"Across the Sea"
Written by Damon Lindelof and Cartlon Cuse
Directed by Tucker Gates
In which the story of Jacob, his rival, and their long struggle on the island is finally revealed...
Status Report - Final Analysis
Sometimes the most complicated of situations begins with a simple scenario. And sometimes it can be maddening to discover that some answers simply don’t exist, or ultimately don’t really matter. With the expectations for the final season of “Lost” so high, especially in terms of answers to long-standing questions, it’s not easy to realize that the audience is meant to do some of the ground work itself.
Already it is being said that this is perhaps the most polarizing episode of “Lost” yet, and that’s understandable. This was not the mythological info-dump that many had anticipated. Instead, it was a glimpse at key events and moments that factored into the ordeal experienced by the survivors of Oceanic 815 for the past six seasons. Where detailed explanations were expected, epic in scope, the writers maintained their typical tonal focus.
And that probably should not have been unexpected. Look at “Ab Aeterno”, after all. The episode that was supposed to reveal Richard’s history on the island and answer dozens of questions regarding specific motivations at key points of the story amounted to a tiny sliver of his background. Yet it is also considered one of the best episodes of the series.
That’s probably not going to be said about this episode, even if one accepts that the writers were never going to switch gears and deliver a one-hour Powerpoint presentation on the history of Jacob and his brother. Richard’s story had the benefit of being, at the core, a human story. The viewers could identify with Richard’s plight and his choice.
By contrast, “Across the Sea” is a pure slice of modern mythology. As much as it reveals the basic conflict on the island and why this story is taking place, it is far removed from the familiar trappings of the series. And if one is unprepared for an origin story that is as much metaphor as it is revelation, reactions could be markedly negative.
In essence, some of the criticisms of this episode underscore the very reasons why the writers didn’t try to deliver a precise explanation for the innate mysteries of the island. The concepts at the heart of the story are so metaphysical in nature that it just wouldn’t be satisfying. Sometimes the knowledge of the idea of something is better than knowledge of the thing itself.
Take, for instance, the explanation that there is a cave of bright light that is, in essence, the “heart of the island”. This ties directly into the metaphor of the cork on the Hell bottle from “Ab Aeterno”. Once one accepts the idea that the island is akin to a cork, and that a crack or pore in the cork could let out some of what is trapped behind it, then the rest is really unnecessary.
Jacob has already said that if his rival (who could now be called Adam) escapes the island, then it would mean the death of everyone in the world. This clearly ties into the idea that a spark of the light from the island is contained in every man, woman, and child. The desire for more of the light from this universal Source drives the corruption that both Eve and later Adam say despoils humanity. (Those familiar with aspects of Jewish mysticism may recognize this concept.)
This episode makes it very clear that the light is not the only important element; there is also the water to consider. Water is very important in this episode. Adam makes it very clear that the successful manipulation of the properties of the Source to leave the island relies on a combination of “light” and water. Again, the details don’t really matter, because the net effect is already known.
The Source could be the most important part of the entire episode. Strip away the metaphysical aspects, and it is simply the core electromagnetic/temporal anomaly on the island. In that respect, the light could simply be an outward manifestation of the true nature of the anomaly itself. One could even postulate that the physical, energetic properties of the Source mimic the miraculous: astonishing healing, extension of life, and the persistence of the spirit. The Source fuels all of that, regardless of its metaphysical nature.
Eve’s presence on the island as the keeper of the Source points to the cyclical nature of the mythology. Eve was not some perfect individual, and she certainly didn’t think that humanity was capable of avoiding corruption. But she had been the keeper of the Source for a long, long time, and she needed to find a replacement. And it would appear that Eve felt that a child, untouched by the corruptive nurturing of human society, would be the perfect Candidate.
This reveals another aspect of the “Lost” story: the question of nature vs. nurture. Eve was convinced that the nature of humanity is evil, and that the only way to develop a person to become the next keeper of the Source was to raise a child apart from humanity’s influences. One can only speculate that this is how she was raised herself. She only anticipated one child, Jacob, when she abducted Claudia for the purposes of stealing her baby. The entire “Lost” epic is hinged on the fact that Claudia delivered twins.
This clearly intersects with several elements introduced in the first season. Eve chose Adam to be her initial successor, because he was “special”. This is precisely the kind of language that was used with Walt and Aaron. In a way, this ties up Walt’s purpose in the narrative; he had the qualities that could have made him the ideal Candidate. But something went wrong long before Walt might have been chosen, twisting the possibilities.
