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Enter Lost

If audiences had been craving the deep referentiality and mythological development of past Lost episodes, the eleventh episode of Season Three, "Enter 77," should sate that craving. The structure of the episode, the scene cuts, the narrative subtexts, and the philosophical connections make this central episode a great hinge for the season. Even the episode's title is hyper-referential: the episode aired on March 7, 2007, and is the 77th day on the island (Enter 77); Benjamin told Jack in "The Glass Ballerina" that they had been on the island 69 days, "Further Instructions" takes place on that same day, and each episode since then is one more day. (Which also means that this season has only been about a week in island-time so far.)

Narratively, "Enter 77" weaves together a number of past themes that have been previously planted for later reaping. In the Flame station, we find Mikhail Bakunin, a former Soviet soldier who fought in Afghanistan in the 1980's, and then claims to have signed up with the Dharma Initiative when his military career came to a close. In this way, his story parallels Kelvin Inman's, and in both tales we hear of the Hostiles. Bakunin also shares a name with a 19th C. anarchist philosopher who challenged Karl Marx, but more on that later. The Hostiles — the Others — are still an unknown quantity, and in this episode we find that they were there long before the Dharma Initiative arrived in the early 1970's. So assuming the Others are the remnants of the Dharma Initiative may be a mistake. Bakunin tells Sayid that the Dharma Initiative foolishly started a war against the Hostiles, "a purge, they called it," and were all killed. By the end of the episode, Bakunin explains that he was never a member of the Dharma Initiative, but everything else he said was true, and he moved into the Flame station after the purge. Did the Hostiles carry on the Dharma Initiative's work? Or is this another front story? In any case, the Others are once again a central enigma.

Part-way through the episode I wished I'd studied Russian. But there are plenty of audience members who do speak Russian and were willing to post on-line a rough translation Bakunin's manuscript and conversation with Ms. Klugh. (Score one for Web 2.0.) Klugh tells Bakunin to shoot her, while Bakunin insists there is another way. She finally orders him to shoot her, which suggests that she had some kind of authority over him; she may be dead, but we didn't see her buried, and we've seen this island cure cancer and paralysis, so Klugh may chosen that move because she understood she could survive the bullet. But then there's the question of Bakunin's manuscript; is it his? The manuscript describes the Mujahideen in Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation in the 1980's. The Mujahideen was the homegrown Soviet resistance supported on one side by the CIA and on the other by fundamentalist Muslims. The manuscript discusses a Mujahideen member named Nadji who believed the fundamentalists were holding back the West, and that they would eventually wipe the infidels from the earth (which recalls the Hostiles/Dharma Initiative purge). The manuscript goes on to state that Afghanistan would be the impetus for a new social revolution, and that the Pakistani secret service, the ISI, became involved. The red text reads "My name is also Andrey" and "I have forgotten so much about Afghanistan."

At this point, we should hold on for one second and ask what's going on here. Part of the larger claim of my book is that Lost is in a subtextual engagement with the war on terror/ism. This seems to be one of those points. The manuscript, from what we can see, reads almost like a Russian version of ex-CIA agent Robert Baer's memoir See No Evil, in which he describes working in the Middle East and Central Asia during the time of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Baer would cultivate agents, or nationals from specific regions, who would pass on information to the CIA, and he discusses his agents own social, philosophical and religious commitments. The Mujahideen was "the enemy of my enemy" for the U.S. in the 1980's; they were so favored by the Reagan administration that they entered the cultural lexicon as freedom fighters, and were featured in Rambo III. But the Mujahideen was anything but organized; it was made up of extreme fundamentalist and nationalist factions, who were only working together under a common cause against the Soviets. After the Soviets left in 1989, so did the CIA, and the Mujahideen fell into fighting factions. One of those factions became Al Qaeda, and another nationalist faction devoted itself to driving out Al Qaeda and the Taliban. The nationalist faction was more or less a loose confederation of tribes, but their symbolic head was a man named Ahmad Shah Massoud, the Lion of Panjshir. Massoud's story was documented by Sebastian Junger in his book Fire, after Junger spent time with Massoud in Afghanistan. Massoud was assassinated by Al Qaeda on September 9, 2001; it is argued that Massoud stood in the way of the Al Qaeda attacks of September 11th , and needed to be removed. Had he lived, he could have organized anti-Al Qaeda factions and aided the inevitable invasion in capturing Bin Laden and the Al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan. In this short, cryptic manuscript, the entire history of what gave rise to Al Qaeda and the September 11th attacks is alluded to: "I have forgotten so much about Afghanistan," reads one of the comments in red. That's also a sentiment shared by many who are now watching coalition forces flounder in Afghanistan, as the Taliban slowly regains power. And one other question comes up: is Bakunin's name really Mikhail? Because the other red comment reads "My name is also Andrey." (But Russian names are notoriously long; there may be an Andrey tucked somewhere between Mikhail and Bakunin.)

