Saturday, April 11, 2009

HOLY SMOKE



People need to believe. Faced with unanswerable questions, people seek the security of answers that can never be questioned. Unless they find religion, most people seem to feel quite ... lost.



In honor of mankind's perpetual quest to describe God, Lost has explored almost every known religious tradition. From Namaste to Dharma, from heroin filled Virgin Mary's to cautionary tales of Doubting Thomas, from the Pillar of Smoke to Native American sweat lodges, from Aboriginal walkabouts to Casteneda's New Age head trips, from the ouroboros symbol of the alchemists to the hatch logos designed after Taoist bagua, from the Qu'ran to the Bahai Book of Law that Richard tests little John Locke with, the Lost writers are equal opportunity believers. At one time or another, all the spiritual and quasi-spiritual adventures of humanity have gotten a shout out.




All across the vast timespace continuum of human existence, mankind has invented religions. On our magical mystery Island, the indigenous people seem to all have a blindly obedient belief in a religious system that we can call, for now at least, Jacobism. In this religion, Jacob is the Word and the Law. The will of the island is that The Will of The Island be done. And The Will of The Island is only revealed through Jacob. Whoever he is.



Blind faith in an unseen super power. It's hard to see how this became the ultimate answer to the infinite puzzlement of human existence. So, why, then? Why has mankind incessantly created religion?




"Religion is the human response to being alive and having to die." - F. Forrester Church



It's not just pagan religions that were obsessed with death. In the Western world, this very weekend, the return of spring is heralded by ceremonial remembrance of the gruesome crucifixion murder of God's only son. Our curiosity to know what happens on the other side of the great looking glass of Death is killing us. It's clear that whoever designed the septic system for Craphole Island had death on the brain. The interior design of the central Island infrastructure was heavily influenced by the ancient Egyptians, death fetishists extraordinaire.



The Egyptians were history's greatest undertakers. They preserved the vessel of the dead body because they believed the soul would still need it, as a kind of home base, during its travels in the eternal afterlife. Mummification might have even been an old hobby of Ben's. The shelf behind his abandoned desk at the Hydra had a museum curator's feel to it. A stuffed bird, a pinned butterfly, fossilized animal teeth, flasks and beakers and paraphernalia of taxidermy.



He must have felt it very natural then to discover a picture of Anubis carved into the wall of the Monster's basement home. Anubis is the Egyptian God of the Underworld, protector of the dead and escort of lost souls into the eternal afterlife. In this picture, Anubis has stepped outside of his own mythology and appears to be having an existential battle of the gladiators with Old Smoky, who is himself a representative of the longlost mythic figure, Cerberus. The underworld religion of the Others is a kind of Greek-Egyptian Hybrid.



"A myth is a religion in which no one any longer believes." - James Feibleman



It's not such a mismatch to find Anubis the jackal and Cerberus the dog sharing the Jacobist mythology. After all, we know from the art hanging on his wall, that Jacob is a dog lover.



And finding all this Egyptian style idolatry here in the tropical South Pacific isn't such a mystery either. The Exit Spot for the Island's Donkey Wheel transport system is located in Tunisia. Maybe a few hieroglyphic tablets fell into a vile vortex on one of those interdimensional time warps. The fantasy world of Lost is large enough for us to explain almost any bit of thematic flotsam or jetsam the writers choose to add to the swirling cultural mix, and hieroglyphics are something Lost fans got used to a long time ago.



Fear of death may explain the Why of religion, but religion does also come with a useful side effect. Religions make up rules for their followers to obey, rules which come in very handy when it comes to maintaining social order and control. The Rules of Jacobism, however, are more than a little difficult to figure out, especially since right and wrong don't seem to have any particular importance.



"When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad, and that is my religion." - Abraham Lincoln

The Island, for instance, does not seem inclined to hold Ben accountable for this



or this



or even this.



The Island doesn't seem bothered by any of the assorted psycho-tortures and unprovoked killings Ben has been responsible for. Torture, bondage, patricide - even mass murder - do not appear to be sins of any great magnitude in the Jacobist doctrine.



