There are a lot of movies that ask questions like “Where did human life come from?” and the answer is “aliens.” “But then where did the ALIENS come fr–” and then the credits roll. Because “Where did human life come from” is only the FORM that the question takes. The real question, the question underneath the question is really “Why is there something rather than nothing?” And no-one answers that persuasively for an audience that is not in a couple of specific religions, and very into it. What you do if you want to try is just answer the question with just a big block of opaque MYSTERY, so opaque as to be obvious you are not supposed to look behind it. The obelisk in 2001. The Whale in Moby Dick. A Serious Man, a brilliant retelling of the Book of Job, ends with the whirlwind and this is the origin. God coming down and saying “Mortal, you don’t get to know.”
A woman pregnant with twins washes up on the island from a shipwreck at some point in the distant past. She meets Allison Janney, whose character is unnamed. Janney helps deliver the babies. One is named Jacob but the other does not have a name because the mother did not expect twins. Janney kills the mother and raises the children. The Kid in Black finds a game in the sand and plays with Jacob, tells him to not tell Janney. Jacob tells Janney. Janney says she left it there for the Kid in Black, because he is special. For example, he knows how to lie, and intuitively knows the rules of the game (or makes them up persuasively). Janney says the island is all there is. Then, when other people are discovered she admits that was a lie; that people are just bad and she wanted to keep the boys away from them. She takes them to a cave with a light. She has to guard the light, which is the Source, the light of the universe, life and death and rebirth. Don’t go into the light, or something worse than death will happen. The Kid in Black wants to know about the world across the sea and goes to live with the other people, who, in his opinion, are corrupt but curious and capable of getting him away. We see the well, and The Man in Black building a wheel into the light on the other side of the wall that will operate a “system” and do something. She attacks him and kills all the people (off screen). He comes back and kills her. Jacob, who can’t kill him because of something Janney did, and who is now in charge of guarding the light, tosses him IN the light. Black smoke comes out. The Man in Black’s body is found. The Man in Black and Janney are the Adam and Eve skeletons in season 1.
The episode works by taking the elements of Lost and transporting them back to a smaller story with fewer characters in the distant past, suggesting they all radiate out from that source. The rivals, bad parents, stolen kids raised by someone not their parents, being special, not being special, outsiders landing on the island by accident, ghosts, magic power sources underground, guarding the island, wanting to leave the island, wanting not to leave the island, mysterious “Others,” people “researching” the island’s mysteries by digging into it, passing the torch to a new guardian of the island. Like Battlestar Galactica the idea is that all this has happened before and will happen again. There is a gag at the beginning where Janney tells Claudia, the mother of the boys, that each question leads to more questions and to just stop. So we are not to wonder how Janney got the job of guarding the island. We just go back this one (pretty big but still) step. Battlestar Galactica wanted to say stuff literally happens over and over. This is just a suggestion here, a kind of non answer. It sort of unifies a lot of the stuff — it all happened to a handful of people a long time ago. But it does not explain why it happens again.
Most of the revels are this kind of “this came from that — where did that come from don’t ask” type stuff. But the Source, the Light, is the big reveal, I think. Janney says there is a bit of the light in each person, but people want more. It is the source of life and if it goes out here it goes out everywhere. This is clear Gnostic spark stuff (they called it pneuma) — I made a lot of guesses about the religious stuff on my blog but the only thing that was close to right was this: the energy at the center of the island is the light of creation, or something like that. The Smoke is the opposite number, split off when the light was disturbed by someone corrupted by men — this is pure Gnostic mythology. Somehow the smoke is or has the light now and if it leaves the island everything goes out everywhere. If you have been reading DC Comics Green Lantern Story Blackest Night you will recognize this straight away as the White Light from the end of that series. We don’t know how Janney killed all the people with The Man in Black. Did she have smoke powers? She seems to have magic powers of some kind (she has some kind of spell that prevents the boys from killing each other) — perhaps she had both good and bad powers. Now the boys have split the powers in two and the powers are at war. Again — pure Gnostic mythology about the creation of the universe.
So my opinion. So first of all, and I know this is a minor thing, how CRAZY is it for a mainstream show with millions of viewers to spend even 30 minutes with NO ACTOR WE HAVE EVER HEARD DELIVER A LINE BEFORE. Liked committing to the concept in that way. This is the ONLY Lost episode that does not have a frame or pair of some kind — no flashback, flash-forward, or alternate universe. Just a straight story. It brings me right back to Nikki and Paolo — you never know what kind of story you are going to get on LOST, and that is a good chunk of the fun.
Also — how did I not realize that Titus Welliver’s body could just be dead somewhere? John Locke has a dead body and the smoke walks around like him. Of course the smoke could just LOOK LIKE Titus Welliver.
Having just saw the thing I don’t really know what I think about it. Basically I really liked it I think, even if it did not blow me a way or change the game as I had hoped. It DOES feel like all of Lost in miniature (including everything from Lost’s simplicity anchoring the chaos and twists and turns to its failures in logic and motivation). But I am not sure what that really means, or what it has to do with anything. Because I think there is a good chance, at the end of the day, that you could see every episode of LOST except this one, and you would get the show exactly as much as you would with it. Because it repeats the whole show in miniature it FEELS right — and maybe I should stop right there. That is probably the point. We have a sense that this comes from somewhere, an origin of sorts. (It almost feels like the last episode of Avatar: The Last Airbender before the final group that made up the finale — the one that sort of recapped the show. The one where the kids see a play of the adventures they have had so far. It is a chance to see the big view in a way, to see the whole thing on a small stage. It also felt a bit like that “No Exit” episode of Battlestar Galactica where a few episodes from the end they kind of infodumped the mythology in a rush to get back to the main characters). Given the corners the writers have painted themselves into I have to say I am pretty satisfied. It would not be Lost without the messy. If you have not come to enjoy the messiness, I am surprised you still watch the show. The Source is the big thing, and I can be fine with that. The island has the spark of creation and that explains a good chunk of the weirdness, like why dead people can come back to life, and healing, and Dharma, and their failure. I can totally live with that.
And now I am ready to get back to the thing that matters, the only thing I think the writers really care about, and probably the only thing they (and we) should care about — not the mythology, but the stories of the castaways and their conflicts. Mythology-wise it was the Source, but the REALLY important thing was probably understanding better why the Man in Black wants off. He has never been off, and wants to know what it is like. At the end of the day it has to be about characters, not mythology. This did a good job convincing me to accept that (as Battlestar Galactica did NOT).