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Hard Bargains: Darkness Falls on "Lost"

"For every man, there is a scale." - Dogen

The concept of good and evil has been explored in every episode of Lost, both as the external conflicts of individuals and the interior battle raging within every one of us. Every single action we perform tips the scale one way or another: an altruistic act, a noble sacrifice, tip the scales towards good. Murder, steal, or make a selfish or self-serving decision and you tip the scales in the opposite direction.

This week's episode of Lost ("Sundown"), written by Paul Zbyszewski and Graham Roland and directed by Bobby Roth, focused on the darkness festering inside Sayid Jarrah, both in terms of his infection on the island and in the flaws in his soul itself, flaws which propel him not to make the right decision, to walk the difficult path of the light, but to choose darkness and death, to rain vengeance down on those who have injured him or his family, to prove that he is essentially a killer at heart.

So what did I think of this week's installment? Fry up some eggs, finish your game of Solitaire, pay off your debts, and let's discuss "Sundown."

I have extremely mixed feelings about this week's episode. While I thought the final minutes ramped up the tension and kickstarted the island plot once more, I thought that the majority of the episode lagged considerably and that the Lost-X storyline that had Sayid visiting his family in Los Angeles lacked the emotional punch that the other flash-sideways stories have offered. (I also seem to be less of a fan of Sayid these days than I used to be for some reason. While I loved Sayid in the early days and when he served as Ben's assassin, I realized that I haven't been as invested in his character since he returned to the island.)

I was quick to defend last week's episode of Lost, which I felt did offer us both some intriguing answers and new questions as well as allow us to explore the character of Jack Shephard in a very different way, using the Lost-X universe as a sort of variation on a theme, turning Jack's father issues into something different than we've seen before by forcing him into a very different role: that of a father himself. So far the Lost-X universe has been a means by approaching these characters in very different ways as their lives seem to be free of the complexities of the island and the characters themselves seem to have almost achieved their heart's desire: Jack comes to terms with his father issues, Claire has regained her lost child, Locke faces reality and stops looking for miracles that may never come, Hurley is able to help rather than harm people.

But Sayid doesn't quite manage to achieve his heart's desire. As he tells the Man in Black, he lost the one thing he loved above all else and held it in his arms as she died. But in the Lost-X universe, he hasn't quite regained the love of his life, Nadia, who here is married to Sayid's shifty businessman brother Omer. While they are once again separated, Sayid is at least a part of Nadia's life and clearly harbors a deep attraction to his sister-in-law.

Which made me wonder that if, as I surmised last week, the flashbacks are Jacob's tool to seeing into the souls of the castaways--weighing their past actions to see which way the scale tips--what if the flash-sideways storylines in fact serve a similar function to the Man in Black? What if Jacob is limited to see what the castaways have done--their real-life actions and decisions, forged in the fires of reality--but the Man in Black is somehow able to see how they WOULD behave in some other reality?

Could it be that the Lost-X universe is in fact a vast Skinner box that puts the castaways once more in morally complicated situations, but where they are free from Jacob's guiding influence? If you achieved your heart's desire, would you still make the same mistakes? Are you the same person you were before, doomed to repeat your actions? Or do you have the capacity for change and emotional/psychological progress?

Perhaps Sayid has been infected all along, not by what happened in the pool, but by the first time he tortured someone or extinguished their life... But I believe that the series instead places a heavier weight on redemption. These characters can throw off the shackles of their past to step into the light and that the choice between good and evil is a personal one that each of us must make. Sayid was infected in the pool because he never believed himself to be a "good person." The notion is echoed in the Lost-X universe, where he realizes that he does not deserve Nadia because he is not worthy of her love.

Her pleas to choose goodness over evil, to care for the children rather than punish the men who hurt Omer, fall on deaf ears, in the end. Kidnapped by the men who arranged Omer's mugging outside his dry cleaning business, Sayid faces a choice when he comes face to face with Martin Keamy (Kevin Durand), now an egg-chomping loan shark with a penchant for violence. He could offer financial restitution in order to protect his brother's family but he chooses the way of the gun, resorting to violence and slamming down the hammer of vengeance on Keamy and his men.

Sayid isn't good; he's a man who is forced to make hard bargains but who chooses the path of destruction. His brutal murder of Keamy and his enforcers might have been provoked by their actions but they also proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that Sayid has always had darkness in his soul... and that in slaying Keamy he may have awakened a larger enemy.

