Please give a warm welcome to Luhks one of our new Season 4 Recappers.
It feels like a hundred years ago that we came out here together. How did this happen?
In the closing scenes of the Lost Season Four premiere, The Beginning of the End, a character finally asks a question to which we already know the answer. Any Lost viewer who was eagerly anticipating this episode certainly remembers how it all happened. Most questions posed on the show have never been so straightforward. The first season of Lost began with Charlie’s famous question, “Guys, where are we?”, and it concluded with a question that set the stage for the second season, “What's inside that hatch?”. In turn, Season Two concluded with a question from Michael, which became the focus of Season Three: “Who are you people?”. Despite every revelation on the show, Lost viewers still have no definitive answers to any of those three season-long questions. We know a great deal of information about the island, the hatch, and the Others, but we're still just scratching the surface.
This critical fourth season of Lost does not begin with an overarching question as much as a definitive statement. The title of episode 4.01, The Beginning of the End, is a direct reference to a quote from the third season finale: “I’m telling you. Making that call is the beginning of the end.” While Benjamin Linus made that statement as a prophecy to the camp, the comment also serves as an equally bold declaration from the show’s writers. For the first time in the history of the series, the writers now know exactly when the show will end, and every remaining episode can build towards that conclusion in the most satisfying manner possible. Although the end is in sight, our path to that ending will be anything but linear. In Season Four, the ‘where,’ ‘what,’ and ‘who’ questions of the mysterious island will now take a backseat to the new question of ‘how’. Specifically, Season Four will answer the same question: how did we get here? However, the here of this question is not Day 92 on the island, but the undetermined Day X in California.
In addition to this guiding question for the whole season, The Beginning of the End also presents two very provocative new questions for us to consider within the context of the episode itself. The first question arises from what will be one of the most heavily discussed scenes over the next week: Hurley’s conversation at Santa Rosa with Matthew Abbadon. This introductory scene for new cast member Lance Reddick was about as ominous as you could possibly imagine. The name Abbadon comes from a Hebrew word for destruction, while the full name Matthew Abbadon is an anagram for ‘What Bad Boat Men’. Mr. Abbadon’s head appears in the frame surrounded by images of an island, a boat, and a massive shark. (To add a layer of doubt to the imagery, though, Abbadon sits facing the white pieces on a chess board.) Abbadon’s main question drives Hurley into a frenzy, and Hurley refuses to give an answer.
Are they still alive?
To begin this discussion, it makes sense to address the literal meaning of this question. In the context of the episode, the word ‘they’ apparently refers to survivors who still remain on the island. Detective Walton’s words earlier in the episode indicate that he and the rest of the outside world know nothing about the island. He did not question Hurley about meeting Ana-Lucia on the island, but he only thinks to ask: “Maybe you met her on the plane before it took off?” Some unknown circumstances convinced those who left the island to concoct a cover story for how they survived. Jack expresses his concern over whether Hurley will uncover their secret, but, as we know, soon he too will become sick of lying. The truthful answer to Mr. Abbadon’s question is almost certainly ‘Yes,’ but the answer only leads to another question: who exactly are ‘they’? Which characters survived and which perished?
Although the literal meaning of this question is interesting enough, the double meaning behind it is probably one of the most loaded questions you could ever ask about Lost: Are they still alive? Throughout the series, Lost constantly blurs the line between life and death. What exactly does it mean to be alive on Lost? Naomi arrived to tell everyone living on the island, “They were all dead.” Naomi herself soon appeared to be dead, but lived to say her final words. Other characters are dead and buried, but continue to appear in the form of flashbacks, visions, and whispers. Even perhaps the most powerful person on the island, Jacob, might not even be ‘alive’ in any traditional sense. The show continues to explore the possibility that the same person can be both alive and dead at the same time, and leaves it up to the viewer whether they choose to interpret these terms literally or figuratively. Expect the next episode (with its playfully ambiguous title, Confirmed Dead) to address these concepts further.
The Beginning of the End included appearances from two characters who have been confirmed as dead. The first appearance came in the form of a fleeting glimpse of our most stubborn deceased character, Christian Shephard, inside Jacob’s cabin. The second instance involved a much longer interaction between Hurley and his newly dead friend Charlie. The late Charlie Pace introduces himself to Hurley with the enigmatic proclamation: “I am dead, but I’m also here.” In a clever echo of the Pilot episode, Hurley forces his hallucinations to disappear in the same manner in which Jack and Kate extinguished their fear: only let it in for five seconds.
