Monday, March 24, 2008


I don't want you,
But I hate to lose you,
You've got me in between the devil and the deep blue sea.

- Ella Fitzgerald

No one can ever accuse Michael Dawson of being lucky. If we are all children of the Universe, Michael is definitely not one of the fortunate sons. All indications are that, as an artist, he was never more than mediocre.

As a father, he was an even more spectacular failure.

Trying to find escape for his son, he got him kidnapped by wig wearing savages instead.

And that was only the beginning.

Like Cain, Michael escaped from Eden with innocent blood on his hands, and now, like Cain, he is condemned to wander the Earth as permanently damaged goods, too rotten and vile for even a mother to love.

But the Island isn’t done with him yet. After taking away his son

and his name

and his soul,

the Island has one more thing it plans to take from Michael.

His own free will.

No matter how sorry Micheal is about how things have turned out, the Island isn’t leaving him with any further choices in the matter. He is being stop lossed back into the service of the Island. Orders are orders.

As bad as it seems, I wonder if there might possibly be an upside in all this for Michael. Without free will, how can he be responsible for anything he does? If the Island chooses what Michael will do, then who is responsible for the things Michael does? Free will is a slippery metaphysical eel. Is it possible that free will is only an illusion we believe in because it feels true? Maybe all those times we think we’re making free choices, we’re only doing the thing it was always planned we would do. Maybe things just happen the way they do because there is no other way they could possibly happen. And even our free will, and the results of our free choices, are just part of the inalterable chain of causes and effects that can never be anything other than whatever it is they end up being.

What I mean to say is that it may be somewhat arbitrary of us to be blaming on Michael all the time for killing those two women. When you think about it,
if Michael hadn’t chosen to be a careless pedestrian

and if he hadn’t chosen to stop fighting for baby Walt

and if he hadn’t chosen to accept custody back of the strange 10 year old stranger and if they hadn’t chosen to fly back to L.A. on the very plane that a magical Island chose to pluck out of the sky

and if Michael hadn’t chosen to build a raft that ended up with Walt getting kidnapped

and if the Others weren’t such malicious manipulative muthas

then Michael would never have found himself choosing to pump bullets into the guts of two innocent and unsuspecting women.

Did Michael do wrong because he intended to kill the two people that ended up being killed?

What if he only intended to kill the one and the other was caused by an involuntary reflex? Or was he so whacked out he didn’t know what he was doing? What if he had meant to kill them, but the gun misfired and they lived? Would that have made Michael less evil? It reminds me of a little commented on ethical dilemma posed in another recent episode.

What is it that makes murder evil exactly?

The intent?

Or the result?

The cause?

Or the effect?

The Hindus have a very simple understanding of this idea:

Therefore we see at once that there cannot be any such thing as free-will; the very words are a contradiction, because will is what we know, and everything that we know is within our universe, and everything within our universe is moulded by conditions of time, space and causality.

You got that?

Even if we believe that some acts are freely willed, we have to concede that free will has limits. Even if you think you have free will, it will only get you so far. A man can freely decide to jump off a building, but once he’s free falling he can’t freely decide to stop falling.

And free fall is about where Michael is when we return to his story in this episode.

Considering this is Michael we're talking about, it could be said that his luck took a turn for the better when he returned to good old New York. He’s only back in the city a few weeks and already has an apartment!

Most people are still weeding through the serial killers on craigslist at that point, but Mike already has a nice cozy place to compose his suicide note in.

He’s located the kind of friendly neighborhood pawn shop owner who will gladly hand over a gun “with bullets” to a sweating, twitching stranger that walks in out of the night.

And even though December in New York city is colder than a brass monkey’s balls, the potted plants are blooming outdoors at Mike's mama's house. Almost as if they were in Hawaii!

He’s even getting visits from old friends.

Complete with a personal invite for drinks and hors d’oeuvres in the honeymoon suite.

Could Michael’s luck be changing?

No. Probably not.

Ben isn’t wasting any time calling in his marker on Michael. The kid is safe with Grandma, which means it’s time now for Daddy to get back to work. And so begins Michael’s career as the world’s most obvious saboteur.

He reports for duty in Fiji and instantly gets outed by the resident orange eating mystic.

He picks up his very large suspicious padlocked transom, just like any other lowly deckhand.

Maybe all drifters who sign on to rusty buckets bring their own janitor tools.

He makes a public display of pitching his cell phone into the sea before boarding ship.

Apparently men at sea find phone calls too much of a distraction.

Then he makes a point of confronting the very highstrung armed militia during their target practice.

But no one seems to take much note of Michael. It's almost as if they're all just playing along with the charade that a multi million dollar operation with a top secret nefarious purpose would allow an anonymous and unvetted deckhand to wander about freely on the ship.

Even planting his very own Acme Bomb in a Suitcase down into the engine room to blow them all to smithereens.


To predict the behavior of ordinary people in advance, you only have to assume that they will always try to escape a disagreeable situation with the smallest possible expenditure of intelligence. - Nietzsche

Ben doesn’t really want Michael to blow up the ship. He just wanted confirmation that Michael felt so guilty about killing those two people that he was willing now to kill a couple dozen more to make up for it. And Michael, the Michael who knows he no longer has any free will, made the free choice to do what the Island chose for him to do. After all, Michael has nothing left to hope for, nothing to live for. He's just looking for the ultimate escape and he'll take any available path to get there.

