By Jeff Jensen
Dec 10, 2009
There's been a lot of buzz about the Lost: The Complete Fifth Season DVD, in stores now. Maybe it's because fans have heard a lot about the cool collection of bonus features (like Lost University, only on Blu-ray). Maybe it's because they're excited to relive classic moments like the Sawyer/Juliet kiss, the Locke/Ben strangulation, or the Jacob/Man In Black conversation. Or maybe it's because they're kinky pervs who like to incorporate shiny plastic LOST-stamped discs into the sexy parts of their Jin/Sun or Hurley/Miles or Ana Lucia/Libby make-believe gameplay. Oh yes, I just went there. Good morning!
Personally, I think the acute excitement for the season 5 set is an expression of the nervy anticipation for season 6 in February. Like the lighting of the first Advent and Hanukkah candles, the DVD's release is the first manifestation of the Lost moment — the final Lost moment — that is almost upon us. The product itself stokes that fire by including content designed to tease and frame the show's climactic 18 hours of story. I'm told that Lost University ''curriculum'' — which includes classes in philosophy, physics, and sociology — functions as an intellectual orientation to the forthcoming season's thematic concerns. And then there are the hieroglyphics on the package itself — I'm told that, when decoded, they reveal a season 6 tease. Can't read hieroglyphics? Well, wouldn't you know it, Lost University includes a class on that, too.
Of course, not everyone has a Blu-ray player. And then there are those lazy, silly, uncool people who think that deciphering ancient pictograms is ''not fun'' or ''too much work'' — just one big ''puh-leeeze.'' You know what? I do not like these people. These people are the enemies of progress and they need to be strapped to a chair and have their faces slapped with a wet uncooked hot dog by an emaciated lice-ridden gibbon with loose bowels and halitosis until they are willing to confess their profound wrongness and general lack of good taste. But I have neither the straps nor the hot dogs readily available, and so, my Lost friends, we have no choice but to help the ignorant and stubborn among us by doing their cryptography for them. And by ''us,'' I mean ''you,'' because the labor of concocting Lost theories each week (as well as imagining scenes of icky monkey torture) doesn't leave enough time for genuinely useful work. So here's my proposal:
Get the DVD. Crack the hieroglyphic code. Send me your scholarship at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week, I will publish a sampling of the results. I say ''results'' because I suspect that the decoding project could yield different answers, or at least different articulations of the same answer. Those who e-mail me their scholarship before 11:59 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 10 will receive something special. Remember in last week's column, when I told you about the ''Letter of Truce''? I said at that time that I would reveal more of the letter's contents in the coming weeks, including all four of Richard Alpert's ''counters'' and ''addendums.'' Well, those willing to play my decoding game will get that scoop via a promptly returned e-mail. (Don't worry: I'll share that scoop with ALL of you in next week's column.)
Please: Don't make me sick my sick monkey on your less fortunate friends. This Lost advent season, help the Lost-deprived with a small donation of your obsessive Lost energy. You'll be glad you did.
QUESTIONS FOR A SUPER-FAN: ANDREW WILMAR
Also known to his fans as Big Mouth, Andrew Wilmar is a 35-year-old lawyer living in Santa Monica, Calif., who also happens to be one of the most astute and imaginative Lost theorists on the Web. The title of his blog sums up the intensity of his obsession: Eye M Sick. I dig his curiosity, his sincere passion, and his exuberant intellect. And I suspect we share a telepathic rapport. Another journalist recently interviewed me about Lost, and when he asked me what I'll miss most when the show ends in May, my answer was nearly word for word the same one Andrew gave me in the e-mail interview I did with him later
DOC JENSEN: How long have you been posting Lost theories?
ANDREW WILMAR: Since the premiere in 2004. I remember logging onto imdb.com after the pilot and speculating that the distress call was solar powered, and the Monster was some kind of giant ape like King Kong. I posted my first stab at a comprehensive theory of the show two months later.
Which of your Lost theories is your favorite?
''Three Black Swans.'' Since ancient times, Jacob has brought people to the Island to create miraculous events that postpone [mankind's] extinction, an exercise the Man in Black finds futile. Jacob hopes to avert our extinction for good by creating the Omega Point, a kind of global consciousness representing the next step in human evolution. Aaron and Ji-Yeon are avatars of this Omega Point. Everything that rises must converge with a Lost wedding between them before 2031. [DOC JENSEN NOTE: As crazy as Big Mouth's theory sounds in summary, it's actually slightly less crazy when you read it in full.]
