As it enters the home stretch of a wildly uneven third season, there’s a sense that Lost is finally back to the point where it’s comfortable with both itself and the type of stories it wants to tell on a week-by-week basis. With only a handful of episode left before leaving the airwaves for what may end up being the better part of a year, the show has taken the unconventional approach of applying the brakes to the unending stream of twists, double-crosses and impossible revelations that, for better or worse, have driven the show along for most of the past season.
Instead, for two weeks running now, the show has found its water cooler moments in the comparatively quotidian past of its varied cast of characters, placing the increasingly tedious mythology and percolating theories in the background, granting closure to some of the island’s more troubled inhabitants. It’s an interesting tactic to take, and one that may ultimately foretell doom for some: is there a better time to off a character then after they’ve made peace with themselves? That being said, watching characters like Sun and Sawyer wrestle with their inner demons has become more interesting to me then being chased around by the “smoke monster” for the umpteenth time or entertaining Ben’s head games.
Last night’s episode “The Brig”, written by show-runners Carlton Cuse and Damon Lindelof, is ostensibly a “Locke episode,” focusing on the eight days (which translates here into four episodes in absentia) Locke (Terry O’Quinn) spent living amongst the Others. A time marked by camping in the countryside and trying to stomach the idea of murdering his father Anthony Cooper (Kevin Tighe) in a ritual sacrifice at the behest of Ben (Michael Emerson). Locke’s desperate search for answers, both in himself and from the island, places him in an uncomfortable position with Ben, whose demands of a sacrificial lamb seem to stem from cutting off a power struggle at the pass. Locke has never been able to stand up to his father despite a dangerous escalation of slights at Cooper’s hands. When informed by Ben that he’s no longer welcome in their traveling commune until he kills Cooper, he turns for help to someone on the island who’s also (unwittingly) suffered at his father’s hands. Someone with far fewer reservations about taking a life than him.
On the list of “startling” revelations on Lost, the correlation between Cooper and Sawyer (Josh Holloway) falls somewhere just ahead of Jack and Claire being half-siblings in terms of obviousness. Confirming what most had long suspected, life-long conman Cooper was the very same confidence man who seduced Sawyer’s mother resulting in a tragic murder-suicide that left Sawyer an orphan. Yet, unlike the truth of Claire’s parentage, the show teases out the unveiling for almost three quarters of an episode before finally lowering the boom.
Lost’s viewership is more savvy than most. Cooper’s role as the original “Sawyer” had been widely assumed; stringing the reveal along initially struck me as overly coy. Yet in hindsight, the scene works exactly because of the disconnect between what the characters know and what the viewer has likely inferred. Sawyer has been led to the beached slave ship the Black Rock, unseen on Lost since season one, under the pretenses of killing Ben, a proposal he refuses to accept. Despite repeatedly invoking Ben’s name it feels self-evident that there’s an ulterior motive at play, something even Sawyer must suspect. Once locked in the titular brig with Cooper by Locke, it’s only a matter of time before Sawyer discovers who this mystery man is and what he does for a living.
The threat of an explosion hangs in the air from the moment the men enter the ship; in an interesting bit of foreshadowing, Rousseau (Mira Furlan) shows up to retrieve a crate of dynamite only to be warned by Locke “it’s unstable.” Believing himself to already be in hell, Cooper is incredibly forthcoming, with Tighe playing the character with full on, gnashing, gloating vigor. Cooper boasts about his numerous conquests, even bragging about how certain aliases (guess which one) made him more popular with the ladies. It’s interesting to observe the choices made by the actors in this episode. Cooper’s arrogance and callousness, even in the face of repeated threats on his life, is in sharp contrast to the more measured soft-shoe we’ve seen him employ in the past. Even with his back against the wall, he goads Sawyer, mocking him for being on some “revenge kick.” He appears almost drunk off of his own hopelessness, feeling there’s nothing left to lose so why not go down swinging?
So much of Sawyer’s (the younger one) character has been building towards this moment—his very identity is tied towards killing this man—yet I was impressed at how vulnerable Holloway comes across, even as he builds to a murderous rage. His voice reduced to a low whisper (as though anything higher and it might crack), he forces Cooper to read the letter Sawyer wrote as a child, enacting a bizarre ritual he’s no doubt played out in his head hundreds of times (the formality of the act reminded me of Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride), yet only snaps when Cooper tears up the letter in lieu of finishing it. It’s a bit of an obvious metaphor (in an episode filled with them), but an effective one all the same. Confronted with his proverbial “Rosebud,” Sawyer fulfills his life-long goal of revenge, but in the process must leave behind the very identity he’s cultivated over a lifetime. What does a man who’s lived for nothing but vengeance have to live for after he’s taken it?
