The tenth episode of Season Five arrives with the perplexing, pronoun-filled title He’s Our You. Taken out of context, the name seemed to suggest what many Lost viewers have theorized for years: the existence of multiple timelines. The potentially misleading title of the episode’s main literary reference, A Separate Reality, suggests something similar. This week’s cliffhanger ending, in which Sayid shoots a 12-year old Benjamin Linus in the chest, tested the limits of Lost’s timeline consistency. In the early seasons, moving through time served only as a metaphor for the mental journey of Lost characters, but literal time travel has become the primary plot device of the current season. The concept of symbolic character doubling has also permeated the story since the beginning. If the Lost characters obtain the power to change their past, then the days of Parallel Sayid lording his cowboy hat over Regular Sayid might not be far behind. To borrow two words from Meet Kevin Johnson, Season Four’s similarly themed exploration of human freedom: NOT YET. The beloved Lost universe took one to the chest, but space-time remains intact as long as little Benjamin keeps breathing. The audience must continue to accept the most unpleasant elements of the timeline, because even minor change would erase the good elements along with it. As James reassured Juliet early in the episode: “Nothing’s changed.”
For the time being, doubling will remain a metaphor in the story rather than a science-fiction plot point. In due course, James spoke those three titular words to Sayid at the episode’s halfway point, as a succinct introduction to Oldham, the Dharma Initiative’s reclusive psychopath. The narrative of He’s Our You offers a number of looking-glass versions of Sayid Jarrah: Oldham, the intimidating interrogator; Eko, the self-sacrificing sibling; James, the conflicted captor; Roger, the weak-willed widower; Ilana, the proficient professional; even Keamy, the adolescent assassin. Any individual character can be conceived as the center of a panoramic hall of mirrors, in which dozens of other characters each reflect back different aspects of someone’s personality. He’s and She’s frequently come into conflict with other You’s, and create a duel of opposites. These battles extend beyond character showdowns, and into the realm of ideas. Every debate blurs the distinctions between perceived enemies (Us-vs.-Them, empiricism-vs.-faith, Widmore-vs.-Linus, good-vs.-evil, Jack-vs,-Sawyer, past-vs.-future, Dharma-vs.-Hostiles), by highlighting similarities instead of differences. Inevitably, the storytelling of Lost reveals each polar dichotomy to be a false one. The deepest level of introspection in He’s Our You occurs as it reveals the yin-and-yang inseparability between two laws of action, free will and determinism; and two characters, Sayid and Ben.
EKO: I did not ask for the life that I was given. But it was given, nonetheless. And with it... I did my best.
The first frame of He’s Our You shows a close-up image of a caged chicken, mindlessly bobbing its head and waiting to be eaten. The most recent Sayid story, Season Four’s The Economist, used a comparable image in its final scene: a dog trapped inside it own cage. That episode ended with the revelation that Sayid had become Ben’s personal attack dog, dependent on his master’s will. Due to Lost’s circular timeline, the story of these two allies/enemies makes as much sense when viewed backwards as forwards. In the latest ending, a younger version of Ben unleashes his trained bloodhound onto himself. The fateful shooting becomes another of Lost’s self-fulfilling prophecies, an event which creates itself out of nothing. As a child, Benjamin witnessed Sayid’s violent nature first hand. As an adult, Ben exploited that knowledge of Sayid to serve his own ends. When Sayid traveled back into the past, his experiences as Ben’s assassin enabled him to perform that bloody deed in the first place. (In retrospect, Sayid survived a bullet wound at the end of The Economist for the same reason that little Benjamin must survive here. Anyone who still has work to do in the timeline is effectively invincible. Did Ben come to understand that this destiny made his assassin unstoppable?) The opening image of the chicken also recalls the classic riddle of initial causality: which came first, the chicken or the egg? The story of He’s Our You offers its own answer to that question: neither. The cause produced the effect, because the effect produced the cause. In a sense, twin killers Sayid and Ben form one indivisible being, a double-headed monster in which one half spawned the other half.
