Doc Jensen digs into the story of Doubting Thomas and the real life of Jeremy Bentham for enlightenment on themes in this week's episode. Plus: Teases galore, corrections about Narnia, and a new installment of ''Totally Lost''
You read that right. We have multiple teases about tonight's new Lost. Most of them are hiding within (shameless plug alert!) the new installment of Totally Lost, the web series devoted to the crazy talk, over-thinking, passionate feelings, and general fun-time tomfoolery that Lost inspires in myself and Dan Snierson. You can find the show (which includes a very special guest ''appearance'' from Lost exec producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof via the modern magic of electromagnetic bobble-headed talismans) at the very end of this column.
Here is this week's installment of ABC's entertaining attempt at recapping Lost. However, there's no untangling of my favorite knotty moment in last week's episode: Ben's choice of airplane reading material, James Joyce's Ulysses. OBSCURE ULYSSES TRIVIA OF GREAT LOST SIGNIFICANCE! One of the heroes of the novel, Leopold Bloom, is utterly fixated on a big word: metempsychosis. It's a Greek term referring to ''the transmigration of the soul'' (the spirit moving from one state to another; see: the Oceanic 6 leaving the real world for the Island). It also refers specifically to the idea of reincarnation. Think: John Locke?
APOLOGY AND CLARIFICATION
I received several e-mails — some of them quite furious — taking me to task for screwing up my Chronicles of Narnia references in last week's column. So, for the record: 1) Reepicheep is a mouse, not a rat; and 2) the yellow rings don't take you to Narnia, they take you to the Wood Between the Worlds, a nexus that connects various different realms. (Thanks to Jamie in Bristol, Va., and Emily in Sacramento for being among the first to notice and reproach.)
Many of you wrote to say that my ''memory upload theory'' makes no sense. I argued that season 1 Rousseau didn't remember meeting season 1 Jin because season 5 Jin had not yet had the experience of meeting her. Similarly, I stated that while Faraday had the experience of encountering Desmond in the past at Oxford, he was not permitted to recall the memory until Desmond had the experience in the future. The general consensus was that my theory was convoluted to the extreme. And the general consensus is correct: I think it's totally wrong. What I realize in retrospect was that I was trying to take into account Faraday's insistence that the past can't be changed. But I have since come to a new conclusion: Faraday is wrong. In fact, I think Faraday is wrong about a lot of things. And I think Lost has been subversively using this alleged fount of time-travel wisdom to misdirect the audience about where the season is headed.
So let's leave it at this: I think the reason that Rousseau didn't remember Jin in Season 1 is that, at that point in the story, the event hadn't happened yet. Until Jin went back in time, she was living in a timeline where he was never part of her Island ordeal. When he did go back in time, history changed to accommodate his presence. And if Rousseau were alive today, I am SURE she would totally back me up on this.
EVERYBODY SING: JOHNNY LOCKE! SUPERSTAR! WHO IN THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?
A brief reflection on the Locke-Christ thing — and a provocative link to last week's Doubting Thomas painting that may explain this week's episode.
Two episodes ago, John Locke officially took on the role of castaway savior in the grand salvation drama that is Lost. And like any game actor, he embraced the part with gusto. Baldy Brando even broke a leg! (rimshot!) Seriously, folks, how many ways can the ''Man of Faith'' be a symbolic Jesus? Lost has him serving as a sacrificial lamb (Richard: You're going to have to die, John. Locke: Umm... Okay!), so that fallen souls (i.e., the Oceanic 6) may be reconciled with their paradise-dwelling God (see: the Island). Remember when Locke fell down the well in ''This Place Is Death''? That's your proverbial descent into hell in this John-as-Jesus passion play. In Christian theology, this event is known as ''The Harrowing of Hell.'' As part of Christ's trip down under, he apparently walked up to Satan's throne and put a middle finger in his face. ''You think you're so tough, Mr. Snakey-Snake? You think you have dominion down here in your inescapable Place o' Death? Well, watch this, beyotch!'' And then — poof! — he was gone. He, like, totally metempsychosisized himself. Resurrection and Ascension. Or, to borrow one of my favorite lines from literature: ''Up. Out.'' A Doc Jensen ''No Prize'' if you can find the reference. You can send your guesses to JeffJensenEW@aol.com. In the meantime, here's tease no. 2: Matthew Abaddon — a.k.a. ''That guy from Fringe who made a couple appearances on Lost last year'' — is back tonight. And what does ''Abaddon'' mean? Many things, all of them bad. ''Hell.'' ''Place of Destruction.'' ''The Destroyer.'' ''Demon.'' ''Devil.'' ''Angel of Death.'' So very ''This Place Is Death.''