What episode of Lost made you go, ''Yep. I'm obsessed.''
''Walkabout.'' Such a perfect balance of character development and mythological advancement. Locke wiggling his gold-tipped toes in wonder after the crash will always be the defining image of the show for me. It raised so many possibilities — everything from cloning to resurrection — that captured my imagination for good.
What character do you relate to the most and why?
Locke. I shave my head and don't appreciate people telling me what I can't do. I still hold out hope for his redemption in season 6, but suspect any such redemption will be bittersweet. And that's exactly as it should be.
How have you been spending your hiatus?
I've taken the opportunity to write about television besides Lost on my other blog, I Hate My DVR. Despite — or perhaps because of — my parents' efforts to limit my consumption, I've been addicted to TV since childhood.
Are you PRO timeline reboot or ANTI timeline reboot?
Both. Miles was basically correct when he said that the [time traveling castaways] had always been the cause of the Incident. But there are currently two possibilities superimposed like Schrodinger's cat. There's the time line depicted in seasons 1 through 5, which actually depends on the bomb exploding. And there's the alternative, where the bomb fails to explode, erasing the time line we know. Someone — my guess is Juliet — will get to choose whether the bomb actually detonates. Ultimately, she will opt to effectuate the future she remembers, rather than reboot it.
What will you miss most about Lost when it wraps up next May?
I'll miss the thrill of discovery. I've learned so much about so many esoteric subjects I might never have studied but for Lost. Everything from theoretical physics to New Age Gnosticism. There's nothing quite like reading about something mind-blowing — e.g., the double-slit experiment in quantum mechanics — for the very first time.
Ah, yes. The old ''double-slit experiment.'' I remember my first time trying to make sense of that, too... but that's a story for another time. And probably for another blog.
THE ISLAND OF MISFIT MYTHOLOGY
Damon, Daemon, and Daimonic: The Homonymic Convergence
Not long ago, I found myself fixated by the word ''demon.'' Possessed by it, you might say. (Go ahead, say it. I dare you.) Don't ask me why; it's a long, epic story, filled with tragedy, dark magic, and a great deal of goat blood, and while the world was saved in the process, the memories remain tender, painful. (Yes, even my theories about Lost mythology have mythology.) But after recovering, I was left with the thought that perhaps the mysteries of Ghost Christian, the Man In Black, and the Monster, a.k.a. Smokey, might be explained by the concept of ''demons.'' So I began researching. There are the demons of fantasy literature, innumerable and awful. There are the demons of religion and mythology, also countless and creepy. There are also the demons of philosophy and science, although these buggers are few and quite specialized. These ''demons'' mostly exist in thought experiments, like the famous/infamous ''Maxwell's Demon,'' named after Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, which concerns an omnipotent, omniscient particle capable of sorting molecules of different stripes. Very Santa Claus, sorting children into piles of naughty and nice — or very Jacob, sorting castaways into List and Off-List categories. More recently, and less famously, there is ''Morton's Demon,'' coined by its creator, Glenn Morton, a permutation of Confirmation Bias, which describes the tendency people have to filter information in such a way that only affirms their pre-existing opinions and beliefs while rejecting anything that would challenge them. (''Morton's Demon'' is the patron saint of most Lost theorizing: It only lets us see what we want to see.)
