Getting Lost: Across the Sea

It’s time for another installment of “Getting Lost,” where John S takes you through all the salient questions from last night’s episode of Lost:

OK, Question #1: How is it possible that this guy STILL doesn’t have a name? (shaking my head) I don’t know…. I don’t know.

I suppose I should give up any hope of him ever getting a name, right? Well, if he were going to get one, this would seem like the episode for him to get it. I think Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse probably think being nameless is intimidating.We’re probably stuck with “Man in Black” (or Flocke, or Smokey, or the Smoke Monster, or Esau, or Blackie, or any of the other nicknames he’s acquired over the last year) for good.

At least his mother took the trouble of color-coding him from birth, right? Yeah, that was awfully nice of her.

Should we talk about the episode now? I guess. This was, it seems, a big one. Like “Ab Aeterno,” this episode eschewed any of the present day or Sideways storytelling in favor of the background of someone integral to Island mythology. “Across the Sea,” though, didn’t even bother with a set-up, a la Richard’s “This place is Hell” speech, and gave us the backstories for both the Man in Black and Jacob.

Who are TWINS! Who saw that one coming? I know, shocking! I mean, it’s not as if one of them is named after a famous twin, or that there have been twins in science fiction before, or that the idea of a Good Twin and a Bad Twin is a recurring theme, or anything like that.

Honestly, I thought Lost was above this. Making Jacob and the Man in the Black twins doesn’t really add anything to the story—the two were already clearly set up as adversaries. All it did was introduce yet another family drama to the Lost flow charts.

You didn’t like all the Baby Mama Drama? Not really. First of all, adding both a biological mother and a crazy murderess felt like merely a way to shoehorn in another instance of the “stolen babies” trope of the show. Also, a lot of my distaste for this episode stems from a dislike of Allison Janney, who played the crazy murdering stepmom of Jacob and the Man in Black. She seemed to play the whole episode with the same slightly confused look on her face.

Hers was a pretty crucial role, for a lot of reasons, and I’m afraid it was botched. For one, she is the one who provides the “answers” to Jacob and his brother, but those don’t really come. As she told Claudia, their biological mother, early in the episode, “Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.”

The problem with this sentiment, which is a credo that is obviously important to Lost as a whole, is that it neither does anything to quell your desire for answers, nor is it conducive to good storytelling. There is a weird schizophrenia about Lost’s relationship to answers: On the one hand, the show’s creators have always distanced themselves from any obligations to provide answers, insisting that the show is fundamentally about characters and relationships. But on the other hand, every so often the produces seem to provide these answer-dumps, where a bunch of backstory gets provided and questions get answered all at once.

In other words, if answers aren’t important, then why even have an episode like “Across the Sea,” which doesn’t feature any regular cast members? The questions that seemed most important to me about Jacob and the Man in Black—“Why are they immortal?” “Why can’t they kill each other?” “What are the rules of their game?” “How did those rules get determined?”—were either not addressed at all, or given flat, fiat answers. They can’t kill each other because their mom “made it so” they can’t kill each other? Seems a little circular, no?

What did you expect? You’ve already said several times that fans hoping for answers to the mysteries are going to be disappointed, so why do the “just so” answers bother you? Because why bother answering them at all if the answers you give are going to be so woefully insufficient?

Take, for example, the “light” that Crazy Mom (who was also nameless) introduced them to. It is the “warmest, brightest light” that is the “heart of the Island” and that “people will try to steal.” In other words, it’s a MacGuffin. Saying some amorphous light has special powers is no different than saying that the Island itself has special powers—it’s just as opaque and mysterious.

Also, some mysteries are important, and need more than “just so” explanations. Take, for example, Ben’s murder of Jacob, one of the best scenes in the entire history of the show. How you interpret that scene, though, depends on knowing certain mysteries: Why was Locke chosen as the Smoke Monster’s new incarnation? Did Jacob know he could be killed? Did Jacob have to be killed by Ben specifically? All of these relate to the “rules” governing the Jacob/Man in Black relationship…and we know the answers to none of them now! These are not just idle curiosities—they affect how the show’s biggest moments are interpreted.

