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'Lost': Sayid loses himself in the dark

 Sometimes you watch "Lost" and think about the philosophical conundrums it presents or the way the characters interact. Sometimes you watch it and come away impressed by the show's rock-solid direction or great acting. But sometimes, oh, sometimes, you watch the show and end up feeling that there's just nothing else like it on TV, nothing quite so, well ... awesome. When "Lost" is on, there's nothing quite like it for bringing big, epic moments, and there's never really been anything like it in the history of the medium. It's a big, bold show when it wants to be, and when it pays off a whole bunch of setup with a big, action payoff, it usually delivers.

A good case in point is "Sundown," which starts out as sort of a philosophical treatise on whether man is inherently good or evil and then becomes one of the most ridiculously fun-to-watch action sequences the show has ever turned out. For its final 10 minutes or so, "Lost" unveils the television equivalent of an Indiana Jones movie or the battle at Helm's Deep in the "Lord of the Rings" series. To be sure, the series is still dealing with the things that it's most interested in, as the whole sequence revolves around what will be the final decisions of Sayid in regard to which side of the Island battle he'll be on, but even as this whole sequence is incredibly, incredibly dark, it remains fun, somehow, until its surprisingly sobering conclusion.

"Lost" has always done big action well, often reducing me to a giddy 8-year-old boy while watching it, simply thrilled to be watching fun action-adventure on a grand scale. Think, for example, of the whole final sequence in last season's finale or of Hurley emerging from the jungle in the DHARMA van or of pretty much any fight scene featuring Sayid. But the show is often pretty bad at conveying the scale of the violence involved in this bloody battle over the Island. It's good at making you feel the pangs of sadness over the death of a main character, but it often has trouble dropping us into the sheer waste involved in this global battle over what amounts to a piece of real estate. (A piece of real estate with mystical properties, but still.) And "Sundown" delivers on that front in spades.

Those final moments -- of Sayid emerging from the Temple's inner sanctum to see the havoc that he had helped wreak, "Catch a Falling Star" strumming away on the soundtrack -- were both downright eerie and somehow poignant. If there's been something the whole Jacob vs. the Man in Black storyline has been missing, it's that human element, that sense that these demigods are playing around with real, live human beings. The series tried to get at some of that with Jack's angry reaction to realizing he'd been jerked around in "Lighthouse," but that was far more existential and didn't have the visceral impact of seeing this happen, of seeing those dead bodies and the rather callous look on Sayid's face as he drifted past them.

But for as much as the show seems to be hinting that the Man in Black is pure evil, it sure feels to me as though this is kind of a fake-out. I'm not ready to jump on the "Jacob is evil!" fan bandwagon just yet, since I think the show is heading in a direction where neither Jacob nor the Man in Black is pure evil or pure good, but Dogen's warnings that Sayid would turn pure evil turned out to be rather overstated. Even when he's drowning Dogen and slitting Lennon's throat, he's still pretty recognizably Sayid. If he's infected or if that infection has reached his heart, everything he's doing has a rather complicated human motivation. He's not just a chess piece being pushed around on a game board. He's a man who loved a woman and would do anything to have her back from the clutches of death. And that's infinitely more understandable than some botched mystical medical procedure turning him dark-hearted or something like that.

While watching this episode, I'm reminded of that aphorism that history is written by the victors, that you can see things portrayed as absolute goods -- like the Allies winning World War II -- as things that are less than positive when flipped to be viewed from a different angle -- like the Allies ending up winning it by dropping atomic bombs on two cities. The real world is never as simple as we'd like it to be. Stopping the Axis in World War II was unquestionably a good thing, but to do it required resorting to things that can be seen as very bad without too much squinting. People can't be all good or all evil. We're simply not built that way. So when Dogen is telling Sayid that the balance of the scale indicates he's become more evil than good (and, really, I'd love a machine that would tell me that), you can take his statement literally, or you can take it as the point that Dogen is making from the point-of-view of the guy who's guarding the Temple and has signed up with Jacob. All you need to do is visit a comments section on a partisan political blog to remind yourself of how easy it is to demonize the other side, and I wonder if that isn't some of what Jacob's followers and the followers of the Man in Black are doing to each other here.

