It's about exclusion and exclusivity. The fifteenth episode this third season, "Left Behind," presents a narrative mosaic whose backstory has less to do with character development than it does with thematic mirror-twinning, twinned island narratives, plenty of points that seem to be plot developments but may be much more, and of more literary connections that push the episode into meta-literariness.
As the season progresses, it seems the narrative is getting more knotted within the overall Lost mythology. When character development occurs, it does so through the main action of the narrative. Backstories are now dealing with themes that more directly tie into the frontstories, and certain lines and shots are echoing previous episodes to create narrative and thematic connections. All the while, we're being shown (not told) certain plot points that serve as Chekhovian guns for future episodes. Jack, Kate and Juliet being left behind ? banished from the group ? is twinned with Sawyer's possible banishment from the beach. Why? Because they're not "good people." This is still a hazy definition; according to the Others, Ethan ? the one who strung Charlie up to a tree and killed Scott ? was good (because he was an Other). The brutal Danny was good. However the Others are using that term, it's not in the way we're accustomed to; they're part of what some scholars call a different discourse community, where their words and meanings don't line up with ours. Enough on that for now, but there's some interesting work being done in discourse analysis that would fit right in with the competing models of social organization in the Lost narrative; however, more evidence is needed before any clear claims can be made.
Kate's banishment is two-fold; she's banished (left behind) for not being a good person, and she's twice-rejected for trying to help someone who didn't want her aid. In the backstory, Kate's mother Diane tells her that what Kate thought she did for her mother, she actually did for herself. As cold and illogical as this seems, it also suggests that Kate returned for Jack less for Jack's sake than out of her own combination of guilt and desire for Jack. When Kate meets Cassidy in the backstory, Sawyer's former lover (and mother of his child), she and Cassidy not only pull the same jewelry con Sawyer taught Cassidy, but they bring up the good/bad dichotomy again in reference to Kate's charred dad. (Kate didn't realize she played the con just as Sawyer taught, but nevertheless performed admirably.)
Exclusion is just the chief echo across the episode. Other minor echoes develop cross-episode narrative connections. When Locke visits Kate in the game room, he yells "Coming out!" just as Ana Lucia yelled "Coming out!" from the pit in the second season episode "Orientation." This parallels the game room with the pit; it's interesting that that people would be held prisoner in a house of games. A minor clue also occurs in this scene; why was Locke's hand bandaged? There's something going on with him, but more on that in a bit; it requires some build-up. But there's another link to Ana Lucia; in the flashback, Kate goes by the name of Lucy, which she picked for the saint of the same name. Saint Lucy/Saint Lucia of Syracuse is the patron saint of blindness (and Lucy means "light"); she had her eyes gouged out after she refused an arranged marriage to a pagan noble, but could miraculously still see. The idea of being blind but still seeing suggests a thematic link to Kate's helping herself by helping others; she mistook what she wanted for what others wanted, yet still recognized the need. But the name "Lucy" is also there in Ana Lucia's name; Saint Anna gave birth to the Virgin Mary, and in keeping with the themes as they're used in Lost, this makes Ana Lucia the mother of blindness. Indeed much as Kate, Ana Lucia acted in a way that overtly seemed to be for the benefit of Tailies, but was really for herself. (And incidentally, Charlie has the tattoo "Living is easy with eyes closed.")
When Kate and Juliet are running from Smokey, they dive into a grove of trees; this mirrors the Pilot episode of the first season, when Kate dives into a grove for the exact same reasons. This time, however, Kate is much more self-assured, and doesn't need to count to five. When Smokey approaches them, it does to Juliet what it did to Mr. Eko in "The 23rd Psalm," flashing something at its intended target (and in mirror-twin fashion, we have Smokey checking out a large black African man and a little white, American woman). In both cases, Smokey turned and left. It may have been gathering necessary information about Juliet, and she's shown a few things that suggests there's much more to her than we've guessed. This is a woman who was supposedly pushed around by powerful men most of her life, yet it seems she could physically best most people who would attack her. She in fact handcuffed herself to Kate to convince her that she and Juliet were in whatever they're in together. The scene where the gas is tossed is interesting because we see a blonde woman with a similar cornflower blue shirt putting on a mask. (The Others seem to have a few people who bear resemblance to other known figures ? they have one person who looks like Michael, but we never see him long enough for a clear distinction.) On closer inspection, it seems this person isn't Juliet, but with Juliet cuffing herself to Kate, the hint is there that Juliet wasn't ditched ? she may be a plant by the Others. She obviously regained consciousness before Kate if she did the cuffing, and may never have been knocked out.
Which brings us back to Locke. Locke's fallen in with the Others in a way reminiscent of his commune days from "Further Instructions." But Locke also seems much savvier than he appeared to be in past days. With so much parallelism going on in the episode, and with Juliet being a possible plant in the Lostaways camp, we can ask: Is Locke a plant in the Others' camp? Is he Juliet's narrative parallel?
