Wednesday, May 12, 2010

"Might We Part in Friendship When at Last the War Is Won?"

That is the ultimate question I have Jacob pose in my song Tallies, Time and Tapestries, the query left lingering in the air and hanging over this entire season, and after Across the Sea, I think I finally have an answer. “Yes. We might.”

The opening scene of The Incident told me two important things: Jacob and the Man in Black were enemies, and Jacob and the Man in Black were friends. The question was, which came first? Did the familiarity of their enmity gradually breed affection, or did they start out as friends before getting caught up in this great cosmic game? I always leaned toward the latter, though certain episodes gave me serious reason to doubt this, particularly Ab Aeterno and The Candidate. I wanted to write Smokey off after last week, to spend the week seething at his maleficence. Yet I had a feeling that this week would change the picture again. Nearly every character - with Nikki and Paolo the big exceptions - has seemed more sympathetic after we delved into their background, and I anticipated a flashback of epic proportions.

I expected something along the lines of Ab Aeterno and hoped we might even ditch the frame altogether, though I was a bit taken aback to have that wish granted. An entire episode of nothing but backstory without so much as a title card with a date on it to give us a temporal anchor in relation to the main Island events. We have no idea when this story takes place, but my guess is... a long, long time ago. I’m unclear on whether the statue or the Temple exist yet; we didn’t see them, but it’s possible that they are there. I could almost see Jacob erecting the statue as a sort of twisted monument to his mother, but I have no idea how he would go about doing that. I feel reasonably certain that Jacob constructed the lighthouse, while Smokey built the Frozen Donkey Wheel. But this Island was teeming with mystery before even they arrived.

When season six started, I decided that there were two things that absolutely needed to happen in order for me to be satisfied with the series. Ben needed to find redemption, and Jacob needed to be firmly established as a Good Guy. Now I can finally breathe easy. I was so worried that this episode might be trying to make me hate Jacob, but much to my relief, I love him as much as ever, despite being frustrated with his enraged retribution, which reminded me a bit of Desmond pummeling Kelvin. Perhaps Jacob has lost a bit of mystique, knowing he started out as a bit of a ninny and is partly responsible for the problems that have plagued the Island for centuries, but ultimately I was moved by his vulnerability.

It no longer seems very fitting to compare Jacob to Aslan, though at times I can't help myself. However, the comparisons to Dumbledore seem very apt. He is a man who made a terrible mistake when he was young, and from that searing personal loss, seeds of wisdom grew. His friendship and subsequent rivalry with his brother reminds me of Dumbledore and Grindelwald, and the conclusion of that arc gives me hope that there may be a turnaround in Smokey's future. He has served as the guardian of a magical place for many years, nurturing those he summons, albeit generally from a distance. He seems to have specific plans for some, and even those in his closest confidences don't know everything. Ultimately, either Jack or Hurley, or perhaps both together (Harry and Neville, maybe - but I don't want to see Hurley behead anybody...), will triumph, and I wouldn't be surprised to hear some form of "I have known for some time that you were the better man."

Even after the atrocities of The Candidate, I’ve swung back to Smokey as Anakin and Hurley being right about everyone being able to turn. I confess I’ve always had a teensy soft spot for him, as far back as Walkabout; I identified with John, and I felt that if John saw something beautiful in Smokey, then it must be there. Other explanations existed, of course. I considered that there might be two Smoke Monsters - one benevolent, one malevolent. Or that John was simply a sucker who saw what Smokey needed him to see. All the same, much as I felt I should, I found it impossible to feel the same degree of repulsion for Smokey that I do for Voldemort and Sauron, not to mention Martin Keamy. Yes, I’ve always found Keamy viler than Smokey, and Anthony Cooper too. And then there was the simple fact that, aside from the cork scene in Ab Aeterno, I’ve never felt that Jacob hated Smokey. Indeed, I've largely felt that he loved him, and if Jacob loved him, how could I hate him?

Then again, most of what we have seen from Smokey throughout the series are acts of evil. This is an entity who I could imagine wiping out an entire planet as “millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced.” But the man who restrained Princess Leia as Alderaan was callously obliterated was the man with one of the most powerful redemptive arcs in all of pop culture. I am okay with sympathizing with Smokey as long as it doesn’t mean condoning his murderous rampages. Except maybe in The Shape of Things to Come. I gotta admit, I was actually rooting for him there.

