Saturday, May 23, 2009

Crossword Conundrum

One more observation from my recent trip to London: foreign crosswords are really, really hard. Of course a crossword in a foreign language is going to be tough--I took a couple semesters of French, plus I studied abroad in France for three months, and I couldn't even conceive of trying a crossword en Francais. In fact, the very prospect of having to link a word by "e accent grave" is terrifying.

But crosswords in English, that's a different story. I've grown to be a pretty enthusiastic crossworder, and I've found through four years of engineering school that the daily crossword is the best way to keep my verbal mind sharp. My classmates evidently agreed with me, and before the end of my undergrad career, we turned the crossword into a daily post-senior-design therapy session.

At the very end of the semester, a handful of crossword teammates and I finally reached our goal of completing the Friday crossword in under 10 minutes, and that was at least as big an accomplishment as finishing the senior design project. So by this point, I actually consider myself not only enthusiastic but also reasonably adept.

All of that confidence in my crosswording abilities turned out to be completely moot once I reached jolly old England, and I found a few reasons why that's the case.

Clue formatting style. American crosswords, like the USA Today crossword that's become pretty much the gold standard in American crosswording, have clues that are phrases as opposed to words, quips or clever statements as opposed to synonyms, and typically three to six letters as opposed to anywhere from three to twelve.

Vocabulary. Say you had the clue "Fast food (8)", and you knew the last letter was "y". This would be immediately recognizable to an English crossworder as "takeaway". But an American puzzler would have a hell of a time trying to figure out how that "y" fit as the last letter of "carryout".

Grid layout. The American style crossword grid makes each word highly dependent on other words: a five-letter word is almost always going to intersect five other words. The British mode is sparser, making elusive clues more difficult to decipher because you have less help.

Want an example? Check out a Guardian crossword as opposed to a USA Today one.

Currently listening: This is the Life, Amy MacDonald

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Non-Lost Season Finales

Believe it or not, I do actually watch a little television that's not Lost. With the spring television season having just ended, there's plenty of finales to talk about.

24 is still my second-favorite show on television, and more than anything, this season has been about bouncing back from the abysmal season 6. Really, any season that focuses more on Audrey freaking Raines than on Jack Bauer is doomed to fail from the start. Heck, season 7 even kicked off with a movie called "Redemption", which was always a title as much about the show itself as it was about Jack Bauer.

The first half of season 7 did in fact look like it was going to redeem the show from the sixth season. Of course, we knew that the shady Sangalans weren't going to be the endgame... but I think the season might have been improved a bit by making Jonas Hodges the endgame. Jon Voight played the role of the evil, slightly cracked-up mastermind better than most in the show's history.

Instead, we got a jumbled "shadow organization" of private military people, a la Quantum of Solace, which reduced the impact of what happened in the last few episodes. Still, the resolution of "good Tony/evil Tony" made some sense, once we realized he's just crazy and and willing to play both sides to get some revenge.

I liked the finale for the most part, with Renee Walker turning ever more Jack Bauer-ish, and Jack finally boosting the Bauer Count, including a quality scalpel kill. Very nice! At this point, it's obvious that Jack Bauer isn't really going to die, particularly since he has a contract through the next season at least. Is it too much to ask for Kim to be killed/incapacitated in the process of saving him so that she won't be on the show anymore? Probably.

And oh, was it good to see Olivia Taylor get what was coming to her.

House kind of got on my nerves toward the end of that last season, to tell the truth. I did not like Amber when she was a fellowship applicant. I did not like Amber when she was Wilson's girlfriend. And I especially did not like her when she wasn't even real, but inside House's head. Am I in the strong minority here? Does everyone else in the House fan base love her?

Either way, I hope that season 6 gets out of House's subconscious. This show is and has always been about House and his eccentricities. We're perfectly willing to accept a Vicodin addiction if it means more quips and insults. I realize that the show needs some directional mobility, that it needs overarching plots and stories to keep each episode from being a curious one-off. In the past, though, this has always been much more successful when it involved an application of House's character, not an alteration of it.

Nevertheless, there were plenty of good episodes this season, particularly once you disregarded Amber. It was nice to see more Chase and Cameron, and I can't help but wonder how the "star billing" is going to look on this show next year--if I were Olivia Wilde, I'd find it a little odd that I got more screen time yet less credit than some other other actors.