Anyway, tease no. 3: Tonight's episode is called ''The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham.'' It is about what happened to John Locke after he cranked on the frozen donkey wheel and disappeared from the Island. (Yep, Lost is hitting pause on Jack and Co.'s ''Return to the Island'' storyline and sketching in some back story — including tease no. 4: some crucial new Sayid intel.) We already know some of Locke's awful off-Island odyssey: He went back to the real world — a place that was a proverbial Hell for Locke, compared to his Island heaven — so he could evangelize to rebel angel Jack Shephard and his assorted crew of lost souls and bring them back to the Island. This, too, fits the corollary to ''The Harrowing of Hell.'' According to some interpretations, Jesus not only went to Hell to prove his power, but to free many of its prisoners, too. But again, this application assumes that the off-Island world is the equivalent of Hell in Lost's metaphysical allegory. If you're more inclined to think of the Island as Hades, then maybe the prison break association better suits drifting spirits like Christian Shephard. Maybe Jack's spectral father is hoping Locke will ultimately bring about circumstances that will liberate him from the Island and allow him to pass into Heaven...or maybe even live again. Again: ''metempsychosis.'' Yes, yes, I know: Jeez. And by the way? It's only going to get worse from here.
THE LOST GOSPEL
Doubting Thomas, Gnostic texts, and some thoughts on Lost's sudden fixation with religion.
Remember that scene last week in ''316'' (see: John 3:16, Christianity's bottom-line, leap-of-faith verse) when Ben told Jack about Thomas the Apostle? According to the impromptu Sunday school lesson from the shifty, double-speaking über-Other, Doubting Thomas suffers unfairly from a bad image. Ben reminded Jack and us that this allegedly faith-challenged apostle was also the same one ready and willing to sacrifice his life with and for Jesus: ''Let us also go, that we might die with him!'' How does this apply to Lost? And why does it seem that the show has gone so overtly religious on us all of a sudden?
Well, I'm not sure that it really has. With his rumination on Thomas' call to sacrifice, I think Ben is telling us a parable, albeit one that needn't be seen as wholly religious in nature: He's just expressing the idea that the fates of the castaways are inextricably intertwined, and that they really need to start embracing that. ''Live together, die alone,'' you know? It's a big tent sentiment that can embrace many perspectives, religious and humanistic.
Moreover, I think Ben's composite picture of Thomas as both believer and skeptic — or rather, moving from believing to unbelieving and back again — captures a universal theme that's swirling through Lost. Thomas is a one-man symbol for mankind's shaken, if not lost, faith in ANYTHING that purports to offer meaning and stability. Religion, science, government, the economy, even family — it's hard for people to completely trust in any of these institutions and the people who represent them anymore, for any number of reasons. This is what the ruins that dot the Island represent to me: They are reminders that we once lived in a world that no longer exists — a world of answers, not ambiguity. A world where God was experienced as a literal presence in everyday life. A world where science and religion were joined at the hip, and not at each other's throats. Now, everything is a mystery, and everything is an argument. Who is right: Jack or Locke? Which is correct: The God-forged cosmology of C.S. Lewis or the God-subtracted physics of Stephen Hawking? I'm not sure that Lost is asking us to pick a side, but I am certain Lost is saying: ''This kind of confusion profoundly sucks.''
[My ''deep and meaningful'' blah blah blah rant about ''What Lost Means'' has now concluded. We now return to my regularly scheduled nonsense....]
