The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

Because You Left

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Hey Kathryn,

Oh my, this is going to be fun!  I was very aware while watching this episode that as we blog this season together you are going to know what happens, having already seen season 5, and I’m going to be utterly in the dark, confused and lost (ha ha) as I watch it for the first time!  This is going to be either totally fun, or totally infuriating…at least for you!!

What a great episode.  Unlike a lot of Lost fans, I wasn’t crazy about season 4, although it did have two things I loved: the introduction of Daniel (forget Jack, forget Sawyer – it’s all about Daniel for me!) and his crazy time travel drawing Desmond into a larger role, and Locke’s name change to Jeremy Bentham.  It seems that these are two themes to be developed in season 5.

I’m sure there’s lots already out there on the whole Locke, Bentham, Hume game.  I honestly can’t fit them together neatly, which is why I love this name change so much; it’s not straight allegory.  John Locke, an enlightenment philosopher known for his empiricism, had immense influence on David Hume (for whom Desmond David Hume is named).  I could never line Lost’s JL up neatly with the philosopher, but I doubt we’ll be able to line him up too neatly with the historical Jeremy Bentham either…which is what makes it fun (like Daniel being named for real life physicist, Michael Faraday).

I know Bentham primarily as the architect of the panopticon concept – in essence, a space in which one figure has the ability to see everything around him to such an extent that everything in that field of vision feels the presence of constant surveillance even when they aren’t being physically watched.  I’m sure this relates to our island, but I haven’t worked it out yet.  But the historical Bentham was also the father of utilitarianism.  So we have our Lost character embodying two philosophical schools, moving from empiricism to utilitarianism as he changes his name…and in so doing, gaining some sort of panoptic presence in time.  Ok, I’m sure we’ll get to develop this idea more as our correspondence progresses – I just wanted to introduce some of the necessary concepts to get us going.

So we open on the time-traveling island (or time-traveling islanders – not yet clear).  Our island friends are moving around through time, managing to stay together, but shifting in and out of relationship with other island inhabitants we’ve come to know like Ethan, Richard and Desmond.  Back in the real world, Ben and the Oceanic 6 face the reality of a dead Locke/Bentham, who has apparently been visiting them, trying to convince them to return to the island. We find out at the end of the episode that Locke returned to the real world knowing he would have to die to accomplish this task…mystery ensues.

Ok, so Sun is now a total badass who wants to kill Ben.  Kate faces losing Aaron and goes on the run again.  Sayid is a total badass assassin who takes Hurley on the run (lots of badass, lots of running).  Hurley is still Hurley (best line of the episode: Hurley to Sayid, “maybe if you ate more comfort food, you wouldn’t have to go about shooting people”).

I know when it comes to fictional time travel you aren’t supposed to think too hard about it, otherwise your head just explodes, but there are two things that intrigue me about Lost’s version of this trope.  First, Daniel insists that you can’t change what ‘happens’…which leads me to wonder, what is meant by a ‘happening’?  It seems that happenings are social events – meetings, exchanges between people, interactions in time – but they aren’t necessarily what happens to an individual body.  Wounds that happen to bodies move through time with the body (like John needing to tend to his wound as he shifts time, rather than it simply appearing or disappearing depending on temporal context).

Along those lines, you can carry objects through time with you – clothing, backpacks with notebooks in them, and compasses – but you can’t necessarily carry people with you (which is why Richard, Ethan and others disappear at the shifts).  There’s lots more to be said on this (like, so how do our people manage to stay bonded to each other through time, especially when they’re grouping is made up of flight 815 survivors, scientists from the freighter and Juliet?), but I’ll leave it at this question for now: what is the relationship between bodies and time that Lost is trying to play with here?

And second, I usually tire of love stories – the romance between a man and a woman usually bores me to death in tv shows.  And while I couldn’t give a crap about the Jack/Kate/Sawyer triangle, I’m totally captivated by Desmond and Penny, as well as Daniel and Charlotte, and I think this has everything to do with time travel dimensions to their relationships.  After stopping Sawyer from knocking on the hatch door, Daniel is inspired to do so by his concern over Charlotte’s scary nosebleed.  Perhaps what intrigues me most of all, then, is this relationship between Desmond and Daniel that endures through time – my two favourite characters, of course.  I love the idea that a ‘memory’ can travel into a mind through a ‘dream’ – I don’t even know what to with that yet, but it was a great moment that stimulated my imagination no end!

Ok, I’ll leave it there – what was it like for you returning to this episode…and please answer that question without giving any spoilers!

oxo,
Natalie

Hello Natalie,

I am right there with you – it is so fun to be back in the world of Lost and actually really fantastic to revisit this season in prep for the grand finale. I watched this season in a blur of stolen moments while working on my dissertation last summer (thank you, DVR) and returning now is giving me a whole new perspective on the season. Your injunction not to spoil anything for you will be hard, because it all starts to blend together, but using my trusty episode recap and trying to stick to the episode at hand, I think I can do it.

So let’s start with Jeremy Bentham/John Locke. I agree – I love that these names are suggestive and allusive, but not allegorical. And I love that somewhere along the way the Locke we know felt the need to take a new name when he returned to the “real world” in order to eventually return (dead?) to the island. You have got to be right that there is a panopticon reference going on in the choice of Bentham – we do know, after all, that he returned to keep tabs on folks and he clearly acts on many of them (Jack especially) as an all-knowing, all-seeing presence. In addition to whatever is going on there, there is something in the transition from one moral code to the other. Empiricist though he was, the historical John Locke was still a big believer in the natural law, especially a natural moral code. In Utilitarianism there is no natural moral code, just the guideline to consider all actions from the standpoint of the greatest good for the maximum number of people. So when our John Locke realizes that he has to die in order to accomplish the greater good of bringing everyone back to the island, he has moved from the Locke who is searching the island for its natural law to the Bentham who is willing to make the sacrifice for the greater good. Or something like that – and also something more!

Speaking of other fun name tidbits: did you notice at the end of Season 4 that Ben’s fake name in Tunisa was Dean Moriarty. This is a character in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road. But as suggested in The League of Extraordinary Gentleman, that Moriarty might be related to the infamous Professor Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes’ arch nemesis. If Ben is a kind of anti-Holmsian character, what does that make Locke? But I digress…

I look forward to paying attention to the time-travel more carefully this time round, since it is the big theme of the whole season. The question of what we can and cannot change in relationship to fate and destiny has been a preoccupation of the show all along. Adding the extra time dimension only makes this theme clearer to me, because in a sense how we relate to our own actions, consequences, and becoming in time has everything to do with what we think of fate or destiny. Though, of course, the time flashes also act as a kind of “hand of God” device, preventing the characters from controlling their own actions, sometimes in ways they want (Locke flashing out of the scene just before Ethan shoots him again) and sometimes in ways they don’t want (Daniel flashing out before he can finish telling Desmond what to do).

There is much more I want to say about big themes of the show and hopes for season 6, but we have 16 more episodes to go and not much time, so I will save these reflections for other posts.

Glad I am when I am now.
K

Written by themothchase

December 28, 2009 at 1:13 am

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