Lost in Retrospect: Deus Ex Machina

A fascinating episode, full of plot development and mythology nuggets, but one I didn’t really connect with because it’s all about John Locke making the same mistakes that become incredibly evident in hindsight.

For a refresh on this episode, I suggest you visit Lostpedia’s excellent Wiki page.

John Locke never learns. It’s pretty much his entire character arc: that he doesn’t learn, that he doesn’t have in a character arc. And in this episode, that quality is on display in full force. The Island is clearly has these miraculous properties, but Locke has read far too much into this, a combination of his willingness to embrace a faith and the belief first instilled in him by his mother that he’s “special”, Messianic, destined for greatness. The consequence is that even when he’s helping others on the Island–no matter what’s happening, really–he’s always on this bent of inflating his own importance and trying to convince everybody of how special he is. But it’d be so easy to have written it all off as an ego-trip if it weren’t for two important things. The first is that he is the recipient of quite a few Island miracles. Healed from paralysis, and now the prophetic dream in this episode. But he still reads quite a few more things as miracles, like the discovery of the Hatch and it’s lighting up at the end of the episode, and he completely writes off the miraculous experiences of other people, like Jack’s search for his father in “White Rabbit”. Even his experience with Walt, who probably almost-certainly has real power, just reinforces Locke’s own belief in himself, the guy who’ll become a father-figure for this kid. The second point is that in hindsight, we know that despite the power of the Island, it’s not a sentient thing in it’s own right (…or is it?), and instead its power is controlled and manipulated by Jacob and the Man in Black. Locke is not a Messiah to this mythical kingdom, he’s a pawn in a giant chess game. It’s almost a blessing in the end that Locke never discovers this fact, because I think it might’ve completely broken him.

The flashbacks are the very definition of tragedy. It came first in Emily Locke’s declaration that John had been immaculately conceived, and I winced when I heard those words, because here it is: the origins of John Locke’s Messianic complex, his absolute belief in his own special-ness. Even when she admits to having BS’d it all later in the episode, he still clings to the declaration because he needs to feel special. He’ll spend decades chasing this feeling, and it’s what leads to his being on the Island in the first place. And then there’s Anthony Cooper, the greatest son-of-a-bitch-daddy we’ve ever seen on this show (I’m don’t think that even Mother could compete for sheer bastardry). From the get-go, you just know that this’ll all go wrong. Everybody on Lost arrives on the Island as a broken shell of a human being, so you just know that every flashback is gonna end badly and break these people down a bit more. And it was all going so well, we felt for Locke as he got to know his long-lost Daddy, that we couldn’t help but sympathise, which you just know means things will take a downward turn. But conning your son out of a kidney… bloody hell, it’s cold.

There’s more stuff on the love triangle in this episode. The less said about it, the better.

Now, one of the big retrospect question: were Locke’s dreams coming courtesy of Jacob, or the Man in Black? Because they were, clearly, supernatural in origin, stacked with details that Locke couldn’t possible have known personally. I’m leaning towards Jacob, personally: visions of a quest through the jungle that take him away from the Hatch, a chance to contact other survivors… I’m honestly not sure of my reasoning, but yeah, my money is on Jacob. This is one topic I’d love to discuss in the comments with anyone who’s reading, so please, let me know your thoughts.

The episode was fascinating, as I said previous. John Locke is gonna be a meaty subject for any analysis of Lost, and sure enough, I wrote seven hundred words on him and him alone, but as a piece of entertainment, I felt this episode was a bit lacking. It didn’t have the “oomph” of the last couple, and I can’t put my finger on why. But this is still one that requires rewatching, for its important character and mythology beats.

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2 Responses to “Lost in Retrospect: Deus Ex Machina”

  1. Justin Mazaleski Says:

    I never really thought about it (I haven’t gotten this far in my rewatch yet), but I would agree that Locke’s dream probably came from Jacob, or at least from ‘the island’ in general. There was no real reason for MIB to want Locke to find the Tailies. And this ties in nicely to why Locke’s legs began to fail as he approached the beechcraft: Jacob was protecting him from going up into the plane and meeting his demise. Instead, non-candidate Boone takes his place.

    I thought that this episode was one of the best of the season. I’m surprised that you didn’t think so. So many classic moments: Boone on the beechcraft radio, Locke pounding on the hatch door, the callousness of Anthony Cooper as he uses his son for his kidney, the masterful foreshadowing when Locke explains the game of Mousetrap at the hobby store (I see this as a parallel to Cooper’s manipulation of Locke as well as Locke being maneuvered into place by MIB). Overall, a heartbreaking, essential entry in the John Locke saga.

  2. Now that you mention it, the fact that this dream ultimately lead to contact with the Tailies is good evidence that the dream came from Jacob. My thinking is that at this point in the story, MiB is trying to keep the Losties isolated from everyone else on the Island in order to better manipulate them, and getting them to link up with more survivors would pretty much be the opposite of this idea.

    I’m kinda surprised myself that this wasn’t a favourite. It had a lot of the good elements of Lost, but Locke inspires a kind of academic fascination in me rather than an investment in his character, and I suppose the result is that I just wasn’t quite as into the episode. Look at my posts on episodes like “Confidence Man” and “In Translation”, episodes I enjoyed more than this one despite having less mythology elements, and I think the reason for that comes down to me liking Sawyer and Jin more as characters than I do Locke.

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