As I hinted earlier, I fear Sawyer’s days are numbered. Over the past few weeks we’ve watched the character evolve into something resembling a leader, his shiftless self-serving demeanor slowly receding into a mere personality tick. Now that he’s come full circle, destroying the man who has created him, where is there left to take the character other than making him a mangier version of Jack? With the show’s producers warning of an impending blood bath in the next few weeks I can’t help but think the character is being set up for a heroic fall.
The murder of Cooper is robbed of all catharsis; it’s an act of primal, brutal violence complete with exaggerated crack of the windpipe, calling to mind Tony Soprano and Ralphie Cifaretto on the kitchen floor. Shortly thereafter Sawyer crawls outside to vomit, while a detached Locke hovers over him, silently pleased with himself at orchestrating an act of patricide without getting his hands dirty. The episode underlines a suspicion I’d been harboring for weeks now that Locke and Ben are merely two sides of the same coin, using manipulation and misinformation above all else as their primary instruments. There’s a shared arrogance between the two men; spiritual yet emotionally detached, both men are driven by the pursuit of their own selfish agendas with little regard for those lives hanging in the balance.
Locke and Ben’s interests may converge, but that also places them at odds with one another. Locke, having miraculously recovered from his paralysis is admired by “the Others” (I guess they’ve forgiven him for blowing up their submarine already), with the implication being he may be a God-like figure. Ben admires what Locke represents; his own recovery from spinal surgery seems tied to Locke’s. Yet he also resents losing the hearts and minds of his “followers,” concocting a public display of forcing Locke to slit Cooper’s throat with the intention of embarrassing him in a public forum. We’re told by Alpert (Nestor Carbonell) that some in Ben’s flock have tired of his leadership and the dedication of their energies on “novelties like fertility problems” when there are more important reasons to being on the island. The scene plays to Locke’s vanity, as he’s repeatedly praised as being “special,” while gently nudging him into the leader role he so desperately craves. It’s interesting to note we’ve already seen Locke in a cult of sorts earlier in the season (back in November’s “Further Instructions”): he now seems ready to take the reins of another one.
And yet the episode ends with Locke having done exactly what Ben initially asked of him: Cooper is dead. Was Locke played, with Alpert whispering in his ear simply Ben’s latest tactic to bend all to his will? Locke may be in less control of his destiny than he thinks, but he does make an attempt to swing events in his favor. Before disappearing back into the jungle with Cooper’s body, Locke gives Sawyer proof that Juliet is a mole (the tape recorder used in last week’s episode) as well as a warning that “the Others” are planning a raid of the beach in three days’ time. Could Ben have anticipated this as well? Perhaps he pulled a crystal ball out of that “magic box” of his.
On Lost information is powerful and it’s dispensed sparsely and often with the caveat of emanating from an unreliable source. Like the show itself, Ben dangles clues to the island in front of Locke, forcing him to dance to his tune, only to yank them away dismissively. As with last week’s Bakunin resurrection, Lost continues to keep the truth behind some of its more improbable plot points at arm’s length, avoiding concrete answers and hiding behind digressions and small jokes. We still have no idea how exactly Cooper arrived on the island (although it’s implied that he was shanghaied by Ben’s men back in the States) even if Ben does dispel any literal interpretation of “the magic box,” dismissing it as a metaphor. But a metaphor for what? A network of hired goons that can reach out to anyone, anywhere at any time, plucking them out of obscurity and bring them to the island? Perhaps the same sort of network that could fake an airplane fuselage at the bottom of the ocean along with a couple hundred dead bodies?
Taken back to camp and still recovering from her injuries, Naomi (Marsha Thomason) continues to provide information on her mission. Her existence kept a secret from Jack (who’s still suffering the fall-out from both his time with “the Others” and his association with Juliet), her wards of Desmond, Charlie, Hurley and Jin turn to Sayid (Naveen Andrews, missing from the show for the past few weeks) for help and the hope that he can fix her satellite phone. We learn Naomi was hired by Penny (Sonya Walger) in her search to find Desmond (Henry Ian Cusick), sending her to a random set of coordinates in the middle of the ocean where no known island existed. Sayid remains skeptical of her story though, asking for visual confirmation of her downed aircraft. Is it possible that she too is part of elaborate con or have the characters become so weary over time that even salvation is marred by suspicion?
Naomi represents hope of rescue, a concept which has been all but forgotten on the show except perhaps by Jack and Juliet who (with the exception of Michael and Walt) have come the closest to escaping from the island. There’s a definite conspiratorial nature to their allegiance; it’s made explicit that they’re keeping something secret from Kate and the rest of the castaways, but the nature of what it is remains unclear. Jack may be driven to get home but I don’t believe he’d do anything to endanger anyone else to get there; it runs counter to his entire first do no harm ethos. Does Naomi somehow play into whatever plans Jack and Juliet are withholding, or are they too, caught up in their own fantasy world of false hopes and half truths?