Once upon a time, during the first season of Lost, the series seemed to present a much brighter outlook on life. Through the simple narrative device of flashbacks, Lost introduced a group of characters with very tortured pasts. The emphasis, though, was on the word past. The island offered a chance for all of these characters to atone for their prior sins and to make a better life for themselves. Each episode concluded with the general impression that the characters would eventually overcome both internal and external challenges on the island, and then move on to lead a much happier life afterward.
There was, of course, one oddity in this group. Michael Dawson arrived on the island without any real sins in his history. His core conflict, the strained relationship with his son Walt, came through no fault of his own. Just when he was beginning to make some progress, fate intervened, when big-old bearded Tom decided to take Michael’s son right out of his hands. In captivity soon afterward, the Others pushed Michael to his absolute breaking point. To paraphrase Sayid from Exodus: he's a father who lost his child, so don't try to apply reason to his actions. The experiences on the island transformed many sinners into model citizens, but Michael’s stay on the island transformed him from an ordinary man into a despised villain. In the eyes of many Lost fans and in the eyes of Michael himself, his crimes moved him into a category beyond forgiveness and beyond salvation.
Meet Kevin Johnson, the eighth episode of Lost’s Season Four, is probably darker than any other episode in the entire series. Not only do murder, guilt, and suicide cast a dominating shadow over every scene, but even the visuals themselves literally became darker than ever before. The bright and beautiful island scenery that characterized every other episode of the series disappeared completely (until the final scene, which was itself tarnished by death). The episode's opening scenes in the Barracks and at sea both take place at night, along with all of Michael's flashback scenes in New York. Even when Michael does find some rays of light on the decks of the Kahana freighter, grim death still colors every conversation. Not even death, though, can ease his suffering.
In two separate instances in this episode, a Mama Cass Elliot song taunts him even further, by chanting the repeated phrase, “It’s getting better every day.” Each of the four seasons thus far has pushed Lost deeper and deeper into the realm of tragedy. So far, Season Four suggests that things will continue to get much worse for its characters in the days to come. To put things in perspective, the heartbreaking death of Charlie Pace currently ranks as the closest example to an optimistic conclusion to a character’s story. In the world of Lost, conventional happy endings might be impossible. By the end, will Michael’s hopelessly bleak story still be the exception, or will the rest of the characters also endure similar fates?
Meet Kevin Johnson calls attention to another seminal modern tragedy that might serve as the model for the stories of Michael and other characters. In an allusion to The Godfather films, Miles calls our attention to an orange that he's eating, both visually and verbally. Oranges also serve as a famous recurring image in The Godfather film saga, always as a forewarning that death will not be far behind. Lost also paid homage to The Godfather as far back as the Pilot episode of the series, in which Terry O'Quinn mimicked Marlon Brando’s famous orange peel smile. If The Godfather saga does serve as a major creative influence on Lost, then there is a strong reason to be concerned for its characters. The story of the Corleone family suggests not only that it might be impossible for an individual to atone for past crimes within one lifetime, but that future generations also will suffer for those sins.
“Tell me, when Pop had troubles ... did he ever think, even to himself, that he had gone the wrong way; that maybe by trying to be strong and trying to protect his family, that he could ... that he could ... lose it instead?” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather, Part II
In many ways, the story of Michael Dawson parallels the story of Michael Corleone, the central character of The Godfather saga. These two Michaels both set out with largely admirable goals in life, to look after the interests of their family above all else. Michael Dawson named his son Walter after his father, just as Michael Corleone passed on his father’s name Vito to his own son. When circumstances put their families in jeopardy, both Michaels crossed over to the dark side by committing a brutal double murder. The core tragedy for the two Michaels is the same: the man only wanted to protect his family, but his efforts still caused them to lose his family anyway. Even though their intentions were good, their actions were evil. Both stories leave the viewer to decide for themselves whether they believe that Michael was ultimately a good man or a bad man. (If you think that even this characterization is too forgiving, then there are plenty of other valid comparisons to be made between Michael Corleone and Benjamin Linus, the other murderer/family-man in this episode.)
