Image Credit: Mario Perez/ABCTonight’s episode of Lost requires a SPOILER ALERT! for anyone who doesn’t like going into episodes knowing the character focus of the story, because the title kinda gives it away, a la the Ben-centric “Dr. Linus.” Hence — SPOILER ALERT! — “Everybody Loves Hugo” is all about everyone’s favorite lottery-winning ghost whisperer, Hurley. The title is a reversal on Hurley’s season 2 episode “Everybody Hates Hugo;” you can refresh your memory of the story by reading the synopsis at Lostpedia, or EW.com’s recap of the episode, which I think you’ll find to be an informative, insightful, and entertaining narrative. Translation: I didn’t write it.
One of my favorite parts of “Everybody Hates Hugo” was Hurley’s dream sequence. It featured an English-speaking Jin warning Hugo that “Everything’s going to change.” That prophecy — which certainly feels relevant to where the Lost story is at now, with reality-quaking conflict with Fake Locke and collision with the Sideways worlds looming — filled Hurley with terror. As a rule, Hurley doesn’t like change. Change threatens what’s most important to him: being liked and accepted; or at least, not being hated and rejected. You can find the dream sequence in the video I’ve provided here; it begins immediately after the “previously on Lost” rehash.
A more responsible shepherd of the Lost experience would probably spend the next 1,500 words providing additional perspective on Hurley so that you might better appreciate tonight’s episode. I am not that shepherd. How can I possibly be that shepherd when I’m still processing last week’s instant classic installment, “Happily Ever After,” a mythology-expanding tale of reality-bursting revelation and consciousness-altering love? The more I reflect on the episode, the more discoveries I make. For example: Remember in the Sideways storyline, when Charles Widmore told Desmond about Daniel’s quirky artistic ambition to blend classical music with rock & roll? Well, over the weekend, I figured out what that cryptic bit of business was all about. Or at least I’d like to think I figured it out; I could be, as usual, up my own tree. My theory on this matter will conclude today’s column — but first, I have some unfinished business from last week’s recap of “Happily Ever After” that I feel obliged to tidy up.
Steve in Los Angeles writes: I didn’t quite understand why you felt the need to forge a comparison between the episode and the book/movie Up In The Air. It felt like you just slapped it in there for us to figure out on our own, and I’m not sure I got it. I’m not saying you made me feel stupid, but… I felt stupid. Can you not do that anymore and try harder at being a skilled communicator of ideas? Thanks, Doc!
Steve, normally I respond to e-mails like yours by asking for your address, then mailing you an envelope filled with cat poop. But I happen to agree with your critique! So allow me to explain. I happen to have this theory that I’ve never shared — and I’m not sure I ever will, not at any length — that each season of Lost is inspired by the movie culture of its year. I came up with this idea during season 3; I had convinced myself that the themes and ideas of films like The Departed, Letters From Iwo Jima, Little Miss Sunshine, The Da Vinci Code, Babel and Children of Men. This year, I’ve talked myself into thinking that season 6 (which would reflect the movies of 2009, when most of the season was conceived and written) is all about Star Trek (another Bad Robot production about alternate timelines), Avatar (consciousness transfer into new bodies), A Serious Man (Sideways Locke, Sideways Ben and their darkly comic struggles for significance), The Hurt Locker (the Jack/Richard dynamite scene in the Black Rock), Inglourious Basterds (missions to kill The Island’s Hitler, i.e. Fake Locke) (or Jacob, if you’re pro Man In Black), and of course, The Hangover (post-Jughead/what the hell happened to us?).
Of course, there was also Up In The Air, director Jason Reitman’s adaptation of Walter Kirn’s novel about a professional Mr. Fix It and frequent flyer named Ryan Bingham who defines happiness by the absence of burdensome attachments, but learned over the course of an adventure that life lived up in the air lacks meaningful grounding. In the eyes of others, including the woman he loved, Bingham was the embodiment of escapism. By story’s end, he had come to realize that he needed a life that wasn’t so weightless — a life that included human connection. Sideways Desmond reminded me a lot of Bingham: a decent-at-heart guy whose veneer of worldly success masked a poverty of the heart; who had rationalized his isolation by romanticizing it; whose worldview was capsized by one of the most paradigm-shifting experiences anyone could have: falling in love. My recap of “Happily Ever After” excerpted this snatch of dialogue of Reitman’s movie — a line expressing Ryan in the full bloom of romantic self-deception:
Make no mistake: Your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. All those negotiations and arguments and secrets, the compromises. The slower we move the faster we die. Make no mistake, moving is living. Some animals were meant to carry each other, to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks.
