LOCKE: This is going to be more complicated than we thought. (The Man From Tallahassee)
Every once in a while, a string of Lost episodes comes along that seems to indicate a pretty clear path for the show’s future. Immediately after these stretches, an episode like The Economist comes along and blows those notions to hell. The last three episodes all began to offer us a fairly coherent picture of the Oceanic Six, the Freighter crew, and the overall destiny of the crash survivors. The Economist now presents us an upside-down world in which every assumption becomes false: Sayid now works for Ben, Hurley now cons his friends, and even clocks themselves can no longer be trusted. The title of this episode could not have seemed more innocuous, but, like Sayid, we should have known that ‘Economist’ was merely a euphemism for some far more sinister line of work. Economists work to predict the behavior of large groups of people, and now almost no one in our group of characters (not even Fun-Time Hurley) remains predictable any longer.
Mirroring and opposites have always been a recurring theme on Lost, but the contrast between Sayid on the island and Sayid in the flash forward scenes takes this concept to a whole new level. How could a man move so quickly from one extreme position to its polar opposite, in such a short time? Everything we thought we knew about Sayid now seems questionable. When we look back at Sayid’s characterization, both in this episode and throughout the series, we find nothing but a series of opposites and contradictions. What can we say about Sayid?
“The opposite of a correct statement is a false statement. But the opposite of a profound truth may well be another profound truth.” Neils Bohr
Sayid is a man of science.
While the overarching conflict between science and faith has been a recurring theme on the show, Sayid has been one of the few characters to demonstrate practical applications of scientific knowledge. Throughout the series, Sayid has shown a wide range of mechanical expertise, ranging from communications equipment to the Swan station computer to (most recently) the helicopter itself. Although the new arrival Daniel Faraday would probably give him a run for his money, it’s a safe bet that Sayid possesses more scientific knowledge than virtually anyone else on the island. Beyond these examples, though, Sayid frequently presents empirical solutions to other problems, including the central conflict of this particular episode. In The Economist, Sayid convinces both Jack and Locke to help him conduct an experiment of sorts. To answer their most pressing question, what the true intentions of this new group of people are, Sayid proposes to travel to the Freighter, in order to collect evidence and make observations about them. Like any true scientist, Sayid accepts that he does not know the answer to this question, and then sets out to answer it in a systematic fashion.
Sayid is a man of faith.
The first image of Sayid in The Economist, however, calls attention to the spiritual side of his personality rather than his scientific side. While Jack and Miles argue heatedly about the best course of action, Sayid chooses to spend his time in silent meditation. This brief introduction is a reminder that (along with Desmond and Rose) Sayid remains one of the few living characters who actively profess a particular religious faith. Previous episodes, such as Live Together Die Alone, further highlighted Sayid’s religious background, by portraying him as a man who still believes in the power of prayer. In our latest episode, Sayid even comes across an image of the central text of Islam, a copy of the Koran itself on Ben’s bookshelf. Amidst all of the politics and intrigue of the epsiode, Sayid alone showed intense concern over the treatment of Naomi’s corpse, to ensure a more proper burial. This act of spirituality, as minor as it might seem, indicates that Sayid believes in an existence outside of our physical reality.
Sayid is a leader.
Since the plane crash, Sayid Jarrah has become one of the camp’s most vocal and influential decision-makers. In the early episodes of Season One, Sayid helped the survivors organize their efforts to adapt to their new environment, while he also made several inspired attempts to find rescue. The former soldier assumed command of a series of missions to protect the camp from outsiders, including Rousseau, Ethan, Michael, and the Others. Jack remains the nominal leader of the group, but most of the details of his decisions (including the two master plans of the last two season finales) come from Sayid’s recommendations. This relationship was never more evident than in The Economist, in which Jack wisely allowed Sayid to take charge of both the negotiations with Locke and investigation of the Freighter crew. Even though a large group of people choose to follow Jack’s leadership, Jack essentially follows Sayid’s lead on the most important matters.
