Friday, April 25, 2008

Thoughts on the Shape of Things to Come...

Well, now we know why Lost was moved back to 10pm. All things being equal, I prefer an earlier time slot. But if it means more episodes as intense as the Shape of Things to Come, I won't have any complaints. I can't ever recall seeing a parent watch his child get shot execution style on prime time network television. That scene was so brutally effective in large part because it's rare for Ben to be as surprised by events as we are. Whatever flashes he may have of the future, he clearly didn't see his daughter dying.

I was also moved by the tragic irony of Ben's insistence that Alex was merely "a pawn" and that "she means nothing to me," when the opposite was painfully obvious from his stunned reaction to her murder. Can you imagine having a loved one die with those words ringing in her ears? Let's hope Ben shares Miles's ability to see dead people and was able to correct the record before saying goodbye. I also wonder if he offered her body to Cerberus for later use.

Speaking of irony, I loved the image of Dr. Jack writing himself a prescription, even if only for antibiotics. The writers have always been adept at utilizing irony, but the flash forwards create so many fresh possibilities for dual meaning. Another intriguing example of irony was Hurley's comment that Australia is the "key to the whole game" in Risk. Obviously, the Island is of great strategic importance in the battle between Ben and Charles.

Australia is also central to the familial relationship between Jack and Claire, which brings me to a prediction of how the two will learn they are related. Jack will become sick and delirious just as he did in White Rabbit. Christian will appear once again, leading the two siblings to Jacob's cabin. As the rain pours down outside, Jack will kneel before zombie Christian in a scene that simultaneously references Tarkovsky's original film version of Solaris and Rembrandt's painting Return of the Prodigal Son. Dad...?

Here are some other thoughts and questions I had about the Shape of Things to Come:

* Ben wakes up in the African desert, presumably in the same general area as that Dharma polar bear skeleton that Charlotte examined in Confirmed Dead.

* Ben's parka sports a new Dharma symbol and the name Halliwax. As you may know, the latter was Dr. Candle/Wickmund's latest alias in the Orchid Orientation film, which is available on-line but hasn't yet appeared on the show. I suspect that's about to change, so I'll hold off commenting at length until we actually see the Orchid Station. Suffice it to say that Ben is almost certainly lying about escaping the Island via boat and plane, and he had very good reasons for double-checking the date. Here's the new Dharma symbol, courtesy of lostpedia:

* Was that Ben's flashback or flashforward? I clearly heard a "whoosh" right after Ben convinces Sayid that Widmore's men killed Nadia, which usually signals a flashback. My instinct, however, is that it was a flashforward with one important twist. From Ben's perspective, the flashforward takes place only days or weeks after the murder of his daughter, which is why his anger remains so fresh. In the very near future, Ben will escape the Island conflict by jumping forward in spacetime. I'm guessing he gets that nasty gash on his arm from one of Widmore's men.

* A poster named DJ has an alternate explanation for Ben's wound, speculating that it may relate to Dr. Candle's prosthetic arm and be a byproduct of Ben's jump through time and space. I'm intrigued by DJ's suggestion, which strikes me as highly plausible. Here again, however, the argument makes a lot more sense once you've seen the Orchid Orientation, so I'll reserve further comment until then.

* Ben claimed that it was "very important" that John "survive what's about to happen here." When queried on this point later by Locke, Ben explains that "we have to go to him together," presumably referring to Jacob. I think that's because Ben is desperate to get back in Jacob's good graces and saving Locke is the only way he knows how.

* Faraday mentions that "time is kind of a relative term" on the Island, which explains the paradox of the doctor being alive on the boat but dead on the Island. The question is, could someone exploit this paradox to save the doctor's life, or would the universe course correct to prevent such efforts? I've long believed that Oceanic 815 was supposed to crash in the ocean with no survivors. Jacob somehow exploited the time discrepancy between the Island and the rest of the world to change their fate.

* On a related note, I was struck by apparent invincibility of Sawyer and Claire. Keamy's men were brutally efficient at picking off Karl, Rousseau, and various redshirts at the Barracks. Yet Sawyer dodged whole clips of ammunition with little more than a picnic table and fence posts for protection, and Claire survived a direct hit to her house from a rocket propelled grenade. Their miraculous survival, in marked contrast with the redshirts, makes me think the two still have work to do for Jacob.

* I'm not at all sure Widmore's man killed Nadia. It's entirely possible Bakir was simply shadowing Sayid and left the scene of Nadia's muder in a hurry so as not to be implicated. I could easily see Ben exploiting the situation to manipulate Sayid by casting false doubt on Bakir.

