Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Lost Speculations and Observations, March Edition

First off, Ben Linus isn't really dead, of course. "Whatever happened, happened." But a good question to ponder is this: if Desmond had been the one to shoot Ben at the end of "He's Our You", would Ben actually be dead, screwing up the entire timeline? I have to say yes; Desmond, after all, is special, and can affect the past.

While this scene was a complete shocker, it only elevated "He's Our You" from an average episode to a good one. "Namaste" was generally dull. So most of this post originates from "LaFleur", the best and most mythically-intense of the episodes this month.

In the first four seasons of Lost, the operative question was always "where?" Charlie’s question "guys, where are we?" summed up the central mystery to Lost for two-thirds of its run. "Who?" came up a lot too—it continues to—especially when a new character is introduced and all those pesky inter-character relationships are getting developed. But physical place and the relationships between different physical places motivated all the action, whether that meant getting from the outside world to the Island, getting between places on the Island, and eventually getting from the Island back to the outside world.

When we watched Ben turn the Frozen Donkey Wheel, we knew it was going to change the way the show worked, but only now that we’re more than halfway into season 5 do we actually appreciate how drastic that change was. Even the idea of what "moving the Island" means has changed: back in season 4, everyone assumed that meant "move in space" to a new "where". Just half a season later, that notion seems antiquated. Even the old question of "how do we get to and leave the Island?" has been so thoroughly de-mysticized that it seems trivial.

That’s because now the operative question on Lost is "when?" Several characters have already mirrored Charlie’s season 1 inquiry and asked "when are we?" The important mysteries on the show now revolve around when events took place, rather than where. Granted, time has always been important to the mythology. The distinguishing narrative device for the first four seasons was the flashback (and then flashforward), a clever method of telling stories from different timelines without having to contrive ways for all the characters to show up in those timelines.

But the Island has much more history than just what the Oceanic 815 survivors can hope to tell us. Therefore, the new mechanic of time travel is an even more clever way to reveal fragments of the Island’s history. And by all accounts, that history goes back longer than anyone could have imagined when we saw 815 go down. The biggest and most mysterious evidence we have of ancient habitation of the Island is a handful of Egyptian-seeming artifacts.

Egyptology has been sneaking its way into the Lost mythos with all the subtlety of a Sayid Jarrah torture routine. The first glimpse we got of it, ironically, probably had nothing to do with the truly ancient construction we see later. That was way back in the days of the Swan station, when some hieroglyphs showed up behind the countdown time cards in the Swan. Creepily, the translation of those glyphs is either "cause to die" or "underworld", suggesting that Dharma at least knew that bad things would happen if you didn’t press the button.

But whether or not Dharma knew how the Swan really worked, it seems increasingly unlikely that they knew how the rest of the Island worked. For a while, Dharma seemed veiled and downright mystical; now that we’ve gotten more insight into how they operated, I think they were mostly as in over their heads as everyone else who’s ended up in the Island. The few exceptions might be Dharma’s leadership, people like its founders, Gerald and Karen de Groot, and its financier, Alvar Hanso. But for most Dharmites, I doubt they actually understood how deeply significant the choice of hieroglyphs actually was.

The rest of the Egyptian influence has been revealed in relatively quick succession, at least for Lost. Toward the end of season 4, Ben summoned the smoke monster from behind a hieroglyph-marked door; at the end of season 4, Ben turned the hieroglyph-marked Frozen Donkey Wheel, and toward the beginning of season 5, poor Montand got to make a visit to the smoke monster’s lair (presumably the Temple), which was brimming with hieroglyphs too.

And then, "LaFleur" gave us a two-second glimpse of a massive statue, about the same proportions as our old friend the Four Toed Statue probably is. If it isn’t the same one we saw before, it almost certainly dates from the same era and serves a similar purpose. But the most mythologically intense moment of "LaFleur" was the frame or two where we could see what the statue was holding. It was an ankh, the Egyptian symbol of eternal life, the same symbol that Paul had on his necklace. Egyptian deities, in particular, were often depicted as carrying anhks in their hands by the loop.

Which deity did that statue represent? I can’t help but hope it was Horus, given the emphasis on Horace in that episode.

Some people seem to think that Richard is an Egyptian. Maybe he's an Egyptian deity himself. Maybe he's dead and in the same state of unlife that Christian and presumably Locke are in now. I still like the idea that he's doing creative time travel. I like the "Richard is Egyptian" theory, but it does raise some questions, particularly concerning all of the Others' flawless English and the fact that "Richard" is as English a name as you can get.

(To speculate idly on season 6, that will be the season of the questions "what", as in "what is the Island?", and "why?", as in "why are these people here?". In other words, we’re going to see the Island become important not as a point in space or a point in time, but as a unique rational agent, with an agenda and abilities all its own. A character, maybe, rather than a setting.)

Most Lost-geeky observation of the month: the indirect mention of the deGroots in "He's Our You". "Either we decide, or we call Ann Arbor and they decide for us", declares Horace in the debate on what to do with Sayid. Ann Arbor is home to the University of Michigan, which is where the deGroots did their doctoral work and dreamed up the Initiative. While this might just be an Easter egg for those of us "lucky" enough to remember that trivial detail from the Swan orientation, I can't help but hope we see Gerald and Karen in an coming episode.

Gripe of the month: where in the heck is Desmond? After he walked out of Eloise's "here's how you get to the Island" party early, declaring boldly that he was "done with the Island", we haven't seen any of him at all. Eloise's rebuttal that "the Island isn't done with him" is starting to look more and more like a fabrication.

Finally, I know that some people are so spoiler-averse that they don't even look at the titles of upcoming episodes. (Like knowing that episode 8 was called "LaFleur" would have given anything away at all?) The title of the last episode of this season is awesome in its simplicity. I won't give it here, out of deference to those spoilerphobes, but if you can stomach it, take the half a minute on the internet it'll take to find the title of 5.16 and 5.17.

Currently listening: "Sonne", Rammstein

No comments: