Overthinking Lost: Episodes 3.1-3.8

Overthinking Lost: Episodes 3.1-3.8

You asked me for my Grand Unified Theory of Lost, and I give you one. I have three words for you: aliens, and time travel.

Question 2: I’m curious: what do you think is going to happen to Michael and Walt?  Do you think Ben Linus will actually let them go home or what?

Well, if my above theory is correct—and I always assume my theories are correct, even when they are completely absurd—then Ben didn’t send them to a place but to a time.  Either Michael and Walt will go home with no memories of what happened to them, or they’ll go home and realize the Island doesn’t exist in this time period.  They’ll bring a rescue crew to the Island’s coordinates but won’t find anything there—just the weird energy signatures Penny’s crew found.

Question 3: As you said last week, John Locke is a very complicated character.  What do you think he really represents?  Is he supposed to be man in a state of nature, or is he just a wimp who lets his daddy push him around?

This is a very difficult question that I don’t think I’ll be able to answer in full today.  So far, over the last six weeks, I’ve claimed that Locke is Jesus, Locke is man in the state of nature, Locke is Simon from The Lord of the Flies.  In this week’s episodes, Lost gave us a new parallel: Locke is both Cain and Abel.  Both the hunter and the farmer.  Simultaneously loved by God and cursed by Him.  Both a believer and an unbeliever.

So I think the show’s writers want me to be confused by Locke right now!  Remind me to come back to this question later in the series when I know more about John Locke.  For instance, how did he get paralyzed?  Well, I dunno!  So I can’t answer your question, not just yet.

The Island thumper in action.

The Island thumper in action.

Question 4: What do you think about the postmodern telling of the tale—the flashbacks, the shuffled order of events, and so on?

I’m not quite sure I’d go as far as saying Lost is postmodern in nature.  Flashbacks alone do not a postmodern text make.  If Lost were a novel, you wouldn’t see them as flashbacks, anyway.  It would just say something like, “When Sun was a little girl she broke a glass ballerina and blamed it on the maid.”  That’s not really postmodern.  That’s just a tense shift.

But then, “postmodern” is a tricky word to begin with.  Back in college I took a course on fantasy and science-fiction writing.  The first day, the professor said, “Don’t write anything postmodern.”  That’s easy when you’re writing in standard speculative sub-genres, but sometimes there’s a real overlap.

Take something like “Flashes Before Your Eyes,” the Desmond-does-Slaughterhouse-Five episode.  Is that postmodern, or is it sci-fi?  The tale is told in a roundabout way.  There are time jumps.  You could say, “This is postmodern.”  Or, you could say, “This is a simple time travel story.”  Everyone seems to agree that Slaughterhouse-Five, which has a very similar premise, is postmodern, but that may be less because of the time travel stuff and more because o Kurt Vonnegut’s meta-literary conceits.  Or take The Time Traveler’s Wife.  Is it science-fiction, postmodern, or something else?  I don’t even know anymore.

So let’s do away with these rather useless labels and just talk about how the nature of the telling in Lost affects the way I understand the text.  Sometimes, I think the flashbacks are great.  They give a very good insight on the way past affects present.  We’ve talked time and again about how fate is a theme in Lost.  Maybe cause and effect is another theme.  Is cause and effect the same thing as fate or determinism?  Someone else will have to answer that question, because I’m hungry and my brain is foggy.

Other times, I’ll admit, it seems like the flashbacks are there because A) the audience has come to expect them and B) it’s a good way to fill out an episode that doesn’t really have much going on in it.  (See this week’s Kate-related episode, “I Do.”)  But even then I still like the flashbacks, because I like to understand the different sides of a character.  That’s something movies, being only two hours or so long, cannot do.  Even a book cannot give the same depth of character five seasons of a show can provide.  So kudos, Lost writers.  Whether or not your flashbacks are postmodern, they are surely a nifty storytelling device.

Question 5: In some ways, Mr. Eko seems as paradoxical a character as John Locke.  Do you buy his conversion from gangster to priest?