Perhaps this is because Death isn't all that proud on this Island. The Living and the Dead seem to enjoy an easy coexistence here. It gives new meaning to the phrase that was repeated again in this episode, when a forty something Charles Widmore told young Ben Linus that he'd have to go back to his Dharma buddies. He told Ben that he could live among them but be not of them. Sound familiar?



The hits from that classic Tattoo Episode keep coming. Don't let anyone ever tell you it wasn't a pivotal episode. Ben returned to his people after being reborn in Jacob's Temple, but he was no longer one of them. He crossed over, not from Life to Death, but from Them to Us.



And from that point on, his loyalty to the Island was the only unbreakable law he ever had to try and abide by. Widmore also believes he is doing the Island's Will. It was a little sad, kind of anticlimactic, to see that Widmore left via boring old submarine, instead of some cool new turning of the Dharma Donkey Wheel, but wherever he is, whatever he is doing, I do believe that Widmore also thinks he is always doing what he thinks the Island wants him to do.



We know Jacobism does have Rules, because we saw Widmore banished and Ben judged for breaking them. But what are the rules of Jacobism? While some religions try and regulate human conduct down to the smallest minutiae, like the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah, banning everything from praying on smooth stones to eating worms found in fallen fruit, Jacobism is modeled after more rudimentary moral codes. Jacob's Island seems to have only Two Commandments. The first is Thou shalt do whatever Jacob tells you. And the second is Thou shalt not kill a kid.



The sanctity of children remains a constant on Lost. Ben was sent to murder the Frenchwoman, but the sound of her helpless infant stopped him in his tracks.



Motherhood as an amulet against death was echoed later in the episode, when the sight of little Charlie Hume froze Ben's finger on the trigger that was all set to kill Penny.



Charlie's appearance was itself a reminder of an earlier time in our story, when Sawyer was unable to complete his intended crime when he discovered a child would be harmed by it.



Perhaps the Island spares children because, in an Island overrun with Afterlife, children are from the Land of Beforelife. Children come just recently from that mysterious place where the life spirit dwells between death and rebirth. Why then would Widmore claim that the Island wanted baby Alex dead? It is interesting to note that just as someone tried to run over Locke's pregnant mom,



after Alex's father Robert had been infected by the Monster, he also tried to kill his unborn daughter.



Did the Island want this one child killed, or was Widmore misreading the Will of the Island? Men may invent the gods that issue them commandments, but that doesn't mean they always understand what the gods they've created are telling them to do. So deciphering Jacob's wishes joins the long list of mysteries that befuddle us on every Lost episode. This one brought the usual harvest of impossible riddles. Why did Ben tell Rousseau to run if she heard a Whisper?



If the Island is a giant toilet, whose God lives in a clogged drain, might that mean that Jack's job of Janitor has more power attached to it than we imagined?



Did the Prop Department recycle Jack's old wig



to try and make the fiftyish Ben look twenty something?



What is in the box that Ana Lucia's clone is so fiercely protecting on the beach?



Is it the weapons of the coming war? Another Jughead? Is it a trap for the Smoke Monster, like the Ghostbusters use before they transport the ghouls to the Containment Grid? In keeping with the religious theme of the episode, is it a kind of Ark of the Covenant, the vessel of some holy relic? The men were affixing bars to the sides and appeared ready to carry it away in similar fashion.



The Mystery of the Third Canoe is just about settled. Who left the Ajira water bottle in the outrigger that Sawyer and Juliet found on the Island during their brief visit to 2007? Sun and Frank took the first one, Ben and John the second. That must mean that Ilana or one of her goons were the ones winged by Juliet's gunshot.



What were we to make of the word clues in this episode? Just as the boats warned us in past weeks that Ben's plot to return to the Island was an ILLUSION,



this week they reminded us (if we needed any reminders) that Ben, however the Island may judge him, is a goddamn SAVAGE.