* Keamy has precisely the sort of history of military and mercenary background that I imagine Kelvin had, as well. I could see the latter being recruited by Widmore, too, as I decribe in I Am Not Alone...

* Ben's panic room cracks me up -- the only thing missing was a little window slit for him to peep at Sawyer briefly before disappearing. I was tickled to learn that the secret room had still another secret room off of it. My guess is that the stone passage leads to some tunnel network utilized by Cerberus, which is why Ben was covered in ash when he returned.

* How creepy was that smile Ben gave after Sayid joined his war against Widmore? I kept thinking of the evil Emperor trying to seduce Luke Skywalker. To complete the metaphor, the blackjack Ben keeps handy at all times is basically his lightsaber.

* The Cerberus system reminded me more than ever of a raging thundercloud, complete with flashes of lightning. Smokey may primarily be an electromagnetic phenomenon, but it clearly operates as cloud capacitor, just like thunderclouds. It grabs people -- no joke -- using static cling.

* Ben originally claimed not to know what Cerberus was. When confronted with this obvious lie, Ben countered that Locke could "ask Jacob all about it when we go to the cabin." I take that to mean the Island's ghostly patriarch can communicate with, and perhaps even control, Cerberus to a limited degree. You can read more on my take on Smokey's origins and its relationship with Jacob in the Lost Bible...

* Ben's late night confrontation with Widmore reminded me of a scene from Alan Moore's graphic novel V for Vendetta where the title character creeps into the bedroom of one of the scientists who created him. Charles mentioned that he knew "what" Ben was. Is it possible the latter was a product of the Dharma Intiative in more ways than one? Perhaps Dharma and Widmore were betrayed by the same psychic test subject they originally sought to create.

* Charles claimed that Ben was the one responsible for Alex's death, and insisted that everything Ben has he stole from Widmore. I believe that Widmore was originally an investor in the Dharma Intitiative. As described in the Cancer Man's Con, Ben crossed Widmore twice, first by handing Dharma over to the hostiles, then again by falsely promising to deliver him the Island. Charles is saying Ben brought this on himself through all the cons and betrayals.

* Ben argued that Charles had "changed the rules" by targeting his daughter. Ben also stated that he couldn't kill Widmore, implying this was similarly against the rules. I believe the two are part of a larger fight for control of the future. The rule against killing one another prevents any fuzziness in the timeline that might result from major players dying. The rule against killing offspring prevents combatants from committing particularly heinous acts that might tempt one major player to kill another.

* So who enforces the rules of engagement? Up to a point, the players do themselves, since Widmore and Ben were apparently able to revoke the rule against targeting family by mutual consent. I suspect, however, that the real referees are Chronology Protection Agents like Ms. Hawking and Brother Campbell.

* When Ben threatened Penny, Charles seemed confident that Ben would never find her. Was he bluffing? Perhaps. I wonder, however, if Penny is actually on the Island with Desmond. One of my whackadoo speculations is that Penny will arrive on the Island before the end of Season 4, thereby fulfilling Desmond's vision. So what if she and Desmond stay behind on the Island? Maybe Widmore knows that Ben will have as much trouble as he does getting back. This will set the stage for some collaboration between Ben and other members of the O6.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Lost Bible...

The list of biblical connections on Lost grows longer by the season, and I recently realized why these references are so central to the show. I believe the Island's history parallels the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. Not in the literal sense that this is actually the Garden of Eden, or that Aaron is really the Messiah. The links I have in mind are metaphorical, the way events in James Joyce's Ulysses implicitly and explicitly track those of Homer's Odyssey. Before exploring these biblical parallels further, however, let me briefly clarify my conception of the Island's prehistory.

Prehistory: Birth of a Deity

Some say the four-toed colossus symbolizes the next step in evolution. Others believe the missing toe refers to the Fourtoes' mastery of the physical forces via a hypothetical Theory of Everything ("TOE"). I see the implication to be that the Island was once home to an ancient civilization with advanced technology limited only by the laws of physics. These ancients built the Cerberus security system and augmented the Island's potential as a natural source of Casimir energy. They were wiped out when the Island's Vesuvius unexpectedly erupted, burying their civilization under ash and lava.

Fast forward to the shipwreck of the Black Rock. The sole survivor was a young psychic named Jacob whose abilities were enhanced by exposure to the Island. Jacob used his powers to tame Cerberus, which he adopted as his pet the way Walt did Vincent. When he died, Jacob discovered that death had no dominion on the Island. Even after his body withered away, his electromagnetic soul persisted, imprinting itself there like the Earth's magnetic field leaves its mark on cooling volcanic rock. When characters attribute agency to the Island, they generally mean the ghost of Jacob.

