March 2nd, 2010
“You think you know me but you don’t.”
The Flash Sideways structure this season has been taking a lot of criticism from those who think that its opaque intentions are obscuring any meaning that it might have, but I think that in terms of its immediate function it has actually been quite clear. As the show confuses the question of identity through the Man in Black and his various influences, the Flashes offer a glimpse at characters in a far less confused universe who are still just as confused as they were before. Yes, there seems like there is a deeper meaning behind the scenes that is being withheld, and there are times when the connections are too simple to feel eventful enough for the show’s final season, but “Sundown” is a pretty clear example of the basic dramatic purpose of these scenes.
“Sundown” is not the best episode of this short season, nor is it a particularly pleasant one: it is an episode filled with darkness, showing characters taking actions and getting into situations from which there is no real escape. However, it’s a nice bit of analysis of the determinism that dominates this universe, and with a strong performance from Naveen Andrews the episode is able to entertain even if we are none too happy with its outcomes.
This sickness that has now taken both Claire and Sayid, as described by Dogen a few weeks ago, renders the infected “unrecognizable” once it reaches his or her heart. However, to some degree, we know this is not entirely true: Claire, as Miles notes, is still hot, and still exhibits some of the qualities she had before her illness. She is not the same person, as Kate discovers late in this week’s episode, but she is still recognizable as some part of that person.
“Sundown” tells the duelling stories of Sayid being drawn into darkness, both in his Flash Sideways (where he taps into his Republic Guard past to take out the loan shark embezzling money from his brother) and in 2007 (where he listens to the Man in Black and murders both Dogen and Lennon in order to allow him access to the temple), but what’s intriguing is that in both instances he is entirely recognizable. Sayid, before he was infected, shot young Benjamin Linus in cold blood, and did so many terrible things during the Gulf War that in the Flash Sideways he gave up the love of his life to avoid contaminating her. Sayid is a man defined by darkness, a man whose every attempt at happiness (falling in love with Shannon, being reunited with Nadia) has been shattered by those around him. And so he turns to torture or murder as an occupation, always returning to the darkness that he fears defines him. And so when Dogen tells him that the test they performed measured his “balance” between good and evil, and he was leaning towards the evil side of things, he reacts with anger: he doesn’t want to believe that he is unable to escape that part of his life, at least not yet.
Like I mentioned above, the Flash Sideways here serve as a direct parallel to the actions on the island in a way that shows distinct similarities and differences. In 2004, Sayid pushes away the love of his life towards his brother, and when the same brother asks for help from “Badass” Sayid he refuses; it is only when Omar is hospitalized after a beatdown that Sayid is all but forced to step in, kidnapped and brought to Keamy (yes, that Keamy) in order to atone for his brother’s sins. At that point, the Sayid we always knew emerges in an effort to protect his brother, and when Keamy more or less begs for his life Sayid tells him that he can’t just “relax and forget about it.” Sayid can’t forget about that part of his past, and so he can’t just let him live. Sayid’s motives might be strong (helping his family), and there is every chance that Keamy was lying when he said he would forgive the debt in exchange for his life, but that he was simply unable to avoid pulling the trigger raises the question of whether Sayid was simply lying to himself for all of those years.
What we see in 2007 is Sayid accepting a similar diagnosis, admitting that perhaps he isn’t capable of being good and sort of making the best of being evil. He accepts the Man in Black’s proposal because he knows that Dogen has tried to kill him twice, and because at the very least this other person is offering him some chance at peace in the one part of his life that perhaps broke him for good, Nadia’s death (at the hands of Jacob, let’s remember). While Sawyer needs only follow the Man in Black around to accept his proposal, leaving it open for it to be a long con rather than a true acceptance of the evil he supposedly represents, Sayid is very different: Sayid, in order to join with the Man in Black, accepts the results of Dogen’s test and murders him even as he tells the story of the son he left behind. In some ways, the scene where Sayid kills Keamy and the scene where Sayid kills Dogen are quite similar, in that he is doing something (ostensibly) out of love for Nadia; in other ways, however, the scenes couldn’t be more different, as Sayid murders out of love in one instance and out of selfish desire in the other. In one example the consequences are more or less sequestered within Sayid’s psyche: in the other, the consequences are clearly much more substantial.
Dogen’s speech to Sayid was never going to convince him that he deserved to live: the man had tried to kill Sayid twice, after all, so it’s not as if he didn’t have a justification in self-defence. However, the speech told us something very important that we’ve sort of been figuring out for a while now: Dogen is another Juliet-figure, a person brought to the island by Jacob in order to take on an important role in order to save someone important that they left behind. For all of the benevolence that Jacob supposedly represents, he forced both Juliet and Dogen to remain on an island and eventually die for him, all so that they could save people they loved but yet never be able to see them again (Juliet, at least, got to see her sister alive and well through the magic of video). This confirms that while Jacob’s bargains may have an element of healing to them, they are no less consequential than those the Man in Black offers: both have severe consequences, just one involves personal sacrifice (separation from those you love) while the other involves the sacrifice of those around you in order to be with the one you love most.
For me, I think that’s what separates Sawyer from Sayid and Claire: there is nothing that Sawyer wants except to get off the island, which means that the hold that the Man in Black has on him is fairly limited. With Claire, it is the promise of her son being saved, of Aaron in some capacity being returned to her. For Sayid, meanwhile, it is Nadia, the loss which sent him further down this dark path than ever before in “The Economist” and that particular era of Flash Forwards. From each of them he has asked for their assistance in this battle, and from each of them he has been given the gift of chaos (in the form of Claire’s terrorist-like efforts and Sayid’s panic-striking speech to the Others) and the gift of entrance (as Sayid allows him entrance to the temple and supports the mass-murder he creates. We have yet to see what he wants from Sawyer, but it’s interesting that he did not offer him the chance to see Juliet again, that there wasn’t that same bargain made. We end the episode with Kate, Claire and Sayid having become part of the Man in Black’s entourage, so it’s clear that the real ramifications of “Sundown” on that front will have to wait for another day.
