The Moth Chase

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

Jacob have I loved

with 9 comments

Dear Natalie,

I am sorry to hear you’re hotel internet is down and I hope you are able to remedy the situation soon, because last night’s episode was a doozy, especially for the theologically minded. Good lord, how is one supposed to track all the possible biblical parallels and their overlapping, interweaving frames? I have long wanted more of Jacob and the Man in Black and this episode was absolutely fantastic on that front, though I have to admit, it left a few holes, questions, and puzzles that don’t exactly make sense to me. But more on that later. Let’s start with the shocking first scene: the birth of Jacob and his twin brother – can we just call him Esau? I mean, come on, he comes out covered in dark hair and with a definitively darker complexion. Sure, they are playing with the story, since in the Bible Jacob is born second and grasping at Esau’s heel. In the Bible, Jacob is also beloved of his mother, and Esau of his father. But since we don’t have a father figure (the island itself?), it is a bit hard to play that one out. The fact that they never tell us the MiB’s name also leads me to believe we are supposed to fill it in for ourselves.

Jacob and Esau aren’t the only biblical characters to surface via allusion and suggestion. We also have hints of Cain and Abel, but with Jacob in the role of Cain, sending his brother to a fate worse than death in the brilliant light/life source of the island. Then, of course, we have Adam and Eve, but with Esau/MiB and their crazy mother acting the parts. Esau, especially, plays a kind of Eve role, constantly seeking knowledge he is not supposed to have. And finally we have the intense eucharistic moment between Mother and Jacob, as pictured above. In offering him the wine with distinctly priestly gestures and saying “take and drink,” Mother mimics Jesus during the last supper – which is a theme we know the writers have been playing with since the start of the season. Once Jacob has drunk from the cup, Mother tells him that they are now the same – he has taken her life into him in an unmistakably sacramental way. And let’s not forget that this takes place near a rushing stream, invoking the continual image of baptism we have seen throughout the season. If we believe Mother that she is protecting the source of life, death and rebirth then this exchange is something like Jacob assuming the role of god/mediator for god. Then again, Mother is not an unambiguous figure so any neat theological notions about good and evil are undone when we see the carnage she left behind in slaughtering the original Others.

What does it all add up to? or mean? Really, I’m not sure and I don’t think there are supposed to be any complete allegories on Lost as much as suggestions and hints and themes. So let’s talk about some of those suggestions and themes, as well as knew knowledge we gained in this episode:

–the knowledge of good and evil: Mother lies to the boys about the nature of the world, insisting that there is nothing outside or beyond the island. Esau/MiB is clearly enraptured by the idea that there is something “out there” and seeks to know it. It makes his eternal quest to leave the island that much more believeable and sympathetic to me – he just wants to know what is out there. That said, by leaving to live with the Others he gains first hand knowledge of the good and evil his Mother has warned him about. I’m sure you noticed that her speech to the boys about the nature of humanity is echoed word for word by Esau when we hear him talking with Jacob as they watch the Black Rock head for the island. Jacob lacks this knowledge and doesn’t believe his Mother, even though he is the one who stays loyal to her. While the bleak pessimism of Esau and Mother is a bit over the top, I have to admit, Jacob ended up seeming pretty naive in his curiosity about humans and it makes me wonder how much we can trust his optimistic hope in their abilities.Which brings us to…

–the nature of humankind: a big theme throughout the series, tied to questions of fate and free will and the capacity of each of us to will both good and evil. What is curious to me is the way both Jacob and Esau see themselves as distinct from other humans, Jacob largely due to his lack of experience. But Esau talks about the Others like he is an observer watching a different species, or at least a distinctly different tribe or culture. Do they feel distinct simply because they were raised by such a Mother, or because her ability to bestow eternal life and a binding “do no harm” policy between them has, in fact, separated them from the rest of humanity?

–family relations: we have talked a lot about parental/child relationships in the series and those issues are back on the table. When Flocke told Kate that he had a crazy mother we see that he wasn’t joking. This primal mother figure might just take the cake as far as disfunctional parent/child relationships go. But the real theme of the episode is sibling relations, and sibling rivalry. This theme has not been explored nearly as much in other episodes/seasons, but we have had hints of its growing importance in alterna-world as Jack and Claire are brought together. Will it turn out that this foundational family relationship is even more important than the parent-child one?

