by Jeff Jensen
When I interviewed executive producers Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof for this week’s cover story about the end of Lost, they told me that the season was designed to have two episodes largely devoted to Island mythology. The first was “Ab Aeterno,” which told us how Richard Alpert came to the Island and how he became Jacob’s ageless servant. It also gave us a metaphorical understanding of the Island (think: a cork in a bottle preventing evil from spilling out) and offered a dramatic case study of the contentious feud between Jacob and the Man In Black. “Ab Aeterno” was absolutely awesome and currently stands tied with “Happily Ever After” as my favorite episode of season 6.
So when are we getting that second monumentally meaty mythological affair? How about … tonight! The episode is called “Across The Sea,” and by all accounts, we’ll be seeing the origins of Jacob and the Man In Black. Will we also learn the secret of the Jacob-looking ghost boy that’s been stalking MIB’s current incarnation, Fake Locke? Will we learn something about The Monster’s allegedly unstable mother? Will we learn how this wretched, dark hearted Sayid-/Jin-/Sun-killing knave became an ambulatory coil of nebulous metamorphic haze? Judging from these sneak peek clips provided by ABC, the answer to all those questions appears to be … maybe! (Don’t watch these things if you regret being tampered with de-contextualized tidbits of inside information. I peeked — and I regret that I did. But who I am to deny you the freedom and opportunity to stick a needle into your head and shoot spoiler junk into your brain? Knock yourself out … suckers!)
(Clips can be found on the Spoiler page)
As it happens, the very first theory I ever wrote about Lost tackled the question “What is the smoke monster?” We published it during season 2, right after the episode “The 23rd Psalm,” in which Mr. Eko came face-to-smoke face with “Puffy,” as Terry O’Quinn likes to call him. Likening Smokey to morphing, mind-reading aliens of James Cameron’s The Abyss, I wrote:
“In the movie, the aliens were so alarmed by mankind’s potential for self-destruction, they resorted to drastic measures — the threat of annihilation by tidal wave — to save us. On Lost, we’ve learned that the island has been/is host to gonzo experiments funded by Alvar Hanso, a munitions mogul/philanthropist dedicated to ”a brighter future for all humanity. …” My theory? Twilight Zone Isle is being used by Hanso’s Dharma Initiative as a sort of human recycling plant, designed to either rehabilitate damaged, fallen people — or junk them.
“Smokey is a sophisticated piece of machinery in this soul-crunching refinery. Its function: quality control. Kinda like another cult-pop alien, the Marvel Comics scourge Galactus. Apparently, the planet-chomping leviathan (also telepathic) serves an elusive celestial purpose. He might be the embodiment of random catastrophe — an essential Lost theme. Yet he might also exist to test the mettle of living beings. Fend him off; you deserve to live. If you can’t, you don’t. Chomp! … But I could be wrong. After all, we’re talking about a creature made of smog and reflective properties — in other words, smoke and mirrors.”
I’d like to think my theory was correct at least in identifying some essential thematic ideas about Smokey … but on the whole, based on what we’ve learned since season 2, my first Lost theory stands revealed as a colossal bust — the first in a looooooooong series. Still, like all my theories, it was fun to put together. And by the way? I’m glad I wasn’t right. Strange, huh? In the early days of theory-making, I think I watched Lost the way people watch horse racing: with a bet slip in their hand and outrageous emotional investment. I wanted my ponies to win, dammit! But very quickly, that desire to be “right” evaporated. I remained driven to “solve” Lost — but I was more hooked on the nutty intellectual thrill of the hunt. I loved how a peculiar word in the script or a conspicuous literary reference could inspire a trip down the rabbit hole of research and free association — and by that, I mean Wikipedia. (Seriously, if I didn’t know better, I would think Wikipedia was invented to service Lost theorizing.) Being wrong has never bummed me out — it has only provided new opportunities to learn new things. And along the way, I learned to love Lost for the story it was telling — and for inspiring my own Sideways world of intellectual edification and pseudo-intellectual tomfoolery. People often ask me: “What are you going to do with yourself when Lost is over?” Honestly, I’m still figuring it out. But I am taken with notion that perhaps Doc Jensen should go legit by … going back to school. Yep: I’m thinking that the future of Doc Jensen … is to become something like Dr. Linus. To be continued …
THE SORROW AND THE FURY
Grieving Jin and Sun (and Sayid, kinda): The Latest In A Series
One week after the bloodbath inside Watership Downer, the leaking waterworks of Lost fandom have not yet dammed up. I’m still getting dozens of e-mails each day full of anguish and blubber over the shocking obliteration of self-sacrificing Sayid and the sad (and controversial) orphaning of what’s-her-name via the drowning of the Kwon marital unit. (And cue the sad tinkling of Michael Giacchino’s poignant score. Every time I think back on Jin-and-Sun’s tragic GLUG! GLUG! GLUG!, I hear that music, too.) (And could I be any more disrespectful with my cruel prose?) (Yes, I could.) Last week, I made a mean observation about the last shot Lost gave us of Jin and Sun — that brief beat of their joined hands drifting apart. I found ironic and heartbreaking that the lovers should exit Lost on a note of separation, not unity. Well, reader Sarah Buch took umbrage with my pitiless prose and romantically challenged soul. She writes:
“I was so upset over your interpretation of Sun and Jin’s unclasping hands. I thought the shot of their hands falling was beautiful and didn’t take it to indicate separation at all. These two would not have let go of one another for anything other than death! It was them physically letting go of one another as they metaphorically let go of this world and moved on to the next!! (Heaven, Sideways world, take your pick!)