Despite the heavy reliance on a new time-travel causality loop, He’s Our You includes a return to Lost’s traditional flashback format for the first time since Cabin Fever. The main focus of each scene is not to reveal what happened, but to understand why it happened. As Sayid approaches his ultimate choice, his journey explores the various ways in which individuals can be enslaved by time and space. The human will is essentially the product of two forces outside our control: biology and past experience. The adult versions of Sayid and Ben describe one other in terms of innate qualities. At their meeting in Santo Domingo, Ben suggests that Sayid enjoys killing, due to his inner nature. When Sayid describes his employer to Ilana, he makes an equivalent accusation, by depicting Ben as some sort of instinctive lying and killing machine. It would be difficult to accept that Linus and Jarrah could lead such lives without some inherent tendency towards violence. However, formative experiences also shaped the two boys into the men they became. While little Benjamin was growing up, his father provided more verbal and physical abuse than hugs. Young Sayid grew up in restrained environment, under the influence of his demanding father (during the reign of Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein). Sayid sought to emulate his father as a military hero, while Benjamin radically defined himself in terms of the Hostile counterculture. (Even the adult Ben did end up repeating some of his father’s behavior. Roger’s line “I’ll tell you what to think” becomes the Ben Linus mantra, even to the point of brainwashing.) The birth of a monster requires two ingredients: both inherited capacities and acquired experiences.
The opening scene introduces a novel thematic wrinkle that builds throughout the episode. Young Sayid kills the helpless chicken out of compassion for his older brother. Presumably, that chicken will be cooked and eaten, and the food would be shared with the family. Sayid is the only character shown killing anything in this episode, but several other characters are shown eating or preparing meat. Ben delivers a chicken-salad sandwich, Juliet fries up some bacon, Chef Hurley serves breakfast ham with dipping sauces, and Ilana orders a blood-red steak. The prevalence of meat-eating offers an intriguing reminder of the role of killing in society. The average person consumes countless animals over the course of his life. The vast majority of those people have never killed a live animal on their own. Division of labor shields most of us from facing the more unpleasant aspects of our lifestyle. Before someone like Hurley can share a ham with his friends, someone else needed to kill that pig for him. (Sayid’s brother seems to serve as a double for his friend Hurley: overweight, with curly hair, and a gentle nature.) Similarly, nearly every secure society requires occasional bloodshed. Homo sapiens are natural born killers, by necessity. We destroy life in order to preserve life. Every civilization comes with a steep body count, but that burden is not shared equally. Jarrah embraces violence as his necessary obligation to others. In doing so, he seeks to protect his people from killing, by engaging the dark side of human nature. Men like Sayid do the things that many people cannot do, fighting wars to keep everyone else safe. Everyone benefits, but only a few people get blood on their hands.
CHRISTIAN: One simple phone call and I could fix everything.
SAWYER: Why don't you?
CHRISTIAN: Because I am weak.
Beyond the power of genetics, the brain also constrains human liberty in other meaningful ways. Every individual suffers from character flaws alongside their virtues. Sayid’s own personal frailties precipitate his journey back to the Island. Linus tempts him out of retirement, with vague notions of revenge and the need to protect his friends. Jarrah always had a particular soft spot for attractive women, and newcomer Ilana exploits this vulnerability in order to capture him. Emotions, sexual desire, and even alcohol all limit his higher decision-making faculties on the road to Island jail. When Sayid meets Dharma’s village drunk Roger Linus, the prisoner and the servant trade insults with each other about whose mind must have been weaker, if they put themselves in their current situations. Sayid and Roger share a deeper, unspoken connection as well; the two men both fell into despair when they lost their wives in tragic circumstances. Sayid responded to Nadia’s death by murdering strangers as a slave to Ben. Roger turned to alcohol when his wife died, and then he unleashed his violent self-loathing onto his own son. Which bereaved husband revealed a deeper weakness in his response to loss?
