Posted by: Ken Brown | February 3, 2010

LOST in Time and Myth

Sayid Baptism
This is going to be scattered and messy, but I’m dying to discuss the LOST Premier and don’t want to take the time to polish up my ideas. So here’s a Major Spoiler Warning, and I’ll dive right in:

In his post on the Premier, James McGrath noted that Pseudo-Locke (or unLocke, or The Man in Black, or Smokey, or whatever else you would like to call him) told Ben he wants “to go home.” James suggests that perhaps the Man in Black is actually some sort of alien, who crash-landed on this island thousands of years ago and just wants to get off, offering an interesting parallel or contrast with the castaways who can’t seem to make up their mind whether they want to come or go. When I heard that line about returning “home,” however, I took him to mean he wants to go to the Temple, from which Jacob’s people have clearly been working pretty hard to keep him.

In Season Five, young Ben was nearly killed by Sayid, and was taken to the Temple to be saved, a process that left him permanently changed. Up until last night’s Premier, I thought this was because the Temple was actually controlled by the Man in Black, as evidenced by Smokey’s presence under the Temple, and the fact that the “changed” Ben seems far more evil than his younger counterpart. I always thought this was strange, however, as the Others claim to serve Jacob, so why would they take Ben to the temple of Jacob’s nemesis. That would, however, explain why Ben was never given an audience with Jacob– Ben was never Jacob’s at all, his transformation in the Temple was by the Smoke-monster’s power, not Jacob’s.

LOST Jacob's Temple After the Premier, however, I think this is wrong. Smokey may live under the Temple, but that doesn’t mean he lives in the Temple. I’m thinking the show is intentionally playing on the old concept of the Temple resting on top of the underworld, pictured as the waters of chaos. This would fit with all the hieroglyphs, as Egyptian Temples were among the most explicit in the use of such imagery (though it occurs many other places as well). For instance, the Egyptian representation of the Primeval Hill is a semi-circle or pyramid on top of water, that is, a Temple resting atop chaos. As I have noted before, many ancient Temples, including that in Jerusalem, were understood to sit atop and contain the waters of chaos, which also represented the underworld and the god(dess) of chaos or death.

The patron deity, on the other hand, does not reside under the Temple but in it, and channels the water for healing and fertility. Thus we have an image of the victorious god enthroned within the Temple above, and the defeated god confined beneath it, which fits with the relation between Jacob and the Man in Black quite well, and may even underly the image of Jacob seated, though for some reason his throne is not in the Temple itself but “in the shadow of the statue,” the significance of which we still do not know. In any case, this would mean that Jacob is the one who healed Ben in the Temple, after all.

Man in Black in Jacob's Chair
Now that Jacob is dead, however, that gives Smokey/the Man in Black the chance to (re)capture the Temple, and with it the whole Island/world. This also is part and parcel of the old Temple enthronement myth, in which the patron deity is often said to have been defeated and killed by the god of death (e.g. cf. The Ba’al Epic). Thus, after killing Jacob, The Man in Black sits down in Jacob’s chair/throne. But as we also know from countless such myths, the patron god will inevitably rise again, to vanquish death and chaos once more.

The only question is, has this already happened in Sayid’s rebirth (note the baptism and crucifixion imagery), or is it in fact the Man in Black, newly ascendant, who has revived Sayid, and Jacob’s resurrection is still yet to occur? Note that the Others in the Temple are concerned that the waters had turned dark, whereas before they were clear, perhaps indicating a change in who controls the Temple. Either way, it is clear that the Man in Black is intent upon capturing the Temple for himself. It will be very interesting to see how this imagery plays out for the rest of the story.

Perhaps even more “brainmelty” than all this Temple imagery, however, is the new concept of parallel realities, one in which Oceanic 815 never crashed, and one in which it did. I don’t have a lot to say here yet, but there are all sorts of interesting ideas to explore about destiny and essential character and the metaphysics of parallel worlds (many of which are discussed here, and in the comments). But one of the big questions is whether these two realities can interact, and in that light, did you catch Juliet’s final words before her posthumous “it worked”? It sounded very much like she was having a flash, like Desmond and Charlotte have done, and it seems a pretty good bet that she wasn’t seeing a different time, but rather the other timeline.

There were also some hints that perhaps the off-Island versions of our heroes also might not be completely oblivious to their alternative lives. Some think Jack seemed a little too pleased to be looking out that airplane window (recall that he had met Desmond before going to the Island, so the fact that he seemed familiar is not itself proof of an on-Island memory), but personally I thought Locke seemed more like he knew something everyone else didn’t. At the least, it was certainly a wiser and less pitiful Locke than we have known in a while, despite the wheelchair, and that was nice to see.

Regardless, I’m with Mo Ryan in thinking that in the end, each of our castaways is going to have to make a choice about which of these timelines to embrace, or else have to find a way to merge them together. It will be very interesting indeed to see how that works itself out. All in all, it was a fantastic premier, and I can’t wait for next week!


  1. Thanks for posting this! My biggest question at the moment is whether, if we go back and look at earlier seasons, there will be incongruities about the relationship between the Others and the smoke monster. Or was Jacob somehow able to protect them while he was alive? The act of drawing ash circles and the fear that has been expressed seems odd after Ben seemed to be able to summon the smoke monster earlier.

  2. Perhaps the runes under Ben’s house in New Otherton were some sort of spell that kept Smokey in check, something more powerful than a little line of ash?

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