And then there is maybe the most Lost-relevant demon of all: ''The Evil Daemon'' of philosopher Rene Descartes, also known as the Evil Genius, a supernatural entity that exists solely to confuse humanity about the true nature of reality. I couldn't tell from my (superficial) research if Descartes' morphing and warping shifty obfuscator was literal or figurative, but still: Very ''Smokey,'' if you ask me. Descartes' ''Evil Daemon'' inspired me to ask one more question: What's up with the funky spelling? In my head, ''daemon'' (also spelled ''daimon'' in other texts) sounds less like ''demon'' and more like ''damon.'' You know, like Damon Lindelof, co-creator of Lost. So I Googled ''daemon'' — and I was left mind-boggled. The words ''daemon'' (from the Latin), ''daimon'' (from the Greek), and ''daimonic'' are super-charged with distinctive Lost possibilities, especially in connection to the Island's ghostly apparitions, long-lived mortals, shape-shifting monsters, and touchy-feely thread-spinning deities. Consider:
DAEMON: A VAGUELY MATRIXY THEORY
In computer lingo, daemons are programs that work invisibly in the background. Some daemons activate the second you start your computer, while other daemons don't activate until certain circumstances trigger them. The application to Lost is pretty simple. We now know that Jacob and MIB always have been hiding in the background of the castaways' lives and their Island ordeal, running and managing and manipulating things. The Matrix Trilogy worked this analogy pretty hard. The Architect, the Merovingian, the Twins, the Keymaker — they're all computer daemon metaphors. I think. I don't know. My brain is still bruised from those damn movies.
THE DAIMONIC JOURNEY
From Wikipedia: ''As a psychological term, [daimonic is] an elemental force which contains an irrepressible urge not only to survive but to thrive. As a literary term, it can also mean the unrest that exists in us all that forces us into the unknown, leading to self-destruction and/or self-discovery.'' The ''daimonic journey'' is very similar to Joseph Campbell's mythological ''Hero's Journey.'' According to Wikipedia, the daimonic journey is marked by a figurative and literal fall or descent (like, say, from an airplane) into ''daimonic reality'' that's isolated from the ''real world'' (like, say, an Island?) where one must confront his or her ''daimons.'' Note the spelling of that word: ''daimons,'' not ''demons.'' The curious spelling tells us that we're not speaking figuratively here: In the daimonic journey, a ''daimon'' is an entity (purely psychological? wholly supernatural? both?) whose purpose is to reflect and embody the hero's darkest parts. (Think: Smokey.) In his or her quest for redemptive self-realization, the hero must then destroy this entity, or be destroyed by it. Wikipedia: ''The glory of the daimonic is in the humble resurrection, though it claims more than it sets free, as many a foolish men are [sic] drawn into its vacuum never to return.'' So: Who and what are these ''daimonic'' entities? Glad you asked!
OF DAEMONS AND DAIMON: A TOTALLY ''GENIUS'' THEORY OF LOST!
Doc Jensen's Madcap Mythology Scholarship Special of the Week!
A long, long time ago, some folks in both ancient Greece and ancient Egypt allegedly believed in a deity named Hermes Trismegistus, a fusion of the Greek god Hermes and Egyptian god Thoth. According to Hermetic mythology, souls en route to heaven first had to pass through a series of realms, or ''spheres.'' But before they got out of the spheres, they first had to tangle with their gatekeepers, known as daemons. Does the Island = a sphere? Do Jacob and the Man In Black = daemon gatekeepers?
Now, lest you think ''daemon'' and ''daimon'' are merely florid spellings of ''demon''...well, they can be. But over the centuries, smarter people than you and I have made many distinctions between the two terms. The contemporary view of ''demons'' — very Judeo-Christian; your garden-variety hell-spawned Satan-serving snake — represents a superficial recontextualization of the older, more sophisticated daimons and daemons of Greek and Roman mythology and folklore. In fact, the Island on Lost — with its scattering of pagan ruins and ancient spirits — is a metaphor for the tragic trajectory of the spirituality of antiquity: busted, rusted, deconstructed ideas marginalized to a tiny, shadowy part of the globe, largely invisible to and mostly disputed by the reasonable, rational masses. Welcome...to the Island of Misfit Mythology. (Coming in two weeks: Doc Jensen's holiday special, featuring my ''Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer'' theory of Lost.)
First, understand that daemons can exist on a wide continuum of significance and power. Some daemons are stronger and older than others. Some daemons exist to serve other daemons, though all daemons are subordinate to the Gods, who created daemons for the purpose of serving mankind. Daemons have specific attributes that can be ascribed to many of the Island's exotic denizens and supernatural entities. Daemons can be the ghosts of deceased heroes (Christian Shepherd?), or mortals who've been blessed by the gods with long life (Richard Alpert). But they are not immortal; they can be killed or destroyed (see: Jacob). Some are capable of changing their shape (see: Man in Black). Some are capable of manipulating lesser creatures, like birds and insects (recall: the chattering Hurleybird from the season 2 finale and the Smokey-controlled spiders from ''Expose''). Some daemons are immaterial, existing as disembodied voices. (The Whispers?) They can dwell within human beings, imbuing them with power or existing as an internal companion, like a voice of conscience or temptation. But unlike the demons of Christian characterization, daemons are not known to require a physical host or physically possess or control human beings, a la Linda Blair in The Exorcist (think: MIB, who never possessed Locke, but rather impersonated him).
