Thursday, August 6

Deus Ex Machina (S1, ep. 19)

Deus Ex Machina (S1, ep. 19)

Locke’s Mother: “I want to tell you that you’re special. Very special. You’re part of a design….you do realize that, don’t you?”

Random thoughts:

-- Locke has a brother he used to play Mousetrap with. This was a foster brother presumably, but we never hear about him again.

-- This is the now-infamous Mousetrap episode: “One by one, you build a trap…piece by piece…you wait til your opponent lands here on the ol’ cheese wheel and then, if you set it up just right, you spring the trap.”

The first time through it was obvious that the Mousetrap explanation was meant to stand for something on the show (because good television never details something like the workings of a board game unless there’s a thematic or narrative reason for it), but it wasn’t at all clear what that might be. Now we know – The Mousetrap snapped shut on Jacob at the end of this past season. Will we discover that there's more to the analogy, though? Has Jacob been building the trap all along?

-- Locke and Boone build a Trebuchet to smash the glass of the Hatch. Boone asks Locke what the word means, and Locke responds: “Trebuchet means Trebuchet,” as if that explains anything. From Locke’s response we might assume that the word has no independent meaning but in fact it does. It’s derived from the old French word “Trebucher,” meaning ‘to throw over,’ an apt phrase that links directly to the MiB’s apparent plot.

Boone: “What if it doesn’t work?”
Locke: “Then the Island will tell us what to do.”

Beware, Locke. Just because something mysterious is seemingly ‘speaking’ to you doesn’t necessarily mean that you should listen.

-- This is the first of Locke’s ‘crisis of faith’ episodes, and it’s more-or-less as enigmatic as ever in some respects, but the hindsight afforded by what we now know will follow helps to illuminate some of it for us. Locke’s faith crisis is brought about by two seemingly-simultaneous factors: the Hatch’s refusal to bow to his will and just open already, and the sudden, swift deadening of his legs – illustrated graphically and awesomely via a close-up shot of Locke searing the bottom of his foot with a burning stick without flinching or apparently feeling anything.

Locke: “Everything breaks if you apply the right force.” Even you, John. Even you.

-- I’d forgotten how the show enjoyed faking the audience out regarding how Locke loses the use of his legs. In this episode he’s nailed by a car backing out of a parking space. Locke’s mother tells him that he has no father – that he was immaculately conceived. While that’s not true in the literal sense (the DNA test Locke is provided in this episode confirms that Cooper is his father with ‘99% certainty’) it is true in the figurative sense. Locke’s ‘destined’ role as leader on the Island was, in fact, an immaculate conception. His legend was created by a ‘god,’ namely, the MiB (See: Set).

Locke: “All that’s happening now is our faith’s being tested.”

Given how Locke’s faith leads him to an ignominious death and sets in motion the death of the Island’s God/Ra figure, that faith seems misplaced, if not outright dangerous. At the same time, that faith gives Locke the fuel to persevere through the kinds of traumatic experiences that might have killed a lesser man. Locke’s been viewed in a fairly positive light by most Lost viewers, myself included, but (at the risk of continuing to flog a dead horse) I think it’s much more accurate to view him as he appears in Claire’s spooky dream from earlier in the season – a man torn between conflicting forces. If, as Locke will claim later in this season, the “Island” demands sacrifice, then the ultimate irony is that Locke ends up being just that.

-- And speaking of spooky dreams, there’s a humdinger in this episode. Locke sees the Nigerian plane falling from the sky overhead, just as he does – from a much different POV – in season 5. This ‘vision’ can be interpreted in a number of ways: (1) it’s a sign sent by Jacob, (2) it’s a sign sent by the MiB, (3) it’s a sign sent by ‘the Island’ or another, unknown party, or (4) it’s early proof of what we’ll later learn – that past present and future are all existing together. We just can’t perceive them that way.

As the plane vanishes in the treeline we see Locke’s mother in a full-length fur coat moving like a ghost in a J-horror flick as she points, over and over, to where the plane has landed. Boone is shown, covered in blood, creepily repeating “Teresa falls up the stairs, Teresa falls down the stairs.” This is a legitimate feat of telepathy/mind reading on the part of Locke or whoever is broadcasting this dream into Locke’s mind. Is the ‘Island’/the MiB/Jacob telling John that Boone will die? Must die? Warning him? Is John ‘seeing’ the future?

This opens up a troubling question about the character of John Locke: Does he willingly send Boone to his death? I’d argue, based on the rest of this episode, that he does. More on that further down the recap.The story of how Locke’s father deceives him is tragic stuff, and O’Quinn plays the emotions of his off-Island flashback beautifully.

Cooper: “Do you hunt?”
Locke: “No…No.”

-- Locke’s dad is played by Kevin Tighe, the owner of the Double Deuce bar in the movie Roadhouse. Somewhere in the Lost universe, Dalton is kicking ass and Wade Garrett is dying for the sins of a small town filled with loose, impossibly coiffed women and violent, horny rednecks.

Boone: “Have you been using that wacky paste stuff that made me see my sister get eaten?”

