Getting Lost (Redux): Live Together, Die Alone

For a while after I first watched “Live Together, Die Alone,” the second season finale, it was my favorite episode of Lost. On a second complete viewing: Not so much.

It’s not that “Live Together, Die Alone” is bad, but on the heels of “Exodus” it feels a little slight as a finale. Also, compared to later season finales, this one is not really the game-changer it felt like at the time.

The best thing about “Live Together, Die Alone” is the first full inclusion of Desmond. Desmond was of course introduced back in the Season Two premiere, but we learned little about him, aside from the facts that he was Scottish, he likes to say “brotha,” and he pushes a button. His return in this episode—and the shot in which he first appears, with Jack staring down into cabin of Desmond’s boat, was a nice callback to the end of Season One, with Jack staring down into Desmond’s hatch—is both surprising and fitting.

As I said yesterday, the flashbacks began to feel tired once they started to tell slightly altered versions of the same story over and over again. “Live Together, Die Alone,” though, avoids that by just giving us almost all of Desmond’s backstory in one oversized episode. We learn about Desmond’s release from prison (and his fondness for Dickens); we learn about his love for Penny and how the relationship ultimately ended due to his feelings of worthlessness; we learn about Charles Widmore and his active undermining of Desmond and Penny.

More urgently, though, we learn lots and lots about the hatch. We learn that Desmond was taught about the button by Kelvin, who was in turn taught by Radzinsky, who killed himself. It was Kelvin and Radzinsky, we find out, who made the map on the blast doors. We learn that the hatch has a failsafe that can release all the electromagnetism locked into the station. Most importantly, though, we learn that the button does work, and that it was Desmond’s failure to push the button (on the day Kelvin died) that caused Oceanic 815 to crash.

This becomes incredibly important because this revelation comes in the middle of Locke’s quest to liberate all who have become “slaves to the button.” His first attempt to quit pressing the button is thwarted by Mr. Eko, but then Desmond triggers a lockdown to keep Mr. Eko out. When Desmond realizes that the “system failure” came on the day of the crash, Locke destroys the computer.

At the time, Locke’s descent into skepticism and doubt seemed like a very interesting place for the character. It was scary, and enticing, to watch Lost’s pillar of faith slide gradually into doubt about his purpose. As he tells Desmond about the poignant scene at the end of “Deus Ex Machina,” in which the hatch lights up: “I thought it was sign. But it wasn’t a sign. It was probably just you going to the bathroom.” Terry O’Quinn, of course, played Locke’s new sense of doubt with a tragic certainty.

In the scheme of the whole series, though, this aspect of Locke seems like a brief distraction—like another way for the series to stall before its endgame. By the end of the episode, just before Desmond unlocks the failsafe and blows up the hatch, Locke admits “I was wrong.” Once Season Three comes around, Locke is ready, once again, to do whatever the Island tells him. It’s not that Locke’s skepticism or doubt wasn’t believable or interesting, just that in retrospect it feels unimportant.

Meanwhile, back on the beach, Michael is leading Jack, Sawyer, Kate, and Hurley into a trap laid by the Others in return for his son, missing ever since “Exodus.” Sensing that Michael has been “turned,” though, Sayid (man, Sayid’s been great in all the episodes I’ve watched thus far; it’s really too bad the show stopped giving him stuff to do) and Jack come up with a plan: Sayid, along with Jin and Sun, will take Desmond’s boat around the Island to rendezvous with Jack & Co. and launch a surprise attack on the Others.

Unfortunately, though, this plan doesn’t work for the pretty obvious reason that Michael is not leading Jack & Co. where he said he was leading them, and Sayid, Jin, and Sun end up on the wrong beach. Also, these scenes lack the action-packed urgency of the similar running-around-the-Island scenes in “Exodus.” Ultimately, though, Jack, Sawyer, Kate, and Hurley end up in the Others’ hands, and they find out that the artist formerly known as Henry Gale is their leader. Michael and Walt are reunited and let off the Island, and Hurley is sent back to the beach to tell everyone to leave the Others alone.

In some respects, the ending of Season Two feels a lot like the ending of The Empire Strikes Back: The bad guys have the upper hand. Instead of a frozen Han Solo and a one-handed Luke Skywalker, though, we have a captured Jack/Sawyer/Kate and an explosion that may have killed Locke, Eko, and Desmond (Charlie, who was also in the explosion, wanders to the beach more or less unscathed). The one difference, though, is the final scene, in which two unknown scientists, secluded somewhere in presumably Russia, detect the electromagnetism that Desmond released with the explosion. They then call Penny Widmore and tell her: “I think we found it.”

This is one of the lingering questions from “Live Together, Die Alone”: How did Penny know about the Island?* Several other of the episode’s big questions have been addressed: We’ve seen the statue from which the four-toed foot came. We know who Ben is and what the Others do (kind of). We know about Widmore’s relationship to the Island, and we even know about the Incident that created the hatch in the first place.

*Or perhaps more accurately: How did she know to be looking for electromagnetism?

A couple of moments, though, had a particular thematic resonance heading into the finale. First, there is Desmond’s reply to Locke’s description of another hatch, in which people are observing the button-pushers and reporting on them as part of a psychological experiment: “I think you’ve got it backwards.” It turned out, of course, that the observers were the real subjects of the experiment—we even see that the notebooks go to nowhere. Lost is fond of pointing out that the audience “has it backwards.” The Smoke Monster wasn’t a “security system” but an evil entity that Jacob is containing. Charles Widmore is coming to destroy the Island…and then he’s coming to protect it. Etc. Heading into the finale, it’s very possible our presumptions are quite the opposite of the actual fact.

Finally, there is also a moment between Michael and Ben on the dock: Michael asks, “Who are you people?” to which Ben replies, “We’re the good guys.” This statement has been neither proven nor disproved (though it seems clear that Ben at least believes it)—Lost, despite all its talk of Good vs. Evil, has never been quick to clear up moral ambiguity. Even now, with all the Smoke Monster has done, I’m still not certain that Jacob qualifies as “the good guy.”

Continue with “Getting Lost (Redux)” tomorrow, when we look at “Every Man For Himself”…

4 responses to this post.

  1. […] was brought to the Island as the only one who could withstand an electromagnetic event, as he did back in Season Two. Now, what this exactly means is unclear, but the implications are important—presumably it has […]


  2. […] cause people who have recently been exposed to radioactive energy or electromagnetism (like say, in an electromagnetic explosion) to lose their grip on […]


  3. Posted by james Schneider on May 22, 2010 at 11:30 PM

    Great, now I have to watch this episode again. Your gonna ruin my favorite episode too.


  4. […] Live Together, Die Alone: Michael’s betrayal […]


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