Thank you, The Office, a million times, for "snapping out of it" and returning to the usual frivolities of Dunder Mifflin. "Cafe Disco" and "Company Picnic" were exactly the right way to end the season: thematic episodes that showcase the excellent characters and situations (this is a sit-com, after all), rather than trying to tie it into "real life" somehow. Even the "Michael Scott Paper Company" arc eventually avoided the unwelcome emotional seriousness that plagued the first two thirds of the season.

Even though on some level, all the CSI's and Criminal Minds are basically the same show, I enjoy them all (except CSI Miami, which I never really got into). Finales were largely good, with the device of "mysterious shooting with two seconds left in the episode" overused and not particularly impactful... but I'm sure everything will sort itself out over the next seasons of each show.

Currently listening: Abraxas, Santana

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

More thoughts on travel abroad

There sure is a lot of Eurotrash in London. There's a lot of Eurotrash everywhere in Europe, to be sure. I mean, you can't really escape French people in France, or Italians in Italy. Turns out you can't escape them in the UK, either. How do you identify Eurotrash, or distinguish it from ordinary Europeans? Four easy steps!

1) Cigarette in hand. I mean, that one should be a no-brainer. Forget carbon dioxide emissions, the Kyoto Protocol ought to deal with the perpetual cloud of cigarette smoke that Europe is choking under.

2) Tight jeans. Especially around the calves and ankles. This one applies to men and women!

3) General rudeness. Loud conversations across a train car, no heed paid to other pedestrians, ignoring the clear (and multi-lingual) instructions to "keep moving" in the chapels in Westminster Abbey.

4) Blatant tourism. Not that we Americans aren't guilty of this--we are, far more often than I'd like us to be--but Eurotrash take it to a whole new level. Please, stop holding up traffic on the Tube to consult your "Londra" guidebook.

In England, the English is largely very good, as you might assume. Sentences are concise but complete, and always informative. "We're working to renovate the escalators for this Tube station. These repairs will last until late 2011." That, as opposed to what you'd see on, say, Marta: "ESCALATORS UNDER RENOVATION", without the luxury of punctuation, let alone a verb.

There's a handful of linguistic anomalies that the Brits are fond of, though, that don't make too much sense to me. For example, see how I used "that" in that last sentence? It's a relative pronoun, designed to introduce the clause "the Brits are fond of". There, "that" is the "correct" pronoun to use, because it's a restrictive clause. The information is necessary to make the sentence make sense. In Britain, however, "which" seems to be used for any relative clause, regardless of restriction. "That" seems to be reserved for a demonstrative pronoun. And that's sure not what I learned in high school English class.

But one thing I do remember learning in high school English, that I thought completely insane at the time, is the use of singular nouns that "act" as plural. "The family are coming to dinner", as opposed to "the family is coming to dinner." Apparently, because "family" is understood to contain more than one person, it's treated as a plural noun.

"No, nobody talks like that," I remember complaining back in high school. We use "family is", because we're talking about only one family. "Families are", for more than one family, and "members of the family are", if we're concerned with the individuals more than the group.

Turns out that people do talk like that--just not often in the United States. You hear it the most in talk about sporting teams. Here, we'd say "the Braves are looking to do better than 4th place this year," but "Atlanta is". In Britain, you get "Chelsea are looking to place well in next year's Champions League." So maybe this actually is correct English--but it's completely alien to American speakers, and I don't think it makes a great deal of sense anyhow.

The British culinary tradition is much maligned--and really, I can think of few things less appetizing than a giant pile of peas next to my sandwich--but English breakfast really ought to be regarded along with the best cooking in the world. Toast (and the Brits do love their toast), eggs, "bacon" (which is more a slab, like Canadian bacon, than the crispy strips that we're used to), sausage (which I think is required to come along with every meal), coffee or tea, juice. That part is expected.

Then you look to the other side of your plate and notice... baked beans? Mushrooms? A tomato? What trickery is this?

Delicious, is what it is.

Currently listening: "Klavier", Rammstein

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Lost Speculations and Observations, "Everything That Rises Must Converge" Edition

And here are five plots that, in my mind, have risen and must converge before the series finale next May.

