LOST 027 - I Just Wanted You To Understand How You're Going To Die
Unpacking the TV show LOST — Season 3: Episodes 4-6
I came to kick bubble gum and chew LOST (mission statement here), and I’m all out of bubble gum. Here goes.
Previously, on LOST: Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on the friggin’ mystery island; the survivors survived, except for the ones who got killed in various ways: by accident, by each other, by a mysterious smoke monster lurking in the jungle, and by the strange maybe cultish maybe primitive maybe magic definitely hostile group of others called The Others. Some of the survivors pushed a button that wasn’t a button1 in a hatch that wasn’t a hatch2 until one day one of them didn’t push the button that wasn’t a button, and the hatch that wasn’t a hatch imploded, becoming a hole in the ground that had nothing in it at all but nice clean dirt, which suggests that it was an implosion that wasn’t an implosion. Anyway I get into all that in previous installments, so read those if you want more.
As our action begins, three of the survivors—angry-eyed surgeon Jack, tank-top enthusiast and fugitive Kate, and scruffy scoundrel Sawyer—have been abducted by The Others and are being held in a tank under the ocean (Jack) and polar bear cages (Sawyer and Kate). The Others had for a time seemed to be led by a man named Friendly who isn’t friendly, but we’ve since learned they are led by a man named Henry whose name is actually Ben. Ben’s sidekick is Juliet, whose name is, as far as I can tell, actually Juliet, so that’s a relief.
Also, there are ghosts. Don’t blame me.
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O B S E R V A T I O N
Yikes are we ever getting into the stale side of the Season 3 cookie box. It’s going to get a lot better, but for now nonsensical Others stuff and nonsensical flashback stuff and other nonsensical time-filling stuff abounds. What’s surprising to me, though, is how much sensical stuff and cool story moments are mixed into the cookie dough. Nevertheless, these cookies? They aren’t the best in my opinion. Or to be more accurate two of the cookies aren’t the best and the other cookie is very good indeed but infuriating for non-cookie reasons I’ll get into later at probably too much length.
Dang. Now I want cookies.
Stop. Episode time.
Episode 4: EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF (Sawyer): On castaway beach, Desmond has a premonition about lightning striking Claire’s shelter roof, and improvises a lightning rod to prevent it, and it works. This is the C plot of the story but very much the A plot of the season and eventually the series. More on it to come, just not now.
Let’s do the B story. Jack is in his dried-out dolphin tank under the sea (Rage! God! Square! Jack!). This gives him a lot of big feelings and he gets all shaky-angry at Juliet, like a large chihuahua. Anyway, he’s eventually conscripted to help try to save the life of Colleen, but she’s far too badly injured and she succumbs to a bad case of being shot in the living places. So it is that Sun (who shot her in self-defense) joins Team Killer, along with Michael, Kate, Sawyer, Charlie, Eko, Ana Lucia (RIP) … my my, the Oceanics sure have been doing a passel of killing haven’t they?
Anyway, while Jack was trying to save Colleen’s life, he noticed that someone (Juliet, spoilers) just so happened to put up x-rays of some other patient (Ben, spoilers) who just so happens to have a spinal tumor, which just so happens to be Jack’s specialty as a surgeon. Jack informs Juliet that whoever’s x-rays those are is about to die, girl, and since the whole setup is just too coincidental and convenient, he suspects nefarious shenanigans by them and villainous manipulations of him. Juliet’s superpower is bestowing glances to overconfident men that say “no sher, shitlock,” and she bestows one of these to Jack. I kind of like her.
Jack also overhears Friendly saying they have lost comms ever since the sky turned purple. Small proof that the Swan implosion was what I suspect it was.
Meanwhile, in the A story, Ben abducts Sawyer from the cages3, so Sawyer becomes the first character to achieve the very rare double-abducted status. Sawyer’s been exceedingly noncompliant with his captors while hauling nonsensical rocks down at the nonsensical rock-hauling field, so now it’s consequences time. They do some freaky medical stuff to him and when he wakes up, they con him into believing they’ve installed a pacemaker that will explode his heart if he exerts himself. More effectively, they threaten to do the same to Kate if he doesn’t straighten up and fly right. This takes the piss out of Sawyer’s vinegar. He even refuses to try to escape with Kate when she hilariously discovers she can just climb through the bars. Lessons: sometimes the easiest person to con is the con man, and the best way to get to somebody is through those they care about, so the best way to not get yourself got is to avoid having people you care about … but there’s also some talk about how if somebody is alone too long, they get sick inside. Worth remembering, thematically speaking.