Since The Incident, it’s been hard for me to determine when I ought to take Smokey at his word. I’ve always felt that he told the truth some of the time, while at others he was an egregious liar. Of all the statements he as made this season, the one I found most credible was the notion that he had a crazy mother. I found that a much too tasty mythological morsel to be a simple falsehood, and I was convinced that if nothing else, we would learn at some point that Smokey’s mother was a wacko.

Going along with that, I tended to believe that he used to be a man, and I felt fairly confident that he did indeed know what it was like to love someone. I’ve always gotten the sense that Smokey understands humanity in a way that Voldemort never did, despite his cynical assessment of it. Indeed, while Voldemort viewed love as a weakness, Smokey’s condemnation of humanity seems to have to do with the lack of love he finds within its ranks.

And so, I believe this nugget of the perfectly good man who was Jacob’s brother has endured to this day, and we sometimes see a glimmer of him. But he’s so encrusted in layers upon layers of evil that the light within him is feeble indeed. Nonetheless, I now feel that before the series is over, the man Jacob made into a monster needs to somehow be purged of his Smokey-ness, which can then return to the depths from whence it came. At which point I imagine the unnamed brother will die. And Richard is bound to die before the end too, which I imagine will be wrapped up in the mythology somehow. I don't think it will be dynamite.

Let me say how very relieved I am that we can now dismiss some of the more off-the-wall theories regarding the origins of Jacob and Smokey. I bid an especially enthusiastic farewell to Smokaday, though I do think that Smokey and Daniel would have plenty to talk about if they ever sat down for a chat. They have some pretty unpleasant things in common.

Why does Jacob bring the people that he does? This episode didn’t go into any of that, but I’ve been doing some musing about the fact that most of the Candidates come from family situations that are, in one way or another, broken. I think that perhaps Jacob seeks people who reflect his and Smokey’s situation, maybe in hopes that if they can break the cycle of betrayal and violence, it will somehow undo his one fatal mistake.

While I do think that Smokey in his current form has needed to be contained, containment would probably be easier if Jacob didn’t keep bringing all of these corruptible people to the Island. So why do it? I believe that the prize Jacob seeks is his brother’s liberation from the fate worse than death to which he has confined him. So what would it take to bring about such an end? What force for good could be strong enough to crumble a shell of evil centuries in the making?

I don’t know, but it seems very likely that Hurley, Jack and Ben will be involved. Ben, like Jacob, is the dutiful son, the one who does what he’s told and doesn’t ask questions, while John was always demanding answers. He will be important. Meanwhile, Jack and Hurley seem to be the prime remaining Candidates. Jack is more like Smokey. He always has to have a project, and he needs explanations. Gazing out across the sea brings him solace, but he’s not one to stand around idly. He’s a Took, while Hurley, like Jacob, is a Baggins. He resists change. All he wants is everything he’s ever had. He doesn’t need anything else. He’s a sweet man-child and a Mama’s boy, a trusting soul, one who always wants to believe the best in people. Jack and Hurley have never been enemies, but they demonstrate many of the contrasts between Smokey and Jacob quite well, and I’m certain that whatever the endgame is, they will be crucial players.

One player who has not been crucial for a long time is Eko. His death was a deep disappointment, a shocking end to a fascinating character, and I never quite knew what to make of it. Perhaps we’re not meant to think about it too much; Adewale wanted off the show and something had to be done to accommodate him. Nonetheless, I feel that I understand his death better now. Back in Dead Is Dead, Smokey, still posing as John, told Ben, “I was just hoping for an apology.” While he uses Ben’s guilt to win his obedience - and I’m certain that he was “Alex” in the Temple - I think he is also confessing his own desire. Smokey wants an apology from Jacob. And although it seems to me that Jacob is deeply sorry for pushing his brother into the heart of the Island, I get the sense that he could never bring himself to apologize for it.