What about the thematic importance of this episode? Isn’t it important to know that Jacob was the unfavored child? Another one of my main gripes with the episode was that the Jacob in this episode was nothing like the Jacob we’ve come to know. In fact, there wasn’t even much to suggest him becoming like the Jacob we know. This Jacob was weak, submissive, and intemperate, not the wise and controlled leader of the Island we’ve come to know.

It also did a pretty terrible job of setting up the Jacob/Smoke Monster conflict. After last week’s death fest, in which Sayid, Sun, and Jin were all killed off, Lindelof and Cuse made a big deal about the deaths signifying that there was “no ambiguity” about who was good and who was evil: The Man in Black “is evil and he has to be stopped.”

But if we’re supposed to side with Jacob in this whole conflict, then this episode really didn’t help matters. The Man in Black only wants to get off the Island because his crazy, murdering stepmom lied to him about being his mother, concealed the reason for being on the Island, and told him that there was nothing in the world besides the Island. Upon discovering these lies, he, quite understandably, wants to go “across the sea.” And the only reason he is the Source of all Evil (and needs to be contained by Jacob’s cork) is because Jacob threw him into the giant pool of light.

Meanwhile, instead of presenting Jacob as someone who knows the truths of the Island and believes in the cause he is protecting, “Across the Sea” presented Jacob as a spineless child who is so eager to earn the love of a crazy parent (sound familiar?) that he’s willing to agree to an endless, ill-defined vocation of protecting the Island’s Source.

I’m also unsure of what the intended effect of the Jacob-as-the-unloved-child plot was supposed to be. Was it supposed to indicate that Jacob was never supposed to end up as the Island’s guardian? I don’t think the authority of an insane stepmom is really enough to go on for that. Is it supposed to make us feel bad for Jacob? He did seem awfully complicit, though, staying with her even when he found out her deceptions. Are we supposed to side with Jacob? The Man in Black was the one who seemed intelligent, reasonable and curious about the world as a kid. Some of this ambiguity is interesting, adding layers on which the episode can be interpreted. But some of it just made for a dull story.

Any other thoughts? I thought the ending, which revealed that the Man in Black and his stepmom were the “Adam and Eve” corpses that Jack and Kate found back in “House of the Rising Sun” was an example of good mystery-solving. It wasn’t necessarily a question I needed, or even particularly wanted, answered, but it made perfect sense (since this was essentially a Genesis story of the Island itself) and didn’t really seem forced into the script.

Although there was some confusion on what the corpse of the Man in Black signified. Does that mean that he and the Smoke Monster are, in fact, separate entities? Are we supposed to believe that all the appearances of Titus Welliver before this (in “Ab Aeterno” and “The Incident”) were supposed to take place before the events of “Across the Sea”? These seem like highly unlikely, borderline inconsistent, interpretations, but I can see how the show indicated them. After all, the Man in Black certainly seemed dead. I’m just going to assume that the Smoke Monster is the soul of the Man in Black, and that the smoke can take certain human forms.

Predictions for next week? Next week will be the last time a new episode of Lost ever airs on a Tuesday. Did I just blow your mind? We really are approaching The End (as the subtle use of “The End” by The Doors over the credits showed). I can honestly say that I have no idea what the next episode will hold. I peaked at the title, which is “What They Died For,” which leads me to believe that the next episode will both offer some more answers about the Island’s ghosts (we got another one in this episode, with the Man in Black seeing his biological mother), along with a Sideways story in which those characters who will ultimately have to die (Charlie, Locke, Jin, Sun…by now pretty everyone except Jack, Sawyer, Kate, and Hurley) are forced to accept their fate.

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4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Cindy on May 12, 2010 at 8:26 AM

    I was confused about the times we saw MIB in his original body too. But because MIB can take the form of anyone who died (and was not buried, IMO, though I don’t think this was ever said), he should be able to take his own form back as well, right?

