If there’s a single topic that you have been clamoring for over the last week of “Lost” entries, it’s been “the lists.” Some of you thought I forgot about them, others accused me of ignoring them, and at least one of threatened to put me on one if I didn’t start producing some insight into their derivation. But since one mere week of Others’-centric entries couldn’t begin to cover the gamut of interesting mysteries still surrounding the group, I’m happy to spill the series over into a second week. Never let it be said that I don’t give you people what you want.
It’s actually a good time to bring up the lists, in that my last entry talked about the gradual circling of the wagons that took place in Others’ culture over the course of the 20th century. I suggested that perhaps Jacob’s original plan was to systematically gather the proper people to The Island in a painstakingly precise and long manner: not unlike his tapestry underneath the statue. But each passing generation lost Jacob’s original message, like a sociological game of telephone in which each successive iteration dulls the message that much more.
By the time Locke and Company run into the 1954 version of The Others, they view any and all outsiders as inherent threats. Instead of accepting and embedding the best elements from the outsiders, they instead shunned them entirely, leading to a type of cultural entropy seen in incestuous cultures. But there’s a problem above and beyond the type of breeding made famous by the British royal family: in cutting off the outside world, they not only cut off potential people to aid in their attempts to be Jacob’s hopes for human progress, they also cut off any and all different/dissenting opinions on life itself.
In other words, instead of a democratic spread of information coming from the bottom up, everything spread in an autocratic way from the top down. Now, even when such information is viable, it doesn’t suit the way many people want to live their lives. But when said information is compromised or in fact created, then the capacity and opportunity for corruption is not only easy, it’s almost inevitable. Movies as varied as “Wanted” and “The Invention of Lying” explore this topic in great detail, and it’s high time to apply it to “Lost” as well.
In terms of the various lists seen on the show, we can no longer trust that any of them truly came from Jacob. There are simply too many variables at play: Jacob’s hands-off nature, Richard’s mysterious alliances, Ben’s shifty, manipulative disposition…you could split off the “if…then” statements in a dozen, equally viable ways when it comes to these three. Assume Jacob wrote all those lists out: well, what did he actually want these people for, and were they incorporated in the manner he meant? Did Richard correctly disseminate the lists from Jacob? Did he make them up? Did he take marching orders from The Man in Black either consciously or unconsciously? Did Ben actually receive any lists at all, or did he simply take Mikhail’s background info and disguise his motives under the guise of “Jacob’s will?”
The latter case fascinates me, since it’s a classic, “From you, alright! I learned it by watching you!” moment in “Lost” history. In “Dead is Dead,” we see Ben Linus attempt to kill Danielle Rousseau on behalf of Charles Wdimore’s order. Widmore, in turn, doesn’t directly say he’s acting on Jacob’s behalf, but does say, “You might find this difficult to understand, Benjamin… every decision I’ve made has been about protecting this Island.” Ben’s defiance of the order is dangerous to Widmore in that the decision throws into peril the delicate power structure in place amongst The Others.
The delicate nature of this structure is something on Ben’s mind at the end of Season 3, in which John Locke’s actions threaten to tear asunder the power structure he’s held onto since Widmore’s banishment from the Island. It’s a structure that seems indestructible on the surface, but rotten to the core once you look under the hood. To see just how delicate it is, let’s go down to the Looking Glass and see:
Mikhail: What would happen if this station were to be flooded?
Greta: Nothing. The casing for the equipment is waterproof, it’ll keep going forever.
Mikhail: Then why do you need to be here?
Bonnie: Because Ben told us to. We were following orders.
Mikhail: And you never asked why?
Bonnie: No. Because I trust him. And I trust Jacob. And the minute I start questioning orders, this whole thing, everything that we’re doing here falls apart.
In Others’ society, Jacob doesn’t equal Others’ Leader, but in terms of sacrilege, loss of faith in the latter is tantamount to lack of faith in the former. This arrangement is man-made, not Jacob-made, a decision inherent with man’s seeming inability to resist grabbing power for one’s own gain. Widmore used his time after Eloise’s departure to consolidate power in Jacob’s name but for the good of himself, not the Island or the Others.
Next time out, I’ll look closer at that consolidation of power through exploitation of Jacob’s name, how it related to his economic powerhouse in the real world, and the nightmares that plague his sleep since his exile.
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