TRAGIC HERO Sayid's life was set on its course very early, and it seems Ben was always meant to be a part of it
By Jeff Jensen
''The world is all that is encased here; life, death, people, the allies, and everything else that surrounds us. The world is incomprehensible. We won't ever understand it; we won't ever unravel its secrets. Thus we must treat it as it is, a sheer mystery!'' — Carlos Castaneda
We are mysteries unto ourselves. Are killers born or made? Are we born evil or do we become evil? Are we products of nature or nurture? ''He's Our You,'' the tenth episode of Lost's rapidly dwindling fifth season, was a brain-melting thriller filled with deep, dark thoughts, with none bigger than this: Has Sayid changed Lost history by popping a cap in Young Ben in the Dharma Initiative past? It's the old ''If you could go back and kill Hitler, would you and could you?'' conceit, and the show winked at it when Sayid dropped the ''genocide'' bomb in describing his former employer's wickedness. However, I'm guessing that Sayid — new and improved with drug-induced pseudo-enlightenment — didn't succeed in realizing his new life's purpose, at least not yet. Shooting Ben didn't immediately cause reality to blink away, so we are left to wonder: Did the paradox-averse Overmind which regulates the course of events on the Island direct Sayid's bullet to avoid Ben's major organs? (Yo, Double-O Jarrah: Aim for the freakin' head!) Or is Young Ben simply not dead yet? You know where this is going. Next episode: ''Paging Dr. Shephard! Paging Dr. Shephard! Yet another life-saving/cosmos-preserving surgery on your arch-nemesis is waiting for you in Operating Room 306!''
''He's Our You'' reminded us that Ben has invested a lot of energy twisting and warping and prodding and poking Sayid into a vengeance-crazed, self-loathing killing machine. During the Oceanic 6 off-Island digression, when he recruited the heartbroken castaway to serve as his personal instrument of death, Ben led Sayid to believe that there was a great purpose to his globetrotting killing spree. He was avenging the murder of his true love Nadia. He was protecting the Left Behinders. He was prosecuting a righteous war against an awful evil. But then came the Moscow incident, when Ben — looking super fly in his Harry Lime-meets-The Shadow black-rimmed hat and overcoat — kicked him to the curb in the dirty Russian snow. The war with Widmore was over. No more people to kill. ''You're free!'' Ben said. Sayid was shell-shocked. ''What am I supposed to do now?'' he whimpered, looking like an abandoned puppy. Ben told him to ''Go live your life,'' but there was a cruel knowingness to it, and Sayid saw through it. Epiphany: They had never been allies. Ben was the pimp, and he was the whore. Turning bloody tricks hadn't filled Sayid with meaning, just corruption and damnation. The debasement continued months later in the Dominican Republic. Ben: Actually, I got some more folks for you to bump off, old chum. Sayid: Leave me alone. Ben laid it on, Moscow cruel. ''You are capable of things most of us aren't,'' Ben said. ''It's in your nature. It's what you are. You're a killer.'' This, while Sayid was trying to rehab his bullets-and-bloodspurt life by hammering together homes for the ironically named philanthropy Build Your World. (Extreme Makeover: Redemption Edition.) Sayid refused...and then basically did what Ben wanted him to do, anyway. Ben really is the Shadow: He knows what lurks in the hearts of men — and he knows how to work it.
Bastard. No wonder Sayid fell in the love with the idea of wiping away Ben's evil bits from the historical slate. But we must strongly consider the possibility that Sayid's discovery of heroic will was actually nothing of the sort. According to the ''whatever happened, happened'' theory of time travel, history is fixed. It can't be changed. This means Ben grew up with the castaways living around the corner from him in Dharmaville, and more, that his list of Greatest Hits (Not!) includes ''The time that captured Hostile in the purple shirt who promised to take me to live with Richard in the enchanted forest betrayed me and shot me.'' Seen from this perspective, the Ben-Sayid relationship takes on a provocative new spin, because it means that while Ben was ruthlessly cultivating Sayid into a seething ball of I HATE BENJAMIN LINUS! during those off-Island years, he did so keenly aware that one day, Sayid was going to fall down a wormhole into his childhood and try to kill him. Which, in my book, makes Ben complicit in the assassination attempt on his own life, and maybe even the plot's chief architect. He wanted this to happen. And suddenly, I am reminded of one of the maxims in the Dharma brainwashing film that Kate and Sawyer stumbled upon in Season 3: ''We are the causes of our own suffering.'' DOC JENSEN'S NEW ROOM 23 DHARMA BRAINWASHING FILM THEORY: Young Ben will survive his gunshot wound — and will soon learn the truth about Sayid, the time traveling castaways, and his future as Ben the Devil. Young Ben will become determined to do everything he can to avert his fate — even to the point of committing suicide. But Dharma will oppose him, because doing so would create a paradox that would negate all of reality. And so, they will create a brainwashing regimen designed to rewire his natural and understandable desire to change his fate into a pathological impulse to preserve it.
