How many times do I have to tell you, John? I always have a plan.
You can almost hear the writers in Ben's voice, letting the audience know that something big is coming. With the extra hour added for the finale, it seems the job of "There's No Place Like Home, Part 1" is to finish setting up everything that will be overturned in the next couple of hours.
We see how the Oceanic Six make it off the island — we're not sure how they got on the Coast Guard plane to begin with, but we see them edgy and getting their stories straight during the flight. The Oceanic representative, Karen Decker, has the story all set to present; they made it to a nonexistent island south of Sumba, Indonesia, called Membata. Membata-bata is actually the Indonesian word for "ambivalent," a perfect adjective to describe the O6's demeanor after rescue. None of them seem too convinced about what they're doing, and the press are pretty dogged about getting to the bottom of their story — and that's how you know this is fiction; if this were the real world, the press wouldn't have worked to ask such tough questions, and whatever Decker said would be good enough for them. One thing we do know about the story: They claim 316 passengers initially died, eight made it away, and two of those died. We still don't know who those two supposedly were, or how they supposedly died; (DHARMA) shark attack?
One of the least convinced of the O6 acts with the most conviction. After the survivors disembark and are reunited with their families, Sayid and Kate stand out for not having anyone there to greet them, but Sun stands out for not even looking at her father, Mr. Paik, until she informs him later on in the episode that she's bought a controlling interest in Paik Heavy Industries. She blames Mr. Paik and one other for the death of Jin. Her claim raises some questions: Who is the other person she blames, did that person work with or for Paik, and why is she willing to become a corporate raider for the man she was about to leave four months earlier? Sun seems to know something Paik and the audience don't, but here's a suggestion: The Orchid Station and Paik Heavy Industries logos are rather similar. Both have a tripartite structure in the center that winds out into a spiral. It'd be interesting to learn if some of the equipment used down in the Orchid Station was made in Korea.
If this is indeed the case (and who can really tell such things this early on), it suggests Sun could be an important figure in getting the O6 back to the island. After all, she would now own some of the technology that was used on the island itself, and probably would have some access to pretty interesting information.
As for the Orchid Station itself, the possibilities of why lies beneath are mind, space, and time-bending. Faraday's notes on the station said something about "Space Like Factors," which is vague enough, but also has an odd drawing of what looks to be an ant, but with too many legs.
Given Faraday's intellectual pursuits, the fact that the station is needed to move the island, and that doing so is "both dangerous and unpredictable," what lies beneath is whispering "electromagnetic" and "nuclear." We also know form the Orchid Station orientation video that the station is meant to make use of the Casimir effect (a real thing) created by the island's unique electromagnetic properties, which has wormhole/spacetime implications. Could an island be moved via wormhole? And what happens in the wake of some large-scale implementation of the Casimir effect? Is that one of the reasons Faraday wants to be far away from there? And since it seems to have something to do with the doubled rabbit in the Orchid Station orientation video, does it have something to do with the walking, talking Dr. Ray being on the freighter when the slashed and dumped Dr. Ray washes up on the island?
The Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Lion are on there way to the Orchid Station right now to get things rolling, if they can get past the guards. When Ben tells Locke that he always has a plan, think back to the 1939 MGM film of The Wizard of Oz, when the Scarecrow, Tin Woodsman and Lion attempt to break into the Wicked Witch of the West's guarded castle in order to free Dorothy: The Scarecrow is the thinker; Oz gives him an honorary PhD in Thinkology — that's Ben. The Tin Woodsman, Oz tells him, will be judged by how much he is loved by others — that's Locke, our man of the forest who is trying to be loved by the Others. The Lion has his moments of bravery and moments of cowardice, but as Oz tells him, he is plagued by disorganized thinking — definitely Hurley, the dissociated survivor who ends up institutionalized, twice. The Scarecrow telling the Tin Woodsman and Lion not to worry, he has a plan, is exactly what Lost's thinkologist says before their own infiltration.
It will be interesting to see how far the writers take the Oz allegory, because of its rich layers of meaning. Beyond the theosophical resonances, there's the 1890's political debate about whether or not money should be based on both ounces of gold and ounces of silver, bimetallism. (It should be said that while there is overwhelming support for these allegorical readings, Baum himself would never accede to the book being anything more than a children's story.)