“What do all of our characters on Lost have in common? The inability to let go! Of their pasts, their pain, their ideas of themselves, their habits, their losses, etc. This was so much a theme of last Tuesday’s episode in particular. Sun and Jin’s death was strangely beautiful. It was a moment filled with love and joy, not fear. … Sun and Jin saw what was going to happen and they chose to take as much control of the situation as they could and to end their lives together. I loved that we had probably the two biggest ideas on Lost in one moment: choice versus fate (or chance). Sun was stuck. Jin chose to stay. It was beautiful writing, and I wished that you would have seen their ending in that light! So see it that way now. Okay?”
Sarah, all I can really say in response to that is … okay!
Of course, other people express grief in other ways. For example, some people question the goodness and authority of God … or at least, TV showrunners. Karen Post is one such freaked-out, faith-rocked Lost fan. She writes:
“I am really taking the deaths of Sun and Jin really hard. I can’t agree with the people who say that their deaths don’t matter because they are still alive in the Sideways world. I am not emotionally invested in the Sideways world, because I’ve only had about a dozen episodes to get to know those people. They are NOT the same people that I’ve gotten to know over the last six years. This is personal! I’m still mourning Charlie for cripes sake!! And although it was expected, I really didn’t want to see Sayid die a second time. …
“I keep hoping that ‘what happened, happened’ on Lost. My biggest fear for the last few episodes is that the Island folk will continue to die so that the Sideways world can continue. I couldn’t stand it if the past six years means nothing at all. … I am totally afraid to watch the next episode! I need some counseling, Doc, so if what I said makes any sense I hope you address some of this in one of your columns!”
Karen, many fans share your Sideways anxiety. And I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it in recent weeks, as I’ve been considering the larger matter of Lost’s lasting impact on our collective imagination and on the medium of television. I find it kind of ironic that a story that is so meaningful to so many people, and a show that is credited with changing television should roll the dice on a conceit that risks subverting that story and negating the show’s accomplishments. Ironic — and perhaps instructive. Think about that one for a second. Here we are as fans worried about the integrity of our
Lost experience and worried that the show is going to render our investment meaningless … and here we have story that threatens the integrity of reality and threatens the redemption arcs of Jack, Sawyer, Kate, and all their castaway friends. Here we are protesting a storyline that could erase all of Lost history, making the past six years meaningless … just as the Sideways characters are recalling their Island history and realizing their lives have greater meaning than they realized. Here we are as a culture, mulling the legacy of Lost … and here we have a show whose final season stands revealed as a deep and clever rumination on the themes of continuity and discontinuity, meaning and meaninglessness, of legacy itself. In other words: The meta-tensions about the show mirror the dramatic tensions within the show. Put another way: Now more than ever, we are the castaways.
Coincidence? I’m thinking not. Actually, I think Michael Emerson put it best. Last month, when I visited the set of Lost, I talked with the actor about this very issue. I brought up the topic because I knew from having interviewed him last October that he himself was struggling to make sense of the Sideways world storyline. I wanted to know how he felt about the whole thing now that he had finished his work on the series and seen the greater whole. Our conversation culminated with Emerson offering the following insight: “So often with [our writers], what we think is ‘the problem’ of the season is their formula. We should always remember that. Lost is the most relativistic show ever. The thing you’re complaining about may actually be the point.”
I’m taking Emerson’s counsel to heart — and certainly keeping it in mind — as we enter the final four hours on the season.
There’s more Lost stuff coming from us throughout the day here at EW.com. We’ll have a new episode of “Totally Lost” posting soon. And I’ll be posting an “instant reaction” to “Across The Sea” soon after the episode airs. Tomorrow: a full recap. In the meantime, here’s some Lost amusement for you. The funny folks at atom.com have posted a series of short-and-clever spoofy clips imagining how Lost might end. They are performed by a Web sketch comedy troupe known as Team Tiger Awesome. Caution! If you’ve never seen Rocky III or the original Planet of the Apes or are unfamiliar with their classic endings, consider this your Spoiler Warning.