Wednesday, May 12, 2010

LOST -- Episode 6.15 -- "Across the Sea"

“Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.”

“Across the Sea,” the 15th episode of LOST’s final season, is easily the most divisive episode in the series. There are many words to describe it – daring, epic, captivating, confounding, frustrating – and all of them are true. One of the things I’ve always loved about this show is that it takes chances, seldom playing it safe, whether it be in the introduction of risky narrative devices (flash-forwards, time traveling) or by adding mysteries when it would have been safer to provide answers.

“Across the Sea,” like “Ab Aeterno,” does both. It halts the ongoing narrative to provide essential context-building backstory for the events of the last three and a half hours. It does this in a traditional mythical narrative, unlike anything we’ve seen in LOST’s previous five seasons. And, to top it all off, the episode provided an array of mythological archetypes and scenarios without apology or fear. The storytelling here is top notch, combining the aforementioned myth with a modern sensibility. In other words, Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse found a way to make the old things new again.

Yet, the episode is divisive because of the answers. When Mother (Allison Janney) made her comment to the shipwrecked Claudia about questions and answers, she wasn’t kidding. Answers lead to more questions usually. Anyone who has spent time with a child can attest to the following scenario:

Child: “Why is the sky blue?”

Me: “Well, you see there are all these dust particles in the atmosphere and when light shines through, the dust separates the light into various colors on a spectrum. And…”

Child: “Why?”

So on and so on and so on. Questions will always be endless because there will always be something unexplainable in the universe. In Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust memoir, Night, the character Moche the Beadle tells a young Elie that “every question possessed a power that was lost in the answer.” The reason why is simple: every question creates an expectation for what the answer should be due to the wealth of imagination in most people.
“Across the Sea” is evidence that Moche the Beadle was right. Questions have power, and the questions that LOST has gotten us to ask over the last six years have had the power to keep most of us tuned in. Now that we have some very definitive answers, the power is gone. I’m reminded of the scene in The Wizard of Oz when the Great and Powerful Oz is revealed by Dorothy to a tiny old man behind a curtain. Back in season three, there was even an episode called “The Man Behind the Curtain.” It was the first time we saw Jacob’s Cabin. When the curtain was pulled in that episode, there was no one there, just a disembodied voice. “Across the Sea” could have easily been called “The Men Behind the Tapestry” because now we finally get to see who these two “deities” are.

And they’re not deities. They’re just people, like you and me, suffering from bad cases of shitty-parent-syndrome and sibling rivalry. They were born of a Roman (?) mother, Claudia, but raised by the unnamed Mother on the Island. When the Man-in-Black discovers this truth, he rebels and flees to join the other people from across the sea. He finds there that his “mother” is right about these people, but his desire to go “home” outweighs his common sense and he tries to figure out a way to leave the Island. Jacob, on the other hand, is a dutiful Momma’s Boy. He also learns the truth about Mother, but decides that she must have had a good reason, and sticks by her. Since he doesn’t have the chance to spend lots of time among the Others, he develops a different viewpoint about their nature, though. They have the potential to be good. This puts the two brothers at odds even though their motives seem to criss-cross. It’s like reality – messy and fucked up.

This answer feels anti-climatic, especially after the events at the end of "The Candidate." All season we've felt that Jacob and the Man-in-Black were larger than life figures -- gods and monsters playing a game with our castaways. Now we know the truth: they are trapped in the same struggle the castaways have been since season 1. Should we stay or should we go? Does this Island have a purpose for us, or should we trust in ourselves and flee? Should we be Men of Science or Men of Faith?

About the only thing Jacob and his Brother have that separates them is a true agenda, which this episode clarified as opposed to revealed. Jacob needs a replacement because he never really wanted the job of protecting the Island's power source in the first place. And the Man-in-Black wants to leave because he resents having been lied to and feels like he is missing something from the world across the sea. His agenda is more extreme, though, as he is trapped in the form of the Smoke Monster and can't leave until Jacob and every potential protector is eliminated.

Overall, "Across the Sea" is the quintessential episode of LOST. For the rest of this article, I want to address a couple key elements from the episode that I think are essential to understanding the end of the show.

Don't Go Into the Light...

Mother takes Jacob and the Man-in-Black to the magic spring and reveals to them the heart of the Island. It is a magical light that all men possess within yet can't get enough of. To be completely bathed in this light is a fate worse than death, and if it goes out, it's "light's out" for the world.