After the Civil War, a number of silver mine strikes were found in the American west (which back then pretty much began along the Mississippi River). Western interests wanted to peg U.S. currency pegged to both silver and gold; this would make cash more available to spend in the silver-rich West and help farmers pay off their mortgages, because more people could then buy the farmers' goods. Eastern banking interests, however, wanted to keep currency pegged to the gold standard; they were in no hurry to see their clients pay off their debts.
In the 1870s, one coalition that emerged around bimetallism were farmers and industrial laborers — scarecrows and tin woodsmen (which also recalls the Jacob and Esau herder/farmer and hunter dichotomy). In her book Roots of Reform: Farmers, Workers, and the American State, 1877-1919, Elizabeth Sanders covers this coalition well: The farmers wanted to be able to sell their products, and unemployment was high in iron and coal-producing regions of the Midwest; both groups found common cause in bimetallism as a way to increase the amount of liquid cash available for their regional economies. Republican William McKinley was supported by wealthy eastern industrial interests and elected president in 1896 in part to peg U.S. currency on just gold. (McKinley rewarded some of his wealthy industrialist supporters, like Andrew Carnegie, with government appointments.) Introducing the gold standard had the effect of driving down the price western farmers could sell their crops; silver was prevalent in the west, but the gold was out east, so few in those western regions had enough cash to buy what the farmers had in give.
McKinley was assassinated in 1901 (by an unemployed factory worker from Michigan), and his vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, took over; Theodore and Dorothy are the same syllables mirror-twinned: The-oh-dor and Dor-oh-thea. Oz is also short of ounce, and at the time, a dollar's value was worth so many ounces of gold; we have the yellow (gold) brick road, and in the book, Dorothy had silver slippers, not ruby; the Wicked Witch is said to represent the eastern owners and bankers who wanted to maintain and expand their economic grip; and the Emerald City recalls the color of the greenback, and the city was of course run by a humbug. But in the book, the city wasn't green at all — it only looked like that because the people of the city wore green-shaded glasses for so long they actually believed the city was something it wasn't, rather like having false faith in the strength of the currency. Farmers like Henry Gale, Dorothy's uncle and Ben's early alias, suffered when the dollar wasn't pegged to silver, and as a South Dakota newspaper editor, L. Frank Baum would have been very familiar with the subject.
It's fascinating to think of that period, with people stuck in cycles of bad debt, given today's subprime mortgage and banking crises (with lending institutions like Bear Stearns and Countrywide essentially having value only if you wore green-shaded glasses). It's hard to say how much the political undertones of The Wizard of Oz were playing in the minds of the writers, since the allusions started before the crisis, but that doesn't mean they couldn't have recouped the theme, especially with industrialists like Widmore and Paik still running around.
One odd and symbolically loaded scene from "There's No Place Like Home" may be a riff on some of the political undertones of Baum's book. When Hurley returns home in one of the flashforwards, he finds the front door ajar and hears Other-like whispers. He picks up a golden statue of Jesus and gets ready to clobber whomever he may find. When he's surprised by his friends and family, his mother says, "Jesus Christ is not a weapon."
McKinley's main pro-bimetallism opponent, Democratic presidential nominee William Jennings Bryan, made a famous speech at the 1896 Democratic National Convention where he compared using gold as a socio-political weapon against the working class in very New Testament terms: "You shall not press down upon the brow of labor this crown of thorns, you shall not crucify mankind upon a cross of gold." Today we don't see too much political speech that recruits the passion of the Christ for economic effect; we just get political speech openly recruiting biblical themes and their representatives as a kind of litmus test for political fitness. Religion is the socio-political weapon of our time, despite the Constitution. Given the recent months of wall-to-wall Reverend Jeremiah Wright and the upcoming Pastors John Hagee and Rod Parsley smackdowns, perhaps that symbolically overloaded scene was a something of a commentary.
With regard to the farmer-labor / scarecrow-tin woodsman / Jacob-Esau dichotomies, recall the Locke flashback in the third episode of the third season, "Further Instructions." Locke was living on a farming commune that also had a greenhouse, where they grew marijuana. Locke inadvertently brings a young undercover FBI agent, Eddie, into the commune; Locke believed Eddie to be a lost drifter. Locke introduced Eddie to the commune sweat lodge, where Eddie could "figure out what to do with your life — you know, what direction to take — go on in there and figure out if you're a farmer or a hunter." When the other commune members suss out Eddie's identity, Locke takes him out to the woods to kill him and take care of the problem he introduced. When Eddie tells Locke that Locke's a farmer and won't hurt him, Locke responds, "Nope, not a farmer. I was a hunter. I'm a hunter." But of course Locke doesn't shoot. Talk about ambivalence; Locke is both the hunter and the farmer, and can't figure out which is which.