The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes famously defined liberty in physical terms, as the absence of external impediments to motion. Sayid’s autonomy over his own body encounters just about every possible obstacle during his Island vacation. Every other passenger made a conscious choice to join Flight 316, except for him. Ilana subdued him with physical force at gunpoint, and then she dragged him onto the airplane in handcuffs. The Dharma Initiative captured him with its own guns and imprisoned him in a jail cell. James subdued his friend by electrocution, to allow Dharma security to tie him to a tree and force-feed him chemicals. A veteran interrogator like Sayid (or Oldham) even understands how the power of the human will itself can be broken down systematically. Sayid’s method of questioning a subject involved attacking the body’s pain threshold until the mind surrendered. The Dharma Initiative employs its own combination of scientific and spiritual techniques to achieve the same result. Oldham’s drug concoction bypasses human free will by attacking the brain directly. Both methods represent intense bodily invasions, on a different scale. Execution serves as Dharma’s final solution to control their prisoner permanently. Throughout this cruel bondage, Sayid makes only a simple request from his captor: “let me go.” Ultimately, young Ben is the one to liberate Sayid from his cell. Without this series of physical coercion, he would have never made his ultimate choice. Even after his release, Sayid still remains trapped by the boundaries of the Island itself, as well as three decades of time.
The episode includes a number of hints to suggest that Sayid’s eventual decision to shoot Ben may have been directed by a higher power. Oldham encourages Sayid to shut his mind off, to free himself from the illusions of sensory existence and access a separate reality. The prisoner offers Dharma a clairvoyant glimpse of its destiny, while he achieves clarity on his own future. The interrogation scene echoes similar Island moments from past seasons: Michael’s prolonged inquisition by the Others, Sawyer’s torture from Sayid, and Boone’s hallucination forced by Locke. Such mind-and-body-altering experiences force the truth to emerge, whether from within or from without. The sequence of events implies that Sayid establishes some communion with the Island’s past and future will before he makes his fatal choice. Sayid’s conspicuous purple shirt perhaps suggests a similar idea. Violet light has a higher frequency than any other color in the visible spectrum. Some Hindu traditions associate the color with the seventh chakra, the highest energy center of spiritual consciousness. Sayid seems to obtain some degree of enlightenment while in chains, an understanding of his new purpose.
LOCKE: You may think this is a democracy, Kate, [...] but this is not a democracy.
KATE: Well, I guess that makes it a dictatorship.
LOCKE: If I was a dictator, I would just shoot you, and go about my day.
Other notions of freedom also come into play throughout the episode, on the community level. In today’s global landscape, freedom is often equated with democratic rule. (Sayid’s first meeting with Ben inserts some subtle political subtext into the story. The American-born Ben ends his military alliance with his Iraqi partner by announcing: “Mission accomplished. […] I suppose you should go live your life. You’re free.” Not surprisingly, the struggle continues.) The Dharma society lives under a rule of law, and makes decisions as by popular vote. True democracy in action can present just as great a threat to liberty as a dictatorship can. In the seminal text On Liberty, philosopher John Stuart Mill popularized this concept of the tyranny of the majority. The Dharma Initiative’s democratic council ordered the execution of an innocent man, because they believed he posed a threat to their security. At the time, Sayid had committed no crime against any of them, aside from a harmless trespass into their jungle. Dharma may regard itself as civilized, but their decision resulted in a savage outcome. The con man James is unable to persuade them in this forum, and Radzinsky’s faction gains the weight of law. James even caves in to save his own reputation under the weight of group pressure. The voting scene offered a chilling demonstration of the easy path from fear to gross injustice in a supposedly free society.
