Anthony Cooper had a problem: Why be virtuous when no one is watching?
John Locke had a problem: Anyone who believed something without having sound reason for that belief was more interested in his own desires than he was in truth.
Anthony Cooper and John Locke had a problem: Locke wasn't dead, as Cooper had reason to believe, and Cooper didn't have the moral sense to be as virtuous as Locke wanted to be.
These are some of the subtexts crawling through the jungle undergrowth of the nineteenth episode of season three, "The Brig." This was the first episode of the season to contain only island flashbacks, similar to the second season finale, and the tripartite narrative ? Locke's story with the Others, Locke getting Sawyer to kill Cooper, and the happy campers hiding Naomi Dorrit from Jack ? each advanced a different perspective on trust and manipulation. With the bevy of referenced philosophers interested in social organization, like Cooper and Locke, and the introduction of a character whose name recalls Charles Dickens' serial satire of mid-19th C. government, we may be reaching a breaking point in the social experiments occurring on the island; the Others have tramped off to who knows where, and the collectivist keepers of the beach flame are starting to turn on each other (or at least their previous leader).
Although the three narrative threads are fairly distinct, the general themes of this episode permeated throughout. Each of the threads opens on the eye-shot, but rather than the single, opening eye we're used to, it's two open eyes, and twice they're Locke's. It's almost as if we're being told his eyes are now open. What are they open to? Locke was once the hapless rube, inadvertently fouling up whatever relationships he was in and never quite attaining the self-awareness to learn from past mistakes. He was the kid who tried too hard to be liked. But something has shifted deep within him. After taking on Charlie, then Walt, and then Boone (and to an extent Mr. Eko) as protégés, Locke has moved on to Sawyer. In the past Locke taught by telling; now he does it by showing, by taking his charge through an experience. In a way, Sawyer's experience is helping him to become more Cooper-like ? not Locke's father, but the philosopher taught by the 17th C. Locke. The philosopher John Locke was associated with three different Anthony Coopers, the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Earls of Shaftesbury. In 1666 the philosopher became the secretary and personal physician for the 1st Earl, and once saved his life in an emergency surgery. The elder Cooper was a political high roller and one of the richest men in England; he was affiliated with the colonization of North America, and employed Locke to write the first fundamental constitution of the Carolinas. When Shaftesbury's grandson came along in 1671, Anthony Cooper the 3rd Earl of Shaftesbury, grandpa Shaftesbury put philosopher Locke in charge of the 3rd Earl's education.
The 3rd Earl became a decent philosopher in his own right, and is noted for being the first English philosopher to identify the "moral sense." As discussed in the post for "The Man From Tallahassee," the 3rd Earl's work suggests he's a kind of mirror-twin to Lost Cooper; in Inquiry concerning Virtue or Merit, the philosopher argued that an individual needed to employ reason in order to bring his competing appetites into balance, while Lost Cooper indulges in his appetites. In Characteristics of Men, Manners, Opinions, Times, the philosopher Cooper defines the moral sense as an innate ability to determine the value of an action. The moral sense extends beyond culture, he argues; if everyone in your neighborhood was stomping on kittens, even though it's socially accepted, your moral sense would still tell you it's wrong. He extends this notion to a near Foucault-like panopticon sense, when he claims if one asks "Why should a man be honest in the dark?," that person already has a problem with virtue. In other words, your moral sense should tell you to act virtuous even when no one's looking. Lost Cooper is morally senseless, or perhaps he has an immoral sense; when Locke removes his gag to help him breathe, Cooper bites the hand that frees him. He doesn't even have a real identity, so in a way, no one is ever really looking at him. Sawyer, however, has slowly been edging his way toward developing that moral sense over the course of a few episodes.
But the elder Shaftesbury, a Protestant and Locke's patron, was a bit of a conniver. He had spent time in prison, and was implicated in a false-flag plot to kill the Catholic King Charles II, known as the Rye House Plot. The idea was to spread word of a plot to kill the king and replace him with his Catholic brother, thereby generating anti-Catholic sentiment to capitalize upon. However, there was no assassination plot; the only plot was a Machiavellian/Rovian con to develop anti-Catholic wrath, which the Protestant elder Shaftesbury used to gain broad political support. Shaftesbury used that support to push a bill excluding the king's Catholic brother from ever taking the throne through the House of Commons (it failed in the House of Lords). Talk about your long cons ? this is an Anthony Cooper worthy of Lost Cooper's namesake. The elder Shaftesbury went on the run, left for Holland with Locke in tow, and died shortly thereafter.
So it's rather appropriate that Lost Cooper is shackled in the brig of the Black Rock, a slave ship. Philosopher Locke reasoned in his Second Treatise on Government that when someone intends to violate someone else's right to life, they've instituted a state of war against that person. He also reasoned that the only legitimate form of slavery arose from the state of war; if one acts aggressively towards another with intent to violate the other's right to life, he forfeits his own liberty and can be rightly enslaved. Lost Cooper has definitely acted aggressively toward Lost Locke; he took his kidney and his spine, and tried to take his life. As such, Lost Cooper forfeited his rights, and can legitimately be enslaved by Lost Locke. When we see Lost Locke keeping Lost Cooper in a slave ship's brig, in slave chains no less, we're seeing the philosophy being enacted at about 30 frames per second.
