Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Thoughts on Across the Sea...

BIGMOUTH: I previously analogized my attitudes toward Season 6 to the five stages of grief.  But an even better metaphor would be Jack Shephard's transformation from a man of science into one of faith where the Island is concerned.  After smashing the Mirror in recent posts, I spent a while looking out at the ocean, and am now finally ready to let the fuse on the dynamite burn.  The Jack metaphor is fitting because I think whether you loved or hated "Across the Sea" has a lot to do with whether you identify with his conversion.  Indeed, there are two equally valid ways of viewing this episode, depending on whether you watch it from the perspective of science or faith.

The man of science is cynical about the seemingly simplistic mythological revelations therein.  Like the Man in Black, who was himself a scientist, he's convinced that Mother was crazy and the Island is just a big magnetic rock.   The man of faith, by contrast, sees the simplicity of these answers as a virtue.  Like Jacob, who trusted Mother even after her lies were revealed, he believes that the Island's mysterious power can't be reduced to purely physical terms.  As I say, both interpretations are valid.  This duality, which I believe was fully intended, is part of what makes the episode so brilliant.  Hats off to writers Damon and Carlton, whose effort earns a 9/10 on the Sickness Scale.

In terms of the little things, I loved how Claudia and Mother started out the episode conversing in Latin.  The shift to English was also timed perfectly.  Props to Wayne Allen Sallee for touting the the Island's Rome-Carthage-Tunisia axis.  Props as well to Dr. Todd Hostager who predicted a connection to Romulus and Remus, the twin brothers who founded Rome.  Like their Vestal Virgin mother, the woman who bore Jacob and the Man in Black was named Claudia.  I even enjoyed the revelation of Adam and Eve's identity.  It didn't pay off Damon's promise that the reveal would confirm they had this planned all along, but it still worked well as retroactive continuity.

My main complaint was the occasionally stilted dialogue, which I forgave because the episode was obviously allegory.  Specifically, the story of Mother and the Man in Black was a metaphor for the Gnostic myth of Sophia and Demiurge.  In Gnostic mythos, God is living energy -- pure spiritual light -- a tiny spark of which burns inside each of us.  Occasionally, this divine light produces avatars of human form, one of whom was Jesus.  Another was Sophia, an expression of the divine feminine.  Sophia became estranged from God and tried to cure her loneliness by creating a son.  But something went terribly wrong, and she gave birth to Demiurge, a being of pure evil with many names, including Satan and Samuel.

Neither Mother nor the Man in Black was ever named.  But you can bet if they had been, those names would be Sophia and Samuel.  Indeed, the original casting call for "The Incident" referred to the Man in Black expressly as Samuel.  And Jacob all but called him Satan in "Ab Aeterno" by describing him as the personification of malevolence, evil, and darkness.  Beyond that, Mother's description of the "warmest, brightest light you've ever seen or felt" a little bit of which "is inside every man," clearly evokes the Gnostic notion of the divine spark of living energy inside all human beings.  With these strong mythological parallels in mind, let's examine the episode, starting with the following picture:

My friend MB complained that the show did a poor job of casting Claudia.  And looking at that picture, it does seem that her boys, with their blue eyes and light complexion, more closely resemble Mother.  But what if that's precisely the point?  What if Jacob and the Man in Black were actually children of the Island?  Back in Season 1, Walt was reading a textbook about bronze cuckoos, which lay their eggs in other birds' nests.  I believe this is a metaphor for how Candidates are created.  The Island impregnates human vessels like Susan and Claudia, then calls them home from across the sea.  As an avatar of the Island, Mother was the boys' true mother.

I suspect she orchestrated Claudia's pregnancy and shipwreck on the Island.  But things went terribly wrong with Mother's plan, starting with the birth of twins, when she was expecting only a single child. In her surprise, Mother panicked and killed Claudia, which wasn't supposed to happen either.  These dual Black Swan events set history on a drastically different course than Mother intended. The birth of two children, both of whom would grow up to become avatars, separated the Island's two sides, faith and science, into Jacob and the Man in Black.  Claudia's murder, moreover, set these two avatars on a path toward perpetual antagonism, which wasn't at all what Mother wanted.

