Across The Sea - Lost [Season 6, Episode 14]
One of LOST’s central themes has always been the struggle between science and faith, and the theme works not just within the show itself but in how the show is written as well. Consider that every mythological answer we’ve been given has been shown to us, rather than told: we didn’t know the contents of the hatch until we saw Desmond for the first time, and we didn’t know what would happen if no one pushed the button inside it until the second season’s finale. Time and time again, we’ve been shown that we can never trust whether a character’s telling the truth when they provide an answer, or whether they even know the truth in the first place. The show seems to be making a point that one can only trust concrete evidence, that one can only believe what they see - but in order for the show to engage the audience from week to week, you have to be emotionally invested in what the characters are saying to each other, regardless of whether their words have any consequence within the larger mythology. I think this paradox is what polarized a lot of viewers around Across The Sea and these last episodes in general - people notice the overtly mystical elements of this season and contrast it to the science-fiction trappings of Season 5, wishing that we could return to batshit time-travel stories where characters detonate H-bombs to change the future rather than implausible (!) parables about Magical Tunnels Of Light. I think it’s essential to view both science and faith as different elements of the same show, rather than two disparate and irreconcilable storytelling approaches.
That being said, here’s what worked and what didn’t last Tuesday:
1. One of the major flaws in any serialized storytelling of this scope is the amount of time the audience has to process the narrative. Anything the writers come up with at this point will probably pale in comparison to what fans are imagining, given they’ve had more than half a decade to analyze each episode and endlessly speculate as to the broader mythology. So I wasn’t disappointed by the familiar parent-issues theme running through the backstory for Jacob and the Man In Black, but I understood why others might be. Personally, I think it makes sense that Jacob might seek candidates with whom he shares a similar past, and that the backstory of the series’ most mysterious character would act as an extension of one of the show’s major themes, rather than introduce some crazy, out-of-left-field concept.
2. I do agree though, as a general guideline, that the writers of a television episode as anticipated as Across The Sea should not have its first three acts almost entirely carried by two CHILD ACTORS. The worst creative decision of the entire series? Probably!
3. The actual depiction of a cave full of light was a little obnoxiously cheesy, but given how many times we’ve already seen that light before (emanating from behind the donkey wheel, the well Locke fell down last season, and perhaps all the flashes we saw in Seasons 2 and 5), I didn’t have a huge problem with it. A lot of people took issue with how the mother described the light (“Life. Death. Rebirth.”) but, again, you can’t trust anything a character on this show says. Remember back in Season 1 when we thought Locke had all the answers? How about Mr. Friendly, Ben and even Richard Alpert later on? It should be pretty obvious by now that 95% of the non-answers given by characters are biased interpretations of their own experiences at best and total bullshit at worst. The mother’s no different - even if the show doesn’t elaborate on the purpose of the light any further during these last few episodes, we can’t entirely rule out the possibility that it’s a phenomenon explainable by science. What the mother told Jacob shouldn’t be interpreted as an explanation of the light’s properties so much as a description of what was necessary for Jacob to believe it was worth protecting. Which reminds me…
4. It’s become increasingly clear this season that LOST is a show about belief: specifically, the beliefs of different characters and the consequences of their actions motivated by those beliefs. Up until recently, this has been an element of the show that the viewer could ignore, but at this point it’s the only lens with which one can watch an episode. In The Last Recruit, Jack’s belief in the island motivates him to abandon the idea of escaping with Sawyer and Kate. Now, from everything we’ve seen, the island is an incredibly dangerous place, both physically and psychologically, full of mysterious people giving horrible non-answers about what the fuck is going on, and judging from the flash-sideways timeline it even seems like our characters would actually be better off had they never encountered it. Why should we even consider it worth saving?* But it’s not important what we think. What matters is that Jack believes the island is important, and how despite his insistence that he’s not “with” Locke, that belief in the island lands him with Locke in the end. That’s what’s driving the show right now, and I’m becoming increasingly persuaded by the longstanding theory that the island is at its core a place which makes your beliefs manifest… like the notion that a muttered Latin ritual and a cup of wine can somehow transform you into Demigod Protector Of The Island. Maybe the belief that he had undergone an ancient ritual was enough for Jacob to assume his powers… similar to how Sayid believed he was “claimed” by Locke until Desmond talked him out of it and he was able to redeem himself.
5. I’m sufficiently persuaded by the theory that the mother either was the smoke monster or had the capacity to summon it - how else could she have killed all those people AND filled up the well before the Man In Black regained consciousness? It’s somewhat less convincing that the smoke monster was created when Jacob threw his brother into a cave of light - again, we didn’t see what happened when the Man In Black disappeared from view, and any answers we’ve gotten from this show have been shown to us. If the smoke monster isn’t any specific person so much as an abstract entity able to assume the memories and form of other human beings… well, that would mean that what we saw in the cave was actually a transference of some kind rather than a transformation.
After first viewing the episode, I would have given the first half a D+ and the second half an A-, but given how well this fit into the larger story and all the answers it provided (like why, since the Man In Black was the candidate the mother was grooming all along, the job of island protector basically requires you to be a sociopath willing to SACRIFICE YOUR OWN CHILDREN to fulfill your duty - see Eloise Hawking/Widmore, Benjamin Linus, the mother, etc.), I’m enjoying Across The Sea more and more upon reflection, and expect it to be a pretty harmless installment when watching the entire season on DVD. And given how clearly we’ve been shown that the island needs to kill anyone who’s fulfilled their purpose, the stakes of the series finale seem as high as ever.
*Thanks to Crumbler for pointing this out to me.