Readers beware. This is a long one...
INTRO: Fascination Street
I am constantly amazed at the ability of LOST’s creatives to weave very heavy-handed symbolism seamlessly into the storyline and still leave enough room for one’s referential head to spin off its axis. Perhaps it’s because they tend to pack multiple layers into each episode, and this week’s high-tension offering “This Place is Death” was an exceptional example of the show at its mythological best. What a treat, like an overstuffed Pandora’s Box chocked full of monsters and visions, ghosts and demons, bringers of illusion, and perpetual darkness. But on LOST we are never served up one extreme without the other, as light eventually circles the void left by the carnage, reminding us of one of the fundamental themes of the show overall. That is, the nature of life exists within these dualities and there is no escaping the other side of the mirror. It would seem this episode especially is meant to remind us that as above, so below.
Six Different Ways
One might say Ben has six very good reasons to be a tad testy right now, as his plans at an off-Island reunion at the marina turned out to be more of an exercise in futility. Sun’s brazen gun-waving was the last straw for Sayid, who was entirely fed up with Ben’s shenanigans and the whole cloak and dagger scene overall. With what was probably still tranquilizer on his breath, he left with a threat to both Ben and Jack, and I honestly don’t blame him one bit. A betrayed and shocked Kate was also sent running off yet again with Aaron close to her chest. What happened to Kate, anyway? I remember the days when she would have drop-kicked Ben in the FACE and wrestled that gun away from Sun in a heartbeat. The only thing she still has is her knack for quickly putting Jack directly in his place. It’s odd to see her passively clinging to a child, scampering away now so seemingly helpless.
Doing the Unstuck
In fact, none of our O6’ers really have seemed like themselves since they left. I believe that is because their entire post-crash, off-island existence was never supposed to happen, and whether it’s the Island who tortures their conscience, or Ben, they were never meant to jump the timeline. What this has to do with the Island’s skipping, and how it’s supposed to fix the problem upon their return, well as Faraday put it, “that's where we leave science behind.”
That’s where I leave my time-travel paradox thoughts behind as well. I mean, why did Ben allow the O6 to leave the Island in the first place if becoming “unstuck in time” was going to be the result? I was under the impression that he had done this sort of Island-jumping-looping thing before, and even had knowledge of “the rules” in regards to what could and should not be broken. Even more confusing is that we later learn that when Ben turned the donkey wheel, he knocked it from its axis, and this is what is supposedly causing the Island’s little temporal hiccups.
Or so says Christian Sheppard a.k.a. the mouthpiece of Jacob. I wonder if we should trust this entity who says that Locke should have never trusted Ben. Could Ben just be using the O6 to facilitate his own journey back to the Island, because he for some reason cannot return alive without them? I do think it is the combination of a wiggy wheel and the O6's departure that has caused the time issue. But who is telling the complete truth here, if anyone?
Jumping Someone Else’s Train
If Ben wanted to remove Locke from the Island and keep it for himself, he more than likely would have let Locke turn the wheel and get whisked off to the desert. Was Ben so enraged by the murder of Alex that he needed to make a pit stop from The Island Express in order to deliver a personal threat to Widmore? I think it’s possible, but it also seems that he has plenty of off-Island Others working for him who could have more easily done the same, and without the need to for him put his own life in such risk. When Ben went down into the frozen chamber and started pushing on that contraption, he was without a doubt genuinely upset. We also know that he had been coming to the realization that he was no longer in favor with Jacob, so maybe this was an indication of his ultimate despair at being ousted.
Perhaps then it was Locke who did not deliver the message properly, which as much as I love the man, definitely seems like something he would do. Locke told Ben that “we have to move the Island”, while Christian specifically told Locke to move it. Is it possible that Ben just assumed that it was his own task, his final sacrifice and punishment for whatever reason that he and Jacob were at odds? Whatever the case may be, after everything that he has done, I don’t believe that Ben would have purposefully and willingly have left the Island and put Locke in charge unless it was absolutely necessary for the survival of the Island itself. It is an action of last resort and there seems to be no way to predict the ramifications. The rules have indeed changed, and I believe that Ben is out of his element now just like everyone else who never should have left.
Going Home Time
This is probably why Ben finally snaps and lashes out at the remaining group of two like a raging father driving a car full of hyperactive kids to Disneyland. Well, more like a slightly cold and creepy father. Sun just had to ask “are we there yet?” one final time, and Jack had to throw one last spitball over Dad’s shoulder. The entire van-brake slamming tirade was probably the most emotional we have seen Ben since he spun the magic donkey wheel. It was definitely the most amusing.
