Doc Jensen posits that alongside Island World and Sideways World, perhaps there is a World we haven't yet seen

By Jeff Jensen
March 16, 2010 at 04:00 AM EDT
Mario Perez/ABC

Juliet wasn’t touched.

Long after ”The Incident,” I remain haunted by this. In last year’s season finale, we saw flashbacks to moments when Jacob touched his ”candidates.” They were: Kate; Sawyer; Jack; Jin and Sun; Sayid; Hurley; and John Locke. We also saw that Jacob visited Ilana as she recuperated from unspecified injuries; it was clear they had a pre-existing relationship. Had he given her the ”gift” of a magic touch in the past? We don’t know. ”The Incident” also gave us a flash into Juliet’s past. It was the only pastward peek that didn’t have a character crossing paths with Jacob. In the context of the episode, the scene offered psychological shading for Juliet’s decision to break up with Sawyer and support Jack’s plan to blow up the past with Jughead. But in light of what we’ve seen so far this season, I’m beginning to wonder if that Juliet flashback in ”The Incident” was more important than we realized. I’m beginning to wonder if the scene was setting us up for the new season’s parallel-world gambit, and even better, offering us the proper way to view it. Got your attention now? Good! Buckle up for the bumpy-but-brain-blowing ride that is…my final Tuesday column ever! It’s true! No joke! No lie! No more after this, and I’ll explain why at the end. But first: Let’s try to go out with a bang, with what I’d like to call:

In which Doc Jensen throws everything and the kitchen sink — Stephen King, C.S. Lewis, Chaim Potok, George Bush, George Lucas, Coldplay, Rainn Wilson, Christian theology, obscure 19th century novels, dead British prime ministers, the pain of divorce, self-help blah blah blah, poetry, and yes, even pornography — into an epic, possibly offensive, certainly poorly researched, no doubt crazy theory that tries to explain Lost‘s parallel-world structure and various deeper meanings of the show.


Before we get back to Juliet (and fair warning: It’ll be several hundred words before we do), we must first begin with a…tangent! (Toldja!) Still, if you hang in there with me, you’ll see how it’s actually extremely relevant to the whole. The tangent is somewhat Juliet-related, as it deals with the man who brought her to the Island. Last week on Lost, Benjamin Linus got an offer he thought he couldn’t refuse. Sentenced to death for murdering Jacob by the castaways’ new Queen of the Beach, Ilana, Ben found himself digging his own grave on Boone Hill when Frankenlocke showed up with one of his Faustian bargains: Join me now, and I’ll let you rule the Island later. It was a key moment in an episode that saw Ben grieving the loss of Supreme Other status. Fake Locke was giving him the chance to be emperor for life — to live the ”Vida La Vida” forever. ”I used to rule the world/seas would rise up when I gave the word…” But in a spontaneous movement of the soul that even surprised him, Ben turned Smokey down and accepted Ilana’s forgiveness and invitation to live among the castaways. Not as a leader — as a follower. Ben earned his shot at redemption by doing something that doesn’t come easy: He told the truth about himself, about his anger, about his sin. I am reminded of another part of that Coldplay song: ”Never an honest word/but that was when I ruled the world.”

And so Ben was humbled. Recall the Beatitudes: ”Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Speculation:

Ben will rule the Island again.

NEXT PAGE: How many worlds are we really seeing on Lost right now?

Indeed, what if Ben’s entire Lost arc has been about the Island — via its protector, Jacob — conspiring to shape, mold, break, reshape, and remold its wannabe/would-be leader so he could become truly worthy of the responsibility? The Island really could be akin to the school where Sideways Ben teaches history, and for years it’s been trying to get him to learn some life lessons himself, lessons he needs to learn to be able to serve it properly as its new principal, its new protector — its new Jacob.

Perhaps that’s wishful thinking. This is Benjamin Linus we’re talking about. He did kill his father. And gassed a village. Oh, and he committed deicide, too! I don’t think such a ”candidate” would make it past any Senate subcommittee confirmation process outside of Hades…unless, of course, the Island is Hades. Oh, but let’s not go there right now. Let’s instead reconsider, rephrase, and go here:

Ben will again become ruler of the Island because…in the World As It Should Be, he was the ruler. And while that world currently doesn’t exist in Lost reality…perhaps it will once again.

