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Whew, boy. “Across the Sea.” We learned some things, that’s for sure. But one of the things we learned is that there’s a bunch of new stuff we haven't learned. My head hurts a little.
Two key points at the outset:
- I had already given up on MiB and Jacob being from the future, but the broad strokes cut by this episode have even wider implications for what’s been happening on the island during its long history.- What I think I got right was the following: 1. The Man in Black isn’t “evil,” at least not in the way most people think of the concept. He's a damaged soul who's lived a life of psychological abuse and frustration. 2. The Man in Black is “special.”
In part of last week’s blog that I decided to edit out after commenters suggested it might run afoul of the spoilers policy, I said: “I think a lot of our big questions will be answered in the next episode. What it looks like now is that perhaps MiB and Jacob were not the first people on this island . . . The possibility raises an ancillary question: Were Jacob and the Man in Black even the first "players" of this "game?" Were these ancients the equivalent of the "Others" for Jacob and the Man in Black (i.e. mysterious people who, to their surprise, were already on the island when they got there)?”
It turns out that Jacob wasn’t the first link in the chain. Allison Janney’s (AJ) character predated him, but she probably wasn’t the first protector of the island, either. There were “Others” on the island, but they were Jacob and MiB’s “people.”
The caretakers of the island are protecting a light. We may find out definitively what this light is in the finale, or we may not. If we don’t, I think it’s safe to classify it as the “strange energy” that Dr. Pierre Chang referenced long ago. There’s no real explanation for it (nor does there need to be), only that it creates all the odd properties the island has.The scene in which the young MiB is staring out at the sea with a dead sea turtle on the beach was reminiscent of Walt’s scene in “Special” in which he’s reading about birds and suddenly one such creature flies into the window. The idea of "conjuring" comes into play. Earlier, MiB found a game on the beach that washed up on shore (although his mother later took credit for placing it there in an effort to maintain the facade that “the island is all there is”). The MiB somehow had innate knowledge of how the game is played. He’s able to see his dead mother, in the same way that Hurley can see the deceased. Finally, he’s somehow able to intuit a method for escaping the island using the time wheel and a system that channels water and light.
This is important. As I’ve said in the past, the Man in Black has “special” abilities that predate his condition as the smoke monster. His adopted mother seemed to know this very early on. I think there’s a strong implication that the reason she initially preferred the MiB as a possible successor was his potential to use his abilities as a way to protect the island’s power. She is quite obviously piling lie upon lie for much of the episode, and she recognizes MiB’s penchant for deception. This also helps to answer my previously-posed question about how MiB knows how to create a C-4 bomb using wires, duct tape, and a digital wristwatch. MiB embraces technology, while Jacob loyally follows the old ways taught to him by AJ. Note that MiB wears shoes, whereas Jacob does not.A quick sidenote: She says that Jacob is incapable of lying, but, of course, we find out later that he can be deceptive as well. Just as the MiB had centuries to learn how to master his smoke monster and psychic abilities, Jacob had centuries to learn how to manipulate and deceive people in service to protecting the island. So, he isn't exactly forthcoming about why Jack's trip to the lighthouse is so important when he tells Hurley what to do.
Despite the fact that MiB sees through AJ’s lies, and Jacob is the one who remains loyal to AJ, it’s the Man in Black who winds up agreeing with his adoptive mother’s assessment of man’s character, while Jacob (naively?) believes humans “don’t seem so bad.” That leads to this ironic exchange:
“They’re greedy, manipulative, untrustworthy, and selfish.”
“Then why are you with them?”
“They’re a means to an end.”
I think that MiB’s feelings about the “very smart” men among his group seem to suggest that perhaps he was agreeable to a group like the Dharma Initiative coming to the island, since they would facilitate possible methods of escape. Of course, much happened between the events of this episode and the 1970's, but more on that in a moment.The last third of the episode is the meatiest part of the show. Once AJ realizes that MiB has not only figured out a way off the island, but also told “his people” about the Source, she decides to act. She knocks him unconscious, somehow kills everyone in the village, burns the village to the ground, and fills in the well, presumably setting back his work by years. The overhead shot of the filled-in well was strongly reminiscent of the imploded hatch, begging the question of whether AJ triggered an electromagnetic event, rather than filling in the dirt by hand (which would theoretically take days).
AJ then returns to Jacob and explains his mission in more detail. Notably, she tells him that the light cave contains “Life. Death. Rebirth. It’s the source . . . the heart of the island.” She then makes him promise that he won’t go to the light, and tells him that the fate that would await him would be worse than death.She then anoints him her successor, and gives him some of the mysterious wine. In my blog on “Ab Aeterno,” I suggested that "The touching of Richard was symbolic, but perhaps actual immortality was granted by the properties of the island (or conveyed via the 'wine' Jacob gave him?" This scene seemed to reinforce that theory. After Jacob drinks, she says, “Now, you and I are the same.”
AJ’s lines about “It has to be you” and “It was always supposed to be you” mirror Sayid’s line that “. . . because it’s going to be YOU” to Jack in “The Candidate.”
