The geek in me wants to start with Smokey, the frozen donkey wheel, and the significance of a Magical Jin. The gentleman in me wants to start by apologizing to Sun for impugning her mothering skills (my theory last week was debunked in the first scene: Ji Yeon is alive, well, and skinny) and congratulate her on renewing her wedding vows. But really, we should begin this recap of the ominously entitled ”This Place Is Death” by paying our respects to the dead. So let’s swipe one of Ms. Hawking’s votive candles and light one for Charlotte Staples Lewis, whose bloody passing was charged with mythic buzz. The time travel sickness munched up more and more of her brain, then swallowed it whole. In her final wild-eyed, pale-faced moments, her mind became unmoored and began to toggle between past and present. ”Oh turn it up, I love Geronimo Jackson,” she cooed, referring to Lost‘s faux hippy-era folk group. (I get a Three Dog Night/”Road To Shambala” vibe off the name.) And she gave up some secrets. Yes, she had been born on the Island. Her mom and dad were members of The Dharma Initiative. But Dad went loco and Mom got spooked. She packed up Charlotte (”Why isn’t Daddy coming with us?” Charlotte murmured during her throes, perhaps flashing on the moment) and took her to London and told her that Island was just a childhood fantasy — a land of make-believe, like the Narnia concocted by Charlotte’s literary namesake. And then this bombshell: ”Leave the Island and never come back,” said a scary man from her Island youth — a bogeyman with more than a passing resemblance to her would-be boyfriend, Daniel Faraday. ”I’m not supposed to have chocolate before dinner,” she blurted, her mind suddenly elsewhere. And then she was gone for good.
The temptation of chocolate takes us somewhere, too — namely, straight to hell. In C.S. Lewis’ first Chronicles of Narnia novel, The White Witch — a stand-in for Satan; the incarnation of death — seduced Edmund into betraying his siblings with an English delicacy made of chocolate known as Turkish Delight. For Charlotte, the Island was her Turkish Delight — her forbidden fruit — and chasing after it led to her doom. ”This place is death!” she bellowed, and I couldn’t tell in that moment if her mind was in the present, speaking of her killer environs, or if it was in the past, passing along something she had been told.
Digging deeper into the Charlotte/Lewis connection, we sinker deeper into an abyss of subtext. Along the way, we pass A Grief Observed, Lewis’ chronicle about the death of his companion, Joy, and how it tested his Christian faith. Then, there’s The Great Divorce, which actually isn’t about marital dissolution but a fantastical vision of the afterlife, à la Dante’s Inferno, although it was actually meant as a parable about living in the here and now. (The title is a riff on — and the book a response to — William Blake’s surreal manifesto, The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.) These are stories about the underworld, the mythical place where souls hang after they’ve shed the mortal coil. And now recall the Egyptian hieroglyphics in “The Hatch,” which according to the producers of Lost translated into ”Underworld.” And Smokey’s scene-stealing, arm -ripping presence in this episode reminds us that the guy who made the Map in “The Hatch” called the Monster by a different name: ”Cerberus,” the three-headed demon dog that guarded the gates of Hades. And finally, know that Christian Shepherd, the dude with the Jesus pun name, played the part of ”psychopomp” in this episode — a ”psychopomp” being a mythic underworld figure who serves as a ”guide to souls,” escorting the dead between states of existence. Psychopomp?! Yes: Psychopomp! Psychopomp! Psychopomp! Psychopomp! You can’t just say it enough. PSYCHOPOMP!