My main interest I quoted that passage and wanted to apply it to Lost was for the last couple lines. Some animals were meant to carry each other, to live symbiotically over a lifetime. Star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not swans. We are sharks. Appropriate sentiment, I think, for an episode devoted to star-crossed lovers Desmond and Penelope; for an episode that seemed to suggest a symbiotic relationship between not just Desmond and Penelope but Island Desmond and his Sideways alter-ego; and for an episode in which Eloise Widmore sported a pin that evoked two shooting stars moving parallel to each other, but not crossing. My intention was to suggest that “Happily Ever After” saw the Desmond of both worlds converting from selfish shark to self-sacrificing swan, dedicated to carrying his fellow castaways toward enlightenment, if not life in a new world. (I should add the following: Over the weekend, I posted a special Sunday edition of Doc Jensen that suggested that Eloise was something of a swan herself, working to achieve some kind of synchronicity between the parallel time lines, one which would lead to a transmigration of minds/souls from one world to the next. And that may be so. But a simply analysis of her pins might be that she’s trying to keep the worlds separate — perhaps just for now, perhaps forever.)
Kyle in San Diego writes: Earlier this season, you said that Sawyer’s story in “The Substitute” seemed to match up with stages of the Hero’s Journey, Joseph Campbell’s mythic template for all heroic sagas. Last week, you called Desmond the “Master of Two Worlds,” which I know is one of the last stages of the Hero’s Journey, but you never really explained the relevancy. Could you expand on that?
Sorry for dropping the ball, Kyle. Such is the quality of thinking and writing you get from me when it’s 3 AM and I am sleep deprived and I’m too busy making sure I got Dr. Manhattan’s origin story correct. But yes, you are correct: “Master of Two Worlds” refers to one of the final stages in Campbell’s monomyth, the underpinning of so many sagas involving a hero who journeys into an often enchanted “otherworld” to resolve a problem in the “ordinary world” that is his home. My intention was to suggest that Desmond’s brief success and spiritual thrill at toggling between the Island world and the Sideways world had, at the very least, put him on the path of becoming a “master of two worlds.” According to this quote attributed to Campbell by Wikipedia, a “master of two worlds” possesses:
“Freedom to pass back and forth across the world division, from the perspective of the apparitions of time to that of the causal deep and back — not contaminating the principles of the one with those of the other, yet permitting the mind to know the one by virtue of the other — is the talent of the master. … The individual, through prolonged psychological disciplines, gives up completely all attachment to his personal limitations, idiosyncrasies, hopes and fears, no longer resists the self-annihilation that is prerequisite to rebirth in the realization of truth, and so becomes ripe, at last, for the great at-one-ment. His personal ambitions being totally dissolved, he no longer tries to live but willingly relaxes to whatever may come to pass in him; he becomes, that is to say, an anonymity.”
The “Master of Two Worlds” stage of the Hero’s Journey is actually the penultimate phase of a saga. The last step, known as “Freedom To Live,” finds the hero liberated from fear of death and committed to living in the moment, “neither regretting the past nor anticipating the future.” Campbell notes that at story’s end, the hero transcends time and space because he no longer defines himself by the criteria; he recognizes that he himself represents something permanent, even as the universe around him changes form through destruction and reconstruction. Indeed, what is often the case in stories like these is that the hero is usually pitted against a villain who is trying to seize a source of power that would allow him to defy or circumvent the natural order of things, which to borrow from Carl Sagan I would characterize as “time and death.”
Now, do these last two stages of the Hero’s Journey apply to Desmond and all of Lost? I think so. As I noted earlier, Sawyer’s journey in “The Substitute” neatly conformed to the first five steps of the Hero’s Journey. And as a few other readers reminded me this past week, Desmond’s journey in “Happily Ever After” also mirrored those stages, plus the next four: “The Road of Trials,” “Meeting With The Goddess,” “Woman As Temptress,” and especially “Atonement With The Father.” This latter stage — which usually permits the hero a prophetic peek/glimpse into the “happily ever after” that he is striving toward (i.e., his “Master of Two Worlds” status and “Freedom To Live” life) — is where we left Island Desmond last week, as his glimpse of his Sideways world facilitated reconciliation with the father figure that dominated his life, Charles Widmore.
All of this said, there are those who are critical of the Hero’s Journey for any number of reasons, from its apparent chauvinism (‘Woman as temptress’ can stand for any kind of temptation or obstacle that discourages the hero, but still…) to its over-estimation of human will to power. Indeed, I am entirely open to the possibility that Lost is taking us down the road of the Hero’s Journey just for the purpose of subverting it — which, by the way, was the entire point of The Matrix trilogy. I can be cool with Lost being a heroic saga that questions our notions of heroism and the whole process of hero-making… but here’s hoping the rest of the season is a little more satisfying than the third Matrix flick. Oh, and the second one, too.
THE PIGS ARE WALKING… ON THE WING!
Carl Sagan, Animal Farm, and The Prog Rock Theory of Lost
So, back to where we started. What do you get when you mix classical music and rock & roll? Simple: you get… rock music with orchestral flourishes, otherwise known as “orchestral rock.” When I did a Google search of key phrases associated with “orchestral rock,” I stumbled upon a popular series of viral videos called “Symphony of Science,” which takes scenes from Carl Sagan’s classic documentary series Cosmos and other snatches of lecture from famous physicists (like Stephen Hawking and Neil deGrasse Tyson) and pop-sci celebs (like Billy Nye the Science Guy) and sets them to music. In the aftermath of Desmond’s electromagnetic journey into quantum underworld of reality, in which he discovered not only a connection with another version of himself but interconnections with other people, and more, the existence of a whole different iteration of the cosmos within himself, I can’t help but think that this video, entitled “We Are Connected” functions as a pretty awesome theory of Lost. Consider the sci-fi/techno-pop version of Drive Shaft’s “You All Everybody.”