Again, the preceding paragraph only makes sense if the past can't be changed. If it can be changed, we get bunches of other possibilities that expand our understanding of Ben — or don't. Let's save all of that for another time. Regardless, ''He's Our You'' was certainly fixated on the theme of free will and the lack thereof. We saw the idea expressed through the abundance of handcuffs, restraints, and prison bars; through psychotropic drugs that eliminate choice and compel obedience; through the Dharma leadership sweating the interference and control of ''Ann Arbor,'' as in the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan, homebase for Dharma founders; through Ben's bitter, angry father, blasting his son for bringing Sayid a sandwich and yelling, ''I'll tell you what to think!'' Despite his loathing for Ben, Sayid could see a painful part of himself in the lad. Sayid's flashback arc began with the scene where, as a young boy, he stepped in to kill a chicken for his squeamish brother. His courage elicited warm approval and affirmation from his hard father, while his brother's reticence earned his father's shame; and so we saw how killing became hardwired into Sayid's personhood and his innate conception of manhood. Sayid's sacrifice act reminded me of Mr. Eko's flashback, in which warlords ordered Eko's brother Yemi to kill an unarmed man or be killed himself. Yemi couldn't do it. To save his life, Eko stepped up and did the deed. Now, killing a chicken for the sake of the family supper is severely less egregious than murdering a human being for bloodsport. But the idea and irony are the same. And I worry they may lead to the same place. Initially, Mr. Eko seemed repentant about his past. But in the end, he recanted: ''I have done nothing wrong.'' Similarly, under the influence of truth telling drugs, Sayid confessed, ''I am a bad man.'' But by the end of the episode, he convinced himself that his capacity and competency for killing could be redeemed by nipping future tyrants in their still-innocent bud. I'm not sure that qualifies as redemption and atonement.
''He's Our You'' offered us another, more relatable example of free will and the factors and circumstances that infringe upon it: Sawyer. The born-again James LaFleur — scrambling to not just to save Sayid's ass but preserve the good thing he's got going for himself and Juliet in Dharmaville — tried to convince his old castaway friend to lie and say he was a Hostile trying to defect. But Sayid refused, saying — correctly — that the right thing to do was to grant him his freedom and let him go. Sawyer flipped. No way could he allow Sayid to escape on his watch. ''These people trust me,'' he said. ''I've built a life here, and a pretty good one, too.'' Sawyer stands for any of us who put comfort and security over doing what's right and standing up to what's wrong. Funny: Three weeks ago, we were thrilled for Sawyer as we watched him blaze to heroic, happy life as a member of The Dharma Initiative. Now he's an alarming cautionary tale for moral compromise.
We saw another facet of the same concept in the scene that revealed that Ilana, Sayid's badge-carrying flying buddy aboard Ajira 316, was actually a bounty hunter who had been hired by the family of the man Sayid killed on the golf course last season. Booty Fett laid her trap by seducing her prey with come hither sexuality and sensual empathy. Referring to Sayid's oblique reference to being a very talented assassin who's yearning for a career change, Ilana purred, ''When you are that good at something, there will always be people who tempt you to stay the same.'' Change is hard — especially if there's safety and profit in staying exactly the same.
