Earlier today, I sat down and read my way through Entertainment Weekly’s big Lost issue, which features a spoiler-free (but tantalizing) set report from the finale, an overview of series highlights, and an oral history of how the pilot came to be. As much as we’ve ribbed Jeff Jensen from time to time for his increasingly sprawling, off-the-wall Lost theorizing, the man does know the show about as well as any one of us who writes about it, and he and the rest of the EW staff did an exceptional job of distilling Lost to its essence in preparation for The End. Mainly, they brought it all back to the characters and the moments that have made Lost so memorable, reminding fans of how far the show has come from its introduction: that plane crash on a beach, that monster in the trees, and that mysterious transmission in French.
For example, who would’ve guessed back in 2004 that we’d get from the events of the pilot to tonight’s “Across The Sea,” an episode set thousands of years in the past, and dealing with The Source Of All Life, and how it both inspires and corrupts. And who would’ve guessed that it would answer so much, and yet still leave so many questions—most of which will likely never be resolved.
I have only one real criticism of “Across The Sea,” and it’s that when Lost deals directly with the transcendental—rather than just glancing at it—the show can get awfully gooey, and painfully blunt. And given that the first half of this episode featured children asking Big Questions and getting simple answers, “Across The Sea” really tested the audience’s willingness to sit through talk of good and evil and truth and lies and mystical lights under the water.
But those conversations sound better on reflection, and grow in the memory. What I liked about “Across The Sea”—loved, really—is that when all was said and done, the answers really weren’t so simple. Sure, the implications may be. Lost over the last several weeks has clarified just who the villain of the piece is, and what the responsibilities of our heroes are, vis-a-vis said villain. Yet the roots of that hero/villain dynamic remain awfully tangled, and indicate that when it comes to faith vs. reason, and choice vs. no-choice, there’s still quite a bit of gray in this story of white stones and black stones. “Across The Sea” had a real biblical feel, as just as with The Holy Bible, there’s a lot here that’s open to interpretation.
Here’s one interpretation:
Once upon a time, two brothers—twins—were born on a mysterious island, and raised by a woman who taught them right from wrong, and taught them also that they were destined to protect The Island from ill-intentioned interlopers who would exploit The Island’s unique energies, and spread wickedness throughout the world entire. Only the younger twin—The Bad Twin—didn’t trust The Woman, and went to live with some of those interlopers, helping them to tap into what The Island has to offer. So The Woman punished The Bad Twin for straying, and in return he killed her. The Good Twin banished his brother, consigning him to roam The Island as a monster, effectively drafting The Bad Twin in the ongoing campaign to keep outsiders at bay.
And here’s another interpretation:
Once upon a time, a woman stumbled across a pregnant castaway on the beach of a mysterious island, and after helping her deliver her babies—twins—The Woman killed The Mother and claimed the offspring as her own. The Woman lied to the brothers about what lay beyond the confines of The Island. She lied to them about why they were there, and what they were meant to do. She pitted one brother against the other, by indicating she had different expectations for each. She stifled their interests, and crushed their ambitions. Then the younger twin—The Good Twin—rose up against her and killed her. And in repayment, he was chained to the land he despised.
And I could go on. I could mention that while living with The Others, the black-clad brother comes to hate them, because he sees that The Woman was right, and that men are by nature “greedy, manipulative, untrustworthy, and selfish.” I could mention that the white-clad brother—Jacob—watches these men from afar and sees a lot of good in them, even as he dutifully stays by The Woman’s side. And there’s more: The Woman demands that Jacob cement his status as The Island’s protector by speaking a Latin oath and drinking from her special bottle of wine—although Jacob is reluctant to do so. (“Now you and I are the same,” she says, which is pretty ominous given how awful The Woman can be.) Then later, after Blackie stabs her, she tells him that she’s always loved him, and that she meant him to be the protector all along. As she dies, she whispers, “Thank you,” indicating that she’s glad to be free of the burden of fighting, lying and killing to keep people away from whatever lies at the bottom of Glowy Cave.
“Across The Sea” was a whopper of an origin story—and Lost has always been good at origin stories—explaining why Jacob and Blackie are obsessed with games, and throwing out a bunch of familiar phrases and images, and showing how Blackie built The Frozen Donkey Wheel, and how Jacob pushed him into Glowy Cave and turned Blackie into Smokey. But the episode also shows how origin stories can change over time, and take on meanings far different than their, well, origins. Yes, Smokey came into this world because Blackie disobeyed. But Jacob is just as much to blame, for forcing his brother into the water. Jacob created a lot of the problems that he’s spent centuries trying to solve.