But the connotations extend to Dickens' tale Little Dorrit (of Naomi Dorrit). Little Dorrit was first printed serially in nineteen episodes, and "The Brig" happens to be the nineteenth episode; the writers are developing a Yeats-like fascination for number symbolism. The setting of Little Dorrit is Marshalsea, an English debtor's prison where Dickens own father spent time. The protagonist, Arthur Clennam, spends his later years in the debtor's prison after losing his money to a scam artist named Merdle (and if you know some French, you get the image). In Merdle, we get the sleazy echo of Lost Cooper, whose own scams put Sawyer on a path to prison. Like Cooper, Merdle hides his true identity ? no one knows where he comes from, and why be virtuous in the dark? We'll most likely see more Merdle-like figures, however, as Merdle was also a major financier, which recalls shadowy back-figures like Mr. Widmore. But when Sawyer is locked in the brig with the enslaved Cooper, he comes full circle. Sawyer has gained that moral sense, and is learning to act beyond reward or punishment, beyond the Others' attempts at B. F. Skinner-like behavior reinforcement. He doesn't actually need to kill Cooper; at this point letting Cooper live or die wouldn't seem to change anything materially in his own life. But you can argue Sawyer also takes a step beyond good and evil. The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche argued that for an individual to attain full potential, everything evil in that person's life was as important as everything good and moral. The individual has to accept and overcome those opposite (and apposite) forces in order to realize one's full potential. By killing his namesake, he kills the thing that shackled him for thirty-some years, sends the thing to hell, and frees James Ford from Sawyer's chains. (It'll be interesting to see if he keeps the name.)
Lost Locke can't do this; like his namesake, he can't bring himself to act against the natural rights of another being. He may desire it, but he can't reason it, and Locke is now more interested in truth than his own fantasies. However, desire is a funny thing on this island; if you're not careful, you might get what you don't know you want (like a horse in the jungle), and it was seemingly Locke's desire that brought Cooper into the metaphor box (although Cooper had a different story to tell). So Locke does it Ben-like, and by manipulating Sawyer into killing Cooper, with a little bump by Alpert, both Locke and Sawyer get what they need. It was hardly easy for Sawyer, but like Locke told Charlie in season one's "The Moth," struggle is nature's way of strengthening you. In Sawyer, Locke may have found his true protégé, and certainly a soul brother.
And in Locke, Ben may have found his, as well as his enemy ? yet another mirror-twin. It's getting harder to tell if Ben is playing Locke, if Locke is playing Ben, and/or if Ben knows Locke realizes Ben is playing Locke, and Ben wants him to think that. Ben even appropriates Locke's line, "Don't tell me what I can't do, John." Locke now appears to be special, like Walt, and like his own crazed mother once told him. When Cindy tells him the Others are excited to see Locke because they've been waiting for him, we hear echoes of Neo and New Zion; Locke is jacked into the island like it's the Matrix.
If you believe Alpert, Ben is losing favor as leader of the Others and set Locke up to fail in front of the Others by not killing Cooper on that very old-looking stone post. But Alpert's namesake, we should remember, is the Harvard psychologist who in the 1960's dropped out to become the spiritual seeker Ram Dass; if there is an echo of the psychologist in the dark-eyed Mittelos representative, this is a man who understands how both the mind and the soul work, and is pushing Locke along a certain path. If Alpert is still aligned with Ben, then his double-talk to Locke suggests that Ben knows Locke knows Ben is playing him, and Ben wants it that way. So when Locke fails to sacrifice Cooper for entrance into the Others, he may ? like Abraham with Isaac ? have passed a certain test. Locke may have finally forged his self-consciousness into self-awareness.
The only tests now are who to trust and when to show your hand. Locke tells Sawyer he's heading off into the interior, Rousseau-like, on his own, but we see him carrying Cooper's carcass. He may be heading off to join the Others, or he may be off to be his own Ben, but he's not ready to reveal certain information or motives. Neither is Jack and Juliet, who have something to tell Kate regarding Naomi; nor is Rousseau, who continues to turn the jungle into a DMZ and comes and goes like a jungle zephyr. Strangely, Locke doesn't even question why she shows up at the Black Rock looking for dynamite, perhaps because he didn't want an audience, and clearly, neither does Rousseau. And we need to question the convenient tape recorder; was this a plant by Ben? How did Locke get it?
And why did Hanso ? or Mittelwerk standing in for Hanso ? fake the Oceanic 815 wreckage?
I'm going to let the John Lescroart book The Oath slide a bit. It was briefly seen on Ben's tent shelf, and is a kind of murder-mystery-potboiler that echoes Bad Twin, and Bad Twin was an exercise in seeing how far we the audience could stretch an idea beyond credulity. Lindelof once warned of mistaking colorful rocks for easter eggs, and Bad Twin was certainly colorful, The Oath feels to me like one of those moves.
(I'd like to thank Liz Kelly and Jen Chaney of the WashingtonPost.com for inviting me to write about "The Brig" with them today. The article is here, and they've cordially linked back to the wonderful Powells.com.)