“Lost,” Four Episodes In

Posted: February 18, 2010 in Threat Quality
Tags: , ,

“We try to keep our eye on the big picture, but the picture keeps getting bigger.” – Ani Difranco, “Hour Follows Hour”

One of the most interesting things about “Lost” as a narrative is its ever-broadening scope. And of course, that’s one of the most frustrating things for a viewer who likes to theorize about what’s Actually Going On Here.

I really pity the people who were dead-sure that everyone was dead and in purgatory in season one. Not because they were dead-wrong, and sometimes bullheadedly sticking to a theory that was constantly and explicitly dismissed by the actual storyline (no, you tell ME why there’d be polar bears in Purgatory!).

It’s because they were trying to describe an elephant in the dark, so to speak – trying to explain the larger “Lost” story when they were just feeling smaller parts of the whole, and even then they hadn’t gotten a good enough look at what they were basing their descriptions on.

(God bless whoever first put forth that Elephant-in-the-Dark proverb, it’s just so handy.)

Me, I waited until season 3 before I started coming up with Defining Theories. And present-day me still pities three-years-ago me, because he fell into the same trap season-one theorizers did – he thought he had enough information to make an informed answer, not realizing the camera was still pulling back.

See, by season 3, I thought that the “real” story was a secret war between Ben and Charles Widmore – using innocents like Desmond like so many pawns in their grander scheme. I really thought I was on to something, there. And I wasn’t wrong, exactly – I just wasn’t seeing enough of the picture.

Flashforward (ha!) to where we are now, in the first act of season 6, and now we see that the story has never been Jack vs. Locke, or the Oceanic survivors vs. The Others, or even Ben vs. Widmore – but in the same sense, it has. The real overarching conflict, as we can see now, is between Jacob and Smoke-Monster/Man-in-Black/Esau, who have been actively setting off those previous conflicts as part of their own battle, the apotheosis of the conflicting sides we’ve been watching this whole time: Light and Dark. Order and Chaos. Faith and Reason. Predeterminism and Free Will.

Which was explained in like, the second episode when Locke explained the rules of Backgammon to Walt.

Because, let’s face it, chess would’ve been a bit too on the nose, and besides, who travels with a chess board?

(Another thought – as the alternative versions of the cast’s lives play out, we’ve seen some subtle and some not so subtle differences in their lives as a result of the island’s 1977 sinking, so now I’m wondering if Backgammon has retroactively been replaced by Chess as the show’s metaphor? Nevermind, that’s stupid and barely makes sense. But it DOES make you think, dunnit?)

Games have been a continuing motif in the show. Locke’s fascination with them. Golf in season 1, ping pong in season 3. So is it all just a big game of strategy then? To what end? Is it simply that Chess is the most defining boardgame there is?
(Oddly absent within the motif? Video games. Not even an Atari visible in the hatch. COINCIDENCE? Yes. Probably.)

Whatever the case, what we’re seeing here, four episodes into the finale, is the culmination of gamesmanship, represented by white and black pieces. We’ve seen enough to understand that both Jacob and Esau/Smokey have been moving our heroes (yes, I’m counting Ben here) around very much like pawns on a chess board (maybe like pieces in Backgammon, but I’ve never played that so I couldn’t tell you).

And so the story still is Jack vs. Locke, Ben vs. Widmore, etc. … it’s just a bigger game than that. Because if chess were real life, nobody would assume they were the pawn in the game. (Unless we were watching “The Prisoner,” but nevermind that now.)

Which gets us back to the central theme of the show: Who’s in charge of our destiny? Except now it’s a real, literal question, because we know who’s moving the pieces around. We just don’t know who’s been moving which pieces, or which pieces we want moved.

It’s still too early to call which side is the one to back –Smokey (the nickname I currently prefer, though Doc Jensen’s “Locke-ness Monster” is pretty good, too) has been more openly ruthless in his methods than the seemingly benign Jacob, but on the other hand, Jacob’s hands-off (except when it’s literally not) approach is very close to the “mysterious ways” dodge we hear about when someone asks why awful things happen on God’s watch. At least Smokey seems more up-front about things, and you have to respect that.

But we don’t know either of their end games yet.  (Chess reference!)

So I guess my question at this point in the “Lost” game is: should the writers have found some way to get a magnetic travel-chess board in the survivors’ luggage, just to make things a little more obvious – maybe just obvious enough that people would have worked on better theories from the get-go?

Or was this all a plot to get people to appreciate Backgammon more?

There may be some other, more important questions, too – but by now I’ve learned to wait until I see every piece of the elephant before I try to describe it.

  1. Tad says:

    What about the video game Locke played at the Flame station? Granted, it was a chess game, not Pong or anything, but that still counts!

  2. braak says:

    Can’t read this yet! Jeanine and I have discovered that we don’t get ABC on her television, so now we have to wait to watch it on Hulu.

