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The Lost Cause: “Across the Sea”

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"Every question I answer will lead to another question."

In the last few episodes of Lost, maybe ever since "The Constant," it seemed as if romantic love would be salvation for Lost’s lost couples. Now, in “Across the Sea,” the series turns its attention to familial love. Good old-fashioned, dysfunctional, and oedipal familial relationships including the prerequisite matricide and fratricide. This version of Lost is beginning to look like a Greek tragedy, a tragedy with a quasi-mystical and cheesy golden wormhole and Jacob taking on a variant deus ex machina role, intervening in the Oceanic 815 passengers’ lives apparently for a game. Perhaps this all will require a true deus ex machina to solve Lost’s conflicts.

Allison Janney (right) is a terrific actress as evidenced by The West Wing and Juno, but even she couldn’t keep "Across the Sea" afloat. No matter how much crochet she might pile on her head, her flat Ohio accent and the clunky dialogue made this episode an enigma — as in what were they thinking?

They may have been thinking of the Greek goddess Hecate, patroness of crossroads and gates, a helper in childbirth and in the raising of young men. In Roman times, the time of Claudia, mother of Jacob and Man in Black, the goddess Hecate was known as Trivia — as in Lost viewers wallow in trivia. Hecate the goddess morphed into Hecate the witch, and that is certainly what Janney’s character suggests. With only a few episodes left, ladies and gentlemen, Lost brings you a witch. You weren't expecting that, were you?

"Across the Sea" is the back story of Jacob and the Man in Black, an episode that only fleetingly contained the survivors of 815. Some answers were offered up such as where the the donkey wheel came from, who Adam and Eve were, and the exact relationship of Jacob and the Man in Black (who continues to be nameless as does his foster mother), but in the category of “every question I answer will lead to another question,” more questions are then unearthed. This is Lost’s m.o. (Latin), but were these answers enough to atone for the grievous sin of “Across the Sea” e.g. (more Latin!) this six year season is all due to a brothers' quarrel? Lost’s “Mother Loved You Best!” episode gives sibling rivalries all over history a bad name.

To recap: some Romans were shipwrecked off the island. Claudia, pregnant with Romulus and Remus… I mean Jacob and his twin which no one bothered to name because they were so busy killing and dying: “I only picked one name.” The other Romans from the ship settled down with their murderous ways on the other part of the island. Fun with boar hunting ensued. Crazy Foster Mom, the forebear of many a crazy mom that would populate the island, attacks MiB. MiB kills Crazy Mom (I guess she wasn’t immortal after all). Jacob causes the death of MiB. Jacob is then sorry, hence his vast patience with MiB and his eternal murderous threats.

The brushstrokes on this canvas couldn’t be broader. In hit-over-the-head metaphors, the babies are dressed in black and white. The boys are dressed in black and white. They play with black and white stones. They appear to journey down dark and light paths. This simplistic imagery may be inverted in the remaining episodes, Man in Black certainly did not start out as a sinner regardless of his preference for dark clothing, but it remains to be seen what will come of this symbolism. What we do know is that Jacob makes up his own game as Boy in Black (BiB) predicts, and everyone else, including the Ocean 815 survivors, will follow his rules.

The episode only truly worked in scenes between the adult Jacob and MiB, but that could just be Titus Welliver (left) and Mark Pellegrino’s outstanding acting mixed with a bit of William Blake. In one nice twist, after running away to join the original Others 30 years prior, MiB admits that his mother was right, the island people are bad, but he sees them as a “means to an end” — much like how he sees the Oceanic 815ers later. Jacob, initially reluctant to join him at the Others' camp, now defends people to MiB as “not all that bad.” “Easy for you to say,” challenges MiB, “looking down on us from above.”

This exchange reminded me of William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, but maybe only I could be thinking that. Hear me out. Jacob is the innocent — “I don’t want to leave the island,” “I love Mother,” etc. MiB is the song of experience. Read "Tyger Tyger" lately? Just substitute Smoke Monster for the tiger. Blake’s poems on innocence are often ironic: it is not enough to be good. MiB understood this better. You must also have an understanding of evil, an understanding of the world. To be experienced contains wisdom and thereby the more desirable of the two states of being; both characters are on a journey toward this state. If you were so inclined to follow this parallelism further, the mythical nature of the queasily golden cave is innocence while the electro-magnetic fields of the island would be scientific experience.

It appears that by evoking William Blake, I have talked myself into liking an episode that I initially hated. One of Lost's true talents is soliciting a viewer response out of proportion to what is actually offered. What do you think? Does the emperor have clothes?

Here some points up for discussion. Until "What They Died For,” keep an eye on the camp for me:

Was Foster Mom really responsible for this initial purge? Was Jacob involved? Ben?

Foster Mom arranged that the boys can’t harm each other, but Jacob certainly found a loophole, sending BiB down the golden spring. We now know why boy Jacob is seen with blood on his hands, having been responsible for his brother’s corporeal death.

Jacob doesn’t know how to lie. In fact, in much of "Across the Sea," Jacob doesn’t seem to know how to do much at all except weave. He appears a bit slow.

Cute, cute babies, but why must Lost do such unintentionally funny childbirth scenes?

Happy belated Mother’s Day from Lost: we thought the show had a father fixation. Now we know that it’s all Mom’s fault.

Why does Claudia ask “to see him” not “see them,” or am I hearing that wrong?

The scene between BiB and his dead mother implies that Jacob can’t see dead people. Can BiB because he will die?

The mere existence of the twins’ foster mother is problematic: where did she come from. Who is her mother? Oh, see. Every question I pose does lead to another. I’ll stop.

 

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About Kate Shea Kennon

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Great review, Kate. I share your frustration with this episode, but I think something came of it.

    My take on it is that Man in Black is NOT the nameless brother; he is dead. When he died his body released Smokey from the golden cave. Now we know Smokey can only appear as dead people, so he will start by appearing as Jacob’s brother.

    And wicked stepmother was obviously chosen to do the job she gave Jacob; by whom, we know not.

    One more thing to ponder: since the bottle with special wine was broken by Smokey, what will the candidate who gets the job drink to become immortal?

    Too many questions. No answers. I thought I’d get into Happy Town but ABC shelved it.

    Woe to us all after May 23rd and 24th when Lost and 24 say farewell.

  • http://deathknellforseriouscriticism.blogspot.com/ Kate

    Hi Victor: Thanks for being my “constant” and faithful commenter. I didn’t know Happy Town was already shelved – that was fast!

    You make a great point about Smokey/the brother. I guess I didn’t assume that MiB was already dead when he took the trip upstream. But he was face down, true. So, in that line of reasoning: the conversations on the beach with Jacob were Smokey and Jacob (as jailor), not brother and brother.

    I’m all too happy to jump on that theory because it fits with my “there’s a third wheel somewhere” contention.

    Namaste, Kate