(This column is a 'footnote' to the "Fire + Water" rewatch column at Chud.com)
Fire + Water gave me the opportunity to stew over another pattern that’s asserting itself this season: the notable increase in potentially ‘supernatural’ visions and visitations. These visions and visitations almost unfailingly act to tempt Lost’s characters into behaviors and attitudes that are destructive to the self or the community – whether that’s Kate’s horse, Charlie’s Biblical dream, or Hurley’s forthcoming Dave encounters.
In the Rewatch column for “What Kate Did” I used Kate’s horse as an example of phenomena that could be explained via the supernatural or via the mundane depending on how the viewer chooses to interpret it, and I suggested that Lost intentionally keeps both options open to the audience – allowing us to come to conclusions that are informed foremost by our own perspectives, biases and preferences. In other words: is a force outside of the castaways providing them with fuel for relapse and regression? Or are the castaways themselves responsible for these visitations?
Fire + Water gives us the opportunity to ponder this question again through Charlie’s visions. Through his flashback we come to understand the ways in which Charlie’s life Before Island may have provided all of the necessary psychological triggers to induce the sort of visions he experiences in this episode. At the same time, we the audience know that some manifestations on this Island appear to go beyond what appears to be ‘rational’ explanation (I’m thinking here specifically of Christian and Claire in ‘Jacob’s’ Cabin, and of Alex’s reappearance in S5). These appearances have all served an arguable primary purpose: to goad.
Let’s set aside the simpler, rational explanation for Charlie’s vision and explore the less rational for a moment.
Charlie’s mother urges him to ‘protect’ Aaron, but his efforts to do so only succeed in further separating Charlie from the rest of the castaways, making him look as though he’s begun to lose it, due to a combination of stressful factors (and perhaps he has – that’s certainly the ‘rational’ explanation). This motif occurs several times throughout S2, and in each instance the visitations and visions that appear to the characters seem to be urging them to let their deepest fears and neuroses take over – to give in to the kind of fear and self-doubt that plagues us all. We’ll see this again, even more explicitly, in the upcoming Hurley episode, “Dave.”
Viewing these episodes again with an eye toward the way this story develops in later seasons, I began to wonder whether a ‘higher power’ was sending Charlie these dream messages – with the apparent intent of isolating and disempowering Charlie Pace. But what power? Jacob? The MiB? The Monster?
Judging from my utterly-unscientific scouring of the internets, the Man In Black is currently the most popular suspect. The general consensus appears to be that the Man In Black (who is either working with the Smoke Monster, or who is in fact the Smoke Monster) has been appearing to the castaways in the form of ‘ghosts’ from their past. That’s an interesting assumption, if utterly unfounded, so let’s run with it for a moment straight into crazy-speculation-town.
Since the ending of Season 5 there’s been much theorizing about who, exactly, the Man In Black is. Is he an Adversary for Jacob, ala Satan? He appears that way – in his color-coded outfit and his pessimistic outlook. Season 5’s opening scene is practically a rewrite on the Book of Job, after all. It’s also been suggested that the MiB is a personification of, or allusion to, the Egyptian god Set.
But Lost, as this Rewatch is making clear, has never been content with such a simple one-to-one comparison – it isn’t interested in functioning as a new riff on any one myth. It’s more concerned with the idea of myth, and how people (ie: the audience) construct myth and legend, by using the bits and pieces of information we have at our disposal, and filling in the blanks via our experiences and our influences.
So who is the Man In Black, really?
We know now, courtesy of that maddeningly-vague and intriguing opening scene in “The Incident” that the Man In Black holds a fairly nihilistic view of visitors to the Island: “They come, they fight, they destroy, they corrupt. It always ends the same way.” Why should he care? Why should the MiB resent Jacob continually bringing people to the Island in order to enact some unspecified drama/game/experiment out over the centuries?
Maybe it’s because the Man In Black is the Island.
It’s my current, utterly-speculative opinion that every apparition we’ve seen on Lost so far has been a creation of the Island - in much the same way that Kris Kelvin’s dead wife in Solaris is a creation of the titular planet (note that Kelvin’s name in Solaris is shared by Clancy Brown’s Lost character, Kelvin Inman). Note that all of the people who have appeared as 'ghosts' over the course of the show are people whose dead bodies reside on the Island (the single exception being Dave - and that can be explained, if we're feeling generous, by assuming that the Island is able to access the memories of the castaways, as we see it do to Eko). All of these apparitions seem to be united in purpose – in an attempt to fracture the community apparently being assembled by Jacob and ultimately, to arrange the death of Jacob via proxy.
I submit that the Island itself wants very, very badly to kill Jacob.
Perhaps it craves what both the real John Locke and the John Locke of Lost so fiercely advocated – the same essential state that all of humanity aspires to, for better and for worse: