Which came first, the chicken or the egg?
Which of these two things is the cause and which is the effect? If every effect in the universe has a cause, then what was the ultimate cause that came before all of those causes? This paradox of causality has persisted throughout history, for everyone from Aristotle to Stephen Hawking. (If you don’t enjoy these types of riddles, then Locke shows us perhaps the only way to escape this endless puzzle: simply eat all of the eggs and kill the chicken.)
Now that four episodes of this new season have aired, Season Four has developed its own unique style. The secret of this format lies in the old riddle of the chicken and the egg: this episode reveals the image of the eggs, but never shows us the chicken that produced them. In this story, effects precede causes. Each of the four flash-forward episodes presented us with a series of eggs, but the chickens that caused them remain conveniently off-screen. Through the Looking Glass showed Jack’s downward spiral, but failed to reveal the identity of the man whose death triggered it. In Hurley's flashes, he expressed regret for his decision to follow Locke, but he remained unable to speak about the disaster that caused it. Sayid’s episode concluded with the mention of some similar tragedy, one so horrible that it persuaded him to sell his soul to his enemy. Finally, Kate’s tale now includes the startling revelation that she will live off the island as the adoptive mother of Claire’s son Aaron, without leaving much indication as to why. In each case, the audience is free to speculate about what causes could have possibly produced these effects. Examining these eggs, though, does little to help us visualize the chickens that produced them.
One particular scene in Eggtown, which focuses on newcomer Daniel Faraday, offers perhaps an even better metaphor for the new format: memory loss. Daniel can remember the faces of two out of the three playing cards, but he guesses the third card incorrectly. The results of Charlotte’s test now place Daniel’s introductory scenes in a new light: Daniel might know something important about the island, and be unable to remember it. This revelation also explains why Miles needed to remind him about the meaning of Naomi’s last words: he simply forgot. In many ways, Daniel, as a man incapable of remembering the recent past, may become the antithesis of Desmond, the man capable of remembering the near future. The flash-forward scenes of Season Four, by leaving a large span of time concealed, place the viewer in a predicament similar to ones faced by Desmond or Daniel: we have access to two out of the three parts of the story, but we can only guess the third. Expect next week's epsiode, The Constant, to explore this idea in greater depth.
(Antero-grade amnesia, loss of short-term memory, also serves as the focus of the remarkable 2000 feature film, Memento, from director Christopher Nolan. I highly recommend this film to anyone who has not seen it. Not only does it hold plenty of significance for interpreting Lost, but it is also an exceptional work on its own, and my favorite movie of this decade. Memento is another inventive, nonlinear story that explores many of the same motifs as Lost: time, mirroring, revenge, and identity. Essentially, the film presents a series of flashbacks in reverse order, which allows the audience to experience a state of imperfect memory. As Leonard Shelby, the film’s main character, explains: “With my condition, you don’t know anything. You feel angry, guilty, and you don’t know why. You could do something terrible and not have the faintest idea ten minutes later.” Faraday appears to suffer from a narrower or less severe variety of memory loss than Leonard Shelby. Daniel’s memory problems will open up a number of new storytelling possibilities, but Daniel’s story should also take the concept into its own, unique direction.)
In addition to the innovations of Season Four, Eggtown also included a traditional, Season-One-style, Lost story, centering around Kate Austen. The episode brought about a conclusion of sorts to a story arc that was introduced in Lost’s very first character-centric episode, Tabula Rasa. The central theme of Kate’s fugitive storyline has always been the difference between freedom and imprisonment. Since the murder of her father, Kate spent her entire life running away from prisons, both actual and symbolic. Seemingly, the island offered Kate a chance to be free. Even that initial Kate episode, though, suggested that her newfound freedom was merely an illusion.
KATE: In case you hadn't noticed, I did get away.
MARSHAL: You don't look free to me. (Tabula Rasa)
What does it mean to be free? The most basic definition of freedom is the absence of physical constraints: things like handcuffs, prison cells, or threat of physical harm. Sawyer, for instance, regards his current position on the island as a state of freedom. He can do whatever he wants to do, whenever he wants to do it, without many consequences. In Eggtown as well as in The Economist, Sawyer presents Kate with the chance to share in his independent lifestyle. He offers her an escape from the outside threats to her liberty, as well as comfort and security: “If you think there’s anything waiting for you back home other than handcuffs, you really don’t know how the world works. Look around us, Freckles. We’ve got roofs over our heads. Electricity, showers, beds.” Sawyer’s concept of freedom, although not without its merits, can be measured in terms of physical objects. To a lesser extent, Miles, an echo of Sawyer, also voices this same perspective: “If I were you, I would stay right here.”
If you adopt the same concept of freedom as Sawyer and Miles, then Kate’s decision to leave the island seems foolish. Despite what you might hear about Kate from a number of the show's fans, though, she is not stupid. Kate does know how the world works, and she understands that she faces an unpleasant ordeal back home. Even with this knowledge, she still chooses to go back. Freedom remains her objective, but she holds a different definition of the word than the one that Sawyer presented. Paradoxically, how can Kate’s choice to face trial be regarded as an expression of freedom? One possible answer to this question comes from Rousseau – not our Danielle, the noble savage herself, but her namesake, the French philosopher Jean Jacques Rousseau. Among other things, Rousseau’s work argued a concept of moral freedom, which is characterized not by physical license, but by obedience to duty.
