Tuned In

Lostwatch: A Mass Deception of Weapons

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Two thoughts, neither of them wholly baked, about last night’s episode of Lost (The usual spoiler-alert, avert-thine-eyes dictum applies here):

(1) Maybe no big-network show has asked viewers to identify so closely with so many characters who are, by most TV’s moral lights, pretty bad people. There’s Eko, for instance, who ran drugs and murdered people in Nigeria. Kate, a thief and fugitive. Charlie, the junkie. Sayid, the Iraqi torturer. Jin, the Korean mob henchman.

All of them have had their circumstances explained in flashbacks, have shown remorse and have done noble things on the island, but their transformations are not pat and automatic. Sayid has dealt out pain to get information (and, a preview of the next episode suggests, he will again), and Charlie has become an outcast, quasi-Gollum figure. Redemption is possible, Lost seems to say, but it’s not automatic.

And then there’s Sawyer, who got another always-entertaining moment in the spotlight, conning poor Kim Dickens in his flashback and conning Jack and Locke out of the island’s trove of guns in the present. Sawyer began as the show’s bad guy, which in the usual logic of network TV would mean either that he would stay the villain or would be converted inexorably into a roguish puppy dog. Instead, he wavers somewhere on the good-bad continuum, and we never know for certain where. He’s stolen and blackmailed, but he’s also shown tenderness and took a bullet for his friends on the raft at the beginning of the season. But last night, he was in a very dark place, engineering a coup as his flashback suggested he may never be able to change. "You’re a con man," his old grifting partner told him. "It’s not what you do. It’s who you are." Was he right? There are few answers on Lost, and fewer easy ones.

(2) And speaking of the whole gun-trove con, is it crazy to think that this plotline was some kind of vague metaphor for the war on terror?

OK, it’s totally crazy, but hear me out: You have a large, shadowy threat somewhere on the island (the Others). They’ve struck before, attacking innocents, but no one really knows how numerous or strong they are–or even where exactly to find them. One side wants to launch a pre-emptive strike (the Jack faction), and another thinks it would be foolish (the Locke faction). Some say it’s them or us; others, that if we don’t bother them, maybe they’ll leave us alone. And you have accusations that someone was using a false pretext (Sun’s "kidnapping") to scare the majority into breaking out the guns.

Don’t get me wrong: Lost is not a stupid or simple enough show to make itself into a literal, note-for-note editorial. I’m not saying Jack is George Bush (or would that be Sawyer?) or that Locke is, I don’t know, Howard Dean with better wilderness skills. But presumably its writers read newspapers, and TV reflects world events best not by mimicking them but by capturing a general zeitgeist: here, the fear of a horrible, proven and real threat, countered with the horrible and proven threat of what happens when fear runs amok — or is manipulated by a hidden agenda.

Here, too, of course, Lost has no answers, easy or otherwise. Too bad for us.