For once Ben really appears to have no idea what could possibly happen next, as evidenced by his obvious surprise upon seeing Desmond walking up to the church the same time his own party had arrived. It also seems as if he had to take a quick moment to process the fact that Desmond knows Ms. Hawking is Daniel Faraday’s mother. It probably will not take him long to figure the trail leads back to Widmore, and once he realizes the connection, I fear Penny’s life is suddenly going to become a lot more dangerous. At the moment though, there is no time for Q&A, and Ben herds the gang to rendezvous with LOST’s most mysterious matron.
The Holy Hour
I believe at this point it is safe to say that we have a new DHARMA station on our hands in the form of L.A.’s best kept-secret, Ms. Hawking’s Holy Basement Electromagnetic Super-Lab. Ever since we were flashed a new, unknown symbol in one of the season 5 promos earlier this year, fans have been guessing at its name and chomping at the bit to finally get a real glimpse. I couldn’t help but notice the DHARMA binders on Ms. Hawking’s basement shelf the last time we saw her there, the same type we have seen in other stations such as the Flame and the Orchid. Since I would rather not entirely spoil it for those of you who haven’t seen it, for all intents and purposes the symbol appears to be a lamp post, one similar to what you would see on any ordinary street-corner. How interesting it is that the first time we are shown the church in this episode we first see a close-up of the same kind of street light on a post.
Not only do we have the symbolism inherent with the idea of a beacon “lighting one’s way” back to the Island, but those who are familiar with the tales of Narnia by C.S. Lewis (also Charlotte’s initials) know it is the lamp post was used to signify the bridge between the world of Narnia and our own. In addition, there is a direct parallel that can be drawn between the potential location being in a church, and the idea of “the light” as it relates to the pure and the Holy and in Christian faith, Jesus himself. Of course I must refer to the Book of John:
We later see another exterior shot from further away with the lamp post again on the left and a large statue of Jesus Christ on the right.Could it be that a little of both worlds, above and below – faith and science, are needed to locate the window which will allow entrance back onto the Island?
It was probably easy to guess that for being a royal jerk to Jin since landing on the Island, Danielle’s comrade Montand was going to get it eventually. What I did not expect was the manner in which the Smoke Monster was able to completely tear him from his arm. Robert’s expression was worth several rewinds. It makes me remember how close Locke was to this same fate. Once the Temple was revealed I saw that it was everything that I had hoped it would be. There was a lot of speculation last season when we first learned of this place, as a small DHARMA symbol on Ben’s map had led some to believe that it was not at all what the name implies but rather another one of the D.I.’s scientific research stations. Instead it’s ancient-looking, covered in hieroglyphs, and from all appearances, one of Smokey’s bedrooms.
My only question now is in regards to what exactly turned Danielle’s crew against her? It would seem that somehow, they were changed when they went down into the Temple after Montand. However, I believe some time passed between the jumps that Jin experienced, and that it was a good deal later when he reappeared at their beach camp. There are several reasons why I do not think we have the whole story. For one, Danielle had told us already that her crew became sick after they had come across the Black Rock. Second, there is a case marked EXPLOSIVES among their things on the beach that suspiciously looks like the same crates that came from the hull of the old ship. In addition, we see the camp had looked to be lived in for a bit, more than two seats were by the fire and instruments were out of their cases, as if they had returned from the encounter with the Monster and all had been ok for awhile. I do hope that we get to find out what it was that changed her husband Robert to the point where he was about to murder his own pregnant wife.
It’s a shame that the one person who might be able to figure out all of the ancient cultural leave-behinds on the Island has met an untimely end. Well, at least we finally discovered not only was she on the Island as a little girl, but she ran into ol’ Danny boy at some point in her childhood as well. I am guessing that Locke’s spin of the wheel might not totally stop our castaways from time-travelling, and that they have a trip to DHARMA-ville to look forward to. I mean, back to.
I am also glad they decided to revisit the fact that Charlotte knows Korean. I still wonder if it has not just to do with her being an anthropologist, but perhaps she is somehow connected to Mr. Paik as well. In addition, who is Charlotte’s dad and why couldn’t he leave the Island with her and her mother? I am willing to bet that he is someone important, and perhaps the reason why Charlotte also knew about that old well-chamber.
The final scene of her life was brilliant, as both actors really pulled off an emotional moment for a character that we were only just beginning to learn about. Combined with the score, the scenery, and the amazing direction of one of LOST’s best camera pull-back shots, I was truly moved by Charlotte’s death, and was taken aback by how touching it really was. I will miss her.
