Thus far, Season Five of Lost has been a veritable bloodbath. During the first ten episodes, characters have been slapped, shot, stabbed, scorched, smashed, shredded, strangled, skewered, spinally-snapped, sonically-showered, and stricken with sci-fi sicknesses. Episode 5.10 He’s Our You was one of the most violent episodes in recent memory, not just in terms of its physical brutality, but also the wounds inflicted on the psyche of Sayid Jarrah. The final scene ended with the cold-blooded attempted murder of a 12-year old boy, struck down with a bullet through the chest. The follow-up, Whatever Happened, Happened, reveals the domino effect set off by that event. Episode 5.11 shows no further acts of violence, but instead focuses on the combined efforts to save young Benjamin’s life. On Lost, no good deed ever goes unpunished, and the rest of Ben’s adult life is Lost history. Repairing his body is itself a destructive act. Mr. Linus can look forward to thirty years of lying, kidnapping, and murder on a massive scale. The adult Linus would undoubtedly be back next week to add further crimes to his lifetime total. Of course, if you adopt Hurley’s theory about being erased from existence, then Ben’s personal path of destruction would be incomparable to the harmful effects of changing history, by letting him die. Regardless, though, episode 5.11 provided sixty minutes of relative peace within a season of escalating bloodshed.
The story of Whatever Happened, Happened operates on two parallel levels. On the macro level, the episode explains the same overarching principle expressed by the title. As lead writers Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse have done since the beginning of Season Five, they continue to explain the Island rules through the mouths of characters. As if the past explanations provided by Eloise Hawking, Pierre Chang, and Daniel Faraday were not adequate, Miles Straume reiterates those same ideas to Hurley in two central scenes. If anyone had any lingering doubts whether Lost would adopt the multiple timeline approach to time travel, their conversation explained Lost in direct contradistinction to Back to the Future. These elements essentially amounted to a televised producer podcast halfway through the episode. Ken Leung and Jorge Garcia did an admirable job of trying to stay in character, even though they were really playing the roles of Lindelof and Cuse. Lost’s lead writing tandem often employs this same feigned-ignorance, question-answer format during their own promotions. Hurley managed to stump Miles with a possible contradiction involving Ben’s memory. That problem gets resolved at the end of the episode (albeit in the most unoriginal way possible) with some Temple-induced amnesia. Although the reactions of Hurley and Miles are both realistic on some level, their entire exchange took on an undoubtedly patronizing tone. I hope that the remaining episodes of the series can minimize this type of direct exposition to the audience, but the trend is certainly growing (particularly in the Lindelof/Cuse scripts).
DIANE: You can't help who you love, Katherine. And for good or bad, I loved him.
On the micro level, the episode sets out to answer smaller questions surrounding Lost’s female lead, Kate Austen. Neither the mysteries addressed nor the outcomes revealed here offered much surprise. What did Sawyer whisper to Kate on the helicopter? He told her to take care of Clementine. Where did Kate leave Aaron? She left him with Carole Littleton. Why did Kate go back to the Island? She came back to find Claire. Along the way, the drama generates heated discussion in all four legs of the series’ predominant love quadrangle. Many people have concluded that the long-term commitment between James and Juliet brought an end to the days of on-again, off-again Island romances. In reality, this episode offered no more finality than Season Three’s similarly-toned Kate drama I Do (also written by Lindelof and Cuse, and also referenced here). By the end of this chapter, Juliet approaches a showering Jack by shouting “I needed you”, while Kate and James reunite on another sweaty trek through the jungle. The text of the episode indicates that Jim and Julie are permanent, but the subtext of the scenes reveals the opposite. Kate’s favorite Patsy Cline theme song provides a succinct explanation of the constantly shifting entanglements: “The only thing different, the only thing new: she’s got your picture, I’ve got you.” During their three years apart, Kate has clung to the ‘picture’ of James in the form of baby Aaron. Similarly, Juliet only took an interest in James after he became the shepherd of the left behind flock, following the image of Jack. Expect to see more innuendo and suggestive glances until the end of Season Six.
Increasingly, the time-bending narrative of Season Five has highlighted the never-ending debate between free will and determinism. That overarching theme adds another texture to the romantic rivalries of Jack-vs.-James and Kate-vs.-Juliet. Each of these individuals has been torn between two different sides of their own being. The James-Kate and Jack-Juliet pairings fall more closely to the deterministic side of the universe: the attraction between people who share similar personalities, careers, and experiences. The Jack-Kate and James-Juliet pairings exist more on the free will side of the spectrum: people with contrasting characteristics, who decide to change themselves for the benefit of their partner, almost as a form of wish-fulfillment. Their relationships are not as simple as that classification, but the underlying conflict is present in all four characters. Do you love the person who reminds you of your past, or the person who offers a tabula rasa for the future? As the grand Season Five narrative blends fate with free will and past with future, the original distinctions between these options have also become less distinct. Coincidentally, the agent of change throughout these rivalries has always been Benjamin Linus. During Season Three, the adult Ben consciously grouped James with Kate and Jack with Juliet as part of his master plan to save himself. When Ben turned the Wheel, he inadvertently produced the opposite effect. Three years later, it was again Ben who sent them all on a collision course once more, in his plot to restore his Island rule. In this episode, little Ben’s surgery serves as the catalyst to force those old tensions back to the surface.
