Friday, May 21, 2010

The Seven Great Lessons of LOST

After I watched What They Died For, I wasn’t sure just what I thought about it. I felt a bit muddled, so I watched it again. And then I slept on it. And in the morning, clarity began to come. Nonetheless, as this was essentially part one of the finale, I wondered whether I might do well not to try writing any songs about the episode until I put them into context with the finale. But I’ve lived with these characters for six seasons, and gotten to know them even more deeply than many because of my songwriting efforts. So I found that they came to me.

Richard arrived first. I’d been thinking a lot about The Minstrel of Cranberry Lane, one of the few songs I hadn’t yet gotten to in my feverish efforts to filk the Irish Rovers’ magnificent Tales to Warm Your Mind. A wistful song about wisdom and lost innocence, it called out to me, but I had no fitting subject. Until I recalled how moved I was by the tiny scene with Richard and Ben on the outskirts of the Others’ old stomping grounds, where Richard had buried Alex near a place where she and her adoptive father had spent a few precious moments of carefree happiness.

I struggled a bit with that one, but working through it felt like a spiritual experience. And so I turned my thoughts to Michael Card, the one songwriter I most admire who I’ve most avoided throughout this project for fear that it was inappropriate to write songs about a TV show based on songs rooted in the Bible. But when I considered the way that LOST sometimes illustrated Biblical principles, I decided it was time to dig into his music. After all, he, more than any other songwriter, demonstrated to me how to use lyrics to put a fresh spin on familiar stories and characters, while remaining true to the source material. The intricacy of his lyrics and his fondness for alliteration have leaked into my writing for years as well; though I seldom think about it, I suspect that he is one of my most important influences. And so I decided to try to honor his influence by taking a stab at some of his songs.

And a funny thing happened. One by one, several of the most vital players remaining on the Island began nudging me as I browsed through a selection of his songs. Jacob. Ben. Jack. Sawyer. They came and tapped me on the shoulder like Jacob himself and spoke their piece; it was all eerily effortless, flowing one after another so quickly that I really did feel as though they were doing the writing and not me. And it wasn’t until I got to Hurley that I realized what was happening. They were showing me how to say goodbye to the show and carry it with me. And I found that, while other characters remained on the Island, if I could just crack Kate, who’s always eluded me more than most, I would have a complete set of lessons. So I thought, and once I realized what it is that I think makes her tick, everything clicked into place.

So I present the Seven Lessons of LOST, along with the primary song I use to illustrate them, along with links to previous songs that have some resonance with the theme.

“If We Can’t Live Together, We’re Gonna Die Alone” / We Must Be Men of Science and Faith

Jack's Pledge (Jack)

It might sound like two distinct lessons, but I think of it more like a two-pronged lesson. Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself. Faith and works. How we relate to the universe, and how we relate to each other. It all comes down to embracing possibility: that it is a good and worthy thing to use reason and observation to explore our world; that we are sinners in the hands of a loving God; that our fellow sinners, no matter what their crimes, are both worthy and capable of love. We need community, and we need differing perspectives. We shouldn’t be so sure of ourselves that we refuse to learn from others or to accept their help. If LOST can be boiled down to one lesson, I think this would have to be it, and while it’s something all the characters have worked through to some degree, nowhere is the struggle and the growth more apparent than in Jack, who eventually comes to a resolution of the contraries expressed in Jacob and his brother.

