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Lost: Similar choices? Or opposites?

In the jungle, Sayid has gone to meet and kill the MiB by Dogen’s instruction. When he stabs MiB (in Locke’s form), Smokey pulls the knife from his chest and chides Sayid for being duped by Dogen. When Sayid asks what MiB wants from him, he tells him he wants Sayid to deliver a message.

MiB: Sayid, if you do this for me—

He pauses.

MiB: What if I told you that you could have anything that you wanted? What if I said you could have anything in the entire world?

Sayid: I would tell you that the only thing I ever wanted died in my arms, and I’ll never see it again.

MiB moves closer to Sayid and looks down at him.

MiB: But what if you could?

Sayid goes back to the temple to “deliver the message,” and seeks out Dogen, who confesses to him about a dark time in his past. He’d just received a promotion at work, and went out to celebrate—but he had too much to drink. As he was driving his 12-year-old son home, he got in a car accident and his son was fatally injured.

Dogen: And then, in the hospital, a man came to me, a man I had never met. And he told me that he could save my son’s life, but I’d have to come here, to this island, where I would have a new job.

He pauses.

Dogen: And I could never see my boy again.

Sayid: Who was this man?

Dogen: His name was Jacob.

Sayid: Jacob drives a hard bargain.

Dogen: The man outside, I take it he offered you a similar bargain?

Sayid: Yes.
The above scene from last night's Lost "Sundown" is a good one in which to get at the natures of Jacob and the MiB/Smokey (currently using Locke’s form—at least, that’s what we can surmise at this point). At first glance, the choices do have some similarity. They both appear to be somewhat cruel choices--or "bargains"--involving bringing a loved one back to life. Even though he doesn’t know what choice MiB offered Sayid, Dogen believes there is a similarity between them—and Sayid agrees. Though Sayid’s agreement could be part of his playing of Dogen, even as a viewer I didn’t overtly question the similarity until I thought about it. But there are significant differences—both in what kind of being is offering those choices as well as the choices themselves.

MiB and Jacob both appear to be other than human, or at the very least, with powers beyond normal human experience. Both know more than the islanders (or us) and are waging a larger battle. Both deal out tidbits of the knowledge, but neither is entirely forthcoming. Both seem manipulative. Both appear to have limited power, play by rules yet undefined, and seek to use humans to help achieve victory or power. But we’ve seen subtle differences in their approaches. MiB is destructive; people drop like flies around him. While Jacob allows people to die (i.e., Nadia on the street and last night’s temple folks), he does not directly take a hand in those deaths. MiB is angry, resentful and physically relishes power. While Jacob allows bad things to happen to the people he’s around, he does not seem to relish it the way that MiB does—and even, at times, seems sad and compassionate. Now, we could argue that both approaches are bad, but I agree with those that suggest that Jacob’s actions could be explained in that he is aware of and constrained by certain rules—and I think that can be supported by the choices offered to Sayid and Dogen.

Dogen’s choice is offered to him after his own destructive actions have harmed his son. Jacob, in a sense, offers Dogen redemption from his actions. But—in a theme that the series has delved into relentlessly—redemption requires repentance and sacrifice. For Dogen, it means he will not be able to see his son again. Is this a condition orchestrated by Jacob? Or is Jacob constrained by some law of the universe that requires a sacrifice to balance some sort of cosmic scale and offering to use whatever power he has to tip the scale if Dogen is willing to offer the required sacrifice?

There is no redemption in Sayid’s choice, however. Instead, Nadia’s life is dangled in front of him as a carrot in order to get him to do what MiB needs done. By Sayid’s own words, even he is aware of that. And that carrot is sweetened by the very things MiB himself appears motivated by: revenge, anger and power. Unlike Dogan’s choice, Sayid’s choice leads directly to death of others—by his own hand as well as at the smokey hands of MiB. And unlike Dogan’s choice, Sayid’s choice does not bring any sort of redemption but instead costs him his very soul. “It’s already too late for me,” as he tells Ben. And the look on his face tells us he has indeed given himself up to darkness.

Sayid’s fate is further enhanced by his Sideways story, where he comes to a sort of redemptive moment (or, at the very least, a moment of self-awareness) as he tells Nadia he has been trying to make up for of all the things he’s done but still does not deserve her. In the Sideways world, he knows he’s broken and in need of redemption. This Sayid is completely swallowed by darkness on the island. It is "sundown" on his soul. He has, to borrow a phrase, gone to the Dark Side.