From the Edge of the Deep Green Sea
When a scatter-brained Charlotte rattled off how she knew more about Carthage than Hannibal, I immediately rushed to the encyclopedia to confirm that Carthage is indeed the same location as modern-day Tunisia. We already witnessed her find the skeleton of a DHARMA polar bear there in the desert, but later when a polar Ben suddenly appeared after spinning the donkey wheel, of course it became easy to assume this area is a drop off station for the Island Express.
But why Tunisia? For one thing if we were to take the earth, fold it in half, squash it flat, and then draw a straight line through the middle of Tunisia it would come out on the opposite side of the globe in the Pacific Ocean outside of Fiji, near the area where Flight 815 more than likely went missing. So in one regard one can look at the Island and the turning of the wheel as perhaps opening some kind of diametrical portal or wormhole between these two antipodes.
I believe another hint comes from the season two episode ‘S.O.S.’, where Rose and Bernard visit a healer in Australia named Isaac. When Rose asks about his methods he explains to her, “There are certain places with great energy; spots on the Earth like the one we're above now. Perhaps this energy is geological, magnetic…” The idea of Ley Lines, or intersecting points of energy that are arranged across the Earth like a grid, is not at all a new one. For ages mystics have been trying to tune into and utilize these special places where it is thought that the Earth’s energies are especially concentrated. Around the globe there are twelve special areas, or vile vortices, where additional bizarre occurrences are said to take place, the most infamous being the Bermuda Triangle and the Devil’s Sea. Strange weather, instrument malfunctions, and even disappearances have all been said to occur in these areas.
In addition, we have vortices which relate directly to the LOST universe and which might explain how some of the Island’s other vessels may have gotten there. First, we have a Sahara Vortex corresponding to the “drop off point” in Tunisia. This could also explain how the Nigerian drug-smuggler’s plane could have reached the Island if it accidentally slipped into this portal. Second, there is a Fiji Vortex which might explain how Flight 815, Danielle Rousseau’s expedition, Desmond’s boat, and even the Kahana Freighter were able to access the Island. There is also the Black Rock ship which was said to have sailed from the coast of Mozambique. Wouldn’t you know, there is a Mozambique Channel Vortex as well.
Perhaps the anomalous electromagnetic properties of the Island and its ability to travel and exist in its own bubble of space-time are indeed somehow linked to this planetary grid system. I believe we are going to start seeing some of these ideas tie together a bit tighter as we learn more about how the Island itself moves around the Earth, if it even is a part of the Earth, and how our castaways are going to go about finding it again and returning.
The Same Deep Water as You
Once again we are given the idea that DHARMA definitely copped something that was there long before they were, as evidenced by the old well which served as a direct pathway to the underground frozen wheel chamber. One of my favorite parts of the episode is when John Locke refuses to be lowered into the well, as he replies, "where would be the fun in that?" and gives Sawyer this perfectly insane little smile. And with all of the excitement and fear we have come to know accompanies our favorite resident jungle-sage, Locke heads down the rabbit hole once more.
Poor Sawyer. If only Locke had only held onto the rope in that well, he wouldn’t have lost a friend. Again. I was really taken aback by how horrified he was and how quickly he sprung to the ground to try and dig Locke out, as if that was going to help. It kind of choked me up to be honest. Sawyer has become the third part of this Island Trinity, as he is truly the Heart to Jack’s Head and Locke’s Soul.
Poor Locke. If only he had clung to that rope in the well, he wouldn’t have busted his leg. Again. How many injuries does this make now, anyway? I think I am losing count of all the times he has had to limp through an episode, or fall to the ground from some ridiculous height, or climb down into some deep hatch, or make the heroes’ journey once more into the darkness below.
SYMBOL WATCH: Why Can’t I Be You?
I really don’t know of too many shows that have become so incredibly self-referential over the course of time and have done so to the level of success that LOST has. Let’s take a look at some more of the mirroring and repetition in this episode.
-- Locke becomes the “sacrifice the Island demands” just as he once claimed Boone was.
-- Once more once Locke must seek the Island’s advice and proceed on blind faith alone to set things right.
-- Jin makes Locke promise not to go and see Sun. Locke then says that he won’t go and see her, but she might go to see him. Later, Jack discovers Ben and Locke did actually meet up off the Island and says to Ben, "I thought he never came to see you." Ben replies that Locke didn’t come to see him, but instead he went to see Locke.
-- Sun lost her wedding ring the first time one of them left the Island, when Jin took off on the raft that Michael built. This is mirrored by Jin giving his ring to Locke to take it to his wife who is now the one who left.
-- Jin initially gives the ring to Locke as a symbol of divorce in order to keep Sun from returning to the Island. Sun later accepts the ring "in marriage" from Ben as proof the Jin is alive, and it becomes motivation for her to go back and find him.