Is it easy to say that the Man in Black exacts a horrible toll in this episode? Absolutely. He kills many, many people. But we have to remember that Jacob has manipulated the lives of hundreds of people to bring them to the Island, for reasons we're still not entirely clear on, and that in the process of that manipulation, he's allowed many, many people to die through inaction (even if he doesn't seem to directly kill people). I'm starting to wonder if these two don't symbolize good and evil as we're led to believe but, rather, if they symbolize destiny and free will. Jacob is down with the idea that everything in the world has a plan and that in some cases he will be the author of that plan. But he's less able to understand just how that plan will appear from the outside to people who aren't let in on it from the first. He's been alone so long on the Island that he's grown rather aloof. He's also seemingly unaware of how much thwarting he's done of people's free will to get the results he desires. He may say that he wants Jack to come to the realization of his destiny on his own, but he's still clearly pulling the strings to get a desired effect.

On the flip side, I wonder if the Man in Black isn't supposed to represent free will. He wants to be free from the Island, and he's willing to take anyone who wants to go with him. He wants free of the game he and Jacob have been playing all this time, and he's not above convincing others they're just pawns if it will help him achieve his ends. But he seems sort of oblivious that one of the offshoots of true free will is that just about anyone can do whatever they like. Without some sort of structure in place, things fall apart pretty quickly, and the strongest win out. From his point of view, it's hard to be stronger than a Smoke Monster. From the point of view of his followers, I wonder if it won't become apparent soon that his way will lead to chaos, just as Jacob's way could lead to an order so strict that it cuts off everyone's room to breathe.

118383_203_pre  There's been a lot of talk this season over whether the Man in Black or Jacob is "right," in the sense that we're supposed to root for one over the other as we head into the end game. But I wonder if the real answer here is that, from the point of view of our characters, both are sort of right and both are sort of wrong, that the true option here is to opt out and live your life the way you want, trying to be as free of the influence of the Island and these two as you possibly can. I think we've been getting clues about this all along. When asked to choose between resetting the series to the pilot and continuing the action on the Island, the writers chose both. And when Juliet is having her vision (where she says it "worked") in the season premiere, she tells Sawyer they can go out for coffee and go dutch. To do that would be, really, to have it both ways, to be in a relationship but also maintain some freedom (not to mention that it would involve both of them getting the check).

As far as Sayid is concerned, though, the darker side of life always exerts its hold over him in either timeline. In 2004, he gets dragged into a situation where his brother -- who's married to Sayid's beloved Nadia -- owes a loan shark and wants Sayid to get the bad guys off his back. In 2007, he's turned (rather quickly) by the Man in Black after a promise that his love will return to life. (And let's remember that Jacob knew Nadia would die but still did not bother to save her, perhaps realizing only a grief-stricken Sayid would fit into his plan.) The common denominator here is Nadia, the love that keeps him grounded but also a woman he believes himself unworthy of in the alternate timeline, which is something he had less of a problem with in the original timeline. Hopefully all those who had trouble getting invested in Jack's suddenly appearing son last week will have an easier time getting reinvested in the story of Sayid and Nadia, which has been around since Season 1. I've gotta admit that when those kids ran out and called him "Uncle Sayid" and he gave that sad little smile, it was kind of a punch in the gut. (These flash sideways plots are reminding me of yet another quote, this time from the movie "Magnolia": "We may be through with the past, but the past ain't through with us.")

But so much hinges on those closing moments on the Island, which work as a payoff both for the episode (which actually felt a bit slow for a while until it started building up to the climax) and the first seven hours of the season. And brutal as they are, those final minutes definitely work as payoff. They bring Ilanna, Ben, Lapidus and Sun back into the plot almost as suddenly as they left it. They offer up an awesome special effects shot of Kate dangling from a cliff as the Smoke Monster roars above her. They give us even more creepy from Claire. They somehow make the patently ridiculous notion of Miles and Kate running from the Smoke Monster seem like it makes perfect sense. (And while we're at it, Miles is spared to fight another day!) And they create a sense that the stakes, which have always been pretty darn big, are rapidly skyrocketing toward huge. I don't know that "Sundown" is a perfect episode, but I love the way it raises big questions while still providing an awesome action payoff. It's an episode of "Lost" that many others could aspire to.

Other thoughts

  • * VERY interesting that everyone's asking where Jack and Hurley are when they arrive at the Temple. I wonder just how important those two are going to prove to be? (Also interesting that Sawyer sits another week out, apparently still hanging out in that cave.)
  • * I have to admit that I like Kate a lot more when she's seeking Claire and inadvertently making a new lifelong enemy by telling ol' Crazy Eyes (a phrase I believe Maureen Ryan has trademarked) just what really happened to her son.
  • * That scene between Dogen and Sayid on the edge of the pool -- right before Sayid killed the guy -- was very well done, and it laid out just how Jacob and the Man in Black cut deals with people. Jacob will give you what you've always wanted, but you'll never get to experience it again, as with Dogen's son, whom he will never again see (and for that matter, Juliet's sister getting to live). You will give your life in his service, but Jacob will make sure what you most wish for happens on the mainland. The Man in Black, however, will give you what you want and let you experience it directly. He'll just exact a huge toll from all of the people around you.
  • * Naveen Andrews has always been one of the under-praised actors in this terrific cast, and this episode was another good reminder of just how well he wears the world-weariness of the man who can never escape the cycle of killing he so longs to put behind him.
  • * I feel like I should stop praising them unless they inexplicably let me down or so exceed themselves that I must single them out, but it was another very good week for Terry O'Quinn -- who brought a twinkle of malevolence to every deal he made with the castaways -- and Michael Giacchino -- whose inversions of classic "Lost" score moments continue to drive the narrative in interesting directions.
  • * Jack's one appearance this week? Passing by Sayid in the alternate universe hospital. Similarly, Jin's one appearance comes when Sayid happens across him locked up in a freezer at Keamy's place. Can't wait to see what those two will get up to in the sideways-verse.
  • * Also worth noting is that Keamy returned. He's probably one of the characters I had the least expectations for seeing again, and I can't say that I'm exactly thrilled to see him, since I never much cared for his character one way or the other, but I did like his daffy little monologue about eggs. If we really need a "Lost" spinoff, that sitcom about Ben Linus and John Locke teaching at a middle school would be good, but I'd also love to see "Cooking with Keamy."
  • * And don't forget that I'm always looking for your theories and links in comments, in my e-mail inbox or at my Twitter account. See you tomorrow!

-- Todd VanDerWerff (follow me on Twitter at @tvoti)

Photo: Top: Sayid (Naveen Andrews, front) and Claire (Emilie de Ravin) have signed on to the Man in Black's plan in "Lost." Kate (Evangeline Lilly, background) isn't so sure. Bottom: Kate and Miles (Ken Leung) have to run from a monstrous threat in the "Sundown" episode of "Lost." Credit: ABC.

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Comments () | Archives (18)

The flash-sideways still doesn’t really work without out know what the connection is, but with the 2007 Sayid paralleling island Sayid in very different circumstances, it worked out quite well. I’m not sure if we’ll be able to get that each week since Sayid works perfectly in the duality.

Was anyone expecting Sayid to kill both Dogen and Lennon? That totally caught me by surprise, because I thought Dogen would play a big role. I’ll be disappointed if this is the last we see of Hiroyuki Sanada.

Review of the episode on my blog:

Hey Todd! Love the weekly reviews, since I can never seem to remember on my own all those little moments from past seasons that add resonance to these new episodes. You definitely help keep everything a little more understandable!

Anyway, I had a thought when I read what you had to say about Juliet's vision. I'm sure someone's already suggested this, but how cool would it be if, in the alternate timeline, Juliet meets Sawyer and asks him out to coffee, saying that they could "go Dutch?" Maybe she wasn't just seeing that there is an alternate universe, but that in this alternate universe, she and Sawyer will get another chance to be together. Personally, I love this idea, as it would bring Elizabeth Mitchell back, if only for a while, and might actually allow a happy ending for Sawyer in at least one of the timelines. Sooo maybe this is all just wishful thinking on my part.