I know what you’re saying: What are you TALKING about? Lemme explain.

To date, the easiest way to view the relationship between the Island World and the Sideways World has been to see them as different time lines that have possibly forked off from a common point in a shared past. Based on what we’ve seen so far, I don’t think this is an incorrect way to view the matter. However, I also suspect there must be more at work here than a mere pair of similar-yet-different parallel worlds. I am also suspicious of the popular view that the Sideways World is the afterlife destination for the Island World characters — an ”Epilogue Land,” to use a phrase making the rounds; the world into which the castaways will be reincarnated. To me, this theory strikes me as serviceable but generic — the new ”Purgatory” theory. Reincarnation also begs tricky questions about judgment and reward. Based on what you’ve seen of Ben and Sayid in the Island Worlds, do you think their Sideways lives represent a sensible next-life progression? How about Kate and Claire? Did they get the next lives they deserved? Perhaps my words reflect a misunderstanding of how reincarnation works — but then, how does reincarnation work? There are so many different, specific articulations of reincarnation thought; picking one would require Lost to take a kind of sectarian theological stance. I’d be surprised if Lost did that. Not disappointed, just surprised.

To be clear, I’m not saying you’re, like, a drooling stupid head for believing in Earth 1/Earth 2 and Reincarnation World theory. I am not ready to get rid of them myself. But I would like to throw a third possibility into the mix, one that I think the show has been nodding at and pointing to all season long:

Lost is really about three worlds.

There is the World As It Should Be. We’ve barely seen this world in the series, if we’ve seen it at all. If this world still existed, it would be a version of history that would have continued to flow like a river had it not been for some event in the past that impeded its path and caused it to divide into separate, unequal courses of water: the Island World and the Sideways World. When I say ”unequal,” I’m not saying that they are perfectly unequal. Indeed, one world could be stronger, healthier than the other world — a river compared to a creek, for example. Now, they have separate destinies, with the Island World facing imminent demise: like Sideways Ben’s financially strapped school, the Island’s ”riverworld” is on the verge of drying out. FUN FACT! Riverworld is an acclaimed fantasy/science fiction world created by author Philip Jose Farmer with many parallels to Lost. In Farmer’s stories, souls of historical figures find themselves resurrected in a strange new world. Read more about his first novel, To Your Scattered Bodies Go.

NEXT PAGE: Juliet: Was she right, or was she wrong?

There is an even better metaphor for Lost 6.0’s parallel world schism — a metaphor that Lost itself has been hitting pretty hard since last year’s season finale. Finally, this brings us back to Juliet and ”The Incident.” In the flashback, we see Juliet as a young girl, sitting in the living room with her sister, Rachel, and parents. Mom and Dad tell the girls that they are getting divorced. The conversation:

MOTHER: We need you both to understand that your father and I…we still love each other. Just because two people love each other, doesn’t always mean they’re supposed to be together.
JULIET: But what if you are supposed to be together?
MOTHER: We’re not, honey.
JULIET: But how can you know for sure?
MOTHER: We just know…. And when you’re a grown-up, you’ll understand.
JULIET: I don’t wanna understand!

At that point, Juliet storms out of the room in tears. Her mother calls after her to wait. Juliet does not obey. ”I don’t wanna understand!” she says one more time. End of flashback, and soon thereafter, the end of Juliet.

I’m not passing judgment on divorce. There are many compelling reasons why people in bad marriages should get divorced. But I think we can all agree that the concept of divorce is unfortunate. Besides, as the guy in the collar says at the ceremony: ”What God has brought together, let no man put asunder,” right? Young Juliet seemed to believe that to be true, though her righteous conviction evolved and cooled as she got older, bringing her to a place that sounded like so much wisdom when she dumped Sawyer:

JULIET: What we had, it was just for a little while, and just because we love each other, it doesn’t mean that we’re meant to be together. I mean, maybe we were never supposed to be together. So if Jack can make it that — that none of you ever come here, then he should.
SAWYER: Why you doing this, Juliet?
JULIET: If I never meet you, then I never have to lose you.