"Freedom is obedience to the law which one has laid down for oneself." - Jean Jacques Rousseau
In Eggtown, Kate’s interactions with Sawyer play the deciding role in exposing her ultimate concept of freedom. Sawyer treats the prospect of raising a child as the worst thing in the world. In Sawyer’s present view, a child presents an obstacle to freedom, no differently than any other obstacle. He sees parenthood as a prison, one which would hinder his ability to do what he desires. Not long ago, in the episode I Do, Kate expressed that exact same reaction: “I almost had a baby. Me, a baby! I can't do this!” By observing Sawyer’s response to her possible pregnancy, Kate sees a reflection of what she herself used to be. Instead of agreeing with him, Kate finds the source of her disagreement with his worldview. Kate does not see moral duty necessarily as a bad thing.
Even though Kate’s actions often show a dubious morality, she still possesses a strong sense of right and wrong. Kate’s powerful conscience continued to torment her relentlessly. In many ways, Marshal Edward Mars, a recurring character in Kate’s story, served as the representation of that conscience. Obsessed with bringing Kate to justice, the Marshal hunted Kate down all over the globe. Long after his death, Kate’s conscience finished his work for him, and brought her back home to be put on trial. The opening shot of Eggtown’s first flash-forward scene blurs the background intentionally, so that the man out-of-focus (Kate’s lawyer) bears a striking resemblance to the deceased Marshal. The lawyer also vocalizes Kate’s conscience in this scene, as he tells her, “Yes, [there is a back-door], but you’re going through the front door with your head held high.” Kate’s story suggests that she could not find true freedom by running and hiding, but only by standing firm in the face of threats. In order to be free, you need to risk your own liberty. Kate chose to face the responsibility to herself and to her son, the duty to put an end to that chapter of her life.
One of the most persistent criticisms against Kate has always been that she will not hesitate to use any of the other adults in her life to serve her own interests. On the island, she successively manipulates Hurley, Sawyer, Locke, Miles, and Ben in a plot to uncover information useful only to herself. By contrast, the flash-forward scenes stress Kate’s steadfast unwillingness to use her new son Aaron in the same way. First, Kate rejects her attorney’s reasonable advice to use the child to gain the jury’s sympathy. Her lawyer still tries to use her son in a roundabout way, but Kate cuts off the examination right before Jack begins to testify about Aaron. Kate’s mother even offers to sabotage the case, requesting only to see her grandson in return, but Kate refuses to utilize him even in that small way. In her final exchange with Jack, she once again makes her position clear: she values Aaron’s well-being above all else, including her own interests.
Whether or not you respect Kate’s overall morals, one cannot help but admire her newfound maturity in this instance. One of the most frequently discussed questions among Lost fans has always been: whom will Kate choose? The general consensus always seemed to be that she needed to decide between Jack and Sawyer. Few people ever would have expected that eventually Kate would select Baby Aaron as the one guy she loves more than any other. Her story still leaves open the potential for future romantic involvement with both men, but only on the condition that her partner shares those priorities. For different reasons, neither Jack nor Sawyer feels willing to make that kind of commitment to both Kate and the child. At the conclusion of the episode, Kate has found the freedom that eluded her for so long, both in the physical sense, and in Rousseau’s notion of moral freedom: Kate adheres to the moral laws that she has defined for herself.
In addition to Kate’s story, Eggtown includes another curious exploration of the notions of freedom and imprisonment, through the interplay of Locke and Ben. In the opening scene, Ben once again shows that Locke’s physical power over his body pales in comparison to his mental control over Locke’s mind. Ben alludes to his previous imprisonment in the Swan armory (the same man in a different place), but it is also important to note that Ben now resides in the same location in which Locke found Cooper (a different man in the same place). Even though Miles is in chains, he too appears to exercise more freedom than his keeper, as he tells us that he is ‘exactly where he wants to be.’
In one of Locke’s first flashback scenes of the Season One episode Walkabout, Locke stated that “Patience […] is the hallmark of a leader”. If that maxim holds true, then Locke has a long way to evolve before he can become a great leader. Right now, his impatience is his downfall (just as it was with the hatch in Season Two). In this episode, he responds to the constant undercutting of his authority, not by adapting to the psychological game, but by resorting to physical bullying. Locke has not yet reached the point where he will ‘shoot people in the head and continue on with his day,’ but his treatment of Miles suggests that he might not be very far from it. Hurley’s flash-forward scenes created a sense of impending doom about the destiny of John’s new flock, and now Kate’s flash-forward suggests that Claire may be the one to suffer the same fate as Boone.
It seems more possible than ever that Locke’s story will end in tragedy and not triumph: he’s more lost than he’s ever been. For now, though, Kate’s story offers us hope that at least some Lost characters eventually may find what they’ve been seeking.