Saturday, May 5, 2007

The Child is Father to the Man

According to Freud, the urge to murder Dad lurks in the heart of every little boy.

Coming from the guy who assigned penis envy to the wrong gender, I've never put any stock in that (makes it easier to look the little buggers in the eye as well). But if I were a father (or mother, for that matter) of a Lost writer, I think I'd have a hard time facing my friends at the town hall meetings. Somebody messed with these boys' heads back in the day! Vengeance upon the father, literal, metaphorical and bone crunchical, is the one Lost theme not even a casual fan can possibly miss.

It's hard to deny the role of violence in the making of men. From Sioux counting coup to gladiators slaying lions to bullfighters to Crusaders killing in the name of Christ to gangstas to jihadists to the bloodcurdling classified ads of Mercenary Magazine to the Gears of War playing in the living rooms of adolescent males, throughout time, in almost every culture and civilization, the power to kill has been a force that distinguishes one man from another. The power to kill paradoxically degrades and elevates a man in the eyes of his fellows.

And yet murder doesn't come naturally to most men.

Why did Ben want Locke to kill his father, the father Locke's subconscious apparently summoned out of the Wishing Box? Human sacrifice is a common thread in ancient cultures

and for reasons that seem rather frivolous in retrospect - to restore the sun god's blood loss or to keep the king company in the afterlife or even as a fun post ball game party where the losers' entrails provided the barbeque. What these freaks

are trying to accomplish with their human sacrifice is still a mystery. But whatever it was Locke couldn't do it.

Just as he'd always feared, he just wasn't special enough.

Ben explained to Locke that he needed to perform an act of free will. Considering this act involved ritualistic public murder, an act of pure defiance of civilized social almost seemed Ben was proposing some kind of Nietzschean Ubermensch test for Locke. What is the Ubermensch? A combination of Uber (as in over, better, above) and Mensch (as in Man or Human). It's not to be confused with the Yiddish mensch, which is more like the quintessential "guy you'd like to have a beer with"(i.e. no one remotely resembling Locke), but more like a man above all other men.

The Ubermensch is not bound by social mores. He is above them. He makes his own morality in a world of his own design. You can see where this would appeal to Locke on this island he adores. Freedom from the physical laws that broke his spine. Freedom from the social mores that designated him an unwanted, inconvenient foster boy. With all this freedom, there's really nothing holding him back from the ultimate freedom to kill as he pleases, or if he cannot

- being the spineless weasel of a loser his father so accurately described him as - then freedom to abuse another man's humanity

and make him into the instrument of the death he doesn't have to balls to be himself.

What happens to those kids?

We mostly never hear what happens to the children who survive atrocities, the kids they carry from crime scenes or who are rescued from perverts’ basements. Our sympathy for them seems to expire around the time their voices drop. In the Sudan and other parts of Africa, we know that small boys who have witnessed the mass rapes and murders of their loved ones can be efficiently morphed into mass murdering machines themselves, even of their own people. Sawyer doesn't have the self awareness to articulate what has happened to him, and probably never will. His story is the perfect tragedy, the perfect blend of pity and fear. In equal parts we fear the killer and pity the child, and if we're even slightly honest about it, we realize his story is the story of any one of us, in his place.

Sawyer's My Name Too

In this great performance by Josh Holloway, we watch Sawyer stumble behind Locke into the jungle, down, down into the bloody, blasted innocence of his childhood.

He is stunned that Locke knows about his secret murder, and denies it like a child caught red-handed, before finally confessing, ashamed.

Locke also knows about his parents' violent end, and his defenses start to fall away. He is unmasked, uncomfortable.

He vows that he isn't a killer, that he won't kill Ben. He's adamant. But that's before he arrives at the rotten, reeking Thunderdome Locke has prepared for him, filled with the corpses of slaves who died in their chains... where he is locked inside,

just as he was on the night his life was blown away.

No shoes, no weapon, stripped of his defences he faces the Devil before him, uncomprehending

but reeling with dread.

Her Name was Mary

It is chilling to watch him shift into the same stillness his mother ordered from him that night, to watch him not only become the terrified child again, but to watch him actually re-inhabit that awful moment, when his life turned...and crashed. Carefully self-controlled, knowing as he did that night that one wrong move could cause something terrible to happen, he watches and listens to the unrepentant monster.

The stranger says he is Locke's own diabolical father, that Locke was a cripple before the plane crash, and that all the survivors of 815 have been declared conclusively dead . These huge revelations wash over his face, bewilderment turning to horrified awareness. Slowly, beautifully played with great delicacy and subtlety by Holloway, he realizes that this man is in fact the white whale he's been chasing across the ocean of his warped, wasted life. And even then, he isn't ready to kill. It isn't until James says his mother's name as if he hasn't said it in 20 years,

until he is reminded that it was his own father he should have been hating all these years,

until Cooper tears his soul into a billion hopeless shreds

that the man, not the child, explodes and takes his vengeance.