1. The Richard Alpert backstory. Who is he, what’s his allegiance, when and where does he come from, and why is he ageless? Of all the recurring characters, Alpert is by far the most compelling—actually, I find him more interesting than half the main cast—and the one whose mystery is most central to the mythology of the Island. I’d absolutely love to see a Richard-centric episode in season 6, and I think it’s entirely possible. Even though he’s a recurring character, we’ve had recurring characters have centric episodes before (Rose and Bernard), and it’s clear that Alpert is way more important than those two.

Current theory: Richard, in addition to being the “Panchen Lama” of the Others, is also the high priest of whatever supernatural power is venerated at the Temple. More and more, I like the idea that we shouldn’t consider Richard an “Other” per se at all, or at least not a member of the Others’ hierarchy. Instead, he’s a mediator between the Island and its people, or an emissary from the Island to its people. Therefore, while he’s not one of the Others, he has a great deal of authority in what they do and license to ignore their leadership.

Timeline of reveal: The Richard flashback episode, if we get it, is likely to be a mid-season 6 episode. That way, Richard’s goals and motivations are set for the battle in the grand finale. Or, he might pull and Eko and die in his own centric episode, and precipitate the events that lead to the last battle.

2. Structures of the ancients. Most intriguing are the Frozen Donkey Wheel, the Statue, and the Temple. We’ve visited the Wheel twice without knowing really anything about how it works or who put it there. The Statue is production gold: it has no lines, can be represented easily with a scale model, and has shown up a total of three times in a hundred hours. But it has spawned more theorizing and discussion than probably half of the main characters. And we’ve seen around, outside, and under the Temple, but never the structure itself.

Current theory: These structures all seem to have been built by the same people, with the shared hieroglyph motif, general ignorance about their origin, and apparently ancient construction. There’s quasi-canonical evidence that the Statue is Taweret, which I’ll conveniently ignore, continuing to believe it’s Sobek, until Carlton Cuse tells me otherwise. The Wheel, I’ve got nothing.

But I’ve heard an interesting theory on the Temple that unfortunately I can’t take credit for. What if we’ve been thinking about the Temple’s time frame all wrong? We think it’s very old, mostly because the wall around it is designed to look very old. But we also know that the wall and the Temple itself aren’t necessarily related at all. Maybe the Temple is actually very new, or even futuristic? Then, the wall isn’t to protect the structure from outsiders at all, but to protect people from seeing what they’re not supposed to see of the future. There’s little evidence on the show to support this, but I love the theory because it turns so many assumptions on their head.

Timeline of reveal: The Wheel is a series finale issue, I’m sure of. The Statue has probably been “revealed” to the extent that it will be, but I believe we’ll revisit it. The Temple I can see being revealed mid-season 6, possibly serving as the setting for some of the series finale action.

3. Resurrection. What are Christian Shepherd, John Locke, and for that matter Alex Rousseau and Yemi? Who does the Island choose to resurrect, how does it happen, and why? When you’re resurrected, are you actually alive again, or are you in some sort of limbo-undead state? What sort of abilities do you gain? We know that Locke and Christian both seemed to know things they had no idea of after the Island brought them back. Finally, can you be killed (again) if you’ve been brought back?

Of course, the confirmation of Locke as a manifestation of Jacob’s enemy raises yet more questions. Can you be resurrected at all, or does this mean that every instance of resurrection or “I see dead people” is actually the Enemy?

Current theory: Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have more or less directly—as directly as they’re capable of, at any rate—confirmed that Christian and Yemi are actually manifestations of the Monster. Add that to the decidedly Smokey-ish noises when we saw Christian at the Barracks, and that theory seems good. The idea of why you’re “resurrected” is more interesting—and far tougher to explain. If we know for sure that Locke is Jacob’s enemy, and we know for (somewhat) sure that Christian is the Monster, then maybe all those entities are one and the same.

Timeline of reveal: Explicit confirmation of “Locke” as Jacob’s enemy should come pretty early on. Christian, and all the other supposedly dead people, might come further along, but I doubt that we’ll get the final Monster reveal until the very end.

4. Cataclysm. We’ve seen hints of a volcanic eruption for several seasons, and now there’s the looming threat of a hydrogen bomb. Several season finales have been described as “seismic” or “explosive”, and yet nothing until Juliet detonated Jughead’s core. Even that didn’t necessarily destroy the Island, especially if you believe “whatever happened, happened”.

