Since the first season, honesty has always been a scarce commodity for Lost characters. For every instance of a character’s confession, it seemed that a few more buried secrets took its place. For every example of sincere cooperation, you could guarantee that a handful of cons, deceptions, and betrayals would soon follow. Things started on a small scale in the first two seasons, with petty crimes and infidelities scattered throughout the flashbacks and island interactions. Benjamin Linus, Juliet Burke, and the rest of the Others escalated the level of deceit as things moved into Season Three, and made the crash survivors look like amateurs by comparison. Season Four then introduced two massive global conspiracies into story: first, the staged flight 815 wreckage at the bottom of the ocean; and then the Oceanic Six cover story (a lie to conceal the other lie). Misdirection has become a way of life both for the characters and the Lost writers, who manipulate perceptions of truth with more skill than Anthony Cooper himself.
The second episode of Season Five, with its decidedly straightforward title The Lie, offers perhaps the series’ most thorough examination of this recurring motif. The episode begins by sending the story back to the formative stages of the Oceanic Six Lie. Kate, Sun, Sayid, Hurley, and Jack all respond in subtly different ways to the situation, and each one participates in the scheme for deeply personal reasons. The conversation arrives at a unanimous conclusion: they need to lie, because it’s the only way to protect those left behind from Charles Widmore. In those immortal words once spoken by Dr. Shephard (perhaps the only good thing ever to arise from Stranger in a Strange Land): “That’s what they say. That’s not what they mean.” As Hurley points out straight away, the logic behind their Lie never even made much sense; Widmore would seem to be just as likely to find the island no matter what story they told. The reasons stated on the surface serve as a mere pretext to disguise their true motivations underneath. These five co-conspirators are even incapable of being honest with each other about their collective dishonesty.
The sheer quantity of lies on the show places a heavy burden on the cast members. Although acting itself is a more complex form of lying, playing the part of a liar presents an even greater challenge. The actor must present two faces at the same time, each with an opposite meaning. The performance must successfully communicate to the viewer when a lie is being told, but it still must appear genuine enough so that the audience can also believe that other characters would be convinced by it. The proper balance can be nearly impossible to find. By and large, though, the gifted collection of regular cast members excel when placed in these situations. The opening scene offered each of these five stars an opportunity for ambivalence, and the rest of the episode enabled them to explore those conflicting motives more fully.
Kate is the first character to agree with the Locke/Shephard cover story, and she definitely required the least persuasion. The physical setup of the scene frames her off to the side, already aligned with Jack, while the other three characters huddle together on a bench. With little hesitation, she simply answers “Yeah” when asked to go along with the Lie. The helpless infant resting in her arms also goes a long way towards explaining why this decision was so easy for her. Of all the characters, Kate stood to benefit the most by participating in the Lie. Kate’s dilemma became a fairly simple choice between accepting her past and embracing her future. The Lie presented her with the opportunity for an almost entirely clean slate, the chance to reinvent herself in a unique way. Kate could not steal someone else’s name, as she tried to do during Season One, but she could create a new identity. Instead of Kate Austen the Murderer (destroyer of life), she could become Kate Austen the Mother (protector of life). This fugitive so accustomed to running away from her past, finally found a future life worth running towards. By denying the events of the island, she also spares herself from revisiting the emotional pain from the island, and the memories of two people who might haunt her, Claire and Sawyer.
Later scenes in Los Angeles put this contrast between Kate’s two identities on display. The face of Maternal Kate appears first, a portrait of utter bliss. Aaron allows her vicariously to find the beauty in activities as mundane as pushing an elevator button. She continues to show her contented motherly face as she trades pleasantries with Sun, mother of another young child. Steadily, though, Sun shifts the topic of conversation from the future generation, to the older generation. First, Sun suggests that Kate should ‘take care of’ the threat to Aaron. Initially, Kate reacts with denial: “What kind of a person do you think I am?”. Sun responds with a not-so-subtle reminder of Jin’s death. The face of Murderer Kate re-emerges, and, probably for the first time in years, Ms. Austen must examine her past. She could fool the entire world, even the criminal justice system, without much difficulty, but she cannot deceive Sun, an accomplice in the Lie. Kate did not murder Jin, but she is indeed a murderer. It was not the first time that Kate had seen someone else explode and then walked away unscathed. Although Kate never said she was sorry for intentionally blowing up Wayne, she does offer an apology (seemingly a sincere one) for her role in Jin’s death.