The differences between the choices is a thought-provoking one—not only in giving us possible clues as to the natures of Jacob and MiB but also the choices we face and make in our own lives. It gives us pause to consider the motives with which we make our own choices—and who we are making them for. Do we make them out of love—which often requires sacrifice? Or are we making them out of our selfish desires—like power, anger, or resentment? And who is offering us those choices? Because the choices given us can sometimes tell us a lot about those offering them.

On a last note, I continue to be fascinated by Lost’s exploration of the relationship between redemption, sacrifice, repentance and life. There is much which I think echoes and resonates with Scripture. While Lost’s exploration seems to be leaning more towards a more Eastern ying-yangish type of philosophy, there are also echoes of the larger Story, in which a great Love revealed itself in a sacrifice that brought life not just for one but for all.

I could be falling for one of the biggest cons in television history if Jacob turns out to be as evil as MiB, but I think this episode gives us some clues that there is a distinct difference between the two.

But never mind what I think--what does Lost expert extraordinaire Doc Jensen think about them?! Come on, Doc, post!

(Images: ABC)


Beth said…
"While Lost’s exploration seems to be leaning more towards a more Eastern ying-yangish type of philosophy, there are also echoes of the larger Story, in which a great Love revealed itself in a sacrifice that brought life not just for one but for all."

Interesting post, and I've been thinking much the same thing as this season proceeds. In fact, I wonder if there are similarities to the Vorlons vs. Shadows plotline of Babylon 5.
Ken Brown said…
Great post!

I've also been thinking about how it was, in a sense, Jacob's fault that Nadia died. If he hadn't distracted Sayid, there is a good chance he would have seen the car coming and warned Nadia of the danger, and Jacob did nothing to save her (or Juliet, or Charlie, or...) like he did for Dogen's son. There are certainly a lot of unanswered questions about the justice and fairness of Jacob's actions--not unlike the questions we all have about God. Of course, there is also the question of whether that is a legitimate comparison.

Also, what did you make of the ending of the Sideways story? I find it interesting that Sayid actually kills more people in the sideways story (three verses two; though he indirectly kills quite a few more on-Island), yet I feel very differently about those deaths than I do about the on-Island ones. Maybe it's just because Keemey is so easy to hate, or maybe it says more about me as a viewer than it does about Sayid...?
Carmen Andres said…
beth, thanks for stopping by! and interesting comparison w/B5...

ken, i thot of touching on the comparison between the questions we have about God w/the ones that arise around Jacob when it comes to suffering and justice/fairness (like your categories), but have come down (for now) on the side that it's not a legitimate comparison because of the messiness of the clues of limitations/rules surrounding Jacob and MiB, making them less than all-powerful and even allow for them as flawed beings needing such regulation/limitations. but one tantalizing question i'm waiting to have answered is whether or not Jacob's actions have a different spin (larger purpose and even compassionate side) to them than they appear to now when we have the WHOLE story?
Ken Brown said…
I agree: I feel like in the end Jacob's actions are going to resolve into something redemptive, whereas the Man in Black may give a convincing spiel, but in the end he offers only destruction. On the other hand, I'm not certain the limitations on Jacob's action necessarily rule him out as a stand-in for God (the limitations of fantasy being what they are). Maybe I've just been reading too much of Job lately, but the biblical God as well seems to operate within certain rules and limitations, if nothing else in regards to human freedom.

The thing I keep coming back to is that Jacob did not even try to defend himself against Ben. This tells me that what Jacob is capable of doing, and what he is willing to do, are not necessarily the same. I see no such hesitation on the Man in Black's part.
Carmen Andres said…
Jacob's death was one of the strongest Christ-like images of the series, imho. strikingly similar to the image at the end of the HP series.

interesting about Job. that's one of the comparisons i keep coming back to as well. i'll be curious to see if Jacob does end up a God or Christ-like figure as to whether his decisions and actions are based on some sort of rule/balance philosophy/universe or if they are based on LOVE. dare i hope? heh.
Don said…
Great thoughts Carmen, a few fans have begun to talk about jumping the shark in some of these episodes. God talk aside, you will have a lot of very dissapointed fans if there is not some sort of redemption and positive resolution for all these flawed but lovable characters. We have Locke in a grave, home with a good wife, and MiB, yet he was to most faith filled character. Same for Sayid,his deep inner struggle reflected his character, and Sawyer, who does not want him to come on on the good side?
Carmen Andres said…
with all the emphasis and exploration of redemption, i can't help thinking Locke will return (i read somewhere someone's prediction that Locke will be ressurected as the "new" Jacob--i can see that). as for the other characters? this series is playing with the idea that when redemption is offered, repentance and trust are needed to embrace/accept it. and that could leave the door open for some to reject it...