(I would also recommend to you “The Unbroken Thread,” from which I got the aforementioned Carl Sagan quote about “time and death.”)
But “orchestral rock” is probably better known to us “progressive rock,” whose heyday coincided with the years of The Dharma Initiative. (I wonder of Geronimo Jackson ever had a prog rock period?) Key bands of the movement include Pink Floyd, Yes and early Genesis. (You can hear traces of their legacy in bands like Muse, whose “Knights of Cydonia” was used in Lost promos last fall.) Prog rockers are big fans of trippy concept albums filled with fantasy and mythic imagery which usually take as their thematic subject young evolutionary anti-heroes raging against the machine of some corrupt, monolithic system of thought, embodied by a government or religious institution. See: Yes’ Going For The One (which includes such Lost-ish tracks as “Awaken,” “Parallels” and “Wondrous Stories”) and Genesis’ Foxtrot, which features the epic suite of songs known as “Supper’s Ready,” a tale of two lovers who must battle mythic villains and pass into another realm of existence for their ‘happily ever after’ to flourish. Was Lost obliquely nodding to this song with its “Last Supper” promos” from earlier this season? Was the show referring to the song last week in the scene in which Eloise Widmore scolded her hired help about the proper way to set a table for her dinner party gala? And since Eloise was particularly fixated on the placement of dinner knives and later blasted Desmond for his “violations” or propriety, might Lost have also been referring to “The Knife,” a track from the Genesis album Trespass, a meditation on violent revolutions that trade one tyrannical system for another?
Yes, you probably think I’m stretching again. But I stretch only to truth! I know I do! Indeed, I believe Charles Widmore’s implied nod to prog rock was an elliptical allusion to one of the most cryptic Easter Egg clues Lost has ever given us, one that connects directly and indisputably to a classic prog rock album. I speak of the season 2 Charlie episode “Fire + Water,” and the flashback moment in which Charlie and his band Drive Shaft filmed their diaper commercial, “You All Every Butties.” In the scene, you can see the backdrop of the London skyline — and there, in the distance, we could see a building, the Battersea Power Station. On some scaffolding in the same shot, you could see a sign, reading “Widmore Construction.” The Easter Egg was a deliberate attempt by Lost to replicate the album cover of Pink Floyd’s Animals, which also featured the Battersea Power Station. The album, inspired by George Orwell’s Animal Farm, was your typical rage-against-the-machine prog rock screed, this time aimed at capitalism and social injustice. The album makes use of Psalm 23 (see: Lost, “The 23rd Psalm”) and is bracketed by a hopeful love song entitled “Pigs on the Wing.” And if I actually bothered to listen to Pink Floyd, a band that I have never really enjoyed, I might be able to tell you more about this album, which frankly doesn’t sound like much fun. It’s no Ke$ha, I’m sure!
But what does prog rock really have to do with Lost? Here’s a thought, one that blends the two halves of today’s countdown together. The Hero’s Journey culminates with the hero making peace with time and death. Prog rock is known for giving us protests against corrupt, monolithic, dehumanizing paradigms. I wonder if both those ideas meet in the form of Charles Widmore. Last week, I speculated that Widmore could be more heroic than we think — a kind of Professor Snape, a savior disguised as a bad guy. For at least this column, I’m going to take back the idea. What seems to be driving Widmore? The fear of annihilation and the power to overcome it. He buys into the Richard Alpert view that should Smokey leave The Island, all of reality will blink out of existence. I have never quite known what to make of this sentiment — and frankly, I’ve been inclined to not quite believing it. I trust that Richard doesn’t really know better. But I suspect that Widmore does. I believe he’s a man who’s deeply invested in the current iteration of reality — a villain, in fact, desperate to maintain the one thing that prog rock heroes hate the most: the status quo.
Of course, Hurley has never been a big fan of radical change, and he isn’t such a bad guy. (OR IS HE?) I’m looking forward to see how “Everybody Loves Hugo” advances Hurley further down the road if his Hero’s Journey in Lost tonight. Come back after the episode and I’ll have an instant reaction. And then, tomorrow, we’ll post the full recap. Please remember to send me burning questions about the episode to email@example.com. I’ll be answering reader mail again in Friday’s Doc Jensen column. You can also find me on Twitter at @ewdocjensen. As for Totally Lost: if it isn’t posted below, it means we’re still putting our final touches on the new episode. Dan and I got swamped with work this past week, plus I had to answer the higher calling of celebrating my son’s birthday. That pushed back our production on the episode; hence, the delay. Yep: ’tis the Patience Required week of EW.com’s Lost coverage. And we do appreciate you hanging in there with us.