Another theme that is revived is Locke's problem with computers and games. Like an addict, he sees the computer beckon him into a game of chess, much like the computer from the film War Games ("Shall we play a game?"). As with the Swan station, Locke finds himself sucked into playing the machine. Only this time, it's his entering the numbers that causes the destruction, not failing to enter the numbers. Locke and machines have a rough relationship; he's better off in his natural element of the wild, yet can't seem to avoid engaging machines. He does, however, find the Marvin Candle/Mark Wickman on the computer after winning the chess game; the good doctor knows of the Hostiles, and tells the user to enter 77 if there has been an incursion of this station by the Hostiles. Did the Dharma Initiative know of the Hostiles before they ever went to that island?

The idea of hostility provides a thematic link to Sayid's backstory of being held hostage in Paris after being accused of once torturing an Iraqi man's wife. The cuts from the front story to the backstory make some of these connections seamless: Sayid meeting Sami in the backstory cuts to Sayid walking into the yard of the farm where he's shot — both are traps. When Sayid is kicked in the face by Sami, the cut moves to Bakunin pulling the bullet out of his arm, linking the violence and possibly Sayid's eventual confession being pulled out of him. And when Sayid tells Kate to get some rope to tie up Bakunin, the cut moves to a backstory shot of Sayid being tied up, visually paralleling the two hostage situations. (There's also the nice image of the cat scratching the mat when Sayid is being stitched; you'd have to have had stitches to fully appreciate this.) Sayid's backstory in "Enter 77" also echoes Ariel Dorfman's play Death and the Maiden, which portrays a cruel, torture-prone doctor from a hostile Pinochet-like regime being held hostage by one of his past victims. Whether Sayid actually did torture Amira is unclear; he may have just said he did to appease her, or maybe he was actually pleased to be tortured in a kind of cathartic recompense for his past deeds. In either case, the discussion raises the past theme of torture and what torture can lead to; torture results in more torture, and as Amira claims, the necessity to forgive the tortured when they bite back. Torture twists something in the victim into a thing that can manifest as hostility; in fact, one of the meanings of torture is to twist. This hostility has no leader; it's anarchic.

And anarchy is the final subtext brought out by the Russian soldier and his namesake, Mikhail Bakunin. Bakunin was a 19th C. firebrand who left Russian for Germany, Paris and London, engaging in the revolutionary debates of the time. He was a follower of the German philosophers Johann Fichte and G.W.F. Hegel, and a contemporary of the French founder of political anarchism, Pierre-Joseph Proudhon, as well as Karl Marx. Bakunin was a large man with a wild set of hair and a thick beard, and was a force of nature; he never wrote a book collecting his theories, he often wrote articles that he left unfinished, and he was bombastic in his temperament. (I recall reading an anecdotal description years ago that depicted Bakunin as a man who would show up unannounced, drink all your alcohol while he harangued you about his latest political notions, sleep at your place, and leave the next day without a word.) His thinking developed after studying Fichte and Hegel in Moscow and Berlin. Fichte argued for a kind of transcendental totality that started from a Descartes-like self-consciousness (cogito ergo sum, "I think therefore I am"). This was the first principle; next came a notion of being that posited god as this all-pervasive force, rather than a personal being, much as Baruch Spinoza had suggested about a hundred years earlier. This is very similar to Eastern notions of god, and again is the reason people bow in namaste to each other as the Others do; they are bowing to the godhead within every individual.

