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Who's Lying in the Shadow of the Statue? Lost Season 6, "LA X"

Posted by Charles Reece, February 7, 2010 10:00pm | Post a Comment
lost last supper

One of the big questions from last season on the show Lost was "what lies in the shadow of the statue?" To which Richard Alpert replied, "Ille qui nos omnis servabit" ("He who will save/protect us all"). Latin's the secret language of the Others, and being able to answer that question demonstrates a knowing fidelity to Jacob, the island's god-like seeming protector/ruler/primary servant. Those with the answer have been (it seems) in personal contact with Jacob, rather than merely receiving his orders through some tertiary representative. Complicating the exegesis here was the appearance last season of another figure in the statue's shadow, Jacob's nemesis (as yet unnamed, but many have suggested Esau for good reason -- which is only reinforced in Season 6's premiere when he, in the form of Locke, states his rasion d'etre is to go home, or, one might say, reclaim his birthright -- "home" would appear to be the Temple, where he once resided as the smoke monster, but is now kept out using that protective ash). At the beginning of Season 5's finale, while watching the arrival of the Blackrock (an old pirate ship), there was a God versus Satan sort of dialog between Jacob and his nemesis, expressing their respective positions towards man (qua island visitors):

Nemesis: They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt. It always ends the same.
Jacob: It only ends once. Anything that happens before that ... is just progress.

A straightforward reading would be the tried and true and utterly boring good versus evil, but Lost never does anything straightforwardly, so I ain't buying it. First, notice the pun on 'lies' in the question: both Jacob and the Nemesis are shown existing by the statue, but, like that old riddle of the doors (cf. Labyrinth), we viewers don't know which one might be lying, leading to damnation, or telling the truth, leading to salvation (or if they're both liars). The Nemesis has certainly been a deceiver, but it might prove in the service of truth (e.g., the classic case of hiding Jews from Nazis). The clearest case of his deception is in taking the form of Ben Linus' dead daughter, Alex, in order to get Ben (who's a master of deception in his own right) to follow the Nemesis' other avatar, Locke, in his plan to kill Jacob (and thereby giving the reason why Ben wasn't supposed to return to the island after leaving it at the end of Season 3). Which brings up the second problem: who's plan necessitated the death of Locke and the return of the Oceanic 6 to the island?

lost nemesis locke kurtz

The apparition of Jack's father, Christian, informed Locke that he'd have to die (as a "sacrifice") in order to bring the 6 back (there was a time loop involving Richard Alpert, but basically it was Christian). Now, it's questionable whom this apparition is serving, but it seems clear enough in Season 5's finale that Jacob was the one taking an interest in having the 6 come together on the island in the first place (he's shown visiting each of them at a point in their lives). Furthermore, he gives Hurley a guitar case whose content -- a big ankh with a message inside -- plays a crucial role in Season 6's premiere, namely in getting his Temple followers to repair Sayid (who's shown dying and then resurrected at the end of the episode). Thus, the loophole that the Nemesis needed to kill Jacob came about through the latter's own machinations, namely the former begins to use Locke's form only after he's died due to Jacob's devising. Being fully aware of the rules of the game he's playing, it is to counter the Nemesis' likely (preordained?) move (i.e., the taking of Locke's form) that Jacob requires the real Locke's body to be returned to the island (as material counterevidence to this guy who looks and sounds like Locke). My point is that both of these island entities practice deception to get their "game pieces" into place (Jacob, for example, withholds foreknowledge of Sayid's death to get Jack and his team to the temple), and we viewers have no reason for suspecting one is more benevolent than the other. So what about Sayid?