Current theory: I find it entirely plausible that the volcano already exploded, sometime way in the past. But I think there’s going to be something equally as disastrous that happens at the end of the Island’s timeline, say in 2008, that kills everyone on the Island and destroys the Island… unless, of course, Desmond saves the day.

Timeline of reveal: The first half of season 6 might be about the cataclysm happening, and the second half about Desmond and company working to prevent it.

5. Desmond saves the future. There’s been a whole lot of emphasis placed on Desmond being “special” and being able to change the future. Desmond’s unique talents are the Chekhov’s gun that has to be used before the end of the show. Eloise said so, Faraday said so, and the failsafe key pretty much said so too. We don’t yet know exactly how he can manipulate past events, but that would seem to imply that Desmond has a bit of time travel left in his future.

Current theory: Desmond keeps his promise to Eloise and stays off the Island… until something very, very bad happens there. Then, because he’s such a stand-up guy, he returns per Eloise’s prediction to set things right.

Timeline of reveal: I can see at least the first two thirds of season 6 being about what Desmond is doing to try and prevent something terrible happening in the Island’s future, setting up the events for the series finale. Desmond might not even be in the first ten or so episodes of the season, only rejoining as a regular toward the end.

To wrap up this year's Lost coverage, what are your thoughts on episode titles for next season? I like "... Love" for the Sun/Jin centric reunion episode, "Progress" for a mid-season revelatory episode, "The Candidate" for a Lapidus-centric, "The Equation" or "The Numbers" for the Desmond-centric episode that finally establishes the Valenzetti equation as Dharma's mission on the Island (ie, another follow-up to The Constant), and "It Only Ends Once" for the finale. But my most brilliant suggestion--one that might actually come to pass--is "... At Sea" for the (possibly Richard-centric) Black Rock episode. You heard it here first.

Currently listening: "The Sun and the Moon", Mae, from The Everglow

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sport in the UK

And they do call it "sport" there, rather than "sports"--you're looking at the "sport" section in the newspaper, the "sport" segment on the evening news, and so on.

The Brits are as into sports as we are across the pond--but it's entirely different sports. Instead of baseball, football, and basketball, we're looking at soccer (except they call it "football"), cricket, and rugby. Football of course takes the lead for the majority of the year... and it is pervasive.

The stereotype of the English soccer hooligan (I think there was even a Saturday Night Live sketch called that), like many stereotypes, comes from somewhere. Unlike most stereotypes, though, it's almost completely grounded in reality. Everyone has their team and a handful of bitter rivalries that go along with it, and everyone is sucked into the drama of the Premier League.

And after having been in London for only a week, the drama already got really, really compelling. Think the BCS, except stretched out for nine months, the top few teams earn the right to play football against colleges from all across North America for the continent champion... and the bottom few teams have to play against high schoolers for the next year.

If you're not familiar with "relegation" and "promotion", it's a fascinating concept, essentially allowing the most podunk club team in the middle of Wales to become the champion of all of Britain in the span of a few years. It also means that the consistently underperforming teams better re-evaluate their game plan the next season when they're playing in a lower league. If we did this in American baseball, the Nationals would have been bounced to AAA a long time ago.

It's a system that creates interest on all levels of the system, on the top and the bottom, and also seamlessly integrates the national system into an international one, with the top handful of teams earning bids into some sort of super-complicated pan-European system that an American doesn't have any hope of deciphering. It's tough to say if American sports would improve by adopting the system... but I'm sort of glad it's not used here, because I for one would waste a lot of time absorbed in the rankings tables.

Also incomprehensible to any American is the sport of cricket. If anyone can explain how a "two-innings" game is supposed to last five days, please do.

Currently listening: "This is the Countdown", Mae, from The Everglow

Friday, May 15, 2009

Lost Speculations and Observations, "H-Bomb" Edition

If you missed the last Lost finale post, and you're into this sort of thing, check out the Loophole edition, which focuses on the mythology of the season finale.

One of the reasons Lost is so, so good is that there's so much going on at any given time. Mythology, plot, characters are all critical to making this show excellent, and they're all quasi-independent enough to talk about by themselves. I'd like to talk a little about characters in this installment of the finale post, because I think Season 6 is going to have to make a few critical changes.

