TV Recap

Getting Even With Dad

On ''Lost,'' Locke persuades Sawyer to kill the man who ruined their lives, but are they both just being manipulated by Ben?

Lost, Josh Holloway | THE CHOKE'S ON HIM Sawyer had to do the dirty work
Image credit: Lost: Mario Perez/ABC
THE CHOKE'S ON HIM Sawyer had to do the dirty work

''Lost'': Working out some father issues

If you look to the west this morning and see a mushroom cloud blooming on the horizon, don't panic: That's just the Doc Jensen Laboratory for Lost Theories and Assorted Insanity going up in smoke. The latest in a series of top-notch episodes that have served as a pretty convincing rejoinder to a certain negative review of the show by a certain weekly entertainment magazine (for the record, my friend Gillian Flynn is an awesome critic whose frustration with the series is certainly not unwarranted, even if her opinion of it couldn't be more incorrect. But I digress...), ''The Brig'' was like a box of highly unstable Black Rock dynamite blowing up in my mind. I'm not sure amid the billowing black haze just how much damage has been done to my vast collection of precious conjectures, but I do know this: I really don't have any idea anymore where the heck this damn show's going.

And I like that.

There's much to say about this dense tale of vendetta and vengeance, enslavement and liberation, and schemes within schemes within schemes. Simply, ''The Brig'' was the story of two damaged lost boys, Locke and Sawyer, desperate to be free of the awful man who made them and named them. It felt like some neo-mythic, Cormac McCarthy-style apocalyptic revenge Western, set in the South Pacific — Blood Meridian on a lower parallel. It was also a snapshot portrait of a fragile society coming unhinged from suspicion, frustration, and fear. War looms, we are told, in the form of an invading band of deadly, baby-wanting Others (or at least the threat of war; that's a big difference in these perception-manipulating, truth-bending times), but it seems that the intensifying possibility of civil war is more likely to rip apart the castaway community before Ben and gas-masked fertility-cult commandos have a chance to re-enact The Rape of the Sabine Women. For those of you who like to view Lost as an allegory for our post-9/11 devolution, ''The Brig'' was certainly suffused with homeland insecurity and geopolitical jitters. This reading is unavoidable and valid, though it's tough to know how far to push it. Certainly a title like ''The Brig,'' a word for a military prison, is fair game for deconstruction. But how about that ending, in which Locke put his dead father in a sack and trudged into the jungle to meet his destiny? If I were feeling impish, I might try to forge a link between ''father in a sack'' and ''Baghdad,'' and then wonder aloud how our Iraq-fixated current Commander-in-Chief might interpret Lost's themes of failed fathers and screwed-up sons, burdensome legacies and clean slates. See what I mean about taking it too far? (I'm sooo getting wiretapped for that one.)

Maybe it's safer to stick with some ''facts,'' such as they are these days. (Again with the wiretap tempting!) Here, in my humble estimation are the most salient developments of last night's episode.

Kate and Sawyer's sad and sweaty affair is destined to end in heartbreak I'm sure that there's plenty of SawKat 'shippers out there who got a kick seeing that the Fugitive Girl and the Killer Con Man are still keeping each other warm at night, or at least part of the night; it seems Kate is the kind of girl who gets suspiciously antsy for her own bed after a booty call. (As far as chicks go, Kate can be a total guy.) I think I prefer Kate and Sawyer to Kate and Jack; the latter coupling always seemed kinda forced to me, while the former pairing has dramatically earned a shot at life. At the same time, I think these two have a long way to go as individuals before they could ever make it together. Kate in particular: She's clearly attracted to the shaggy cad, but there's no romance here, just exploitation. It reminds me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer's polarizing season 6, when the lost-on-the-inside heroine foolishly decided to start knocking boots with redemption-starved Spike. I doubt SawKat will end up imploding as darkly as SlaySpike did, but it will end. Both Sawyer and Kate need more spiritual reconstruction before they can have any kind of truly intimate relationship.

