On ''Lost,'' a suspicious newcomer leads the former soldier to draw on his skills as a torturer
Lost, Naveen Andrews
Credit: Naveen Andrews: Art Streiber

”Lost”: The politics of torture

In the spirit of tonight’s episode, a bit of honesty: I’ve been drifting away from Lost of late, feeling a little less than enraptured. Nothing fatal: just a minor erosion of interest. But this latest installment, imperfect as it was, snapped my retinas to attention. I speak, of course, of the Final Countdown — even though it wasn’t quite as final as last week’s promo might’ve led us to believe.

More on that in a minute. Let’s take a moment to rejoice in the great, bloody return of Sayid. Golly but we’ve missed the old torturer. Aside from a sullen throwaway line here and a glower there, he’s been Absent Without Plotline for too long. Now he returns to in-torture-gate a suspected Other, one Henry Gale. Yes, Henry Gale. Who arrived in…wait for it…a balloon. Why is Dorothy’s uncle from The Wizard of Oz not in Kansas anymore? He’d be happy to explain — but Sayid isn’t biting. This, says the erstwhile Republican Guard officer, is an Other, plain and simple. The guy’s L. Frank Baum-inflected backstory is just an elaborate ruse. And Sayid’s got the pliers to prove it.

Yes, lest we forget, Sayid is a torturer. And Uncle Sam made him that way. In what may be the best Clancy Brown cameo on record, a shadowy U.S. intel officer compelled the captured Lieutenant Jarrah to wring information from his own superior. It’s a bit beyond belief: Video footage of a chemical-weapons attack supposedly ordered by said superior was enough to turn Sayid from a loyal soldier into a merciless, nail-extruding interrogator. I don’t exactly buy it. But Naveen Andrews played it all to the hilt, looking appropriately horrified under the scorched, CGI skies of Gulf War I Iraq. And the always-marvelous Clancy Brown did a stellar job as the Quiet American. To cap it, we got a couple of glimpses of Kate’s dad.

Point is, Sayid’s damaged, he’s crazed with grief over Shannon, and he’s ready to give Henry Gale the Mother of All Manicures. But first he’s got to get past Jack and his pesky scruples. This proves startlingly easy, thanks to Locke’s complicity and a brand-new combo to the empty arsenal closet. Now help me out here, folks: What does Locke stand for nowadays? Last season, he was telling the castaways to focus on their real enemy, the Others — mostly to distract them from his own secretive activities in the forest. But lately he’s been talking more like an Other lover — or, at the very least, a sympathizer. He’s wary of Jack’s army. Or maybe he’s just peeved he wasn’t consulted. Then he conspires to let a very emotionally compromised Sayid get his torture tongs on a wounded man — and then does a 180 and delivers a ”We’re all Others” mini-speech. Seems to me Locke has been a little lost since the hatch opened.

Luckily, the button-pressing mystery — which has shackled Locke’s destiny to an Apple IIE — took on a new dimension tonight. Yes, ladies and gentlemen: The time ran out. And if chills did not run down your spine when those numbers spun from innocuous, train-station white to menacing black-and-red, then brother, that ain’t blood pumping through your shriveled veins. So what, exactly, were the symbols on those tiles? My co-castaway Liz and I noticed a couple of Egyptian hieroglyphs: the whiplike, bobby-pin thing seems to be the phonetic symbol for ”s,” and the falcon is a glottal stop. Then there was that flame-like glyph — possibly a feather. (Some are speculating it’s the feather of Ma’at, goddess of truth, balance, and order. Also justice. But justice and balance, Lost demonstrates, are not the same thing.) The final sign appears to be an arrow (like the one Rousseau shot into Henry Gale to get this plotline in motion). We didn’t get a look at the second symbol. So, cheerleaders, what’s that spell? Um, no idea. Liz gamely suggested SHT ‘P–or ”shut up,” if pronounced with the vowels the ancient Egyptians omitted from their written lingo. ”Shut up,” she said, ”as in ‘Locke, shut up and stop moralizing!’ ”

By the way, did anyone else find it interesting how Locke’s curiosity got the better of him? The possibility of the revelation of yet another mystery (what happens when the button doesn’t get pushed?) nearly trumped his normal piety vis-à-vis the Hatch and its workings. Good thing he got a grace period, huh?

In other news, Sayid has lost faith in the island’s Two Daddies, and he’s recruited Charlie into what may turn out to be the Third Way politics of Lostland. Also: Hurley is hoarding, and boy, Sawyer sure hates frogs. But things are politically charged enough: No reason to bring the French into this.

What do you think? Is Henry Gale an Other or just a bad balloon pilot? Will Hurley get busted? And what does the frog mean in the grand scheme of things?

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