  3. Jeff Holland says:

    How do you not get ABC? That is quite peculiar. In any event, if Hulu takes a few days to post, ABC’s site has a nice full-episode player:


  4. Jeff Holland says:

    Also, YES! Tad. We’ll count that as a video game.

  5. braak says:

    Well, Hulu posts it the next day, I just couldn’t watch it yesterday because I was out of town.

    And yes, it IS peculiar. What’s also peculiar is how we switched to digital transmission like we were supposed to, and half the channels we do get are unwatchable. The only one that is consistently clear? THE JESUS CHANNEL.

  6. Jeff Holland says:

    Yeah, but that’s just because the camera loves him.

  7. […] at Threat Quality, Braak and Holland have been posting some thoughts on the show, with some particularly interesting discussion in the comments here. They are pretty good at […]

  8. Dr Emilio Lizardo says:

    Interesting theory that Smokey/Flocke may be the good one and Jacob the bad one. Still, I think Smokey is evil. The way he aggressively tries to get everybody to agree with him is telling. He needs people to side with him. He manipulates them into his service. It’s almost stereotypical of the way an intelligent, evil force acts. Jacob seems content to let people reach their destiny on their own with just a nudge here and there to set them on their path.

    Also, Richard is terrified of Flocke. Not just duly respectful and awed, but scared to the point that he wants to avoid him at all costs. We don’t know much about Richard but that seems telling.

  9. sebastian says:

    I wrote this elsewhere and want to get you guys take on it. 🙂

    The numbers add up to 108, as in “you have to push the button every 108 minutes”. Alright. That’s cute, but so far doesn’t actually mean anything.

    On the other hand, Oceanic flight 815 also uses the numbers and since we now know that each number equals a person that means Oceanic flight 815 could, in a way, mean Hurley and Sawyer. That probably doesn’t mean anything since this whole thing coming down to Hurley and Sawyer seems highly unlikely.

    However, if they had this stuff worked out, it could have been Oceanic flight 108, which, being the total of all the numbers put together would work on a symbolic level that these people were all important and destiny brought them together to be on the flight.

    You could also have switched the “108 minutes” thing in the hatch to every “234 minutes”, which would still have meant nothing back in season 2, but now we’d understand it to be Jack and Locke and it would be symbolic of how Locke needed Jack to help him with the button. And that would been awesome. And if 234 minutes was too long, they could just have assigned Jack and Locke different numbers to get whatever length of time they wanted.

    Sure, on some level it’s still dream logic, but it would have been cool.

  10. braak says:

    What’s equally interesting, of course, is that 108 is the number of beads on a Buddhist rosary–and the hatch was built by the Dharma Initiative, see?

    Also, two of the numbers–23 & 42–are sacred numbers in science fiction novels; the first is from the masterful conspiracy epic The Illuminatus Trilogy, the second from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I think that 23 has guided most of my thinking about the Lost backstory.

  11. Hsiang says:

    I was pretty sure the inclusion of Egyptian goddes Taweret meant this show was all about the Hungry-Hungry Hippos game.

  12. braak says:

    Also, wait a minute. What was Ben Linus doing off of the Island? They blew up the hydrogen bomb after he and his father had joined the Dharma Initiative. The Island hadn’t been eradicated entirely from the timeline, because we saw, underwater, all the Dharma Initiative houses.

    So, what the hell happened there?

  13. threatqualitypress says:

    @Lizardo: He does have a more obvious “Follow me, or I’ll kick your head in” vibe, doesn’t he? And yeah, Richard’s scared, but who knows why Richard does anything (read: Let’s GO on the Richard backstory, writers!).

    @Sebastian: …I’m gonna trust that that makes sense. To be honest, the numbers thing has always been the least interesting part of the show to me, so I leave that to others to fiddle with.

    @Hsaing: Well now I HAVE to think that was their intention.

    @Braak: I think, until we are told something else – and I figure we will at some point – what we are supposed to assume is that because of the hot bomb-on-electromagnetism action, the island sunk (shut UP, science!).
    And Ben and his dad were being evacuated off the island with all the other Dharma folks. This is why he and Ethan are currently LA residents.

    (Again, this is only what I think we’re supposed to guess has happened, until the show tells us otherwise. If it DOESN’T, then we can continue assuming this, and either be mad that it’s a flimsy idea or just roll with it.)


  14. braak says:

    Wait! False! By the time the Dharma guys were being evacuated, Ben was already with the others! Wasn’t he? Richard had given him new life at the magic spring, remember? Or had they brought him back–I can’t remember, now.

  15. Jeff Holland says:

    Nah, Ben got returned to Dharma. We didn’t see it in the last season finale, but there was a lot of other stuff to focus on.

    Now, granted, in the Primary timeline, the evacuated dharmas (including Miles and his mom) were off the island (I’m assuming, at least – I don’t think we ever saw the sub with Miles and Mom actually leave) – did not include Ben or his Dad.

    But that may be one of the subtle shifts.

    OR! Something that isn’t any of this stuff that I just said.

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