And what to make of Desmond's boat, OUR MUTUAL FRIEND?



This is the title of the last book that Desmond, great Charles Dickens fan that he is, planned to read before dying. It gave me an ominous feeling to see that he had named his boat after that book. I'm not following the annual finale death spec all that closely, but it made me wonder - could Desmond's time be up? He seemed strong enough beating the crap out of Ben, but why does Ben want Sun to apologize to him? I'm worried for Desmond.



The biggest riddle of the episode, of course, was the actual riddle that Ilana asked a thoroughly bewildered Frank Lapidus. "What lies in the shadow of the statue?"



This was a throwback to the password riddle "What did one snowman say to the other snowman?" asked by Desmond of Locke when the hatch was first discovered. Somehow I don't think the answer to this riddle is going to be as funny as "Smells like carrots". The statue of Anubis is gone for one thing. Is this like the Arthur Conan Doyle story, The Musgrave Ritual, where a shadow's location must be recalculated after the object that created the shadow is long gone?



If so, I'm thinking that it sure looked like The Well was in the shadow of the statue that Sawyer's band of time travelers briefly spotted. The well in which was buried the Dharmachakra Wheel of rumbling, tumbling time travel.



The last mystery in my head watching the episode was a rather mundane one. Where was the power being generated for all the lights that were being switched on in the Ghost Town of Otherville?



I know it's kind of a silly question, but no one's been living in Othertown for years, where are they getting the juice? Does the Island have an infinite power supply? It was eerie to see Ben's house again, with the picture of EmilyAnnieJuliet still hanging on the wall.



The Risk game sat on the table,



untouched since Sawyer and Hurley stopped playing it the day that Keamy's murderers descended on them.



We know that, whatever has transpired since the day the Island moved, not a soul has moved to reinhabit Dharma's old yellow digs. Time has frozen since the fateful day that the Island's Will (or Charles Widmore's will, depending on how you're reading all this) was carried out against poor, innocent Alex.



"All religions are the same: religion is basically guilt, with different holidays." ~Cathy Ladman

Now Ben has to crawl through the Island's wormholes down into the dungeon of judgment to finally pay for what happened that day.



The only murder that Ben needs to repent is one he didn't actually commit. In the death of Alex, Ben's sin was one of omission, not commission. But Ben's failure to obey the Island was the only high crime he needed to repent for. Once our grown up Harry Potter had found his way to the Chamber of Secrets, the ritualistic judgment began.



There was a Wizard of Oz feel about the whole thing, from the big blowhard bitching Ben out



to the visitation of old regrets.



It's enough to make you wonder if one of these days, our own Toto-Vincent is going to run around and pull back the curtain on this Jacob charlatan once and for all.



Ben wasn't the first man on the Island to have his life pass before him in a puff of smoke. Watch this gif slowly, and you'll see exactly what I mean.




When the Monster looked into Eko's soul, it came to a quite different conclusion than it did when it searched Ben's. Why? Maybe there is a clue in the ancient Egyptian ceremony known as the Weighing of the Heart. As seen here, Anubis weighed the heart of the deceased against the feather of Ma'at, which represented the concept of truth, order and balance.



If the heart was found blameless, quite literally lighter than a feather, then it was returned to the mummy, so that the soul could make use of it in its further Adventures in the Underworld. A failed test meant the heart was eaten instead by the gluttonous Ammit, the goddess of divine retribution. A heavy heart meant the soul ceased to exist, the worst fate an Egyptian could possibly imagine. In this mythology, if I've got it straight, the goal of every lost soul was to reunite the Ka, or universal life source,



with the Ba, or individual personality,




in order to exist eternally as the transfigured immortal spirit of the Akh.



I'm just guessing here that Richard is one such triumphantly undead. There has to be some explanation for his perpetual youth. Clearly he is special. The only other person on the Island who may be able to compete with him in beatific luminosity may just be this guy.



Afterlife is looking good on Locke. Getting killed seems to have done wonders for his self esteem.