In the flashback an imprisoned Sawyer learns he has a young daughter named Clementine. The mother is Cassidy, a previously-glimpsed target of one of his long cons. He denies paternity, but in typical Sawyer fashion he uses his con skills to get himself out of the hoosegow and secure a secret cash trust for the wee bairn Clem. It’s inessential tortured-secret-heart-of-gold Sawyer stuff, but Josh Holloway does that sort of thing very well, and it also features the great Bill Duke as a crooked warden, so the inessential time passes well enough.
Island-time. Sawyer’s spirit is not sufficiently broken by the pacemaker scam, it seems, so Ben takes him on a walk to a high point to show him that they aren’t on the island they knew at all—they’re on a sub-island nearby. Nowhere to run. Also, Sawyer’s heart isn’t going to explode, that was just lulz, bro. It seems like Ben could have just showed him this to start with, right?
Defeated, Sawyer shuffles back to his cage.
End of Episode 4.
Episode 5: THE COST OF LIVING (Eko): Everyone’s favorite warlord-turned-priest Mister Eko is in a feverish stupor following his ordeal at the Swan event and the polar bear caves. His long-dead brother Yemi appears to him and tells him it is time to confess. This is a reference to the flashback story, which, in a relative rarity for Season 3, is incorporated organically and meaningfully into the main episode.
It turns out that back in their childhood Eko did a Jean Valjean and stole food to feed his hungry brother. The nun who caught him commanded him to confess. We don’t see if he did so or not, but we’re left to presume not. In the aftermath of his brother’s death, Eko’s attempts to replace Yemi as parish priest are disastrously complicated by his own criminal instincts. Warlords are shaking down the parish for vaccines, as warlords do; Eko handles it by trying to sell the vaccines for himself before leaving the country, then massacring the warlords when his activities are discovered. The massacre profanes the church, and it is boarded up forever. A local church lady named Amina tells him that he is a bad man who owes Yemi one church. So that’s why Eko was building a church on the island. Nice.
Island-times. Eko goes charging through the jungle toward the site of Yemi’s body - the Beechcraft airplane, also the site of the Pearl observation station. As he goes, he’s tailed by the black smoke, and beset on all sides by apparitions: of Yemi, of the men he killed, and of an alter boy who witnessed the killings. The apparition of the boy tells him to confess, just as the apparition of Yemi had. This is notable as it’s the most overt evidence we’ve yet seen (it will become more overt still) that, absent clear evidence to the contrary, appearances of dead people on the island should be assumed to be The Adversary in disguise.
Locke realizes Eko is gone, and figures out where he is going using context clues. Since Desmond and Locke wanted to go to the Pearl anyway, they decide to pursue. (Des: “quite a coincidence.” Locke, inverting the meaning of Eko’s words to him from last Season: “don’t mistake coincidence for fate.”) Locke distinguishes his leadership style from Jack’s by inviting along any who want to join. Taking him up on the offer are Desmond, Sayid and Charlie, as well as Nicki and Paolo (Nicki and who? yes, exactly). They catch up with a somewhat more lucid Eko and all go together to conduct their various bits of business.
Eko checks out the Beechcraft with Locke, who understands that Eko is having visions and takes this time to ask Eko what he’s been seeing. Locke sidles up to him and confesses: “I saw it once, you know. I saw a very bright light. It was beautiful.” Eko demurs—“That is not what I saw.”—then recoils: Yemi’s body is missing. Everyone goes down to the Pearl station except for a clearly shaken Eko.
While down there, Paolo (who? exactly) uses the toilet and Nicki (who? exactly) suggests that they can maybe use the Dharma-station-monitoring Dharma station to monitor other Dharma stations, which is something that apparently had not occurred to Sayid. So they do this, and find that they are being monitored right back by a scary-looking dude with an eyepatch, who cuts the video feed. Don’t worry, kids, we’ll see him again.
Let’s head over to the B story: Ben admonishes Juliet for showing Jack his x-rays, which surprises me, since I remembered that being Ben’s idea. But apparently Ben had more subtle plans. “We had such a wonderful plan to break you, Jack,” Ben tells him. “I wanted you to want to save my life.” This makes his approach not make a ton of tactical sense if you think about it for a second. Anywhoo, Jack apparently won a reward challenge, because later still Juliet arrives to give him a burger and a secret message, delivered “Love Actually” style on big cue cards. To paraphrase: Some of us want to kill Ben. Do the surgery, and let it fail. Nobody needs to know. I’ll protect you. Jack Of Course glowers.