Such a pervasive understanding of god influenced the emerging Romantic movement, but also struck many in the 19th C. as atheistic; if god was everything, then he was nothing. This cost Fichte a university position. Hegel succeeded Fichte in thought (and his chair at Berlin), and he tried to develop a synthesized world view that influenced people like Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Mikhail Bakunin (the Young Hegelians). For Hegel, freedom was the ultimate state of being, and was a state achieved when one could live self-consciously in a rationally organized community. On first blush, this seems rather similar to the attempted utopia of the Others. Hegel is also famous for his theory of dialectic: thesis, antithesis, synthesis. In the 19th C., revolutionary thinkers like Marx understood this as underlying a political understanding of history: one system (thesis) needed to be challenged by an opposing system (antithesis) in order to result in a fuller, freer system (synthesis — Fichte's totality). For Marx, and originally for Bakunin, this meant challenging capitalism with socialism — which is also the minor drama being played out on the beach between Sawyer and the rest of the survivors who took his stuff and now share everything. But Bakunin broke with Marx when Marx argued for a centralized workers state (and he did so with a measure of vitriolic antisemitism). Bakunin felt that to replace one centralized state with another centralized state missed the point, and wanted to do away with centralized states all together in favor of collectivism, where workers would organize their own productive associations rather than have them directed by a government. Bakunin's anarchism basically meant a kind of stateless socialism.

His anarchic affiliations were heat-sealed in the Revolution of 1848, where Bakunin fought in the streets for his beliefs. He famously pronounced that the passion for destruction was a creative passion, meaning that destroying a presiding system would create a better system. This also played into Bakunin's atheism, and he proclaimed contra Voltaire that if god existed, it would be necessary to destroy him. In Bakunin's view, each established system would eventually need to be challenged until there was no central system to challenge; he correctly predicted that a dictatorship run by the proletariat would eventually become a dictatorship run by former proletarians, and they too would need to be overthrown. If that sounds somewhat familiar, it's close to what Chairman Mao argued when he fomented the Cultural Revolution in 1966 (and Mao is the original author of the lines etched into Jack's shoulder). For now, Bakunin's thought and how it plays out in the overall Lost narrative is an open question: The image of the character Bakunin being ordered to shoot Klugh resonates with the thinker's call to destroy presiding authority; the Others seem quasi-religious, but Bakunin was an atheist; the Others seem to have a kind of socialist system set up, but it is run by the cult of personality known as Ben – is there a Bakunin-like faction bubbling up from underneath? And do the survivors represent the antithesis to the thesis of the Others' presumed utopia?

Speaking of utopia, Tom Stoppard has recently put Bakunin back on the cultural map with his 2002 play The Coast of Utopia, a dramatic trilogy that depicts the Russian revolutionaries Bakunin, Alexander Herzen, Ivan Turgenev, and Vissarion Belinsky. This is a marathon play, taking hours to perform, and is on-stage right now at the Lincoln Center in New York into May. The title of the play recalls Thomas More's 16th C. book Utopia, which depicts a perfect realization of Plato's Republic. More's title is a pun on the eu- and ou- prefixes and the -topos suffix; eu is good, giving us "good place," while ou not, meaning "not place," or no place. In other words, the good place doesn't exist, and Stoppard's characters only reach the coast, not the place itself. Don't the Others keep saying that the island can't be found?

Books mentioned in this post

J. Wood is the author of Living Lost: Why We're All Stuck on the Island

17 Responses to "Enter Lost"

    Guy March 8th, 2007 at 5:59 pm

    wow. my mind is bleeding.

    stephan marx March 8th, 2007 at 6:04 pm

    Kicked, beaten, made to drink from a bowl like a dog - nothing hurt Sayid more than being forgiven by the woman he tortured. It seemed it would've been easier had she hated him, but instead she taught him lessons in compassion that would carry over onto the island. Sayid sparing Mikhail's life could've easily been him passing one of the island's character 'tests' we've seen so many times before.

    an Other March 8th, 2007 at 6:06 pm

    Anyone watching last night's episode could tell there was something fishy about the whole Flame Station. From the moment they walked in, it seemed a hodgepodge of mismatched crap, bad lamps, orange furniture, and strange equipment. We've got a satellite dish and computers that can speak to the outside world right next to a dinosaur of a typewriter. It just felt 'off'.

