Lost in “The Incident” Part One: The Ramifications of Jacob

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Lost in “The Incident” Part One:

The Ramifications of Jacob

Every good season finale should do two things: it should place into context the actions of the previous episodes, and it should in some way hint or infer what might happen in the future. Of course, there is no exact science on how to do these things: there doesn’t need to be a distinct cliffhanger in order to excite viewers about what might take place in future episodes, and at the same time there doesn’t need to be a tidy conclusion to the action of the season for it to feel as if it has all come together.

One day out from “The Incident,” Lost’s fifth season finale, what I find most interesting is how the events of the episode manage to tie up absolutely nothing, end things on a cliffhanger with almost no evidence upon which to base hypotheses (which I’ll get to in Part Two over the weekend), and yet forced viewers to rewrite their opinions of the entire season thus far whether in regards to character motivations, theories of time travel, or even something as simple as the allegiance of an entire faction.

While the show has often used flashbacks and flashforwards as a way to alter the very fabric of the show, for the most part that was either illuminating a new plot point (people leaving the island), an individual character, or a macro-level showrunning decision that’s impact within the narrative itself was fairly limited. In this instance, what the show delivered was the installation of an idea so gut-bustingly radical that it does all of these things, introducing new plot elements and giving new depth to characters and their allegiances, while taking the usual show-running involvement and building it into the show itself.

In some ways, the two characters that we meet at the beginning of “The Incident” are the showrunners within the show, those who are there to pull some strings, to set into action events, and to watch as they unfold. However, there are obvious limitations to their abilities, and two very different philosophies behind them. Their identities, and the potential influences that inspired them, are the most important factor heading into the show’s sixth and final season, and the one that I’m going to try to wrap my head around here.

Because, in my view, the past, present and future of this island, these people, and this series all depend on them…or, more accurately, on their action or inaction. And so, in today’s first of two posts trying to figure out just what the finale’s events mean for the seasons that have come before and the show’s final season, let’s take a gander at the biggest revelation at all: the existence of two men who (arguably) rule them all.

There are two basic theories going around as to what Jacob and his friend, who appear in the episode’s opening scene, represent. The first is biblical, evoking the story of Jacob and Esau.

From Wikipedia:

Esau — the patriarch and founder of the Israelites — in the biblical Book of Genesis. Esau was the oldest son of Isaac and Rebekah and the grandson of Abraham. Jacob and Esau were fraternal twins; Rebekah bore Esau first and Jacob was birthed second, holding onto Esau’s heel. Thus, this subsequent occurrence traditionally entitled Esau to inherit the wealth of his father after his death…Genesis 25:29-34 shows Esau willingly selling his birthright to Jacob in exchange for a “mess of pottage” (meal of lentils). Controversy has surrounded this scripture, in that some have noted that Esau may have been in danger of starving to death and was taken advantage of by Jacob in a vulnerable moment. Certainly, Jacob’s refusal to share his food without exacting a high price from Esau is in conflict with Biblical principles for moral living such as charity and goodwill.

I would tend to feel that this is too perfect to not be at least slightly correct: not only does it add extra humour to Jacob’s offering of some fish to Man #2 (as he was known in the credits), but it also indicates why they would be fighting over the island and why Esau (let’s go with that name for the sake of the post) would feel as if he had in some way been cheated and left angered over how Jacob was using (or, more accurately, abusing, his control of the island). Plus, also from Wikipedia:

In the Book of Jubilees (which is neither part of the Jewish nor most Christian canons), Esau’s father, Isaac, compels Esau to swear not to attack or kill Jacob after Isaac has died. However, after the death of Isaac, the sons of Esau convince their father to lead them, and hired mercenaries, against Jacob in order to kill Jacob and his family and seize their wealth, (especially the portion of Isaac’s wealth that Isaac had left to Jacob upon his death).

This sounds awfully familiar, and could explain why Esau isn’t able to kill Jacob on his own.