As a ghost, Jacob lost the ability to interact directly with the physical world. But he could still talk with the animals and control Cerberus to effectuate his will in limited ways. More importantly, freed from the limits of corporeal form, Jacob effortlessly transcended time and space to see future. The Island's energy field became an extension of his mind, allowing him to perform miracles like curing cancer and paralysis. Jacob began to think of himself a kind of god, but for all this power, he felt incomplete. Like an Old Testament deity, Jacob longed for worshipers to make him burnt offerings...

Old Testament: Adam and Eve
Like the Book of Genesis, the Island's history begins with Jacob's efforts at creation. He had long known how to reshape individual destinies to bring people to the Island. The problem was that the universe inevitably course corrected, killing them on arrival. The solution to this dilemma came when Jacob realized he could use Cerberus to reanimate the dead. In the 1950s or '60s, a promising young couple caught Jacob's eye of the Island. After they died there in some kind of plane crash or shipwreck, he resurrected them to be his Adam and Eve.

So who were they? My best guess remains Gerald and Karen DeGroot, though I'm pretty sure the writers have expressly rejected this scenario. The two could also be Horace and Olivia Godspeed, though we saw Horace die in the Barracks during the Purge. It's also possible Adam and Eve weren't scientists at all. One popular speculation is that they're Amelia Earhart and Fred Noonan, though I think the writers have ruled this out, as well. Whatever their identities, Adam and Eve soon adjusted to their miraculous new existence, forgetting their former selves.

Life in the Garden of Eden was initially groovy. Adam and Eve had few material needs, and the caves offered them ample shelter and water. Every Eden needs a snake, however, and our metaphorical serpent appeared shortly after the Cuban missile crisis in the form of Alvar Hanso. He marveled at the Island's miraculous properties and dreamed of exploiting them to embiggen us all. Hanso seduced Adam and Eve with promises that together they could save the world. Whether as scientists or test subjects, the couple played a critical role in the genesis of the Dharma Initiative.

Dharma began working with Hanso to engineer a new Messiah -- what I call the Dr. Manhattan Project. Jacob initially approved of these efforts, knowing that Dharma's psychic savior would share a strong connection with the Island. This Messiah would then operate as an extension of Jacob's disembodied mind, like the animals and Cerberus, translating his will into action. More broadly, the prospect of playing spiritual alchemist to all humanity appealed greatly to Jacob. He planned to build a metaphorical Temple of Solomon on the Island using the Messiah as his prophet.

Then came the Fall. Jacob learned about Hanso's silent partners, Widmore and Paik, whose relationship with Alvar dated back to his days as an arms dealer. They had agreed to help fund Dharma but planned secretly to co-opt the Messiah for their own selfish ends. Stations like the Tempest, which is basically a nerve-gas production facility, are a legacy of this secret military-industrial aspect of Dharma. Jacob realized that Widmore and Paik intended to use the Island to enrich themselves and preserve the corrupt status quo, rather than reforming it.

Angered by this perversion of his dream, Jacob set about banishing Dharma from Eden. He resurrected a small army led by Richard Alpert, who was originally a crew member on the Black Rock, maybe even its first mate. Jacob used this army, along with the animals and Cerberus, to attack Dharma. But the designers of the Initiative had built its facilities to be secure. The Barracks were protected by a sonic fence, and most of the stations were located underground in concrete bunkers. Driving the scientists forth from the Island proved more difficult than Jacob expected.

The tide turned with Richard's discovery of Ben, who shares Miles's ability to see dead people. For the first time since dying, Jacob could speak directly with a living person. He manipulated Ben, playing on the boy's desire to be special, a trait Ben shares with Locke. Ben helped perpetrate the Purge and assumed leadership of Jacob's people. At some point, however, Ben began questioning Jacob's orders, leading the Others astray. This parallels Malachi, the last book of the Old Testament, which warns that those who question God's love for them will face the Messiah's wrath.

New Testament: The Christian Resurrection
The Island's New Testament, which we're now seeing depicted on the show, commences with the Christian resurrection. If you haven't already, check out the Missing Pieces mobisode titled So It Begins. The action apparently takes place just before the opening shot of the series (i.e., Jack opening his eye in the jungle) and unfolds from the perspective of Vincent the dog. Before saying more, let me again urge those unfamiliar to watch the mobisode or to at least read the transcript. I promise you won't be sorry -- it's short and a total shocker.

Jacob resurrected Christian Shepard using Cerberus, just like Adam and Eve. The "work" that zombie Christian mentions is Jacob's messianic agenda. Jack was chosen for his skills as a doctor to help Claire give birth safely on the Island. Other survivors have work to do, too, most notably John Locke, whose job is to herald Aaron's arrival as the Island's Messiah. The New Testament parallel is to John the Baptist who recognized Jesus as the son of God. Emily Locke's lie about John being immaculately conceived is an ironic twist on John the Baptist's immaculate conception in the Bible.

