One thing that might come to mind when Ben sends Alex, Karl and Rousseau to the temple is Ben sending Goodwin and Ethan out to the plane crash. Ben must love it when a plan comes together.
"Meet Kevin Johnson" was a newer kind of flashback, a near-time flashback; the only other near-time flashbacks we've seen so far have been on the island (like with "The Other 48 Days," "Three Minutes," "Exposé" and "The Brig"). If a timeline of the Lost mosaic is being constructed somewhere, the flashbacks from "Meet Kevin Johnson" would overlap with events from the third season, and well before the third season's finale; one clue is the Christmas tree in the hallway of the hospital, which suggests he crashed his car some time in December.
This episode was one of connections and reveals, with three basic settings: the flashbacks, the freighter, and the barracks. If one were to identify any particular themes of the episode, they might be fatalism and war, with Michael squarely in realm of fatalism and the freighter and Ben in the barracks in the war zone. There were also a number of interstitial connections peppered throughout the episode. This wasn't a particularly difficult episode to follow, but that's due to some careful narrative crafting that reconnected the audience with previous story elements, keeping everyone well-oriented.
First with Michael: One of the big questions of Lost is the debate between free will and determinism (and the difference is split by David Hume's compatibilism). It's almost as if the island is an embodiment of these poles; Ben knows this, and uses it to his advantage. When Michael left the island, at some point he told Walt what he did to get them off the island. We don't know exactly how Walt responded, but he and Michael afterwards separated by a wider gulf than the island could create. This is enough to put Michael over the edge. When confronted by Sayid on the freighter, Sayid asks Michael why he's there, and Michael responds "I'm here to die."
But the island has made him fatalistically indestructible—he couldn't kill himself no matter how hard he tried, and try he did; "Did the bullet bounce off your skull, or did the gun just jam on you?" asks Tom. Michael seems unsure of his given mission until he witnesses Keamy and the other Freighties shooting trap with machine guns, and gets the hint that some on board have particularly negative intentions. This seems enough to convince him to follow through on his job, and he attempts to activate the bomb delivered to him by Tom when he boarded the freighter in Fiji, but he only gets that flag, "NOT YET."
The bomb, it seems, was a test to see if Michael had the fortitude to complete Ben's mission. When Ben contacts Michael on the freighter, he tells Michael that "When I'm at war, I'll do what I need to do to win, but I will not kill innocent people." When Michael challenges him on that claim, pointing out Ben had Michael take out Ana-Lucia and Libby, Ben simply responds "You killed them, Michael. No one asked you to. I don't blame you, Michael. We did have your boy. What wouldn't a man do for his son?"
This says a lot. Michael has been robbed of the fullest expression of his free will, the ability to take his own life. Ben has been cynically manipulating Michael to put him exactly in this position—one where he cannot die yet has nothing else to live for, has lost his innocence after committing murder, and has now proven willing to kill again. In chess terms, Michael is the pawn who by making it off the island has made it to the other side of the board and has been promoted; the pawn then takes on the same abilities of the most powerful piece, the queen. The most dangerous person is usually the one with nothing left to lose, and Michael has little left but the ability to destroy.
(Note that Ben contacting Michael in the guise of Walt recalls the episode "What Kate Did," when Walt seemingly contacts Michael via the Swan Station computer. Maybe that was Ben as well.)
The bomb scene is evocative of the first of a few literary references that sneak into the episode, but none that are new. Michael was hoping to blow up with the bomb, but this turns out to be a kind of mock execution. We've already seen Dostoevsky in Lost; Ben reads The Brothers Karamazov while imprisoned in the Swan Station. Readers of Dostoevsky may be familiar with the mock execution he went through in 1849. Dostoevsky was a member of the Petrashevsky Circle, a group of politically progressive writers, teachers, students, government officials, military members, and other intellectuals. The group primarily discussed socialism and focused on ways to resist the autocratic authority of the tsar (at the time, Nicholas I), and how to challenge the social structure of serfdom.