The more they push towards having the characters 'opt out' from following either Jacob or the smoke monster, the more it reminds me of Babylon 5 which went down a similar path, complete with 'light' and 'dark' sides, and the 'dark' side that asks characters what they want most. The similarities may be entirely coincidental, though... we'll have to wait and see.

The first season had me hooked...until ABC began with the schedule games. I soon found myself lost with Lost. Shortly into the season they began with the reruns - and since the story type is a weird, sci-fi type theme that flashes back normally - I was continuously confused and eventually stopped watching it out of frustration. I blame the producers for that. I won't work THAT hard on understanding ANY show. I could have been a loyal viewer had it not been for the way they originally aired it.

This seasons captioning is annoying - I happened to still be tuned in after Wheel of Fortune - and quickly became annoyed. I hate reading the story under ANY circumstance because there is so much missed in the visuals. Any foreign film makers who think this works - are fooling themselves.

I've been thinking that Jacob / Man In Black are actually two sides of the same person, somehow split or manifested by the island. Free Will wants to kill / escape Destiny and be free. In this episode Dogen said everybody has a scale inside them, matching the scale in the cave and hinting at the idea of Jacob/MiB being sides of the same person.

Of course Jack/Locke also represent Free Will / Destiny so I used to think they would take over as the "New" holders of the positions Jacob/MiB hold at the end of the war but now that Locke is dead, that seems unlikely.

As always Todd, your articles and theorizing are part of the fun of being a Lost fan. :)

Thanks - I always enjoy your reviews!

Yeah, I think the jury's still out on Jacob and the MIB wrt/ who is actually the evil one. There was a bunch of Biblical imagery in last night's episode that affirms this mystery will continue as it was used to present Flocke/Smokie with narratives about both God and Satan (for more on that, check out our blog post in it at http://themothchase.wordpress.com).

I'm left wondering who Sayid's reward will be, though - Nadia or Shannon? Both died in his arms and he apparently loved both...so which one will it be?

While I agree things aren't so black and white as Jacob is good, and MIB is evil...

Anyone who goes in and commits slaughter like that is commiting a very evil act. Pure and simple. So far we have not seen Jacob go anywhere near that extent. He has allowed others to die - but I doubt he wanted to. He may be thinking bigger picture here.

I found your point about the deals that Jacob/MIBs make very intriguing - major food for thought there. Reshaped my view of the struggle in fact.

So in the end, isn't Jacob then about sacrifice for what you care about, and MIB about do what you have to to get what you want? In which case this isn't about good/evil. It is more a philosophical approach on the human condition. Maybe Good/Evil aren't even relevant concepts anymore in a modern society. Maybe it comes down to Sacrifice and Selfishness.

Jacob is asking for those who serve him to sacrifice. We just don't know why. Why is the Island is so special?

And was the MIB the first person who had to sacrifice? And now he wishes he didn't make the choice?

Where does Alpert come in? And that kid that the MIB was yelling at come in. Is HE the Island?

So many questions, and so few eps!

P.S. Oh, and I can't wait for Cindy to die! She drives me crazy.

Todd - look forward to your posts each week!

I've decided I'm going to watch the 'last week - subtitled episode' each week. They mention little things I wouldn't have thought of (like Jack reading Alice in Wonderland to Aaron). Plus - reminds me of what's coming up. Well, maybe.

Has Smokey ever followed through with his promises? I'm not so sure he has. I'd bet money he's promised Claire her son back. And that he's the reason she thinks The Others stole Aaron.

I'm not convinced Smokey represents free will either. I see him as a more direct manipulator than Jacob. Manipulation and offerings of empty promises doesn't really bring to mind 'free will' in my mind. Just my opinion here.

Hearing Dogen's story of his son helped to settle his appearance in last weeks episode. I couldn't tell from what century the guy was originally from. Now at least - I'm clear that he was from this century. I'll miss both he and Lennon.

Sayid! Man... we always knew he walked the edge of the dark side didn't we? So who broght him back to life then? Smokey or Jacob? My money's on Smokey. Which would explain why Jacob didn't want him to die, and taken to the temple. Between being touched or brought back to life by Smokey AND the offering of Nadia? What choice does the guy have huh?