And yes, there are still questions. (“Every question I answer will simply lead to another question,” The Woman promises, in one of the episodes many meta-moments.) Like, how did The Woman get there? “There’s only me,” she says to The Mother—but we know The Woman lies. And how did she make the kids immortal? How long has The Island been in existence? What does turning The Wheel actually do?
But as I’ve said many times this season, Lost is not really the story of The Island, or the story of Jacob and Blackie. I’d be surprised if we learn much more than we already know in the remaining three-and-a-half hours about these two guys or the rock they’re on. As “Across The Sea” ends, we see Jacob take the dead bodies of his brother and The Woman, and put them side by side, with a pouch containing two stones from the game that he and Blackie liked to play. And then we flash back to Lost’s sixth episode, “House Of The Rising Sun,” and relive the moment when Jack, Kate and—most ironically—Locke discovered the bones of Blackie and The Woman, and dubbed them “Adam And Eve.” It’s a haunting moment, made all the more so by the reminder of how easily Locke reduced the corpses to the echo of a simple story—the ultimate origin story, really—while we know it’s far more complicated than that.
-I got a Jin EW cover, by the way. Would rather have had Sawyer, Locke or Ben, but Jin’s okay.
-I hate birthing scenes. I lived through two of them in real life; I can do without ever seeing them on TV or at the movies, where it’s all grunting and shrieking.
-Nice work by Allison Janney as The Woman. Some of the acting was shaky in this episode—especially early on—but she held it together.
-I almost hesitate to ask this question, because at the end of the day it really doesn’t matter, but what do you think is the likelihood that Darlton really knew who Adam and Eve were going to be back when those skeletons were introduced? They’ve claimed they knew from the start, but it just seems so far afield from what the show was about back in Season One that I have to think that while they may have had a rough idea, they probably didn’t know the particulars. On the other hand, there’s no real reason to doubt them. And like I said: it doesn’t matter. The Adam and Eve story works.
-I’ll be participating in this week’s Ryan Station podcast with Ryan McGee and Maureen Ryan, two of the other writers who are great at getting into Lost’s particulars. I'll post a link here when it goes live later this week.
Clues, coincidences and crazy-ass theories:
-So which beach did The Mother land on? Lostaway Beach or Statue Beach? Was the absence of a statue meant to be an indicator of where we were?
-Note the choice of words as the babies are born: “It’s coming.” Similar to what Jacob said when he was killed.
-More echoes: Claire was told not to let Aaron be “raised by another.” Jacob and Blackie definitely were not raised by their proper mom.
-Still more echoes: The Woman is a crazy person in the wilderness, distrusting The Others, just like Rosseau, and just like Claire.
-Did the death of The Woman have anything to do with why women on The Island have difficulty giving birth?
-Something my wife noticed that I missed: Jacob and The Woman have not adopted the shoe technology of The Others. Blackie, on the other hand, has embraced it. This has been a recurring pattern with the brothers. That’s why I wasn’t surprised last week when Smokey rigged a makeshift time bomb out of a watch, some wires, and bricks of C4. This is a creature fascinated by men and their inventions.
-Blackie really does seem to be the special one, not Jacob. It’s Blackie who can communicate with ghosts, not his brother. Did everything go haywire because the wrong man became The Island’s guardian?
-After The Woman destroys the village and everyone in it, Blackie wakes up and sees a familiar black smoke on the horizon. Just a visual motif, or something more?
-The Woman claims says of Glowy Cave, “If the light goes out here, it goes out everywhere.” But then she also tells Jacob to stay far, far away from it, lest he suffer a fate worse than death. Is it possible that the light is, itself, evil, and that life as we know it can’t exist without that evil? (Or is that way too far out?)
-So what exactly happened to Blackie when he went down into Glowy Cave? Sure, Smokey came out. But so did Blackie’s body. Is Smokey meant to be Blackie’s corrupted soul, now disembodied? Or is it an entity completely beyond Blackie—some evil genie that Blackie’s breach of The Cave brought into the world? (Or perhaps brought back into the world.)
-The next episode is called “What They Died For.” After this week, it’s clear that the title refers to more than just Jin, Sun and the rest.