–the nature of the island: I really should have put this first on the list, because finally we have been given some sort of explanation, however incomplete, about the nature of the island. It houses a great body of light that is “the purest, brightest light you’ve ever seen” – and which is the wellspring of the light that resides in each human being. It is also apparently capable of transporting people off the island and unsticking the island from time, as we learned in earlier seasons when someone after Esau was able to finish building that handy wheel under the Dharma Orchid station. We also know that this source is so powerful that to encounter it would be worse, far worse according to Mother, than death itself. Apparently at least one outcome of such an encounter is to be turned into a pillar of black smoke and hence we have…

–the origin story of the black smoke: it is not clear why or how Esau’s incapacitate/dead body is reincarnated as a pillar of black smoke upon floating into the light, but that is at least what happened to him. What is even less clear to me is the time line for Esau’s death, at least the death of his original body. We have seen several scenes where Jacob and Esau talked in these original bodies, the most significant being their scene on the beach at the end of season 5 when we learn that Esau is determined to find a loophole and kill Jacob. This conversation clearly takes place after the scenes we saw in this episode. Does that mean that Esau can materialize in the form of his own dead body? If so, why did he ever need to assume another form? Or was that assumption strictly strategic – a means of infiltrating our story and manipulating our characters, especially Ben so he will kill Jacob?Also, are we supposed to believe that in his transformation into black smoke upon contact with the Light, Esau became a force capable of extinguishing all Light if he ever leaves the island? Is he “the Light” now, or the Light’s inverse, and therefore he must be kept on the island to protect all of humanity? If that is the case, it is very intriguing to realize that Jacob did this to him and that Esau is, in fact, very much a victim in a cosmic game he didn’t want to play. It also raises the question of whether or not Jacob and his Mother were right: will all goodness die if Esau is allowed to leave?

There are so many more questions to ask and I personally could have taken a whole other hour of just Jacob and Esau (it was amazing how insignificant Kate and Jack seemed when we watched them discover Mother and Esau’s corpses in that flashback to way back when. Digression: did you notice how much more make-up Kate was wearing in that first season?). I really hope you can watch soon and comment, this week or next, because I’d love to know what you think of all this. And also, gentle readers, what did you think? What other new truths did we learn that I missed? What other lessons and allegories and bits of mythology are in play that might help us piece together the final bits as we march steadily to the grand finale?



Written by themothchase

May 12, 2010 at 10:00 am

9 Responses

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  1. I think there is a subversion of the Jacob/Esau story happening here. As we can see, it is not Jacob that is most beloved of the mother; it is instead the MiB that is her favored son. If we ignore the fact that Jacob is here the first-born son, the story seems to fit. The second-born child (the MiB) is deceptive, and he is also the mother’s favorite. The subversion happens when the MiB refuses what his mother wants for him. It is as if the twins were given the wrong name.


    May 12, 2010 at 3:37 pm

  2. I think it’s obvious that their mother was the black smoke before MiB was, since we saw what she did to the Others and their camp. And since we saw MiB’s body in the cave with mother, I think it’s safe to say that the black smoke took on his form as it seems to have done to other dead bodies (Christian, John Locke…) But I’m confused how Jacob could have killed his brother, MiB, since their mother said they could never harm each other. Or does throwing him down into the light not count as killing him?


    May 12, 2010 at 3:41 pm

  3. GREAT write-up! I really enjoyed your insight into this past episode. I am going to digest it, and read it through again.
    And yes, I did notice Kate had a LOT more makeup during the first season. Of course, they had just crashed and maybe it hadn’t worn off yet?
    Or, maybe not. 🙂

    Bryan Hulse

    May 13, 2010 at 8:25 am

  4. This has been discussed all over the internets, but…

    So I started reading “The Arabian Nights” before I go to sleep at night and last night I ran across the story of The Fisherman and the Jinni:

    He set it in front of him, and whilst he was looking at it attentively, such a thick smoke came out that he had to step back a pace or two. This smoke rose up to the clouds, and stretching over the sea and the shore, formed a thick mist, which caused the fisherman much astonishment. When all the smoke was out of the jar it gathered itself together, and became a thick mass in which appeared a genius, twice as large as the largest giant. When he saw such a terrible-looking monster, the fisherman would like to have run away, but he trembled so with fright that he could not move a step.


    The smoke monster is definitely a jinni and the island is definitely the enchanted lid that keeps him sealed. Jacob opened the bottle (perhaps by the mother’s design) and released the jinni.

    Thunder Jones

    May 13, 2010 at 10:08 am

    • Thanks for this, Thunder Jones. I just now caught up on some of the other Internet chatter and this is another great reminder of Lost’s ability to weave multiple strands of mythology and philosophy into their own semi-coherent whole. Jinni (or Jin) have a long and illustrious history in Islam as well. I don’t know if there is any connection between Islamic Jin and the Esau/Jacob stories in that tradition, but wouldn’t that be cool?


      May 13, 2010 at 1:15 pm

      • Jacob and Esau are barely mentioned in the Quran, and the Islamic depiction of Jinni specifically say that they are beings composed of smokeless fire. So at least from an Islamic standpoint, I find it difficult to see the smoke monster as a Jinn.