While I saw Locke as a paradoxical character, Mr. Eko never seemed that way to me.  “The Cost of Living” explained his ethos perfectly.  He believes, and has always believed, that if you do something to survive, God will forgive you for it.  To him, the ends must justify the means.  A little boy asked him if he was a bad man, but Mr. Eko has never believed in a simple split between Good and Evil like Yemi or The Others did.  Thus there was no way to answer such a question.

So, as a child, Mr. Eko killed a man to save his brother, because he believed it was the right thing to do.  God would forgive him for it.  For the same reasons, he stole for his brother, because his brother was hungry.  He became a gangster to save his brother’s life and soul.  After he became a priest, he killed some three men to save his own life and to save the lives of the citizens of his village.  All of this was noble in Mr. Eko’s mind.  It was he had to do.  The ends must justify the means.

Then he came to the Island.  Like many others, he came to believe he was there for a reason—to push a button.  This gave him another reason to believe he would be forgiven.  If his whole life was leading up to this noble task of pushing the button, if everything that happened was part of a life God gave to him, then how could anything he did be considered evil?  That’s the problem with fate, kids.  If you don’t have free will, “good” and “evil” don’t really mean anything.  Everything you do is in the service of God’s plan.  Which must be good!  As Satan sang in the South Park movie, “Without evil there could be no good, so it must be good to be evil sometimes.”  (By the way, I think this may be a very important theme in Lost, so I’ll be coming back to this question in the future.)

Why'd ya have to kill of Eko, Lost? Now there are NO black men left on the Island. Was that your plan all along?

Why'd ya have to kill of Eko, Lost? Now there are NO black men left on the Island. Was that your plan all along?

Long story short: No.  I don’t see any paradox in Mr. Eko’s character.  I think that when he was a gangster, he thought like a priest, and, when he was a priest, he acted like a gangster.  He’s the Virgin Mary statue with the heroin inside.  A complex character, to be sure, but not a badly-written one.

Next time on Overthinking Lost: How can Kate’s armpits stay so smooth when she’s been trapped in a cage for more than a week?

Remember, everybody: No spoilers, please.

19 Comments on “Overthinking Lost: Episodes 3.1-3.8”

  1. TheMagician #

    Eko was killed, because the actor, AAA, didn’t want to live in Hawaii anymore (the same reason applies to a dozen other killed characters as well). Darlton had however planned a central 4 season story arc for him, but unfortunately they had to kill him and change their plans.


  2. Tom P #

    I really hated when Eko died because it rendered the entire tail section arc from the previous season as a complicated way to kill Shannon. You’re almost through the low-point. Ep 14 is the end.


  3. Matt #

    God, I was so pissed when Eko died. The man proves himself to be the baddest man on the Island, stares down the monster, and then when it shows up again? He just goes down. I wanted him to go down fighting. Better yet, I wanted some kind of divine implication that Eko knew exactly what the monster was. Although shape-changer monster Yemi scared the poo out of me.


  4. NeilH #

    I’m consistently impressed on your overthinking. These posts seriously keep me entertained on otherwise dreary Mondays!

    I really like your bringing up the good and evil aspect found in this show; I’ve always thought it was one of the central elements, ever since that scene in Season 1 where Locke plays Backgammon with Walt.

    Anyway, I don’t want to post too much because the last thing I want to do is spoil this amazing show for you, but I’m counting down the weeks until you’re caught up and the theorizing about season 6 can begin!


  5. Gab #

    See why Des is one of my favorite now? And he only gets better.

    And yeah, Eko was killed because the actor wanted off- the rushed need to get rid of him, I think, as I have said before, had a big influence on how dissatisfying his demise was. Yes, we got lots of character insight through the flashbacks in the episode, but there could- and should- have been more; and the way the Monster suddenly grabs him and stuff… Le sigh.