And even in that animalistic act,

he is human,

More human than Ben who thinks murder is nothing more than a test to be failed or passed. More human than Locke who files his nails as he listens to another man's heart explode, all so he can bring home the trophy his new patriarch demands. When Locke opens the door to retrieve his bounty, the killer before him looks all of eight years old.

Don't Call Me James

It's hard to see where Sawyer goes from here. This killing didn't free him, it only trapped him back into the nightmare all traumatized children inhabit. He is literally a Man with No Name now. Can he continue to use the name of the Devil he returned to hell? Does he dare to use the name his murdered mother gave him? The man is in a world of hurt, now and probably forever, and it's a hard-hearted person indeed who doesn't sympathize with the path he has ahead of him.

Of Mice and UberMenschen

A man sweats and bleeds and cries and pukes when he kills.

The Ubermensch does not.

For the Ubermensch there is no remorse. No moral codes have been broken. No emotions have shattered his soul. And this is what makes him Special, the one thing Locke has craved his entire generic-retail-working, regional-managing existence.

It all seemed to work out very satisfactorily for the bald headed bastard. As it probably will for the bug eyed creep who sent him.

But the disturbing question remains - Can you borrow your manhood, your uber-manhood, from another man's horror and shame and anguish?

Can you count another man’s coup as your own? It's true men do it all the time. Those who were too cowardly to fight in foreign wars still sleep soundly on their featherbeds as other people's sons are sent to kill and die on manufactured pretext no stronger than Ben's - "You're special". Lost isn't as far removed from our reality as it seems... But the Others have taken this thing to a whole other level. They esteem themselves too good to murder, and yet they manipulate murder out of that lower breed that's capable of it. Is the killing class some kind of necessary lower class in their sick society? Or is this a Brothers Karamazov riff , where sons so share the guilt for their father's murder, that - lucky for them! - assigning guilt becomes irrelevant?

If visitors from the real world both believe that all of the Flight 815 bodies were found at the bottom of the ocean, is that what they meant by being "enslaved by time and space"? (Yeah, I have no clue what that line means, but it seems to fit about as well as any other theory.) If it's true, did Sawyer kill a man who was already dead? In fact, was Sawyer himself already dead when he killed the man who was already dead?

The dossiers the Others have on all the survivors, where they have information on crimes and sins that no one witnessed - are those their judgment books, being read at the gates of heaven...or hell?

And the BOX? The "metaphor" that brought Locke the very thing he needed to attain his gory Uber-manhood and allowed Ben to cheat a well deserved death. Can't someone wish for something useful already? Like the National Guard? How do these wishes get into that box anyway? Is it a like a Lottery?

And it’s also very hard to keep up on the cultural symbolism they keep throwing at us. Is it possible Sawyer isn’t in fact meant to represent Han Solo, as we’ve been thinking for so long, but instead represents Leia???

It’s fascinating.

What isn't fascinating ... is Jack.

Does he have a plan?

Is he a mole?

A clone?

A clown?

It’s hard to keep pretending anyone cares. I know we’re supposed to be fascinated, but it’s hard to stay fascinated by such mediocrity. Maybe it's that 99% of the Lost fanbase is snoring in anticipation of the anticlimactic moment when Jack pulls his metaphorical white hat out

and rides off on his metaphorical hobby horse to save the day (or as Cooper would put it blah blah blah...)... Maybe it's the fact that his only storytelling function these many weeks has been to reduce the once strong leading woman on the show to a degrading caricature of a weak-minded female.

All kidding aside, I'm going to plead with the Lost writers here. Guys? There is NO story you could possibly be writing that can justify the way the character of Kate has simpered and grovelled in Jack's dismissive presence this season. Please find a way to make. it. stop.

That said....

This was an absolutely magnificent episode, one of the best ever. It had dozens of delightful grace notes. Small pleasures. Like Locke & Rousseau's neighborly hookup at the corner dynamite store. And Desmond's gleeful delight in the tales being told by the pretty baby bird he's keeping alive in Hurley's tent. But what lifted it up to greatness were the two broken boys we kept seeing in the performances of these two men.

Terry O'Quinn is more than just the class act of this show - he's the master of his craft and a gift to all of us who've stood by this show. And Josh Holloway just gave his Emmy performance. And that better be in the Lead Actor category, by the way.

Let's stop playing games with that, ok? Any pretense that he's something less than that now is a charade.


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