What I think complicates this, however, is that this story conflicts with the other, much broader, theory circling around the episode. That, of course, is the basic theory of Black vs. White, good vs. evil: Esau is wearing a black shirt while Jacob is wearing white in that opening scene, and considering how far that particular theme has gone back (to Locke and Walt’s game of Backgammon in the pilot for pete’s sake) it seems like something that the show is interested in investigating.

However, what’s problematic with this for me is that I don’t know if I would so easily place Jacob and Esau on opposite sides of that binary. Yes, they are wearing the colours, but I’ve always felt that principles of good and evil are too simple for the Lost universe to really handle. Part of the interesting thing about all of the other binaries in the series is how variable they truly are: whether it’s science vs. faith, constantly underwritten by the moments where both Locke and Jack make critical errors in judgment, or the principle of destiny vs. free will that is constantly thrown under the microscope with no real answer on either side, nothing is ever black and white. If you start to place these binaries into a broader understanding of good vs. evil, things become much too easy, and the show loses its complexity.

And I think this extends to the show itself: as a result, let’s take a look at the different levels and how they shake out.

Jacob and Esau

Who: If we follow the biblical meaning, brothers who are have been in a power struggle over the island.

What do they want:

Jacob: is in control of the island at the time of the Black Rock, and his use of the island appears to be allowing people to find it, watching them fight and suffer and corrupt themselves and the space around them, only for them to leave or die out until Jacob repeats the cycle by bringing more people to the island. His reason for this appears to be a belief that someone is destined to come to the island and make a difference, and that bringing them there is part of the island’s destiny.

Esau: having lost control to Jacob, is constantly trying to find a loophole that will allow him to take control of the island, which he feels should remain hidden as opposed to used as a testing ground for Jacob’s theory of destiny. He appears to spend the rest of his time working against those who do come to the island in order to assist in their corruption and help disprove the theory that Jacob has put forward.

How they manifest:

Jacob: uses Richard (who Alan Sepinwall, amongst others, purports might be on the Black Rock) as a medium to communicate with a group who manage to stay on the island, and travels off island in order to assist people who he feels will help fulfill the island’s destiny in making their way to the island. Also, weaves elaborate tapestries, just for kicks.

Esau: uses dead bodies around the island to manifest and influence the action on the island (Christian to convince Locke that he needed to kill himself, Locke to convince Alpert to first put the seed into Locke’s mind about needing to die) and perhaps even off island (Hurley’s visions of Charlie, Libby, Eko, etc.). May also take the form of the smoke monster, and thus was responsible for Eko’s vision of Kemy, as well as Ben’s vision from Alex which convinced him to trust Locke without reservation.

Now, this is the basics of their relationship, although I have some questions as it relates to the smoke monster part that will work well in our next section, wherein we discuss the current generation of island leadership and the role that Jacob and Esau have played in their existence.

The Dharma Initiative

This gets complicated. Considering what we know about Jacob and Esau, the easiest theory here is that Jacob allowed them onto the island because their scientific investigations would be of particular interest to his idea of destiny. We’ve never really met the Dharma leadership, so it’s still possible that they have some sort of close tie to Esau, but I think Radzinsky in the finale is the basic Dharma mantra: he isn’t there to become part of this epic battle for the island’s existence, he is there to “change the world” through science and exploration. However, at the same time, Jacob’s group of Others were pitted against Dharma in the battle that had been in a truce until 1977, and the activations for Smokey (most closely associated with Esau) are under one of the Dharma houses. So, really, the only options here are that Jacob allowed a research vessel onto the island to test his theory of destiny further, or else Esau saw it as an opportunity to undermine Jacob’s group of Others (who had predated Dharma with the military installation that Richard was overseeing at the beginning of the season) by introducing an unstable element into the equation.