This was the episode's biggest reveal, it's most wondrous, and most confusing. But, it does give us some ideas as to what the show means and where it's headed.

1. I think the light is a symbol of purity and goodness -- of God, if you will -- which is why a part of it resides within us. But, like we've seen in some religious texts, to be in the presence of such goodness at such a close proximity is worse than death. For example, I'm reminded of the "Holiest of Holies" in the temple described in the Bible. Anyone who dared go into this room needed to have a chain around his ankle so he could be pulled out if he died. This room was God's dwelling place, and to be in the presence of God was too much for sinful humans; that much goodness could destory you. This would mean that the Smoke Monster is carrying this light of goodness inside him, which gives him the ability to pass judgment on others while kicking it Old Testament.

2. The Smoke Monster absorbed most of the light, hence why it dimmed when the Man-in-Black went down the hole, but not all of it. This is why the Frozen Donkey Wheel was able to be completed and used, as well as the Hatch.

3. The Hatch was designed to keep this remaining light from going out. I doubt the Dharma Initiative were privvy to the significance of the light going out, but they were very aware of it's electromagnetic properties, and the system they designed for containing the electromagnetism in the Hatch kept the light burning.

4. When the Hatch imploded, Desmond absorbed the light, too, but it had a different effect on him than it did the Man-in-Black. He became able to move through time. Now that he's survived Widmore's test from "Happily Ever After," Desmond has discovered he can use his gift in a different way that will keep the light remaining in the Smoke Monster on the Island.

5. The Sideways World is not meant to be and will be destroyed because the light on the Island is extinguished in that reality. What does this mean for the Smoke Monster? I don't know, but the lack of the light in the Sideways World has me firmly believing there will be no tricky consciousness traveling for characters from the Island Reality to the Sideways Reality. The Island Reality is the only reality of consequence, and the characters living there will need the help of those enlightened in the Sideways Reality to put an end to the Smoke Monster's plans.


The Man-in-Black introduces Jacob to the game of Senet, an ancient Egyptian game whose rules are unknown and much debated. While playing the game, Jacob makes a move and the Man-in-Black makes him take it back.

Brother: You can't do that, Jacob.
Jacob: Why not?
Brother: Because it's against the rules.
Jacob: Who made the rules?
Brother: I found it. One day you can make up your own game and everyone else will have to follow your rules.

This last piece of dialogue seems to imply that the game of candidates is one in which Jacob and his Brother have created on their own, based loosely on some rules imparted by their mother. They have fashioned their own game that the castaways have been forced into playing, whether fairly or not. Here are a list of the rules and the game's objective that I've figured out so far.

Objective: The first player to either destroy or save the Island wins. The Island is destroyed when the black player is able to remove all of the white player's pawns from the board. The Island is saved when the white player removes the black player's pawns and the black player himself from the board.

Rule No. 1: You can't directly kill each other. There will be a healthy debate as to whether or not Jacob actually killed his brother when he shoved him into the magic light, or if the death was incidental. Me, I stand on the notion that Jacob did not intend to kill his brother, but instead to scare him, and things went really wrong.

Rule No. 2: You can't directly kill any of the candidates.

Rule No. 3: You can't leave the Island until the protector and all of his candidates are killed.

Rule No. 4: Once candidates have been killed, their likenesses can be used to influence other pawns.

Rule No. 5: Pawns can be claimed and switch sides. There is no limit on how many times they may switch sides before being killed.

I'm sure there are other rules, one specifically involving pawns with special moves and abilities (i.e. Desmond, Hurley), but they aren't clear yet.

Nonetheless, this scene is one of the most important moments in the history of the show because it directly establishes the relationship of this quasi-deities to the game they are playing with the lives of our castaways. At some point, I'd love to analyze the moves these two make during their play of Senet to see if there are any corollations to the action on the Island. But that's a more self-indulgent endeavor for another day.

Final Thoughts

I was impressed with "Across the Sea" and what it means to the greater story at large in "LOST." Now we are left with three and a half hours, and we'll get them all next week, first on Tuesday with "What They Died For" and then with the finale on Sunday. This is what we've been waiting for, and I can't be more excited.

1 comment:

  1. Great review! While my reaction to the episode was a bit mixed, it was nice to read a positive review of the episode for a change.

    I really enjoyed your outlining of the rules to Jacob and MiB's game. It really helped codify of alot of stuff that's been floating around the show in very straightforward, clear manner.

    Intriguing ideas also about Desmond's possible connection to the light; it will be interesting to see how that plays out.