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LOST 022 - The Trouble With Henry
Unpacking the TV show LOST — Season 2: Episodes 14-16
When the going gets LOST, the LOST get going.
Let’s get going.
Previously, on LOST: Oceanic Flight 815 fall down go boom midair, and the surprisingly large number of survivors found themselves on a tropical island, just trying to keep it real between polar bear attacks dramatic whispery ghost appearances and character-revealing flashbacks. Their main priority was rescue, but mysteries kept intruding, including the smoke monster in the jungle, the hatch also in the jungle, the computer in the hatch, the sequence of numbers that must be entered in the computer, the global disaster that will maybe happen if you don’t enter the sequence, and the fact that there is another group of people on the island with peasant clothes and spooky ninja skills who keep either abducting them, or killing them, or getting killed by them.
Paranoia isn’t just a river in Egypt, you guys. Tensions, they are high.
They’re going to get higher.
The Henry Gale sequence begins here. If you don’t know who that is, I’ll explain soon enough but also here come the SPOILERS.
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O B S E R V A T I O N
The Others have loomed large over the story, and that surely isn’t going to change now, because we’re about to meet their leader … kind of.
As you know if you’ve been reading along, I don’t tend to ruminate much about what the writers intended or planned in order to unpack the story—I focus on the “text” of what has been delivered on screen in order to understand what the story is. However, it’s well-known by anyone with even modest interest in this show that when The Artist Temporarily Known As Henry Gale first appeared, he was an outgrowth of a dynamic I’ve mentioned a few times, namely the struggle the creators faced in telling a story with a definite arc and planned conclusion but without any sense of the number of episodes over which that story would need to unfold—a challenge born of LOST’s tremendous success and therefore its presumed open-ended longevity. Ironically enough, the show’s muddling around in early seasons was not borne out of not having an idea of where the story was going, but out of knowing exactly where it was going but worrying about getting there too soon.
To this end, Henry Gale was introduced as a new bit of intrigue, but also as an episode-eating holding pattern of sorts. He was a character whose true nature—telling the truth? secretly an Others spy? something else?—was meant to be ambiguous, to the extent that the writers themselves admit they hadn’t decided which way they intended to go, in order to give themselves maximum options.
But then Michael Emerson relentlessly stole scene after scene until they had no choice but to put him in the main cast as Ben Linus, the leader of (or at least a leader of a faction of) the island-dwelling society that our heroes have been calling “The Others.” I suspect the writers already had in mind that this group would have a leader, and probably knew a few qualities that leader would need to have, but I think it’s undeniable that, at the time these episodes were made, they didn’t know about Ben Linus specifically.
But he’s Ben Linus all the same.
All this to say, I’m going to talk about what we know about the mysterious “Henry Gale” from our vantage as people who exist now, when the whole show is complete, not from the decidedly (and deliberately) more limited perspective of the creators then. We know many things even the creators didn’t know—but which immediately became retroactively true of these episodes once decisions about this character were eventually made. This is an interesting (and perhaps eventually story-relevant) bit of time travel that any audience for any fictional story engages in, and thinking about things like this is one of the things I most enjoy about this LOST exercise.
Let’s dig in.
Episode 14: ONE OF THEM (Sayid): Have I mentioned the unhinged French woman living in the jungle? Well, there’s an unhinged French woman living in the jungle. Her name’s Danielle Rousseau, and she came to the island 16 years ago, very pregnant. The scientific expedition she was with all went crazy-murderous, she claims—the effects of a mystery “infection,” she claims—which is why she had to kill the rest of the expedition. Her newborn infant Alex was kidnapped not long after that by The Others, and Rousseau’s been living on-island ever since, just her, and her many booby-traps, and her bolt-action rifle, and her crazed expression of solitude and grief.
She’s an occasional ally of the Oceanics, but it isn’t exactly the least fraught partnership in the world, especially since last time she showed up, she abducted Claire’s baby. She gave it back, but still, there are trust issues.