The bickering, Black Rock-bound jungle trek of Sawyer and Locke = a postmodern variation of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus from James Joyce's Ulysses and/or an ironic fabulization of Naomi and Ruth from the Book of Ruth Or not. I mean, that's a big pile of quasi-intellectual crap, isn't it? Still, if you can do the actual hard work of fleshing out that sentence into a compelling, convincing 500-word essay, I'll publish the best one and give its author a year's subscription to Entertainment Weekly. (See? Now you're taking it seriously, aren't you?) Send it to JeffJensenEW@aol.com

The whole thing about Sawyer going painfully barefoot throughout the entire episode probably has some deep symbolic significance or some illuminating literary antecedent, but my deadline prevents me from doing the Wikipedia research needed to find it Another challenge for you. One hundred words. Best one gets a candy bar. JeffJensenEW@aol.com

The moment where Anthony Cooper bit his son is the key to understanding Bad Daddy's baiting, bizarrely antagonistic behavior In the flashbacks, we learned what happened after the climactic ''Dad?'' moment in ''The Man From Tallahassee.'' Locke, stunned to find his demonic father bound in a boiler room in Othersville, reached to remove the gag despite Ben's protestations. Sure enough, Anthony Cooper rewarded him with his best Cujo impression, snapping at his son's hand and biting him like a rabid dog. A rather rude way of saying hello to your own flesh and blood, don't you think? Cooper kept up the inhospitable antics throughout the episode — mocking his son's gutlessness, shredding Sawyer's letter — and it seemed to me he was trying very, very, very hard to bait these guys into killing him. The question is: Why?

Maybe he thought he was stuck in a bad dream and hoped getting killed would wake him up. Maybe he really did believe he was in hell and wanted his demons to get on with the whole punishment part; at least that way, his inexplicable abduction and mad tropical-island ordeal would start making sense to him. But my guess is that Cooper just wanted someone, anyone to put his sick little life out of its misbegotten misery.

Of course, this is assuming that Cooper really was who he said he was. Before ''The Brig'' blew up my lab (and I'll explain why in just a second, I promise), I had concocted a theory that Devil Daddy was actually the Monster in human form. The Dad-Dog Bites Son moment could be a clue: After all, Dharma's code name for Smokey was Cerberus (as in the three-headed watchdog of ell. My Cooper-Is-the-Monster hypothesis is consistent with my larger theory that Lost is basically Extreme Makeover set on Fantasy Island. The purpose of the Island is (or was) to bring people to enlightenment, to reflect back and break down the corrupt idols that rule our lives and dismantle and reconstruct the hollow false selves — or what sociologists call the ''looking-glass selves'' — that we forge and adopt in order to fit in and survive in society but that, alas, also smother and bury our genuine, authentic selves. My belief was that the Others and Smokey were/are mechanisms in this extraordinary self-help machine, although they may have gone a little haywire. You know, just like me. Seen from this point of view, the whole Anthony Cooper escapade was really some kind of liberating psychodrama facilitated by the Island for the sake of moving Locke and Sawyer further down the road toward Enlightenment and Actualization.

(What the hell did I just write? Good Lord, would someone please start a petition to have me removed from this assignment? I'll be the first to sign it.)

Let me try it again, in EW speak: Lost is Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the Gene Wilder movie version of the story). The Island is the factory, Ben is Willy, Smokey is Mr. Slugworth, the castaways are the crummy little kids, Locke in particular is Charlie, and all these little adventures within the grand narrative are tests of character designed both to make everyone better people and to find one person specifically who can take over the operation when the current caretaker, Ben, retires or kicks the bucket. Next week, when Locke takes Dad's body back to Othersville (think: Charlie returning the Everlasting Gobstopper to Willy's office), I have no doubt that when Ben cuts the straps and opens up the bag, black smoke will come billowing out and Ben will start shouting, ''You did it, Locke! You did it! You passed the test! You're now a ruthless, by-any-means-necessary good-guy anti-hero, badass Nietzschean superman, a postmodern fire-bringing Prometheus — just like me! Here's the keys to the factory, you crazy kid!''

Or not. Probably not. Here's why:

The Others' campout idyll in the ancient ruins of ritualistic sacrifice has caused me to doubt my own theory-making mind Personally, I blame Ben. This man is a liar, a manipulator, a big-picture chess player who's always playing 23 moves ahead. He chooses the information that he reveals very carefully, and for very specific effect. With that in mind, consider: Why did he make a conspicuous show of Juliet's tape recorder? Why did he tell Locke about the plan to raid the beach and steal the castaway women? Why did he protest so much about the metaphorical nature of his ''magic box'' nonsense? And why did he use all that liberation-of-self blather — which I myself painfully utilized a few paragraphs back, if you recall — when he made the pitch to Locke to slit his father's throat?

