In the CaPC Water Cooler, our writers discuss the implications of the latest cultural events. These days, we’re discussing Lost.

Previous Installments:

Pre-season: Lost’s Biggest Question.

Pre-season, part 2:  Lost’s Free Will Dilemma.

Season Premiere: ‘Lost’ Patience.

What Kate Did: Poor Jack.

Warning! If you are not completely caught up with Lost, you won’t want to read any further.

Richard wrote,

“Hey Jacob.”


“I’m just letting you know, I’m putting this scale here. I thought it might be fun.”

“Fun? How?”

“Well, it could be a fun way to keep score of like, who is winning.”

“But, man in black, there is no score.”

“Well more than that it can serve as a representation of our dualistic relationship, and when one of us dies we can dramatically cast it into the ocean. This will be a mystery to whomever we bring back to the cave, but will be incredibly blatant to anyone who might be watching the TV movie or something about the events here on the island later on.”

“Oooh, mystery. I like that.”

“I thought you would.”

And with that, the most heavy handed symbolism in the Lost universe was created. It’s the only real complaint I have about this week’s episode.

We’re a Christian web site, so let’s start by pointing out what seems obvious to me: Jacob has become a sort of symbolic stand-in for God and his mysterious methods. This was way more than hinted at in last season’s finale, but even more clear when the Man in Black made his case to Sawyer:

“At some point in your life, probably when you were young, miserable, and vulnerable he came to you, manipulated you, pulled your strings like you were a puppet. And as a result, choices you made were never really choices at all. He was pushing you, James. Pushing you to the island.”

The question at hand during most of our discussions has been whether Lost has adequately addressed the issue of faith versus reason or just used it as a sort of plot point. I think much of what has been said about the simplistic way the issue has been addressed has been correct. It’s obviously a theme, but it’s also one that doesn’t go much beyond simply choosing to believe in something, anything. This is unfortunate.

But as the season goes on, and the objects of belief become more concrete, I would argue that the theme starts to take on a new life, and as a result gives all of those older struggles a newer meaning. What we see the characters in Lost struggling with is not whether or not they should have faith, but what they should have faith in. In this case, we are realizing they have two real choices: Jacob or the Man in Black. Let’s compare, shall we?

In this corner: Jacob, the man of mystery. He seems to truly care for the people he brings to the island. He has a real affection for them. It’s likely he has their good in mind. But it’s also clear that he lets some awful things happen to them. He might have even caused some of those awful things. What is it all for? For whatever reason, Jacob won’t say.

In the other corner: The Man in Black, the man of “truth.” He seems to be overcome with a desire to get off of the island, more than anything, though he also seems concerned that the survivors have been “mistreated” by Jacob. But he also kills people. He lets his anger get the best of him, or maybe he is at his most authentic when he is angry. What is it all for? As far as we know, he’ll tell us “everything.”

This is really a choice we all make: Do we prefer mystery or total enlightenment? Do we want to be lead around by a higher power, or do we want to make decisions on our own? Do we want to suffer for a purpose, or not at all?

And really there’s only one choice, because the other one doesn’t exist. We will never have total enlightenment. We will always be lead by an unseen force. And suffering happens. It might as well be for a purpose.

It seems to me like Lost is a show about accepting and embracing the mystery… even when it hurts. You know, like during that season with the cages.

Alan wrote,

Rich, your analysis of the two choices we have–Jacob or Flock–is interesting. The Man in Black/Flock does seem to represent the promise of knowledge, secret knowledge which the other “god” of the island kept back even from his most trusted creatures–Richard. Not to force a biblical parallel here (which means I’m about to), but it is striking to me that Sawyer was lured by Flock with the prospect of knowledge, just as Adam and Eve were tempted by Satan with forbidden knowledge. Taking that a step further, the fruit in the Garden of Eden was the fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil, and where does Flock take Sawyer? To a cave where Sawyer begins to question if Jacob was in fact “good” and where there is a white (good) and black (evil) stone.

And Sawyer’s desire for knowledge is the same desire that Lost fans have had since Season One. Like Sawyer, we want to follow the Man in Black into the cave (of good and evil?) to learn the secrets of the island. We want an explanation for all the mysteries that we have witnessed. But, perhaps part of the Man in Black’s point is to highlight the dangers involved in demanding answers for everything that we experience.

So what are we to do with these apparent allusions to biblical themes? As Ben brought up in response to the first episode of this season, I think there is a real possibility the writers are using various religious (as well as cultural) allusions, symbols, and metaphors not to explore the meanings behind these beliefs, but simply to add to the mystery of the story. On the other hand, perhaps the writers are thoughtfully engaging the nature of our desire for knowledge. You would think that after five seasons I would know whether or not Lost is going to intelligently use all these allusions, but with every new twist in the plot I never feel closer to knowing.


  1. @Rich–great opening to this article–I got a kick out of that!

    It will be interesting to see whether Lost will end with straight-up dualism or if one side will be shown to be nobler and more necessary than the other. The show seems poised to one of two ends at this point. Either they will somehow show that Jacob, all along had ultimate good in mind, which I doubt, because the show seems to champion libertarian free will or both Jacob and the MIB will be shown to be terribly flawed.

    I think you are right, the show has thrived on its mystery up to this point, unfortunately most of its fans will consider it an epic failure if it ends with mystery.

    @Alan–excellent point about the demand for answers/knowledge. I think there is a parallel there whether intended or not. It will be interesting to see how the show deals with this in the end.

    BTW–I watch online, so I haven’t seen this week’s episode yet.

  2. I’m not convinced that Sawyer has actually chosen Smokey (as I prefer to call the Man in Black). Season 5 saw Sawyer grow up in a big way. Even though we had a rousing discussion here a couple of weeks ago about Sawyer’s lapse into the Hulk-Sawyer of the first few seasons, I don’t think that growth has been entirely undone by Juliet’s death. I think Sawyer is on to Smokey, and is not truly “following” him like Smokey thinks.

    As to faith v. reason – I agree that it now looks like everyone is going to have to choose sides, and that the real choice isn’t between faith and non-faith, but between faith in different things/people/ideas.

    I’m starting to think that the writers of Lost are going to make some sort of homage to the Judeo-Christian system of belief (that there is a good God, or God-like being, in opposition to a force of darkness, and that goodness will ultimately win out), but that it will be incomplete. That is, I don’t see Lost ending with the “everybody evil is killed or apprehended and even though some people died, good triumphed completely” ending. I think good/light will triumph, but that evil/dark will continue on, held in check by the choices of Lost’s characters, but still present and waiting for a chance to make another move.

    As part of that, I am getting the feeling that we’re headed towards some sort of situation where either Jack or Sawyer ends up sacrificing themselves in order to defeat Smokey and restore balance to the island. We’ll see…

  3. @Joseph – I agree with you about Sawyer not having chosen. Many are speculating that this is just another “long con” and that sounds about right to me.

    In terms of the shift in the faith question – you’re absolutely right. Everyone is slowly learning to have faith and stop questioning, because they have no other choice – like life. But it’s an even more complex question now of who or what they place that faith in.

  4. @Drew,

    One of the theories being thrown around is that Jacob and MIB are the same deity, different personalities. How does that work? I have no idea. But it reflects the entire 3-in-1 view of God. We don’t understand how it works, but it is just there. This would stick with the idea of free will. How can we listen to someone who can’t even agree with himself?

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