However, after the revolutions of 1848 (which philosopher-provocateur Mikhail Bakunin took part), Tsar Nicholas took to rounding up political threats, including the Petrashevsky Circle, and sentenced them to death by firing squad. However, the tsar ended up commuting the sentences to labor in Siberia, but the official in charge of the prisoners staged a mock execution anyway: The prisoners were marched out in front of the firing squad, who took aim and fired their empty weapons. One man died from shock. Another went insane. Dostoevsky himself developed epilepsy after the event. While in prison his political positions shifted, and he rejected revolutionary politics for being overly materialistic, and reconsidered the need for a strong tsar (one whose orders might actually be followed by prison officials).
It will be interesting to see what Michael does at this point, having his execution mocked once again with the NOT YET bomb. However, the fact that he's on the freighter in the first place is a kind of punishment for his crime of murder, a topic which Dostoevsky devoted an entire novel to.
That's just the first of a few literary nods. When Michael brings the bomb down to the engine room, we quickly see a sign for the fuel line, "WARNING NO OPEN FLAMES." We just saw Jules Verne's The Survivors of the Chancellor last week, where the ship was capsized by an explosive in the hold that sets the ship on fire. What if potassium picrate was a component of the explosive compound?
The two other direct nods bring us back to Michael's fatalism. As he sits in his apartment and attempts to put a bullet in his head, a game show is showing on his television. The host asks who wrote Slaughterhouse-Five, and just after Michael pulls the trigger, some lucky contestant correctly answers Kurt Vonnegut. When Michael sits in his cabin on the freighter and bounces the tennis ball off the wall, Minkowski comes in and asks if he's "going Nicholson on us." We all know the reference by now, Jack Torrance in Stanley Kubrick's film of The Shining (by Stephen King, of course). This was cleverly set up by previously-seen freighter scenes of blood-stained cabin and an ax stuck in a wall. Like Jack Torrance, Michael also sees ghosts; he see Libby when he's in the hospital after his car crash in New York (with the touchstone eye-opening scene), and again when he's about to activate the bomb on the freighter. The opening sweeping, zooming shots of The Shining were also echoed in the opening shot of "Ji Yeon," with the deep sweeping shot zooming in on the freighter.
In both the Vonnegut and Kubrick/King references, we also get a return to the idea of fatalism; Billy Pilgrim and the Tralfamadorians of Slaughterhouse-Five already know when and how they die and simply accept it (what else can they do?), and Jack Torrance learns from the butler Delbert Grady that he—Jack, the caretaker—has always been at the hotel, and is fated to repeat his cycle of going mad and killing his family. So it goes.
Michael doesn't know when he'll die, or even if he can, and even though in retrospect his fate has seemed pretty much determined for him all along, he still tries to act out of a place of free will. Desmond may share David Hume's namesake, but Michael may be the next embodiment of Humean compatibilism.
Next with the war: The developing war is becoming increasingly intriguing, with plenty of intrigue. Sayid rats out Michael to Captain Gault at the end of the episode, but long before then Sayid is constantly probing for answers from Michael and anyone else he talks to. On the one hand, it seems Sayid is going firmly into interrogation mode, but on the other hand, it almost seems as if Sayid is already working for someone. Given how far ahead Ben seems to work, we have to wonder if Ben predicted and planned for Michael to be turned in, and if Sayid is an accidental or knowing participant of that plan.
Tom also gets to play international man of intrigue in this episode by recruiting Michael to be Ben's weapon. Not only do we learn why Tom says "Kate, you're not my type," but Tom reiterates and expands on Ben's tale of Charles Widmore. He shows Michael the documents and photos from the cemetery Widmore apparently nabbed the 324 bodies from in order to stock his fake plane at the bottom of the Sunda Trench. Of course in a narrative that includes faked plane crashes, constant misdirection and a steady stream of false information, such "documentation" may be suspect.