        May 14, 2010 at 4:37 pm

  5. Great write up, as always,

    Katelyn, I like your point about the twins being given the wrong names. It seems as though these two have been leading each other’s lives. MiB was the one “mother” (and maybe the island itself) intended to be the protector. Instead he becomes the destroyer and we get Jacob, the deeply flawed guardian. Are we seeing this pattern itself in Locke and Jack?


    May 13, 2010 at 10:39 am

  6. Hey Moth chasers!

    I haven’t had the time to follow you guys, but now that the semester is over (and I can procrastinate my grading) I am really enjoying catching up with your thoughts about Lost!

    I love your write up here on this episode.

    A small thought – and I don’t read up on the internet chatter – so ??? but

    I had the sense that the show is now pitting two different modes of understanding reality against one another: Mythic vs. Enlightenment. I realized that I am enamored by the “mythic” truths of the relations (good vs. evil, mother and child, us vs. them), motivations (wisdom vs. obedience), and symbols (light, smoke, death). The mother is not the myth-teller, but instead the priestess of the myth. Will there be an origin myth – the ultimate story-teller? (the MiB sure wanted to know the story – but she didn’t tell him; only requested adherence to her authority as a priest of the mythic light.)

    As for the two approaches to reality: The MiB embodies the enlightenment approach to the light. He wishes to harness the light, engineer it, generate technologies to disperse and increase and shape it. (His motives are, by my assumption, relatively pure, although certainly evil intention, as forewarned by the mother, would be disasterous.)

    Jacob embodies the mythic approach which accepts that any answer only yields more questions, that truth can only be housed in story and symbol, and that etiologies don’t answer questions, they convey truths.

    I think people who have become frustrated with Lost have left the show with the enlightenment frustration – the mythic quality of the show’s story will never supply answers, but rather, like the Babylonian creation story, or the myth of the oracle at Delphi, or the story of Jinn possession, explains things, conveys deep truths about reality, and generates reverence for human behavior and ritual practices.

    I am eager to see how the story-line about the two worlds and how the motivations of Whidmore (sp?) work into my impressions of these two competing world-views.

    I will definitely be keeping up with your commentary as we finish out a most engaging television experience!!!

    xoxo i

    ps – (Jinn enters bodies!!!, according to Islamic tradition! – thanks to Thunder Jones for the connection – totally missed it!)


    May 16, 2010 at 1:01 pm

  7. Someone mentions ‘mib’ as the destroyer, on the contrary, despite the being black smoke, the nemisis of Jacob & desperate to leave the island, he is no destroyer (regardless of the want to destroy, & much power as a black force, he cannot do) . His incarceration is much a ‘Revelation’ of the story, as is the dividing him & Jacob regarding ‘Mother’. The Biblical references lie within what is said in the Bible, what distortions have been made over time & translating into English text. Also the Egyptian connection (a much deeper perspective, as historical truth alongside myth are indeed, in reality very much distortions of the same things) Biblical stories are only rewritten from the ancient Vedics, the Hopis, Sumerians etc, Lost is not, using many cultural aspects to make a story, Lost is merely exposing the story is, & has always been, it is people over time that alter to fit a cultures man made religion, therefore as a viewer, it is not about the religion nor culture you come from to see what the island represents, there are no dogmatic terms, it just is what it is. That is the begining of captivity, having a faith & belief for the secret that holds the key, the good verses the evil etc. This is a clear interpretation of life itself and how we choose to live with the what is all around us. As such as Jack, Kate, Hurley, Locke etc are ‘lost’ on the island, alone in a vast ocean, There are others upon that same island/close by that hold keys, ways of escape, answers etc, this is then shown as the power of having anothers want will be only a selfish do not share knowledge scenario for the majority of us, the fighting that opressive fight to ‘get away’ is what becomes the focus instead of demanding the needed truth of the why? the being there. Life is mankind just wanting to be comfortable in life, have no fight to fight, the truth being until you see the underline of the secret you will never have a reality of comfort. The secret is Mib, he is stuck the others with Jacob are not. Yet he found the way off the island being used by them. He was not killed as much in the peacefull thankfull release as his mother was, the light he went into is the transformation of death to further life (afterlife) but he went into with rage, guilt, complete negativity etc thus a demonising transformation. He could control as he was able to have faith in himself with a self belief he could make it off the island. The fact his brother (Jacob) was whom caused his incarceration for ever, as in time the learnt to coming and going was apparent, the indication is cain and abel not to be ignored the stories are difrented in deed and names of Esau and Jacob and all brotherly spats of kinds in the Biblicals 1st testaments. Go further back to the original belief, sins were of woman, Eve becomes ‘Mother’ of cain and abel. I need to elaborate and explain the Lost storyline of Mother but am alas to be needed elsewhere please excuse me i will come back later.

    D Misty fyer

    December 29, 2010 at 7:43 am

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