Before Walt, John Locke was the presumptive Candidate to take over for Jacob. At the very least, he was seen as a potential leader for the Others. But Adam conspired to derail Locke’s selection, and then set up Ben Linus as an alternative. When Richard thought that Ben could see the dead, he didn’t know (or take into account) Adam’s ability to take on the form of the dead. (As an aside, this is why Hurley continues to be in the running as the Candidate or future leader of the New Others. His ability to communicate with the dead is a sure sign.)
For all intent purposes, Adam controlled the Others in the post-Widmore period. This was important to his machinations; when the Others were ready to abduct children, the reasoning was tainted. It wasn’t to bring a potential Candidate into a pro-Jacob society. It became a question of self-preservation. While it has been long theorized that the Incident caused the reproductive issues among the Others, it may have been Adam’s unseen influence on events. Thus the apparently ancient practice for selecting and preparing Candidates became a means of eliminating them from the game. (Keeping in mind that it’s still unclear how a person stops being a Candidate, since moral perfection is not a prerequisite.)
As said, this does put Walt and Aaron into a position in the narrative that explains their importance earlier in the story. It wasn’t about them as individuals per se, but what they represented. Just about everything that happened in the first three seasons between the survivors of Oceanic 815 and the Others was a direct consequence of Adam’s overarching “loophole” plan. This episode finally makes sense of what was, based on strict adherence to limited perspective and unreliable narrators, seemingly contradictory.
And frankly, if it’s not entirely convincing, it’s because the story itself hinges on the fact that Eve, and later Jacob, were in a position as keeper of the Source to apply their “special” abilities however they liked. The “rules” of the current engagement, which seem both basic and obtuse, come out of Jacob’s desire for control over a situation he never really chose. Jacob is no more perfect than any other human being, yet his imperfect “rules” could have massive consequences.
Jacob’s humanity is obvious throughout the episode. The writers invoke the classic Biblical story of Jacob and Esau in the tension between Jacob and Adam. Eve clearly favors Adam, and Jacob is jealous of his brother’s apparent birthright. Ultimately, Jacob gets what he thinks he deserves, but his motives are never pure. His decision to kill Adam by tossing him into the Source, without thought to the consequences of that choice, reveals Jacob’s inherent violence.
In a sense, Jacob’s very actions support Eve and Adam’s contention that humans are inherently evil and corrupt. And in light of Jacob’s own flaws, his inability to find a suitable Candidate for replacement for over 2000 years becomes even more understandable. Jacob wants to find someone who will embrace the “tabula rasa” opportunity provided by the island and overcome their mistakes and regrets to become something better. In a way, Jacob is looking for someone who transcends his own shortcomings, and that’s no simple task. (And explains why Jacob needed Richard to be his intermediary.)
Yet it also ties directly into the redemption themes of “Lost”. For better or worse, the surviving Candidates are all viable because at some point in their lives, they chose to let go of the past. Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Sawyer have made the kind of journey that Jacob seeks. (Assuming, of course, that the seeming loophole with Kate is real and not just a production error!) As much as the overwhelming thrust of the story points to Jack, it really could be any of those four.
Many fans say they don’t want Jack to be the Candidate because, for so long, he was an insufferable and stubborn jerk. But in a way, that’s exactly the point. If Jack hadn’t been unlikeable, then his recent turn towards a more sympathetic personality wouldn’t have been meaningful. And if Jack is still not the most likeable person in the world, that only speaks to the underlying message: that no one is perfect, but everyone has the hope of redemption.
So, the mythological aspects of this episode explain the focus on “special” children, the underlying nature vs. nurture aspects of the Jacob/Adam conflict, the capricious nature of the “rules”, and why the story’s focus on the eventual consequences of these events just about make these event irrelevant. For all that this is great information, it’s not really enough at this stage of the game. Thankfully, it’s also not the full extent of what was revealed.
Eve says that she gave the “game” to Adam. The game is Egyptian, and ultimately, the Egyptians were well established on the island. It would have been nice to know if the Temple, the statue of Tawaret, and the rest of the ancient structures came before or after Eve. Certainly there were hints that Jacob and Adam were more closely related to the Egyptians than the Romans. (Though why a Roman woman would choose a distinctly Hebrew name during that period is also hard to fathom.)
But it’s clear that Eve was not the first keeper of the Source, only the one that started this particular cycle in the story. She could have been raised by the previous keeper after being taken from her people just as she stole Jacob and Adam. Her experiences with the colonizing Egyptians could have been the basis for her negative opinion of humanity. At the same time, many of the Egyptian ruins suggest that they were aware of Jacob and Adam as they are currently known, which places their arrival after Jacob’s ascension as keeper.