Here’s the thing, kids. Juliet was wrong. I know some Juliet partisans think the lady can do no wrong, but here, Juliet was espousin’ some stinkin’ thinkin’. That wasn’t wisdom — that was cynicism. She committed the sin that she accused her parents of making as a child. She gave up on love and surrendered to fear. If it’s really true that Juliet’s actions in the Swan shaft produced the parallel world structure — if splitting an atom really split history into two separate realities — can we really say that her actions were heroic?

NEXT PAGE: Did Juliet really create the split worlds — or was it perhaps someone else?

There’s a body of theory out there that says it was Ben murdering Jacob that created the split worlds, not Juliet detonating the bomb. Let me throw some ideas on that pile. Remember that Ben had fallen in love with Juliet. He viewed her as his consort — the Queen Other to his King. Indeed, this could be the required model of Others leadership (see: Charles Widmore and Eloise Hawking). Juliet clearly rejected that title, but let’s pretend for a moment she technically fulfilled the role, whether she wanted it or not. Now let’s review the actions of these Island shepherds — these Island parents, if you will. Late 2004/2005: Daddy Ben turned the donkey wheel. Daddy Ben left the Island, while Mommy Juliet disappeared into the past. If the Island is their child in this analogy — an adopted child, whom they were supposed to raise during a specific period of time — then what you had there was Mommy and Daddy splitting up and abandoning their guardianship of their child, leaving the strange kid to…whom? Smokey? No one? Regardless: Uh-oh. Then what did Mommy and Daddy do? Well, Mommy went back to the past and tried to kill the child by blowing it up. Meanwhile, Daddy landed in the Island’s future and murdered the child’s timeless godfather/protector. Mommy tried to destroy the body; Daddy tried to destroy the soul. No wonder the Island has a dark angry cloud hanging over it! Mommy and Daddy screwed it up pretty good! Which reminds me of a poem by Philip Larkin that, all things considered, should really be put to music and made the theme song of Lost:

”This Be The Verse”
They f— you up, your mum and dad.
They may not mean to, but they do.
They fill you with the faults they had
and add some extra, just for you.
But they were f—ed up in their turn
by fools in old-style hats and coats,
who half the time were soppy-stern
and half at one another’s throats.
Man hands on misery to man.
It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
and don’t have any kids yourself.

Anyway, weren’t we talking about divorce as the operative word for season 6? Yes, we were. Prior to my ”small tangent,” I was saying that there should be one world/one timeline, but it has been split asunder into two separate entities like some cosmic divorce. Each partner in the marriage possesses similarities and differences that make for a stronger, richer entity when merged. (This assumes a happy marriage of soul mates.) A unified world, then, would be best symbolized by…Bernard and Rose from the season premiere, sooooo in love, soooo into each other, soooo very inseparable. The parallel worlds are best symbolized by…Jin and Sun. Separated, they are each their own person, with an independent life and integrity. And yet, they know — and we agree — that they are incomplete without each other. And so, just as they need to be reunited, so, too, do these unclasped, unbuttoned worlds. They need to be rejoined. Or…rebuttoned! Just like Jin told Sun to rebutton her shirt — to refasten her loophole (!) — while she was ogling gooey-in-love Rose and Bernard.

NEXT PAGE: Separation and reconciliation: The evidence, episode by episode

I don’t think I’m crazy with this one, guys. One of several recurring themes of this season has been divorce, decoupling, and relational separation. And yet, each episode has also countered that theme with its opposite, too. Consider:

”LA X”
The Sideways non-castaways were together again on the plane, then dispersed. Bernard and Rose: happy newlyweds. Jin and Sun: separated by customs. Juliet died; Sawyer grieved.

Sideways Claire: Learned that Aaron’s prospective adopted parents had split up, with the wife abruptly abandoned by her husband. Kate: Abandoned Claire, then rescued her, and helped stall Claire’s labor. And so Claire and Aaron remained together — literally.