    And it's funny how things seem to work out. In season two, we find a glass eye. There must be a one-eyed man it goes to, right? Sure there is. And hey, he's Russian, so he must drink vodka right? Of course he does. Not only that, but he can remove a bullet and expertly stitch an arm closed. Hell, there was even a nice little metal dish to drop the bullet into. Clink! Because hey, what kind of bullet removal would it be without a metal dish?

    Kate said it. "It doesn't make any sense".

    mj March 8th, 2007 at 6:22 pm

    Another fine, insightful analysis. My opinion, in regards to Sayid's flashback, is that he was not the one that tortured Amira, but that he confessed to her for two reasons. First, to offer her a small measure of the closure she was seeking; and second, I think it was cathartic for Sayid himself to confess, with Amira as amounting to a surrogate for Sayid's love, Nadia. Very compelling flashback.

    J Wood (Post Author) March 8th, 2007 at 11:38 pm

    Other: What you're describing comes from another Russian writer, Chekhov. The idea was if you show a gun in the first act, it has to be used by the third act. Otherwise you're breaking a kind of trust with the audience. That's part of what they're doing.

    Knowing that, I think the oddness of the Flame station will eventually be cleared up. I'm not even convinced that is the real Flame station.

    Nash March 9th, 2007 at 10:18 am

    I hope the Lost writers know as much as you do about what's going on in their show :)

    chris March 9th, 2007 at 11:18 am

    I really take issue with the Chess match and locke winning, as far as the checkmate reference. There are/were a number of possible moves which could have been made. Even if the bishop had been moved the next move would have been the rook to take the bishop for check. Then the knight would have been moved to take the rook. Then the queen could take the knight for checkmate. As a chess player there where a number of moves which could have been made and in fact a mistake could have been made which would have allowed the computer to escape. This truly was not checkmate just yet and in fact may not have ever been checkmate. I believe this to be a serious error. I think that the computer wanted Locke to win. I do question the game being designed by 3 grand masters it was not a well played game at all

    J Wood (Post Author) March 9th, 2007 at 11:19 am

    Heh -- they know more. First of all, there's over twenty times as many of them. And they're the ones dropping the names and the clues; they don't throw them in there for nothing.

    KA March 9th, 2007 at 2:28 pm

    I agree with MJ with regards to Sayid and Amira and would go one step further. I think that in the scene when Amira stops her husband from beating Sayid she has a look of doubt on her face. I think she comes to realize that Sayid is not her torturer and that they both enter into an unspoken agreement that she needs to forgive and he needs to be forgiven. They pretend because they need to. I tend to believe this because for all of Sayid's unfortunate habits, he seems to have a softspot for women.

    I thought it was also interesting having a Russian (almost Russian) character. It seems they were drawing a connection between the past distant threat of the Iron Curtain to the seemingly past threat of the Dharma Initiative.

    I'm wondering now about the connection between the eye and the missing spliced tape at the same location.

    Hmmm... who thought there could be a fictional TV show on a major American network that you could draw historical Russian references to.

    joe March 11th, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    I think this show with its slippery slopes and shifting terrain has left us unbalanced and untrusting. I believe Sayid tortured this woman and she forgave him. She stops the beating because to truly forgive these inhumanities one has to forgive them all. Just as she does not want to see the cat tortured she does not want to see Sayid tortured. She is trying to make something good out of all the evil. When Confesses it is honest redemption. He Will Not Kill Mikhail. Now why he tortured Sawyer and Henry gale. . .Reliable skills are reliable skills?

    J Wood (Post Author) March 14th, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Just wanted to say I think MJ, KA and joe have some solid points about what to expect from Sayid and torture. Sayid's torture skills, by the way, were the Chekhov's gun planted by Kelvin a while back, in one of the Iraq flashbacks. Kelvin told him he'll need information one day, and now he has to tools to get it. It reminds me of Hannah Arendt's whole banality of evil point; Sayid uses torture like, say, how people hack software -- there's no question of ethics involved, just using the tools at hand to reach the end goal. But it's hard to look at Sayid as a character and think "evil torturer," yet that's how we're geared to think about torturers in general. Arendt's point was that banal evil had no root, it just was (as opposed to radical evil, or evil rooted in something in the person). Whether through mass culture, teaching or indoctrination, we would tend to think of an Iraqi torturer as banal evil, existentially evil, whereas we now know there's a root for what this Iraqi torturer does. (Yet Amira points out the banal evil in relaying what the kids did to the cat).