I'll Never Leave You (Sun / Jin)
* This Island Is My Home (Jacob / Smokey) * Brothers (Jacob / Smokey) * Brother in Black (Jacob / Smokey) * I'll Search for Jin (Sun) * Hush, Little Aaron (castaways) * Any Team Will Do (viewers) * Eucalyptus (Jack) * September (Jack / Kate) * Can You Lead Me to the Plane? (Eko) * Lookin' Like Locke (Smokey) * She Was There (Charlie) * My Freedom (Smokey / Jacob) * Smokey * John Locke's Body * Getting Harder (George / Desmond) * I'll Search for Sun (Jin) * God Help Us All (Eloise) * You Need Love (Charlie) * Penny Milton (Desmond / Eloise / Daniel) * Stubborn Tomato (Jack) * Sawyer's Candidacy (Hurley / Sawyer) * Cork in the Wine (Jacob) * Known for the Doubt (Ben) * Jacob's Chosen (Smokey) * Not As Others (Tom) * The Loophole (Smokey) * See You in Another Life (Desmond) * Sittin' on the Shoreline (Smokey) * John Locke * The Crazy Man (Charlotte / Daniel) * Michael, Build the Raft With Jin * Crazytown (Sawyer) * Faraday (Jacob / Daniel) * Way Over (Frank) * John Locke in the Rain * Daniel's Warning (Daniel / Charlotte) * Tallies, Time and Tapestries (Jacob) * The Hidden Hatch (Desmond) * Langdon Street (Claire) * Bye Australia (815ers) * In the D. I. (Horace) * The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham (John) * Hey There, Ricardus (Ilana) * Fly On (Sawyer) * The Island's Call (viewers) * Goodbye Mr. Linus (Jack / Juliet) * I'm His Mother (Kate) * I Can Make Time (Daniel) * Dan in My Dream (Desmond) * The Thinker (Daniel) * That's the Island (John / Jack) * Where We're Destined to Be (Jack) * Yesterdayland (Sawyer) * Penny Girl (Desmond) * What the World Needs Now Is LOST (viewers) * When They Arrive (Jack) * Leaving This Island (Charlie) * I Never (Sawyer / Kate) * Hey Dude (Hurley) * For Her Sake / Sacrificial (Charlie / Desmond) * The Box Man (Desmond) * Fatal (Jack / Kate) * A Flash Before My Eyes (Desmond) * The Reader of My Hand (Claire) * I Can't Take a Shower (castaways) * Never Too Old (Bernard) * Despair (Charlie) * The Star of My Supreme Deception (Ben / Tom) * Christmas on the Island (castaways) * We Wish We Could Find an Isthmus (castaways) * Castaway Canon * I Am John Locke * Castaways' Rhapsody

“Fear Leads to Anger, Anger Leads to Hate, Hate Leads to Suffering”

Alex's Grave (Richard)

Yes, Yoda said it first. But this is a principle that LOST has powerfully demonstrated time and again, and most succinctly in Ab Aeterno. Richard was a good man who was terrified of losing his wife, which led to anger and hatred toward the man who refused her treatment. He killed the corrupt doctor, and he spent the next 140 years working through the consequences of that action, trying his hardest not to repeat his error and to encourage others to learn from his mistake. He seems to have taken a particular interest in Ben, who he first met as a scared little boy. Ben grew up to be a scared little man who clothed his fear in a mask of fearsome authority and who never was able to learn from Richard just how poisonous hatred could be. He had to come by his wisdom a little differently.

I'll Walk Away (Hurley)
* The Man With No Name (Jacob) * Whoever You Are (Claire) * Communication (Hurley) * You're Mine (Ben) * My Brother (Claire) * Sayid's Message (Sayid) * Widmore's Whiskey (Desmond) * Tell Desmond I'm Sorry (Ben) * Meant to Suffer (Christian / Jack / Sawyer) * Richard's Penance * Sundown! (Smokey / Sayid) * Eloise (Richard / Jack) * Well, I Certainly Hope You Help Him (Ben) * Eulogy (Ben / Frank) * Please Kill the Girl (Don't Kill the Girl) (Charlotte et. al.) * My Old Man's a Conman (John) * Before He Had Been Born (Eloise) * You Were Wrong, Jack (Sawyer / Kate) * Just Because He's John (Ben) * Stealing Walt (Tom) * Penny Hume * Why Did You Shoot Me? (John) * My Younger Brother's Cross (Eko) * I Will Not Avenge Boone (Sayid) * In That Hatch (Claire) * Goodbye Mr. Clean (Sawyer) * Stuck Here on a Rock (Juliet) * Girls Just Gotta Have Guns (AnaLucia) * Flight 815 (Boone / Hurley / John)