Touching back on the imagery of light and water in this episode, the Temple and its spring suggests a link between the typical use of the spring’s water and the Source. The extensive ancient tunnels around the island suggest that Adam’s bid to tap into the Source never abated. If the water in the spring was infused with the power of the Source, as it seems, then Adam would likely have assumed that the Source was close and potentially accessible. And it’s equally logical that Jacob would have converted the original inhabitants of the Temple, once aware of Adam’s plans, to his own ends, thus eventually making the Temple off-limits to Adam within the context of the “rules”.
This all touches on Adam’s current motivations, which are not entirely clear, even after this episode. As a human, Adam became obsessed with getting off the island, if only to know the world that had been denied him. Eve seemed content to allow Adam to see the evil within humanity on his own, right up until Adam was ready to start tapping into the Source to leave the island. One can assume that it was Adam’s threat to the Source that was the issue, not his plan for leaving. From Eve’s perspective, leaving to hang out with Romans on or off the island couldn’t have been all that different. Also, one can assume that the Romans tried to leave the island by boat, and Adam was aware that wouldn’t work.)
Just as Adam was likely the instigator of the creation of the tunnels under and around the Temple, Adam probably talked someone (perhaps his Egyptian thralls) to complete the donkey wheel device. (Adam clearly uses castaways’ desire to get off the island to his own end.) As already stated, why the donkey wheel worked doesn’t matter; the nature of the Source as an electromagnetic/temporal anomaly makes the point moot. That it lets people out in Tunisia is also incidental in light of these revelations.
Yet it all points to a single question: what happened when Jacob tossed Adam into the Source, and why is it a fate worse than hell? It wasn’t just that Adam’s soul was ripped from his body. And it is apparent that over the course of 2000 years, the emergence of the “smoke monster” version of Adam has had an effect on the Source.
There are two likely explanations. The first pertains to Eve’s decision to give Adam the game, which sets up the classic white/black dichotomy. This touches on the notion that there is good and evil in every person, held in balance. Eve believed that the evil was eventually pre-dominant, unless the good was sufficiently nurtured. If a typical human being is exposed to the Source, it could literally tear that person’s soul apart. The spark of the Source within Adam could have been held within the Source, while his dark and evil side could have manifested as the incorporeal smoke monster. If Adam is somehow still aware of this fragmented existence, it would be 2000 years of torture.
Alternatively, Adam’s entry into the Source could have created a “crack” in the metaphorical cork holding back the darkness. If Jacob was not just interpreting Adam’s state of existence incorrectly (and there’s no telling if Jacob understands the true nature of what happened to Adam), then maybe something was unleashed from the Source. And what is the name of the hellhound at the gates of Hell? Cerberus, of course, once again pointing to the notion that the writers have been planting seeds for all this since the beginning!
So what is Adam’s current goal? It’s not getting off the island; that was a pretext for gathering the remaining Candidates and getting them to kill themselves on his behalf. Instead, if Adam wants to “go home”, in either proposed scenario above, that location is the same: the Source itself. Either Adam wants to be reunited with the other side of his consciousness, still held within the Source, or he wants to return to the Hell when whence he came. Either way, it required killing Jacob and anyone with the potential to take Jacob’s place, thus acquiring the power to prevent Adam from going to the Source.
It’s clear that letting Adam get to the Source would be a bad thing. The effect of his relationship to the Source has already been seen. The Source as seen by the original donkey wheel tunnel was still warm and vibrant; it is now frozen and cold. The Source no longer enervates the spring in the Temple. And even if Jacob tried to hide the Source from Adam for all this time, to the point of pushing his Others to eliminate anyone who came close to threatening the Source (likely the true purpose of the Purge of the Dharma Initiative), it’s very likely that Adam knows exactly where it is.
After all, there is one individual on the island, going back to the very beginning, who always described his original experience with the spiritual side of the island in very different terms from everyone else. It always seemed odd that John Locke described what appeared to be his encounter with Adam as a “beautiful bright light”. Was that because Adam had been preparing Locke as his tool for so long, and knew how to manipulate him, or was he showing Locke what he wanted Locke to find? Even if Locke had only gotten a glimpse of the Source, that could explain his early insistence that the island was special.
As much as Adam might want to get back to the Source, he also cannot allow the Candidates to get to it, either. That’s probably been true since the first time Jacob brought a Candidate to the island. And perhaps that was why it was assumed that the smoke monster was some kind of “security system”. Whenever Candidates got too close to the Source, Adam would kill or subsume the non- or failed-Candidates, thus frightening off the Candidates in the process. This suggests that the cave leading to the Source is within the “Dark Territory”.