Sun is the only character who refrains from speaking at all during the initial debate over the Lie. She assents to the lie by nodding silently. The quietest person in the room will often prove to be the most dangerous. In the Season Four finale, which depicts the immediate chronological aftermath of this scene, Sun also keeps her thoughts to herself. Her companions do not suspect a thing from harmless Mrs. Kwon, but the cold blood of Paik still flows in her veins. Sun, it would seem, agreed to participate in the Lie, as part of her own desire to deceive and betray her partners. Sun’s knowledge of their Lie gives her leverage, which she can use at any time to influence the other members of the Oceanic Six. She has no quarrel with Sayid or Hurley, of course, and her attention focuses squarely on Jack and Kate. (Judging from her later conversation with Kate, I suspect that Sun exploited this position already, and she was the mysterious client who demanded a maternity test. Sun is out for blood, and she demands more than just a small sample.)
During her pre-island life, Sun successfully concealed a double life. Within her marriage, she maintained the veneer of a faithful wife for Jin’s benefit, while she was unfaithful outside of it. Sun now utilizes those same skills in the present time for a different purpose. The outward image of calmness conceals that same screaming, anguished expression from the helicopter, just below the surface. Please bear with me while I make a rather improbable (but, I think, meaningful) comparison here to an obscure little movie you might have seen last year. Two months after Yunjin Kim’s piercing scream aboard the helicopter, audiences were treated to another memorable ‘No!’ moment, from Aaron Eckhart of The Dark Knight. (Warning: The remainder of this paragraph contains spoilers for that film.) During the 2008 Batman epic, Harvey Dent suffers a tragedy that unleashes his alter-ego, known as Two-Face. Dent was an essentially decent person, forced to witness his significant other destroyed in an explosion, while rendered powerless to save her. After surviving the incident, he became consumed with a quest for revenge on the people he held responsible, those who made the decisions that caused her death. Sun’s transformative event shares almost all of the same elements. Now, the question becomes, what manner of revenge does Sun seek against Jack? Dent was not content with killing Gordon, but he wanted Gordon to lose the person he loved most, to force him to suffer in the same way he did. Could this example become the most fitting model for Sun’s revenge? She could have spent the past years plotting an end game that recreates the freighter disaster, and forces Jack to lose Kate in the same way she lost Jin.
Out of the five principal characters, Sayid’s motivations for participating in the lie most closely match the official reasons. Uniquely among Lost characters, Sayid consistently shows the ability to sort through all of the complexities of the big picture, and to focus only on the most relevant issues. At his core, he is a man of action and facts, not of words and fictions. His decision-making process manages to bypass the usual politics and focus only on consequences. During the opening scene, the key question in Sayid’s mind was: what course of action will lead to the best results? Or, more accurately in light of their quandary, what course of action will be likely to lead to the fewest catastrophic results. In the beginning of the debate, Sayid feels conflicted about the merits of the lie. As the scene progresses, he mentally evaluates the potential risks of their two options. Ultimately, he decides, “I don’t believe we have a better choice.” Whatever reason tipped his scales in that direction remains unstated in the scene, but the episode offers a few clues as to his real deciding factor.
