Thursday, February 16, 2006

political microcosm on Lost

I'm not exactly sure how to interpret what happened on tonight's episode of Lost.

(Spoilers aplenty, so click away if you don't want to know)

For everyone's sake, I'm going to ignore the tree frog story line. RIP, tree frog. I like you more than I like James.

The main plotline: Rousseau finds Sayed in the jungle, and leads him to one of her traps which has caught a strange man. Sayed cuts him down, and Rousseau shoots him with an arrow, which goes through his shoulder. Rousseau found Sayed so that he could question the stranger; Rousseau is certain he is an Other.

At the rest of the story plays out, Sayed represents the US Military, Locke represents the Administration, and Jack represents those opposed to the Administration.

Sayed tortures the guy, and by the end of the episode, the stranger hasn't given up any information, but from the look in his eyes it seemed to both DH and I that he was lying to Sayed and he really is an Other.

Jack's furious about the torture -- but this makes no sense! Jack has been trying to raise an army to fight the Others! Or is that all just for show? Jack's main problem in this episode is that he has no control over either Sayed or the situation, so he's a bit whiny. Shut up, Jack.

Locke, much to my surprise, recognizes that they are at war with the Others and what Sayed is doing is necessary.

The episode ends with Sayed professing his utter lack of guilt to Charlie. He knows what he did was right because of what the Others did to them: hung Charlie and left him for dead, kidnapped Claire, the raft incident, kidnapping Walt, doing who-knows-what to Michael... they can never be safe while the Others are out there. Sayed will never forget what they did, but he says that Jack and the rest, they've already forgotten.


Here's what I don't understand about this particular episode. Jack is typically the most sympathetic guy, the clear leader. Here, he's not. He is inexplicably dense about this situation. He pulls a typical Lost act and doesn't ask a single question, he just sets himself against Sayed.

Then there's Locke, who is progressing down the fruitcake path episode by episode, so that when he actually agrees with Sayed, and helps him, I was actually taken aback.

Finally, there's Sayed, who as written is a tremendously appealing character. Sure, he was a torturer with the Iraqi Republican Guard, but that's not all of who he is. This isn't the first time Sayed has tortured someone on the show, but this instance has a lot more resonance: last time, Sawyer was just being his typical assinine self. Given the circumstances of the episode, squeezing the stranger for truthful information is the smart thing to do.

Which is where it all comes apart for me! Mainstream thought says that torture is bad! How can they have the gorgeous Sayed torturing the guy? Does the thrill of the violence outweigh the moral repugnance? We're supposed to like Sayed, our collective hearts broke for him when Shannon was killed. What kind of mind game is this?

And Locke? Who still retains guru status even though he's a bit squirrely -- how could he agree to the torture? And how could Jack disagree with it?

I think Jack's disagreement is the key here: we're supposed to agree with Jack, but he's not the point-of-view character here; this is Sayed's episode.

And it's Sayed who is telling us all never to forget what they've done to us, never to forget that our enemy is ruthless and will do whatever he can to destroy us, and we have to do what we can to protect ourselves. And since this episode showed the Iraqi army using sarin gas, a WMD, in an Iraqi marketplace, we can now rest assured that there really were WMDs in Iraq.

Wait! What's that you're saying? You mean Sayed wasn't talking about 9/11 and the radical Islamists? He was talking about murders and kidnappings and the Others? What's the difference?

Later: I speed-read through 18 pages of commentary on tonight's episode over at TWoP, and out of all that, only one person complained about "propaganda being shoved down our throats." Many people disliked the episode because of the "cheat" aspect of the counter and for other reasons -- some found the flashbacks boring. But on the whole, the political anvils this episode dropped were largely ignored. I'm amazed. Of course now I've posted (page 19), we'll see what everyone has to say. I just don't see how you can not see all the statements the writers were making this week...

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