I'm not interested in where Jack, Hugo, and Sawyer are at the moment. They'll be back real soon I'm sure.

I've notice each team has a 'swing vote'. Kate on Smokey's team? I think she could flip easily - maybe Sawyer too. And Ben with Jacob group - that guy always swing's to where it's most advantageous at the moment.

Welp.. waiting for next week!


Was Sayid taken over by Jacob, similar to Lock by the Man in Black? Is that why he couldn't kill MIB? What happened during that two hours being dead by the pool?

Speaking of pool, was it significant that Dogen and Lennon were killed IN the pool. Are they really dead or will they be restored by the healing waters?

Got insight....I just wanted to point out that Dogen did not tell Sayid that he was evil...he said that the test measures the good/evil in a man and that Sayid came out on the wrong side....which means that Dogen/Jacob could actually be the evil side.

Great episode!

@Patrick Healy - the Others were supposedly doing the work of Jacob, and they killed lots of people. The most obvious example was the Purge, where they killed all of the Dharma folks. They seem to have no problem killing someone. (When the Losties showed up at the temple, Dogen gave the order to kill them very casually, until he found out who they were.)

I really think it is more complex than just good vs. evil.

The flash sideways are the effects of the decisions made on the island (the side you choose to be on). This is why Sayid has a messed up life in both timelines. Jack, who is (appears to be) siding with Jacob, is having a much better time of things in the alt timeline. This is what we learned last night.

Frankly, this season has been a bit of snooze fest. It's a soap opera. As you pointed out, nothing happened in this episode until the very end.

Thinking about Jacob and the alternative world, Locke appears to have a good relationship with his father. This leads me to believe that Jacob manipulated not just the Losties, but possible others before them such as Locke's father. Without Jacob's influence, Locke's father appears to be a decent guy. I wonder how this will impact Sawyer in the alternative story line.

@ Laura (hi!) - the others did kill people. But we have never seen Jacob kill any.

But it does seem like Jacob got them to the island and then "let them go" - to make their choices. gave them their mission "protect the island" and then set them free. Some he contacted personally, others he did not. We know he never contacted Ben directly, so everything under Ben's watch was really Ben's objectives. Ben's interpretation of the struggle for the island. i think it says alot that he never received direct instruction from Jacob. Maybe Ben was Alpert's mistake... one bad choice.

Alpert and the "native" others obviously slaughtered the Dharma folks, but then the Dharma folks were doing terrible things to the island - mining/experiments, etc. So weren't they just protecting the island? Looked to me like they had no intention to leave. If the world is at stake , and the island is the battleground (which I think it is), then Dharma had to be stopped, and they weren't leaving without a fight.

I think we both agree the good/evil thing is a distraction. There is something more discrete and subtle going on here. And understanding the Islands place in the universe seems to be the key,

Thanks for the comment!

OMG....blah, blah, blah....get a life tvoti. really sad!

I just found your article via Google since I was curious about others' thoughts on Sayid's choice. Whether he really is evil or this is not as simple as dark-and-light backgammon (I was watching season 1 again, which is actually fun to do right now if you haven't seen it in a while) remains to be seen.

Sayid was always one of my favorite characters, so I was disappointed, but also glad that the show is willing to make some ripples in the story of a major character.

I just wanted to say this was an excellent write-up. You seem to be on a level where you appreciate the story and try not to pick it apart at every turn. I am excited to watch this final season -- the final episode is how the series will be judged for many, but I for one have enjoyed the journey regardless of questions or potential plot-holes. You can't be too serious about this series -- if you're not, I'm sure you're where I'm at, enjoying every broadcast as much as season 1.

I thought the woman that died in Sayid's arms that he wanted back was Shannon. Did Nadia die in his arms too?

I'm coming late to the comment party, but back when Fake Locke picked up the white rock off the scale in the cave and chucked it to the ocean, he answered Sawyer's query with, "It's an inside joke." That makes me wonder if the rocks' implied good/white, black/bad colors were reversed ... Or maybe they don't mean much at all ... The joke is on all of us!


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