Artwork by Jared Stumpenhorst. Check out his blog.
Last night's episode finally dove deep into what the hell this show is supposed to be about. I'm sure a lot of fans may bemoan the fact that the show has tranformed from its original "feel," but I'd argue that the current direction seems not only more likely to lead to a conclusive and satisfying ending, but is also truer to the show's origins than many give it credit for. There were times when the show was considered an adventure series, a character drama, a sci-fi show, and lately, a supernatural examination of morality. But has the show really strayed? Or is this the show we've been watching from the beginning? Similarly, some fans of Battlestar Galactica were pissed off that (spoiler alert, again) that show ended with an act of divine intervention, but again, I'd ask if maybe the signs weren't there right from the beginning.
Television watchers are a fickle bunch and, honestly, I don't think they always know what's best for themselves. Would Lost have been more satisfying if it was revealed that the smoke monster was a cloud of nano-bots invented by the Dharma Initiative and Jacob was just something they brainwashed people to believe in using high-technology idea insertion tools? Maybe it would, for some people -- I don't know -- but if you consider that most of the show's early character conflicts were between people who had faith in things they didn't understand and those who didn't (Jack vs. Locke in the early seasons), I think it would have been even more disappointing if that issue never came into play in terms of how the show resolved the mysteries it's taken 5 years to set up.
So far, we've learned that maybe both sides were right to some degree, in that some of those mysteries are explained as a result of science (or, you know, a tv show's version of science) -- as represented by time travel, Faraday, or even the calculable means by which people arrive at the island -- and some are a result of divine forces, such as the smoke monster or the means by which a slave ship ends up in the middle of an island.
But this week's episode addressed what may be the biggest mystery of all: what is this island? As Jacob explains to Richard, it's a cork that keeps malevolence from spreading to the rest of the world. In other words, the island itself is a place where realms dissect, and I couldn't think of a better way to reconcile the fact that the island has mystical properties in some respects and yet plays by our known world's rules at other times. Many cultures actually already have a name for this:
As Wikipedians have written, the Axis Mundi is "a plug to keep evil at bay" and it is a "ubiquitous symbol that crosses human cultures." This, in itself, provides insight on another key mystery of Lost: why does the show seem to draw on symbolism from every world religion all at once without every settling on one in particular to form the core of its underlying meaning? The show has borrowed the idea of Christ figures from Christianity, Hindu themes for the concept of Dharma, the I Ching (see the Dharma logo), Egyptian mythology (a statue of Taweret, a carving of Anubis).
If I may theorize for a moment, it's not due to laziness. Rather, it's an indicator that the island and its "deities" (Jacob and the Man in Black) actually exist far outside of any of these religions. Religion is a mechanism used by humans to explain both the miraculous and the devastating things we observe in our world, while the forces that actually cause these things cannot be named or explained with terms as simplistic as those we've assigned to them.
Evil doesn't see itself as evil -- it simply knows it has to exist. Why? Well, ask any Christian philosopher why evil has to exist: because if man doesn't have the free will to choose evil, then acts of goodness are rendered meaningless. You may recall the same argument being made in Clockwork Orange: does Alex's good behavior prove he has become a virtuous person if he has been stripped of the ability to commit evil? You may even recall that the Clockwork Orange scene where Alex is "treated" bears a remarkable resemblance to one in Lost, where Sawyer and Kate find Karl in Room 23:
Meanwhile, Jacob isn't God or even a representation of good. He just knows that he has a job to do, which is to provide balance against the darkness. He is the embodiment of a force to which we've assigned hundreds of different names over the course of our existence. To some, he is God, to others he is light, and to the man in black, he is simply Jacob.
And what does all this have to do with where Lost started? Pretty much everything. If you look at the first season of Lost, the themes of faith and morality (or lack thereof) have been there from the very beginning -- the difference now is that they're playing out in a very literal way. We actually have faces and names (if you consider "the man in black" to be a name) to associate with the elements of light and dark. But more importantly, the show has returned to many of its oldest themes and mysteries, and it turns out that we may just not have recognized their significance.
In the show's Pilot episode, Locke explained to Walt that backgammon is a game of "two sides -- one is light, one is dark," which is "older than Jesus Christ." I don't think I need to say anything else about that.
Meanwhile, Jack and Kate go looking for shelter and in episode 6, they find a pair of bodies in a cave. The bodies are holding a pair of stones: one black, one white.
Finally, I'll end my little rant with these lines from the season 1 finale:
Jack: "I don't believe in destiny."
Locke: "Yes, you do. You just don't know it yet."