Written by David Fury
Directed by Greg Yaitanes
Hurley builds a golf course. Oh, and Sayid is captured and tortured by a crazy French woman with an eastern European accent.
This may not be one of the most amazing chapters, but I wager it is one of the most important. However, this importance is subtle and I think it only becomes apparent when you have already seen the show in its entirety.
In the final season of LOST, Sayid seems to become corrupted by The Man in Black. Dogen gives some indication that Sayid is infected by something, yet Sayid intially gives no indication to the audience that he is not himself. The specifics are never explicitly stated on the show, but as the season progresses, Sayid becomes further and further withdrawn from his friends, becoming almost emotionless. When you have this character change in mind, rewatching Solitary causes certain lines to stand out. The one that seems most telling is when Sayid tells Rousseau “The more I hold on [to Nadia], the more I pull away from those around me. The only way off this place is with their help.” Sayid’s unusual behavior in the final season is the end of his character arc. Solitary is the beginning. So, what exactly happened to Sayid?
“This is not a game, Nadia.”
“And yet, you keep playing it, Sayid.”
One of the primary themes of LOST is choice. Characters have dark or painful pasts, and they are given the choice to become someone else, to put that past behind them and embrace a new personal paradigm. This is explicitly stated in Tabula Rasa. But as we will see, time and again, Sayid chooses to regress. He joined the Republican Guard in Iraq and became a torturer. He is told more than once that he has a knack for torturing. He can read subjects’ tells, apply the correct amount of pain to motivate confession, and even be dispassionate in his interrogation. Sayid swore to himself that he would never do this again. In the previous chapter, we saw him renege on his promise. He tortured Sawyer. As penance, Sayid left the castaways to attain some sort of renewal by mapping the coastline of The Island. More on that in a moment. Sayid becomes a character who cannot keep to his convictions. He tortures Benjamin Linus in season two. When he gets off The Island as one of The Oceanic Six, he finds Nadia and marries her, only to watch her die. Ben then convinces Sayid that he knows who killed Nadia, and this causes Sayid to become Ben’s personal assassin. Nadia, to a degree, is Sayid’s breaking point. He kills in her memory, but there is no healing. He tortures because he is convinced that it is all he can do and he hates himself for it. He eventually becomes convinced that his purpose in life is to kill Benjamin Linus as a child (ah, time travel). It seems that over the course of the show, Sayid never heals, he never sticks by his decision to put his violent past behind him, and in the end, that past consumes him. When The Man in Black claims him, seemingly through resurrection, the negative traits are enhanced. It is only through his final interactions with Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Claire, Hurley, Jin, and Sun that Sayid finally starts to regain his head. “The only way off this place is with their help.” In the end it kills him, but he seems to find redemption in those moments.
Okay, so comparing Sayid’s beginning with his ending makes this chapter important. What else? This chapter plants the beginnings of many of the questions LOST fans debated for years. Rousseau mentioned the whispers in the jungle. She mentioned The Others. She mentioned a sickness. She implied that the monster in the jungle wasn’t a monster. She mentions Alex. The common thread in all these is the source: Rousseau. Knowing what information we get over the course of the show, knowing how the show ends, I would say that Rousseau fits the classification of unreliable narrator. She has more information about The Island than Sayid or the audience, and as an audience member it is extremely tempting to give weight to her statements. Her statements even seem to be supported when Sayid hears whispers in the jungle at the end of the episode. But I think the key is to realize that the information is being delivered by a woman who has lived in isolation for sixteen years. We want to pity her, and should, but that doesn’t mean that her perspective is accurate. Therefore, any information given about The Island from Rousseau has to be received with caution. I think the writers for LOST knew that the audience gave quite a bit of credence to Rousseau’s ramblings and included things in the show to build on some of the ramblings, but in reality, some of them were just the words of a madwoman. It was a skewed interpretation of circumstances. Were there whispers in the jungle? Yes. Were there “Others”? Yes. Was there a sickness? Somewhat, but in her case, the sickness was merely a justification for her murders. Rousseau is a great character, not least because she was played by Mira Furlan, who was excellent in Babylon 5, but she is not a reliable source of information.
I must admit to being impressed with the arc plotting in this chapter. There was actually quite a bit of it, from the revelations of Rousseau to developments with Lock and Walt, to the introduction of Ethan. Let’s start with the latter first. Ethan will become a major player in the next few chapters. We see him for the first time here, having gone hunting with Locke. A savvy audience member would instantly be suspicious. Here is a new character, nine chapters in, getting dialogue and face time. We are to either grow to like him so he can be killed, or he is to be suspected of something devious. To allay suspicions, another character is given dialogue and face time. This man is a hypochondriac and played primarily for comic relief, but to also introduce the idea that people on The Island don’t have much to do and are becoming bored and stressed. Not a scene or character is wasted in this episode. Unfortunately, I’m not sure the attempts to divert suspicion from Ethan work. Something about his face and mannerisms is uncomfortable. But I at least see what they were trying to do: set up a character a few episodes early, then reveal him to be a native of The Island.
As for the developments with Locke and Walt, how well was that played! Walt wanted to go hunting with Locke, something Michael forbade. But later, when Michael gets drawn into playing golf, he forgets about Walt completely. This was a great set up. It is also easy to see why Locke would struggle with encouraging Walt to obey Michael and wanting to spend time with Walt himself. Locke’s father was a horrible man. Locke desperately wanted a father figure in his life, and he most-likely sees Walt as a younger version of himself. He wants Walt to have the father that Locke never had. So, if Michael is withdrawn or inattentive, Locke will step in. This will be dealt with soon. We also get hints that Michael was an artist at one time. There are quite a few moments in this season that set up character revelations. In an earlier chapter Claire offers to make an astrology chart for Kate. We haven’t seen the significance of Jin’s watch yet. It is a fun time in the show because nearly every line and every scene has importance.