    Chris, I wish I knew more about chess. I know just enough to lose to people who know a little something. I saw someplace that it was replay of some Russian grand master's game (Kasparov?), but I have my doubts that Locke would beat Kasparov.

    Guy March 14th, 2007 at 12:46 pm

    After the crash it appeared like Locke could accomplish anything, including maybe lucking into a win against Kasparov. But now it's clear that Locke's island rebirth was really just part of his predictable personal history -- that he had been enthusiastically hitting the reset button his whole life, with inevitable, miserable results.

    blindeyes March 20th, 2007 at 2:27 am

    I've decided after reading a couple of J. Wood's articles that he reads too much information into Lost. Also, his political theories read too much into Lost. DarkUFO mentioned awhile back of taking the approach of Ockham's Razor ("All things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one"). To me this means that we do not want to over-complicate the Lost storyline and read over-much into it. "Keep it simple" is a good maxim to live with when viewing and discriminating Lost. Certainly there are political overtones in Lost, but there is also philosophical, cultural, religious, moral, societal overtones as well. The thing is, keep it simple and don't allow today's themes of terroism, predominate religious fixations, fatalism, despair, existentialism, etc overplay their "hand" into the show. Keep it simple.


    BeLO March 20th, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    I don't know if anyone else cauht onto this, but Mikhail essentially saved the lives of everyone that was in the Flame station right after Locke won the chess game. If Locke had intended to "enter 77" the first time without knowing the consequences; Kate, Sayid, Locke, Klugh and Mikhail would have all likely perished in the explosion.

    My question is, if Mikhail and Klugh both wanted to die anyway, wy didnt he let Locke go through with it?

    Abel March 20th, 2007 at 5:04 pm

    I don't know if anyone else caught onto this, but Mikhail essentially saved the lives of everyone that was in the Flame station right after Locke won the chess game. If Locke had intended to "enter 77" the first time without knowing the consequences; Kate, Sayid, Locke, Klugh and Mikhail would have all likely perished in the explosion.

    My question is this; if both Klugh and Mikhail seemingly "wanted" to die and they also did not want the searc party to find the barracks at all costs, why did'nt Mikhail just let Locke blow it up?

    Guy March 21st, 2007 at 10:47 am

    blindeyes...But then there is a value in taking things apart, and really trying to figure them out. Right? I find all of Wood's evidence pretty convincing. Regardless, what I like about Wood's approach is that he isn't trying to "solve" LOST, but merely pointing out some connections and gently tying them together.

    J Wood (Post Author) March 21st, 2007 at 12:24 pm

    Those are some fine questions on Bakunin and Klugh. I personally don't think we're nearly done with them as characters in the narrative (even if they're dead), and we'll find out more about them, the Flame, etc. later on. After all, it's not even clear if Bakunin was Dharma Initiative or a Hostile.

    As far as reading into things, I'm trying to strictly keep to what's provided in the narrative itself. And that's what I wrote about in the book. Politically, the writers/producers have publicly stated that they were engaging some of these issues, in part because with production schedules and the 24 hour news cycle, they had the opportunity to make the show something more than passive entertainment. If Lost is about anything, it's about being more than passive entertainment.

    But as far as Ockham's Razor goes, I have to disagree. If we see an episode that has a Russian political philosopher mentioned, and references to the Afghanistan war of the 80's that gave rise to the Mujahideen and Al Qaeda, and know that in past episodes both political philosophers and political events have been referenced (cf. Sawyer accusing Sayid of bringing down the plane), to ignore those references is to actually complicate things. Because then you have to find some other way to account for them. The simplest solution, then, is not to ignore the references and subtexts presented in the episodes, but to see how the evidence presented fits in with the rest of the narrative. If the references didn't mean anything, why put it in the narrative in the first place? That seems like kind of a waste they really don't have time for; the time and effort spent on needless things could be better spent developing and producing the show. In short, whether the reference is Grimace or Burke or Mujahideen, each one is a communication to the audience, and as such, I'd argue, not superfluous.

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