More Sawyer grief. Fake Locke: Shared that he was once a man and ”knows what it feels like to lose someone you love.” Sideways Locke: Engaged to Helen, who reaffirmed their love when he demonstrated faithlessness. He was fired from his job — but then got a better one.

Sideways Jack: Divorced. He and his mother had to deal with the death of Christian Shephard. But then he reconnected with his son and embraced his role as father.

In the Sideways World, Sideways Sayid was denied a relationship with his true love, Nadia, but he embraced his role as family protector. Also in the Sideways World, we saw that Jin was inexplicably separated from Sun. On the Island, Dogen revealed that he must live separated from his son. Meanwhile, Kate reunited with Claire…although that may have been a bad thing.

Sideways Roger’s wife — Ben’s mother — was out of picture, probably dead. Alex appeared to be raised by a single mother. Richard and Ilana dealt with the grief, anger, and despair of losing Jacob. At the same time, Sideways Ben proved himself as a good teacher/father figure to Alex, and was adopted by new Island Mother Ilana.

But perhaps the most intriguing, provocative nourishing of divorce/reconciliation thematics was provided by last week’s very conspicuous literary reference. No, it wasn’t the ”Booty Babes” porn rag in Ben’s right hand. And no, it wasn’t ”Justice Is Truth In Action” by Benjamin Disraeli, which actually isn’t a book, but a quote by the famed 19th century British prime minister, who also said many other famous maxims, some of them loaded with Lost resonance. ”In a progressive country change is constant; change is inevitable.” Think: Jacob’s idealistic belief in progress. ”One secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.” Think: Jack, waiting for his destiny so he can seize it. ”Grief is the agony of an instant. The indulgence of grief the blunder of a life.” Think: Sawyer, holding onto his Juliet grief and possibly allowing it to lead him astray. ”Great countries are those that produce great people.” Think: my Ben theory, and perhaps the true function of the Island. Hmmmm… is it mere coincidence that Lost has elected to keep the time frame of its story fixed within the second term of the Bush administration? Quick! Write me an essay arguing that ”Booty Babes” and Benjamin Disraeli (who supported ”Great Game” imperialism and was noted for his born-again religious faith) are an implied critique of Bush’s dubious arguments for taking us to war with Iraq. That’s right! We’re really ”getting to the bottom of it” now!

NEXT PAGE: Now, here’s where a novel by Chaim Potok comes in…

VERY SMALL TANGENT: Disraeli also wrote several novels, including two that link to Lost. First, there’s Alroy, inspired by a historical figure, a Jewish man born in Iraq who claimed to practice magic and be the messiah; and Tancred: The New Crusade, a romance about a doomed couple — and an adventure about a man who goes on a mystical journey to reconcile competing strands of religious faith (Christianity and Judaism) in hopes of reinventing the Church ”as a progressive force,” to quote Wikipedia’s summary. APPLICATION TO Lost: Is there an ”Alroy” on the Island? If so, is it Jacob or Smokey? Is Lost like Tancred? Is it calling upon our culture to settle sectarian warfare and light upon a better, more truthful, and redemptive expression of our spiritual character? Debate this question here, or at Rainn Wilson’s website, Soul Pancake. Seriously! Check it out!

Anyway, all of this is a very looooong build up to the other book that we saw in Sawyer’s tent/library, the one that may really zero in on the true nature of the split world paradigm: The Chosen by Chaim Potok, a classic novel about two Jewish boys struggling with identity, faith, familial and cultural obligations, and personal destiny. It’s interesting that Lost should drop this book into the seventh hour of the season — because in Chapter 7 of The Chosen, you get a meaty passage that connects with so much Lost stuff, it surely can’t be coincidence. You get talk of birth and rebirth. You get talk of a ”master of the universe” and ”dust.” (Think: Jacob.) You get talk of free will, following the will of God, and what human beings get out of the bargain. (Think: Jacob and Smokey.) You get talk of a world with God (a world with the Island) and a world without a God (the Sideways World, sans Island) and what needs to be done to keep the presence of God alive in our hearts, our communities, our world. (I’m not sure of the connection to Lost; I just liked writing the sentence.) And you get this:

”It is written, ‘This world is like a vestibule before the world-to-come; prepare thyself in the vestibule, that thou mayest enter the hall.’ The meaning is clear: The vestibule is this world, and the hall is the world to come.”

