the island. Otherwise how can his measly brain make sense of the number of decisions that conspired to bring him to this point? The decision to become the next Jacob is his, but it’s the decision he thinks that he is fated to make.

I’ve written before that this show is as much about power as it is about free will. As the season ends, I’m realizing that on Lost they’re one and the same. Those who have power can exert their will on others, shaping their destinies. So, Seth, the show is all about God complexes. How we pursue our own and how we make sense of everybody else’s.

A long list of other things worth swishing around before Sunday:

  • Neither of you mentioned the return of Jack’s vampire bite. Let’s agree it’s just the seed for a Lost-meets-Twilight spinoff series and move on.
  • There was no sound between the first flash-sideways and the on-island action. It cuts from Desmond on the phone to Jack and Kate having their tender moment without the whoosh noise. Only significant because the rest of the episode did have the noise between timelines. Evidence that things are blurring, or sloppy editing? I vote the former.
  • Some nice symmetry in the beginning of the episode when Jack is sewing Kate’s wound. Kate did the same to him in the series’ first episode. No airplane-size vodka around to sterilize this time.
  • Uh, has anybody seen Claire? She was conspiciously absent during Smokey’s field trip to Dharmaville.
  • Note that Widmore and Zoe took the outrigger to get to Dharmaville. Also remember that in Season 5, Sawyer et al. are at sea on an outrigger during one of the time-travel episodes. While they’re in the boat, they get shot at. We’ve never known by whom. Now maybe we know.
  • The back-to-back appearances of Jacob Jr. and Sr. are especially confusing. Are they the same apparition? Jacob Jr. brought Jacob Sr. the ashes, apparently. But then why didn’t Jacob Sr. ask for them himself? And does Jacob Jr. disappear when the ashes go out, just like Jacob Sr.? Also, while we’re in the unanswerable-questions part of the dispatch: Could Jacob appear to all candidates whenever he wanted? If yes, why did he wait until now to show himself? If no, what made it possible for Jack, Kate, and Sawyer to see him now when they couldn’t before?
  • Are we pro- or anti- on the Linus-Rousseau (Benielle?) love connection? I am pro. Rousseau cleans up nicely.
  • One of our commenters suggests Widmore isn’t actually dead. I couldn’t agree more. Remember that Ben and Widmore have their own set of arbitrary rules, and that includes not being able to kill each other. Lost TV Club Theory No. 16! Widmore isn’t just alive; he knew Ben was going to shoot him. One of you wondered why Ben suddenly rediscovered his bloodlust—he hasn’t. This is Ben’s final long con.
  • All of this “let go” stuff is purposefully reminiscent of Boone’s gruesome death in Season 1. While he’s dying, he tells Jack to let it go, the “it” being Jack’s God complex that, as Sawyer points out, Jack has obviously held on to. Interesting that now it’s Locke who has to let it go in the other timeline.
  • Locke pointed out that Jack’s son looks exactly like him. Maybe he’ll be the new Jacob once alterna-Jack dies of his vampire wound. That kid could pull off the teen heartthrob look with a little more hair gel and a Taylor Lautner conditioning program.
  • Jacob says he brings the candidates to the island because they’re flawed and lonely. But then why does he touch Kate and Sawyer when they’re just kids? Presumably they aren’t totally miserable quite yet. Maybe it’s Jacob’s touch that made them so screwed up. Another instance of self-interest shaping a person’s fate.
  • After Jack drinks the water (apparently wine isn’t the only way to become the protector), Jacob tells Jack the same thing his mother told him: “Now you’re like me.” This phrase continues to be as cryptic as it was last week.
  • Desmond seems to think Ana Lucia “isn’t ready” to find out that she actually exists in another timeline parallel to her own. Ms. Hawking once said the same thing.

And with that, I’ll shut up until the finale, which is making me feel giddy. Jack, admit it, even you’re going to miss the show, if only because it was an outlet for your rage. Who are we expecting to make a cameo? Juliet, Shannon, and Boone certainly. Ms. Hawking better be there to explain everything, or I’m tossing my ouroborus brooch into the river. Anbody else you’re craving? Besides Nikki and Paolo, of course.

TV Club readers: If you’re in New York City this Sunday, join us for a live viewing party at 92Ytribecawith writers Chadwick Matlin and Seth Stevenson, editor Juliet Lapidos, and a large television screen. Click here for more information.