There’s a reason that a guy like Michael has to grovel just for the right to off himself, while a guy like Ben gets to pull puppet strings from an invisible South Pacific command post all the way to the bridge and tunnel bowels of New York City’s outer boroughs.

(If he's as smart as he thinks he is, I hope he messaged Tom to bring back a special order from Knish Nosh.)

But where does Ben get the audacity to call himself a "good guy"? And why does he seem so calmly certain that he's correct?

What is good? All that heightens the feeling of power in man, the will to power, power itself. What is bad? All that is born of weakness. - Nietzsche

This is one way of looking at it. Nietzsche was one of those gifted child types who grew up really pissed that superior beings like himself didn’t have carte blanche to make up the rules as they went along. In his mind, society catered far too much to the needs of dumb, useless weaklings like you and me. In order to advance, a culture needs to maximize the talents of its masters, not its slaves.

It does seem, that Lost has a new Master now. As predicted, it's no longer The Jack Show this season, and that's a good thing. But it's disconcerting that it seems to have morphed instead into The Ben Show. All roads these days seem to lead inevitably back to this one unimpressive little ubermensch.

And Ben has no problem at all making up the rules as he goes along. He can say with a straight face he doesn’t kill innocents, when we all know he's a genocidal maniac.

It may just be that he, the superior being, decided that none of those people should be considered “innocent”. Ergo, Ben doesn’t kill innocents. Making up one’s own Moral Law is a fantastically convenient lifestyle choice! It’s even easier to practice this Do It Yourself Morality if you get your very own Magical Kingdom within which to reign. The Island has made Ben Master of so much more than just his domain.

Here on the Island where neither manmade nor natural laws apply, Ben can truly achieve what all legends in their own minds seek: Superman-hood. No wonder he never wants to leave.

The only problem is there are so many other wannabe Supermen out there.

”Conscience is but a word that cowards use
Devised at first to keep the strong in awe.
Our strong arms be our conscience, swords our law!”
- Richard III

Perpetual conflict seems inevitable once you buy into the Superman theories. And no where is that more obvious than in the clash of titans all trying to take credit for rigging the phoney plane crash...if there even was a rigged fake plane crash.

Captain Gault told Sayid and Desmond this: “The wreckage was obviously staged. Now can you imagine what kind of resources and manpower go into pulling off a feat of that magnitude. Faking the recovery of a plane crash. Putting 324 families through a grieving process based on a lie. But what's even more disturbing...Where exactly does one come across 324 dead bodies. And that Mr. Jarrah, Mr. Hume, is just one of the many reasons we want Benjamin Linus.”

So according to this handsome man,

Ben staged the crash.

But according to this handsome man

Widmore did it: “That's the cemetary in Thailand where Widmore dug up the 300 odd corpses he needed. And the purchase order for the old 777 he bought through a shell company, and the shipping logs for the freighter he used to drop the whole mess down a trench deep enough to guarantee that no remains are ever gonna be identified. Do you have any idea what it would cost to bring those bodies up?”

(Can you really buy a 777 for $450,000? I'm thinking even Grandma Dawson's dinky little rowhouse in Brooklyn goes for more than that these days.)

It's up to you who you choose to believe. At this point, any and all possibilities are equally plausible. But let's look at the clues we can find.

When Sayid outed Michael to the Captain, he didn't exactly seem surprised.

It's hard to see how any of Michael's leftfooted spymanship would have gone undetected unless the crew knew they should leave him alone. They even made sure that their incriminating conversations were loud and in his vicinity.

But someone did disable the motors and trash the communications room. Could that have been someone other than the hapless Michael? Because nothing Michael ever touches has ever worked out right. Question: How many other "spies" are on Widmore's boat?

Another question: How do we really know this is even Widmore's boat? Just the way they keep using simple declarative sentences like "It's Widmore's boat" leads me to think Widmore has frak all to do with this. It's hard to see why a guy who could afford to buy 300 odd corpses couldn't afford a more reliable vessel than this rusty bucket.

Maybe Jin's pawned watch was a clue.

Could it be that the pawnshop owner was a conduit to Paik, and this transaction cued Paik in to Michael's location? Could Widmore be a fake out and it's actually Paik that is behind this plot? We've been so hung up on love triangles, we may have missed the triangle of evildoers working behind the scenes somehow. Widmore, Paik and Benjamin Linus. I think we've only tipped the iceberg of all the ways these three are in cahoots.

We do know that Ben is the one Michael works for. They're even passport twins

Michael and Ben's fake passports both have the same ID number: HNSO12153.

And we know that the chopper returned to the Island last episode, which leads to the possibility that the people shooting at Alex are people from the boat. Did they mean to kill Karl and Danielle in order to capture Ben's daughter?

That would eliminate Ben's rivals. Do the men on the boat work for Ben? Or will we see next week that Rousseau was wearing a bullet proof sports bra and she'll hop right up and start cooperating in her own clever ruse to overthrow Ben?