I've long maintained that the division of the Island into opposing avatars is the key to understanding the meta-conflict of the show.  "Across the Sea" confirmed this through Mother, who was apparently the Island's only executive during her tenure.  This gave her sole control over its magic, including the Smoke Monster, which she unleashed upon the Roman castaways and used to fill the well.  Some say Mother actually was Smokey based on the way the Man in Black killed her before she spoke.  I note, however, that the Man in Black gave Richard the whole "stab him before he speaks" spiel before sending him to kill Jacob, suggesting all Island avatars share this vulnerability.

Mother's unitary control over the Island also let her set the Rules for Jacob and the Man in Black.  These Rules were supposed to govern the competition between them to determine who would succeed her as Island avatar.  Here again, however, we see the limits of Mother's foresight because it apparently never occurred to her that both might someday control the Island.  Mother clearly believed the winner would be the Man in Black whose strong connection to the Island was evident from an early age.  A great example was his instinctive knowledge of the ancient Egyptian game Set Senet, which suggested he was the reincarnation of some past Island avatar.  No wonder she judged him "special" like her.

As with Sophia, the result of Mother's miscalculations was the creation of a monster.  By merging with Smokey, the Man in Black became a blind god like Demiurge.  Jacob understands the Island's cosmic significance because he drank the "new wine" of Gnosis.  But the Man in Black's materialism prevents him from seeing this spiritual dimension.  His 30-year quest to return to the Cave of Light is a metaphor for his inability to transcend this material perspective.  The Island wasn't designed to be a prison -- Smokey was originally a security system for the Temple -- but that's what it's become by necessity.  The Man in Black wants to return home, even if that requires his destroying the Light.

That brings me to one last whackadoo speculation for your consideration.  In prior posts, I've speculated that Aaron and Ji-Yeon are destined to replace Jacob and the Man in Black.  That possibility is still in play, but recent episodes seem to be pointing us in another direction.  Particularly after "Across the Sea," I wonder if resolution of the Island's meta-conflict will involve consolidation of power once again in a single authority-figure who unifies science and faith into one enlightened perspective.  Someone like Jack Shephard, a committed man of science whose reluctant embrace of faith has been a defining narrative of the show.  That's all from this end -- over to you, Wayne.

* * *

WAYNE: It's gotten to be a routine with me and my ubernet pals.  Most everyone I know is a nay-sayer, but accepts my word that Season 6 is not an abysmal flop, the way one acknowledges the neighborhood loon without actually conversing with him. These days, I'm down to repeating the same line, again and again: I wish you had believed me. That said, even without the oddities of the Mirror reality and the certainties of the Crash, there's a lot going on in this episode, which I give a 9/10 on the Sickness Scale (five for mythology and four for character development). Much love, in particular, for Titus Welliver, whose ability to casually seduce the audience as easily as S6 Terry O'Quinn is a true wonder.

Mother's Daze.
  A few episodes back, the Man in Black told Kate about his own mother being a little off in the head, and we now know that he wasn't simply rooting through John Locke's memories. But they do share the same past, both having raised by another Mothers, with Locke's mother's claim of immaculate conception a nice comparison to how one might consider the births of Jacob and the Man in Black. One could consider that, through Allison Janney's character, the twins were immaculately conceived by the Island.

The Island certainly wants pregnant women brought to this Island, as was the case with Rousseau and Claire. In fact, this episode's title hearkens back to "Whatever The Case May Be" (S1E12), where Shannon translates a portion of Danielle's notes as the lyrics for "La Mer," a French song written by Charles Trenet in 1939. The song, with new lyrics, was covered two decades later by Bobby Darin, as "Beyond The Sea." Here's a line from the French version: The sea, sheperdess of azure infinite. And all this time we've been given the impression that everything was about daddy issues. Another nice bait and switch by the producers.

Make Your Own Kind of Music. We learn that the Man in Black became the Man of Science, spending almost twenty-five years with "his people," those of the former Carthaginian empire. (I'm assuming that we'll not get an answer as to why Tunisia is the exit point for leaving the Island.) I can envision a seven-year-old Man in Black being taken under his wing by a young Roman leader, echoing Ben and Ethan's similar teaming in 1988.