Richard Alpert

By all accounts, Richard is Jacob’s medium through which he passes orders and makes his presence known. It is not clear to what degree Richard is able to have opinions or to make actions on his own accord: he assisted Ben in New Otherton during Season 3, for example, but we never saw him living there, and perhaps there was some distance between he and Ben’s overall decision making. Considering that Alpert would later on view Locke as a replacement for Ben, feeding him information to help unravel and undermine’s Ben’s leadership (even if this was only because Locke himself had planted this), it’s clear that he and Ben weren’t always on the same page. Their relationship will be very important moving forward, as we piece together just what role Alpert had to play in all of this.

Charles Widmore and Benjamin Linus

We know that Widmore was once amongst Jacob’s followers: in fact, he along with Ellie were the leaders at the time of 1977, in the battle against the Dharma Initiative. We also know that, at some point, he is banished from the island for reasons unknown, leaving Ben in control of the Others. What isn’t quite clear at this point is what that event represents: was Widmore unfaithful to Jacob, or did Ben lead a coup that perhaps did not match up with Jacob’s plan for them, taking them all in an entirely new direction that Jacob did not fully endorse (hence the lack of communication between the two men throughout his time as leader). Regardless, what results is a power struggle within a power struggle: while Esau and Jacob are battling for the island, Widmore and Ben are battling for control of the Others and Jacob’s allegiance.

One wonders if, perhaps, Widmore found out too much: in assembling his team (Faraday, Charlotte and Miles) you have a scientist (and his son) who could chart the coordinates to overcome Jacob’s control of the island’s front gate so to speak, you have Charlotte to deduce the anthropological questions of both language and history that involve the Latin writing or the four-toed statue, and then you have Miles who would be able to communicate and see Esau when he is inhabiting a dead body. If Widmore knew enough to put all of this together, he must have been a lot closer with Jacob than Ben ever was.

Both men, however, clearly have similar rules to that of Jacob and Esau: their battle is like a microcosm of that one, in a sense. There seems to be a rule about killing family members (Alex being murdered, for example) just as there seems to be a rule about unleashing Esau (if Esau is the smoke monster) which is Ben’s form of retaliation. We are still missing some key scenes in the origin of their story, but I think I know why we haven’t seen them yet: without a greater understanding of the Esau/Jacob battle, they couldn’t have been thrown into the last Ben-centric flashback episode without needing to be contextualized later.

We also don’t know to what degree Ben hasn’t been slowly starting to move away from Jacob in certain decisions: my brother will pop in below with a more concrete version of this theory, but Jacob’s hand-holding was pretty minimal with Jack in the past, and apparently he wasn’t even on Jacob’s list (added by Ben? Or by Richard?) at the end of Season 2. Could it be that Ben has had his own vision all along, and that Jack is caught up in the middle of it? I don’t even know: these two were apparently on two different sides, and then we learned they used to be on the same side, and now we’ve learned that said side is part of an ever larger side. And while this is definitely more complicated, it will also make that revelations in Season 6, which we can probably place in the characters’ timeline, that much more suspenseful.

John Locke

Let’s get this straight: John Locke lives a normal life (although one that almost changed when Richard Alpert paid him some visits and definitely changed when Jacob potentially resurrected him from certain death) ends up on the island (where he meets Richard Alpert and begins to step into a leadership role with the Others), which gets moved with a giant donkey wheel (that was perhaps the wheel from the Black Rock repurposed by Jacob?) by Ben, which sends Locke flying through time and meeting Richard Alpert in the 1950s where he plants the seeds for his leadership, ends up moving the donkey wheel himself and ending up in 2007 having been told by Christian’s ghost (and Alpert, in the future at the bequest of Esau) that he needed to die in order to save all of his friends. Charles Widmore assists him in his quest to return everyone to the island, Ben shoots Abbadon and then eventually kills Locke (who was going to commit suicide anyways) who is on the plane back to the island where his ghost (which has all of Locke’s memories) is used by Esau in order to convince Ben to kill Jacob.