lost sayid resurrected

It would seem that the resurrected Sayid is being set up as a new body for Jacob to go against "UnLocke," pointing to some simplistic Manichaean battle on the horizon. And, sure, we see Sayid in a variety of crucified Christ poses leading to his being baptized in the Temple's fountain. But the Last Supper promo poster (shown at the top of this post) suggests a third ambiguity. UnLocke is in the position of Jesus, Sayid as Judas. And, as I discussed previously, Lost has so undermined the use of faith as a crutch (cf. the Nemesis' take on Locke's dying thought: "'I don't understand.' -- Isn't that just the saddest thing you ever heard?") that even if the narrative comes down to two opposing forces, the decision to side with one over the other will in and of itself be unlikely rewarded with some Divine assurance, gratitude or redemption. Note the common element of determinism in both of the theistic players' interpretation of their game: Jacob's version is that of teleological progress to one point, a straight line being drawn through possible worlds. The Nemesis' view is that of the eternal return, the same players and events going round and round. (The alternate universe that's now been set up could support either view.) Locke's faith reduced him to a point on the line, or cog in the wheel. As UnLocke suggests of his source material, there's something admirable about Locke's fidelity to this newfound order and his rejection of the "pitiful life he left behind," but, then again, Jack's assertion of his own agency, his existential resistance to the deterministic order by attempting to nuke it out of existence, has left him alive.

BOUQUET OF ROSE

Posted by Charles Reece, August 23, 2009 04:06pm | Post a Comment
Sure, he interrupts too much to reiterate points that are already clear, but Charlie Rose has a solid track record for getting some pretty good interviews on the tube. All of his shows are archived online and can be watched for free. Here's what's been accompanying my suppers [click pic for the show]:

guillermo del toro

Guillermo del Toro talks about pain, being fat, vampires, The Hobbit, and what makes for good fantasy.

philip johnson

Rose is at his best when he's talking architecture. Here he talks to Philip Johnson about the architect's early days as a fascist and his homosexuality.

quentin tarantino

One of Rose's favorite guests is Quentin Tarantino who's appeared at least 9 times on the show. If there's a guy who likes to hear himself talk more than Rose, it's Tarantino. Thus, much boisterous conversation about film ensues. Also, it's interesting to compare the above interview with the director at the beginning of his superstardom to the way he sees himself now.

david foster wallace

Along with the Johnson interview, this one with writer David Foster Wallace is a favorite of mine. The man is just so genuine in his answers. He critiques the television interview while giving one and has a lot to say about film, particularly David Lynch. Speaking of whom:

david lynch eating panties

Here's Lynch being Lynch.

peter singer goat

Rose doesn't have philosophers on too much, but here's a recent interview with Peter Singer on moral obligation and poverty.

Your Pals Are Not What They Seem 2: Faith and Reason in Lost's Season 5 Finale

Posted by Charles Reece, May 30, 2009 02:07pm | Post a Comment
Page I

john lock weird eyes lostjohn locke dead coffin lost

Being a congenital skeptic, I had expected Lost to go the way of other fantasy shows exploring the issue of faith. It began by establishing the central antagonism between its central characters, the rationalist doctor Jack Shephard (the de facto leader -- get it?) and the faith-filled, ironically named John Locke (the namesake of the famous British empiricist whose philosophical inbred progeny was one B. F. Skinner). In regaining the use of his legs after crashing on the island, Locke was granted something of his own revelation. By way of this objective correlative, Locke and the audience had a inkling that there was something more to the island than Jack's skepticism allowed. Throw in a smoke monster, people coming back from the dead and time travel and any reasonable person starts sympathizing with Nochimson's vaginal heroism. The lure is there to wrap the antagonism up in the same generic package as all the aforementioned failed fantasy programs. Affirm faith by killing it with literalism (compare the deracinated horror of Stephen King's CGI-infested movie-adpatation of his The Shining to the dread of Stanley Kubrick's).

Seems to me that faith is both an opening and a closing. The believer must remain open to mysterious possibilities that defy the normative limits given by our best explanatory models while digging his heels in the sand and claiming his irrationally derived belief is the truth. Therefore, faith requires mystery. If the implausible is made normative, as it is so often in fantasy, there is no faith involved. Of course, the recipient (viewer, reader) must maintain a level of faith by way of the classic suspension of disbelief. Similarly, lest the believer become a mere ideologue, he must live with uncertainity, a nagging suspicion that he might be wrong (i.e., not all that different from the fantasy genre's suspension requirement).

