Friday, May 15, 2009

'Lost' in the Story

(Warning: Big spoilers ahead)

Locke (whom we’ve just discovered is still actually very dead and this person who looks like Locke is actually something else—and likely pretty evil—masquerading as him) tells a deeply unsettled Ben, to do what he was asked to do: kill Jacob.

Jacob calmly looks at Ben and walks towards him.


Jacob: Benjamin, whatever he’s told you, I want you to understand one thing: You have a choice.

Ben: What choice?

Jacob: You can do what he asks, or you can go—

Jacob looks over at AntiLocke and then back at Ben.

Jacob: —leave us to discuss our . . . issues.

Ben is incredulous.

Ben: Oh, so now after all this time you’ve decided to stop ignoring me. Thirty-five years I lived on this island and all I ever heard was your name over and over. Richard would bring me your instructions, all those slips of paper, all those lists. And I never questioned anything. I did as I was told. But when I dared to ask to see you myself, I was told, “You have to wait. You have to be patient.” But when he asked to see you, he gets marched straight up here as if he were Moses.

AntiLocke looks over at Jacob.

Ben: So, why him? Hmm? What was it that was so wrong with me?

Jacob looks back at Ben as he stares plaintively at him.

Ben: What about me?!

Jacob pauses and says quietly:

Jacob: What about you?

Ben is stunned, then looks down and suddenly lunges at Jacob with the knife, stabbing him. Jacob collapses against Ben, his arms embracing around him as he slumps to the ground….

This scene was one of my favorites in Lost’s season finale, “The Incident,” an episode that suddenly and skillfully broadens and deepens the context of the story in which the lives of our favorite (and those we love to hate) characters takes place. (Warning: Big spoilers ahead.) We find out that the Losties are a part of a much bigger story, a battle of sorts between two entities/men/forces: Jacob and another who we discover has been masquerading as the AntiLocke (or UnLocke if you will). And as Doc Jensen points out, this scene has spiritual undertones of a confrontation of a man disillusioned and angry with his god—and there’s a lot in this scene that informs our own experience of what it means to be human in the broader context of the Story.

Ben is angry and disillusioned because the rewards he thinks he deserved have been withheld and because of the suffering he’s endured in spite of his faithful and passionate service—a feeling which is more than stoked by the entity that is masquerading as Locke. When Ben asks AntiLocke why he wants him to kill Jacob, AntiLocke tells Ben:
Because despite your loyal service to this island you got cancer. You had to watch your own daughter gunned down right in front of you. And your reward for those sacrifices? You were banished. And you did all this in the name of a man you’ve never even met. So the question is, Ben, why the hell wouldn’t you want to kill Jacob?
I couldn’t help but feel a great deal of sympathy for Ben. In spite of his awful choices, he’s still a wounded soul trying to make sense of his world and his pain—and it doesn’t help to have the voice of a devil whispering in your ear. I also couldn’t help but notice that in some ways, Ben’s experience hits a little too close to home, as his experience echoes our own too-often misguided approach to God. Somehow, we come to believe if we serve faithfully and without question, we deserve to be rewarded and protected in manner that garners the respect of others. We believe we deserve to be freed from suffering, that we will be blessed and even favored. The “health and wealth” gospel is a good example of this kind of misguided approach, but even those of us who reject that kind of false gospel fall prey to similar kinds of false expectations. When we suffer or don’t get the rewards we feel like we deserve, our instincts often lead us to blame or reject God rather than consider whether or not our understanding of God (and our relationship with him) is correct.

Ben seems to be falling prey to something like this. As we find out in “The Incident,” there is a larger story in place—and that story isn’t all about Ben (as much as he might think it is, consciously or not). There is something bigger going on. And with what we’ve glimpsed so far of Jacob, he seems knows a lot more than Ben about that context. And perhaps Ben’s disillusionment is not so much with Jacob himself but with his own expectations of how Jacob should operate rather than how things actually work or his own lack of understanding of the larger context or story in which he lives. And like Doc Jenson, I see a great deal of compassion mixed with sympathy and sorrow in Jacob’s face when he responses to Ben:
I was really intrigued by Jacob’s response to Ben’s angry question, “What about me?” When Jacob redirected the question back to Ben — “What about you?” — it landed like a dismissive insult to Ben. But, thinking all the best of Jacob, I don’t think that was his intention. Instead, I saw a face full of sympathy for guy whose life has been marked by a lot of neglect, a guy who, like Jack, really has no clue who he is or wants to be. I don’t think Jacob was trying to hurt Ben as much start him on the road to enlightenment. Of course, as Flannery O’Connor can attest, revelation and redemption are often, by necessity, painful, searing experiences. I look forward to seeing if Ben can find a real sense of self next season.
I like Doc’s idea that there is also an invitation in his words to see a bigger world, a bigger context, a bigger truth. If Doc is right, in Jacob’s response we glean that Ben does matter, that it is about him, but not the way he thinks. In spite of what Ben may glean from Jacob’s actions (or distance), he is important, but Jacob invites him to find a better and greater meaning and purpose in the knowledge that he’s part of something more than himself.