Earlier in the week, Lost fans were treated to another ‘beginning’ or sorts, in the form of the final promotional mobisode, with another fearless title: So It Begins. The two-minute clip audaciously rewrote the opening scene of the Pilot, to reveal an alternate view of the show’s narrative beginning. The scene offered another provocative image of Christian Shephard, seemingly full of life on the island. Should we accept these events at face-value, or should we regard this experience as Jack’s vision, which called him to action before he awoke in the jungle? As comforting as it may be to wish for Christian's resurrection, we must make no mistake about it: Christian Shephard is dead. Charlie Pace is dead. The dead will always still be here with us, because they live on inside us. The heartbreaking truth behind Charlie’s appearance in The Beginning of the End, as well as Christian’s appearance in So It Begins, is the following: Hurley and Jack were not communicating with the dead, they were only conversing with themselves.
The other central question of the episode came not in the form of a creepy growl, but in an angry shout.
LOCKE: All I have ever done has been in the best interest of all of us.
JACK: Are you insane?!
Matthew Fox and Terry O’Quinn could have easily switched places in this scene, and these two lines of dialogue would still make just as much sense. Both Jack and Locke firmly believe that everything that they have ever done has been in the best interest of the group. The key difference between the two men has always been their different notions of what constitutes best interest. Although Jack poses this question to Locke only rhetorically, there are three men in this episode whose sanity is worth seriously questioning: Locke, Jack, and Hurley.
Like so many other terms in our English language, ‘insanity’ is a word that can never be adequately defined. For the purposes of this discussion, I will define an insane person merely as a person who is ‘not showing reason or sound judgment.’ For instance, if I believe that every person in the world is under the control of evil telepathic elephants, then I am insane. This belief might not be necessarily wrong, and it might not even be impossible, but it is still insane, because it is not based on any reasoning. None of my experiences and no tangible evidence will ever support this conclusion. Even though this example is quite extreme, might there be characters on Lost who are similarly not using reason and sound judgment to make their decisions?
“When trouble arises and things look bad, there is always one individual who perceives a solution and is willing to take command. Very often, that individual is crazy.” - Dave Barry
Three times in this episode, Jack directly states that John Locke is crazy. In the past, Jack made such accusations against Locke only indirectly. In his three months on the island, Locke has damaged radio equipment, led Boone to his death, detonated a communications station, destroyed a submarine, and now murdered Naomi. Although Locke was able to justify some of those decisions in different ways, that final act was the last straw for Jack (and others, such as Rose). Locke’s actions in the past had put others at risk, but he had never actively chosen to end another person’s life. The last time when Locke acted with such absolute certainty, when he destroyed the Swan Station computer at the end of Season Two, the results were catastrophic. In that instance, he immediately admitted, “I was wrong.” When Locke hurled the knife into Naomi’s back, though, he forfeited the right to say he was wrong, and became a man who acts on the assumption, “I am right.”
Locke believes with complete certainty that Naomi’s group plans to kill everyone on the island. Set aside the possibility that he could be correct for a minute and focus only on his reasons for his belief. Exactly what is the basis for Locke’s knowledge of Naomi’s people? Locke had no contact with her, and he knew absolutely nothing about her. Locke had absolutely no earthly reason to murder Naomi. (In a cruel final touch in this episode, Naomi’s dying words on the island actually indicate that her intentions were always benevolent.) Ben might have some concrete information that supports his prediction, but Locke’s belief is based upon nothing. He relies on no evidence, no experience, no reason, no sound judgment, but just pure faith. Near the end of the episode, Locke admits, in an extraordinary understatement, “I have a lot of explaining to do.” No amount of explaining could ever justify that murder completely. Locke will never be able to list any series of facts together to prove his conclusion: I needed to kill Naomi. Q.E.D! On this matter, you can either believe him or not, but reasoned argument is no longer a factor. Jack’s diagnosis for Locke is correct: Locke’s beliefs are insane.
Jack also believes with absolute certainty that the people on the other end of the satellite phone are planning to rescue them. He believes this notion so strongly, that he is willing to bet his life and the lives of the entire camp on it. On what reason, and on what sound judgment, does Jack base this opposite belief? Jack knows from experience that people generally do not kill without good reason. It seems highly improbable (but not impossible) that any group of people from the outside world would have enough motive to kill the 815 survivors. However, Jack has already encountered one group of people willing to kill to conceal the island, so it would seem possible that another group of people might be willing to kill to find it. Even if Jack is relying on percentages here, the small possibility that everyone might die should outweigh the high probability that they would not. At the very least, he should take some precautions and test his theory before risking everyone.