“If anything in this life is certain - if history has taught us anything - it's that you can kill anybody.” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather, Part II
However the viewer chooses to feel about him, Michael judged that he himself no longer deserved to live. From here, Michael’s flashback introduced another supernatural twist into the show’s overall mythology. As Tom explains: “I got some bad news for you, amigo. You can't kill yourself. The Island won't let you! […] No matter how bad you want to, no matter how many different ways you try, it won't happen. Give it a shot if you don't believe me. You got more work to do, Mike.” Michael tries to kill himself four separate times in this episode, and in each case the universe intervenes. He survives a 60 mph car crash virtually unscathed; Tom interrupts his first attempt to shoot himself in a back alley; he eventually pulls the trigger, only to find that the gun will not fire; and finally he works up the nerve to press execute on his suitcase bomb, only to see a flag pop up with the words ‘Not yet’. Michael's situation seems to be the complete reversal of the type of course correction that Ms. Hawking described in Flashes Before Your Eyes. Instead of encountering an improbable series of different ways to die like Charlie, Michael stumbles across a number of coincidences that cause him to keep living. In both cases, none of the individual events are impossible, but the situation as a whole pushes the limits of probability.
As of now, it remains unclear as to exactly how this type of suicide course correction will operate. Viewers have countless different questions to consider here, including: where and when does it apply, who is affected, why does it happen, and how does it operate in a world with free will? In Through the Looking Glass, both Jack and Locke decided to kill themselves only to have the universe intervene to tell them (in different ways) that they still had work to do. Even though none of these occurrences violated the laws of cause and effect, some degree of reverse causality seems to be at play here. In a strange touch to Michael’s story, the audience already knew that each of his attempts to kill himself would be unsuccessful. The very fact that Michael was telling us the story proved that each of his suicide attempts had failed. In another exploration of the show’s unique perspective on time, Michael was already alive in the future before these scenes took place. This explanation might not be very satisfying, but the show once again embraces the idea that the future is every bit as fixed as the past.
Depending on your interpretation, the audience already might have caught another glimpse of Michael’s future. Michael’s flashback in Meet Kevin Johnson draws many strong parallels to Jack’s flash-forward in Through the Looking Glass. Both men seem to suffer from the same post-island depression syndrome: loved ones abandon them, the dead haunt them, and guilt torments them. It should be noted, of course, that Michael’s current predicament does not ensure that he will never die. He can not kill himself yet, because, as Tom implies, his death will be conditional on the completion of some future task. In fact, this episode offers some strong indications that Michael himself will become the man inside the coffin from the Season Three finale.
Jack’s newspaper clipping from Through the Looking Glass reveals that the suicide victim was John Latham of New York, who hanged himself to death in Los Angeles, and who left behind one teenaged son. A previous Luhks article from the Theories section, entitled ‘What’s in the Box?,’ explored several reasons why Michael is a strong candidate to end up inside the coffin at the Hoffs/Drawlar funeral parlor:
Michael meets the biographical description of John Latham: he originally comes from New York City, and his son Walt is entering his teen years at the time of the flash-forward. […] Michael conceivably might have killed himself due to guilt from these actions (provided that Walt was no longer around). […] If Jack tried to kill himself after learning of Michael's death, then Jack's journey off the island probably bears a strong resemblance to Michael's. [...] If this comparison holds true, then expect to see Jack commit at least one murder during Season Four to secure their escape. Also, this comparison suggests that Jack will leave behind several friends in great danger on the island, just as Michael did. In this version of the Through the Looking Glass narrative, Jack attempts to kill himself upon realizing that he had become another Michael. (As with Locke's suicide attempt, though, fate intervenes in time, because he still has work left to do.)