MICHAEL: Look, I'm going after my son. I'm going after my son, and nobody is going to stop me, okay? Okay, that is my right. That is a father's right.
Another useful analogy for these relationship dilemmas is the conflict between nature and nurture. Kate Austen’s back-story dramatized this struggle through her two paternal figures: Sam Austen, who raised her as his own; and Wayne Janssen, her biological father turned step-father. During this episode, the ghost of Wayne revisits the adult Kate in the form of Roger Linus. Her conversations with Roger re-frame the abusive, alcoholic father in a more sympathetic light. The younger Kate viewed Wayne only in black-and-white terms, as the personification of evil in her life. (The name Janssen refers to Jansenism, a branch of Catholic thought that emphasized original sin and human depravity.) Through Roger, the Island allows Kate to interact with a proxy for Wayne, to see her father through adult eyes, in all the shades of gray. Roger’s dialogue emphasizes that he had the potential to be a decent guy. He began fatherhood with the best intentions, but circumstances and extreme weakness overcame him, until his own child eventually hated him. Across the globe in 1977, Wayne is alive somewhere, and most likely undergoing the same process. Little Benjamin’s loss of innocence in this episode parallels Kate’s path to adulthood. Both characters murdered their fathers in an attempt to purge the part of themselves that they hated. In the process, Ben and Kate succumbed to the dark side of their natures: the path of murder, lies, and manipulation. Neither of them raised children from their own bloodline, but they adopted Alex and Aaron in hopes of a pure, fresh start.
Blood itself serves as a prevailing motif throughout the episode, both in physical and symbolic terms. Little Benjamin survived the initial gunshot, but he is slowly bleeding to death on the inside. Kate donates blood from her own veins to sustain him (incidentally, after she had denied surrendering a sample to him as an adult). Ultimately, only Richard Alpert’s blood-oath initiation ritual inside the Temple can heal his wounds. On Lost, blood connections entitle parents and children to certain rights and responsibilities, despite conscious efforts to deny them. The old cliché says that blood is thicker than water (or, in the parallel maternal imagery used in this episode, milk is thicker than juice). The episode’s flashbacks explore two mirroring parental relationships. Kate and Aaron share no biological connection, but she desperately tried to keep him as her own. Little Clementine is descended from James, even though he disowned her from birth. Both characters try to make amends for their violation of natural duties: Kate surrenders custody of Aaron, and James becomes a distant part of Clementine's life. In the events of Whatever Happened, Happened, Kate comes to terms with her own blood. Meanwhile, though, Benjamin begins the process of denying one’s heritage and facing the inevitable consequences all over again.
MIKHAIL: I will try to make this as simple as I can. You are not on the list because you are flawed. Because you are angry, and weak, and frightened.
As a whole, this episode idealizes the concept of childhood. Kate, James, and Juliet, who have all killed adults under various circumstances, find it unthinkable to let Benjamin die without doing everything in their power. Ben is no ordinary child, but one who would grow into quite possibly the most destructive force on the Island. Despite all of the crimes that lie ahead of him, they all believe that Benjamin has a right to live. All three characters share a special vulnerability when it comes to children: Kate devoted herself to Aaron, James refused to steal from couples with young kids, Juliet watched countless infants die in that same village. When Kate delivers Aaron to Ms. Littleton, she speaks of him in nearly angelic terms: “You're gonna see that he's so sweet and kind and good.” In her mind, Aaron is the anti-Wayne; something untainted that she wishes could be a part of herself. For three years, Kate was able to insulate herself from the sordid world of adult motivations. She replaced the often petty Island politics with the purity and simplicity of childhood. Aaron’s honesty is absolute. When Aaron asks for something to drink, it means that he’s thirsty. Whenever one of the Island adults asks for something, they could be acting out some Freudian angst and/or dragging you into a Machiavellian long con. At the end of the episode, Ben’s loss of innocence is visualized a dramatic entry from sunlight into darkness. Kate’s “bye-bye baby” moment serves as her own departure from Aaron’s idyllic world, back into the Island gloom. Eventually, though, Aaron will eat from the same Tree of Knowledge as all of us, and his innocence will be corrupted by the outside world. As with any boy, there is no guarantee that baby Aaron will not grow into a man like Ben.