He may be putting on a dead man's shoes, but by tapping them three times, he was reminding us that, as Dorothy of Kansas was told, there's noplace like home.



John Locke has definitely come home. When Ben returned to his office at the Hydra, like a fired employee sheepishly cleaning out his old desk, John confidently sat himself down in the old boss's chair and put his feet up.



It was most entertaining to watch Ben sputtering with frustrated indignation. Gradually it dawned on him that although he may have killed John Locke, he had permanently lost the upper hand in their ongoing battle of wills.



While Ben was still able to skillfully run his cat and mouse game on clueless redshirts like Cesar, John's feigned naivete had Ben completely off balance.



It seemed obvious that John knew Ben Lyin'-to-us was lyin' when he said he'd known about the Island's power to resurrect the dead.



Locke seemed to have supreme confidence in his newfound "knowing" of the Island's Will. He knew where the Monster lived when Ben did not. In fact, when Ben summoned the Monster, and warned Sun that the thing to come was beyond his control, it was no accident that the thing that came through the bushes, from the exact place we'd once seen the Monster emerge, was the very handsome and jaunty John Locke himself.



So, is John the Monster now? Is he God? Not sure about that, but post-dead Locke is a decidedly higher order of being than pre-dead Locke. John the Resurrected reminds me most of Gandalf the White. He's exactly the same, only now he's about ten times more magnificent.



He seemed to know that Ben would be forgiven if he would only confess his sins to the beast. Even after being strangled to death by the little weasel in his no tell hotel room, all that beatific John Locke wanted from Ben Linus was an Apology. I must say, Jacobism seems like the most lenient religion ever. Murder, torture, cruelty and deviance of every kind all pass without penalty. The only sin is failure to submit to the Will of the Island. And even then, if you're really really sorry, the Island forgives you. Like Anubis, once the heart has been weighed and found feathery, the Island lets the doomed soul live...so long as they repent.




Ben emerged from the wormholes of judgment , sworn to follow his new leader. John has found his first sworn apostle.



"Each religion, by the help of more or less myth which it takes more or less seriously, proposes some method of fortifying the human soul and enabling it to make its peace with its destiny." ~George Santayana



What happens in the Temple? We still don't know. This week we went under the Temple. We still have not gotten into it.



We're still a preposition short of full disclosure. The suspense continues to build. I really don't want to lay any extra added pressure on our intrepid Lost creators, but I have to say: the longer we wait, the more we travel, the more we all really need for this secret, once we learn it, to knock our socks off.



"Then said he to me, 'Fear not, fear not, little one, and make not your face sad. If you have come to me, it is God who has let you live. For it is He who has brought you to this isle of the blest, where nothing is lacking, and which is filled with all good things. " - The Egyptian Tale of the Shipwrecked Sailor

13 comments:

AdmiralVictor said...

Ben is like a dysfunctional kid who did something bad, knows it, and feeling loyal to his parental figure, or in this case neo-parent (Island), runs home to face the punishment he or she knows will come because its the "right" thing to do and will make the parental figure happy. I find it ironic that in Bens innocently purposed return to the island he ends up bringing the people, that would ultimately make him who he is into the 1970's. Ben's always tried to please the island though in similar fashion to his treatment of his father im guessing he'll try to stick it to the island as well.

Interesting commentary on Religion Fish. Good points on what Ben was being judged on or lack thereof ; )

Kyle from Kentucky said...

Charles constantly leaving the island to constitute the DI to study just what it is about the island explains why the others made a truce with them instead of just wiping them out and also explains Charles' motivations.

Brilliant as usual.

Benedict said...

I think the Musgrave Ritual was written by Arthur Conan Doyle.

Still, great analysis, spotting some old testament bible among the hieroglyphs and underworld guard dogs.

Jane Primrose said...

You don't think Ben could be apologising to Desmond for shooting at him, ruining his groceries, and scaring the crap out of his wife?
I think that's enough to merit an apology, myself.

Anonymous said...