Meet Kevin Johnson included a few more details that strengthen this case even further. Michael indeed does want to end his own life due to his guilt, but he cannot kill himself yet. In this episode, neither his son nor his mother wanted anything to do with him, perhaps so much that they would avoid his funeral. Michael’s mother also mentions that she cannot call him by his real name; Kevin Johnson is not the alias that Michael chose for himself, but he lived under some different name before Tom recruited him. By the end of the season, perhaps the series will reveal that Michael took the name John Latham. Whether or not you believe that Michael will end up inside that particular coffin, Michael’s future life certainly seems very bleak, with little chance for salvation apart from self-sacrifice.
“You’re taking this very personal. Tom, this is business, and this man is taking it very, very personal.” – Sonny Corleone, The Godfather
Sayid, for one, did not offer Michael any second chances. An enraged Sayid threw Michael against a wall, twisted his arm, and demanded answers. Last week, I incorrectly predicted that Sayid would show understanding for Michael’s situation rather than lash out violently. Instead, the emotional half of Sayid’s personality did triumph over the rational half. I still stand by that prediction, but we will need to wait for quite a while before Sayid reverses his stance. Even some of the most fervent Michael haters might agree that Michael appeared more sympathetic than Sayid in these scenes. Sayid showed an intense desire to punish Michael, even though Michael offered up information to him willingly, without the need for torture. Dissatisfied by this turn of events, Sayid turned Michael over to Captain Gault for further punishment. Many viewers were left asking a very valid question: does Sayid have any basis for trusting Gault (and by extension, Widmore)? Most likely, Sayid did not act on any sound reasoning, but only out of emotion.
Despite his blind hatred of Michael in this episode, Sayid has much more in common with Michael than he knows at the moment. Essentially, Sayid presents two charges against Michael: first, he was a murderous traitor; and, second, he is working for Benjamin Linus. During Sayid’s flashback in Solitary, Sayid himself committed an equivalent act of treason against his people. In the same style as Michael, he murdered an innocent fellow soldier named Omar, he released Nadia from imprisonment, and then he wounded himself to cover up his crime. During Sayid’s flash-forward in The Economist, Sayid will also become an undercover agent for Benjamin Linus. While Michael has so far acted only as a spy and a saboteur for Ben, Sayid will soon be murdering strangers in cold blood. His treatment of Michael now makes his actions in Solitary and The Economist seem even more heartbreaking. If Sayid shows this much hatred toward Michael, then how much loathing does he have for himself for those same two offenses?
“He will get in touch with you through someone you absolutely trust … guaranteeing your safety ... and at that meeting you’ll be assassinated.” – Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather
Sayid’s interrogation and Michael’s extended flashback were sandwiched in between scenes of a seemingly unrelated story involving Ben, Danielle, Alex, and Karl. This side story began with an image repeated from Confirmed Dead: from the background, Ben glares at Karl, the young man who not only betrayed him during Season Three, but also happend to be sharing intimate contact with his adopted daughter. Next, Ben approaches Alex with a detailed map leading to the Temple, which he describes as ‘a sanctuary,’ which may be ‘the last safe place on the island.’ On their way to the Temple, Karl pauses, and comments: “What if your dad is … playing us?” A few seconds later, a team of snipers ambushes the crew. The gunmen murder Karl, eliminating one traitor to Ben’s cause. The shooters also deliver a severe wound to Danielle (who similarly wounded Ben with an arrow during Season Two), another person that presented a major threat to Ben’s possession of his daughter.
“Do you expect me to let you take my children from me? Don't you know me? Don’t you know that that’s an impossibility? That that could never happen? That I would use all of my power to keep something like that from happening?” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather, Part II
Currently, the Lost fan base is split about evenly between the viewers who believe that Widmore’s team fired the gunshots and the viewers who believe that Ben’s people executed the hit. The episode leaves room for both possibilities. (If you want to know where I weigh in on the matter, then just re-read my last paragraph.) Regardless, it would be a remarkable coincidence if Keamy and company somehow managed to land at the exact same time and at the exact same place in which Ben sent Karl and Danielle. Also, it would be an equally amazing coincidence that those assassins did Ben a tremendous favor by gunning down two of his most hated enemies and rivals. There are many different arguments for why or why not Ben was responsible for this ambush, but I hope that everyone can agree on at least one point: Ben would not hesitate to kill Karl and Danielle if he had the chance. Two episodes ago, flashbacks revealed that Ben was willing to send Goodwin, one of his most trusted followers, to his death, due to their rivalry over Juliet. Does anyone believe that Ben would even think twice about trying to kill two of his enemies, who stood between him and his daughter?