One of the recurring trends in the script of Whatever Happened, Happened is the basic impurity of adult motivations. Even some of the most seemingly altruistic actions contain varying degrees of selfishness. A person might even deceive herself into believing that her motivations were absolute, but the mind is too complex to operate that way. Cassidy helps Kate understand that her decision to protect Aaron was influenced by her own emotional needs. (Mama Cass herself seems to carry some ulterior motives as well.) The episode refers back to two dramatic instances of self-sacrificing behavior from James and Jack, but frames them in a more negative light. From Cassidy’s perspective, Sawyer’s leap from the helicopter was an attempt to escape from his responsibilities in the outside world. Later, James’ reaction to the accusation reveals that fear of inadequacy played a factor in his decision to return to the Island. Similarly, Jack’s heroic sacrifice at the Hydra station was at least partially motivated by a desire to get away from everyone else. Juliet also confronts him with the accusation that the he did not come back to save anyone except himself. There are two explanations for every action, and both contain elements of truth.
LOCKE: Desmond, what if I told you that for all that—all those years that you and all the men before you were down there pushing that button—what if I told you that it was all for nothing? [...] Tomorrow we're going to find out what happens if that button doesn't get pushed.
Despite its many overt references to ‘doing the right thing,’ the most intriguing element of the episode came from the man who defied intuition and refused to do any thing. Jack’s justification for denying help to Benjamin could have followed the same utilitarian route as Sayid, a refusal to become complicit by aiding Ben in his crimes. Instead, it went a step further. According to the rule of Whatever Happened, Happened, the ultimate outcome was never in doubt. Whether Jack chose to put another bullet in Benjamin, or to perform life-saving surgery, or to make sandwiches for Miles and Hurley, the Island would have found a way to restore Ben back to his original course. For a man who literally poured his own blood, sweat, and tears into trying to save Boone, another young man injured on the Island, this realization reshapes his entire worldview. Apparently, he would have accomplished the same result by banging his fists on the hatch. The ‘do no harm’ oath becomes meaningless, as Jack can accomplish neither harm nor good in this situation, no matter what he does. Since actions no longer have any tangible consequences, individuals need to find some other principle on which to ground decision-making. Jack defines his new purpose as the same journey of self-discovery as Mr. Walkabout himself. If you apply the Lost notion of course correction, then Ben also would have made it to the Temple no matter what Kate, Juliet, and James decided to do. In the end, their efforts to save him did not benefit Ben (a fact that is highlighted by the realization that he does not remember them). Instead, the experience was designed to ease their own pain, to help them get to where they needed to be. By saving Ben, they too were saving their own souls.
The work of the Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard, offers a useful system to categorize these different journeys. Many Lost characters gradually evolve from the aesthetic stage of life, defined by the pursuit of beauty and pleasure; to the ethical stage, defined by adherence to social responsibility. This process is typically characterized as 'the redemption arc’ followed by characters such as Charlie, Sawyer, etc. Other characters, like Locke and Jack, began their stories in the ethical stage of life and then progressed toward the religious stage. Kierkegard’s concept of religiousness did not match the ordinary sense of the word, the observance of organized rituals. Instead, the religious stage involved a heightened awareness of universe that often runs contrary to intuition and reason. Here, Jack Shephard embraces two essential paradoxes of Lost. He decides to follow a more meaningful path, by realizing that his choices are meaningless. He seeks to free himself from the prison of cause and effect, while also becoming a slave to the will of the Island. Refusing to help Benjamin required a Lockean leap of faith that bordered on insanity. However, it would have been equally insane for him to keep doing the same thing over and over, while expecting a different outcome. By adopting this new faith, Jack has also become more empirical. He changed one of the key variables in this Island experiment, and now he is waiting to observe the results.
As Season Five moves into its final act, childhood has assumed an increasingly prominent role in the story. Ranging from the younger versions of adult characters (Miles, Charlotte, Ethan, Sayid, Ben) to their ultimate successors (Charlie, Aaron, Ji Yeon, Clementine), children have taken more tile space on the grand mosaic. Even an adult character as twisted as Ben or Ethan started out with innocence. Even children as innocent as Aaron and Clementine might be corrupted by experiences like their predecessors. Within every grown-up lives a child. This comparison serves as a double-edged sword. Youth is associated with purity, but it also indicates childishness, ignorance, and immaturity. In the overall relationship between the characters and the Island, it is difficult to determine who are the parents and who are the children. Aaron helped raise Kate just as much as Kate helped raise Aaron. Have these adults been assigned as caregivers for the Island in its infancy? Or, has the Island adopted all of these children who were in need of nurturing?