Doc Jensen

The Name Game

''Lost'': Who is Jacob? Jeff Jensen offers a couple new theories, and gets Damon Lindelof's reaction to the show's new Wednesday-at-10 slot

SURF'S UP Could assumed castaway Paulo (Rodrigo Santoro) be an Other in disguise?
Image credit: Lost: Mario Lopez
SURF'S UP Could assumed castaway Paulo (Rodrigo Santoro) be an Other in disguise?

'Lost' (S3): Who is Jacob? A couple new theories

Attention, Lost nation: In case you haven't heard, you're going to need to reprogram your TiVos. Lost is moving to 10 p.m. on Wednesdays, putting it out of harm's way of American Idol (which squashed it like a bug last spring) and saving the show from the embarrassment of placing third in the time period it once dominated, behind AI and this season's weirdest success story, the inexplicably ratings-surging Criminal Minds. Millions and millions of people are allegedly watching this thoroughly undemanding Mandy Patankin crime drama, even though I don't know a single one of them. Or maybe I do, and they know that they should keep their hideous shame to themselves, and rightfully so.

Here's my long-promised two cents about Lost's season 3 ratings decline: Personally, I don't buy the theory that the blasphemous growth of Criminal Minds is a kind of referendum on Lost. For starters, the audiences for those shows seem totally different. But if there are the kind of people who would choose to abandon a show like Lost in favor of some assembly-line widget of murdersploitation coporatetainment like Criminal Minds, my hunch is that they were never really serious Lost fans, anyway. Clearly, it wasn't bland enough. Or maybe the only reason they ever started watching Lost was that scruffy Sawyer sure was darn cute... at least, until those mean old Others started messing up his pretty mug.

So if Lost's lost viewers haven't been sucked into the mindhole that is Criminal Minds... where have they gone?

Here's my theory: I don't think they're watching anything at all. Not really. I don't doubt there are some former Lost fans who've become Lost haters — who believe the show has ''lost it,'' who seriously doubt the producers know what they're doing. But what I do hear from those who've given up watching Lost on a weekly basis — and I know more than a few — is that Lost has let its urgency slip away, most likely as a result of what TV writers call ''The Stall.'' The Stall is what happens to ongoing TV shows that are trying to tell a story that has an ending when the storytellers don't know when or if they'll be allowed to actually ever end it. Lost has definitely moved into Stall mode, atomizing storylines into tiny bits and strewing them across manymanymany episodes (like Jack/Kate/Sawyer's stay in Othersville) in order to fill the time. Kinda like a football team that's jumped out to a big lead, then adopts a prevent defense that allows an opponent to gain yards and maybe put up a few points, just to burn off the clock, which can be risky, because you also allow your opponent to gain momentum or wrest control of the game. Or something like that.

Tortured sports analogies aside, for people irritated by The Stall, Lost has surrendered its must-see status. For them, the watercooler conversation has lost its boil. At the same time, what I've noticed is that these people are still invested in the unfolding story of Lost. Yet they also know that there are other options available to them that would allow them to experience the show without having to put up with its glacial pacing and its ''answer a question with new questions'' tactics. They can bank a bunch of episodes on TiVo, then watch 'em all at once, to get the kind of full-meal deal they wish every episode could deliver. Or they can just wait until the entire season comes out on DVD and binge. In fact, I know of two people who just recently became fans of the show via the DVDs. They loved what they saw and decided to become weekly watchers when the show began its third season. By the third episode, they were burned out. One of them popped into my office and said, ''How can you stand to watch the show this way? It's so... slow.'' He decided he was going to jump off the riverboat and catch up with it downstream, when it docks at his local Best Buy. (Again with the tortured analogies!)

There are other options, as well. Scary options, if you're ABC and you need the eyeballs and revenue. For example, lapsed viewers don't have to watch the show again, in any of the forms available to them — they can instead just visit EW.com every week and read our summaries.

Anyway. This was all to say: Lost is moving to 10 p.m. when it returns to ABC's Wednesday-night airwaves in February. I asked executive producer Damon Lindelof what he thinks of the move, and he shot me this e-mail:

''I personally am thrilled. Now I can watch American Idol without feeling guilty.

''Oh. Wait. I still feel guilty.''

*

Names.

Lost. We have been told by the producers that names are not invented and assigned willy-nilly in their elaborately conceived crypto-mystery. The challenge for the armchair Lostologist has been to figure out which names are indeed encoded with hidden meanings (Hurley? Kate? Jack Shepherd? James Ford/Sawyer?), and what those hidden meanings may be. Of course, whole term papers have been written about the significance of John Locke's connection to philosopher John Locke. Ditto Danielle Rousseau's (a.k.a. ''The French Lady'') to poet/egghead Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and even Desmond Hume's to Scottish big brain David Hume. More than likely, these links are valid, although it wouldn't surprise me if, in the end, it's revealed that Desmond's last name is actually a nod to, say, renowned Seattle-area gardening specialist Ed Hume. With Lost, you never know.

In the last episode of Lost's fall miniseason, a new name was conspicuously dropped into the mix, one that has fired bunches of new theories, judging from a recent troll of Lost fan sites. The name is Jacob, referenced by the Other named Pickett — the one whose significant, er, Other was shot by Sun and died on the operating table inside the Hydra Station — just as he was en route to popping a cap in Sawyer's shaggy head. Responding to a fellow Other protesting Pickett's decision to leave Ben alone with Jack, Pickett said:

''Ben just put his life in the hands of one of THEM.'' And then, continuing the thought obliquely: ''Shepherd wasn't even on Jacob's list.''

