I must apologize for the belatedness of this post. In following several threads of thought, I got good and lost in myth and legend. Following the powerful and neatly packaged (pun totally intended), "Ab Aeterno," which buttoned up the series nicely for those who relate to the Judeo-Christian and Islamic canons, it seems that the writers thought it prudent to mix it up a bit. I can only assume that the clarity of Richard's story was necessary to carry us through the complex story which will unfold over the remainder of the series.
When "Locke" is talking to Charles Widmore on Hydra Island, he tells him, "A wise man once said that war is coming to this island, I think it just got here." This is a very ironic statement, given that it was Widmore who said it to John Locke in "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham." Widmore's exact words as quoted in Lostpedia are: "Because there's a war coming, John. And if you're not back on the Island when that happens, the wrong side is going to win." If we are safe in assuming at this point that Widmore and his people are at war with the Man in Black and his people, then two questions arise. First, which side is the right side? Second, why did Locke need to be "back on the Island"? If we assume that Widmore is fighting for Jacob, but Locke's purpose was only to aid the Man in Black's murder plot, then we have to assume the Man in Black intervened somehow.
It seems to me that what the Man in Black "had to go through" ("The Incident") to kill Jacob largely included manipulating Ben Linus both on Island and off. Specifically, he made two plays that Widmore did not intend—both of which involved Ben. Although Widmore knew that Locke was told he would have to die before returning to the Island, he dismissed the knowledge, sending John along with Abaddon. The two plays the Man in Black made (via Ben) were that Ben killed Abaddon (which then allowed him to kill Locke), then "Locke" had Ben kill Jacob. In fact, Ben seems now to have been a pawn of the Man in Black since he saw his mother in the jungle ("The Man Behind the Curtain")—in much the same way that Richard saw Isabella ("Ab Aeterno").
The Man in Black
It is clear now why as many of the Oceanic Six as possible needed to be brought back to the Island. Not only is the Man in Black trapped on the Island by Jacob, but it seems he is also trapped by Jacob's candidates. His goal is to take them all off the Island with him, which is presumably easier than killing them. The reason I say that is because I can't find a definitive record of the Smoke Monster directly killing anyone who was a candidate, which suggests that he cannot kill candidates for the same reason he could not kill Jacob.
In this episode, the Man in Black asks Sun to join him, dangling the carrot that Jin is with him, but saying that he doesn't want to make her do anything against her will. However, he says this in the same breath as telling her that he gave the people at the Temple the choice to come with him or die. In other words, it is more of an "offer she couldn't refuse"—to quote "The Godfather." He seems surprised when she runs, and pursues her through the jungle. If he really meant she had a choice, why did he pursue her? We have seen numerous instances where characters have manipulating others into making a choice, when it was not, in fact, their choice at all—especially Ben, who is an infamous liar (though still considers himself "one of the good guys.")
The question of how to reconcile this discrepancy in Ben (and potentially the Man in Black) drove me to look into the supernatural concept of "the angel of death." I found several interesting things, but what struck me most was the information I found on the archangel, Samael. An important figure in the Talmud, a text of Judaism, Samael's chief role is as an angel of death. This passage from Wikipedia is particularly relevant to LOST:
In Jewish lore, Samael is said to be the angel of death... Yalkut I, 110 of the Talmud speaks of Samael as Esau's guardian angel... [Some] Hebrew scholars say that it was Samael who tempted Eve in the guise of the Serpent. Samael is also sometimes identified as being the angelic antagonist who wrestled with Jacob...Esau is the older brother of Jacob in Hebrew texts, and so his name has been tentatively applied to the Man in Black since his first appearance in "The Incident." In the story, Esau promised his birthright (a blessing given to the firstborn) to Jacob in exchange for a bowl of stew. Later, Jacob disguised himself as Esau to receive the blessing from their blind father. When Esau learned what had happened, he vowed to kill Jacob.
While there are parallels between Esau and the Man in Black, the angel Samael parallels the Smoke Monster more. The mural in the "Cerberus chamber" (where Ben was judged) depicted a form of serpent alongside the image of Anubis, an Egyptian god of the dead. Similar to Anubis—but more severe—the character of Samael is dark, and his duties are of death and destruction regardless of his status as good or evil. Indeed, he is seen as evil which serves the purpose of "God's severity."
This is important for our discussion, as it seems there is some confusion among the general audience (myself included) about how the show defines good and evil. LOST has demonstrated extraordinary sophistication in the way it depicts the complexities of this conflict. When we understand that death and destruction can be a part of God's plan, such as the plagues on Egypt, then we can not only entertain the thought that the Man in Black might not be distinctly evil, but we can also understand how both Ben and Widmore can be considered "good guys."
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The Godfather: An exploration of man's capacity for evil.