I only started watching LOST a couple months ago, but thanks to ABC.com generously offering all four seasons in HD – for free! – I’ve been able to catch up in time to watch the last few episodes live, and man am I hooked. Last night’s season finale reminded me why this has become my new favorite show (sorry Battlestar). “There’s No Place Like Home” had everything I could want in a TV show: mystery and revelation, action and suspense, character and charm, and one shocker of an ending. As Carmen Andres has noted, however, perhaps the best thing about it was its exploration of the opposites of selfishness and sacrifice (spoiler warning).
“There’s No Place Like Home” included a number of powerful moments of selfishness – especially when Ben callously murdered Keamy, knowing full well it could mean the deaths of everyone on the boat – and ultimate sacrifice, as when Michael and Jin stay behind to give the others a chance to escape before the boat is destroyed. As for Ben moving, and leaving, the island, we don’t yet know if that was truly a sacrifice, or yet more selfishness. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of this theme lay in the contrast between Jack and Sawyer.
Since the beginning, LOST has presented Jack and Sawyer as opposites: Jack has always been the selfless one, his only goal to ensure that his fellow castaways get home. Sawyer, on the other hand, has always been self-focused, concerned only for his own survival. Even their appearances reflected the contrast – Jack was always clean-cut and respectable, while Sawyer was gruff and uncivilized. But ever since Season Three ended with a drunk and bearded Jack, back in Los Angeles, actually hoping another plane will crash so that he might return to the island, their roles have been reversed. Throughout Season Four we’ve seen him descend from everything he stood for, most notably when he held a gun to Locke’s head and pulled the trigger in “The Beginning of the End.” Now in the two-part Season Finale we find that three years after escaping the island, he has not only become a drunk, but has abandoned Kate and Aaron, and is willing to do just about anything – even trust Ben – to get back.
Meanwhile, Sawyer has moved the opposite direction, and broken free from his old selfishness. Again, we saw a hint of this (though not the first) at the end of Season Three, when Sawyer turned back to save Sayid, Jin and Bernard in “Through the Looking Glass.” His newfound nobility has also been seen, for instance, in “The Shape of Things to Come,” when he risked his life to save Claire from the attack on the Barracks. Now in the two-part finale, his transformation seems to be complete. In the first half, he turned Jack’s signature line (“live together or die alone”) against him, by insisting that “You don’t get to die alone.” Then in the second half, he does what even Jack was unwilling to do: sacrifice himself to save the rest in the helicopter. While Jack remains silent, it is Sawyer who tells Kate he loves her then gives up his chance to escape. I love the symbolism too: his plunge into the water seems a kind of baptism, which leads to new life for himself (back on the island) and for the rest (who escape on the helicopter). Jack, meanwhile, is nothing more than a spectator to this scene, and as we have seen – he comes to dearly regret that he too did not stay behind.
In so reversing Jack and Sawyer’s roles, LOST has not only presented a powerful image of the nature and results of these two essential options – life-giving sacrifice or soul-destroying selfishness – but also emphasized the inescapably present choice between them. The decision between selfishness and sacrifice is not once for all, but a constant demand. It doesn’t matter how noble Jack was, unless he continues to be so. It doesn’t matter how selfish Sawyer was; for today he can make a new start. Virtue is never satisfied with the past, but awaits each new decision. No one can rest on their past deeds as proof of their character or hope, and no one is so far lost that they can’t find their way home. Sawyer seems to have learned that, as did Michael and Charlie and many others before them; I just hope that Jack, too, will remember it before the end.