As this episode kicks off, Rousseau appears, seeking the Oceanic she most trusts—their tech-wiz handyman, soldier, and former-sometimes-current military interrogator Sayid1—and leads him to one of her traps, where she has caught a man. This man says his name is Henry Gale, a millionaire from Minnesota who crashed here four months ago in an ocean-traversing balloon, along with his wife, now dead of illness.
Rousseau insists that he is an Other, and that “he will lie … for a long time … he will lie.” Sayid releases “Henry” from the trap and “Henry” goes tearing ass away from his captors ... until Rousseau shoots him through the back with a bolt from a crossbow. Damn, Rousseau goes hard.
It’s not fatal, so Sayid trusses him up and carries him back to Doctor Jack and the Swan station. While Jack is busy tending to the wound, Sayid enlists Locke to change the combination on the hatch’s walk-in gun safe, so that he, Sayid, can do “what needs to be done” free from Jack’s first-do-no-harm type scruples. This means getting locked in the safe with the captive, putting his hair up with a scrunchy, and interrogating Henry Gale, torture-style.
Torture is already something we know to be within Sayid’s unique set of skills, but in flashback we see that it was the U.S. Army that put that tool in his box, back in the first Gulf War. A covert operative played by Clancy motherlovin’ Brown convinced a captured Sayid to ply that trade in order to get answers out of his captured Republican Guard commander, by showing him evidence of said commander attacking Sayid’s home village market with sarin gas. This reveals a key component to Sayid’s character: a man whose deep empathy and innate desire to protect those he loves makes him willing to do terrible things.
In the Swan station, Jack is furious with Locke for making them party to torture, and Locke points out that Jack is allegedly raising an army with Ana Lucia, so are we at war or aren’t we, Jack? Jack blinks and blinks and blinks some more. That’s how you can tell Jack is angry: he gives you a real firm blinking.
Sayid interrogates “Henry” without getting any more information other than a detailed cataloguing of the capabilities of an oceangoing balloon. “Henry” is, it must be admitted, very convincing, but only as convincing as an extremely good actor who is being told by the showrunners to deliberately play his scenes as ambiguously as possible, so Sayid threatens him with pliers and beats him about the head neck chest and face for a good long while. This mercifully ends when the Swan code deadline arrives and Jack forces a showdown with Locke: open the safe or I won’t let you enter the numbers.
Locke folds and opens the safe. Jack stops Sayid. Locke enters the numbers, but not before the deadline is reached and we start to see evidence of serious Bad Shit—the countdown numbers flip over to red hieroglyphs and the klaxons blare even louder. It feels like an incipient nuclear launch. Locke manages to enter the code within whatever grace period, remains, though, so all returns to whatever passes for “copacetic” on this show.
Later Locke is ruminative and speaks aloud a major theme of the series. “To Rousseau, we’re all ‘others.’ I guess it’s all relative, huh?” Indeed, John Locke. Indeed.
Down at the beach, Sayid tells Charlie he knows the captive is lying, because he feels no regret for what he did. That’s not a thing, Sayid.
In the B plot, Sawyer, uh, chases down a tree frog whose chirping is bothering him.
Yep. That’s what happens.
End of Episode 14.
Episode 15: MATERNITY CARE (Claire): Claire’s baby, Aaron, has a fever, and Claire is super worried. This is when everybody’s favorite wild-eyed French lady shows up and insists that the baby is infected. That’s right: Rousseau’s back again!
Claire’s perspective on Rousseau is “abduct my baby once, shame on you; abduct my baby twice, shame on me.” She screams for help and Kate chases Rousseau away.
Claire, if you recall, was abducted while still pregnant by a card-carrying member of The Others named Ethan Rom. One night she returned, but the details of her experience remained a mystery: Ethan’s side of the story died when Charlie murdered him, and Claire has spent the ensuing time with narratively convenient amnesia.