Locke's lead role was originally meant for Ben (with Dr. Juliet as his co-star) but Ben's betrayal forced Jacob to recast. The reasons for Ben's rebellion are complex. Through their close relationship, he is privy to certain dark truths about Jacob not known by the Others. Ben knows, for example, that Jacob is the real man behind the curtain, manipulating the Island's powers to play Oz. Ben is so adept at the con precisely because he learned from a pro. One sign of this demystification is the disrespectful tone he takes with Jacob. It reminds me of Miles's frank talk to the poltergeist.

But that's not the only reason for Ben's betrayal -- he's also stalling for time. Jacob believes that the corrupt order maintained by military industrialists like Widmore and Paik is too firmly entrenched for reform. Jacob's plan is to sequester his Messiah along with a group of "good people" on the Island where they will await humanity's grim fate in safety. When the rest of civilization has collapsed, they will go forth and create a new and better world order. The Others are building that runway on Hydra island to accommodate the arrival of people on Jacob's List in anticipation of the end of the world.

The obvious biblical parallel is to Revelation, the last book of the New Testament, which prophecies the terrible rise of the Anti-Christ and his subsequent defeat by the returning Messiah. Jacob's List is most likely a nod to the 144000 descendants of Jacob who will be saved by God at the end of the world. The seven Numbers -- 4, 8, 15, 16, 23, 42, and their sum, 108 -- are another reference to Revelation, which is divided into seven parts with the number seven recurring frequently throughout the text. In that spirit, here are seven more connections between the Book of Revelation and Lost:

* Door in the Sky: Many, myself included, believe that Oceanic 815 passed through a wormhole in the sky before crashing on the Island. According to Revelation, the end of the world begins with "a door...opened in the sky."

* Alpha and Omega: The black and white stones Jack found in Adam and Eve's cave are a reference to Urim and Thummim, stones used by the ancient Israelites for divination. Adam and Eve probably used the stones to divine ghostly Jacob's wishes. But there's an interesting and important link to Revelation, as well. Urim and Thummim begin with the letters Aleph and Tau, which are the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet. This echoes one of the most famous lines in Revelation, where God declares that he is "the Alpha and the Omega," the first and last letters of the Greek alphabet.

* Number of the Beast: Claire learns she is pregnant with Aaron "six...sixty six" seconds after taking the home pregnancy test. Revelation describes how a false Messiah -- the anti-Christ -- will appear bearing the mark 666. Thomas Plantard de Saint Claire is the current Grand Master of the Priory of Sion, which readers of the DaVinci Code will recall is devoted to protecting the blood line of Jesus. For a variety of esoteric reasons, Thomas Saint Claire is often cited as a likely candidate for the false prophet predicted by by Revelation. It's interesting, therefore, that Aaron's parents were Thomas and Claire.

* REV 4.3.02: This notation on the Blast Door Map almost certainly refers to a revision made on April 3, 2002 by the artist. It turns out, however, that the Book of Revelation, chapter 4, verse 3, line 2, is a passage of great significance to new age Gnostics, whose views combine Christianity and the various Dharmic faiths. These new age Gnostics believe that Revelation describes a spiritual evolution that will allow humanity to transcend the material limits of creation. They interpret the cited line as a reference to the "Lost Sun," a supramental consciousness that will guide this evolution.

* The Four Horsemen: Among the most infamous images of Revelation are the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, who represent War, Famine, Pestilence, and Death. Their appearance is typically interpreted as a prediction that the end of the world will be accompanied by world wars, disease, mass starvation, and other horrible means of death. This closely parallels Alvar Hanso's warning in the Sri Lanka film that humanity will soon extinguish itself by "nuclear fire, chemical and biological warfare, conventional warfare, pandemic, [or] over-population..."

* Abaddon: The introduction of a character named Matthew Abaddon is an explicit reference to Revelation 9:11, which identifies the King of the Locusts as "the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon."

* Raising the Dead: Ever wonder why Damon and Carlton keep joking about a Zombie Season? (Brains!) Revelation contains multiple references to raising the dead. One of the last events described is the resurrection of good and evil alike on judgment day. That actually brings me to my prediction for the final scene of Lost. I believe the Oceanic 6 will make it back to the Island and be greeted by everyone who has ever died on the show. Someone in the O6 (Jack?) will ask if they're alive or dead. One of their greeters (Jin?) will answer "we don't have to think like that anymore..."