-- Sawyer is reading a Wrinkle In Time during this episode – a story about fighting great evil with human love. It involves Tesseracts, wrinkles in time and space that can transport you great distances. Nice job on the continued hints via books, Lost.

Speaking of Sawyer – notice that his eyes get worse on the Island. I think it’s this plot point that reinforces the notion of needing to heal yourself, both in our real world and on the Island. This is the ‘Sawyer gets his glasses’ episode, and that subplot lightens what would otherwise be a pretty unbearably depressing episode. There is some terrific, light comedy between Kate, Jack and Sawyer. Sawyer sniffing the air to see if he’s got a tumor, Jack implying that Sawyer has a sexually transmitted disease in a moment that reminded me of Malcolm Reynolds telling Simon Tam that Kaylie is dead…I miss this side of Jack.

Great Sawyer Line/Delivery: “Do I get a lollipop?”

-- As Locke continues to bull-headedly pursue his Hatch quest, his legs get worse and worse. Is this Locke’s way of warning himself? I think it is. I think his body is telling him that this quest is not going to end well for him or for his padawan. Alternatively, it could also be Jacob’s way of warning him/attempting to turn him away without actually intervening. We know that Richard believes Jacob granted him long life – could the Island’s resident Ra have granted Locke his legs? It’s possible, but I’m sticking with the theory that people heal themselves on this Island, without the benefit/detriment of any divine intervention other than the Solaris-esque power of the Island’s energy.

Generally speaking, I’d like to make the observation that John never lets go of his pain, fear, doubt, or past on the Island. He simply pushes it down and replaces the loathing with worship – worship of something he, and we, don’t understand at all. This is a pretty fascinating and arguably realistic way to look at some forms of religious conversion, and it’s something the show explores metaphorically in much greater detail as the show goes on.

Locke (to Boone): “Just help me up, son.”

Boone essentially carries Locke to the sight of the downed Beechcraft plane after helping him up, and I do not think that the choice to use the word ‘son’ in the above sentence is an accident. Locke’s relationship with Boone is quasi-paternal generally, but in this episode their relationship eerily mirrors the relationship that Locke had with his father, Cooper. Locke is using Boone to get what he needs (or thinks he needs) without any true care for what the consequences to Boone might be. Sure, he expresses vocal concern for Boone as he watches the kid clamber around the plane’s precariously-perched bulk, but notice: John abandons Boone to Jack, the Doctor, just as Cooper abandons John to the doctors after their kidney transplantation operation.

I believe that John’s dream was in essence a ‘false sign,’ something given to him by the MiB to influence him, in much the same way that the MiB has appeared to others in order to influence them. It’s false in the same way that the Virgin Mary statues found in the plane are false – a holy façade containing something poisonous and addictive within.

-- Before Boone takes his soon-to-be-fatal spill, he gets on the plane’s radio and we hear the voice of Bernard: “We’re the survivors of 815!” At the time this episode aired I remember being sure that what the voice on the other end had said was “There were no survivors of 815.”

Also notable: The spot where the plane crashes, where Locke ‘sacrifices’ Boone to his own obsession, is the spot where the ‘legend of John Locke’ will originate from.

-- After abandoning Boone to Jack’s care, Locke retreats back to the Hatch, as broken as we’ve seen him, where we see this man’s truest colors:

Locke: “I’ve done everything you wanted me to do. So why did you do this to me?”

To me, Locke says. Not to Boone. Not to the castaways. Why did ‘you’ do this to ME.

And with that, the Hatch’s light suddenly switches on. Somewhere, on another hill, the John Locke of Season 5 is watching as that light splits the sky in a bright beam. That John Locke is smiling – the polar opposite of the Locke at the Hatch. But they’re both in thrall to a dangerous self-centered need, and it will destroy them.


  1. Nicely done. You point out a number of symbolic links between the flashbacks and the island action that I hadn't noticed even after multiple viewings.

    My thought upon the most recent viewing was that perhaps the MiB is the one who restored Locke's legs to him in the first place, to be used later as a sort of addiction, the "withdrawal" of which at strategic moments could affect Locke's better judgment and his actions. It's a more depressing view than either you posed, but remember that Jacob doesn't seem to be interested in making everyone's lives perfect. I got a distinct impression (based primarily on his making sure Sayid lived even as Nadia died and his spurning of Ben's self-centered need for attention) that his goal is not to erase suffering but rather to help one endure and accept it.

    One other thing I caught this time around: the theme of both the flashback and the island action was the same: misplaced faith. It just took us until the end of season five to understand the Locke's misplaced faith in the island.

  2. I have a problem with Locke calling this a trebuchet in that it really isn't. It's more of just a basic fulcrum using gravity. A trebuchet, as also stated in your definition above flings a projectile forward in an up and over motion using a counterweight. The device that Locke built does no such thing, just using gravity in a see saw manner to bring force down upon the hatch.

  3. Well, for what it's worth, it turns out that John Locke wasn't quite the expert at all things that he and we thought when he said this. So it's easy for me to forgive the error. It's sort of like when my mom said thre was a "Snaflu" at work when she means "Snafu." She's got about 6/7ths of it right.

    Frankly, John could have told Boone it was a "One Two Bammer" and Boone would have assumed John knew what he was talking about.