    Sayid is an intersting nut to crack now, too. He saw the ghost-ee Walt with Shannon, right? So why is he so skeptical when Locke tells him about Smokey?

    What do you think of Juliet?


  6. Prest #

    The change in quality of the show that people have been alluding to (which takes place about two thirds of the way through season 3) is directly related to the unprecedented deal the producers struck with the network, locking in the show’s 2010 end date.

    Oh, and you can just call the mini-island “Hydra Island.” Which is an awesome name for an island.


  7. Jss #

    Lost’s most solid and well constructed story line is that of John Locke. What you’re seeing now is a bit of rattling of faith. Contrast the Locke from S1 to what you see now.

    As far as your take on the mythology, you are thinking in the right terms. The show leans heavier on the mysteries in the later seasons so its good to think about it now.


  8. Jess #

    I’m gonna have to start making a list of all the “hit the nail on the head” parts of these blogs. I’ve never read a lost blog of someone viewing it for the first time, it’s weird, it seems like the overall themes or motifs/parallels are easier to spot or more obvious when people watch it on DVD or when the eps are watched straight through instead of once a week. Some of the themes that took me ages to see, you’ve picked up seemingly straight away! I’ve noticed this with a few people I’ve shown the series to (on DVD) as well.


  9. Jayemel #

    I think I just fell in love with you. Not only did you refute compatibilism in some swift blow, but you referenced a line from the South Park movie that constantly runs through my head.

    I disagree with you on one point though. I don’t think Eko believed in fate. He believed in, as you said, doing the best in the situation you are given. In relevance to the button, the best he could do was push the button. It had a purpose. He wanted a purposeful life. Logic dictated he should push the button. (That syllogism assumes the premise of the button had a purpose is true).

    The key Eko quote is “Do not mistake coincidence for fate.” For the first time, I think the writers tipped their hands as to how they feel about religion.


  10. igge #

    Wow.. A theory combining my all-time favorite TV show with my all-time favorite movie! I find it hard to believe that this 2001 theory of yours is correct, but nevertheless, I like it!

    And now that you mention it, your answer to the first question made me think about another great story. This time a book – well, a series of books, really.

    “Does Ben Linus have some evil scheme up his sleeves? Maybe a scheme to bring down my imaginary aliens…”, “And don’t ask me why Locke’s legs started working again, and why Rose’s cancer went away. I have no freaking idea.”

    These lines made me think about the Riverworld series written by Philip José Farmer. Without spoiling too much, in case you haven’t read it, the book is about purgatory (huh?), and a man’s quest to find out who’s behind it. I had previously seen many parallells between Lost and the Riverworld series, but these two lines of yours are quite spot-on! If you haven’t read it, you really must do so!

    Thanks again for brilliant overthinking! Like many others have said I can’t wait to see your theories on season 5!


  11. Eric #

    The writers did not kill Eko because of the actor’s wishes. They just sped up his demise and compacted his story into a few centrics. And most people agree it was only the “mini-season” of the first 6 episodes that seemed to drag a bit. I think it gets moving very fast with episode 7 and episode 8 (Flashes Before Your Eyes) is one of my favorites from the season. I don’t know what some people are talking about with it only getting good at 14.

    And yes, it really is an historic event to lock in the end date of a TV show regardless of ratings. Stuff gets so much more focused after they locked it in about 2/3 of the way through season 3.


  12. TheMagician #

    @Eric, “The writers did not kill Eko because of the actor’s wishes.”

    Well Damon Lindelof would disagree, he specifically said on ComicsOnComics interview (beware, he explains what the Numbers mean in that interview, it’s the same explanation as in the ARG, he also says that the Numbers won’t be explained in Season 6 so it should be safe to watch it, but it might contain other spoilers too) that they had planned a 4 season story arc for Eko (he was supposed to play the part that Locke is playing now at Season 5 end according to some people), but they had do kill him the way they did, because AAA didn’t want to live in Hawaii anymore. And they had to kill other people on the show as well for the same reason. Watch it and then come back.