The biggest character-y surprise from the finale was the lack of a major, impactful death. Important characters dying has been a fixture of season finales past (eg Charlie). Plus, people far more acquainted with spoiler sites than I am were convinced that there was going to be a "major" death in the finale. Sure, plenty of people died, particularly Dharma employees who has the ill fortune of assignment to the Swan station. But I can only count two characters whose names we knew that actually kicked the bucket: Phil and Jacob.

Sure, we'd gotten to know Phil, and he was in as many episodes as Horace, and we even saw a hint of development in his character. However, he was so unimportant to the scheme of things that his death could hardly be considered major. As for Jacob, while his death is undoubtedly hugely important to the scheme of things, we hardly knew the guy, having just met him two hours ago... so as a plot point, his death was major, but as a character point, it lacked impact.

Now, half of our main cast is certainly on the line for having maybe died, with Juliet's death looking the most probable. You don't sit at ground zero of an atomic explosion and live. Then again, I'd argue that you don't sit fifty feet above ground zero and live, either, unless there's some weird "electromagnetic anomaly" business going on.

Really, the Juliet ambiguity is quite clever from a production standpoint--apparently, Elizabeth Mitchell got some major role in a pilot for a new television show, and her role on Lost could change dramatically if the pilot gets picked up and lasts a while. If this means she can no longer be on the Lost cast, then of course she died after being so close to a massive release of energy. If she can still be on lost, then of course the "fluctuations" caused by Jughead and the strange matter pocket saved her.

If Juliet needs to die so Elizabeth Mitchell can move on, though, then the main cast is going to need a little overhaul. We'd be down to two female main characters, Kate and Sun, against about a dozen male main characters, and the last thing Lost needs is to turn into as much of a sausage fest as Georgia Tech. Claire coming back holds some promise--and the producers really need to address that story, but that's still lacking. Combine that with Ilana apparently being a lot more important than we thought, and I can definitely see her joining the main cast.

Speaking of the main cast, major gripe with the finale: no Desmond? What the hell? Every season finale to date have featured all the (living) main characters. Desmond's utterly embarrassing lack of screen time has been the one knock on the otherwise fantastic season 5. Eloise as much as told us, halfway through the season, that the Island was not done with Desmond. This had better come to fruition before the end of the series.

Pleasantly, Jack is no longer my least favorite character, having regrown most of his lost backbone and seemingly left "wussy" mode. He hasn't recovered all the way: the worst scene in the finale was his fight with Sawyer, which didn't seem to have much of a point. It almost seemed like that fight was really over Kate, which made my hate it even more. I really, really like season 5 Sawyer, and it made me care about his character for the first time in the series. I only hope his character stays that interesting to the end.

I still like Miles, and I still like Sun, and I've been satisfied with their screen time this season. Definitely looking forward to the Jin-Sun reunion, which I have to assume will happen toward the beginning of next season. I really want to see more Frank and more Richard, and I could do with a little more Charles Widmore too.

To end, the biggest thing to speculate about: who will the next important "group of people" be in season 6? We had the mid-section survivors in season 1, the tail section people in season 2, the Others in season 3, the freighter people in season 4, and Dharma in season 5. Maybe more of Jacob's people, such as Ilana and her ilk?

I'll finish up the season finale discussion in a few days with the "Everything that Rises Must Converge" edition, describing what I perceive as the most important plot points for the last season.

Currently listening: "Suspension", Mae, from The Everglow

Rapid-Fire Airplane Movie Reviews

Review: Gran Torino

The remarkable thing about this movie is that half of the main character's dialog is either "grrrr" or some manner of ethnic slur--and Mr. Eastwood's character sure knows a lot of those. The movie starts with Eastwood's character Walt absolutely despising anyone who isn't like him--and that extends to his white family, Southeast Asian neighbors, Mexican neighbors, and pretty much everyone else. So it's predictable in the sense that by the time everything is said and done, you know he's going to come around and be okay with at least some of the minorities.

Over the course of the movie, we see how he gets there, and how he actually manages to bring about some positive change in other people's lives, too. I suppose I can buy that seventy-plus years of bigotry vanishes over the course of just a few months, mostly because I can't buy that someone is that ridiculously bigoted in the first place. Sure, there's plenty of grizzled old dudes who don't care for the fact that their neighbors are Asian, but is there really anyone who would go so far as to throw away their gifts for no real reason?