Now, though, she’s having a narratively convenient case of remembering tantalizing flashes from her lost time. There's not much, but she remembers medicine and needles. Convinced that the medicine she remembers seeing will save Aaron from "infection," she embarks on a magical voyage of discovery. Claire recruits clinical psychologist Libby2 to help her remember more about where she went, and then takes a trip to the facility where Ethan was holding her, with Rousseau (who knows the way) as guide and Kate (who got a gun from Sawyer by knowing he is a simp and asking pretty-please) as bodyguard in case of Others (and in case Rousseau goes crazy-bananas again, if we're being real).
What comes out (in a rare flashback to take place entirely on-island) is that Ethan, who we’ll learn later was a doctor of considerable skill, took Claire to yet another Dharma facility, this one called “Staff” and equipped with medical supplies and an operating room. Here Ethan kept her drugged enough to stay happy about being a prisoner in his creep-ass bunker clinic, and perfectly willing to hand her baby over to Ethan once it came. Claire was slated for a C-section and then (allegedly) death, but she was saved by none other than Rousseau’s stolen daughter, Alex, who got Claire out of the facility. Rousseau herself discovered Claire stumbling confused in the jungle and returned her to her camp.
In the B plot, we have some hatchstuff. “Henry,” recognizing the ongoing power struggle/pissing contest between Jack and Locke, begins to exacerbate it, mostly by playing on Locke’s insecurities and blandly questioning why Locke “lets the doctor call the shots.”
Additionally, Eko, being one of the sharper minds on the island, easily figures out that Locke and the Doc are holding a prisoner, and goes to “Henry” in hopes that he is an Other … because Eko killed the two Others who were trying to abduct him, you see, and he needs somebody to whom to apologize, albeit in a rather menacing way that involves a very sharp knife. It’s a cool scene.
In the end, Claire and team find the Staff station deserted and cleared out. Claire doesn’t find the medicine for her baby, but luckily she didn’t need it after all; Aaron just had a normal fever. And Rousseau didn’t find her lost daughter, but she knows Alex is alive, and is apparently a good person, or at least somebody that understands why abducting women and drugging them and stealing their babies is bad, which puts her a notch above the rest of her group.
End of Episode 15.
Episode 16: THE WHOLE TRUTH (Sun) And now mein sprockets it is time for us to check in on our favorite star-crossed lovers, Sun and Jin. When we first met these crazy kids, Jin was a full-time domineering ass—an exterior hardness which was eventually revealed as the protective layer he’d grown around a noble spirit, to deal with the violent excesses he’d been called upon to enact as an enforcer for Sun’s father. (Sun’s father is simultaneously the owner of a major automotive corporation and also, in ways that will never be made clear, kind of a crime boss. I don’t know. Don’t worry about it.)
Anyway, in his time on the island, Jin’s hard edges have softened, and he’s learned that the things he became in order to prove his worth to the woman he loves has only estranged him from her. In this episode, he’s still freaked out by Sun’s recent assault3 and backslides into his controlling ways, tearing up her beloved garden to keep her safe and kept back at their shelter. This leads to a crisis on Sun's part, as she learns she's—gasp!—pregant just as she once again sees reasons to mistrust her husband.
The gasp! is because, as we’ll learn, back during their bad times in Korea, Jin wanted a baby to fix their failing and abusive relationship—something Sun very much did not want, because of the failing and abusive relationship. The point became moot when their fertility doctor revealed that Sun was not able to become pregnant, and Jin greeted this news with an unforgivable reaction. He blamed Sun, suggesting that she had tricked him, then stormed off when she pointed out “oh yeah buddy, that’s me, I went out and entrapped a poor fisherman’s son”—which, hey, harsh but fair, dude.
But wait, there’s still more gasp! because the doctor, terrified of Jin, confesses to Sun that he actually lied to them both; it wasn’t Sun who was infertile, but Jin. So Jin thinks Sun is infertile, but Sun knows it is Jin. And if that wasn’t gasp! enough, Sun has been secretly seeing another man—Jae, the arranged-marriage suitor and hotel scion she had been seeing right before meeting Jin. It turns out that he’s the one who taught Sun English, and while in these scenes they’re still platonic, the mutual attraction is clearly there, and we can see it will inevitably be consummated if the two of them keep meeting.