This conflict between Jack and Locke is often, sometimes inaccurately, described as the conflict between science and faith. When Jack made the phone call at the end of Season Three, though, his action was not motivated by empiricism. The people on the other end of the satellite phone remain an unknown. At present, Jack has no ‘scientific’ basis for trusting them. He did not make observations, examine evidence, and test hypotheses. Over the objections of others, he trusted Naomi for no good reason other than his blind hope that he could make everything right again. Making that call was an act of faith. By abandoning reason, Jack has also become just as insane as Locke. The split in the camp does not represent the great divide between faith and science (as even Rose, a woman of faith, sides with the doctor). Jack asked each of the survivors to make a leap of faith, just as Locke did. Their individual decisions reflected a more basic conflict that was highlighted early in Season One: optimism versus pessimism.
All opinions are only as good or bad as the arguments that support them. In The Beginning of the End, Jack and Locke both voice different opinions. While either one of these positions could turn out to be correct, the arguments underlying their opinions are irrational. At the climax of this episode, when Locke and Jack are in the midst of their battle of wills, Hurley steps in as the sole voice of reason. Hurley pauses, examines the only evidence that they have, and creates a reasoned argument to support his conclusion: “Charlie went down to that place so we could all be rescued. And whatever he did down there, it worked. But then something must have happened. He must have heard something before he... I don't know why, but he changed his mind. Because the last thing he did was to warn us that the people on that boat are not who they said they were.” The flashes forward indicate that Ben’s prophecy was false, and that people survived both on and off of the island. The truth about Naomi’s people falls somewhere in between the absolute beliefs of Jack and Locke: they did not come to kill everyone, but they did not come to rescue everyone either.
Locke once told Jack: “Crazy people don’t know they’re going crazy. They think they’re getting saner.” If we accept this statement as true, then Hurley does not meet Locke’s definition of crazy. Although Hurley experiences several hallucinations, he never loses touch with reality, and never makes any decisions based on irrational beliefs. Hurley’s recognition that he is going crazy, and his desire to be put in an insane asylum, is in fact the proof that he is sane (much like the classic paradox from Heller’s Catch-22). The leaders of the camp’s two factions, on the other hand, both believe that they are getting saner. Out of these three characters, the sanest man of all is the one who ends up locked up inside an insane asylum. In the Socractic sense, Hurley also becomes the wisest of the three, the man who admits that there is much that he does not know, and who consequently ‘never says never.’
As the episode advanced towards its conclusion, every character eventually arrives at the ultimate symbol for the Beginning of the show, the plane itself. This scene presents the first instance in the show’s timeline since the plane crash, in which each of the main characters arrived at the same location at the same time. We have gained a few new additions to the family since then (Desmond, Ben, Danielle, Juliet, Alex, Karl), and we have lost more than a few members along the way (Boone, Shannon, Ana-Lucia, Libby, Eko, Charlie). This reunion is only momentary, as the characters came together only so that they can be torn immediately apart. Every character made a decision, to follow either Jack Shephard or John Locke. If this episode serves as The Beginning of the End, then what does it tell us about The End? I would expect that the ultimate ending will involve a reversal of this episode’s climax, in which the surviving characters all choose to join together for a common purpose. The island has already summoned Jack and Hurley, in different ways, and it will continue to do the same for others. The only End, the only ultimate resolution to the show’s conflict, will involve a successful unification of Jack Shephard and John Locke. Before that time arrives, though, both of them have a lot of work to do.
Initially, Hugo Reyes seemed like an odd choice to serve as the centerpiece for the show’s critical fourth season opening. More than any other character in this episode, though, Hurley represents the middle path between Jack and Locke. Hurley admits that he should not have chosen to go with Locke, but he also tells Jack, “I don’t think we did the right thing” either. In an analogous image, Hurley positioned himself with neither black nor white pieces on Abbadon’s half-finished chess game, but on the side of the board. Ostensibly, the message, “They need you,” seems to refer only to the remaining survivors left on the island. However, Jack and Kate and the rest of the fabled Oceanic Six will also need Hurley’s help. If there was ever one person most likely to heal the two halves of the camp into a united whole, it would not be Jack or Locke (or even someone like Ben or Sayid). Hurley is not the type of person who responds to the call, “You have work to do,” but he is the type of person who responds to the call, “They need you.”