Six Ideas From Lost I’m Glad They Didn’t Use

Posted: May 27, 2010 in Braak, Threat Quality
Tags: ,

Last Lost post from me, I promise.  It’s either this, or I write about BP and the Gulf of Mexico — but only one of these two topics will make me suicidally depressed.  I’ve got to pick my battles here.

So, the Lost finale didn’t end up the way that I wanted to, but this is actually potentially good.  It’s one of the reasons, in fact, I spend so much time imagining how a show could be, even though that show will never happen:

Every idea I thought of that Lost didn’t use is an idea I get to keep (HAH!  SUCKERS!).

In no particular order, here are some ideas that I’d been kicking around that, because the Lost writers went the route of hokey spiritism, are now unequivocally mine.

Why Can’t Jacob and Esau Kill Each Other?

Assuming that the answer is not “because:  magic”, what might be a good reason for this to exist?  And why might it extend to the candidates as well?

Something I’d been kicking around is the nature of the evil itself; presumably, it’s not something that just wants to kill everybody.  I mean, genocidal is pretty high up there on the evilometer, but while it’s monstrous, it’s not exactly existential.  The Devil wants more than to just KILL everyone, right?

If the smoke monster doesn’t want to murder the world, maybe what it really wants is vindication.  Killing is ancillary — it doesn’t mind killing, because who cares about humans?, but it’s not really the point.  What the smoke monster really needs to do is prove that it’s right, to whoever the guardian of the Island is.

Esau can’t kill his brother because it would defeat the purpose of his position — namely, that human beings are so innately evil that, no matter what else, they will eventually compromise the Island themselves, by eliminating its protector.  In the same way that the DA could end a trial by murdering the defendant, yes, Esau COULD kill Jacob; but neither of these scenarios actually solve the problem.

Likewise, Esau can’t kill any of the candidates, either, because he doesn’t know which one is going to take over.  He can kill any number of other people (they’re beside the point) but he can’t risk accidentally killing Jacob’s immediate successor.

In retrospect, I think that this again let’s us explore the Free Will theme; Jacob believes in Free Will, he just knows that he doesn’t have it (I will go into this later).  Esau doesn’t believe that Free Will exists; he believes that human beings don’t choose evil or good, they just do whatever their circumstances dictate.

What’s Different Now?

Jacob and Esau have been fighting for a thousand years.  Why is NOW the time that this has come to a head?  My opinion is:  John Locke.  Let’s say, for the sake of argument, that the Smoke Monster and Esau aren’t precisely the same thing.  The Smoke Monster is an evil that existed on the Island, but was a kind of mindless malevolence —  a hate that was, let’s consider, able to act, but not able to think of a way in which to act.  What it can also do is assume the form of dead people on the Island — and when it does this, it absorbs not just their shape, but also, in a way, receives an imprint of their soul.  Once Esau’s corpse is thrown into the pit, Esau and his overwhelming desire to get off the Island is imprinted on the Smoke Monster, and it now has an aspect that is, for almost all intents and purposes, Esau (but eviller).

So, what about John Locke?  Well, the Smoke Monster can’t change itself (it’s not a human being — it doesn’t have Free Will), and for as cunning, ruthless, and desirous to leave as Esau was, one thing he wasn’t was a believer.  It can’t become a megalomaniac with material like Esau.  But John Locke is a believer, and the Smoke Monster now finds itself not only persuasive, but also committed to its position in a way that it never was before; Esau as Smoke Monster wanted to leave.  Locke as Smoke Monster wants to destroy the Island itself.

The Rules Can Change

I just have had an idea buzzing around, about why the Smoke Monster, if it has a boat, just doesn’t go.  Skipping the arbitrary “I can only leave if all the candidates leave with me.”  I mean, we know you can leave the Island if you have a boat, or a helicopter, or whatever.

Let’s think of it a different way.  Back at the beginning, Jacob and Esau agreed on the rules of their game, and one of the deals that they made was that Esau can’t leave the Island by ship.  I think this is interesting, because as soon as a plane crashes (and let’s assume that Esau doesn’t really get what’s going on in the outside world the way that Jacob does), suddenly Esau has a new plan.  If he can get a plane to land on the Island, he can leave without breaking any of the rules.

But let’s say that, not just when they began, but continually thereafter, Esau and Jacob can get together and bargain for new rules.  Maybe Esau picks up some kind of leverage, and so he demands that he be allowed to use ships again; maybe Jacob needs to be able to leave the Island in person to get his guys in, and so his concession is that the Smoke Monster doesn’t have to be bound by the ash circle anymore.