My answers to these questions are all the same: I don't know! But I thought it was pretty genius to have Ben basically give coy voice to all the predictions currently out there as to where season 3 is heading (basically, a climactic Lord of the Flies rumble on the beach) and the self-help ideology that many viewers (or, at least, just me) believe motivates the Others. Look: I don't trust Ben. I have no idea when he's lying and when he's telling the truth. The only thing I'm reasonably sure of is that everything he says is for the purpose of impacting a character — and the audience. This is all to say that to hear Ben acknowledge all of our assumptions about what's at stake and where things are going has to make me wonder if all of our assumptions are wrong. Do the Others really intend to attack the beach and steal the women? If so, why did Ben tell Locke? Why risk letting him go back and warn the castaways? Don't you think Ben wanted Locke to steal that tape recorder? What's really going on here?

By the way: When Ben led Locke up to the platform where Cooper was tied like some Monster Island sacrifice, didn't you want to start chanting, ''Kong...Kong...Kong…''? This scene — an ironic, inverted staging of the Abraham-Isaac Bible story, which was referenced a couple weeks back in the ''Catch-22'' episode — was certainly the second riskiest moment on TV this week, right after Blake's beatbox version of Bon Jovi's ''You Give Love a Bad Name.'' Which is to say, this could have easily gone very silly, very quickly. But luckily, it worked, thanks to the acting of Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson and the accrued power of Lost's mythical storytelling language. The meaning was monumental but elusive, and not easily unpacked. But that scene was Sunday-school-simple compared with the climax of the episode:

The execution of Anthony Cooper inside The Black Rock was just frakking awesome If you wish, you can import all sorts of high-minded ideas to deconstruct this scene. Maybe some other time, we can talk about the relevancy of Hegel's Master-Slave dialectic theory, Plato's Allegory of the Cave, and the politically charged combination of characters named after Enlightenment philosophers, Mark Twain characters, and a iconic outlaw and his vigilante assassin (Jesse James + Bob Ford = James Ford, Sawyer's real name), all sharing a scene in which unstable explosives and patricide and talk of hell and damnation are involved. But instead, let's just simply celebrate this scene for its raw, heartbreaking, soul-shattering intensity — and for staging an hommage to the scene in Return of the Jedi in which Princess Leia chokes Jabba the Hutt to death on his slave barge. If nothing else, let us praise Josh Holloway for his furious performance. How I wanted him to kill this man. How I wanted him to not kill this man and instead forgive him. How I loved this scene for presenting without judgment some very complicated ideas about justice, personal responsibility, and how people become the people they become. Yes, the morality of all this is troubling and disturbing. So is our world. Which brings this full circle. Go ahead, flame me. You know where to find me. But please: Debate these ideas first. I think the show earned it.

In the aftermath, I felt appropriately conflicted by the complex dynamics of the episode. Is Locke a hero or a villain for the way he manipulated Sawyer to commit the murder he couldn't do himself? Have these men purchased some liberation — or have they sealed the deal on their damnation? Regardless, I look forward to seeing how both these guys grapple with and rationalize their actions. Watching Locke march into the jungle with his father on his back, it was hard for me to know if Locke had finally found himself or if he was more lost than ever. The line from the Beatles came to mind: ''Boy, you're going to carry that weight/Carry that weight a long time.''

There's some more stuff that happened in the episode, but I'm running late and have to give this up. I'm going to leave it to you guys to discuss Naomi's statement that Oceanic 815 was found with the bodies on board (my theory: she's lying) and the revelation that Jack isn't the dupe of Juliet that we thought he was, that the Hero of the Beach seems to have been hatching some kind of master plan all along. That was all fun stuff, but pure plot stuff, and all setups for things to come. Truth is, I write this review today with a head foggy from cold and a mind scattered from joy. Yesterday, we received the wonderful news that my wife, Amy, is cancer free. We are thrilled. The only downside, obviously, is that such news can impair one's ability to fully engage a very complicated and demanding TV show. So I hope you will forgive me my failings this week, and come back next week with the confidence that I'll be back at the top of my game.

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Originally posted May 03, 2007
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