“He’s Our You”
March 25th, 2009
When “316” first aired, it became immediately clear the way in which the rest of the season would unfold, the stories of how the Oceanic Six made their way onto that airplane serving as a new mystery, small but structurally valuable. In a couple of instances, there’s some really important character-driven reasons we’ve yet to uncover (See: Kate), or events which give us reason to be fearful (see: Ben).
But our question for Sayid has little to do with his agency, considering he was led onto the plane in handcuffs: Sayid swore he would not have anything to do with Ben, and whatever got him onto that plane was either something immensely powerful or something wonderfully manipulative. The mystery for Sayid was much less how he got on that plane, since it was clearly not in his control, but rather what he came back for, the same question that at one point Sawyer asks Kate point blank.
That’s ultimately the more interesting question, which makes “He’s Our You” much more about the eventual answer we receive than about anything we get in the meantime. While I find the return to an older style of flashback almost refreshing, a welcome breather after a lot of breakneck episodes as of late, nonetheless we spend a lot of time confirming what we had already presumed before. The value of the episode, then, is in the 1970s, where we see what happens when a man so averse to change decides not to trust anyone else’s word, not to allow anyone the ability to betray him, and to take advantage of an opportunity even when he feels destiny is starting him in the face.
And for the episode’s ending alone, it was all worth it.
One of the key themes within the 1977 timeline of the series is the idea of change, as discussed last week: all of these characters have transformed in a sense, so all of them have to redefine their existing relationships within a new context. The problem with the central relationship in this episode, between Sayid and Sawyer, is that one of them is resisting the particular change being presented to them while the other is not willing to have to go through change all over again. For one of them there is a moral imperative that is required for them to consider such a change, or to accept a particular fate, whereas the other has long gone past and ignored moral imperative in favour of a peaceful existence without the drama, without the fire vans.
It’s a strong connection for the episode because of how it integrates into Sayid’s flashbacks, and the question that Ben poses to Sayid about whether or not he enjoys killing. Sayid once did, there’s no question about it: from his very childhood we learn he was the one with little concern over death, and by seeing yet another kill from his days we last saw in “The Economist” we get another picture of what he did. It was interesting to see Ben, sporting an awesome fedora I might add, say to Sayid that these were not people who Ben wanted killed: they were the names that Sayid had asked for, and Ben was just the matchmaker of sorts. Sayid put his trust in Ben because he had no other purpose, and felt as if his friends on the island were in danger and that his wife’s tragic death left him with only them to be concerned with. When he was set free from Ben, he began to see what he had become, and resisted any temptation to return to that life until Hurley was in danger, and until Ben played to that moral imperative once again.
Now, the actual mystery of how he got onto the plane wasn’t a mystery at all: as soon as Ben made it clear that anyone would be able to find him you knew the woman on the plane was either a bounty hunter or law enforcement, and the eventual reveal was neither shocking nor particularly interesting. And the fact that Ben had been behind it, that Ben had gotten him captured and gotten him forced onto that flight to Guam, is yet another in the long list of of Ben’s cunning ploys, and at this point it’s beginning to become sort of a pattern that Sayid, and we as the audience, are catching up to.
This is why it worked so well for us to see Sayid face-to-face with Ben: as Sayid himself said, “a 12-year old Ben Linus brought me a chicken salad sandwich.” I found it interesting Sawyer’s justification for not having done something about it sooner was really quite simple, in that the kid didn’t actually pose anything close to a threat, but Sayid knew better from the beginning. He and Ben had a relationship before he left the island, to begin with, but he can’t really tell Sawyer about his time as a killer-for-hire without defining himself within Ben’s characterization of him as nothing but a killer, someone who likes and desires to commit the deed. He’s trying to change, he’s been trying to change ever sense, but if he thought Hurley being in danger was a scenario that required his attention, the very person who would later corrupt his existence and who will soon kill all of these people from the Dharma Initiative sitting in front of him offering up a sandwich is the kind of thing that would bring out every bit of rage inside of him.
As a result, I should have expected that conclusion, the justifably shocking moment when Sayid decides that he is a killer after all, that he isn’t able to change his ways, and responds by shooting Ben in the chest. Sayid had spent the episode trying to figure out his purpose: why was he brought back, why did it send him back to 1977, why did he end up where he did, etc. The “higher power” on Lost has always worked in mysterious ways, and Sayid definitely has some sense of its impact when he resigns himself to escorting Ben to the “hostiles” we know as the Others, to the man we know is Richard Alpert and the future we know involves the entirety of the Dharma group dead and gone. But once Sayid truly gets out there, with a gun in his hand, he can’t resist: it’s like the temptation that the bounty hunter was talking about, the temptation to keep doing what sustains you in some way. It’s a pattern of behaviour that Sayid was trying to change, but the alternatives felt just as corrupt, and just as rife to eventually end up where we left them here, Ben bleeding out on the road and Daniel Faraday, somewhere, being really really concerned about all of this.