More than any other person brought to the Island, Eko was defined by his relationship with his brother. It would certainly seem that it was the only truly significant relationship of his life. So I think that Smokey was drawn to Eko, and Eko’s refusal to apologize for his crimes infuriated him. It hit too close to home. Incidentally, I’m happy to see a critical relationship in the endgame that is completely unrelated to romance. All this sweeping romance that has filled the last few episodes is all well and good, but not everyone is defined by such relationships, and it is entirely possible to live a fulfilled life without them. I have for 29 years, so I was starting to feel a little left out.

I really liked this episode. The gorgeous scenery, the affecting music (I think my favorite was just after Smokey came to and discovered his well and village had been destroyed), the iconic archetypes, the long-awaited history of two central characters who've traveled this whole journey with us though we've often been unaware of it. I thought that both boys - impish Ryan Bradford and innocent Kenton Duty - were marvelous, completely selling me on the boys’ deep affection for one another along with the profound differences in their personalities. There was such a sense of purity to both of them, but one was content with what he had, while the other longed to explore. And I loved them both.

I found plenty of Biblical parallels - Jacob and Esau, Cain and Abel, the Prodigal Son and his brother. All came with a type of twist. Jacob was the one who got the “birthright” as a result of his mother’s machinations, but in this case, it was his brother who was the schemer and Jacob who was a bit of a dullard. Like Cain, Jacob did grievous damage against his brother that resulted in the death of his body. But his brother was the one who lived a cursed life. And while Jacob is the petulant “why do you love him more?” brother and Smokey is the wanderer, the matter is vastly complicated by the fact that the person they knew as their parent is an imposter and is hardly a model of upright behavior. Mr. Kwon is the closest thing we’ve seen to that father on the show, I think. Nameless mom? I don’t know what to make of her.

At times she seems deeply concerned about preserving goodness. There is almost a Garden of Gethsemane quality about her conversation with Jacob at the secret spring, with Jacob begging not to have to drink the cup that will bring him such a painful responsibility, yet ultimately drinking it anyway, though I'd hesitate to compare Jacob to Jesus much in this scene. She reminded me a bit of the father in The Road. He told his son that they were carrying the light, but he had little faith that anyone else remaining in the world was doing so, and he felt he couldn’t afford to believe them capable of it. His son felt differently and refused to write off all of humanity as an evil threat. He carried the light, and he wanted to share it. Jacob has been at war with himself for centuries, debating whether his mother had it right or whether humanity can responsibly share in such a noble responsibility. It seems that Richard was instrumental in helping him take the leap of faith himself.

Their adoptive mother also reminded me of the witch in The Silver Chair when she insisted that there was nothing beyond the Island. She had kept her boys very sheltered, and she wanted them to believe that the Island was the entirety of the world. I do not think that it is a fundamentally evil place. Indeed, there is a certain Edenic quality to the Island. But she is withholding the truth of the wider world. Why? Her goals are murky, sometimes seeming noble, sometimes nefarious, and she's violent and manipulative. I return to Kate and Smokey’s conversation in Recon about giving Claire an enemy, and I do think that Smokey and Jacob were subtly pitted against each other throughout their childhood, that what happened to them was what the woman who raised them wanted to have happen, and I certainly don’t know what to make of that, other than to say that the cycle seems to keep repeating itself.

I think that it is possible that Smokey does have some confused attachment to Claire, as she reminds him of his own mother. At first, she was like the blameless Claudia, until he forged her into more of an approximation of his “crazy mother”. Certainly, he has been using her. But I could buy that there might be some sentimental attachment.

One of the strangest revelations in this episode was the fact that, apparently, Smokey truly has no name. Claudia never gave him one, and as it was just the three of them and the boys were never intended to become aware of the encampment, their new mother felt no need to assign one to him. Though he must have been called something in his 30 years with the villagers. But can you imagine, to go through life with no true name? Talk about an identity crisis!