The daemons of antiquity were often morally neutral in nature. Still, there were distinct categories of good daemons (Eudaemons) and bad daemons (Kakodaemons). In Roman mythology, daemons were also known as genii (from which we get ''genius''), a term that described the protective spirits of Roman mythology. A very specific permutation of genii, the Genius Loci, walks us right up to Jacob and Man In Black: These are spirits who reside in and rule over a very specific place. Good Daemons were akin to Christian guardian angels or the New Age notion of the ''higher self,'' a pretty trippy concept filled with Lost application that deserves a column unto itself. The daemon's primary job was to protect human souls and prepare them for what awaited in the afterlife. According to the Greek Myth Index, ''We read in Plato that daemons are assigned to men at the moment of their birth, that thenceforward they accompany men through life, and that after death they conduct their souls to Hades.'' Application to Lost: The whole guardian angel concept of daemons fits Jacob's pre-Island interactions with castaways Sawyer, Kate, Jin and Sun, Locke, Jack, Sayid, and Hurley. (Although, as discussed last week, I do wonder if MIB posed as Jacob to Sayid and Hurley.)
But don't let Jacob's touchy-feely empathy fool you: ''Good Daemons'' don't execute their shepherding missions with the gentlest of tactics. Daemons can practice some serious tough love. The research tells us that daemons can be constructive and destructive, gentle and cruel, polite and pitiless. In the season finale, we saw Jacob reading Flannery O'Connor as Locke got tossed from an eighth-floor window. Presumably all-knowing Jacob knew what was about to happen — but he didn't lift a finger to prevent it. Some guardian angel, huh? Yet O'Connor specialized in telling stories in which the path to spiritual enlightenment is accompanied with brutal irony — and ironic brutality. As O'Connor explained: ''I have found that violence is strangely capable of returning my characters to reality and preparing them to accept their moment of grace. Their heads are so hard that almost nothing else will do the work. This idea, that reality is something to which we must be returned at considerable cost, is one which is seldom understood by the casual reader, but it is one which is implicit in the Christian view of the world.'' O'Connor's fiction doesn't contain too many daemons that I know of. Her gritty stories imply a world governed by God-ingrained rules. So did the mythology of faithful pagans of antiquity — but they took the extra step of believing that daemons and daimons embodied those rules and executed their functions in the world.
To be clear, that aforementioned ''Christian view of the world'' has historically taken a dim, suspicious position on daemons. This was especially true of Jesus' early followers. As Christianity swept away the pagan mythology of the Western world, gods like Zeus and Jupiter were disavowed and their mankind-serving ''daemons'' were...well, demonized. And yet, the most expansive Christian characterization of daemons — St. Cyprian, an infamously narrow-minded third-century Christian leader with zero tolerance for pagan culture — contains a veritable catalog of Lost correlations. Cyprian tells us that daemons were once sinful humans that became prickish poltergeists after kicking the coil — ''impure and wandering spirits'' who ''seek the ruin of others.'' (MIB, mayhap? Maybe even Christian?) Cyprian also says that daemons rule the lottery (Hurley!), provide visions of the future (Desmond!), seed nightmares (Kate! Charles Widmore!), and have their own prophets (Richard!), most of whom tell nothing but lies (Ben!), just like their greater daemonic masters (MIB and even Jacob, if you entertain the theory that Jacob isn't the goody-goody guy he appears to be). A classic daemon tactic: using magic or their proxies to create legit or phony sickness in people so they can in turn give them miracle remedies that inspire belief and loyalty (see: Juliet and her sister; Young Ben; Claire). Cyprian's grouchy take on daemons is very specific about where you can find them: ''These spirits, therefore, are lurking under statues and consecrated images.'' Like, say, giant monoliths of four-toed Egyptian goddesses, perhaps? That's so on-the-nose it makes it pretty irresistible to make too much of this whole daemon thing.