Looped Timelines

I still like the idea that Jacob is immortal because his timeline makes a loop.  He is, at all times, precisely the same person that he was and that he will be — and, when he’s killed, he ceases to exist in both the future and the past.  This lends two more interesting ideas into the mix:  the first is that Jacob’s death actually throws time out of joint, maybe creating a host of parallel universe that aren’t supposed to exist (maybe they even crash into each other, and mess each other up).  The second is that Jacob, because he can see all along his own timeline, recognizes that he can’t be the person to run the Island; even though HE won’t (and, by virtue of being eternal, CAN’T) change, both Esau and the rest of the world are going to.  Which means he recognizes that he has to die, so that a different Jacob can always have been in charge of the Island.  Jacob in this sense permits us to explore the interesting paradox of Free Will when you can see the future.

The Island Was A Mountain

Sent out to sea by Neanderthal super-scientists.  Charlotte could have explained how, after 3 million years, practically anything that we would recognize as evidence of a civilization would be gone; there could have been innumerable pre-human civilizations on Earth and we’d never know.  The only evidence for their existence?  Well, we’re standing on it.

In The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant, Stephen Donaldson has a neat bit in which he talks about how the Creator accidentally let evil get built into the universe, and now he can’t get it out without destroying the whole thing.  I feel like the Island is something similar; it’s got some powerful Source on it, and, to protect it, the ancient guys built a way to teleport the whole mountain out to sea — but, for some reason, the Smoke Monster was inadvertently stuck with it.  Now at least the Source is safe, but they can’t get the Smoke Monster off.

In fact, what if the Smoke Monster really was what Ben always thought it was?  A security system, put in place to defend the Source; only, after how many millions of years, it started to break down, maybe go a little crazy.  And then, when it imprinted on Esau, it really lost its mind, and found a whole new purpose — completely misunderstanding its own nature, and believing itself to be locked in battle with the Island caretaker, rather than part of a hierarchy that saw the Source at the top.

The Source Is Life

Not just alive, but a kind of avatar for the engine of life, the tendency for systems to become complex, the driving force against entropy and behind evolution.  It heals people, sure, but it also makes pregnancy complicated — since your body is so hopped up on LIFE, it will immediately start messing up anything perceived as an infection (like babies); but if you got pregnant off the Island (so that you came onto the Island with the baby inside), maybe your body doesn’t respond as poorly to it.

The Others were desperate to have children, probably because their plan was to actually build a society on the Island, and they can’t do that if they can’t figure out how to have babies.

I think the ghosts are probably the same way.  I don’t like all this Heaven and Hell and moving on stuff; I’m more interested in the idea that the Island is such a powerful force for being that it tries to replicate even the dead.  Michael’s ghost isn’t stuck on the Island; the Island has just made a persistent copy of him.

But It’s About the Characters, Who Cares About This Stuff?

I don’t know, me, mostly, I guess.  Though if it was just about the characters, that kinds of begs the question as to why there needed to be a Smoke Monster in the first place.  If the Smoke Monster wasn’t an idea that you wanted to use, and could have been replaced by anything sufficiently evil, what’s the point of not just doing it with terrorists, or something?

I don’t think I really believe in “characters” on the TV, anyway.  I mean:  think for a minute about how you’d describe a character on the show.  A lot of times its with sort of more generic categories of character — like, Sawyer, for instance, is a “con-man.”  But what does that mean, exactly?  It means that, when push comes to shove, he will look out for himself, probably by tricking people.

That is, it’s essentially a suite of imagined responses to hypothetical situations.  So, you know, I don’t think you can have character without all of those plots and things like that.  And, for god’s sake, there’s plenty of shows about people and their feelings that DON’T involve things that I like, like time-travel and questions about existential conditions and consciousness.

  1. Carl says:

    [The source is] not just alive, but a kind of avatar for the engine of life, the tendency for systems to become complex, the driving force against entropy and behind evolution.

    Ah-ha! There’s the answer to the question that’s been eating me as long as I can remember– why are the universe and its essential dynamics counter-intuitively juxtaposed in nature? The source!

  2. Moff says:

    As usual, these are great, man. I almost replied to an io9 commenter who said “It’s about the characters” pretty much the same way you said it and then I was like, “LIFE IS TOO SHORT TO ARGUE WITH THESE PEOPLE.” Or maybe I did reply. I can’t remember.

    I mean, what does “It’s about the characters” mean? That if you shot an entirely different show—say, a hospital drama or a police procedural—with exactly the same characters, Lost fans would love it just as much as they loved Lost? Or that if the Lost pilot had aired with different characters, people wouldn’t have kept on watching or been drawn in by the numbers or the hatch or the monster? See, I have a hard time believing either of those.

  3. braak says:

    @Carl: Yeah, you know what’s really interesting? When you squish energy and matter together via gravity — so that there’s more stuff than there is space — the effect is that the space has total energy that increases. This gives rise to unexpectedly complex systems. It’s counterposed to the universal constant of entropy.

    But, anyway, what’s REALLY interesting about it, is that essentially all energy in the universe is energy recycled from the big bang. All functional energy, all potential energy, (all matter, too, if you want to be specific), all of it was put into the system at the same moment. In small systems, governed by gravity, this energy has the apparent effect of increasing (and therefore becoming complex).