Precisely when Sayid makes his final decision to uphold the Lie, he is looking right at his good friend Hurley. His gaze suggests an almost paternal affection for the big kid before him. I would argue that Sayid did not choose to partake in the cover-up as he said to protect the people that they left behind, but to protect the people right in front of him. The reasoning works as follows: lying about the plane crash might help the people on the island, and it might not. The island itself vanished into thin air, so Sayid does not have any control over what happens on the island. The Lie probably would not harm the people’s chances of survival on the island, but it most definitely would improve the odds for the people who escaped. If he returned to civilization and spoke the truth about Widmore, then he would essentially place a target on his own back, as well as on Hurley, Nadia, and anyone else any of them cared about. The alternative to the Lie would be the Truth, and the Truth would escalate the danger. Thanks to a tranquilizer dart, Sayid spends the majority of the episode unconscious. Sayid’s reaction when he finally awakens in the hospital reveals this same underlying motivation: preservation of others. His number one priority reveals itself in the question, “Where’s Hurley?”. Sayid failed to protect Shannon and Nadia and Elsa in the past, and he cannot take much more loss. Protecting the people on the island seemed to be an impossibility after they left, so protecting his other friends became his the only tangible goal.
Hurley gradually has transformed into a more prominent character as the series has progressed. For the second straight season, an episode focuses on Hurley before any other character. Hugo serves as both the moral and emotional center for the opening scene that formulates the Lie. The other members of the Oceanic Six fail to convince him that the Lie will help protect the people left behind on the island, but he eventually agrees for a different reason. Jack asks: "You think anyone's gonna believe that... believe any of it? They're gonna think you're crazy." When Sayid refuses to join him, Hurley submits under the burden of popular vote. Hugo has no hidden agendas here, other than his two most powerful driving forces, his conscience and his loyalty to his friends. Even though none of those friends reciprocate the same loyalty, he still agrees to go along with them. He judges that the emotional weight of lying would eat him from within, but the feeling of being all alone in the world would be even more damaging.
The theme of Hurley's insanity has evolved through each season. The episodes Dave and The Beginning of the End both suggested that immense survivor guilt caused his mind to break away from reality. The Lie adds a slightly different perspective on the source of his madness, which emphasizes his loneliness. Two scenes with David and Carmen Reyes highlight how The Lie itself created a gaping chasm between Hurley and his parents. By nature, Hurley is incapable of deceiving to his loved ones successfully, as both of them see right through him. The way his friends forced him to lie created a rift between them as well. Hurley found himself without a single person in the world, with whom he could act like himself and be perfectly honest. As a solution, he imagined himself new friends, the ghosts of people who died on the island. It is no mistake that Ana-Lucia visits him at a moment when he feels alone, unable to talk to Sayid. In a remarkably sad way, Charlie, Mr. Eko, and Ana-Lucia became his only true friends left. Given the choice between insanity and loneliness, Hurley chooses insanity.
In his efforts to persuade Hurley to join the Lie, Dr. Shephard mentions what is possibly the most sensible justification for the Lie: even if they told everyone the truth about the island, no one would believe them, and people would think they were crazy. This appeal specifically targets Hurley, but it also reflects his own state of mind on the matter. From the Pilot through There’s No Place Like Home, Jack had been confronted with situations that contradicted his view of the universe. The most dramatic example occurred in his last moments near the island, before it vanished completely. He responded to this miraculous event with a direct, immediate denial. Jack's worldview, which he cultivated during his study of medicine, rests upon some basic principles. Whenever Jack observes what appears to be a miracle, he must make one of two choices. One one hand, he can deny the event, distrust his own senses, and dismiss it as insanity. On the other hand, he can believe his own eyes. If he chooses to believe, then he must also reject everything that he already knows about the world. In Hurley’s case, the stress of lying pushed him towards madness. For Dr. Shephard, the opposite holds true: lying for years served as his own self-prescribed Clonazepam medication. Jack choose sanity over honesty, but we know he eventually would lose both.