Now close/obsessive Lost watchers will recall that the Others are fond of lists, much like Santa Claus. For example, we know that Claire-fixated Ethan had been assigned to infiltrate the beach encampment of Oceanic 815 survivors to compile a list of some sort. These lists of people may have something to do with the Others' distinction between ''good'' and ''bad'' people. (''He's making a list/ Checking it twice/ Gonna find out who's naughty or nice...'') The lists, then, may represent some kind of spiritual assessment of the castaways — or who's in line to score the best toys come Christmas. DOC JENSEN INSTA-COMMENTARY: Apparently, Lists are the hot new thing in cult-pop TV shows. Anyone out there catch the new catchphrase NBC's Heroes is using to promote the second half of its rookie season — ''Are you on the list?'', a reference, it seems, to the hit list of muties that superpowered serial killer Sylar aims to murder? Boy, either Heroes and Lost really are connected, per my previous speculations, or Heroes really wants to be Lost...

But back to mystery man Jacob. Popular speculation among Losties is that Jacob could be Ethan's replacement, sent to execute his neglected list-compiling. In other words, there could be another Other on the beach, an Other who might be known to us, but by a different name. Maybe... hunky but disgruntled castaway Paulo? DOC JENSEN INSTA-THEORY: Remember when Paulo and Nikki went with Locke, Desmond, and Mr. Eko to the Pearl Station? Remember that seemingly silly comedy beat inside the Pearl Station, in which Paulo emerged from the bathroom, right before the castaways saw that one-eyed guy on the TV monitor? And remember how Patchy seemed to anticipate this surveillance, reaching up to tear down the camera inside his Hatch just as it panned toward him? Could it be that Paulo/Jacob snuck into the lavatory to send an urgent message to fellow Other Patchy, to tip him off that he was about to be spied upon by the castaways?

But regardless of who Jacob might be, there is the mystery of his name itself. Why ''Jacob''? Why not Bill? Or Peter? Or Jeff? Now there's a perfectly good name...

Whenever I have to research names on Lost, I refer to our good friends over at wikipedia.org. When I typed in ''Jacob,'' I got a plethora of results, including ''Jacob's Ladder,'' in many different permutations, like the trippy 1990 Adrian Lyne film starring Tim Robbins, famous for its twist ending; as well as the Huey Lewis and the News tune, and I must say, ever since doing this search three weeks ago, I haven't been able to get the damn song out of my head. (''Step by step/ Rung by rung/ Higher and higher!'')

Considering the popular contention that the island in Lost is Purgatory (or, among a smaller group of theorists, Hell), ''Jacob's Ladder'' is certainly a provocative allusion; the term refers to the biblical story in which Jacob — son of Isaac, the son of Promised Land-promised Abraham — was given a vision of a ladder leading to Heaven, with angels ascending and descending. An interesting concept to apply to Lost, which chronicles the up-and-down struggles of a group of people yearning for salvation, literally and figuratively.

In fact, it's very possible that biblical Jacob could be a key that unlocks the entire mystery of the Others, as well as the island. But to do so, you have to abandon the idea that Jacob looks like a sexy surfer from Brazil and think more grandfatherly.

To wit: I wonder if Jacob is the paterfamilias of the Others.

See, Jacob had many more claims to biblical fame than just seeing visions of ladders. This was the dude who robbed his brother Esau out of his birthright, the dude who wrestled with an angel (and won!), and most intriguingly, the dude who sired the 12 boys who would form the 12 tribes of Israel.

According to the Bible, most of Jacob's sons weren't exactly the nicest kids. After all, they got so jealous of their brother Joseph (think: Desmond), they threw him into a pit (think: The Hatch), told Dad he had been killed, and sold him into slavery. (Theory: Mr. Widmore, hatching schemes and telling lies to keep Des and Pen apart.) By the way, Joseph turned out just fine, as he became tight with the ruler of Egypt thanks to his... supernatural ability to interpret the future from weird dreams. (Again, I say: DESMOND!) By the way, that oversized tie dye T-shirt that Hurley gave Desmond in the third episode? ''Technicolor Dream Coat,'' don't you think? (Another Joseph reference for ya, in case you didn't go to Sunday school like I did.)

But besides Joseph, there was another Son of Jacob who was a pretty good egg. In fact, he was Joseph's favorite brother. His name?

BENJAMIN.

Now, if you know a little bit about the history of Israel — and by the way, I know, like, less than a little bit — you know that at some point, the Tribe of Benjamin and the Tribe of Judah split from the rest of the tribes. They formed their own country in the southern part of the Promised Land. Eventually, the other 10 tribes were conquered and kinda disappeared from history, and have become the subject of historical conjecture and conspiracy theory. If Lost is somehow mirroring Old Testament history, could this portend a revelation that the Others used to be one big happily family that fell apart, fragmented, and scattered across the island — or even migrated away from it?

The Israelites were God's chosen people. They were set apart by God to be a holy people, who by the witness of their blessings and ways would proclaim the power and authority of the God they worshipped and inspire the rest of the world to worship Him as they did. Their country was supposed to be a light unto nations, a beacon on the hill. Application to Lost: Do the Others consider themselves chosen people, set apart by God? Is their purpose to live in isolation from the world — or redeem it? If so, how? How exactly do you do something like that from a hidden, remote island? Could this be an iteration of the Reality TV Theory of Lost — i.e., the drama unfolding on the island is being broadcast throughout the world via the collective subconscious of humanity? Or do the Others operate according to a ''Think Global/Act Local'' strategy — i.e., change the world by impacting the people who you come into contact with?

But you know, now that I think about it, it's possible that my hypothetical Jacob, the paterfamilias of the Others, could have infiltrated the beach encampment. He's someone who left the island, but recently came back. Someone we know, and by a different name. No, not Paulo — although curiously enough, he too is famous for going AWOL in a bathroom during a crucial point in Lost history. An airplane bathroom.

Could Jacob be... Bernard?

Doc J — out.

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