Meanwhile in the B story, Locke decides to go recruit a new less torture-ish interrogator for “Henry.” For this task, he selects Ana Lucia, who after so many times playing bad cop, appears ready to try to be good cop. She cajoles “Henry” into proving his story’s veracity by giving her a map to his balloon—though she decides to withhold that information from Locke and Jack, and brings the map instead to Sayid (and, unintentionally, an eavesdropping Charlie). Sayid is intrigued, and it’s on: The Gang Goes Looking For A Balloon.
They reach the spot indicated on the map4, and there’s nothing there, to the surprise of not-Sayid. He's all ready to go back and turn "Henry" into chicken fingers. The post-Shannon version of Ana Lucia, however, is a little gun-shy about being trigger-happy. She insists they search carefully. They spread out.
Back to the A story: Jin realizes that he is pushing Sun away again. He chills out and contritely repairs Sun’s garden. When she finds him there, he gives her a satisfactory and very necessary apology. She tells him about her little bundle. Jin is stunned, but overjoyed; he embraces her and declares “it’s a miracle.”
Over his shoulder, Sun gives a look that basically amounts to ah fuck.
Back at the Swan, “Henry” lets slip to Jack and Locke that he drew up the map for Ana Lucia, and notes that the fact that she didn’t tell them suggests real trust issues within their party. Then he postulates that if he were an Other, the thing he’d probably do is draw up the map to an ambush spot, so his people would have captives they could use to trade for him.
So hey! he chips. Good thing I’m not one of them, huh?
Jack and Locke give each other a look that basically amounts to ah fuck.
Ben compliments them on their real nice cereal flakes. Got milk? he asks.
End of Episode 16.
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B E L I E F
All right, I’ve done the observies. Now I do my believies.
1) Rousseau: It’s a very neat trick to frame Rousseau as highly unstable and crazed, and then make every claim she makes accurate. There is indeed an infection (she only misdiagnoses it as a pathology rather than a spiritual infection), the Others were indeed coming (though she is off about where and why); and “Henry Gale” is indeed One Of Them. She knows that one for a solid fact, of course, because it was Ben Linus who kidnapped her baby 16 years ago, and she got a solid look at his face, as we’ll see in due course. This might explain why Rousseau decided to hand him over to a man she knew was adept at torture.
That’s LOST for you. They tell you the answers, in a way that pretty much ensures you won’t believe them.
2) Alex, meanwhile, is behaving not very much like somebody who has been raised as Ben Linus’ daughter, even though that’s exactly what has happened to her. She’s being sneaky, duplicitous, untrusting … wait, maybe she is acting like Ben Linus’ daughter.
What’s different, of course, is that she’s doing all the backstabbing on behalf of somebody in need, at great risk to herself. She believes Claire is going to be killed, so she gets Claire the hell out.
Alex seems to have this idea that this group abducts children, which they do, and kills the mothers, which as far as we’ve seen they don’t, even though all the mothers these days die, so it would be easy enough to make the case.
It’s almost as if she’s learned something about her own origins from … somebody. From who? I don’t know. Is there anyone in this story that appears to people in the guise of dead people who were close to them, in order to tell them secrets and truths and sly half-truths, the better to create chaos and strife?
If there’s somebody like that in this story, it might have been that somebody.
Or maybe this is just your regular teenage rebellion stuff, when your father is the leader of a faction of a cult that worships an ancient godlike entity on a mystery island.
3) Ethan’s Plan: In any case, I don't think they were going to kill Claire.
Along with Claire’s other memories I’ve mentioned already, we also eavesdrop on a remembered conversation between Ethan and a clean-shaven5 Tom Friendly (see last installment), from which we learn that Ethan bringing Claire to The Staff was not the plan, and this change is apparently going to be hard to explain to “him.” Ethan explains that he was forced to bring Claire to the Staff out of necessity when Hurley blew up his spot with the airline manifest/census.