Now, that sounds a lot like the reincarnation/”Epilogue World” theory I crapped on earlier in this column, right? But let’s keep reading. As the passage continues, the rabbi mentions Gematriya, which assigns numerical values to words. The word chai, or life, has the value of 18. The rabbi notes that the phrase ”this world” has the value of 163 and the phrase ”the world to come” has the value of 154. The difference between the two numbers: 9. The rabbi says:

”Nine is half of 18. Eighteen is chai, life. In this world there is only half of chai. We are only half alive in this world! Only half alive!”

Interesting. Here in season 6 of Lost, which will run for 18 hours, we have two seemingly parallel yet peculiar worlds. Both seem to have integrity, but I contend that both are flawed by themselves and need to be recombined. The World As It Should Be is chai (18); the Island World and the Sideways Worlds are half-life worlds split from the greater whole. (Then again, I could be totally wrong. As you read the rest of Chapter 7, you realize that this meaty passage contains some deliberate errors, and was, in fact, presented to the book’s young protagonists as a test to see if they could catch them. But then again, that’s Lost 6.0, too, isn’t it? Spot the flaws — the nicks in Jack’s neck — and maybe, just maybe, you can glean the true purpose of the story. Or maybe Lost was just having a funny on anyone who claims they can take its random data and add the whole thing up properly. You know: people like me.)

Bottom line: the Island world and the Sideways World need to hook up and knock out the World As It Should Be. Juliet had the right idea: they need to go out for coffee — and go dutch on the bill.

NEXT PAGE: Now, grab your copy of The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis…

In the spirit of Benjamin Disraeli, I’d like to now bridge the divide between two faiths and bring in our old dead Christian author friend, Clive Staples (C.S.) Lewis, whom Lost has cited via our dead red-headed Freighter friend, Charlotte Staples Lewis. C.S. Lewis wrote a great many books that thematically mirror Lost. Besides the Chronicles of Narnia, The Screwtape Letters, and The Space Trilogy, there’s The Pilgrim’s Regress, an allegory about spiritual development involving a man who as a child has a vision of an island that can bring spiritual fulfillment and human purpose. As an adult, he goes on a journey to find the island, only to discover two things: (1) the island is embodied by a person; and (2) The road to the island leads back home. And then there is this:

The Great Divorce

The Great Divorce was Lewis’ sorta-kinda response/rebuttal to Dante’s Inferno and especially William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. But Lewis’ vision of Heaven actually functions as an allegory for how life should be lived in the here and now. Lewis has two big points to make with the book. The first: We can either view the world we live in as an upward slope leading to heaven, or a downward slope leading to hell. The second: As long as we draw breath, there is always time to reverse course. Now here’s where the applications to Lost get really interesting:

In his introduction to the book, Lewis (who preferred that his friends call him Jack) tackled the question that’s at the center of Lost: How do we ”fix” ourselves? His answer is basically the answer that Jack intoned to Richard last week inside the Black Rock: ”We go back to where we started.” Now, remembering Potok’s redemption by shaky math; and remembering that Jack said those words after arguing with Hurley about which road to take back to the Temple; and remembering also that Richard tricked both of them into taking a third road that led to the Black Rock (although their visit there led to a beneficial outcome), let us finally bring in C.S. ”Jack” Lewis to add it all up for us:

”I do not think that all those who choose wrong roads perish; but their rescue consists of being put back on the right road. A sum can be put right: but only by going back till you find the error and working it afresh from that point, never by simply going on. Evil can be undone, but it cannot ‘develop’ into good. Time does not heal it. The spell must be unwound, bit-by-bit, with ‘backwards mutters of dissevering power’ — or else not. It is still ‘either-or.’ If we insist on keeping Hell (or even Earth), we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell.” FUN FACT! Lewis concludes his introduction by noting that many of his ideas in The Great Divorce were inspired by a short story in an old sci-fi mag called Scientifiction about… time travel.