I’m ignoring the compass entirely here (I can’t even try to figure that one out), but let’s focus on the big question here: why did Charles Widmore help John Locke? Did he sense that he could try to use Locke as his own pawn when he returned to the island without dying (remember that Widmore didn’t really see much logic in the “you need to die” theory, or perhaps saw precisely the logic and wanted to convince him otherwise), or was he simply just trying to keep him away from falling into Ben’s hands. And what do we make of the fact that Ellie knowingly put Locke’s body on that plane with, potentially, the knowledge of what would happen when he arrived: did she know that Esau would use that body to undermine Jacob? Have Widmore and Hawking situated themselves against Jacob and on the side of Esau in this battle, and saw Locke as the opportunity to do so right under Ben’s nose.

However, I’ll leave this note on Locke with something that Todd VanDerWerff wrote that makes a lot of sense to me:

Much has been written about how sad it will be if this is the end of Locke’s storyline, if the poor guy really was as much of a dupe as he always thought (since most of Esau’s plan hinges on convincing a whole mess of people that Locke is more important than he actually is), but I don’t think Locke is now merely a villain. He is a god, yes, but he is also a man, since Esau has clearly downloaded most of Locke’s emotions and thoughts into himself. Somewhere in that soul is a duality that will struggle, I think, for the soul of the man who attempts to encompass BOTH sides.

I’d like to believe this is true, because one of the principles that Jacob appears to espouse is the idea that human will will always play some kind of role, that cycles will be about humanity first and foremost. At the same time, perhaps the most important part of Locke’s fate is that, once people die, their bodies become puppets for Esau; I don’t want this to be Locke’s end, but it would be an important statement for…

The Rest of Oceanic 815/Ajira 316/etc.

I’ll get to them in more detail in the weekend’s post on the true cliffhanger from “The Incident,” but their role in Jacob and Esau’s great battle is not as puppets. Perhaps the important thing about Locke’s apparent fate is that, until the point wherein they die, they are not simply puppets. Jacob stressed quite plainly with Hurley the level to which he had a choice in that moment, in the same episode where Juliet made a whole bunch of choices (albeit stupid ones). This level of human agency remains part of this story, and all Jacob ever seemed to do was help people along (except when necessary to do more, like with Locke) whereas, it seems, Esau waits until they are entirely incapable of human agency before taking over.

This, really, is what needs to be investigated in Season 6: rather than overwriting our knowledge of destiny and free will, it seems as if Jacob and Esau represent the original combatants in this battle. As a result, it doesn’t entirely define Widmore and Ben’s conflict, but provides it with rules, history, and greater meaning. Similarly, the various perspectives of characters like Locke or Jack become part of something larger, something that they are involved in at various levels: as tools for Jacob and Esau, as allies for Widmore and Ben, and as individuals. As long as the show never forgets that these roles are all different, and that no biblical brothers are fundamentally capable of changing that, my hype level for season six, and finding out the answers to most if not all of these questions, remains as high as ever.

Unless, of course, the timeline all changes and none of this ever happens. But we’ll get to that this weekend.

Cultural Observations

  • There’s no question that Jacob’s instigation with Sayid was the most problematic: did he mean to get his wife killed, or to keep him from being killed with his wife? That’s an important question we’ll need to answer.
  • His visit with Ilana is the one scene with no place within the character’s timeline, considering we know nothing about her: her relationship with Jacob is key to understanding his outreach, and figuring out when Jacob realized that he would need a new group to defend him other than the Others. Was it a premonition, or was it based on Esau’s interactions with Locke? It’s not entirely clear right now, but if Ilana is sticking around as a series regular next year we’re going to get an answer.
  • Looking for more theories and thoughts on the finale? Check out these various reviews, plus feel free to add your own below as always.
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12 Comments

Filed under Lost

12 responses to “Lost in “The Incident” Part One: The Ramifications of Jacob

  1. Myles and I were discussing something earlier concerning Jack and Jacob, and I thought I’d share it here.

    a) Although Ben never spoke to Jacob, the finale asserts that he was still receiving “lists” about Jacob’s wishes through Richard. Given that Richard appears to be a local Jacob servant, it’s safe to assume that these lists were accurate.

    b) We know from seasons two/three that Jacob had a list of certain castaways and that Jack was not on it.

    c) Out of all the characters we saw Jacob affect in the flashbacks, Jack’s was by far the most superficial. It was almost like Jacob was observing him more than preparing to get involved (unless of course, that is THE MOST IMPORTANT CHOCOLATE BAR OF ALL TIME).