When MiB kills his mother (a decision about which he was obviously conflicted), she thanks him, presumably because she has grown “tired” of watching over the Source without aging for many, many years. Jacob discovers this, then reacts harshly, throwing MiB into the light cave after telling him that it wouldn’t kill him. Quickly, the smoke monster emerges. Upon first viewing this episode, I thought the light actually went out completely. A second viewing showed that the light did dim a bit as the monster emerged, but that the light was not extinguished.Jacob finds his brother’s body, which seems to have been inexplicably transported to a tree in a manner reminiscent of others who have experienced electromagnetic events (Kate after Jughead, Desmond after the Swan fail-safe, and Jack after the original EM event that brought 815 down, to name a few). We then get the reveal about Adam & Eve.
I’ll analyze this show on two levels. First, from the perspective of a TV critic or fan:
I think the show was quite interesting, but I take issue with a couple of points. First, the revelation that MiB simply has no name seems like a bit of a cheap way out. I suppose the writers felt like they had to come up with a name that had significance, but eventually decided that any name they gave him that fans already knew (“Aaron,” for example) would compromise the story they wanted to tell.
The problem I have with this outcome is that I find it implausible. At some point, and especially if one has a twin brother who has a name, this person is going to start calling himself something - for the sake of convenience if nothing else. This is especially true if this person goes to live in a village with other people for a period of decades.The bigger picture issue is one that’s pervasive in “Lost.” Namely, just when you think you’re getting close to the end zone, Lost moves the goal line back.
I don’t have a problem with the creators revealing that there’s yet another layer of history / leadership on this island, but I might question the wisdom of doing so with two episodes left. Put another way, we already know there are a host of questions that will never be answered. Why add to that list in such a profound way so late in the game? It seems like more trouble than it’s worth.
I thought the episode also felt a bit rushed. The standalone episodes are difficult, because the idea is that this will be a 100% complete story told in the span of 42 minutes or so, rather than a snapshot flashback that can be revisited later. Certain scenes seemed a bit hasty, most notably MiB’s transformation into the smoke monster.
Overall, I still liked the episode, as I have the season as a whole. However, I anticipate that this week’s show will be yet another irritation for those who have been dissatisfied with Season Six. For me, I'm still content for now.
Now, to the mythology and speculation:
The Jacob we see in this episode is a bit of a rube. Even after much of the truth of what’s happening is revealed, Jacob is a sucker who follows his mother blindly, albeit not unquestioningly. It’s apparent that he spent the next 2,000 years discovering what new abilities he had, thanks to the island or to AJ.
That leads to the question of rules. “Across the Sea” seems to hint that at least some of the rules being followed by Jacob and the Man in Black are merely in place because AJ said they were so, and the twins believed her. That is, they are not literally true. For example, the duo is led to believe as children that they “can’t hurt each other.” Yet, Jacob pummels MiB on two occasions, and later throws him down the stream to the light.Contrast that with the rules in place in the 2007 OT. These rules seem to affect events concretely. For instance, when Jacob designates someone as important, they can’t kill themselves. Jack lights the dynamite fuse, but nothing happens. This comes after Richard (who was also “touched” by Jacob) admits that he can’t kill himself. This is one of many ambiguities: Is there a mechanism by which the protector of the island can create rules that have physical force? Or is this merely a convention to which Jacob and MiB agree, but doesn’t, in fact, exist? The first possibility seems more likely to me, if for no other reason than the second explanation would require many miraculous coincidences within the Lost universe (i.e. repeated suicide attempts thwarted by flukes).
In contrast to Jacob, MiB seems unchanged in many ways from 2,000 years ago. He is purposeful, deceptive, and skeptical of man’s ability to be “good.” While MiB identifies his adopted mother as crazy, it’s noteworthy that MiB adopts certain aspects of her worldview. Jacob may be more naive, but MiB, not Jacob, nonetheless embraces AJ’s dim view of mankind.
A major gap in time occurs between the end of this episode and the events of “Ab Aeterno.” Some version of the following must have transpired between then and 1867:
- Jacob becomes familiar with his new powers as protector of the island.
- At some point, Jacob does learn how to be deceptive, as he’s been manipulating people on and off the island for some time now.
- MiB likewise learns how to control his smoke form and take other forms.
- MiB reappears in human form to his brother, undoubtedly sparking a conversation about the dynamics of their relationship and MiB’s continued interest in leaving the island.
- Other waves of people come to the island, brought by Jacob for observation and in order to prove MiB wrong about the inherent evil of humanity. MiB kills many of these people, and uses others for his own purposes. The frozen wheel gets built at some point, but, perhaps due to the smoke form in which MiB now finds himself, he’s unable to use it to leave the island, even though it works as he foresaw.
- The temple is built, as are the tunnels and the statue, and Jacob takes up residence in the latter.