Back to the Pearl Station. Topside, Eko is approached by The Adversary in guise of Yemi, and follows him into a beautiful field. The Adversary asks Eko if he is ready at last to give his confession. Eko says he is. Then he says this, the finest final soliloquy any character is ever given on this show, an utter repudiation of The Adversary’s entire “are humans worthy?” framing, and Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje eats it up and leaves zero crumbs:
I ask for no forgiveness, father, for I have not sinned. I have only done what I needed to do to survive. A small boy once asked me if I was a bad man. If I could answer him now, I would tell him that when I was a young boy, I killed a man to save my brother’s life. I am not sorry for this. I am proud of this. I did not ask for the life I was given, but it was given nonetheless. And with it, I did my best.
“You speak to me as if I were your brother,” The Adversary says, stone faced.
Eko is astonished. “Who are you?” he asks.
“Yemi” stalks off. Soon thereafter the black smoke reappears, rising up from the jungle like a great angry cloud. It grabs Eko and beats him brutally against the trees and the ground. Locke and the rest come up out of the Pearl Station but it is too late: Eko lies on the ground, dying. Before he expires, he whispers one last thing to Locke, which neither we nor the other Oceanics hear.
“What did he say, John?” Sayid wants to know.
Locke often keeps secrets, but he doesn’t keep this one.
“He said, ‘You’re next.’”
End of Episode 5.
Episode 6: I DO (Kate) - OK, let’s get this out of the way. The flashback is about how Kate, while still a fugitive, married a police officer. Why? Great question. You’ll never believe this but the marriage didn’t work out, even though the cop looks and acts just like Nathan Fillion. We’re meant to believe this demonstrates how Kate cannot settle down, but I’m pretty sure the problem is that she’s literally a fugitive from the law operating under an assumed name and fake documents and he is literally a police officer, so it only serves to show that before coming to the island, one of the most resourceful, smart, and generally heroic characters made ridiculously bad decisions all the time for inscrutable reasons that are so out of character that it’s hard to understand what connection we’re meant to draw between it and the on-island story. Like many Season 3 flashbacks, this flashback seems to exist mostly because the formula insists there needs to be one.
OK, back to island-times.
Jack consults with Ben about his tumor, informing him that he has only a few days at most before his tumor will become inoperable. Ben nods understanding—he’s ready to go into surgery now—but Jack laughs. He has no intention of performing surgery, life saving or otherwise. “I just wanted you to understand how you’re going to die,” he says. “Well, Jack, I’m very disappointed by your decision,” Ben says, shaken. “Well Ben,” Jack says. “At least you won’t have to be disappointed for long.” I’m tough on Jack a lot, but give him his flowers when they are deserved: that was some cold-blooded shit.
It looks like bad times for short bulgy-eyed conniving Others leaders, but Ben’s convoluted plan at last comes to convoluted fruition here. Colleen’s husband, the volatile Pickett, is grieving his wife’s murder by indulging in a murderous rage, which he has been directing at Sawyer, seemingly held back from killing him only by Ben’s orders. Kate, aware that Sawyer is likely to be murdered soon, tries to get him to escape, but Sawyer’s spirit was broken a couple episodes back and his get up and go done got up and went. He finally lets Kate know what he knows about how hopeless the situation is. Kate responds by kissing Sawyer (she climbed through her bars and then broke his cage lock by hitting it twice with a rock). Sawyer rises to the occasion, and before you know it, they are making the beast with two criminals right there in the polar bear cage, which ew. Bears went poopy there in the recent past, guys.
Anyway, the cages are monitored, and Jack is allowed to “escape” in order to see the monitors. He sees Kawyer in post-coital cuddle on their bed of fish-biscuits. He realizes Kate is in love with Sawyer and not in love with him or something, so he agrees to do the surgery. Maybe not the best idea, since as soon as Ben is unconscious, Pickett decides it is Sawyer-killing time (“Shepard wasn’t even on Jacob’s list,” Pickett grumbles. Jacob? List? What? You might well ask.)
But—twist!—Jack intentionally nicks Ben’s kidney sack, and takes command of the operating theater. (He had Ben at gunpoint earlier, so I really don’t understand how this is a preferable hostage situation to that one, but OK.) He insists that Kate and Sawyer be let go and given a boat to return to the mainland island, if they want Ben to live.