    Reply

  2. Posted by sd on May 12, 2010 at 5:22 PM

    On my reading, Smokey /= MIB. This was a story about original sin. We have an island-bound demigoddess who is a bit bonkers… think Calypso. She is charged with guarding the energy source of life, death, etc., because tapping into the source would be a Bad Thing. She steals a child (necessary, because children can’t be born on the island), not realizing there will actually be two – that’s the Wrinkle. Drama ensues, because the Truth Will Out. MIB gives her what she wanted all along: freedom in death. But Jacob takes out his grief and rage and lifelong sense of inferiority on his brother.

    I think we’re supposed to understand that MIB really died when he went into the light – or maybe he started to die before that, when he hit his head on a rock in the stream when Jacob shoved him. Regardless, that rage and grief and sin – and MIB’s lifelong desire to escape – was shaped by the light into the Smoke Monster. MIB’s body was ejected, and it was a real body, really dead, which we know from the Jack/Kate/Locke flashforward. We know Smokey has the ability to take the form of the recently dead (…who cares how or why), so Smokey took the *form* of MIB. And Jacob’s unwanted task of guardian gets corrupted: guard the energy from the world, but also guard the world from the energy – from his own sin. That’s what he is talking to in Ab Aeterno: not his brother, but his sin. Containing Smokey is his penance.

    As for the details: Jacob became (somewhat) immortal, and was granted certain powers, including making other people immortal. As for harming: the kids beat the crap out of other, and Jacob seems to have killed MIB, so it was confusing for mom to say they couldn’t harm each other. My reading: Smokey can’t harm Jacob not because they were (sort of) brothers, but simply because Jacob is the anointed Island Guardian, and Smokey, being a manifestation of the island (twisted by sin) cannot harm its guardian… or a future guardian, i.e. the candidates.

    As for the candidates: Jacob never wanted to take on the role of guardian. He plays games with Smokey because he used to like playing games with his brother. But ultimately he seeks the same release his mother did. Explanation of his death by Ben’s hand: he doesn’t mind dying, but he can’t bring himself to invite it, because a) that would be a cowardly way of escaping his penance, and b) as he told Ben, any would-be killer can’t be invited to, but must rather exercise a choice.

    So Smokey wants to kill Jacob and get off the island; Jacob is okay with the former, but can’t allow that latter – that’s the bind he’s in. His solution: get killed, pass the torch to a candidate, and keep Smokey on the island. How keep him on the island? “They are coming…” the candidates will keep Smokey there. That task is tied into the time travel, and Jughead, and the sideways world. How? That’s what still doesn’t make sense.

    Maybe: it was Smokey who told Ben and Locke to “move the island,” i.e. mess with the wheel, which would get the candidates stuck in some other time, which would make them unavailable to contain him in 2007. Jack’s plan with Jughead “worked” in that it got them to 2007 to contest Smokey’s departure. Sideways world is… well poop, I don’t know.

    Reply

  3. […] One of the things I really liked about Lost the first time I watched Season One was how the show seemed to set up these pairs within the large cast. Duality was always a big part of the show, what with Locke’s whole Light vs. Dark speech right at the beginning, and the show mirrored that with its character dynamics. It felt almost like every character had a counterpart. Some of these were obvious: Jin and Sun were married, so they had each other. Boone and Shannon were siblings (and, as we would find out, a little bit more), so they had each other. Even Jack and Kate seemed like a pretty obvious romantic pairing, even if they never acted on that until Season Two. Other pairs, though, were less obvious. Sawyer and Sayid, for example, had a rather intense rivalry in the early episodes—in the pilot, for example, they accuse each other of being the criminal on board (who would of course turn out to be Kate) and even come to blows. Similarly, Locke and Walt begin to forge a bond over backgammon in the pilot—a bond that will persist through most of Season One. In each pair, there is a sense in which the two are totally different, and a sense in which they are very much the same. This bipolar tension has been a recurring theme of the show, right up until this week’s “Across the Sea.” […]

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  4. […] and the fact that the donkey wheel is in this station indicates that this matter is the same as the light from “Across the Sea,” since the Man in Black built the wheel to get to that […]

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