One final thought about Thomas, a thought that I think MIGHT actually have something — if not everything — to do with tonight's Locke-centric episode. So call it a maybe tease. The episode comes to us with the vibe of an apocryphal text — a mysterious piece of lost lore, relevant to the mythology of Lost but falling slightly outside of the season's central narrative. As it turns out, Lost didn't tell you the whole story about Thomas the Apostle. Those who know their Bible — or just know The Da Vinci Code — know that there are bunches of other ''books'' which the Powers That Be chose not include in the Bible. One of these apocryphal texts, called Acts of Thomas, is a hardcore Gnostic tract. (Gnosticism is an unorthodox form of Christianity that says we are souls trapped in prisons of matter who require liberation.) The story follows the apostle Thomas to India (Hey, isn't Ajira Airlines based in India?) and ends with his martyrdom. A demon named Abaddon makes an appearance. And in the middle of it all, you will find a yarn within a yarn — a proverbial island of parable — called ''The Hymn of the Pearl.'' It tells the tale of a boy (the son of a king, so consider him...the Little Prince) sent on a mission to faraway Egypt to fetch a pearl from the mouth of a snake. Alas, he gets sidetracked, and eventually completely forgets his identity and his mission. Fortunately, the boy is saved when he receives a letter from his king, reminding him of his true nature and purpose. His memory restored, the prince snags the pearl and returns home. As Wikipedia notes: ''The hymn is commonly interpreted as a Gnostic view of the human condition, that we are spirits lost in a world of matter and forgetful of our true origin. This state of affairs may be ameliorated by a revelatory message delivered by a messenger.''
Generally speaking, ''The Hymn of the Pearl'' is John Locke's recurring arc, boiled down into a fairy tale. He's always going on adventures, always getting sidetracked (sometimes misled, sometimes its his own darn fault) and always needing to be brought back on point. But some specific connections can be made to more recent events. A letter filled with transforming revelation? Sounds like Jack and that suicide note from last week's episode. A messenger tasked with convincing lost spirits that they have fallen off the path of destiny? Sounds a lot like tonight's episode, chronicling the off-Island quest of John Locke.... Or should I say, Jeremy Bentham?
WHAT'S IN A NAME? EVERYTHING! THE CURIOUS CASE OF JEREMY BENTHAM
We further prepare you for tonight's episode by exploring the possible significance of John Locke's mysterious pseudonym.
JEREMY BENTHAM IS THE ANTI-JOHN LOCKE
Jeremy Bentham was a 18th century English ethicist and founding father of legal positivism, which stands in opposition to natural law, which was promoted by...17th century English philosopher John Locke, one of the founding fathers of the so-called Age of Reason. Locke was a deist (i.e., a creator God) who believed that man had certain intrinsic, unalienable rights; his philosophy was capable of integrating science and faith. Bentham said: BWA-HAHAAH! He thought natural law was ''nonsense on stilts.'' Bentham is a very post-God thinker: He believed the only rights a man had were the rights society gave him.
DOC JENSEN ANALYSIS: The castaway formerly known as Locke has chosen a namesake that literally mocks his previous namesake. Last week, Man of Science Jack switched teams: He became a Man of Faith. Is John Locke/Jeremy Bentham about to do a worldview flip-flop himself?
JEREMY BENTHAM BELIEVED THAT THE ENDS JUSTIFY THE MEANS
Bentham helped pioneer a school of thought called Utilitarianism. The Big Idea: That the moral worth of any action should be assessed by the amount of happiness it generates for the most number of people. The provocative nature of this ethical system is that it allows for ends-justify-the-means thinking that exonerates behavior that may be seen as self-evidently wrong.
DOC JENSEN ANALYSIS: Locke knew that his death was a necessary ingredient in the Island-saving recipe. Did Locke kill himself because that was the only way to achieve that result? Perhaps tonight's episode will resolve the matter. While many religions consider suicide to be wrong, Utilitarianism might disagree, saying, ''If the suicide brought about an effect that had great benefit to a lot of people, then it was good.'' One other note: Recall the Dharma Initiative, where everyone is classified according to their function — which is to say, their utility. Ben was ''a work man.'' Horace Goodspeed was ''mathematician.'' Olivia Goodspeed, ''teacher.'' Perhaps Dharma aspired to be some fantastical extrapolation of Utilitarian ethos, a community of varied members, each with his or her own utility, laboring together toward a greater good. But what was the greater good? And don't you love it when I pose burning questions about hypothetical scenarios that may have zero relevance to anything on Lost?
JEREMY BENTHAM HATES THE FOLLOWERS OF JACOB
Bentham was a staunch critic of the Jacobins, the troubling band of brothers that drove the French Revolution. This violent cabal was responsible for ''the Terror'' and ''the September Massacres.''... Members of this political club were called the Jacobins because they met in an old convent called St. Jacques. In Latin, Jacques is Jacobus or Jacob. Hence, ''Jacobins.'' The Jacobins didn't come up with their own name — sneering rivals foisted it on them. It's similar to how the castaways on Lost came up with the name ''The Others.''