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Your Pals Are Not What They Seem 1: Faith and Reason in Lost's Season 5 Finale

Posted by Charles Reece, May 24, 2009 10:32am | Post a Comment
When Twin Peaks veers into the conventions of illusionism, which pay homage to the rationalist's faith in a phallic force and properly directed will, the series loses its sense of the benign subconscious and the affirming power of femininity. In the later episodes, the seeker regresses into a stereotypical hero. Proper reason directing Cooper's will becomes the heroic focus of the action against the typical perverse will and reason of the villain. The traditional conquest of Earle -- not the desire to see -- becomes the desire of the series. -- Martha P. Nochimson, David Lynch: Wild at Heart in Hollywood, p. 93

The only thing Columbus discovered was that he was lost! -- Wyndom Earle

lost jacob nemesis season 5

Since Ron Moore and colleagues sank my Battlestar, the only show I've cared about is Lost. As the former demonstrated, TV is determined by its own law of entropy, where any show gets worse in direct proportion to the length of time it's on times the structural quality (plot, characters, diegesis, etc.) that the creators initially developed. Clearly, BSG went on for about 2 years longer than the initial fund of creativity allowed. Its keg was all but tapped by the beginning of the third season. Given its tenuous beginning, Moore probably thought his show wouldn't make it much past the mini-series, hoping that he'd at least have one of those cult-celebrated shows that could've been. On the other side of the coin, TV executives don't much care about quality, but about how long they can wring some advertising dollars out of the shows they're broadcasting. As such, they are creatures of chaos, encouraging the steady dissolution of the creative order; they are, in a word, demonic. It's the nature of the beast that creators have to get in bed with these incubi to give birth to a TV show. This Faustian dialectic requires as much blind faith from the creators as it does money being thrown about by investors. Little wonder, then, why so many SF-fantasy shows are predisposed to defending faith over reason. As articles of faith in the face of overwhelming odds, they came into being as the result of big, dumb chance.

x-files believe

A classic example is X-Files, which burned out after the third season and whose endings justified every ludicrous theory the conspiracist Agent Mulder came up with. After a few years of this, the skepticism of Agent Scully's ratiocinations came across as implausible, or just plain dumb. Faith in something that's demonstratively true isn't really faith; it's empirical knowledge. Contrary to some interpretations, X-Files didn't really analyze the role of faith, so much as side-step it by making the supernatural natural. You'd be one stupid hobbit to doubt magic in Middle-Earth. The hero in an absurdist universe can either fight it like Agent 6 did in The Prisoner, or just embrace it like Maxwell Smart in Get Smart. On the former journey -- Kafkaesque in its structure -- lies madness, cancellation and no end to the story, much like what waits for the rationalist in the real world; on the latter, you get a better chance at a few more seasons, but, like a business going public and expanding, the product begins to feel like a cheap imitation (just look at X-Files).

Contrariwise, David Lynch and Mark Frost built the possibility for endless expansion into Twin Peaks with the mystery of Laura Palmer's murder -- what Lynch has called "the golden goose." They intended to keep it ongoing indefinitely while exploring the epiphenomenal mysteries arising from the central investigation. ABC felt that endless mystery would tax the faith of viewers, and "asked" the creators to wrap up the Laura storyline in the second season. The end of that mystery wasn't all that killed the show's élan: both Frost and Lynch went away to work on other projects, turning the reins over to a bunch of cheap Lynch clones, resulting in a whole lot of James and Lucy. It was with the return of Frost that the show began to regain some sense of direction, but more along the lines of the classic good versus evil struggle to which Nochimson alludes in the above quote. Agent Cooper now had a Moriarty, Wyndom Earle, a damsel in distress, Annie, and there was a white lodge to go along with the black one -- tropes that a Jungian once called archetypes, but are now known as clichés. Nochimson is herself a Jungian feminist who sees Cooper as a hero-seeker, a protagonist who leaves himself open to questions, tapping into the universal unconscious, rather than one who is out to conquer the Other. Openness, you see, is the province of universal femininty -- think the woman's classic coital role ('classic' should here be read as another synonym for 'cliché', or 'stereotype'). Reason is phallic, controlling, penetrating, and thusly the province of masculinity.