“Only don't tell me that you're innocent. Because it insults my intelligence and it makes me very angry.” – Michael Corleone, The Godfather
In Ben’s brief appearance in Michael’s flashback, he makes his strongest plea yet that he is The Good Guy. He goes to great lengths to convince Michael that he is not a monster like Charles Widmore: “When I'm at war, I'll do what I need to do to win, but I will not kill innocent people.” While Michael was convinced by the little farce that Ben played with him, Ben’s track record indicates otherwise. It is difficult to put an exact number on the innocent people that Ben killed or tried to kill to fulfill his own desires. However, Ben is such a fan of listmaking that he probably has these names checked off somewhere: Roger Linus, Horace Goodspeed, another forty members of Dharma Initiative, the real Henry Gale, Goodwin, Charlie, Bonnie, Greta, any pregnant woman who wanted to leave the island, all of his own people who died on kidnapping missions, etc. You can add in his direct attempts to kill Ana-Lucia, Locke, and Charlotte, as well as the countless other times when he ordered other people to use lethal force. If you agree with my interpretation of this episode, then Karl and Danielle will be just the latest names in this ongoing series of victims.
Perhaps even longer than his list of names is his list of excuses. He somehow manages to keep persuading both characters and audience members that everything he does is justified. Ben has now convinced a new group of people that their survival depends upon their efforts to protect him. Make no mistake, though, Ben is a monster, and there is no other character more dangerous than him. He pursues his desires without regard for human life, and slaughters the innocent without conscience.
“But I never wanted this for you. I worked my whole life – I don't apologize – to take care of my family. And I refused to be a fool dancing on a string held by all those big shots. I don’t apologize. That’s my life. But I always thought that when it was your time that you would be the one to hold the strings. Senator Corleone. Governor Corleone. Something. Just wasn’t enough time, Michael. Wasn’t enough time.” – Don Vito Corleone, The Godfather
After eight full episodes, Season Four has introduced many changes into the overall direction of the show. The first three seasons focused heavily on the relationships between the show’s main characters and the members of the prior generation: the mothers and fathers who made them what they are. By transitioning away from pre-island flashbacks, Season Four has also shifted the spotlight onto the younger generation of characters. Will the new children of Lost lead lives any less tragic than their predecessors?
It would be a severe understatement to say that the youngest group of Lost characters has not made an auspicious start. Currently, all of the children on this show have lost at least one parent. Ji Yeon Kwon must live with the loss of her father. Baby Aaron was abandoned by his biological father and now has been separated from his birth mother. (Also, do not forget the psychic Richard Malkin's prediction that 'danger surrounds the child,' if anyone other than Claire raises him.) By all indications, the Others have no intentions to return the kidnapped Zack and Emma to their mother. Young Walt suffered through the death of his mother at the age of ten. He was reunited briefly with his father, until Tom snatched him away to attend Ben's cruel Room 23 day-care center. This crime started the chain of events that caused Michael to lose his son permanently. Presently, Walt wakes up screaming in the middle of the night, with his memories of what happened on the island. Alex spent the first sixteen years of her life with the people who stole her away from her own mother. Recently, she started to break free from that situation, but she only escaped far enough away from Ben so that she could see her boyfriend murdered and her mother shot.
The children of Lost have become equally immersed into the same world of suffering, lies, and violence as their parents. Will it ever be possible to break this cycle? The Corleone family of The Godfather saga proposes one possible answer to this question: essentially, no. The sins of the parents will continue to be revisited on the children. Maybe Alexandra Linus will follow in the footsteps of her mass-murderering father. Or perhaps one day, Walter Dawson will put a gun to his own head and try to pull the trigger. Right now, the show offers very little reason to feel optimistic about any of them.