This occurs just in time to save Sawyer from being shot in the head by Pickett (even though it seems that Sawyer is only in that danger because Ben was incapacitated by the surgery and Pickett felt free to act, he quibbled). Jack gets on a walkie talkie and explains the situation to one and all, commanding Kate to take Sawyer and run. Kate tells Jack she won’t go without him. Jack screams RUN! and it’s a smash cut to black4.
End of Episode 6.
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B E L I E F
Careful observation concluded. Informed belief time.
1) Ben’s whole weird plan. OK, so you’ve probably noticed I’ve been hard on this whole plot point, and rightfully so. There are plenty of Heroes Plot5 elements where things just so happen to drive the action but the motivations aren’t there or the logic just falls over the moment you breathe on it, and there’s really no connection to the deeper buried understory to help it out. I’ve written at length before about what outside forces caused this dip in overall story quality, so I won’t belabor it.
I now come to praise early Season 3, not to bury it.
There are a lot of pieces of Ben’s scheme that actually work, particularly once we realize much later that Ben Linus has long been in thrall to The Adversary, from his childhood to this very day, and is perhaps the most perfected human avatar of what The Adversary is like: mistrustful, conniving, lying, vengeful, all of which leads him to concoct grandiose schemes of manipulation and coercion designed to corrupt his targets’ strengths into weakness, and exploit their flaws to his advantage.
The Adversary, we’ll learn, is a lot like this himself. Convoluted plots of manipulation are his jam.
So why did Ben do all of this to get his surgery, when he probably could have just come to Jack on day 1 and asked? There are two story reasons that I think work very well.
The first is that Ben is part of a religious movement that worships an entity called Jacob (who is mentioned in this episode by name for the first time). This religious movement believes (correctly) that Jacob calls people to the island for a reason, and also believes (probably incorrectly?) that Jacob has issued an edict against anybody leaving the island. We know that Jacob has issued an edict against The Adversary leaving the island. I don’t see any evidence that it applies to humans, who we will indeed see coming and going from the island. I believe The Adversary has, over the years, managed to corrupt the Jacobian religion, using Its presence and Jacob’s absence to convince the faithful, as much as It can, to worship It as if It were Jacob. I believe The Adversary would have passed along the restriction issued against Itself as if this were a rule issued against everyone. In any event, if Ben had just come and asked Jack to perform the surgery, then he would have been asked to help all the survivors leave the island, and that would have been against the religious dogma he had been given (you may wonder, if this restriction is indeed dogma, how it is that some of The Others’ leadership themselves appear to come and go off the island as they please, and I would invite you to please google ‘religious leaders + hypocrisy’ and enjoy the very long read.)
The second reason is more compelling to me: Ben does all this because he is his master’s servant, that’s why. He has been trained to foster corruption and violence within humans, specifically because The Adversary desires those things to be fostered, specifically because that is what The Adversary wants to demonstrate humans are like, as proof to The Island in their long argument about the worthiness of humans which is—let’s not forget—the buried conflict upon which this story rests. To that end, The Adversary—who can control healing and sickness on the island—is probably the entity that allowed Ben to get cancer on an island where sickness is cured. It would have done this to erode Ben’s faith in Jacob, to make him all the more paranoid, all the more isolated, all the more cunning, all the more dependent on The Adversary by becoming more and more like The Adversary.
There’s nobody easier to con than the conman, after all.
And if somebody is alone too much, he becomes sick inside.
Hey, speaking of those being groomed by The Adversary …
2) “I saw a very bright light. It was beautiful.” I think we are meant to understand that this is a reference to Locke’s encounter with the smoke way back at the start of the whole series. He mentioned this moment at least once before, but here he mentions the light. I take this to mean that Locke was given a view of the light at the heart of the island, which I believe makes this moment the earliest direct reference to it. Because of this vision, Locke’s allegiance will always be to The Island more than to his friends, even if in practice the way he serves It goes badly awry—in much the same way as do the practices of the Jacobian acolytes already on the island, now that I think of it.
3) Missing bodies. Yemi’s body going missing is a mirror of another incident from early Season 1: Jack’s father’s body disappearing from its coffin. Why do the bodies disappear? Here’s my take: we’ll learn that The Adversary can manifest far more directly if the body of the person It is mimicking is present on the island … which Yemi’s body is. My guess is that when The Adversary has a body that it finds especially useful, it keeps them somewhere for safekeeping. This one is just a guess. Use it if you like it.
