Thursday, March 26, 2009

“He’s Our You:” What would you do?

Last night’s episode of Lost was a good one, turning the screws on our beloved characters and exploring the consequences of their choices even as they make new ones. But the zinger had to be final scene—a scene that ultimately brings God-talk into open spaces.

There are big spoilers below, so don’t read on if you don’t want to know how this episode ends.

For a summary of the episode, go here. Basically, it's only been a couple of days since Sayid and the others have gotten back to the island—and they are all surprised to find that those they left behind are living in apparent domestic bliss on the Dharma compound. While Sawyer works Jack, Kate and Hurley into compound life, Sayid is more difficult. Most of the Dharma folks think Sayid is one of the Hostiles and aren’t sure what to do with him. Sawyer wants Sayid to get his story straight and join Dharma, but Sayid isn’t interested (he didn’t even want to come back to the island, we find out).

But the really interesting thread is the one between the young Ben Linus and Sayid. Through flashbacks, we find that the older Ben coldly manipulated Sayid’s killing skills, and we get a better grasp on why Sayid hates Ben so much. So when the younger Ben brings Sayid a sandwich, Sayid is understandably freaked (as "freaked" as Sayid can get, that is). Here’s the boy who will become the man that does such bad things not only to Sayid but others as well.

Eventually, the Dharma folk decide Sayid must be killed (and Sawyer, to protect the way of life he's worked so hard to build, seems to go along with it). But as they're about to carry that out, a flaming vehicle slams into one of the compound’s buildings. I was a bit distracted during this part of the episode (preparing a late dinner for my husband who was driving home from the airport after a business trip), but by the time that hooded figure approached the door leading to Sayid’s cell, I was beginning to piece all the foreshadowing together pretty quickly. When I saw Sayid standing so calmly as the young Ben approached, I knew what was going to happen. Yet when Sayid pulled the trigger and the young Ben fell face first into the dirt, I couldn’t believe it actually did.

At IGN, Chris Carabott says this:
I wasn't really convinced at first that Sayid was going to go through with killing Ben but I'm thrilled that the story went in that direction. It's frightening to think that Sayid has been pushed so far that he's willing to kill a child. I'm sure there will be some "if you could go back into time to kill (insert genocidal maniac here) as a child, would you?" debates in Lost fan forums this week. It's classic science fiction and I appreciate the writers' willingness to tackle such a profound topic.
Most of the time, hypotheticals really bother me—especially the one posed above. Far too often, I’ve been on the receiving end of one that’s being used as a device to trap, manipulate or win an argument, and in my experience the one posed by Carabott is one of the more abused. Sometimes, folks stack the situations so much that there is really only one answer that can be given. But then, maybe I’m a little jaded as I’ve spent a great deal of my life around academics, heh.

But, at their best, hypotheticals can help us explore ethics, morality and our hearts and ways of thinking. They can give us understanding and compassion for those facing impossible situations. They can help us explore the strengths and weaknesses, consequences and effects, benefits and detriments of a situation. In other words, they help us get at the truth.

And that is the basic direction this episode goes. Killing is nothing new for Sayid. He’s done it his entire life—and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we watch him begin with a harmless chicken and end with a child. Yes, we know who Ben is to become, but he’s not that person yet; and, as easy as killing has become for him, that isn’t lost on Sayid, who we know is capable of compassion and love. Interestingly, he even shows compassion for the young Ben at one point when he sees how his father abuses him. Because we know Sayid—having watched him make the decisions he does over the last few years and in this episode—we begin to grasp the effects, consequences and costs on a person in making decisions like this one. And I’ll venture that when Sayid runs away he’s not just running for his freedom; he’s also running from what he just did.

But Sayid isn’t the only one who makes decisions when it comes to the young Ben. For three years, Sawyer and the others who were left behind on the island have been living side by side with the young Ben—and one thing’s pretty clear: not one of them is standing between Ben and his abusive father (whose abuse is a huge factor in Ben’s journey and the man he becomes). Why not? In the beginning, it makes sense that they wouldn’t want to draw attention to themselves or rock the boat; they needed to integrate themselves into Dharma in order to simply survive. But after three years? Perhaps the rest of them, like Sawyer, likes things the way they are and don’t want to rock the boat and jeopardize that (a motive I find myself all too familiar with, I must admit).