Flash-forwards from previous seasons revealed how the transition into a man of faith nearly destroyed his life. The consequences of becoming a believer destroy the foundation on which Jack built his entire identity. The old Jack knew for a fact that he did the right thing by trying to rescue the people from the island. The new Jack has accepted that he made a mistake, and he was not serving the best interests of his friends after all. The old Jack knew for a fact that there was no such thing as destiny, and no higher power than humanity. The new Jack has accepted that there are forces in the universe outside human control, and that he must have faith in a larger plan. Most importantly, though, the old Jack knew for a fact that when people die, they stay dead. The new Jack is still trying to wrap his head around the last one. The possibility of raising the dead still scares the hell out of him ("He's dead, isn't he?"). If the man inside the coffins can return, then it means that Jack must confront Locke (and Christian) in the future. When Jack finally meets them face to face, he must take a long look into the mirror himself, and realize that he was never much different from those crazy old men all along.
No Lost actor uses more faces than Matthew Fox, and no Lost actor uses the same face as often as Michael Emerson. In both cases, the style of the actor suits the demands of playing the character. Instead of displaying a wide variety of emotions, Ben tries to conceal his emotions as often as possible. Rarely does any other character, or even the audience, catch a glimpse at his true self. His poker face is always a means to an end: to prevent anyone else from gaining information that they could exploit, and to intimidate others by showing no possible weaknesses. In The Lie, Ben once again maintains that traditional facade, during his conversations with Jack (and Jill, believe it or not). The manipulations continue as usual for him, at least until his confrontation with Hurley. For once, Ben speaks to a person with utter sincerity, and he lays his cards out on the table for Hurley to see. Ben's sales pitch to the island ("You'll never have to lie again.") reflects not only an insight about Hurley, but the comment might reflect his own fatigue with dishonesty. In an ironic reversal, Ben suffers the same fate as the Boy Who Cried Wolf. After so many years, Ben's attempt at truth-telling (with that little forced smile) became even less convincing that his lies, and Hugo calls his bluff incorrectly. The final scene of the episode, a meeting with Ms. Hawking, casts Ben into one of his scarce moments of vulnerability. The man who always seems to have all of the answers must resort to lighting a few prayer candles and begging for guidance from a higher authority.
No Lost episode would be complete, however, without the ultimate face of Lost, the island itself. As Ben and the Oceanic Six race against time to return to their home, the events on the island reinforce the urgency of their return. Ben's exceedingly positive recruitment angle distorts the reality of the situation. The island might be the place where these people finally can be honest with each other, but it is also a place where very bad things tend to happen. Lies serve no purpose for Rose, Bernard, Juliet, and Sawyer in this episode (Sawyer even tells his interrogators, "I'll tell you whatever you want to know!"). However, you never know just when you might be transported through time, and then suffer through an ambush of flaming arrows that kills half of your friends, followed by an encounter with a British badass named Jones who considers it an act of mercy to cut off only one of your hands. These things happen. When the situation appears to be at its worst, the island sends its own version of the Deus Ex Machina, its weapon, its face, Mr. John Locke himself. As the time travel plot continues, how many other great past deeds will this hero perform through the island's history?
Although Episode 5.02 The Lie aired immediately after Because You Left, the story stands out on its own with many examples of classic Lost storytelling. Personally, I had some difficulty evaluating the two episodes in my mind until I viewed them both separately. Many elements that seemed odd or meaningless at first glance carried deeper resonance when put into context. I would like to mention one final such observation before closing. A significant portion of the episode's plot focused on the efforts to revive Sayid from near death. In dealing with this story, the episode included both-low brow imagery (the Expose reference and the Weekend-at-Bernie's-style sunglasses), and some images that carry great gravitas (the crucifixion crosses and Virgin Mary paintings in Casa de Reyes) to the same effect. This plot line concluded when Jack revived Sayid inside the hospital, and I suspect that the instance foreshadows a future scene. Will the season conclude with Jack bringing Locke back from the dead, and, if so, what means will he use to effect this miracle? The answer to this question, as with everything else in Season Five of Lost, is only a matter of time.