As always, there was some great work from Naveen Andrews this week, who managed to create some nice subtle differences between the 2004-dark Sayid (whose story is not over, having stumbled onto Jin tied up in the restaurant fridge) and the 2007-dark Sayid. Andrews has been playing this character as inherently dark for quite some time now, but there was a difference between the grief-stricken Sayid in The Economist and the sort of character we saw here. Similarly, I thought that Hiroyuki Sanada did a great job with that key scene discussing his son, which managed to give deeper meaning to what we saw last week in Jack’s flash sideways – that his character has already died feels like a pretty big cheat, so I wonder if we’re going to be seeing more of him in the Flash Sideways. The same goes for Lennon, a character which seemed like a waste of the great John Hawkes – we got absolutely no stories about him before Sayid rudely slit his throat, and while Dogen fits nicely into what we know about Jacob it seems like Lennon had less function within the story overall.
This was ultimately a fairly simple episode in that the parallel between Sayid’s stories was quite clear, and things didn’t get particularly hectic until the end of the episode which was very much a setup move that was told through some enjoyable Smokey destruction and some characters interactions as the Ajira survivors reunite with Miles in the midst of the madness. It leads to some “small world” moments as we realize that Miles would be extremely shocked to see Frank Lapidus, and Sun finally finds someone who has actually seen Jin alive fairly recently, but it most importantly brings Benajamin Linus into the temple. When Ben said he was going to find Sayid, it felt almost matter of fact, but then I realized the significance. Ben’s relationship with Sayid is perhaps the most time-twisted of them all, considering that the latter shot the former as a child while the former used the latter as a contract killer only recently. And what we saw in that scene was Ben, of all people, telling Sayid that there is more time, telling him that they can still escape. Sayid’s answer, however, is to disconnect himself from that particular fate, suggesting that there is no more time for him, no more opportunity for him to save himself from reverting to who he once was. For Sayid, the infection wasn’t when he was drowned in that pool and came back to life two hours later: it was when he was in Iraq torturing prisoners, when he was committing sins that he never quite lived down.
In the Flash Sideways, it is possible that Jin’s helplessness could bring Sayid back from the edge of self-destruction: in 2007, Sayid has taken the final step over that edge, a point that even Benjamin Linus recognizes as something dark and terrible. As an audience member that’s tough to watch, as Sayid is a character who we want to like and who we see as a tragic figure who struggles with his past but inevitably comes out on the side of good. So to see him head so far down this road, to see his infection spread to his heart, makes the character unrecognizable not in that we did not know this part of him existed, but rather that we had to watch it manifest itself in a way that wasn’t in the interest of the common good, and which threatens the fragile stability of the world around him. And while John Locke’s flash sideways helped reconcile our anxiety over his body being used to commit what seems to be acts of evil, Sayid’s flash sideways did not offer the same hopefulness, Sayid still damaged and separated from the woman he loves by his past and its impact on his present.
It is a dark episode, and we’re left wondering just how far the Man in Black is willing to go, and just what could possibly rise in opposition, and just how all of this is going to come together. For now, we’re left lamenting the path of Sayid, and hoping beyond hope that something in the Flash Sideways will save him from himself – we’re not closer to figuring out how that would happen, but I do think that we’re one step closer to the tipping point where things begin their march towards the end; day has, after all turned to night.
- Some nice fight choreography in the battle between Sayid and Dogen – the baseball falling made for a strange conclusion, but they really let the scene go out for a while, so I wonder if they knew they had someone experienced in martial arts (Sanada) who should probably get to do martial arts before they kill him off. Works for me, so long as the fight scenes come out like that.
- I really enjoyed the scene with Kate talking to Claire in the hole, especially the work Michael Giacchino did in the scene. You will notice that Kate’s words are, for her, things she has wanted to say forever, but for Claire they are a sign that she has been betrayed, and Giacchino’s music highlights Claire’s role in the conversation in a way which keeps Kate largely oblivious until she sees that Claire’s reaction is not quite what she had imagined. Some really nice work from both actresses, punctuated by Giacchino’s thematic work.
- A wonderfully creepy rendition of “Catch a Falling Star” to close the episode: it was creepy enough when Emilie de Ravin was singing it in her Silence of the Lambs hole, but played over the score and the destruction in the Temple was bloody effective.
- I do have one question: where did Ben go? It’s clear that he’s not with the Man in Black, and yet he didn’t go into the wall with Elena and the rest of them – did he simply hide in some other part of the Temple?
- Note that both Dogen and Ilana, when it’s clear what’s happening, ask for Shephard and Reyes in particular – are Jack and Hurley that central to this whole situation, perhaps the ones most directly related to Jacob?
- Interesting that the Man in Black and Jacob are both into indirect messages: Jacob has Hurley lead Jack to the Lighthouse, and the Man in Black has Sayid inform the Others to leave the Temple and join him instead of remaining with no protection. They seem to believe that words have more meaning coming from the characters, which is something the show should take to heart as it risks heading towards a scenario where the action of the series feels out of the control of the people we most care about.
- I presume everyone caught the brief glimpse of Jack as Sayid and Nadia entered the hospital?