And I find this all echoes some paradoxes in the relationship we share with God in the Story in which we all live. Like Ben, we get mixed up on what it means to be blessed. Our expectations are wrong. But as we learn the context of the Story, we discover what we might think curses or the absence of God’s presence or favor are actually blessings; for example, Matthew records a list of “blessings” most folks see more as curses, yet Jesus describes them as positions in which God not only meets us but also works out good. Or like Hurley (who occasionally sees those whom he’s loved but have died), we are invited to see what we think are curses as gifts. And like Ben (and Sawyer, Jack and Kate), we get mixed up about love. Sometimes we get more wrapped up in being loved rather than loving others; in other words, we make love about us rather than others. But as we learn more about the larger Story in which we live, we also begin to learn that love is more about loving another than being loved. And like most of the characters on Lost, we get mixed up about what life is really about. In the context of the Story, we discover that we are indeed loved by a God who is love itself and that it is out of his love for us that he does what he does—and in that way, it is all about me and you. But that love changes everything, because in that love we also discover that we are invited to take a role in that greater and larger Story, one that is ultimately all about God and others. And in the end we discover that what Jesus says is true, that one must lose his life to save it. But, unbelievably, the life we are saved to is far beyond what we can imagine.

Of course, we don’t know yet if Jacob is really as good we might think (or hope). And we still don’t know much of what kind of battle is taking place, or what the stakes are. It could turn out that Ben’s anger at Jacob is justified, that Jacob is the equivalent of a false god and unworthy of Ben’s faithful service (as misguided as it might be). But for now, I deeply appreciate how this part of this story we call Lost gives enough of an echo to help us understand our own Story, bringing God-talk into these open spaces once more.

(Images: ABC) lostctgy

5 comments:

Ken Brown said...

Great thoughts! This episode was incredible! I was stunned to see Locke's body come out of that box, but it all makes perfect sense. It seems pretty clear now that the "antilocke" (heh) is another manifestation of Smokey, who simply changed forms to look like Alex in the Temple, which means Smokey and Jacob were always enemies rather than allies. That could explain why Ben never saw Jacob--Ben was trying to control Smokey and "you can't serve two masters."

I certainly resonated with the image of Jacob showing up at the key moments in each of our characters lives. Before it was revealed that the real Locke was still dead I expected him to have some sort of crisis of conscience when he realized that Jacob was actually the one who saved his life, but obviously that wasn't meant to be. Instead Jacob's death felt very much like a self-sacrifice. Surely someone with his kind of power could have stopped Ben had he chosen to, but he did not. It felt very much like Jesus and Judas in the garden...

But if that is where they are going with it (will we have a *real* resurrection?), how do we square that with all the horrible things the Others have done, apparently, in Jacob's name? Hmmm, that sounds familiar too...

Ok, I'm rambling, but what a show, huh?! And that ending! Holy son of a hydrogen bomb! I'm guessing they're gonna say it was far enough underground (and a small enough yield) to merely bury the energy pocket and not destroy the island, but whether that will actually change the timeline (or only complete the loop), who knows? Poor Juliet!

James Pate said...

I was put off by Jacob's response to Ben, but I did notice that there was pain in Jacob's eyes, as you say. So maybe he was encouraging Ben to look beyond himself rather than putting him down.

taddelay said...

Jacob's "What about you?" reminded me of God's retort at the end of Job... not that he didn't matter, but that the story was too big to grasp on the level he was playing at.

Carmen Andres said...

ken, great point about the two masters! and I too was thinking of Jesus and & Judas--I think it gives us some insight into the issues Judas could have been struggling with as well as the compassion with which Jesus approached those who are lost in their woundedness and brokeness (if Jacob is as good as I hope, that is).

and taddelay, good call on the Job angle! I thought of this angle in the sense of how we know the context of Job's story while ben and the others are in the situation of Job, their perspective limited.

Fronge said...

Hi.Please do mention the season and episode of the show above in future.