Fearful Symmetries

Witness a machine turn coffee into pointless ramblings...

12 May, 2010

LOST: In the Shuffling Madness



In last night's LOST, the Mother character says to a young Jacob at one point, "Every question I answer is only going to lead to another question." Not only does it explain the approach to "Across the Sea" but was also a warning, of sorts, to fans about the show: not everything will be explained completely - some mysteries shall remain. We learned a fair amount last night, including the answer to a mystery from the very first season and, while I was frustrated at not being told more, I have to admit that I found some scenes to be incredibly moving.

The show began with Claudia surviving a shipwreck and coming ashore. Apparently the Island has attracted those who are adrift to its shores since time immemorial. She is highly pregnant. While drinking from a stream, she is approached by Mother who offers help. They are speaking Latin ("Mihi nomen est Claudia")! Yay for my classical education! The pair return to her cave where Claudia gives birth to Jacob and Esau (the show was resolutely silent on his real name) before Mother stabs her to death. While these actions may have a Biblical analogy, I personally thought of Romulus and Remus, the mythical founders of Rome.

Several years later when the children are pubescents, they are boar hunting when they run into a group of men. Their questions lead Mother to take them to the heart of the Island, a cave into which a stream flows and from which emanates "the warmest, brightest light you've ever felt". It is a manifestation of life, death, and rebirth which explains why some people, presumably a group of ancient Egyptians, erected the statue of Taweret, who was the goddess of birth and rebirth. Mother explains that the men the boys encountered are evil. Indeed, she uses the same phrase Esau used back in season 5: "They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt." And while men cannot take the light, they do have the ability to put it out. She adds ominously, that if the light goes out on the Island, it goes out everywhere. This made me think of the dire warnings about Smokey getting off the Island spelling doom for all mankind. Furthermore she explains that they must never enter the cave and, lastly, that it is her duty to protect it.

I highly suspect that the show will never fully explain what the light is or give us anymore history of the Island and that's fine. Ever since season 2 when we learned about the Swan Hatch, we have known that pockets of electromagnetism dot the Island and have strange properties some of which are moving the Island in time & space as well as teleporting people to Tunisia. Life, death, and rebirth are parts of an enigmatic and eternal cycle so keeping the light and the Island on which it resides shrouded in mystery is appropriate. It's not important to explain how the light was created but what is crucial is understanding what the light represents and how the events in the show reflect them. It certainly made me wonder if the problem The Others had with women who conceive on the Island dying during the second trimester of pregnancy had to do with the light, well, dimming at least because that whole rebirth part seems to have been defenestrated at some point.

Along these same lines, Mother is very much an enigma. She murders a woman yet claims to have done so for a noble purpose. Is she good or evil? In addition, he says that she "made it" so that Jacob and Esau cannot kill one another. This explains why Smokey had to look for a loophole and couldn't get the job done himself but it also begs the question of who this woman is that can will such a thing. Plus she doesn't seem to age either.

The young Esau encounters Claudia's ghost who, in a first for any character on the show, actually explains events in a very direct way, answers all questions thrown her way, and, in short, gives full disclosure. She reveals that Mother killed her and that the people the surrogate told him were evil were, in fact, his people – the other shipwreck survivors. Esau goes to live with them while Jacob remains with Mother even after she admits to having murdered Claudia. The brothers remain in contact, however, with Jacob paying Esau visits. During one of them, Esau reiterates his desire to leave the Island and that they have found a way to do so. He also tells Jacob that his fellow Romans are greedy, manipulative, untrustworthy, and selfish. Jacob tells Mother that Esau has found a way to depart the Island so she pays him a visit. We find him down at the bottom of a well with our frozen donkey wheel awaiting installation. Like a proud father, Esau informs her that he and his people have found the light under the ground at various spot on the Island. They intend to jury rig a mechanism to manipulate the light and water and take them away. Mother is highly displeased and she uses this opportunity to render Esau unconscious. Upon waking, he finds himself outside the well which has been filled in and that his people are dead and their village aflame. One can't help but think of The Purge of the Dharma Initiative as well as Smokey rampaging through the Temple leaving a trail of death and destruction in his wake.