I also think it’s worth considering (as we should when we consider the hypothetical posed by Carabott) whether Sayid—or any of the other survivors—had another choice when it comes to the young Ben. If Sayid (or any of the others, for that matter) believed they could change time, why not change future events by rescuing Ben from his father? Or getting him off the island? Why not love and nurture him? Anyone of these things could change Ben’s path.

Exploring a hypothetical like this should include questions like these—and we’d do well to incorporate the same kinds of questions in our own lives. What we do here-and-now will affect those around us. How we treat others now has formational implications down the line. Loving others—paying attention, “being in the room,” doing what is best for the other instead of ourselves—makes a difference. Maybe even the biggest difference of all. In Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster talks about how Jesus embraced a different authority or power to influence the world around us, one not evidenced by status and power but by serving others. Instead of manipulation and force, God’s kingdom and those who live in it operate out of and influence through love, which bears itself out by doing what is best for others (as Jesus models). This is the way the world is changed; that is way someone’s life and path is changed.

And I’m wondering if all this doesn’t invite us to consider something else when we consider hypotheticals and stories like this. In Lost, there is a lot of talk of what kind of powers are at work and how those powers-that-be affect the characters and their decisions. As followers of Jesus, we’d do well to include God in explorations of hypotheticals and stories like this. I once was told that when we personally ruminate over or consider worrisome situations in our future, seldom do we figure in the presence of God. Often we try to figure out what we would do without considering the fact that God would be present there as well. If we believe God is who he says and can do what he says, we can trust that God is present in whatever situation we face. In our exploration of hypotheticals like this, we might do well to include not only what would we do ourselves but what truths God has yet to work into our hearts, the truths God’s revealed and we’ve embraced thus far, and what have been and could be the testimonies of our brothers and sisters. Thinking about things like this invites us to consider what our relationship is with God right now. Do we trust him? Do we believe there is more to life than here-and-now? Do we believe God is good?

So, I join with Carabott in offering my praise to the writers. They’ve taken a cliché hypothetical and given us a weighty and thoughtful story in which to explore it—and that can’t help but bring God-talk into open spaces. I’ll admit, it was difficult and disturbing to watch but then I think it should be when we confront issues like this. If it isn’t, maybe we ought to explore our reasons behind posing it to begin with.

(Image: ABC) lostctgy

6 comments:

Lauren W said...

I don't know what I would do. The only thing I am thinking about doing is going back and watching this episode again because my brain still hurts from the first time.

Carmen Andres said...

heh, mine too. i'm with most folks out there, though. i don't think young ben's dead and that either jack or juliette will save him through surgery.

as for sayid. oh my. let's hope the island still has a penchant for redemption in the 1970s. sheesh.

Ken Brown said...

I'm with you. The only way young Ben could be dead (and the rest of them still on the island) is if it created a parallel timeline, but they seem to have ruled that sort of thing out with the whole Locke-compass-Richard thing. It seems pretty certain that Ben will live, and that Sayid will have been the primary reason he turned out so evil. What goes around comes around, I guess.

Carmen Andres said...

maybe not *the* primary (i think his dad has that one pretty much tied up in a box with a ribbon on top), but definately one of the main reasons. one thing i didn't write about was the way this episode shows us how we can really screw up our understanding of our purposes or "destinies," especially when we isolate ourselves from others, the way sayid did. again, the value of a community.

Ken Brown said...

I don't know. Having a bad dad could explain some things, but participating in the slaughter of everyone you know... that takes something more than a lousy childhood--like, maybe being shot for something you haven't even done yet.

Still, that's a great point about Sayid, destiny and community!

Carmen Andres said...

ack, seems to me that kind of slaughter would take even more than that. i keep forgetting just how wicked and awful ben's acts have been. sheesh.

like "smallville", "lost" does a good job of exploring how our every day choices and experiences--as well as the influence of those around us--nudge us down the paths we walk. good stuff. sci-fi at it's best, i think.