    I’m surprised that this fact doesn’t end up in more sermons about Genesis, but I also don’t go to church that often, so maybe it does and I don’t know about it.

  4. Ben says:

    Good stuff Chris, really interesting. I am becoming more convinced about a couple of things. 1. LOST is a kind of “open source creative event”. Part of the genius of Lindelof/Cuse is realizing that these discussion (like the one you’re engaging in here) have been a central and truly revolutionary aspect of the LOST experience. They have figured out a away to hand the story over to us, the fans, by being oblique, not “answering” questions and giving us a rich and compelling landscape for us to people with our own imaginations. What a gift.

    2. I think they gave us an ending for LOST fans, and said, essentially, “we know you know it was always only a story, so we’re going to wrap up that story for you, in a ‘story-telling’ kind of way. We know you won’t get too hung up on the logic.”

    It’s never been about logic . . .

    There is no now here . . .

  5. braak says:

    Yeah, I mean, I guess the fact of the matter is that I’m not really a Lost “fan.” I liked the show, it was a good time, but my attitude (especially for this whole last season) has been kind of an, “Okay, well…let’s see where they’re going with this.” I was let down, but I’ve also never really committed to the show with an unalloyed enthusiasm; everything that I liked about it was qualified with the presumption that I’d eventually get what I really wanted out of it.

    I don’t begrudge people for liking, obviously. I just suppose there are some things I would have liked better.

  6. Moff says:

    I sort of begrudge people for liking it. But I say that as someone who liked it.

    @Ben: My problem with the “open-source” thing is that it’s very hard for me to tell how much of that was part of the plan, and how much it’s a fallback answer when people say, “But x was never explained!” The words author and authority are related—a fiction author is supposed to be an authority on the world he or she creates. I’m not convinced that Lindelof or Cuse or anyone else on the Lost team can adequately answer a lot of the perfectly reasonable questions viewers have raised.

    So I mean, ambiguity is very cool, but I think its success hinges on whether it’s a device or a cop-out. There’s a shitload of ambiguity in, say, Samuel Delany’s Dhalgren, which is one of my favorite books, but one never gets the sense that Delany didn’t know where he was going or why he was including something. And I recognize that writing a six-season network TV show is in many ways much more challenging than writing a novel, but I guess that’s why I would classify Lost as a groundbreaker rather than a paragon.

  7. braak says:

    Well, I begrudge them a little. But I’ll get over it.

    My feeling on the subject is generally: the author is under no obligation to explain everything that happens in the world. The author IS, however, obligated to know what’s going on in the world.

  8. Moff says:

    Yes! That’s what I was trying to say, just not so pithily. I guess you could say I was pithed off.

  9. sebastian says:

    Good stuff. I really like the time loop theory. It’s close so something that was being theorized in Jorge Garcia’s podcast: When Locke is killed by Ben he was reincarnated as the man in black. No, it doesn’t make sense, but there’s a certain dream logic to it. Also it explains some stuff in a cool way. It would explain why Smokey was so weirdly bitter towards Locke (he was bitter towards his own foolishness believing in the island), it would explain how Esau just knew why to build the donkey wheel and how he knew how to play that backgammon type game (because he had lived in the future and seen these things already). It would even explain some of the stuff where Richard meets him as a boy and asks him which of those items already belonged to him. It also would have been cool if John Locke really ended up being John Locke, just a version of him that had been betrayed, killed, and reincarnated to live thousands of years stuck on the island with Jacob. Smoke Monster always did seem like a twisted, mad version of John Locke.

    As for “The Characters!” That annoyed me also because, lets be honest, the characters aren’t that good. The acting is great, but if you actually try to identify character arcs you don’t come away with much. Is the Kate that crashed on the island really that different from the Kate that escaped from the island six seasons later? I think you could drop that pivotal scene with Hurley, Jack, Kate, and Sawyer talking to Jacob in the middle of the first season and nothing would have seemed off with it.

    The sheer laziness of the backstories was sometimes hilarious. Everyone having a bad dad isn’t really a theme if it’s not addressed in some way, it’s just repetitive.

  10. Carl says:

    I am on the looped-timeline bandwagon, too. I’d have been really pleased to see a clever application of this device emerge here. There were a lot of theories in this vein floating around pre-ACROSS THE SEA that encompassed the functionality of the island and the need for Esau’s “loophole” in a system that bound its primary occupants together. Alas.

    I’m surprised that this fact doesn’t end up in more sermons about Genesis, but I also don’t go to church that often, so maybe it does and I don’t know about it.

    Hmm, that is interesting. It demands further meditation. The business of the Big-Bang, in all its particulars, is very frequently raised in the context of discussions of the existence of God and essential nature of the universe, but I’ve more frequently encountered it in print and in academic discourse rather than in homilies. (That could be my particular denomination talking, though. The Genesis passage that deals with creation would only be read in Mass once every few years as we cycle through the entire bible, and so would be treated directly in a homily only very rarely. For all I know, it comes up all the time in other traditions.)

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