[Spoiler disclaimer: I watched Lost last night. If you didn't, there's the door.]
Last week I was a little embarrassed to bring up the theory that Lost is playing out as a metaphor for the war on terror. This week, I’m embarrassed I didn’t have the idea earlier.
Last night, Sayid (Naveen Andrews), a former torturer in Saddam’s army, overcame his recently found scruples and went medieval on a stranger, captured in the jungle, whom he suspected of being one of the nefarious Others who have terrorized his band of castaways. (Complicating matters, in a flashback we discovered that he was taught to torture by an American officer, Carnivale’s Clancy Brown, who conscripted Sayid to interrogate a fellow Iraqi officer during the first Gulf War.)
What to do with the detainee (he claimed to have been stranded in a hot-air balloon crash, and we ended the episode not sure whether he was lying) also complicated the show’s power dynamic, as Sayid conspired with Locke (Terry O’Quinn) to imprison and rough up the man against the wishes of Jack (Matthew Fox). Locke put a particularly topical point on the issue for Jack, who, you’ll recall, planned to train the group as an army to attack the Others. “There’s only one reason to raise an army, Jack, and that’s to go to war. And whatever Sayid’s doing behind that door, like it or not, that’s part of it too.”
As I wrote last week, Lost certainly isn’t trying to make itself a neat parable of current events. In this episode, Locke takes the hawkish position, whereas last week he was telling Jack it was foolhardy to raise an army. (Or maybe they stand for two approaches to the war: small, black-bag actions versus large-scale military regime change.)
But above all, the ingenuity of this twist is that it puts the most gung-ho, whatever-means-necessary arguments in the mouth not of an American, but of a sympathetic Iraqi. In the past, Sayid has shown considerable regret for his past as a torturer. But defending his actions at the end of the episode to Charlie (Dominic Monaghan)–who was abducted by The Others last season–he sounds like a neocon pundit on Scarborough Country. “I feel no guilt for what I did to him,” he says. “But there is no way I can explain that to Jack, or even Locke, because both of them have forgotten.”
“That you were strung up by your neck and left for dead. That Claire was taken and kept for days during which God only knows what happened. That these people, these Others, are merciless and could take any one of us whenever they choose. So tell me, Charlie”Ã³Sayid gives him a searing lookÃ³”Have you forgotten?”
Sound familiar? We have a ruthless and dangerous enemy without scruples. But our naive critics want to fight this war like a friggin’ tea party, because they’ve forgotten the horrible losses we suffered! So what about you–are you on our side or theirs? Hell, if Dick Cheney weren’t otherwise engaged on Fox News that night, he could have done a cameo and delivered the speech himself.
Of course, I could be imagining all these parallels. Oh, and in other TV news, a new set of Abu Ghraib torture images were broadcast on Australian television. Yep, probably just a meaningless coincidence. Those happen all the time on Lost, right?