The Wizard of Oz may not be the only text that's being brought into play. Orchids have a long rich history. They're one of the oldest plants in existence; orchid fossils date back to the Cretaceous Period, so they were growing alongside dinosaurs. Orchids are firmly connected to reproduction in Greek culture; the Greek word orkhis means testicle, and we all know how important reproduction is on the island. But what about the twinning, since that's a fundamental theme to everything Lost?
Writer Charlie Kaufman and director Spike Jonze have collaborated on a number of projects, including the 2002 hyper-self-referential film all about orchids and twins, Adaptation. The story is based on Susan Orlean's book The Orchid Thief, the nonfiction biography of John Laroche, a self-taught horticulturist who convinced some Florida Seminole Indians to hire him as a nursery manager. Laroche was making treks into the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve to steal samples of the rare ghost orchid, in the hopes of cloning it and making a mint.
Kaufman's self-reflexive adaptation of Orlean's book features Charlie himself (played by Nicolas Cage) being hired to write the screenplay of The Orchid Thief, but he gets nowhere as writer's block and his boorish twin brother Donald move in. Donald attends seminars of a hack screenwriter and wants to help Charlie by introducing more sex and car chases into his screenplay, which all end up occurring in the film itself. I'm not willing to say there's anything more to this as of yet, but the coordinates of twins, orchids, and self-referentiality are suggestive.
Lost has been toying with self-referentiality for some time, repeating scenes in new contexts and bringing in dialog that seems to speak for the audience. In "There's No Place Like Home," we see yet again another Hunting Party-type scene, when Alpert emerges from the jungle, startling Sayid, and Kate, and the survivors train their guns on the Other. Alpert tells them repeatedly to put the guns down, and when they don't, a number of Others appear from the jungle, surrounding the survivors. We've seen this move three times now, in "The Hunting Party," "Confirmed Dead," and now "There's No Place Like Home." Another point of self-referentiality occurs when Sawyer tells Jack, "Well, you better hope it ain't Sayid, 'cause if he's with those animals that just blew up half of New Otherton, you do not wanna tussle with them." New Otherton is the writers and fans' name for Ben's old home, the village of the Others, but has never been mentioned by a character until now.
New Otherton used to exist beyond the writer/audience wall, and it sits on a non-existent island whose name means ambivalent. That's been their home for 100 days, and there really is no place like it. But home off the island doesn't quite seem like home either; the dead still walk the earth, and Hurley just can't escape those numbers.
Not to worry; the writers always have a plan.
Last Thing | Time Thing: In the post for "Cabin Fever," reader Liz points out that there seems to be a problem with the flashforwards. The end of season three, "Through the Looking Glass," introduces the first flashforward, and Jack is long into despair and the bottle. Since then, the flashforwards in season four have seemed to be moving backwards from that point: We see Jack a wreck, and each Jack flashfoward he's a little bit better until we see how he started down that path in "Something Nice Back Home." We see Sayid working for Ben long before we see Ben recruit Sayid to work for him. The flashfowards seemed to be working backwards to converge with the point when they got off the island. So it seems that flashforwards from previous season four episodes should be taking place after flashforwards in later episodes.
Except for one scene. In "Something Nice Back Home," the one where Jack and Kate are playing house with Aaron, Jack visits Hurley at the Santa Rose Mental Institute, and Hurley tells him Charlie has been visiting him. When Jack tells Hurley that he and Kate fed the baby, Hurley says, "I thought you didn't want anything to do with her," and Jack responds, "I changed my mind after the trial." But "Something Nice Back Home" is the tenth episode of season four; Charlie supposedly first visited Hurley in the first episode, "The Beginning of the End," and the trial was in the fourth episode, "Eggtown." This one scene from the tenth episode seems to upset the flashforwards-moving-backwards idea. Question: Is this just a continuity error as a result of compressing the season due to the writer's strike? Or are the flashforwards not in any particular order? Or could Charlie have been visiting Hurley before "The Beginning of the End," and could there have been some other trial that we don't yet know about? Or is this a meaningful anomaly planted for some narrative purpose that we haven't yet come to?
Books mentioned in this post
J. Wood is the author of Living Lost: Why We're All Stuck on the Island