twin peaks cooper unconscioustwin peaks season 2 cooper

Despite the reductionistic men-are-from-Mars-women-from-Venus rhetoric, Nochimson's book gets it right that Lynch isn't much of an us-versus-them sort of narrator. As becomes increasingly evident from Blue Velvet to Inland Empire, all of his protagonists possess a Hermann Hesse-duality that drives the narrative more than some external battle with another. However, Cooper is his purest hero, only shown to face his dark side when Lynch returned for season 2's finale. By listening to his dreams and going with his occult intuition, Cooper might be considered a man of faith, albeit one who doesn't put all his eggs in one basket. (These eggs aren't of the hysterical kind, though.) But he was until the final episode, and against Nochimson's reading, always in control. He asked the right questions and proffered the best hypotheses again and again. I'd say, given the preternatural realm of Twin Peaks, Cooper belongs philosophically with his cohort Agent Mulder to Noam Chomsky's brand of rationalism. ("Mulder" even pops up in Twin Peaks as an FBI investigator in drag, an agent of scientifico-rationalism mocking the identity politics inherent in Nochimson's account.)


Against the bottom-feeding positivism of behaviorism that was dominant back in the 50s, Chomsky countered that unobservable mental models (the a priori, or given) were necessary to understand linguistic behavior. Scientific discovery, like language learning, is guided by models, where one has an initial theory that undergoes modification as experience dictates (I speak loosely here, so see these entries on Universal Grammar and Modularity if you're curious). If the data is consistent with the theoretical model, no change is necessary; it is, for all intents and purposes, rational knowledge. Mulder and Cooper's seemingly outlandish theories might not work in our world, but they tended to be confirmed by (were consistent with their experiences in) their own diegeses. Their faith is more analogous to David Hume believing that one billiard ball will move when struck by another, i.e., it always had in the past (as far as he knew).

'BS' Doesn't Stand for 'Battlestar': Battlestar Galactica Finale

Posted by Charles Reece, March 22, 2009 12:44am | Post a Comment
spoiler alert.

You know how after a catastrophic accident or tragedy some religiously inclined individual looks at it as a miracle that something even worse didn't happen? Say, some burglar botches a job, not realizing the family is still home, and winds up murdering all of them except the young daughter he didn't see hiding in the closet. Afterwards, some bozo will inevitably suggest God's light must be shining down on the little girl, since she was so lucky to have survived. Maybe I'm a glass-half-empty kind of guy, but I'd say what's being conveniently ignored there is that her entire family was slaughtered, indicating there ain't anything moral giving much of a shit about her wellbeing. Or, if you don't like hypotheticals, take the Hulkster's use of Divine Intervention to comfort his son, Nick, during the latter's stay in jail for a drunken crash that rendered his "best friend" and passenger, John Graziano, a tomato:

Well, I don't know what type of person John was or what he did to get himself in this situation. I know he was pretty aggressive and used yell at people and used to do stuff. And for some reason God laid some heavy shit on that kid.  I don't know what he was into .... John was a negative person.

Forsooth, God's Will is deep and mysterious! So say we all! Thus, how might the 30 or so thousand survivors of Caprica find a little bit of meaning in their civiliation's destruction at the hands of the Cylons? Well, by realizing it's all part of God's plan (that is, the one, true God, not "the gods" the humans always swear by). See, with old Yahweh not being much of a utilitarian, it was necessary to kill so many to get a few to Earth, as a way to help our ancestors along in their development.  This is the Divine Scenarist's way of getting humanity to realize its full potential as what Caprica 6 refers to as another iteration of the civilization that gets too big for its britches and will destroy itself with nukes.

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