I realize that bullet looked like it went straight through the liver, but...hey! Anything's possible! And they can't kill Rousseau yet! Come on!

Or it could be that the simplest explanation provides. Ben was sending Alex off to the temple,

which now appears to be yet another Dharma outpost. Are the Others eating their own now?

Whatever the explanation turns out to be, Ben’s conscience will be clear. Superman doesn’t have much need for a conscience, since the will to power invents its own moral laws. Laws that let him declare that his murdering ass is a "good guy".

It’s different for the lowly underclass.

For men are not equal: thus speaks justice. - Nietzsche

Michael may or may not be responsible, in the metaphysical sense, for the harm he’s created. But either way, he feels like he is. He’s being haunted by the ghost of his most innocent victim

...still carrying the blankets she held in the instant he ended her life.

He’s lost the only treasure that mattered to him.

Stripped of his Constant, Michael’s soul has come unmoored. Banished to a world where his free will is irrelevant, all of Michael’s hopes and dreams have been sucked into the black hole of nihilism. The only escape left for him is to pin a note to his jacket like a little lost boy and hope the Universe will have mercy on his soul.

But the Island won’t even allow that kindness.

"You can check out any time you like.
But you can never leave."
- The Eagles

Karma. Still the ultimate bitch.

Michael's tortuous journey through the despair of irredeemable sin is a profound topic. And Harold Perrineau got his chance to shine - another wonderful side effect of the End of The Jack Show has been watching so many fine actors strut their stuff this season. The concept of Redemption isn't nearly as neat and simple as fan discussions sometimes make it out to be. There's a vicious circle at work here, where the consequences of all actions will be forced upon those who commit them. There is no escape. Sayid may self righteously revile Michael for doing Ben's dirty work. He may think that's unforgivable.

But we already know that Sayid will soon be doing even dirtier work for Ben. And we also already know no power on Earth will save Sayid from that fate. The story, where it stands right now, is in a very dark, very fatalistic place. It's completely understandable that Michael wants to get himself the hell out of here. But the Island isn't giving him any options. His suffering goes on. But hang on, Mike.

The great thing about suicide is that it's not one of those things you have to do now or you lose your chance. I mean, you can always do it later. - Harvey Fierstein

One way or another, the Island can't hold you forever.

Or can it?


Surly said...

Wonderful. I love the way you plumb the moral depths of the show without drawing any firm conclusions. Is it wrong that the darker LOST gets, the more I like it?

Anonymous said...

Micheal is in one never ending nightmare, isn't he? It seems downright cruel that a guy like Micheal, normal guy, good guy by and large is living in this hell, he's as much responsible for creating, but is inevitably helpless to alter. I really enjoyed 'MKJ', mainly because I've always been a fan of Harold's acting, but also, I truly have missed Micheal. Great review as always.


Anonymous said...

Another excellent review Fishbiscuit, definitely still top of my list of reviewers! You really make me think more deeply about events in the show (while not going too far either) and see things in each episode from a different angle every time too. Free will and its limits was very much a theme in this ep. Something which seems so simple to understand but the result of which can result in complications too, whether you think about it or not in the first place! How do you stop yourself free-falling once you jump indeed!

Thought provoking stuff when it comes to intent and the result of intent if it's acted upon. I guess the law only punishes the result but does that mean intending to kill in the first place is any more acceptable in terms of what's right? Especially if something else is the cause of stopping the action at the time.

Love your reference to Paik too. It's easy to forget about him, another evildoer with perhaps as much motive as Widmore anyway.

~ Midnight

LostTvFan said...

Another amazing review Fish! You covered the despair of Michael’s story with such empathy for his tragic circumstances. He reminds me of a man experiencing vertigo, he can’t tell up from down, right from left, good from bad. What a mind fuck he is trapped in thanks to Ben.

“He picks up his very large suspicious padlocked transom, just like any other lowly deckhand.” LOL, I loved that no one asked questions. Top secret mission and no questions and I also took note of Michael’s spacious, private quarters. Nice digs for the lowliest member of the entire crew.

“It does seem, that Lost has a new Master now. As predicted, it's no longer The Jack Show this season, and that's a good thing. But it's disconcerting that it seems to have morphed instead into The Ben Show. All roads these days seem to lead inevitably back to this one unimpressive little ubermensch.” Nice shout out to Kristin’s prediction and I hope you are enjoying the Jater meltdown over Kristin daring to mention their Messiah like hero. ITA that as much as I love ME I don’t want Lost to morph into the Ben Show either.

“Michael's tortuous journey through the despair of irredeemable sin is a profound topic. And Harold Perrineau got his chance to shine - another wonderful side effect of the End of The Jack Show has been watching so many fine actors strut their stuff this season.” Well said, Lost has a talented ensemble cast that has been poorly used in the past two season, great to see so many of them getting their share of screen time.

Matt D. said...

Please...when is your book coming out? You have to take this stuff out of the virtual realm and put it on some paper between a nice hardcover! Darn good stuff once again! Ok that's enough sunshine up your arse.
See you back here in 5 weeks or so! Take care!