Sayid is a follower.
As a whole, though, The Economist served much more as a portrait of servitude than of leadership. Discussions of chain-of-command occur throughout the episode, including: Locke’s unsuccessful attempt to communicate with Jacob (“John’s looking for someone to tell him what to do.”); Hurley’s submission to Locke’s demands (“Right now, I’m making the decisions, Hugo.”); and Frank’s discussion of Naomi (“She was senior-management. We didn’t exactly sit at the same lunch table.”). The interactions between Sayid and Elsa represent the episode’s most extreme examples of such servitude. The two star-crossed lovers both tried to seduce and to kill each other but only as insignificant pawns in a larger conflict between their powerful superiors. Sayid appears genuinely resigned to the notion that “Everyone has a boss”, and that idea holds particular significance in light of his broader history. Sayid has never taken command of his own life, but has always done the bidding of a series of bosses: his Iraqi commanding officers, Kelvin Inman, the CIA, Jack, and finally Ben. Despite being an excellent decision-maker, he somehow manages to put himself in a position where he is always following someone else’s orders.
Sayid is one of the most rational characters on Lost.
For the most part, Sayid Jarrah is able to maintain calm and collected in even the most stressful situations. As a trained soldier, Sayid has always been better prepared than any of the other crash survivors for the dangers they faced on the island. Through his dangerous dealings with Rousseau, Ben (as Henry Gale), Michael, Klugh and Mikhail, Sayid always managed to stay on top of the situation. Thanks the latest episode, Sayid can add another impressive achievement to his resume. In The Economist, Sayid plays the role of diplomat between the two hostile camps as he negotiates a peaceful settlement to the island’s hostage situation. His conversation with Jack even highlights the accurate contrast between Jack’s fiery temperament and his own composed demeanor. He manages to appeal to both Jack’s and Locke’s sense of rationality, and convinces them that his plan is in the best interests of both of them (not an easy task by any means). There can be no better candidate than Sayid for the next mission, to assess the threat posed by the Freighter crew.
(On a side note, a major piece of this negotiation story is missing. Although Sayid claims that he traded Miles for Charlotte, Locke had already captured Miles at that point. Sayid must have promised Locke something else in exchange for Charlotte. Perhaps he agreed to become Locke’s ‘man on the boat,’ and to gather intelligence on his new enemy.)
Sayid is one of the most emotional characters on Lost.
Two separate times in this episode, Ben points out the fragility of Sayid’s rationality. On the island, Ben remarks, “You were stupid enough to fall for your friend [Hurley] as bait,” and then uses the same language in the flash-forward: “You were stupid enough to care for her [Elsa].” Despite all of his cunning, Sayid frequently allows his emotions to cloud his better judgment. Every episode that centers on Sayid also highlights the emotional vulnerabilities (particularly in relation to women), and the latest flash forwards were no exception. The women that Sayid hurt or failed to protect (Nadia, Shannon, and Amira of the Enter 77 flashback) continue to haunt him far more than anything else in his past. Sayid’s latest female attachment, Elsa, exposes that vulnerability once again, so much that Sayid nearly dies as a result. His romance with Elsa seemed reminiscent of Sawyer’s experience in The Long Con flashbacks, in which the con-man falls for his victim, but here the stakes were even higher. Whatever event Ben used to recruit Sayid to his cause, Ben ultimately exploited Sayid’s feelings rather than his reason. The extent to which Sayid now follows Ben’s orders matches the intensity of Sayid’s emotional attachment for the friends he wishes to protect.
Sayid is ultimately a good man.
