'Lost': Jacob, Reveal Thyself!
Doc Jensen theorizes on everybody's favorite super-creepy cabin dweller and other ghosts in the ''Lost'' machine
By Jeff Jensen
Jeff Jensen, an EW senior writer, has been despondent since the cancellation of ''Twin Peaks''
We welcome to our nutty little public access show Lost executive producer Carlton Cuse. Fresh off his big-time appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live this past week, he graciously stopped by our cardboard-and-milk crates set to drop off this quick-and-coy preview of tonight's spooky-looking Locke-focused outing, titled ''Cabin Fever'':
''Nothing like a good jungle trek to give Locke and Ben a chance to discuss the notion of fate — and even Jacob weighs in on the topic.''
So it looks like Ben, Locke, and the cowardly lion — er, I mean Hurley — will finally get that Whaddawedonow? meeting with Jacob, the great and terrible Oz of the Island. Maybe the temporally challenged hillbilly will explain why his haunted shack keeps wandering away like a lollipop-dazzled child at a theme park. Maybe the petulant poltergeist will explain why the ghost of Christian Shephard was rocking in his chair in the season premiere. Hell, maybe Jacob will explain just who the Boone Hill he is — or THINKS he is. While we wonder and wait, here's some helpful info and useful context for tonight's episode — plus some to iron-clad, gotta-be-right theories!*
*Expiration date on my conviction: exactly 10:01:01 p.m. tonight.
DOC JENSEN'S GUIDELINES FOR GHOSTLINESS
Claire is dead? Charlie hangs with Hurley? Christian can cradle Aaron? WTH?! A metaphysical manifesto for defining — and debunking — undeadness on an Island lousy with apparent apparitions:
1. The Island is a place where mind can manipulate matter.
2. It is possible for a disembodied mind with a strong will to live to create a body for itself.
3. More often, however, Island ''ghosts'' are merely external byproducts of acute castaway/survivor psychology.
4. Regardless, these constructs are fundamentally incomplete because they lack souls.
1. Pseudo Christian exists because Jack's survival demands it; his sense of self as savior/fixer/hero is shaped by his relationship to his father, and more to the point, it is continuously reinforced by his ongoing internal struggle with his daddy issues.
2. Claire died in the attack on her cabin, but Pseudo Claire exists either because her disembodied mind had a strong will to live — or because Baby Aaron needs her for his own survival. Nursing, you know.
3. Locke died in the plane crash, but his mind created a new body, though his soul is trapped in Jacob's cabin, because LOCKE IS JACOB. Maybe.
LIARS AND TYRANTS AND BOHRS, OH MY!
What should have been — and what ought to be! An explanation for why Locke is really Jacob. Maybe.
When did Lost first suggest the possibility of alternate realities? Was it when we realized John Locke had slipped into a dimension where his legs could work? Or maybe it was when Jack's chance encounter with Desmond ended with the conspicuously loaded salutation, ''See you in another life, brother.'' Or maybe it was this time last season, when now-dead freighter action figure Naomi parachuted onto the Island with the news that the wreckage of Oceanic 815 — complete with scores of passenger corpses — was discovered at the bottom of the ocean. Regardless, now more than ever, Lost fans must consider the possibility that the Island is a place where a world of possibilities are actually possible...that is, until the day that they all fall away, save for one.
This season has only seen this thematic concern intensify. In the premiere, we had Hurley telling Jack, ''I should have gone with you'' instead of Locke — not only begging the implicit question ''Why?'' but also ''How would have things been different?'' In ''The Constant,'' the figurative and fuzzy finally became literal and focused as Desmond traveled back in time and switched out existing events with new ones — replacing existing reality with an alternate. In Ben's recent episode, ''The Shape of Things to Come,'' we saw the seemingly all-knowing Other staggered by a course of events playing out much differently than he was expecting them to, possibly because he knew what they were supposed to be. We also saw Charles Widmore accuse Ben of stealing from him — not in a petty-theft sense, but a big-picture, You've-been-fleecing-my-future-bitch! sort of way. Whatever that means. (Seriously, I only understand, like, 65 percent of what I say.) I wonder if those nightmares Flash Forward Widmore has been trying to obliterate with booze are flickering images of a future that will never come to pass due to Ben's meddling? Another question: What more from life could Charles Widmore possibly want?