Okay: I went a little…well, psycho. And while I would argue that my references are relevant, clearly we must be careful about what conclusions to draw, as the producers have adamantly insisted that the Island isn’t a literal afterlife, paradise, purgatory, or inferno. But stumbling on The Great Divorce did illuminate the grand theme of Season 5 so far: ”What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.” Welcome to the messy divorce season of Lost. See: an Island separated from its place in space; souls ripped from their designated points in time; a fellowship of castaways pulled apart, a band break-up of such unholy wrongness in the eyes of almighty destiny that unless they are reunited…well, ”God help us all,” as we’ve repeatedly been told this year. (If only someone had used that argument on the Beatles 30 years ago…) ”This Place Is Death” brought out the theme of dissolution in bold relief, as unions of all sorts were dissolved in various ways. Charlotte died on Daniel. Danielle Rousseau and her French dude, Robert, decoupled with shotguns and madness. Jin turned in his wedding ring. John Locke split from the Island. And good lord, did you see that arm get ripped off poor Montand?! Did you heart the wet icky splooge of his limb being shorn away?! ”Put asunder,” indeed.
WELCOME TO THE MOUTH OF MADNESS: JIN, DANIELLE, AND SMOKEY
Actually, forget CS Lewis and his Christian parables. ”This Place Is Death” felt like an HP Lovecraft horror story to me. Lovecraft was all about fools who go chasing after forbidden knowledge and buried secrets and wind up getting more than they bargained for, if not killed, or worse, driven hopelessly mad. His stories were full of ancient lands hidden away from the world, where malevolent gods and their pet monsters dwell in their ruins and lie in wait for explorers and other lost souls to feed upon or possess. The essential Lovecraft saga is At The Mountains of Madness, about geologists who discover the remnants of an old civilization in Antarctica and stumble into supernatural trouble, including a monstrous, shape-shifting creature called a Shoggoth. What did Faraday say in this episode?
And so we had Rousseau and her French scientist buddies and Jin trekking through the jungle, stumbling upon the remnants of the Island’s ancient past, and getting attacked by its resident shoggoth, Smokey. We learned one new thing about Smokey: He/She/It resides in the bowels of an old temple — or should we say the Temple, a much-talked-about-but-never-seen Island landmark. Smokey chewed up one of the Frenchies, then he made like a Return of the Jedi/Sarlacc Pit tongue and gave Montand his own kind of French kiss. As Smokey dragged his prey into his lair, we heard a whirring sound, like a winch being wound, akin to when the Monster tried this same kind of snag and drag trick with Locke toward the end of Season 1. Is Smokey mechanical? Is he animal? Is he ”posthuman and hardwired?” (See another gloomy shoggoth, emphasis on ”goth” — Marilyn Manson, Mechanical Animals. Great album.)
Jin and the Frenchies scampered after Montand and grabbed him by the arm and engaged Smokey in a tug of war struggle for his life — men of science on one side, freaky thing of faith on the other. The freaky faith thing won, but the science squad got Montand’s arm for a door prize. You saw that, right? They ripped off his arm. Again: They. Ripped. Off. His. Arm. I gasped, and my mouth hung open for many minutes afterward. And then, when it could move again, I smiled and said aloud, ”Man, do I f—ing love this show.” Ripped his arm off! I’m still giggling. Anyway, welcome back to the show, Jin, and thank you for facilitating one of the all-time great Lost sequences. I loved how the whole thing was imbued with a cool, creepy quiet. It even had the patience to stop for a second and watch Jin sip rainwater out of a palm frond. Riveting. And refreshing!
The eeriness continued on the beach, where the divorce/marriage themes clicked in. There was the music box, with the guy in the groom’s tux dancing with his princess bride. And here was Jin serving as witness to the Shotgun Marriage (and Divorce) of Danielle and Robert. So much previously referenced Lost mythology was compressed into this brief scene. We saw the deadly results of the madness that afflicted Danielle and her cohorts. We heard them argue about Smokey, and heard Robert refer to it as the Temple’s ”security system,” which, if you recall, is how Danielle characterized the Monster wayyy back in Season 1 — as a ”security system.” But what struck me about hearing these words again was just how long Rousseau has stuck with that interpretation, forged in the first days of her Island hell. It embellished for me the idea that Danielle has been really messed up for a really, really long time.