Talk of plants and duplicity brings us to the new manipulator of the island, Hurley. He plays Sawyer in this episode like a benign Ben. In his way, Hurley has chosen Sawyer as the new leader for their "society." There is something to the fact that so many other nominal leaders are gone; of those left behind, Charlie is weak and flappable, Hurley doesn't trust his own sanity, Claire has enough on her hands (and other parts), Sun and Jin are linguistically excluded (and Sun isn't quite leadership material), and we really just don't know much about the rest. This power play by Hurley is near-Rovian in its cunning (as well as a quick nod to Survivor; ABC exec Lloyd Braun first greenlighted Lost when he wanted to see a show that crossed Survivor with Cast Away). The way Hurley convinces Sawyer that what he gets from their beach society is worth sacrificing some of himself for also suggests a response to the individualist philosophy of Ayn Rand, whom Sawyer was recently reading. Sawyer's desire to be part of the society overpowers his desire for individualist identity, and he gives in a bit, but only because he finds it politically expedient. As he tells Des when hunting boar, Sawyer has hearts and minds to change, and politics is all about bribes.
First, the "hearts and minds" comment recalls the first season episode by the same name, where both Shannon and Locke manipulate the hapless Boone. It also echoes the political rhetoric we've been hearing in the press for a few months now; changing the "hearts and minds" of Iraqis is the new goal, one that seems unattainable to some because of the inherent nature of Iraqis (if you follow the U.S. news, you may have heard Bill O'Reilly complain that we can't change Iraqi hearts and minds because they just like killing each other; every time O'Reilly says such things, there are media watchdogs ready to point it out). Hearts & Minds is also the title of a 1974 documentary depicting the fallout of the same rhetoric from the Vietnam War (where the term originated). The key of Peter Davis's documentary is that hearts and minds can't be changed if the people looking for change refuse to recognize the others as fully human. Hurley alters Sawyer's heart and mind by getting him to recognize the other Lostaways as full persons, while all the time letting Sawyer believe he was the one initiating the the change ? very well played. The fact that Hurley played Sawyer so well suggests that Sawyer may return to Hurley for advice ? Hurley seems to know what people want ? but there will be friction; Sawyer still has Sun to worry about, and if he becomes the new leader, there may be a problem when Jack, Kate and Sayid return.
The last echoes to be discussed are literary. In this episode, Sawyer is once again into Watership Down. He first cracked the book in the first season episode "Confidence Man" (hearkening back to the idea of cons). The anthropomorphic tale about rabbits follows a group of rabbits from the Sandleford warren. They leave their warren when one rabbit, a seer named Fiver, has visions of Sandleford's destruction (via construction ? construction leads to the warren's destruction). They eventually run into a militantly fascist warren called Efrafra run by a despot named General Woundwort; he first institutes his police state to keep the warren free of myxomatosis, a disease that renders rabbits blind shortly before they die (echoes of Saint Lucy). The warrens are kept under control by an Owsla, or rabbit militia. One of the Efrafra Owsla, Blackavar, is not allowed to move up in ranks because his mother isn't from their warren, which somehow makes Blackavar genetically untrustworthy. When Blackavar tries to leave the warren, he's caught and his ears are torn as a mark of shame. A Sandleford rabbit named Bigwig feels pity for the fighter and frees Blackavar, who then joins Sandleford refugees. In this, we have some clear echoes of third season plot/character development: Des has gained a Hazel-like ability to foresee death, and Juliet ? with her mark, her untrustworthiness to the Others, and her willingness to go in with Jack ? makes her a Blackavar-like figure. (Does this suggest Jack is a Bigwig?)
And of course there is the overt echo of Tim LaHaye's fundamentalist fever dream pot-boilers, the Left Behind series. The series presents a version of the apocalypse where the right kind of Christian is raptured out of the world, while the rest are left to deal with the coming of Satan out of Eastern Europe. Again, it's about exclusivity. Aside from the rapture-like exodus of the Others, there does not seem to be too many narrative connections. For one thing, the Christian tradition explored in Lost tends to be Catholic, which has little to do with LaHaye's version of things. For another, the books take a pretty negative point of view toward other traditions in general, which is at odds with the pantheistic model presented via the Dharma Initiative. However, it does seem to be a kind of equal-but-opposite mirror twin to Stephen King's The Stand, in how both narratives concern the remnants of a world trying to right themselves and deal with an evil, manipulative presence (Nicolae Carpathia in Left Behind, the Walking Dude in The Stand).
This wasn't the only book, but I can't verify the other, Rick Romer's Vision of Astrology. Claire was seen reading this in the preview spoilers, but ? correct me if I'm wrong ? she doesn't seem to be reading it in the actual episode. (Rick Romer is in fact the Lost set director.) What may be happening here is an updated version of the Hanso Foundation commercials that aired near the end of the second season ? not an alternate reality game, but a game with the audience. There have been a few foilers lately, or false spoilers. One recent one was that "Exposé" would reveal the first gay character, which ended up just being Shannon accusing Boone of flirting with boys. Astrology has its place in the Lost mythology, but so does misdirection and misinformation. If this is the case, what can we make of the sub seen in next week's preview?
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Edit: Reader Jason caught the Hazel/Fiver mistake; it's a mistake no more.