Application to Lost:

Jack was right in ”LA X” when he said, ”Nothing’s irreversible.” But healing change does not come from blowing up the past. Restoration comes from finding the spiritual balls to dig into the crap of our past and find our painful, broken core and just deal with it already, dammit! Stop running away! Stop ”simply going on,” because it will never ”develop into good,” and ”time does not heal it.” And then, once we’ve dealt with it, we need to bring in the words that Rose gave us in ”LA X”: We need to ”let it go” and move on. Leave our ”souvenirs of Hell” behind and move into the fullness of life, and then what lies beyond. My math? The Island = Hell = 9; Sideways World = Earth = 9; the World To Come = The road home, restoration, reconciliation, wholeness, and chai. Life. And everyone lives the true life, the true ”Viva La Vida”… and Benjamin Linus will be the king of us all.

And speaking of a King…

NEXT PAGE: The two Dark Towers

You will notice I have once again NOT done what everyone wants me to do; that is, explain Lost‘s parallel world structure by applying Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series of novels to Lost. After all, don’t the producers love Stephen King? Haven’t they been on record as saying how much they love The Dark Tower? The answer to those questions is yes. But did you know that the Master of Horror has something in common with the Master of Christian Fantasy? Did you know that Lewis also wrote a story called The Dark Tower? It’s true! It was published in 1977 — the same year that George Lucas released Star Wars (another Lost influence), and the same year the castaways blew up Jughead. It’s true! And you want to know what it’s about? If you guessed ”parallel worlds,” you’d be absolutely right!

Lewis’ The Dark Tower begins with a conversation about time travel. The characters conclude that the past can’t be changed. They then find a device called a ”chronoscope” that allows them to peer into the past or future — or so they think. Looking into the chronoscope, they witness a past or future world (they can’t tell which, so they just call it ”Othertime”) in which a devilish character leads people astray, clouding their minds and turning them into virtual zombies. Then a character makes a discovery: The chronoscope isn’t a device that allows peeks into other times — it allows them to peek into parallel worlds. He then makes another discovery: His double in Othertime is a bad guy. To prevent him from doing bad things, he crosses over…and accidentally switches minds with his bad doppelganger. And so, while the Good Guy tries to save the day in Othertime, his evil doppelganger wreaks havoc in ”the real world” and the Good Guy’s ”real world” friends try to stop him.

How does it end? Wish I knew. I haven’t read the book, just what Wikipedia summarized. Yeah, I’m a lame scholar, but you know what? It doesn’t matter anyway: C.S. Lewis technically never finished the story. The Dark Tower only exists as a fragment of a novel, an unfinished work — a Lost story. Also interesting: Lewis’ story was designed to connect to his own series of Space Trilogy novels via shared characters and themes. Part of me is in love with the idea that those Stephen King-loving, Star Wars-grooving writers of Lost are basically taking the raw material of Lewis’ Dark Tower and building something new out of it. At the very least, I find myself wondering if Jack made the same mistake in ”Lighthouse” that the characters in The Dark Tower made about the chronoscope: those mirrors inside the Lighthouse didn’t peek into the past — they peeked into the Sideways World.


The end. About time, huh? Well, don’t go back to work just yet! There are two more very important things to know. (1) Yes, I was serious, this is my last Doc Jensen column…to post on Tuesdays. Gotcha! Beginning next week, Doc Jensen will post on Friday. I’ll explain why very soon. Trust me, though: This will be for the best, for everyone. (2) We have a new episode of Totally Lost for you right here, right now — and don’t worry, this ain’t moving; we’ll continue to post new videos each Tuesday. Give it a click; fun stuff awaits. And make sure you come back tomorrow for my recap of tonight’s episode. Twitter? So do I! @ewdocjensen.


Doc Jensen