Without giving away the ending, I'll go ahead and say that the best line in the movie comes at the end, when Walt forbids someone from painting "any of those stupid flames" on his car, or putting a "gay spoiler" on the back. It's a good movie overall--a classic tale of redemption that's nothing we haven't seen before, but well enough acted and presented that it doesn't so much matter.

Review: Quantum of Solace

Daniel Craig's new interpretation of James Bond surprised and impressed a lot of people in the last movie, Casino Royale. Gone, or at least postponed, were the days of the ultra-suave, super-sophisticated Bond, and we got a rendition that was a lot more relateable in terms of emotion. That made Casino Royale a good movie.

The other thing that made Casino Royale good was that it made sense. The whole way through. You could follow the plot, you knew who the characters were, and there was an acceptable level of doubt about who was up to what. Quantum of Solace decided not to follow that approach. Confirmation of who certain characters are and what they're doing comes way too late in the movie to help it make sense. Worse, even after watching it, I'm still not sure what the Bond Girl's involvement in anything is. (Is she Russian? South American? Something else entirely?)

Chances are good you expect certain things from a Bond movie, like exotic locales, explosions, chase scenes, and banter between Bond and his superiors. We get all that, no doubt about it. The issue comes in whether we get anything beyond that... and Quantum of Solace doesn't so much deliver.

Review: Slumdog Millionaire

I was a little skeptical of this movie at first, mostly because Indian cinema and I don't so much get along, but it turns out this movie was a lot less Bollywood than I might have thought. No spontaneous bursting into song (or dance), no characters who find out they're inexplicably related at the very end of the movie (hey, this isn't Lost here), and no four-hour duration.

The coolest thing this movie does is to use an interesting temporal structure, explaining how this poor kid from the slums knows the answers to all these trivia questions. Turns out he's had some ridiculously bad things happen to him in his life, and those moments just happen to coincide with the questions he gets asked. Fate, or something like that.

It has its flaws--notably, the main character Jamal is utterly unlikable and devoid of personality for the first third or so of the movie. And, as Ken Jennings pointed out before the movie was even released, the "trivia game" backbone of the movie is weak: some of the early questions seem impossibly hard, while the last (20 million rupee) question is comparatively stunningly easy.

However, the movie has way more going for it than wrong with it. Slumdog Millionaire manages to use the "flashes through time" device without confusing us, because both of the timelines move linearly forward, and that's a credit to the movie in and of itself. But it does a lot more than that, featuring characters you find yourself caring about and a few powerful redemptive moments.

Review: Best in Show

I love the mockumentary style--see Spinal Tap, the Office, etc. And Best in Show is one of... well, the best. I'd already seen this movie, several years ago, and the good news is it's still as funny as ever.

Currently listening: "Cover Me", Mae, from The Everglow

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Lost Speculations and Observations, "Loophole" Edition

In "The Incident", we're subject to the usual gamut of Lost emotions. Awe, when we realize who we're seeing back in the 1800s. Confusion, any time Ilana and Bram's people show up. Disgust, every time Jack talks about Kate. (Or maybe that's just me.) Admiration, when Miles puts himself on the line to help out his dad. But I'm ashamed of one particular emotion I couldn't help but feel about an hour and forty-five minutes in.

Sympathy. For Ben Linus.

In the last few episodes, we've seen the entire mystical facade surrounding Ben evaporate. It's taken no longer than half a season for him to go from master manipulator who singlehandedly convinces half of the Oceanic Six to get back on the plane to empty deposed leader who has no idea what's going on. Even Sun has caught onto his game: "Do you really expect me to believe that?" when asked about the Statue is met with a dejected "No, I guess not."

Not too long after that, Ben and Jacob finally have a heart-to-heart chat, apparently for the first time in their lives. And it's clear that Ben really isn't as special, as crucial to the Island, as central a cog in the "whatever happened, happened" scheme as he thought he was. Nearly everyone important got a Jacob visit earlier in their lives... except for Ben. All of the other leaders of the Others, presumably, have met the man, except for Ben. And Ben, the Island's undisputed master of getting others to do his dirty work, is manipulated himself by (ostensible) John Locke.