4) “You’re next.” What did Eko’s final whispered words mean? Well … they might have been directed to all of them as a general threat, I suppose, but that’s not very Eko-ish. They may have been directed to the next two people to die, who were indeed standing right there (spoilers, sort of). But I believe they were directed to Locke.
I believe Eko was being scouted by The Adversary as Its next manifestation. When Eko refused to give confession, I believe he overcame his great spiritual struggle and fulfilled the reason for which The Island had drawn him to Itself. This means A) in refusing to submit to The Adversary’s moral framework, he would no longer be suitable as a vessel for The Adversary, and B) The Island would now allow him to die. Since A was true, Eko now represented a great moral and ideological threat to The Adversary, who decided to make B happen as quickly as possible.
I believe what Eko was sensing is that The Adversary would next turn to Locke to be his human avatar; which is what, as we’ll see, The Adversary is planning to do.
5) Eko’s death. So that’s what I believe was happening in the story. Today I want to talk about the meta aspect of the death of perhaps my very favorite LOST character.
“The Cost Of Living” is a very good episode that really pisses me off, not only because it is the end of Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje’s association with the show, but because the received narrative about his departure always was that the showrunners had lots of great and incredible plans for Eko, but alas, alas, Akinnuoye-Agbaje didn’t like Hawaii and missed his family, and so their hands were tied and they had to write him out, and I now believe that narrative is big sloppy bullshit. Recent revelations of racist abuses and bullying in the writer’s room—encouraged and even led by the showrunners themselves, by these new accounts—as well as marginalization of the storylines of nonwhite characters and the use of insensitive and even racist tropes despite the protests of Black actors, would throw the narrative about Eko’s death into serious doubt, even if it weren’t a fact that some of the most stomach-churning parts of the exposé dealt with showrunner Damon Lindelof’s comments about this exact episode and this exact character death, a sort of vindictiveness against the actor himself for daring to leave, and a willingness to act as the agent of revenge and rage, so that when The Adversary brutalizes Eko, it reads as a manifestation of Lindelof’s intentions toward the actor—which would make Lindelof identify, in that moment, not with his heroes, but with his villains.
It’s been documented that Akinnuoye-Agbaje was disappointed to find his character, introduced as a priest—a soulful and quiet but commanding spiritual leader—was eventually revealed to have been yet another of the criminals that he had found himself typecast as throughout his career, and from my perspective the decision to make the one African main character be a warlord reveals an intellectual laziness that now seems a lot less unconscious than it ever did before (to the degree that the writers room was also toxically sexist, this may also explain a lot of the laziness around Kate’s characterization). I think I can understand why Akinnuoye-Agbaje might have wanted to leave the environment we now know the show to have been, and why he might have been something more than just homesick, something stronger than just “disappointed,” and I can understand why this actor chose never to return, even for scenes where his absence is remarkable.
And yet Akinnuoye-Agbaje does such amazing work throughout the show and in this episode in particular, creating a towering figure of defiance and moral resolve, and writers Monika Owusu-Breen and Alison Schapker give Eko such an amazing defense of the character to speak in his final moments—one that is far more true to the larger themes of LOST than the report of Lindelof’s actions suggest—that I feel I must see and honor the talents and intellects of individual artists shaping the moment, making it something that transcends the ugliness from which it sprang, even as I must deplore the showrunners’ actions and statements and the toxic environment they created and fostered.
• People can do a lot of good even while operating in a bad environment.
• When you’re the most powerful person in the room, the danger is that you’ll believe you’re speaking for God when really you’re just serving your own personal Adversary.
• Blind belief in the statements of the most powerful entities in a given environment, without noticing whose voices aren’t present, can lead even a well-intentioned person to very wrong conclusions.
What’s needed in order to parse the truth is careful observation and informed belief—a lesson that’s very appropriate to the main themes of observation and belief I see present in the show.
So that’s that.
L O S T
Next Time: Flashes Before Your Eyes
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It was a sequence of numbers entered into a computer, yet the characters never stop calling it “pushing the button.”
It was a bunker station that was first entered through a hatch, yet the characters never stop calling it and other similar stations “hatches.”
In a scene that effectively demonstrates that the diminutive Ben is actually physically formidable when he has his little collapsible steel baton.
And into a hiatus to retool the show, if memory serves.
I’m coining this in honor of the superhero show Heroes, which was out contemporaneously with these episodes, and which eventually devolved into a narrative Ponzi scheme of madness.