    Given all this, I wonder if Jacob isn’t exactly Jack’s biggest fan. Maybe he never really saw a huge role for him in all of this…I wonder what he thinks of him now.

    • Thyme

      Everywhere read about this, I see people complaining about the “superficial” flashback where Jacob presents Jack with his chocolate bar. This scene has nothing to do with the importance of the chocolate bar, it’s about Jack’s belief in faith and destiny. It occurs during a pivotal point in his life when he is fighting with his father, Christian, about undermining the team’s faith in him, or as Christian points out, his faith in himself. Jack is always trying to accomplish things by himself, but doesn’t have faith in others to help him succeed. Jack could not get the chocolate bar by himself, but Jacob provides the very solution at his height of self-doubt – faith in others. Jack getting his chocolate bar does not depend on his efforts alone, it’s his destiny. “I guess it just needed a little push,” Jacob says as he hands Jack the candy bar.

  2. Oh and I also think it’s far more likely that Not-Locke/Esau/Blackie/Other Guy (we need to pick a common name, Interwebs – decide!) built the smoke monster rather than IS the smoke monster. I’m pretty sure it’s still got a strong mechanical component.

  3. Pingback: Some of the Best ‘Lost’ Finale Analyses & Reviews on the Nets « ab initio. ab intra.

  4. Nancy G. Ford

    Jacob is not just the master to innocent puppets. Jacob believes in “free will.” When “Esau” and Jacob talked on the beach, Esau questioned why Jacob brought people to the island, since they only brought death, corruption, and destruction with them. Jacob replied something about the people also bringing “progress.” Jacob is carefully selecting and bringing people to the island and putting them in situation — yes — BUT they have freewill. For most, being put in the situations (by Jacob) does bring personal progress — either emotionally or physically. Not everyone does make progress when put in situations (remember the diamond hunters, etc.) We also see technological and scientific “progress” (Dharma Initiative) on the island. If Jacob did NOT bring people (and subsequently “progress”) to the island, he would still be in the “foot” weaving and eating fish out of a hand-made basket. (Of course, Esau does not see the changes on the island over the centuries as progress – and in some ways I can agree with him. Mankind also brought to the island much death, corruption, and destruction.) Therefore, I not sure Esau represents evil and Jacob good or the reverse. I think it is much more complex. But, if Jacob does represent “free will” – does Esau represent “pre-destiny?” Should we assume this is totally the Christian story of Jacob and Esau — or are the writers mixing Christianity and paganism? (Esau wanting to kill Jacob does fits the Bible story – but remember – in the Bible, Esau does NOT kill his brother – nor did he get anyone else to kill Jacob.) OK – one more theory: Are these exiles pagan “gods” with two different believes about mankind? One clarification: in the Bible Esau did not just “sell” the gifts from his father for food – the story continues after this: Jacob actually deceived his father by putting on Esau’s clothing and pretending he was Esau (in front of his almost blind father). It was only after this deception that Jacob received the “gifts”/inheritance — not a good guy.

  5. Ben

    Hey – is part two still on its way? I’m not trying to be a douche, I just didn’t know if it had been abandoned or not. You’ve earned my readership regardless.

    • Damnit, Ben! You weren’t supposed to mention that! 😛

      With all the Upfronts coverage last week and some personal thesis deadlines, Part Two got lost in the shuffle – it’s coming, eventually.

  6. Felipe

    Great piece! When is Part 2 coming? We want more!!

  7. Pingback: The Scourge of Fandom: Why Lost Owes Us Nothing « Cultural Learnings

  8. You mentioned that we didn’t know why Charles Widmore was banished form the island but we found out in a previous episode that he had a child (presumably Penny) with someone off the island and Ben’s statement was that this somehow “broke the rules”.

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