- As the line, “One day, you can make up your own game, and everyone else will have to follow your rules,” indicates, Jacob must have renewed his relationship with MiB by setting up their interaction as a form of game, reminiscent of the game they once played when both were mortal men. Building upon the “We can’t kill each other” rule established by AJ, he added other rules, which may account for (1) why MiB can’t kill Jacob’s candidates, (2) why MiB can’t cross ash, (3) why MiB can’t change forms once Jacob is dead, and (4) why MiB can’t leave the island until Jacob and all candidates are killed, among other things. On the other hand, the smoke monster's susceptibility to dynamite or to sonar fencing seem more like physical, scientific phenomena rather than mere rules that exist because Jacob dictated them.
- At some point the lighthouse is built to facilitate Jacob's efforts to find a replacement.
- MiB agrees to these terms for one simple reason: Jacob gives him his word that, should MiB win the game, MiB is allowed to leave.
Case for #1 (MiB is dead, smoke monster just assumes his form): Jacob mourns the loss of his brother as if he’s dead when he finds MiB’s body. This also explains why Lindelof and Cuse seem to be insisting the smoke monster is pure evil, even when an episode like this makes MiB seem much more sympathetic. The smoke monster is referred to as a “security system,” so perhaps this system has been around as long as the island has. Indeed, I think the strongest evidence for this view is that it would provide one possible explanation of how AJ was able to wipe out a small village by herself. Also, dead is dead.
But there’s a larger question raised by this episode: Is the smoke monster an entity that existed prior to MiB, and merely takes his form after he’s dead, as it did with Christian, Yemi, Locke, etc? Or did MiB become the smoke monster, and it truly is MiB?
Case for #2: MiB has made reference to Jacob “taking his body” and made other statements that indicate that, unlike Locke (about whom he speaks in the third person), Titus Welliver’s character and the pillar of smoke are one in the same. Jacob reacts so strongly to finding his brother’s body because he doesn’t yet know what the smoke monster is. In fact, despite having been on the island for 40+ years, he reacts to the appearance of the monster as if this is a new phenomenon he's never seen before. The monster retains the “special” qualities of MiB, but, other than a reference to “say hello to my son” as Christian and a line about “don’t tell me what I can’t do” as Locke, the monster doesn’t seem to “absorb” anyone else’s personality. It just mimics their appearance. On the other hand, MiB’s driving ambition to travel across the sea to his true home is pervasive. If the smoke monster were a sponge that soaks up and takes on the personalities of those it mimics, one would think the real Locke’s desire to stay on the island would have offset MiB’s ambition to leave to some degree. Furthermore, although AJ was lying much of the time, she seemed adamant that going down into the tunnel would be a fate worse than death, but not death, and she revealed this information during the “time to come clean” portion of the show.
We can’t be absolutely certain which is the case at this point. There just isn’t a definitive answer yet, like a great many things on Lost. However, I’m in the “Man in Black becomes the monster” camp. I think it’s a physical manifestation of his mind that leaves his body behind. Just like Desmond’s psyche separated from his 2004 body after the hatch implosion, I think coming into contact with the Source fully removed the Man in Black’s special mind from its body, and perhaps augmented it.
As a plot device, the revelation of the Source provides another important aspect to the show. Namely, it is now possible for the Man in Black to be decisively defeated / neutralized / killed / redeemed in the finale without eliminating a reason for the island to be protected. Previously, there was an inference that Jacob’s purpose was to keep the MiB on the island. Now, it seems there’s a dual purpose: The MiB must not leave, and the Source must be protected.
So, this is where I think we’re headed. The next episode will advance the FST and OT along, possibly to the point of merger. We'll get some sorrow from the survivors over the three deaths in "The Candidate." I’m not sure if we’ll get a backstory or not next time (probably not), but I still think there’s more to be said about Eloise and Widmore.I think the finale will definitely feature a trip to the Source. We also need clarification on whether the mysterious boy we’re seeing is young Jacob somehow come back to life, a ghost of Jacob, or some other apparition. I’ll leave out any specifics of my theory on that for now, because I suspect we’ll get a lot more on that subject next week. As I’ve said, Jack is pretty obviously Jacob’s replacement (if he has one). And I think Desmond’s uniqueness will allow him to interact with the Source in ways others can’t without being harmed.
As for my original theory, I'm not the sort of Lost fan who stubbornly clings to his own big picture idea, even in the face of evidence to the contrary. I'm just along for the ride now, wherever this story takes me. That said, if I were to try to contrive some far-fetched way that my original idea could still be in play, it would be to say that whoever was the original caretaker of the island was, in fact, from the future, and this person (Desmond?) passed down the importance of protecting the island. Like I said: Far-fetched, and really not worth delving into anymore as of now.
One thing I think we should keep in mind going into the finale: We all know that there will be answers left open. If you’re expecting to get resolution on even all of the big questions, you’ll almost certainly be disappointed. Next time, I’ll make a list of stuff that must be answered in order for the finale to be a success in my view.
The important thing to note is that this will be a short list.
Until then, thanks for reading.
Montecore's Revenge 05:08, May 14, 2010 (UTC)