The cosmic clash between these two very mean men of considerable means brings us to Jacob. And Esau, too. According to the Biblical story found in the Book of Genesis, shy-and-sly Jacob tricked his blind father, Isaac, into giving him the inheritance that rightfully belonged to his brother, Esau, a hairy, red-skinned hunter born a few minutes ahead of him, with his bratty little bro clutching his heel, no less. And so it went Jacob took the family fortune and leveraged it to become the figurative father of Israel. He also sired 12 sons, the youngest he named Benjamin. As for the birthright-screwed Esau, he was initially so furious that he swore to kill his brother, and the threat of much bloodshed seemed inevitable...but then something happened. This, too, at the end, when I explain why Lost = Pet Sematary. Seriously.
Where is all of this leading to on Lost? Perhaps Jacob will give us a few more hints tonight. I suspect he knows SOMETHING of altered realities. In this creepy entity, whose only line to date has been, ''Help me,'' I sense a trapped soul who has had something stripped from him, and I don't mean his body. I wonder if here, on an Island that seems to stand at the crossroads of All Possible Worlds, what/who we see trapped here inside this otherworldly outhouse is a man who never really was. In other words: Could Jacob be the version of Charles Widmore that somehow, some way got flushed out of existence? Maybe.
Or maybe it's just the soul of John Locke. Nobody on that plane yearned for an alternate reality for himself more than fate-whipped Locke. When the plane crashed, he died...and was born again by the power of his mind and Island magic. But the irony of this man of faith is that he has no soul — it's trapped in the Island's version of Purgatory, a small little shack in the woods. And that's no way for anyone to spend eternity. Locke, then, is both alive and dead, a paradox akin to the wave/particle duality of Niels Bohr. The only way for Locke's soul to pass on is for his mind to agree to come along for the ride. ''Help me,'' indeed.
CRASHING FOR ''CABIN FEVER''
As it turns out, Jacob isn't the only ghost of Lost past returning in tonight's episode. Based on ABC's promos and press release for tonight's episode, here are some things you need to know in preparation for ''Cabin Fever,'' plus a theory or two.
''THE PURGE''What we know: Ominous term applied to the violent event that ended the conflict between the Dharma Initiative and Island dwellers dubbed ''The Hostiles.'' At 4 p.m. on December 19 of some unspecified year — all we know is that it was Ben's birthday — the Dharma barracks were filled with egghead-killing gas. Presumably, this vicious vapor was the same stuff Dharma itself was manufacturing at the Tempest. Ben played a crucial role in the Purge and even considers himself personally responsible for it. All the Dharma dead bodies were dumped in an open pit. The Purge is not an Island secret: Charlotte and Faraday know something of the event, as they had a secret agenda to neutralize the Tempest lest Exterminator Ben uses it again. Doc Jensen Theory: The same data fits a radically different interpretation. My proposal: Dharma's leaders were secretly planning to use the gas against their own volunteers as part of the last phase of Dharma's Island excursion; the so-called ''Hostiles'' were keenly aware of these homicidal intentions and were trying to stymie them; and Ben, motivated by his own private agenda, facilitated this act of mass murder by basically allowing it to happen as scheduled. But why would Dharma pull a Jonestown? Here's an answer:
What we know: Mathematician, member of the Dharma Initiative, and the man to blame for bringing Benjamin Linus to the Island. Horace and his wife Olivia were the couple that happened upon and helped Roger Linus and his infant son, Ben, not minutes after the boy's ill-fated birth in the Oregon woods. Later, Horace recruited down-and-out Roger to Dharma, bringing the heartbroken widower and his lonely son to the Island. When Goodspeed was gassed to death in the Purge, Ben respectfully shut his eyes. (Note: Olivia was also Dharma, employed as a schoolteacher.)
Doc Jensen Theory: The Dharma Initiative was pursuing the thing that most every self-respecting mad scientist seeks: the means to cheat death. To that end, surely the Dharma peeps must have noticed what WE'VE noticed the past four seasons. On the Island, people who are sick get well. On the Island, people who should be dead walk among the living, and more, have something that resembles tangible, corporal form. On the Island, energies exist that allow people to transcend space and time. If Dharma's secret purpose was to conduct experiments on the Island and WITH the Island in order to find a cure for death — perhaps to benefit all of humanity; perhaps just for its mortality-spooked financiers — then I suppose one sure-fire test you could do is this: Let a bunch of people live on the Island for an extended period of time; let them bond to the unique environment of the Island; and then kill them all and see what happens. Name Games: Horace Goodspeed may have one of the most convoluted names in Lost lore. If I had to guess the inspiration, I would say HORACE = the ancient poet Horace (famous sayings: carpe diem, or ''seize the day''; aurea mediocritas, or ''golden mean,'' a concept that expresses both mathematical and spiritual equilibrium; and dulce et decorum est pro patria mori, or ''It is sweet and fitting to die for one's country''). And GOODSPEED can only = Stanley Goodspeed, Nicolas Cage's scientist character in The Rock! His specialty: Chemical weapons! By the way, you remember what ''The Rock'' is in The Rock, right? It's Alcatraz. Which is a prison. On an Island. Policed by sharks!
