Thursday, February 18, 2010

"LOST: The Substitute"

DISCLAIMER: In a previous post, I discussed the importance of ABC's "LOST." Therefore, I am beginning a series which briefly explores thoughts on the show with respect to FITmedia and Truth in Fiction. Being as the posts are philosophical in nature, I will try to keep story spoilers to a minimum. However, because many of the philosophical pillars are tied to critical events, it is impossible to discuss without some spoilers. For those of you not following the show, I hope that these posts will be worthwhile on their own merit, and should they inspire you to watch the show, that they will not have ruined the plot for you. You have been warned.

"The Substitute"

As with many titles in LOST, the title of this episode has multiple meanings. Not only does it refer literally to John Locke's new job at the end of the episode, but it also refers to the selecting of "candidates" to replace Jacob. It is difficult to say what makes them candidates. Given their histories, only two of the remaining candidates could definitely be labeled as "good" (#8 Hugo Reyes and #23 Jack Shephard).

As for the remaining four, #42 is listed as "Kwon," which could be Sun (who I take to be good), or Jin (who is good, but has a cruel history). Sayid is listed as #16, and while serving the good of the survivors on the Island, he has history as a torturer and an assassin. Number 15 is James Ford, a con man apparently by nature, though it is possible that Jacob's intervention ("The Incident") led him down that path. And finally, #4 is John Locke, the focus of this episode who is no longer a candidate.

The Nature of Good and Evil

In the Judeo-Christian faiths, good and evil are analogous with "light" and "darkness." I take this to mean that evil is then defined as the absence of good, just as darkness is the absence of light. Up to this point in the show, it is difficult to say that anyone can really be defined as evil by this definition. All the characters have shown some redeemable qualities (even Ben, who refused to kill baby Alex, then felt remorse for her death). However, the Bible also refers to people "walking in darkness" which seems to indicate a state of being lost more than the act of doing wrong.

By that definition, Locke is a character who fluctuates in this capacity. However, if good is the adherence to purpose and evil is the lack of purpose, then perhaps it is not in the capacity of people to be truly evil. That being said, to willingly ignore one's own purpose in pursuit of another purpose may constitute spiritual theft. To keep another person blind to his purpose for the sake of one's own purpose or stolen purpose, is an evil, in my estimation. To sense that one has a purpose—and to have a need to fill it—is a prime motivator for man, and the entire discussion of philosophy.

Which brings me to the philosopher, John Locke. I highly recommend at least reading through his Wikipedia page for material to ponder along with the character's story, but it is very important that anyone interested in thought and philosophy add Two Treatises of Government to his reading list. The interesting thing to note is that while fictional John Locke calls himself a "man of faith" and a "hunter" ("Further Instructions"), his namesake is a scientist—a man of rational thought.

His postulate that man is born a blank slate or tabula rasa, seems to contradict the whole struggle that is our fictional character, and indeed is the whole show. LOST Locke desires to be a hunter and a man of faith, but his nature is that of a farmer and a scientist. Is a person bound by the laws of his own nature, or can he rebel against his nature successfully? If he can, should he—or is it a form of sin to rebel against a set nature? Can a person change his nature, thus negating the argument? Are we born with a purpose and an an innate nature, or are we a culmination of outside influences on a blank slate (nurture)?

The Life and Death of John Locke?

This episode seems to mark the absolute death of John Locke. We see his body in the coffin ("There's No Place Like Home"), we see how he died ("The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham"), then we see his body on the beach ("The Incident"). Yet the question remained, "Is he really dead forever?"

Enter Season 6 with its flash-sideways and we see John Locke alive and well in "LA X." There was hope that this character was not dead to the series. However, with this episode, the writers of LOST seem to have finished off the character of John Locke—the man who could miraculously walk again ("Walkabout"), the man of faith ("Man of Science, Man of Faith"), the man of wisdom ("White Rabbit" and "The Moth"). In "The Substitute," we see the clearly decaying remains of Locke lowered into the ground amongst all the other "survivors" of Oceanic 815. And his name is crossed off by the Man in Black, in Locke's form.

But what of the surviving Locke—the man that did not crash on the Island, but went home to his life? He gives up. He sells out. He buckles under the weight of what he "cannot" do. He decides that there are no such things as miracles. It seems that the absence of the Island has stolen Locke's very spirit, unless, of course it was not his spirit to begin with. Perhaps that Locke we knew in Season 1 was not really the real Locke. Perhaps he was always an frustrated man who never was special until he came to the Island.

I found myself identifying with this character, so for me, this is especially painful. I love the archetype of the wiseman, who knows his place and seems to be in tune with nature. I even felt his pain as he began to struggle with deeper questions about his purpose, becoming lost in the darkness for a period of time. Even though he doubted his own faith, circumstances proved his doubt wrong ("Live Together, Die Alone"), and his vision was cleared. This process repeated, of course, but it always left him closer to his destiny as the leader of the Island. Or so we were led to believe.

However, it seems that this entire process was merely for the benefit of the Man in Black to use him to get to Jacob. I am inclined to believe that the Man in Black is evil simply because of this manipulation. As I said earlier, it seems to me that the theft of purpose is an evil, and the substitution of a false purpose for a real one, certainly counts as theft. For a character like the Man in Black—one who purports a faithlessness toward people and toward the Island—to manipulate a man of faith in order to kill the one man who asks for the faith of his people, seems blasphemous (if that is not too strong a word).

And yet, the sideways timeline seems to reveal that Locke found his calling as a teacher and a [soon-to-be] married man. Is this the life or the death of John Locke?

LOST Season 6!
Two Treatises on Government by John Locke.

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