The challenge of personal transformation and the competition between material security and spiritual evolution is at the heart of the conspicuous literary reference that Lost gave us last night. ''A Separate Reality'' should probably not be interpreted by us as a clue nodding toward an alternate reality theory, because that misses the point of the book. Of course, its author, Carlos Castaneda, is a controversial guy, and the serious Lostologist would be wise to apply his work to the show with extreme caution. Castaneda was an alleged anthropologist who claimed to have been tutored by a Yaqui shaman to become a veritable enlightened being, marked by supreme self-awareness and capable of perceiving ''non-ordinary reality.'' However, acquiring this form of ''seeing,'' as Castaneda called it, required consuming large quantities of peyote and other hallucinogenic drugs. Moreover, he claimed that his books — many of which chronicled his rewarding, though not always easy, apprenticeship with ''don Juan'' — were non-fiction. Dubious. Lost gave us its own gloss on don Juan in the form of Oldham, a tee-pee dwelling hippy-mystic/torturer. Oldham had been built up as some kind of fearsome entity by Horace, Roger Workman, and even Sawyer. ''He's our you,'' he told Sayid. And yet, Oldham, played by the wonderful William Sanderson, struck me as yet another of the Deadwood actor's pitch-perfect sad sacks. You'd think a guy who was attuned to cosmic truth would have believed Sayid's totally honest narrative, which included an ominous reference to the Purge (''You're all going to die'') and was conspicuously cut off just as he mentioned ''the Incident.'' And yet, Oldham thought Sayid was crazy — or just really, really stoned. ''Maybe I should have used just half a dropper,'' he said. Sayid cackled. ''You used exactly enough!''
Perhaps, then, the relevancy of Castaneda to Lost is purely ironic and darkly comic. Sayid's moment of total honesty and alleged clarity, facilitated by drug-dosed sugar cubes (Hurrrmmmm), is a jokey generalization of the author's peyote-facilitated enlightenment. And there's a bad-twin relationship between the don Juan-Castaneda and the Ben-Sayid union. Whereas don Juan aspired to fill his pupil with transcendent light, Ben filled Sayid's soul with damning darkness. (That is, based on facts currently in evidence. There's an argument to be made that Ben is still shepherding Sayid and the other castaways toward redemptive endings, but I shall not be exploring that argument today.)
And yet, Castaneda articulated some ideas with strong Lost resonance. ''When one has nothing to lose, one becomes courageous. We are timid only when there is something we can still cling to.'' Sawyer may want to think deeply about that one. Castaneda's conception of ''the warrior'' speaks to Jack's semi-spiritual conversion. ''Power comes only after we accept our fate without recriminations.'' Then again, there are these bon mots: ''We hardly ever realize that we can cut anything out of our lives, in a blink of an eye.'' And: ''A warrior doesn't need personal history. One day, he finds it is no longer necessary for him, and he drops it.'' Could personal transformation really be that simple? Only the Shadow knows. And as for Sayid, last seen fleeing into the jungle darkness like an on-the-run Dark Knight, here's hoping he can finally find some light.
BEN AND ''A SEPARATE REALITY'' Sayid got the book from Ben, who claimed to have red it twice. In next week's Doc Jensen, I'll examine why I think the book appealed to Ben so greatly. Hint: Research Castaneda's theory of ''The Allies.'' My hunch is that Ben liked to think that's who/what ''The Hostiles'' really were.
THE FLAMING VW BUS Ben's first scheme. Well done! I also liked the hoody he was wearing. A telltale sign of treachery on Lost. (Also see: hoody-wearing Charlie in ''The Long Con.'')
DHARMA TRIBAL COUNCIL They voted unanimously to execute Sayid. Amy was motivated to eliminate the threat he represented to protect both her newborn, Ethan, and all the other Dharma children. There was something in the way she emphasized ''children'' that gave me the strong impression that children play an important factor in...whatever it is that Dharma is REALLY. I have a feeling that Dharma may have started as an attempt to create a model, alternate society, but a new mission emerged, perhaps a secretive one, and it led to the construction of stations like The Swan. Yes, I got all of this from a line reading and Radzinisky's bleatings about the importance of keeping the Swan a secret. Dubious?
CHEF HURLEY! Funny.
QUIET JACK See: More on Castaneda's conception of ''the warrior.''
CHICKEN AND EGG CAUSALITY It was there. Lost gave us the chickens explicitly and gave us the eggs implicitly through Castaneda, who likens people as cosmic eggs radiant with interconnected energy. Aren't you glad I didn't waste a couple hundred words on THAT idea?
''WHAT'S ON THE TV?'' REALLY funny.
LONG LINGERING GLANCES BETWEEN SAWYER AND KATE Yawn. Already tired of this tension. Can Juliet do something else except be a kept woman or ''the other woman''?
I am running woefully behind. More thoughts may come later today, in which case I'll post to Popwatch. Otherwise, we'll see you next week at Doc Jensen.