So what is Ethan up to?
I don’t remember if I’ve alluded to it before, but in case not: we are going to learn that pregnancies on the island are fatal to both mother and baby, and have been for a long time. In fact, the last person conceived on the island to not die before birth may have been … Ethan himself. The only babies to be born—Claire and Alex—came to the island when their mothers were already pregnant. Someday we’ll get into why this might be, but for now I’ll just note that this parallel to the curse of Eden seems to be correlated to about the same time as The Incident; the one that necessitated the creation of Swan station and computer and number entry.
We know Ethan, as one of the group's doctors, is working on the fertility problem. So it makes sense that the Others, with no real way to procreate, would target children in particular for abduction, and it makes sense that Ethan in particular would be interested in a pregnancy, and in keeping both the mother and (especially) the child alive6.
So I believe the simple answer is: the Others (and Ethan) wanted the baby. The Staff probably wasn’t the preferred venue for getting him, but Ethan improvised. They were probably planning on delivering the baby via cesarian.
I don’t believe they were going to kill Claire.
For one thing, they put an implant into Claire. We’ll find that out in due time as well. I don’t know why they’d have done that if they weren’t planning on sending her back after getting her baby.
4) Ben’s Plan: And what of Ben Linus himself? Why has he chosen to infiltrate the Oceanics?
Here’s what we know: Ben Linus has lived almost his entire life on this island. He’s got a direct line to The Adversary, which means that he knows many truths about the island that others do not know, and that he’s probably been told many other lies and half truths that misinform him in ways that favor The Adversary’s plans.
Since Ben has been spending time with The Adversary, it’s likely that Ben has been told that he is special, a chosen one, and all the other stuff The Adversary tells Its targets. I believe the Adversary has been telling him that Jacob favors him. I believe that Ben has been pretending to meet with Jacob in order to solidify his position as an island power broker. We will learn that Ben has longed to meet Jacob but has never been given that privilege. One thing he knows is that the island is a place where sick people get healed, and where even incurable diseases get cured, because of the will of an entity I’ve called The Island, a will which Ben believes (mostly correctly) is embodied by a man named Jacob.
One thing we’ll learn is that, just before the Oceanic crash, Ben discovered that he has an advanced spinal tumor, which very likely feels like a terrible rejection by Jacob and The Island itself, and also a definite credibility problem for somebody who wants to keep their position of power.
I believe Ben has learned from Ethan that Jack is a spinal surgeon of great renown, though not one likely to operate on a man who has been terrorizing and abducting them.
But Ben Linus is very persuasive, once he gets to know you.
So I believe Ben has gotten himself captured because he wants to get to know his doctor well.
L O S T
Next Time: Locke, Down
A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. He never wants his hands cut off, never wants a hacking cough.
Who she abducted and tortured, but he doesn’t take it personally. This sort of thing passes for an icebreaking exercise on LOST island.
There is a real howler of a scene in which Claire is walking down the beach with Kate and Libby and she’s holding a baby mannequin like a floppy sack of taters; it’s not relevant, just a clearly fake baby that never fails to make me laugh. Watch for it!
Attacked by Charlie on Sawyer’s behest, but luckily for Charlie and Sawyer, I don’t think Jin ever realizes it. His (reasonable) operating assumption is that it was a failed Others abduction.
The idea that “Henry” is after 3 months on a massive island able to make a workable map from the Swan station to his balloon site is by itself reason to suspect that he isn’t who he says he is, but nobody makes this point so let’s move on I guess.
Kate finds some Dharma-brand theatrical glue and false beards stashed in the nearly completely gutted Staff, which is I think the first indication that when these particular Others go out on abductions, they are in mufti.
And I’m reminded that Claire’s psychic told her that it was of utmost importance that her baby should not be raised by An Other.