The shot of Tom striding down the alley when Michael tries to top himself has the signature glint of New York noir all over it. The long shadows, the knife of light from the back of the alley, Tom only visible in silhouette save for the hands he's about to club Michael with, all recall a wealth of noir film narratives and the tropes they entail. There is no femme fatale in this scenario, but Michael is the one thoroughly entangled in the gears of a machine he did his best to avoid, and Tom is the agent who tightens the screws. (But didn't that scene also echo the opening of the 1980's show The Equalizer, especially when Tom's face comes into the light?)
Miles finally has the grenade removed from his jaws and gives up the mission to the barracks denizens. The Lostaways are expendable, unfortunate collateral damage in this war who are to be exterminated after Ben is captured. As such, Miles has become a (mouthy) hostage, the latest in a string of hostages: Walt (a hostage of the Others), Ben (of the Lostaways), Michael (of the Tailies and then the Others), Sawyer (of the Tailies), Jin (of the Tailies), Sayid (by U.S. soldiers), Cooper (by the Others), and a too many more to enumerate here. (Lostpedia has a page dedicated to all the hostage situations to date.)
We do know of two particular casualties of war, Danielle and Karl. What we don't know is who shot them, why, and if they're actually dead yet (the island seems to be a little stingier with its healing powers lately). We haven't seen Richard Alpert and the other Others in some time; they're on the short list of assassins. We haven't seen any other Freighties on the island except the ones already accounted for, so even though they're also on that list, they're farther down. One thing to note, however, is the silent zip of the shots; did someone get silencers?
Last with some other connections: A tangential point about Tom that quickly made it to Lostpedia is the Hotel Earle. There used to be a Hotel Earle in New York; it was a flophouse in the Village, and Bob Dylan stayed there in the early 1960's. Today it's the Washington Square Hotel. However, the Coen brothers used the name for their flophouse Hollywood hotel in the 1991 neo-noir film Barton Fink. This may be coincidence, but the Coens also just filmed Cormac McCarthy's No Country for Old Men, and the Lost writers have put McCarthy on their own reading lists, so the name may be something of an homage.
When Ben tells Alex about sanctuary at the temple, he shows her a map, and the temple is represented by another DHARMA bagua. Is this the temple or the Temple (Station)?
The freighter is slowly becoming more mysterious. Not only is it turning into a floating Overlook Hotel, but its name changed somewhere along the way. While at port in Fiji, the name "KAHANA" is partially obscured; some other image is peeking out from under the swaths of paint, and only "KAHA" is visible. (One meaning of "kaha" in Hawaiian is to scratch or make marks.) In one quick shot, there are also some odd symbols seen on the hull of the freighter. There's no telling what these mean yet; are they nautical? Something else?
Speaking of the port in Fiji, that location may be significant. The vile vortices were noted here in the post for "The Constant." Fiji is right in the nook of one of these vortices, and may be the gateway to wherever the island resides.
The number of Oceanic 815 victims at the bottom of the Sunda Trench, 324, seems to be popping up quite a bit. That number also provides a quick link back to Michael. When Michael and Walt first left the island, Ben instructed Michael to follow a bearing of 325 degrees if he wanted to make it out. If the unborn Aaron is counted as an Oceanic 815 passenger, there were 325 individuals on the flight, the same number as the bearing Michael takes.
The corpse-wrangling and crash-faking is the content of the Sunda Trench conspiracy theory (which was talked about in the post for "Ji Yeon"). Just to put a finer point on the idea of a conspiracy theory, Lapidus gives us this when talking to Michael on the freighter:
Lapidus: You ever hear about Oceanic 815?
Lapidus: What would you say if I told you the plane they found in that trench wasn't Oceanic 815?
Michael: What is it?
Lapidus: You know those nuts that think the moon landing was faked? Well this is like that, only real.
We have six weeks to chew over the implications, and this bit of insight from Carlton Cuse:
Occasionally people do stumble upon bits and pieces of things that are true and I think that is great, but it has to remain that viewers individual satisfaction because we're not going to ruin it for everybody else by saying "Yes! That's exactly what is going to happen.
Books mentioned in this post
J. Wood is the author of Living Lost: Why We're All Stuck on the Island