The Dharma community makes its unanimous decision only after Amy reminds them of the risks to their children. The biggest threat to their culture is a child, a Hostile spy and traitor in their midst. Indeed, Sayid’s desire to kill Ben would make him a savior to their families rather than a danger. Throughout the episode, though, James LaFleur receives constant reminders that Sayid does pose an immediate threat to his personal lifestyle. James struggles to negotiate some compromise between his competing loyalties. Liberating Sayid would endanger the rest of the group. For every decision he makes, he feels that his choice is the only one available to him. Technically, he should be free to make any decision he wants, but his new life comes with its own chains. In his own way, James becomes a prisoner of this situation, despite his comfortable position on the other side of Sayid’s cell. In flashbacks from Season One’s Solitary, Sayid once found himself in a similar position. The Iraqi military captured his childhood friend Nadia, and ordered him to interrogate and later execute her. Sayid eventually betrayed his people, and murdered a fellow soldier to save her. James now walks a similar path between his group responsibilities and his personal attachment. In the end, the outcome is not much better. This escape ends with another body on the ground, and possibly irreconcilable relationship between James and his people.
SAYID: I have no life. They took it from me.
BEN: Go home, Sayid. Once you let your grief become anger, it will never go away. I speak from experience.
The first scene of Season Five introduced a classic conundrum of both morality and science-fiction. If it were possible to travel back in time when Hitler was a child, could you murder him to save the world from his evil? This episode offers its own response to that question. (If so, then you already tried it, and you helped create the monster you wanted to destroy.) According to a strict utilitarian morality, such a deed might be justified if the good outweighs the harm. When judged by non-consequentialist moral theories, murdering a person is equally wrong regardless of what that person will do later in life. Science-fiction authors have treated the famous question a bit differently, and looked at the more basic issue of whether it would be possible to kill someone who already existed in the future. According to the universe’s self-consistency principle, such an action would be impossible. Changing the past would require creating a separate four-dimensional universe. He’s Our You uses the scientific notion to answer the ethical dilemma. Young Ben will survive the bullet wound. After all, Sayid’s continued existence after the gunshot proves that the timeline remains intact. The moral question then becomes a moot point: the harm of the act definitely outweighs the good. The shooting of young Ben will no doubt play a role in leading him to his destiny as the Island’s brutal dictator. The savage trauma (and the war to come) destroyed the innocence of the child, and left behind the shell of the human being, dead on inside.
Certainly, Sayid was destined to shoot young Ben from the beginning, but the act is the product of his own choice. The shooting itself can be explained equally well by either of those two forces. When Sayid pulls the trigger, he basically surrenders the internal battle against his violent nature. Faced with overwhelming reminders that he is a born killer, he performs the deed that no one else could, shooting a defenseless child. By the same token, the shooting also serves as nearly the epitome of free will. Early in the episode, James comments that he “doesn’t have a choice” of whether to live with young Ben, but Sayid believes that there is another option. If Sayid succeeded in killing Benjamin, then he would not only save dozens of lives, but he would save himself from becoming Ben’s assassin. He fires a bullet directly into the past, in an attempt to destroy his own history. The gunshot is simultaneously an act of violence and protection, self-destruction as well as self-preservation. The murder would not only create a time paradox, and his motives themselves are paradoxical: to murder a child in cold-blood to prevent himself from becoming a cold-blooded murderer.
The Möbius-shaped story of He’s Our You explores the connections between two sets of mortal enemies, and concludes that neither could exist without the other. The unholy partnership between twin killers Sayid Jarrah and Benjamin Linus reveals another unbreakable bond between free will and determinism. Sayid's liberty is restrained in a number of significant ways: by nature and nurture, by himself and others, by mind and body, by the will of Island people and the will of Island gods. In the end, though, it is Sayid and no one else who pulls the trigger. Sayid chose to shoot Ben, just as he chose to shoot Andropov. Without Ben's future actions, Sayid would not even exist in his present form. If Sayid succeeded in killing Ben, then he would also erase countless later events, along with all of the human decisions in them. Sayid's inability to end Ben's life in the past preserves his own existence, and thus protects his own will. Indeed, changing the timeline would be the ultimate enemy to free will, because every human decision in history could be erased by the side effects of any time traveler. If history could be re-written even once, then it could also be changed a second time, and then an infinite number of times, until everything and everyone in the original timeline never existed. Complete freedom to alter outcomes would be indistinguishable from chaos. The fire would grow exponentially until it consumed everything. Ultimately, you can only control your actions, if there is only one You. In the words of Oldham, the restraints are for your protection.