  13. Tom P #

    > I think it gets moving very fast with episode 7 and episode 8 (Flashes Before Your Eyes) is one of my favorites from the season. I don’t know what some people are talking about with it only getting good at 14.

    If you had to pick an absolute low-point for the series as a whole, it’s the last 1/4th of season 2 (minus the finale) through the “Expose” episode in season 3. And the six-episode “mini-season” was the worst idea they ever had.


  14. Kevin #

    “And the six-episode “mini-season” was the worst idea they ever had.”

    I have to say, in their defense, that LOST fans are some of the pickiest SOBs in fandom. (I should know — I’m one of them!) The “mini-season” wasn’t just something they did because they thought it would be fun, or make for better storytelling — there were so many viewer complaints about ABC’s scheduling in Seasons 1 and 2 (a few new episodes, followed by a few repeats, so they had time to shoot a complete season over the year) that they thought they’d do the next best thing: show a chunk of episodes uninterrupted, take a hiatus while they continued shooting, then show the rest of the season uninterrupted. And then the fans complained about THAT… which is why we get the show from February-May now rather than over the full TV season. No one wanted the repeats.

    Same for Nikki and Paulo — fans whined that there were more passengers who survived the crash than just the leads, so why weren’t they getting any screen time on the beach? So they bring in those two, and the fans whine that they’re introducing new survivors “out of nowhere.” When in reality, the rest of the passengers were never supposed to be all that relevant to the storyline in the first place, and they should have just kept doing what they’d been doing well and not listened.

    (I happen to really like “Expose” as a standalone episode, and it’s a great way of answering the critics of those characters)


  15. Tom P #

    Kevin — I meant “they” more as the whole producers/network/whomever combined. As soon as 24 took the cue from HBO and started running uninterrupted seasons, it changed the way serial shows operate. With the six episode mini-season, fans had nothing to do but pick those episodes apart for 3 MONTHS. The episodes weren’t strong enough on their own to hold up to that kind of review.

    And I agree that Expose is a fantastic stand-alone episode outside the storyline.


  16. Kevin #

    Agreed, Tom. From my understanding, the producers were caught between a rock and a hard place — ABC wanted a full season (i.e., 22 episodes over nine months) since it was one of their most popular shows, so the creatives came up with a compromise… which made no one happy.

    All in all, uninterrupted seasons are great… as long as there’s something just as good in the off-months. With HBO that hasn’t been a problem; not so much with ABC…


  17. Gab #

    @Tom and Kevin: Not arguing with either, just elaborating. I think one of the reasons why the “team” didn’t succeed at the mini-season is how it was so out of their normal format. Specifically the writers. They’re great at writing overarching plots, but when they got out of their comfort zone and into stand-alone format, it showed. This made it easier for the episodes to be picked apart during those three months, etc., tie in the other reasons.


  18. the other dave #


    Long time reader, first time poster etc etc.
    I just felt I had to pipe in here (without getting too spoilerish) to say you’ve re-ignited my interest in the show. I have watched it all, but from about late season 3/mid season 4 got the feeling they were marking time and making it up as they go along, but looking at some of your more recent speculations I’m surprised to see that there are through-lines that I hadn’t picked up on and can only see with hindsight and your comments how far back some of them went.

    When you catch up I’d love to read your own thoughs on where you can see things working though, and I’d also like your opinion of the “wheels within wheels” way some of the series works. (That’s not intended to be a spoiler and, as far as I know had no reference to the show – just a term I’ve used for discussing it with friends about how things “layer up” for want of a better expression.)


  19. James T. #

    I think the mini-season worked well in that it allowed the writers to focus on the Sawyer-Jack-Kate love triangle, which doesn’t seem to fit in very well with a lot of the other plots/themes. I do remember that waiting so long for more lost was agonizing, though.

    @ Eric: I totally agree that locking in the end date was a historic event. The open-ended television format tends to hamper good writing; the producers made the right choice here.


Add a Comment