The fact that Jin is being held inside the restaurant's walk-in (which, by the way, is the same restaurant where Naomi Dorrit recruited Miles for the Kahana expedition) points to a grander adversary. The purpose of Jin's trip appears to be to pay off a debt of his employer, Mr. Paik... but the fact that the money that was in Jin's luggage was seized by airport customs officials has made this more difficult and Keamy likely beat up Jin and held him prisoner for failing to deliver the funds. But Paik, being a prominent business man in South Korea, wouldn't need to pay off a small-time loan shark in Los Angeles... which means something else is going on here. We know Keamy worked for Charles Widmore in the mainstream reality, so who is to say that he doesn't work for him here... and that Widmore is still a major player in this reality, even without the island. Hmmm...

(Lost-X Sayid of course also briefly crosses paths with Jack at the hospital where Omer is taken, leading me to believe that their divergent lives will continue to intersect increasingly over the next few episodes.)

Sayid. Back on the island, Sayid makes the same decision as his alternate reality counterpart. Faced with a decision between choosing the path of light over darkness, he chooses to unleash hell and work with the Man in Black. There are a number of intriguing plot points that lead us to this point. Claire's appearance at the Temple brings a message from Jacob's Nemesis to Dogen and the message is clear: the Man in Black wants Dogen dead, one way or another.

Dogen, meanwhile, wants Sayid killed but can't do so himself. He can't get his hands bloody; he's unable to kill Sayid himself--and most likely Claire as well--so he attempts to get Jack to do it for him by telling him that the poison is medicine that will help Sayid. When Jack is unable to do this, Dogen attempts to banish Sayid from the Temple, knowing that he will eventually betray them... but fate presents a different route, another test for Sayid to pass: Dogen knows that the Man in Black can't kill Sayid as he is a candidate and therefore off-limits. He can be his emissary and travel out to see the Nemesis... and slay him.

But Sayid's attempts to stab the Man in Black--the same way, incidentally that Ben slew Jacob--backfire. Perhaps it is because the MiB speaks to Sayid first (which Dogen advised him against) or before Sayid is already infected and therefore has no moral leverage over the Man in Black. In any event, Sayid quickly becomes one of his recruits, lured by the possibility of reunion with Nadia (a reunion possibly glimpsed in the Lost-X universe) and regaining the one thing that made him truly happy.

But to achieve this end, we see the Man in Black's methods: Sayid is tasked with first delivering a message to the Others, that those who stay in the Temple after sundown will be killed and those who leave can join his side. Sayid then brutally murders Dogen, an act that removes any protection holding the monster back from the Temple. The fact that he drowns Dogen is significant, a reversal of positions when Dogen had Sayid held under the water earlier this season. Dogen is killed in the very thing that he had fought to protect: the healing capabilities of the Temple pool. And Sayid then viciously slits the throat of Dogen's translator, Lennon, casting him into the pool. These actions bring the Temple down around their heads, inviting the monster into this sacred space, causing it to become the site of a brutal massacre, a site of death and destruction.

Dogen. Before his death, we get a quick glimpse into the backstory of Dogen himself and learn that he was a Japanese businessman who inadvertently killed his twelve-year-old son in a drunk driving accident after he had been out celebrating with his co-workers at the bank where he worked. But he, like Juliet before him, was given a choice: he could save his son by turning his back on the rest of the world and traveling to the island but he could never leave and never see his son again.

Like his Nemesis, Jacob offers hard bargains but those who take him up on his offers are willing to sacrifice something personal, something dear, to save those that they love. Dogen's baseball--which he sees and which stops him from killing Sayid earlier in the episode--represents the sacrifice he had made, an effort to tip the scale towards good, to willingly imprison himself to save another.

I wish that Dogen's death had been more unexpected. But as soon as Sayid returned to the Temple, I knew that he would murder Dogen, though I had incorrectly assumed it would be with the sacrificial knife he had given Sayid earlier. This was one element of the episode that really irked me: so much of the action seemed telegraphed in advance. It was entirely obvious that Sayid would kill Dogen so his transition to the darkness wasn't at all surprising.

However, I did think that the monster's assault on the Temple was absolutely stunning to watch as it made its way through the Temple hallways, killing everything in sight... and then reforming itself as John Locke outside the Temple walls, where the Man in Black was joined by a number of recruits, as well as Sayid and Claire.

Kate. I can't help but wonder whether Kate will fall into darkness as well, which I hope doesn't happen. If the other characters are all experiencing moments of clarity or psychological growth in the Lost-X universe, why do both Sayid and Kate seem stuck in the same rut? Kate glimpsed in the alternate reality is still running from her problems, a felon on the lam who is fleeing punishment and therefore the consequences of her actions. If Lost-X Kate can't change, does it mean that our Kate can't either? That she's doomed to fall into darkness somehow?