And as dirty and evil and foul that many of this actions have been, I couldn't help but feel terrible for the guy. To add to his misery, I think that killing Jacob just might have been the very worst thing he could have done for the Island. Enter the Statue, whose foot we first saw exactly three seasons ago, and whose face we finally see for the first time. Whose face is that exactly? I'm putting all of my chips in the Sobek pile.

Why I think the Statue is Sobek: ankh in the left hand, check. Alligator head, check. However, that can describe any of a handful of Egyptian deities. The much better evidence comes from comparing Jacob to Sobek. I'll quote liberally from the Wikipedia page about Sobek here, emphasis mine. "Sobek's ambiguous nature led some Egyptians to believe that he was a repairer of evil that had been done, rather than a force for good in itself."

"Ambiguous" certainly does describe Jacob, but then again it describes about half of the characters on the show. The idea of Sobek as a "repairer of evil", though, is fascinating. When did Jacob show up to the 815 survivors in the past? Pivotal moments, yes, but pivotal moments that all followed some evil that had befallen them.

Jack had just been embarrassed during surgery (ironically, by the man who claims to speak on Jacob's behalf thirty years later) and to top it all off, his Apollo bar had just gotten stuck. Kate was just called out for trying to steal. Hurley was falsely imprisoned. Jin and Sun had been married--not exactly evil, but the tribulations they went through to get there could have used some "repairing". In this manner, Jacob's visits to the 815 survivors seem to be exactly in the function of "repairing evil".

"He was seen as a more primal god, eventually becoming regarded as an avatar of the primal god Amun, who at that time was considered the chief god. When his identity finally merged, Amun had become merged himself with Ra[...]" So Sobek is an avatar or Ra. Remember the tapestry that Jacob had spent hundreds of years weaving? Happy people worshiping none other than Ra.

"Going to Duat to restore damage done to the dead". Duat is the Egyptian underworld, where all sorts of fun stuff happens, like hearts getting weighed against feathers. I've been saying for a couple of years now that the Island represents the Underworld. What if Jacob urged the 815 survivors to go to the Island so that he could help them, undo the rest of the evils that they'd experienced?

The other significant thing that happens in Duat is Ra, whom Sobek is an avatar of, battles Apep, the snake demon of chaos and darkness. Light and darkness, white and black, the abstraction of all of the conflicts in Lost ever since the first season. And apparently Jacob and his "nemesis", if their old-school hand-woven garments are any indication.

If Jacob is effectively an avatar of Ra, the Egyptian sun god and the upholder of order, then who is his nemesis? It makes a lot of sense that he'd be an avatar of Apep. Then the whole perspective of conflict on the show changes. The central conflict is still "good" against "bad", white against black, but it's no longer our people against the Others or Dharma against the Hostiles. It's not even Ben versus Widmore as I claimed a few months ago. The Island then becomes the battleground of deities, which has apparently been going on for five thousand years.

This conflict does recall Ben's and Widmore's, at least in one respect. The combatants live by some code of "rules", which includes not being able to kill each other. Enter the "loophole". Apep can't kill Ra, but he can sure manipulate some mortal into doing it for him.

These revelations raise three more questions about mysticism on the Island. First, what is Christian? I'd say that he's Jacob's Locke: a dead man who acts on behalf of some greater power. Or, maybe Jacob and his nemesis actually take the forms of Christian and Locke. (Then, what implication does that have for the rest of the dead people that have shown up on the Island, like Yemi and Dave?)

The second question is what's the deal with the Monster? Jacob's people apparently have knowledge and control of it (eg, when Ben summons it), but Jacob's nemesis acting as Locke does too (eg, when "Locke" takes Ben to get his judgment). Possibly it's supposed to protect the Island, keep the battle of deities out of the sight of mortals. Or, maybe it acts as a mediator in the conflict.

Third, where does this leave Richard? Is he on Jacob's side? On neither side? Actually on the side of the nemesis, leading Ben to kill Jacob? There's no way to answer any of that for the time being.

Final observation: Ilana has emerged as a potential power player in the conflict as well. She's clearly on the Jacob side of the conflict, but how and why, we don't know. I can see her joining the main cast next year, particularly in light of what may or may not have happened to Juliet. But more on that in the "H-Bomb" installment coming up in the next day or two.

Currently listening: "The Ocean", Mae, from The Everglow