Esau exacts his revenge on Mother by stabbing her through the heart with a knife that looks exactly like the one Smokey would give to Richard to kill Jacob and later that Dogen gives to Sayid to kill Esau. Mother's final words are "thank you". Presumably she has finally found some relief from her post as guardian of the Island. Jacob returns and flies into a rage. He punches Esau repeatedly before dragging him under his arm to the cave with the light whereupon he unceremoniously throws Esau into the stream, his head hitting a rock and rendering him unconscious. Esau's body flows into the cave and down a waterfall. A short time later the smoke monster emerges from the mouth of the cave. So now we know how Esau became Smokey.

Because I'm an old softy, I found the scenes where Jacob beats Esau and takes him to the cave to be very emotionally wrenching. When Jacob is marching to the cave with Esau under his arm, the future Smokey is badly beaten but he is still walking. In fact, I would argue that he is willingly going along. He was betrayed by Mother twice, at the very least, yet I think he still loves and has faith in his own flesh and blood. Esau doesn't seem to put up a fight and lets Jacob's rage spill upon him. But that rage proves too great. Honestly, I felt really sorry for Esau because he was a defeated man at this point. His childhood was a lie, Mother took away his hopes to leave the Island, and all he had left was his brother, the only person he loved, who gave him the unkindest cut of all. And what had he really done wrong? I just found this scene to be incredibly moving. I have a brother and know how important fraternal bonds are; I know what it's like to feel that your brother is the only person in the world you have left as a friend.

Lastly, did this scene remind anyone else of Anakin Skywalker becoming Darth Vader? Jacob was like Obi Wan cutting off Anakin's limbs and leaving him for dead only to discover that he's created a malevolent monster.

The episode ends with Jacob placing the corpses of Mother and Esau into a little nook of Mother's cave and putting a black and a white piece from his brother's game into a sack to be left with them. The identity of Adam and Eve was finally resolved. These events transpire at least 1500 years before Oceanic 815 crashes on the Island so I'm not exactly sure why their clothing hasn't fully degraded by 2004 or why Jack would estimate that they'd been there for only 50 years. But I guess it's not really a big deal.

Now that we've gotten Jacob and Esau's backstory, does it shed any light on what we know of them in the 21st century? Well, for one thing, we know they were born of woman. They're not gods but human beings who have been acted upon by the supernatural. Esau goes into the light and becomes Smokey while Jacob drank the wine given to him by Mother to secure his position as guardian of the Island. I argued a few episodes ago that:

I now think that Esau is cursed. He and Jacob surely have a long history which pre-dates the Island. At some point they were both ordinary average guys but something happened to Esau which made him malevolent - he's the wine being stopped by the Island's cork – but he is essentially unaware of it. Jacob either believes or has been told that, like Darth Vader, there's still an iota of goodness left in Esau and it's his job to bring that out. Bringing people to the Island is Jacob's way of inducing anamnesis.

Okay, I was wrong on many counts here but I still don't think that Esau is 100% pure evil concentrate. His desire to kill Jacob is now quite understandable. Jacob is responsible for Esau becoming Smokey, a fate worse than death. And Esau has wanted to leave the Island for ages and that hasn't changed. He's not an angel but his motivations haven't changed in 1500-2000 years. Only instead of using the frozen donkey wheel, he must manipulate and/or kill people to achieve his ends. The show has a history of presenting various people as malicious only to dig deeper and find ambiguities, conflicting desires, and human frailty. Think of Christian Shepherd, Ben, and Widmore. All the bad guys on LOST seem to have turned out to be like HAL in 2001 and I suspect Esau will have a similar fate. Mother noted about that light that there is a bit of it in all men but that they get greedy and try to obtain more. I still think that bit of light remains in Esau. I suppose this also implies that Jacob has taken his fair share of walks on the dark side.

So does Esau getting off of the Island lead to the end of the world? Maybe so. If that spark remains within him, then he is still a part of the cycle of life, death, and rebirth. Perhaps the end of the world that his escape presages and the end of humanity that the Dharma Initiative was trying to prevent are just the death part of the cycle to be followed by a rebirth. The DI failed, remember, and so humanity is still rushing headlong to its death.

|| Palmer, 2:45 PM

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