I know it's kind of a silly question, but no one's been living in Othertown for years, where are they getting the juice? Does the Island have an infinite power supply?

It may be a silly question, but I thought the very same thing when Ben flipped that switch. Hee! What I'd like to know is how, or better yet who figured out how to harness that type of power? Interesting thought on the "rules" of the island seeming to only have one firm and hard rule...don't mess with the kids. Murder, lie, cheat...cool, just don't mess with the kiddies. Which begs the question, when and why are children no longer allowed to be conceived and born there? I don't know if TOQ is on a new diet this season, but I'm right there with you, the man is looking good. Death has done him all kinds of wonders. Watching ME and TOQ work their magic together made up for some deficiencies in the dialogue. Hopefully, the writers will eventually remember that Yunjin is no slouch in the acting department and will give her more to say and do besides repeat that she needs to find Jin. Anyways, great review, Fish. Especially the info on what the Egyptian gods and hieroglyphics (sp?) and what they mean are coming more and more into play.

Darbi,

Marco Sparks said...

I think they have a giant hamster on a giant hamster wheel under Otherton. I mean, obviously.

Fishbiscuitland said...

You're right...thanks for setting me straight Benedict.

Anonymous said...

"If the Island is a giant toilet, whose God lives in a clogged drain, might that mean that Jack's job of Janitor has more power attached to it than we imagined?"

ROTFL. I don't know how you managed to inject humour into the review of this ep, but it's done every bit as brilliantly as the rest of your detailed analysis, Fishbiscuit. You did great justice to this episode, brought in everything that seems relevant including so many things I never would have thought of. For all the religious symbolism and imagery on this show, Jacobism and Jacob's two commandments seem to describe the island's "religion" perfectly. Maybe it's part of Smokey's judgment on Ben too. Maybe Ben's "sin of omission" with Alex is what he feels most guilty of, despite all his other obvious crimes and it is what he is therefore judged on ...The amount of guilt he feels, or as you say - how heavy the heart feels. Thought provoking stuff. And if Smokey is revealing himself as Locke too, then Smokey has never looked as good either! :)

Love your Wizard of Oz refs btw, maybe the writers should have Vincent reveal Jacob to us in the end!

- Midnight

Matt D. said...

A damn fine post once again. I'm going to miss all of this once LOST is done.

Shouldn't be too bad though since 2012 is the end times. Maybe that's the real finale that will blow our socks off? LOST is not only circling around a possible doomsday clock scenario but will actually predict our end. Now that's a finale!

Anonymous said...

--The show is about religion!!!!! Welcome to season 3. Ever since the others started talking about Jacob I realized all the mysteries wouldn't be solved by "scientific" means or even sci-fi. Glad you caught up with the rest of us, though.

Anonymous said...

Very interesting connection between Jack's tattoo and Widmore's comment to Ben. Very enjoyable and thought provoking post. namaste

Anonymous said...

As always an excellent recap, however I'm not sure I agree with your assertion that Anubis and Smokey are fighting. From the way Anubis is kneeling down and holding his arm up, it seems more like he is offering peace.

JB LeMage said...

Hi and WOWWATTA SITE! Great fun! Anyhoo, I got a little goosey thrill from a pic you posted a couple of recaps down of Smilin' Jack Torrance (or IS he?) partying down at the Overlook Hotel's 1921 July 4th Ball. Reason bein', is that on the last ep. of Lost, I flashed hard that Radzinsky is a dead ringer for Manly Stanley Kubrick...then read a character breakdown of Radzinsky on Lostpedia, I think it was, that seemed to match Stan's profile...obsessive attention to detail, meticulous planner, steal-trap mind, etc., and felt that the resemblances are not coincidental. Then a double-whammy: at least one actor on Lost, that I know of, actually worked with the Kubester, that being John Terry, in Full Metal Jacket.

So, with the Lost creative team being SO smart, and throwing out SO MANY cultural references, d'ya think that perhaps Radzinsky actually IS a tip o' the hat to St. Stanley of the Immaculate Projection?