-- Marriage and divorce is also a theme once more with Danielle and Robert Rousseau.
-- Locke receives thanks for his efforts to save the castaways, while Ben gets death threats and has to remind the O6 what he has done to keep them “safe”.
-- This is not the first time we have seen dead people falling from the trees, nor rotting dismembered arms, nor the idea of people losing their arms in general.
-- On the Island, the Smoke Monster dwells underneath a Temple. Off the Island, Ms. Hawking dwells in a church basement.
-- On the Island Christian, Jack’s father, "lights" the way in the wheel chamber for Locke to leave the Island. At the same time off-Island, Ms. Hawking, Daniel’s mother, “lights” the way for the O6 to return to the Island.
I’m sure there are plenty more examples that can be discerned. In fact it would seem like they chunked in just about everything except perhaps the classic, “You need to pee on my wound” joke with Jin from the first two seasons. (I’m still waiting, LOST writers. Throw it in there soon, please, ok?)
Just Like Heaven
This is also not at all the first time the concept of the Underworld has been explored on the show. From the hieroglyphs on the Swan hatch countdown timer that actually translated into “Underworld”, to the name Abaddon, which means "destroyer" and in the Book of Revelations is the Angel of the Abyss, to John Locke’s father on the Island thinking that he was actually in Hell; it’s a major theme on LOST. Even the fact that the Island is volcanic can be tied to this idea, as many cultures used to believe that volcanoes were entrances to the Dark Below. Finally, and most pertinent to this particular episode is the Cerberus, the mythological three-headed creature that guards the gates to Hades, and the same name our Smoke Monster has been referred to. Both are basically security systems guarding underground secrets most travelers should never look to explore.
One of the more fascinating connections LOST has served up relates to the Egyptian hieroglyphs we have seen now in several places beyond the Swan Hatch. The secret door in Ben’s house he went through in order to summon the Smoke Monster was covered with them. So was the column of stone in the frozen donkey wheel chamber. Now we have a Temple covered with this ancient writing as well as a large pyramid carved above the doorway entrance.
One of the glyphs seen can be identified as ‘time’ or ‘the sun’ and another, the Egyptian sun god, Horus. Horus corresponds to the Greek sun god Apollo, which is also the name shared by the candy bar that DHARMA always seemed to have in ample supply. In addition, we also have the DHARMA scientist named Horace, who not only brought Ben and his father to the Island, but who also originally built the cabin that Jacob is so fond of.
Am I insinuating that the Island is a literal embodiment of the Underworld? Not necessarily. This Place definitely seems to be Death for some such the DHARMA initiative, Rousseau’s belligerent friend Montand, as well as poor, dear Charlotte. But at the same time for others like Locke and Sawyer, the Island is a rebirth, a chance to start anew, and a place for redemption. The Island in essence embodies both Apollo and Cerberus, light and dark, beginning and end.
And lately, both future and past.
CONCLUSION: Round & Round & Round
By now we are all quite familiar with the amount of repetition and mirroring on LOST, and how we are now watching our characters play through the same moves over and over, as the same themes are being repeated and flipped around again and again. It seems as if the Island is not only spinning like a skipping record, but also tends to keep replaying these events as if there were some ideal timeline, some ultimate preferred conclusion that it is trying to reach.
In this episode there is a brief yet somewhat out-of-place moment where Sun tells her daughter Ji Yeon about the new American friend she met for her, Aaron. This is the second time that Sun has brought up the idea of the two children playing together, and it led me to a very strange thought on the heels of last week’s installment ‘The Little Prince’. Could it be that somehow we will witness the two youngest of our LOSTies, Aaron and Ji Yeon, later in a future life together on the island?
I cannot help but think back to the caves from season one, and the skeletons (aptly nicknamed Adam and Eve) that were discovered there in ‘House of the Rising Sun’. The bodies were also found with two stones, one black and one white, the yin and yang. With all of the time travel going on, it would seem the future is not necessarily separated from the past, just as life is never too far removed from death’s edge. Might we see one final symbol of the cycle of birth and death and the infinite circle of time’s passing culminate in the discovery of the skeletons’ identities to be none other than Aaron and Ji Yeon?
Or am I just crazy for thinking something like this is even possible?
*I write about LOST because I love the challenge of deciphering the clues and adding the pieces together. My thoughts are based solely on the show, the LOST Experience, and random research, as I try to avoid spoilers, promos, and even future episode titles. I love to guess what is going on, but I also like to do so in a way that leaves some of the conclusions still up to you. I do not know the answers and am often wrong. Whatever the truth turns out to be, it has been the journey that has meant the most to me.*