While many of the characters on the island operate with tremendous egos and dubious agendas, Sayid’s goals have always been pretty transparent. Stranded on an island with a group of strangers (some of whom didn’t even like him), Sayid took a fanatical interest in ensuring everyone else’s safety. In the past, Sayid committed unspeakable acts of cruelty as a torturer, but he shows genuine remorse for those deeds, most dramatically during his self-imposed exile in Solitary and his confession at the end of Enter 77. Most of his questionable moral decisions, in one way or another, stem from his desire to protect the people for which he cares. Sayid’s conversation with Ben at the very end of The Economist suggests that these sentiments also motivate his future work as an assassin. Ben only needed to say one thing to keep his new hit-man in line: “You want to protect your friends, or not, Sayid?” (Was this line a threat or just a reminder?).While his boss might have other motives, Sayid’s decision rests on a desire to protect others. Even though his methods might be ruthless, Sayid’s intentions once again seem genuinely good.
Sayid is ultimately an evil man.
Despite his good intentions, though, there is no doubt that Sayid tortured innocent subjects along with the guilty as an interrogator for the Iraqi Republican Guard (as well as on the island). When Nadia persuaded him to betray his army, Sayid shot and killed a bystander soldier in the escape attempt, in manner analogous to Michael’s infamous actions to ensure Walt’s freedom. (Juliet also made reference to some as-yet-unknown incident at Basra, an atrocity that brought him great shame.) The Economist, however, shows Sayid reaching an absolute moral low-point. Sayid now trusts Ben to make his moral decisions for him. He could not have phrased it any better than his foreshadowing remarks earlier: “The day I start trusting him is the day I will have sold my soul.” In effect, Sayid now has become no different morally from Ben’s most recent enforcer, Mikhail (who murdered Bonnie, Greta, and Charlie). Rather than use their own moral judgment, both men rely simply on Ben’s word to know when to pull the trigger. Regardless of whether you think that Ben might be serving a good cause, one cannot overlook the fact that Sayid is now murdering complete strangers without hesitation.
MILES: And what side did you land on?
SAYID: I’ll let you know when I decide.
The more we know about Sayid, and the more closely we examine him, the more confusing his character becomes. Sayid manages to embody all of these opposites simultaneously. Which Sayid is the real Sayid? I sincerely hope that Jarrah’s ultimate destiny will be as something other than as Ben’s attack dog. There are some viewers out there who seem to think that all the characters are destined to become mindless followers of Ben, or Jacob, or the Island itself. If they do, then those characters will meet the same end as Elsa, an inconsequential pawn who sacrificed her life to protect a King. In the final scene, Ben treats Sayid’s wounds in a veterinary clinic, both for practical reasons (to conceal his work), and as a metaphor for his new relationship with Sayid. Ben values Sayid’s life, like the life of any of his followers, about as much as he values any one of the caged dogs. Sayid Jarrah has always been a man of exceptional intelligence and skill, capable of some far greater accomplishment in his life. I can only hope that Sayid will one day find a mission worthy of his potential.
[On one final note that needs to be addressed, the ‘beyond weird’ results of Daniel Faraday’s experiment will no doubt remain a hot topic of conversation for Lost theorists for some time. The main image of the experiment, the two clocks showing times 31 minutes apart, seems to draw allusions to the theory of relativity. Among other things, Einstein replaced the idea of absolute time with the concept of relative time, and explained that two clocks carried by two different observers will not necessarily agree. In the theory of relativity, each individual has his own personal measure of time that depends on where he is and how he is moving in relation to the speed of light.
So, does the theory of relativity explain how it might be possible for time to move differently on the island than in the outside world? Is it possible that there is a significant difference between how much time has passed on the island and outside the island? In a word, no. Even though relativity describes the unique relationship between time and light, there is an even more basic relationship between those two elements. Our units of measurement for time are based upon a common reference point, the movement of the sun. Relativity explains how time might move differently for two different observers, but it does not explain how two different observers could miscount the number of times the sun rises and sets. One hundred days since the crash on the island still equals one hundred days off the island. Despite all of the sci-fi craziness surrounding Daniel’s experiment, remember that Jack’ discussion about baseball with Frank grounds the show’s still-seamless timeline in reality.]