Thursday, March 4, 2010

When the Sun Goes Down – Reflections on “LOST” Episode 6.6

They said he changes when the sun goes down
Yeah, they said he changes when the sun goes down
And they said he changes when the sun goes down around here
Around here

-- Arctic Monkeys
“When the Sun Goes Down"

Sayid Jarrah certainly changed when the sun went down in last night’s episode, cleverly called “Sundown.” He began the episode, in the light of day, assuring Dogen that he was still good, and entered the night by drowning the Temple master in the dirty waters of the healing pool. Fitting that last night’s episode was 6.6, and Sayid is candidate 16. Put it together and you can reasonably say that last night’s episode was LOST’s satanic pièce d’résistance.

This episode was all about temptation and the consequences of falling short. Sayid is one of our favorite characters, I think, because his story is very universal. He struggles to overcome the temptation to give into his primitive nature and kill. Bloodlust is written into his DNA it would seem, and while most of us, I imagine, are not consumed by this particular temptation, we each have our own which plagues us.

In traditional temptation story form, Sayid is presented with two viewpoints – the angel and the devil on his shoulders – in the form of Dogen and Evil Locke. Dogen tells Sayid that he is evil, but can redeem himself by killing Evil Locke with the special knife (heroes generally have to have a special weapon of some sort, whether it be beautiful locks of hair, a special staff, a web shooter, or a lightsaber). Evil Locke, on the other hand, offers Sayid the opportunity to see Nadia again if he delivers a message (and, apparently, kill Dogen). Both have convincing arguments, but Dogen’s is ripe with disdain and previous murder attempts. Evil Locke’s argument is sweet and has no grudge, despite the fact that Sayid stabbed him with the mystical knife directly in the chest.

This seems to be the way of God and Satan, though, Biblically speaking. God tends to ask for sacrifice and is very matter-of-fact, relying on the fact that people will make the right choice (as long as there is sufficient consequence for bad choices). Satan is much more appealing and fun. He isn’t jealous or angry or prone to destroying entire cities and flooding the Earth. In fact, he seems like a good guy, even though he is “evil incarnate.”

So, what do we know about Satan, and how does this apply to Evil Locke’s dealings with Sayid?

In Matthew, chapter 4, Satan tempts Jesus in the desert, which in the Bible has always been a symbol of reflection and meditation. It says, “Again, the devil took him [Jesus] to a very tall mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendor. ‘All this I will give you,’ he said, ‘if you will bow down and worship me.’”

One of the things seldom talked about is that Satan indeed had this power. He is referred to in 2 Corinthians 4:4 as “the god of this world.” Earth is his dominion, for he is the “prince of the power of the air,” and he can do what he wants here. He could have given Christ all of the kingdoms, but there was a cost to this – Christ would have lost his deity status. The son would have been turned against the father. Christ would have become anti-Christ.

In “Sundown,” Evil Locke offers Sayid something similar, albeit not quite so global: "What if I told you that you could have anything you wanted. What if I said you can have anything in the entire world?" This temptation proves to be too much for the confused Sayid, who finally hears something he can relate to and understand. For every reward, though, there is sacrifice, and Sayid’s comes at a steep price – his soul. This moment between he and the Evil Locke is the turning point for Sayid; it’s the moment when the darkness Dogen spoke of to Jack finally reaches Sayid’s heart and consumes him. It’s as if connection with the Evil Locke is all that was needed to make Sayid’s transformation complete. Now he truly is a BADass, emphasis intentional.

Some out there have focused on Sayid’s cruciform removal from the Temple waters as evidence that he may not be as bad as it seems. I don’t think this is true. If you look at the composition of the shot, Sayid is spread cruciform upside-down, which – if legend is true – was the way in which the apostle Peter wanted to die as he believed he was not worthy to die in the manner of Christ. This upside-down crucifixion then would appear to be a symbol of unworthiness, which is certainly what Dogen deemed Sayid to be after his diagnosis on the torture table (sidenote: did anyone else think about Scientology as Dogen described the way his machine measured the balance of good and evil in a man’s soul – isn’t that what the Scientologists do when they give you your initial personality evaluation test with those strange machines that can measure “Thetan” levels?). The upside-down crucifix is sometimes used by Satanists as well to show their disdain for the Christian belief system, and at this point it would be hard to argue that the Evil Locke – and whatever is possessing Sayid – resembles anything remotely “Christian.”

This same story of temptation and fall from grace plays itself out in Sayid’s flash-sideways as well. We learn that he is merely in love with Nadia, who is married to his pussy brother and has two beautiful children. Nadia loves him, too, but destiny, it seems, is determined to keep them apart, which only makes Evil Locke’s promise seem hollow. Sayid is a traveling businessman in the oil field (clever or stereotypical to have an Iraqi involved in the oil trade?), but he still has a history of fighting and torturing for the Republican Guard.

This haunts Sayid, but seems to make his brother believe he can get him out of a jam with a loan shark to whom he owes money. Sayid doesn’t want to get involved, but is forced to when his brother is “mugged.” Nadia, playing the role of the angel, tells him to take the high road and not get involved, but the devil plays his hand by sending Omar (from the freighter baddies in season 4) to pick Sayid up and take him into Keamy’s kitchen for some eggs and threats. (Sidenote: this scene felt like the scene in Pulp Fiction when Jules and Vincent go to retrieve Marcellus’ briefcase, and Jules gets sidetracked talking to Brett about the Big Kahuna Burger – “Uuuuummmm, that’s a tasty burger.”)

Sayid gives into temptation, though, and kills everyone, including the smarmy Keamy. Granted, this was in self-defense, but violence follows Sayid wherever he goes. No matter the circumstance, his path is inextricably linked to violent behavior. In the flash-sideways, this violence protects his family, while in the Island-timeline, it destroys the Temple. Once again, this reminds us that in the flash-sideways everyone’s conflicts are just a bit nicer, a bit tidier.

Why is this, though? What does it all mean? In thinking about temptation and Christ and Satan, I’m drawn back to Martin Scorcese’s film The Last Temptation of Christ. While I hated the movie – not due to blasphemy, but due to the shitty acting – it involves a situation I think might illuminate these flash-sideways stories.

In the film, Jesus goes through the Gospel motions, with a few strange exceptions (like hanging outside a whorehouse like a peeping Tom), but the film takes a nifty turn when, while hanging on the cross, a little girl comes to Jesus and helps him down from the cross. She says she’s there on behalf of God, who does not wish to forsake his only begotten son. So, Jesus lives his life. He marries Mary Magdalene, has sex, and lives a regular life. Occasionally he comes across a disciple – or Paul the Apostle – but there is no real recognition. It’s not until Judas comes to Christ on his death bed and tells him the whole life has been a trick of the devil, a last temptation to get Jesus to deny his deity and prevent the salvation of mankind through his selfless sacrifice.

What if, like Christ’s temptation, the flash-sideways are a vision of what could be? What if Evil Locke is putting these thoughts in the castaways’ heads in order to keep them from achieving their destiny? This seems like a really heady concept, of course, but it’s interesting. Evil Locke, as I read on the comment section at Nik-at-Nite, does seem to introduce his temptations in the form of “what if” questions, as in “What if I could show you why you’re here on this Island?” The entire final act of The Last Temptation of Christ was one giant “what if.” If these castaways are to be saviors of this magical Island, and somehow the world at large, maybe these flash-sideways are their last temptations.

And as we enter the final episodes of this final season, temptation has led the castaways into choosing sides for an impending war. With this, I leave you with one last quote, from Bob Dylan’s classic “The Times They Are A-Changin’:”

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
And the slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’.
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.

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