(And since it’s now known that the “rules” prevent Adam from killing a Candidate, it now seems clear that those damn trees from the first few seasons had nothing to do with survival. That never made sense, anyway!)
Ultimately, the Source is at the heart of the resolution of the story. It seems obvious that Adam is trying to get back to the Source without anyone to stop him. It also seems obvious that Widmore, whether aware of the nature of the Source or not, is trying to find it and get there first. And it’s equally obvious that Desmond’s unique nature is meant to shield him from the kind of effect that the Source had on Adam, and that this is key to ending the current crisis.
That is why Adam wanted Desmond dead. He doesn’t know how Desmond’s unique nature might interfere with his plans. It’s not just that Desmond isn’t a Candidate and thus can be killed; Adam clearly feared that Desmond would be a problem. And because this episode makes it clear that the existence of Adam’s current form is the result of a very specific mistake, there are two aspects to successful resolution of the story.
First, the matter of Adam must be resolved. Jacob, directly or indirectly, is using Widmore and Desmond to fix the mistake that set this entire conflict in motion. If it was as simple as Jacob or his replacement sealing Adam back where he belongs, it would have already been done. As no human has previously been able to withstand the Source without presumably repeating the Adam problem, the opportunity is only now coming into focus. The key assumption is that Adam, as the smoke monster, is a threat to the Source, and all of Jacob’s cruel manipulations have been designed to eliminate that threat. (All, of course, in keeping with the methods he learned from Eve.)
Second, even when the matter of Adam is settled, there is still the need for someone to take Jacob’s place as keeper of the Source. Because the Source, unlike Adam, is inherent to the integrity of the “Lost” universe on the order of pure myth, it can’t be resolved away. So someone needs to be the Candidate and start the cycle over again, learning from the lessons of Jacob’s mistakes. Even without Adam, there is still a Source, still a keeper, and still a need for someone to lead the eventual New Others.
Desmond’s role in the defeat of Adam must invariably incorporate the meaning and purpose of the “Lost X” timeline. After all, when Desmond was exposed to the massive electromagnetic field test, his consciousness shifted to “Lost X” for a time. Logically, if Desmond were to enter the Source, the same thing would happen. The difference, this time, is that Desmond X has been actively bringing the passengers of Oceanic 815 together in the “Lost X” timeline. It all has to fit together to make this season-long sideways jaunt meaningful and worthwhile.
There is still the small matter of Richard, Ben, and Miles, and how those characters are going to fit into the equation. All the signs point to sacrificial actions on their part, but there’s every reason to suspect some final surprises. It could be that Jack’s bid to end the conflict once and for all will require someone to keep Widmore out of the equation, and that could set up a long-awaited Ben/Widmore showdown.
It’s reasonable at this point to assume that Jack will be the Candidate, but what does that mean for Kate? The problem with Kate is that her role has never been well-defined. She has gone through a redemptive arc by raising Aaron and subsequently devoting her life to finding Claire, but that’s not enough to explain her prominence in the story. So if Kate is not the Candidate, what role does she play?
Some might be disappointed if this speculation comes to pass, but it’s very possible that Kate is currently pregnant with Jack’s child. Jack and Kate slept together on the night before the Ajira 316 flight that brought them back to the island. Kate only spent a few days in 1977, and only a couple weeks have passed since their return to 2007. Kate wouldn’t even know she was pregnant yet, but it’s a fair guess that Jacob or Adam would know.
If Jack were to take on Jacob’s mantle as keeper of the Source, all the reasons for Kate to stay behind on the island would remain intact, whether Claire survives to leave the island or not. Jack and Kate both have plenty of family issues between them to agree, on some level, that their child might be the best choice for an eventual successor. After all, they know what it was like to be manipulated into coming to the island, and they would probably want to avoid doing that to someone else. As a new “Adam and Eve”, starting the next cycle, it would explain Kate’s overall significance and why her redemptive arc was focused on motherhood.
These nuances and insights are all a result of this episode and the context it provides. Within the overall story of “Lost”, it’s clear that this relatively simple mythological tale brings plenty of answers to the table. Unfortunately, taken on its own, it’s too far removed from the main narrative thrust to reach the same heights as “Ab Aeterno”.
Overall, this episode provides a mythological lynchpin for the entire “Lost” saga. While it does not give the sort of answers that were anticipated, it does provide enough perspective to put most of the pieces into place for the final resolution of the tale. Taken on its own, however, it doesn’t quite hang together, and some important elements feel rushed and vague. Of course, after the events of the previous episode, it may just seem too slow and ponderous in comparison.
Final Rating: 7/10
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