Kate made a major mistake telling Claire that she had taken Aaron and that he's off-island (though she did neglect to mention that Claire's own mother has him) as Claire is going to be looking to enact revenge against Kate. Though Kate's logic was sound: Claire wandered off in the middle of the night and they couldn't find her; Kate wasn't about to leave Aaron alone on the island and jet off to safety. But what concerns me more are the tentative steps Kate takes as she walks out of the Temple. Is she aware of what she has gotten herself into? Will she know instinctively that this man isn't John Locke? And will she be able to fight the infection?

Cavalry. I'm not sure where Ilana, Ben, Sun, and Lapidus came from or how (though the Temple rather strangely seems very easy to walk into/out of) but I did like that they showed up at the height of the battle and managed to rescue Miles from the carnage... though they were too late to save Kate, who attempted to save Claire. (Little did she know that she didn't need saving.)

But as Ilana activated the secret passageway in the hallway (the same one through which Hurley and Jack left last week), Ben ran off to find Sayid. Which is rather interesting as his quest took him right to the Temple pool, the site of a catalytic change for Benjamin Linus himself. Like Sayid, Ben was healed by the Temple pool but a hefty price was predicted: his soul. Was Ben infected then? Did it allow darkness to enter his soul?

How ironic that these two should end up face to face standing over the pool. After all, Sayid shot Ben as a boy, which in turn led to him being brought to the pool. Ben's father shot Sayid, which necessitated him being placed in the pool. Much of the darkness in Sayid's soul was put there by Ben who hired him as an assassin off-island. These two seem intertwined by bonds of fate and it's only fitting that they should come face to face over the pool. Does Ben remember something in that moment, an inkling about who Sayid is and what happened to him? Or does he see the darkness that has overtaken the former torturer? What was Ben hoping to accomplish by rescuing Sayid? An attempt to tip the scale the other way, to undo some wrongs, and possibly sacrifice his own skin to save another? Could it be that the redemption of Benjamin Linus is already under way?

Man in Black. Dogen describes the Man in Black as "evil incarnate." His actions in this episode seem to fulfill that description. He wantonly murders everyone at the Temple, recruits Sayid to murder Dogen, and seems hell-bent on killing everyone on the island, as Dogen predicted. Additionally, his offers seem to be the equivalent of Faustian pacts: there's always a price to pay. He promises Sayid a reunion with Nadia, promises Sawyer a way off the island, and promises Claire she will get her son back. In exchange, he receives their soul. It's an inversion of the bargains driven by Jacob, who offers salvation in exchange for sacrifice. And it makes me believe that there is no goodness within MiB nor moral balance. He is pure, unadulterated evil, contained within the prison of the island but looking to corrupt the entire world.

All in all, a lackluster episode of Lost that spent way too much time at the Temple and offering a look at Sayid that wasn't too markedly different from the ones we've seen before. Additionally, so much time was spent establishing Dogen and Lennon as additional characters this late in the game, that I feel a bit cheated that they were then killed off so quickly after they were forced into the narrative. Yes, we're moving beyond the Temple but the Temple storyline so closely mirrored that of Season Three's imprisonment by the Others sequence that it felt frustratingly obtuse at times.

I'm hoping the end of the episode at least points towards some narrative progress in the coming weeks as the battle lines are drawn and sides in the Final Battle are taken. I didn't hate this episode but I didn't love it either and I don't usually find myself somewhere in the middle with Lost, yet that's just the sort of ambivalence that "Sundown" provoked within me. While I'm not part of the camp demanding answers with every episode, I do want something resembling narrative progress and I think that the Temple storyline definitely overstayed its welcome and the castaways are so fragmented and all over the place that it's hard to get a bead on what's going on with the big picture.

What did you think of this week's episode? Do you agree that it was an unexpectedly lackluster installment or were you just as captivated as always? Any further thoughts on the significance of the Lost-X universe and whether it is directly connected to the Man in Black? Discuss.

Next week on Lost ("Dr. Linus"), Ben deals with the consequences of an uncovered lie.


