(Guest post by Greg Forster)
For a while during this week’s episode I was thinking that using the time-travel plot device to go back and fill in all the continuity holes (e.g. what was up with Rousseau and her teammates getting “sick”?) is really, really good for the show – in fact, I started to think that it works a little too well. It’s very convenient that the Island ’s flashes just happen to bring Jin to the right place at the right time to see Rousseau’s team get attacked, and then her later elimination of the “sick” team, and then – supreme convenience! – meet up with the other castaways.
But then it dawned on me that this “too convenient” dynamic isn’t a problem at all – because it returns us to the central theme of the first season, which began to trail off in the second season and has been moved to the background of the show for some time now – the theme of the Island having a plan and a purpose, rather than just being a passive natural phenomenon.
Over time, as we’ve learned more about what’s on the Island and how the Island works, the focus has been on 1) the mechanics of the Island’s power, and 2) the conflict between the various human organizations (Dharma, the Others, Widmore, and now the 1950s U.S. Army) who have striven for control of its power. The mysterious things that happen on the Island have been less and less about the Island ’s purpose and more about powers harnessed by humans for their own purposes. This goes all the way back to the season 2 button-pushing hatch, where the unimaginable power in the hatch was under human control (first by Dharma and then by castaways). Back in season 1, when stuff happened on the Island it wasn’t under the control of anyone that we know of, except the Island itself, and the power of the Island was directed not to human purposes but rather to the Island ’s purpose for the humans – getting them to confront their inner demons. In season 4 there was a little bit of the Island having its own purpose, with John getting his commission from Christian to move the Island, but that was mainly framed as part of the war between the Others and Widmore.
In this season, at long last the Island is once again its own master. Clearly someone or something with a mind of its own wanted Jin to see what he saw and then carry the knowledge back to the rest of the group. And when Christian told John, “I told you that you had to move the Island – I said you had to move it, John,” and all the ramifications of that began to dawn on me, I was overjoyed. The perfect finishing touch was when Christian said he couldn’t help John get up, and John had a moment of – panic? anger? hard to say – but then accepted it and steeled himself to drag himself up with his own strength. Because he doesn’t need to understand. He needs to carry out his orders and trust that they’re right.
And notice that after John promised not to bring Sun back, Christian emphasized to John that his orders are to bring everyone back.
So now that we’re getting answers to the questions about what kind of power the Island has, the show is going back to the questions it raised in season 1 – namely what kind of purpose lies behind that power.
And we don’t have any answers about that yet. Is the Island’s mind independent? Or is “Jacob” some kind of collective projection of the inner desires and fears of the people on the Island, such that their personal demons get reflected back to them in the Island ’s behavior? Or is the Island a gateway to the afterlife? Note that Charlotte ’s statement “the Island is death” was the episode’s title. They’re deliberately dredging up the theory that the Island is really some sort of Purgatory – but they’re not committing themselves to that theory in any way, they’re just reminding us that it’s one possibility.
Final thought: perhaps John’s death was necessary so that Sun could be recruited to return to the Island without John having to break his word. If so, John’s death could be viewed as a poetically just penalty for his making a promise to Jin that he knew he shouldn’t have made. Because he disobeyed his orders, John doesn’t get to come back to the Island – sort of like Moses’ death on the mountain, just before his people enter the promised land, was his punishment for a seemingly trivial disobedience. John’s death being a “sacrifice” doesn’t conflict with its also being a punishment, as any student of theology will tell you.
But if John’s death is arranged in any way by the Island – as a penalty, a sacrifice, whatever – that implies the Island is somehow in control of events not just on the Island, but everywhere. Perhaps through human agents loyal to it or at least under its influence, or perhaps in some other, more disturbing way.
Either way, it’s clear that this season we’re not just out to discover what lies behind the time travel, the cursed numbers, the smoke monster, etc. We’re also – perhaps we’re primarily- out to discover what lies behind the words “Jacob sent me.”