Remember when Rousseau totally freaked out when she saw Jin again on the beach? ”I saw you disappear!” she exclaimed. In her shock, I saw a simple answer to the time travel noodle-cooker that many of you have been puzzling over since last week: Did the French Lady recognize Jin when she first met the castaways in Season 1? The answer could very well be: Does it matter? For Rousseau, Reappearing Jin was one more scary, inexplicable thing in a scary, inexplicable situation that was about to become a way of life. By the time their lives intersected once more in her future timeline, seeing Jin again (if she even recognized him), the significance probably just bounced off her. ”Oh. You again. Whatever.”
With all of this said, I am sticking with my theory from yesterday’s Doc Jensen. Per the precedent set in ”The Constant,” in which Season 4 Faraday did not remember meeting Time Traveling Desmond in the past until Season 4 Desmond actually made the trip, I don’t think Season 1 Rousseau recognized Jin from their Season 5 encounter. Yes, a little confusing, but it’s all summed up by the term ”course correction” which Lost has frequently cited. Simply, what this means is…
[EDITOR’S NOTE: Despite the author’s insistence that what follows will be ”simple,” it is actually nothing short of an epic tangent that will either confuse you royally or, in the author’s words, ”illuminate your freaking’ brain with extraordinary revelation that explains everything about ‘Lost’.” You can be the judge. You can also feel free to skip to next BOLD FACED HEADER if you prefer your recaps to be safe and sane. This is all to say: You only have yourself to blame for reading this. We now resume the narrative proper.]
Simply, this means that some kind of omniscient and self-aware agency — God; Fate; Some undiscovered regulatory force — finds a way to sort things out when paradoxes or inconsistencies are created by time travel. This is not merely a writers’ contrivance. This is actually rooted in some kind of theory. It is called ”The Principle of Self-Consistency,” and it was promoted by two eggheads, one named Igor Novikov, and one named David Lewis — and yes, as we learned last season, that also happens to be the name of Dead Charlotte’s Dharma Dad.
But it’s that Novikov guy who’s about to flip your lid. In 1991, in a journal called Classical and Quantum Gravity, Novikov and another dude named Andrei Lossev wrote a big paper about time travel called — drum roll please! — ”The Jinn of the Time Machine: Non-Trivial Self Consistent Solutions.” The purpose of the paper was to describe various solutions to paradoxical problems created by time travel. Here’s an example of one such paradox — taken from a book I found called The New Time Travelers — that I believe speaks to the larger plot of Lost. Let’s say a writer wants to write a novel. So he builds a time travel machine, goes to the future, buys a copy of the novel he wrote, then brings it back. Easy. Except who created the novel if the author really didn’t write it?
But Novikov and Lossev argued that this seemingly impossible scenario just might be possible…if you were willing to apply some creative thinking. The title of their paper is something of a wry nerd joke, one that Lost fans can appreciate. In The New Time Travelers, the author (whose name I wish to deliberately withhold for now) explains that a ”non trivial” solution is physicist speak for ”not the obvious answer.” As for the other part of the title, the term ”Jinn” is another word for the kind of genies you might find in Arabic fairy tales. Novikov and Lossev used the term Jinn to describe things like that magical novel I mentioned earlier — things whose existence defy conventional explanations. According to the mysterious author of The New Time Travelers, Novikov and Lossev were drawing on the depiction of a kind of Jinn that you find in the Koran; they are ”a race of spirits that can appear suddenly and unexpectedly.”
A race of spirits that can appear suddenly and unexpectedly. Just like Jin in last night’s episode. Just like Christian Shepherd in last night’s episode. And just like Desmond in last night’s episode — Desmond, whom Faraday in the season premiere called ”miraculously unique.” Just like a Jinn.
The implication of all these ”clues” is that there seems to be some kind of time loop in play, one in which some or all of the castaways are the Jinns in the aforementioned magical novel analogy; they are objects that must be returned to where they belong in order to avoid catastrophic paradox and preserve the established time-space continuum. Which, I think, is a pretty good explanation for what Ms. Hawking and her off-Island crew of quantum mechanics are attempting to do. (Too supernatural for you? Well, tough. The naturalists in the crowd got a big disclaimer from Faraday last night when he said: ”Bringing back to the people who left to stop these temporal shifts, that’s where we leave science behind.”)
Crazy. Okay. But here’s where all of this gets really great. The mysterious author of The New Time Travelers? His name is David Toomey. Ring bells? It should. David = Dave, Hurley’s imaginary friend from the Loony Bin. Another Jinn. Toomey = Sam Toomey, another victim of The Numbers’ curse. Best friend to Leonard Simms, one of Hurley’s loony bin friends. In fact, the whole reason Hurley went to Australia was to find Toomey. Instead, he learned the dude had shot himself years earlier.
(Look, you should just be grateful that I’m not going to spend the next 1000 words comparing the Island to the Novikov/Lossov conceit of a ”clever spacecraft” moving at time-warping light speed. Because that would REALLY get you calling for my termination. PSYCHOPOMP!)
DOWN THE (GRAVITY) WELL
John Locke has had some great smiles this season. I loved the one in ”Jughead” where he grinned ear to ear when he made the acquaintance of young Charles Widmore. And I loved the one he flashed Sawyer just before he climbed down the Well, our newest addition to the Island’s mythic topography. Wouldn’t it just be easier to just lower you down, you old coot? ”Where’s the fun in that?” he said, just beaming.
And so he lowered himself down the rope and then the time flash kicked in and severed the rope and John Locke fell like Icarus from the sky and landed in the Island’s underworld. Busted his leg, too. AGAIN. Do I dare mention that this team-up of classical physics (John Locke fall down and go boom) and quantum physics (time flash) reminds of the name of that scientific journal Classical and Quantum Gravity that published the aforementioned ”Jinn” paper? PSYCHOPOMP!
And speaking of which, there was Jack’s Ghost Dad, bringing the light of illumination in to the darkness of the Lost puzzle. Letting Ben turn the frozen donkey wheel? Stupid Locke! That. Wasn’t. What. You. Were. Told. To. Do! Why can’t you just follow the damn instructions, man! But second, Christian told John that he could still make things right. All he had to do was turn the wheel — or rather, fix the wheel by putting back on its axis — and leave the Island and convince his friends to come back. (Is this why the castaways have been flashing through time? Because Ben didn’t leave the wheel in the locked position? Hilarious.) Oh, and he had to die, too. ”I guess that’s why they call it…sacrifice,” Christian said coyly. Big question: Do we trust Jack’s father? Who is on the side of angels here: Christian in his Underworld or Ben and Ms. Hawking in their church? Or are they all on the side of demons? ”The only side he’s on is his own,” Sayid said of Ben. Maybe that applies to ALL the menacing power players at work in the Lostverse manipulating castaway destinies.
Regardless: Locke is back on the path that was intended for him — his Christ-like rescue mission of redemption, reconciliation, and restoration. Which reminds me: Earlier in this epic digression, er, recap, I mentioned a book called The Great Divorce. In the brief introduction to his book, Lewis wrote a line that sums up exactly what happened to Locke last night. ”I do not think all who choose wrong paths perish; but their rescue consists of being put on the right path. A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, not by simply going on.” What he said!
COUPLINGS AND OTHER CONSPICUOUS SYMMETRIES
One last observation about the episode before turning this over to you. I noticed a number of interesting symmetries in this episode. For example:
Sci-Fi Smokey lives in the Temple…and Ms. Hawking lives in her half-church/half-geek basement, i.e., Our Lady of Perpetual Computer Labs.
John Locke gets a big ”Thank you!” from Juliet for trying to save their asses…and Ben gets a big speech whining about the lack of gratitude from Jack, Sun and co. for trying to do the same.
And finally, Jin basically divorces Sun by turning in his wedding ring for the sake of saving Sun’s life…and Sun basically marries him anew by accepting his ring for the sake of saving Jin’s life. So it goes that an episode about divorces large and small should end with a wedding.
Now: a tropical Island for the honeymoon.
PS: Sorry about last week, Sun.