The Man in Black couldn't find that golden cave again, the one that faux Mother had shown the twins years before.  But he didn't need Island faith, just good old fashioned science to find the light: if knives start moving in their holsters or sticking to things, start digging wells. Why bother finding the cave when you can make your own entry point, even creating the wheel to harness the water and light that could let him leave the Island? Was this last part guesswork on his part, or inherited wisdom because he was special, the one that Mother had seemed to want to be her replacement?

But the Man in Black got pissed when he found out Mom wasn't Mom (after seeing the ghost of Claudia, his real mother).  He ran off and returned years later to kill fake Mom.  This angered Jacob, who threw his brother head-first into the cave's waterfall, and the smoke monster belched out. Was this because the Man in Black was dead when he landed in Smokey's lair? Jacob found his brother's dead body soon after, but the smoke monster was free because he now had a human form, an empty soul.

The Source. At first blush, I thought of the Source Wall, another comic-book reference. Jack Kirby, who co-created Captain America in 1941, was off his chain in 1971, when he created The New Gods, along with a slew of other mind-bending concepts and characters. The Old Gods who had tried to harness the "Source" found themselves chained forever to the Source Wall, which separates each reality in the multiverse. (My main reason for thinking this was because I thought the cave might lead to mirror realities.) The main villain throughout the various books was Darkseid, who was constantly searching for the Anti-Life Equation. Think Alvar Hanso and Valenzetti.

But then I heard from my writer buddy Sid Williams, and I kicked myself for not thinking of the Mickey Spillane novel Kiss Me, Deadly. In the book, Mike Hammer and his assistant Velda are investigating a divorce case. They encounter a woman, supposedly escaped from a mental institution, and end up in hard-boiled intrigue. Crazy Christina's roommate, Lily Carver, has struck a deal with the evil Dr. Soberin to sell a valise filled with a warm, glowing substance. (Spillane's novels were driven by punches, not plot.) The radioactive isotopes in the satchel hit critical mass, the bad guys die, and Mike and Velda escape by running into the ocean. There are parallels to Lost and the Island's own magic box of electromagnetic energy, and what could happen if the wrong people get their hands on it.

Make Your Own Kind of Rules. When he was a kid, the Man in Black found a magic box of sorts on the beach, the Egyptian game of Senet. An early form of backgammon, it is played with black and white stones. Known as "the game of passing," a senet is also a talisman of protection in the afterlife. When Jacob complains about his brother's version of the game, the Man in Black tells Jacob that one day he can make up his own rules.

And Jacob did just that by making a list of candidates. At some point, the Man in Black must have understood the importance of the candidates and, as the smoke monster, killed them through lies. He used Montand's voice to trick the science team -- all likely candidates-- into entering the hole in the Temple wall. He appeared as Yemi to Eko, and as the Medusa spiders to Nikki (the latter's last name, Fernandez, is on the compass rose).  And he appeared as something "beautiful" to John Locke, the man of faith and ultimate sucker.

WHY THE MIRROR REALITY IS SO IMPORTANT. I'm using caps because I think this is it. Claudia had twins in the Crash reality.  And for the first time, an Island protector was forced to deal with evil incarnate. In 2007, Jack has shifted into Locke's role, having left science behind. This is apparent when, instead of methodically defusing the bomb on the sub, he wants everyone to simply trust that it will not explode. (I'm certain Jack would have reconsidered and ordered Sayid to place it as far away as possible if Sawyer had not yanked the wires off.)

In the Mirror reality, Jack is both man of science and man of faith. He is willing to try a new procedure on Locke, having the total belief that he can cure him of his paralysis. Locke will have none of this as he is happy to be trapped in his own magic box. The realities are merging, the Mirror reality is already experiencing the time dilations that Faraday explained in S4 when Regina sent the payload from the freighter to the Island. Mirror Desmond knew he had to get Locke and Jack together. Maybe the Mirror reality is at the bottom of the glowing waterfall, and Desmond is going to plug up the cave from both ends. I'll let others figure that one out. But things will be screwed if the Mirror reality doesn't have it's own version of Jacob and a benevolent analogue to the Man in Black.

John Locke, walking and ready to kick ass. On faith alone.
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