Wisdom Comes Through Experience and Mentorship

Invincible (Jacob)

I spent most of LOST waiting for Jacob. Even, I think, before Ben cryptically mentioned him in season two. It was always clear to me that no one among the castaways could be considered a figure akin to Dumbledore or Gandalf or Obi-Wan, and I needed the assurance that somewhere out there was someone who knew just a little bit more about what was going on than these hapless castaways. Someone tied in with the sense of purpose that John felt and that resonated so deeply with me. When we met Jacob at last, I feel the experience was as profound for me as it was for Hurley. And knowing where he comes from does absolutely nothing to diminish my respect for him. No, it just shows that this is a show about how people relate to the divine; it doesn’t make any definitive statements about the divine itself. And so Jacob is just someone who has been grappling with these questions longer than most. An idealist who was thrust into a role for which he didn’t feel remotely ready, guided by long years of trial and error - as well as a wise word from a much younger but ultimately sager man.

The Back-Up Plan (Jacob) * The Guardian (Jacob) * Try Treating Him Better (Christian) * Katie Be Good (Kate / Jacob) * What Will You Tell Her? (Desmond) * It's Me Callin' (Jack) * Still Think You're Dead? (Richard) * My Beacon on the Water (Jacob) * Give Them Life (Jack / Sawyer / Hurley / John) * Brother Desmond

Grace Truly Is Amazing

I Will Destroy the Beast (Ben)

Jacob is not God, but he is a man of God, someone who has spent centuries striving to embrace the noble and to prove that the human capacity for goodness is just as strong as its capacity for evil. So it is that Jacob chose flawed individuals for the very purpose of refining them, allowing them to become better versions of themselves. Those Candidates often veered horribly from the path, and no character has demonstrated the depths of depravity and the heights of grace so effectively as Ben Linus, particularly in Dr. Linus, which is very possibly my favorite episode, at last bringing the hopes that Jacob and I had to fruition. Many would say that Benjamin Linus didn’t deserve mercy. But he got it anyway, and I believe that he will ultimately be remembered much like seemingly sinister Severus Snape, “the bravest man I ever knew.” Meanwhile, I've come to realize that Ilana is grace personified. "I'll have you" is probably my favorite three words in the entire season.

Creepy Kid (Jacob / Smokey) * Choice in an Underwater Cell * My Sister (Jack) * I'll Have You (Ben / Ilana) * The Island and Me (John) * Jacob's Apology * The Summons (Jacob) * Mr. Eko * Eye of the Island (John) * Will You Like Me More? (Sawyer) * Quit Callin' Me James (Sawyer)

We Must Learn Humility and Trust

Our Noble Leader (Sawyer)

Long before Ben Linus was a glimmer in the eye of LOST fans the world over, we had Sawyer, another severely broken man whose suffering had led him to evil deeds. By the end of the first season, he had begun to work through many of his issues, though it wasn’t until the end of season four that he truly began to embrace his potential for heroism. It was a beautiful thing. But he still had a hard time letting go of his ego. While skepticism is a worthwhile quality at times, Sawyer can't stop his cynicism from getting in the way. His inability to trust Jack persisted all the way through The Candidate, when it led to the deaths of Sayid, Sun, Jin and presumably Frank. Now, at last, he is finally ready to humble himself and to trust the man who he once described as “the closest thing I have to a friend”...

Doing Construction (Rose)
* Lightning Was Striking Your Tent (Desmond) * Find the Plants for Me (Ben / John) * I'll Win This Race (Desmond / Libby) * Hoffs-Drawlar (Jack) * Take a Walkabout * Hugo, Lead On (Jack) * Soulmates (Libby / Hurley) * Let's Start Over (Jack / David) * Blow Up the Island (Daniel / Jack / Kate) * Jughead (Richard / Daniel) * I Am With You (Isabella) * You're the Best (Alex / Ben) * Tell Me About It (Miles) * Dr. Linus (Arzt) * Cursing His Protection (Richard) * Keep This Guitar Case For Me (Jacob) * Tell My Sister That I Love Her (Miles) * Don't Tell Me What I Can't Do (John) * Trust (Sayid) * Your Vanishing Hut (Daniel) * Resurrected Man (Richard) * My Mother Was Armed (Daniel) * Walkie Man (Tom) * The Humble Fisherman (Mr. Kwon) * Jacob (Ben) * Henry With the Arrow (Ben) * A Militant Man (Sayid) * The Perfect Crime (Nikki / Paolo) * Henry (Not Ben)