DOC JENSEN ANALYSIS: The Others, who speak Latin, get their orders from Jacob, a derivation of ''Jacobus.'' Which in French is Jacques. Which in English is...Jack. Yep, I'm calling it. Jack = Jacob. And I'll explain what that means to the future of Lost in next week's episode, when the show returns to the Jack-in-the-Dharma-days storyline.
JEREMY BENTHAM COULD HAVE BEEN DHARMA'S ARCHITECT
Bentham's other great claim to fame was designing the Panopticon, which was a model for a new kind of prison. He envisioned a circular structure with a central guard tower that made it possible for a small number of jailers to keep an eye on all the inmates in the prison. Bentham seemed to think that such a structure could help rehabilitate the prisoners; since they were constantly aware of the possibility that they could be under surveillance (the jailers themselves could remain invisible to the inmates), they had an incentive to be on their best behavior at all times. From one point of view, the Panopticon is a metaphor for the obedience God can inspire when his presence is felt, if not seen — and the disobedience that can occur when he's not. Consider the Bible story of the golden calf, in which the people of Israel decide to misbehave while God and Moses go camping in the mountains. From another point of view, the Panopticon is a metaphor for Big Brother-ish societies that promote civility and conformity by cultivating a culture of fear.
DOC JENSEN ANALYSIS: Remember the map that Locke found inside the Hatch? Look at the design: It's a Panopticon. That station smack-dab in the middle? That's the Pearl, whose occupants were tasked with observing the action in all the other stations — but specifically, Station 3: the Swan, whose occupants were charged with pressing the Button.
(You suddenly flashed on my ''Hymn of the Pearl'' thing when you read that last sentence, didn't you? Yes, I have a theory that connects... but again, that's next week.)
JEREMY BENTHAM WAS NOT A GOOD (SURROGATE) FATHER
Jeremy Bentham had a friend named James Mill, a historian, philosopher, and all-around smarty pants who wanted to make sure that his son was as super-smart as he was. In fact, his ambition was to engineer a flat-out genius. And so, to that end, Mill kept him separated from other kids and home-schooled him with big-time help from Bentham and another pal, Francis Place, an English reformer who was into promoting contraceptives and population control and stuff. Collectively, these men raised this boy like some holy trinity of ruthless eggheads. But it worked. John Stuart Mill grew up to become a certifiable genius and a towering intellectual figure. Of course, he also had a nervous breakdown in his 20s and almost went mad from the pressure put on him by the bullying brain trust that raised him. But hey! Genius!
DOC JENSEN ANALYSIS: Bentham certainly brings the requisite Bad Dad thematic resonance. But this curious bit of biographical business also links some intriguing Island mythology mysteries. Recall, for starters, that Richard Alpert attempted to bring John to his ''special school'' in order to cultivate...whatever ''special'' ability Alpert wanted John to have. And remember the orientation film from the Hatch? Seems so long ago now, doesn't it? Well, the film conspicuously dropped the name of B.F. Skinner, a pioneering psychologist. His novel Walden Two envisioned a utopian, Dharma-esque community that practiced communal parenting as a means of engineering more fully realized citizens.
Now, check this out:
In On Liberty, in which he rails against ''the tyranny of the majority,'' which can produce a culture of conformity and mediocrity, John Stuart Mill called for ''experiments in living'' in hopes of producing creative, unique people whose dynamic new ideas could grow and nurture all of society. Mill writes: ''As it is useful that while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions, so is it that there should be different experiments of living; that free scope should be given to varieties of character, short of injury to others; and that the worth of different modes of life should be proved practically, when anyone thinks fit to try them.''
I think this short passage could be nothing less than the Dharma Initiative manifesto. And I think they may have been applying this manifesto in some pretty far-out ways. For example, what if these ''experiments in living'' included time travel? What if they aspired to beta test ''different modes of life'' by auditioning different timelines marked by different possibilities?
Again, more on this in the weeks to come, as Jack and company take us into Dharma's trippy-idealistic utopian subculture.
I have yammered your ear off, and now I will stop. Tomorrow: my recap, which unlike last week will be more fun-time recap and less ''Did you REALLY have to tell us all about Soren Kierkegaard?'' up-my-own-arsery. Now: Totally Lost. With Lindelof and Cuse! FIVE cool teases! And creepy bobble-head dolls, to boot! WHOO-HOO!