And then, of course, we finally got the identity of Adam and Eve, and I breathed a small sigh of relief that Rose and Bernard were off the hook, even as I rolled my eyes a bit at the heavy-handedness of showing us the scene from the first season. Granted, perhaps not everyone remembers that moment, and some watching the sixth season might have jumped on the LOST bandwagon later on and never seen that to begin with. Though since we were just reminded of it in Lighthouse, such a blatant flashback seems a little condescending, not to mention jarring in the midst of all the antiquity. Also, Jack estimated by the state of the clothing that the skeletons were about 50 years old. So it seems that they were amazingly well-preserved, all things considered. My guess is that this episode is set at least a couple of thousand years ago. But maybe it’s not quite as long ago as it seems. Or maybe the Island’s unique properties are helpful in slowing decay.

Allison Janney, who I recognized at once but wasn’t sure why, did a good job in this episode, but it was the boys and then Mark Pellegrino and Titus Welliver who really wowed me. Throughout the entirety of his adulthood, Jacob wore this sort of sweet, sad, almost dopey puppy-dog face that made me want to give him a great big bear hug, or maybe burst into tears. He was a gentle little boy whose entry into adulthood came much later than his brother’s. The quiet wisdom we saw in The Incident didn't come until much later. In his childlike form, I found him fundamentally good and kind and altruistic, yet occasionally capable of violence in the midst of great strife.

And then Jacob‘s brother, who, up until the moment when he fatally wounded his own mother in retribution for her genocide, only committed the crime of curiosity and a deeper loyalty to his birth mother than the woman who killed her. His scenes with his mother as an adult were devastating. He, too, was a good man, disgusted by the vices he witnessed in the people he had infiltrated. He loved his brother and wanted him to venture off with him, but Jacob was torn.

Would Jacob have let him go, I wonder, if the choice had been his to make before his brother became Smokey? I can’t decide. Because I think he was truly heartbroken at the thought of him leaving. On the other hand, he wanted him to be happy, and I have a tendency to think that, much as it pained him, he would have seen him off, hoping he might one day return. But his rash, grief-stricken attack, immediately followed by a massive “uh-oh, shouldn’t have done that” moment, negated that option. It’s imperative that Smokey not leave. Which means that Jacob gets a phantom version of his brother to pal around with every once in a while, but though I can imagine him wishing for a way to keep his brother from leaving, surely he wouldn’t have wanted this.

We still have a lot of ground to cover in the last three and a half hours. Most curiously, where do Charles, Eloise and Christian fit in? At this point, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that Charles intends to tap into the source of the Island’s power and harness it. His intentions are probably at least partially self-serving. Is he merely looking for ultimate power and willing to do whatever it takes to get it, or is there a grander purpose to his plan? I noticed that Crazy Mom, like Eloise, said that the boys weren’t ready to be enlightened. How might things have played out differently if they had learned about the people later? How does that relate to Desmond, if at all? And what are we to make of the fact that Hurley shares a unique ability with Smokey?

I still don’t understand the Rules very well. It would appear that Jacob made them up, based in part on his understanding of the Rules set down by his mother, who claimed that she’d made it so the two boys couldn’t hurt each other - but if you ask me, Jacob did quite a number on his brother. So it kinda seems like her assertion is suspect. Does Jacob have the power to prevent him and his brother from killing each other, or is Smokey just agreeing to play by his rules, as much as it annoys him? And why is Jacob appearing in ghost form as both a man and a boy? Does he hope that they ghost boy will help bring Smokey back to his former self? Was the blood on his hands in the one instance an attempt at an apology?

Early in the episode, Claudia tries to get some answers about where her midwife came from, and she is tersely told that every question will only lead to another question. Claudia speaks for us in that instance, and I’d say that’s a pretty good indication that much of the Island’s history will remain steeped in mystery, which is okay by me. I want some explanations, but I don’t want Midichlorians. Nor do I expect to get them. Some enigmas must remain. It is the way of things. The way of the Force. And besides, it will ensure that we will still have plenty to talk about long after the show is over.

Next week is What They Died For, which sounds to me like the center point of an inspirational speech by Jack, but that's just a wild guess. That's when the finale really begins, and so I think the placement of this episode was perfect. Because it was so self-contained, it could have gone anywhere, but I really think it was best to leave the beginning until as close to the end as possible, to keep us guessing as to where these two were coming from, and to give us a breather after the devastation of the last episode before the further devastation likely to come. But that had better not be all that's coming.

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