What we know: Ben's right-hand man in Otherness. When they first met in the jungle back in the Dharma daze, angry young Ben asked Alpert if he was ''a Hostile.'' Alpert asked if he understood what the word truly meant. Ben then petitioned to enlist with Alpert's band of merry Dharma-fighting men, but Alpert said, ''Not yet.'' Island Present Richard looks no different than Island Past Richard. Adult Ben cryptically acknowledged Alpert's invulnerability to the vagaries of time last season when he teased ''You do remember birthdays, don't you?'' As a representative of Mittelos Bioscience — an Others front which may or may not be legit — Alpert recruited brainy fertility doc Juliet to help solve the Others' baby-making crisis. His allegiance to Ben may be weakening: Last season, Alpert pushed Locke to become the Others' new leader, claiming that Ben's fixation with reproduction was getting in the way of their real work...whatever that is. Still, when last seen, Alpert was executing Ben's command to take the remaining Others to the Temple...whatever/wherever that is. Doc Jensen Theory: There is a prevalent fan theory that Alpert is an electromagnetically energized long-lived survivor of the Black Rock, the slave ship beached in the middle of the Island. I'm willing to accept that Alpert would be several centuries old — IF he was actually, technically alive. Yep: I think this Tricky Dick is dead — or at least as dead as, say, Christian Shepherd. Judging from the way we saw Grandpa McBoozy cradling Aaron last week, these Island ghosts are more materially substantial than the typical ethereal entity, although clearly Alpert is a higher caste of specter than Christian, at least for the (relative) moment.
Name Games: Richard Alpert links to New Age enlightenment guru Ram Dass, the current name of a real Richard Alpert who once hung with hippie honcho Timothy Leary. And it's almost impossible to resist the provocative scholarship posted last week by Lost theorist J. Wood on Powells.com. Recalling how Alpert quizzed Young Ben on his understanding of the word ''hostile,'' Wood pointed out that ''hostile'' is connected to an older word, ''ghos-ti,'' which looks like ''ghost.'' Actually, the definition is akin to ''guest''; it refers to ''hospitality,'' not ''hostility.'' Still, Lost loves its multilayered wordplay, so I think it's more likely that the show would want to consider multiple applications. Richard is a ghost — and, like Casper, a friendly one at that, despite appearances to the contrary. But what's his mission? To help his fellow undead pass on. Here, I appeal to four sources:
1. Lost cited philosopher Anthony Cooper (the name given to Locke's father), who famously wrote: ''Our antagonist is our helper.''
2. Lost season 4's most conspicuous literary reference, C.S. Lewis. In The Great Divorce, Lewis offers a parable for life on earth by presenting a vision of Heaven in which the newly departed MUST leave their earthly baggage behind if they wish to enter paradise — or, decoded, to grow spiritually. They are helped in this endeavor by ghosts who've preceded them in death, though initially, these ''shining beings'' come off as tough-love antagonists. ''Others,'' if you will.
3. Jacob and Esau redux. In the coda to their story, we learn something very interesting. We learn that following his betrayal, Esau's life proceeded along the same exact spiritual arc of your typical Lost character: family-inflicted damage leading angry self-destructive behavior; a lost-years period of exile leading to (hopefully) the safe harbor and happy ending of spiritual renewal. The Jacob/Esau tale ends with the brothers holding a summit meeting many years later. Jacob expects Esau to seek vengeance against him. Instead, he forgives. For Esau, living free of earthly attachments — be it his anger or materialism — and in restored relationship with his brother is riches and recompense enough.
4. Finally, Lost's author-in-spiritual-residence, Stephen King. His book Pet Sematary is a proverbial Book of the Dead for Lost: doctor protagonist; enchanted wood with the dark power to bring the dead back to life, albeit in truly inhuman form; a ''dark territory'' marked by ancient mythology and guarded by a man-eating, shape-shifting, wolf-headed monster called the Wendigo. There is also a fixation with The Wizard of Oz...but we'll get to that next week. If there is a profound point in Pet Sematary, it is the same one that that permeates much of Lost: the idea that our earthly attachments — to things, to loved ones, to ourselves, to our mortality — actually get in the way of true happiness. In the book, a character tells Louis, ''Sometimes...dead is better.'' King writes in the 2000 edition of the book: ''That lesson suggests that in the end, we can only find our peace in the universe in our human lives by accepting the will of the universe.'' Sounds like a lesson a lot of Lost characters would be wise to learn.