It was also a really fundamentally shocking moment in an episode that was lacking something on that level. With only the one island timeline, there wasn’t much to go on otherwise, so having a moment of sheer panic as you start to consider the ramifications, or even a moment of just plain shock before you turn off the TV and go to bed, there was something that felt like both a culmination of what we saw in the episode (Sayid dealing with change, imperative, etc.) as well as something game-changing for pretty well every timeline in the episodes that will follow.
Ultimately, I feel as if it was all part of destiny still – considering that Jack was also on the plane, and is likely capable of removing a bullet, perhaps this is how Ben enters into a slightly more stable relationship with his father. The image of Roger as a vicious and violent man helps to explain at least some of Ben’s problematic behaviours later in life, but this seems too early for Ben to be leaving (and we know this: he was still technically part of Dharma when he committed the genocide. Perhaps Ben’s near-death with inspire Roger to be a better father, even if he will eventually be killed at his son’s hands: perhaps Sayid’s intervention was a necessary component to their relationship.
Time Travel and paradoxes have brought out a lot of theories like this, but what I like is how aware the characters are: Sayid knows that he has to be there for a reason, and what so bothers him is that the reason seems so counter-intuitive to his inner emotional state. There is no one here being entirely manipulated by fate: Sayid getting to this point was partially his own doing, partially Ben’s doing, partially the island’s doing, and you could even argue partially the doing of his father for creating an expectation in him as a child that killing was required to be a man. That early childhood flashback was short and small, but giving Sayid not so much Daddy issues so much as the kind of Father who could have created them was a smart creative decision that held the episode together better than I expected at first glance.
The rest of the episode kind of sat back on its laurels a bit, where any reveals were either subtle character moments or reveals of information we already know. The latter was particularly awkward and kind of oddly placed: I liked Sawyer’s delivery of the title line, and there was something poetic about Oldham, Dharma’s own torture master, but I don’t really know what it provided us. They ended up brushing it off as some sort of crazy hallucination resulting in an overdose of truth serum, so its impact on the rest of the episode was minimal at best. I do greatly enjoy the scientific way with which Sayid answered their questions, and that the seed of the coming genocide has at least been planted, but other than making Radzinsky even more paranoid (which I didn’t realize was possible) I don’t feel as if we’ve spent enough time with the Dharma characters to really see this as a fundamental shift; something to use later, I suppose.
The smaller character stuff was just kind of there: I liked seeing Sawyer ask Kate the question about why everyone came back primarily because we’re still looking for those answers too, and I liked the measure of civility between Juliet and Kate as opposed to something approximating a catfight. Sawyer, meanwhile, remains a comic machine: his line about “even the new Mom wants you dead” was the perfect way to express Sawyer’s unwillingness to become a fundamentally different person even while clearly trying to save Sayid and be responsible. The same goes for his reaction to the flaming van, although I do have some questions in regards to how (precisely) Sawyer was dumb enough to not realize it was a trap of some sort, immediate danger of the fire notwithstanding.
Overall, it’s all about that ending: the episode led up to it, the next episode will have to lead out from it (at least somewhat), and overall we have a piece of the puzzle of Flight 316. Smartly, it doesn’t so much make the “past” more interesting, but rather heavily complicates the “present” and these characters’ interaction with it. That’s the right way to handle these flashbacks, and I look forward to seeing more of them in the weeks to come.
- I love how the second someone gets a brother we have to ask ourselves if we’ve met him before: my immediate answer is no, but I feel as if something has to happen to him if we’ve never heard of him before, or if Sayid had no contact with him during the period following his wife’s death and the like.
- Not enough can be said for how great Sterling Beaumon is as the young Ben Linus: Sayid having this uncanny feeling about the whole experience wouldn’t work if the young actor wasn’t knocking this out of the park, and it’s the kind of wonderful marriage of casting and performance that deserves a heck of a lot of credit.
- Based on a few responses I read, I was not the only person to notice the amazing cafeteria worker (Hurley’s co-worker, as we learned he’s now become a cafeteria employee himself) with the giant Afro serving food. This is clearly in the pre-hairnet era, and for that I am thankful.
- Right now, we’re missing the two characters who are supposed to be able to do something about what Sayid did at episode’s end: Faraday is supposed to understand how it works, and Desmond is supposed to be able to transcend the normal rules. Sayid didn’t quite get that memo, having not been around for the time skipping, so he wouldn’t have had any notion of rules, but I feel as if he still knew enough about paradoxes that Faraday is going to give him a lecture next time he stops by 1977 in his wacky and wild adventures.