Bella Spruce said…
I have been on board this season but agree that this episode was pretty lackluster. Sayid turning "bad" was not shocking or surprising at all. His storyline could have been much more interesting.
HipHopAnonymous said…
I liked last night's ep and thought it was a big step forward. It seemed particularly meaningful to me that we finally saw a 'negative' outcome in the LA-X universe, when thus far all we've seen are X-characters finally breaking out of their perpetual cycle of angst:

Kate may still be on the run, but she chose to risk capture and stick around long enough to help Claire, which is a net positive. Whereas Locke, forever refusing to accept his circumstances in life, finally makes peace with his condition and 'what he can't do.' While Jack, who has been carrying a chip on his shoulder his whole life over his father's lack of belief in him, finally manages to let go of that old baggage and connect with his own son. I suspect we'll eventually be seeing Juliet-X come to terms with her own parents' divorce (as glimpsed in 'The Incident') by making peace with her own split from Jack-X (assuming she's David's mom, which I think is a safe bet).

On the other hand, in last night's ep, we see Sayid unable to let go of his past, even in the X-verse. Instead of being with Nadia, he travels the world feeling unworthy of her love, only to wind up becoming a killer again. I found it significant that when Keamy offers to 'forget it' during their confrontation, Sayid says, "I can't." It seemed to me that he was talking about more than just what happened to his brother there.

If the theme this season can be described as, "Change or die... Let go of the past or become a prisoner to it..." then Sayid would seem to be going in the wrong direction from everyone else in the X-verse.

Although I'm still not quite sold on what exactly the 'X-verse' is at this point. I keep thinking it's some form of LOST: Season 7.X (i.e. it's happening after the current events on the island play out, even though it's taking place back in 2004). But I might be biased by the fact that Damon Lindelof keeps insisting in his podcasts that this is "NOT AN ALTERNATE TIMELINE" and should not be treated as a separate entity, whatever that means...?
Dr. Spaceman said…
I'm a huge fan of the show and thing there have been some great episodes this season, but one of the things that's been missing from some of these less-good episodes is their ability to stand on their own. All through the series, my favorite episodes have always had a self contained storyline at the center, while also tying in to various elements of the show's mythology (Walkabout, The Brig, The Constant, and LaFleur all come to mind as examples of this). For me, Sundown was an example of a perfectly good story, but one that is heavily tied into the prior and (I assume) upcoming episodes.

That said, I do like the direction the season is going in--it's just feels to me that the show is more heavily serialized in some respects than ever.
Perry K said…
I think this episode was one to tie to other episodes togeather, and was that great on its own.
Let's not forget Dogen drowned in the pool that revives people who are basically drowned in the pool. I don't think we've seen the last of Dogen, and that his revival will be the action that brings Sayid over to the good side. Maybe Dogen will forgive Sayid, or something else along that line.
frank1569 said…
My new theory: Smokey is the good guy, Jacob is the 'wolf in sheep's clothing.' Smokey's the one 'trapped' on the island, not Jacob; Jacob is the one who forces 'candidates' to the island; Jacob is the one who had Ben wipe out Dharma; Jacob is the one who let Nadia get run over, etc. If ya look back, until last night, Smokey's body count was dwarfed by Jacob's...

Plus, Smokey 'was a man, once.' Now, he's nearly a God who, unlike Jacob, can't be killed. Smokey can possess the dead; Jacob can only appear in the minds of a select few. And Whitmore warned John the 'wrong side would win' if he didn't return to the island.

Maybe we have it backwards...
Jace Lacob said…

I don't think that Jacob "let Nadia get run over." In fact, I think that his involvement saved Sayid's life. He didn't kill Nadia... but he DID save Sayid from being killed by the collision.

As for the Man in Black being a prisoner and wanting to escape, so too do a lot of felons in prison. Doesn't make them good guys...
usagi said…

I loved this episode. I actually thought the beginning of the season was not as good as season 5 had us expect it to be. Jack and Kate are my least favorite characters - i can almost say i hate them - so last week's episode, though interesting, wasn't really a hit for me.
I thought this week's episode was (made) a breakthrough in the "battle" between good and evil, even though I wish they would give MiB a name already.

Thanks for your reviews, it is always highly enlightening to read them after having seen an episode.
(sorry for the mistakes, I'm not a native English-speaker).
rockauteur said…
Didn't Kelvin push Sayid on his journey to reconnect with Nadia? That would explain why in Lost-X, Sayid and Nadia were not together. Without the island, perhaps he and Kelvin never met.

I am extremely tired of Sayid's character - I actually hated him last season too - I was hoping he would just die already! It's been a while since major characters died, and kind of annoying that they killed off Dogen and Lennon after just introducing them, before we got real character arcs out of them. Oh well.

Anyone else notice how weird it was when Ben, Lapidis, and Sun first arrived at the temple in last night's ep? Almost looked like Ben was shot on green screen back in LA, and it looked like Sun had a body double until her one line about Jin. Very strangely shot/edited, though Smokey coming into the temple was very very cool.

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