Finally, Cyprian says there's no shaking these devilish buggers — at least, not until the daemons are destroyed or just grow tired of you: ''The only remedy from them is when their own mischief ceases.'' Reading that last sentence evoked the whole idea of Jacob and MIB as god-like game-players, competing against each other by using the castaways as chess pieces — a metaphor richly illustrated by that killer Spanish Lost promo, with narration adapted from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam and music from Radiohead's ''Everything in Its Right Place.'' If you haven't seen it check out the video at the bottom of this page. I live to serve.
My bottom line: Lost is lousy with daemons. My theory, inspired by this research, is this:
OLD DAIMONS NEVER DIE. THEY JUST FADE AWAY ... OR KILL EACH OTHER.
Or: What happens when people stop going on Walkabouts.
The Island is a ''sphere'' of ''daimonic reality,'' designed to facilitate ''daimonic journeys'' for mortals who seek it. This realm has a patron daemon, a ''Genius Loci'': Jacob. He is a cog in much larger celestial/spiritual wheel of life and death, redemption and damnation. Jacob is akin to a guardian angel, possibly one of many. He represents hope, second chances, progress — change and improvement.
Now, Jacob has helpers on his daimonic island — entities that are daemons in their own right, autonomous and powerful, but subordinate to him. One of these daemons is the Man In Black, a multifaceted, multipurpose daemon that plays many roles in the Island's daimonic operating system. In fact, like a computer daemon, the MIB daemon activates and begins running the moment new mortals step onto the Island. One of MIB's primary jobs is to test these souls. Hence, he is morally ambiguous and fearsome in nature, because he often must play the role of adversary (sometimes via his own set of willing or unwilling human or supernatural agents; think: the Others or Ghost Christian) or judge.
In more spiritual times (or, if you prefer, superstitious times), the ephemeral, nebulous realm represented by the Island was a widely accessible expanse. However, time has not been kind to Jacob and his daimonic wonderland/underworld. Two thousand years of monotheism has marginalized and demonized them, while the past 300 years of God-denying philosophy and science has produced a faithless world that fails to recognize or even believe in them. As spirituality has shriveled, their place in this world has literally shrunk — to a mysterious Island in the Pacific, a junkyard of old ideas, the last bastion of the Unknown. But Jacob refuses to surrender. Where once mortals actively sought out the eye-opening, life-changing, soul-expanding daimonic journey (a veritable Locke-esque walkabout), Jacob now must scheme and conspire to bring people to him. In many ways, he has a new mission: to remind mankind that their lives are actually heroic journeys — and that the journey is profoundly spiritual in nature.
The problem with all of this is the Man In Black. Subordinate to Jacob, MIB is bound to participate in Jacob's Island schemes and perform his archetypal functions in the Island Mythology Machine. But MIB has grown wary of Jacob's shenanigans. The people he brings to the Island — especially in recent times — always fall short in their heroic journeys, always fail to pass his tests and judgments. Cynical and tired, MIB has given up on mankind — and he really wishes Jacob would, too. And so MIB has turned traitor to the cause of faith. His ambition: to finish what the surging cause of reason has started. The story of Lost, then, is the story of MIB's decades-in-the-making scheme to break free from his enslavement to Jacob and bring the futile daimonic enterprise that is the Island to an end. But it is also the story of Jacob's counter-attack to MIB's revolt. If Jacob wins, the Island soldiers on. If MIB wins, then the twilight of the gods will have finally reached its permanent night.
Wow. That got heavy, didn't it? But that's Lost for you: A show that inspires pretentious meditations of the spiritual nature of mankind — and also inspires word pictures involving torture monkeys with the wet hot dogs. Yes, I am blameless! I blame Lost for my inappropriateness! I am Mr. Eko: ''I have done nothing wrong!'' But perhaps I should quit while I am only very far behind. Next week, I'll have the results of my DVD/glyph challenge and a couple more cool things I got cooking that you won't want to miss — including a theory that reveals the Man In Black's connection to a real life man in black. Hint: Not Johnny Cash. But don't ''Hurt'' yourself thinking about it — just come back next week!