No One Deserves to Be a Redshirt

The War You Had to Wage (Kate)

...The closest thing, anyway, besides Hurley, his gentle mentor, and Kate, who has attached herself to both Sawyer and Jack throughout the series, frustrating me immensely as her flirtation and lack of commitment often lead to major problems for the castaways. It’s only in these last couple of weeks that I think I’ve begun to really understand Kate, and to see her unique perspective on a problem that has plagued the show from the outset. I’ve always thought of Hurley as the Patron Saint of Redshirts. Whether he’s eulogizing little-known castaways, defending skeletal Roger’s dignity or buying up every spare ticket on Flight 316, Hurley has consistently demonstrated his dedication to those others might disregard. But I finally realized that this is what drives Kate as well; she just isn’t as good at expressing this concern effectively as Hurley. Because of her actions, her best friend died. Ever since, she’s been tortured by her complicity and has wanted to avoid perpetuating the pattern, even as she does so, again and again. The only reason the Marshal caught her in Australia was because she stopped to help the man who was on his way to turn her in. In this past episode, she is the voice of indignation for everyone who has died, expressing her utter disdain for allowing people to be collateral damage. Everybody has a story. Every person has dignity and value; every life is worth protecting. Ilana understood that well; I'm coming to realize that I love her and Kate every bit as much as Rose, and in this glorious exchange from The Incident she perfectly explains my thoughts on the redshirt matter: "BRAM: Why'd we even bring this yahoo? ILANA: Because, we might need him. BRAM: For what? He didn't know the answer to the question. ILANA: That doesn't mean he's not important."

The Island He Ruled (Smokey)
* I Translate for Dogen (Lennon) * The Ballad of Frank Lapidus * Plastic Jet Plane (Kate) * Leonard's Numbers (Hurley) * Should I Save His Life Again? (Desmond) * Who'll Fly the Plane (Kate) * A New Color (Hurley / Desmond) * Casualties Are Common (victims) * When the Island's Done With Us (Ben) * That Dynamite (Hurley) * Sawyer's Threat * For Those in the Background (Hurley) * Careful Flyin' (Frank) * The Smoke Thing (Smokey / Sawyer) * Rose and Bernie * Flaming Arrows (Frogurt) * Lapidus * Goodbye Maddening Code (Kelvin) * Mikhail * For Charlie (Desmond) * He Was An Other (Danny)

The People and Stories We Loved Never Leave Us

When It Ends (Hurley)

I anticipate that we will have a Grey Havens moment in the series finale of LOST with Hurley, Kate and Sawyer, who I suspect will be the only ones left standing aside from Jack, who will remain with the man with whom he now shares a deep communion. They will speak for us as they bid farewell to the Island and to their mentors. I expect that Kate will have an especially difficult time letting go of Jack and Hurley will find it very hard to say goodbye to Jacob. But throughout the show, we have seen how these characters are influenced by those they have loved and lost. And we’ve also seen, mostly through Sawyer and Hurley, how great stories can influence a person’s life, and in that way the Island is a metaphor for the show itself, so although we leave it behind, we carry its lessons with us always.

Hippocratic Lament (Jack)
* Dissin' Anakin (Sawyer) * Reading as the Doc Rambles On (Doc Jensen) * Little House (Sawyer) * Ben's Song (Annie) * Alexandra (Ben) * We Are Home (Oceanic Six) * The Ring From My Hand (Liam) * I'm Gonna Read (Sawyer) * I'll Follow My Friend (Hurley) * She Wore the Ring He Left Her (Charlie)

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