Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

May 17, 2011

Back to the Island 1.20 – Deus Ex Machina

Filed under: back to the island,family,Uncategorized,wordsmithery — lexifab @ 12:19 am

I’m on a break.

Well, sort of. My dad is visiting for the next week or so, so I won’t be spending quite as great a percentage as usual of my evenings holed up with the laptop in an antisocial writer-bubble. Not quite. I am doing that right now, I admit, but in my defense he’s getting ready for bed and won’t miss me while he’s brushing his teeth.

Anyway, while he is here I will drop back a gear on my Lost schedule. I have a couple more reviews prepared, but I will hold off on posting them until after the end of next week. In that time I may or may not get a bit of space to finish writing the Season 1 reviews, but I am not going to hold myself to my schedule. I will probably still write here, but I’ll leave the reviews on hold for a short time. There are one or two story ideas rattling around in my head. If I do get any time, I will probably work on those instead of reviewing. (No, that was not a clever euphemism for “play Portal 2 until I beat it”. Though of course I don’t deny the overwhelming likelihood that I will just goof off and do that instead).

In case anyone else is casting about for inspiration, writer Chuck Wendig [1] issues a weekly writing challenge, giving a set of random and often mildly ridiculous parameters for a short-short story. His readers link their efforts in the comments column, many of which are quite cool. This week’s challenge is – hrm, hard to describe, actually, so here’s the link instead. I have an ‘M’ picked out, but whatever the story there is, it hasn’t quite gelled for me yet.

Apropos of nothing much, here’s a lovely little piece of writing by Michael Chabon about superhero costumes. Beautiful meditation contrasting inspiration, hope and awe with the bleeding obvious (and making it work, which is no small achievement).

[1] Of whom I feel I ought to say more, and will one of these days when I get around to assembling a blog entry on writers who are inspiring me at the moment.

Back to the Island 1.20 – Deus Ex Machina

“I’ve done everything you wanted me to do, so why have you done this to me?” – John Locke

Summary: That darn hatch! Locke and Boone have been at it for two weeks. No, not that! They’re trying to open the hatch, and now they’re resorting to some spectacular coconut engineering. Locke’s built a downward-stabbing trebuchet out of bamboo logs, bits of vine and what looks like a very sharp piece of the plane fuselage. “All we have to do is break the glass,” he confidently asserts, but no dice. The hatch is not scratched, and Locke is so furious at failing that he also fails to notice the shard of metal sticking through his leg. Later that night he discovers, through the judicious application of objects both pointy and hot, that he is losing feeling in both legs. Also he has a badly burned foot.

Boone’s starting to lose a little enthusiasm for Project Open Door. Locke insists that the Island wants them to open the hatch, but for once Boone is showing some signs of independent thought – maybe Locke isn’t quite as all there as everyone’s been supposing. Locke claims that their faith and commitment are being tested. Boone demands to know what kind of sign they’re going to be sent. Then a cargo plane begins falling out of the sky overhead, Locke is back in his wheelchair, Boone is suddenly covered in blood and repeating unsettling nonsense over and over, and Locke’s mother is there in the jungle, pointing ominously. Oh, crap, it’s a dream, isn’t it? So much for Boone’s brief flirtation with agency. Locke wakes up – it’s a sign!

He convinces Boone to come along by quoting a reference to “Theresa” from his dream. In the jungle they find the decomposing body of a Nigerian priest with a wad of cash and an automatic pistol. Locke’s legs give out. He tells Boone that he was in a wheelchair and that the Island made him whole. Why is it now trying to take it all back? Locke convinces Boone that the Island wants them to find that plane. Boone explains that Theresa was the nanny he tormented to death when he was six. They find the plane held up with vines high above them on a cliff. Locke’s legs are gone so Boone climbs up. He finds another dead body, a map of Nigeria and a cargo of madonna statues full of heroin – and a working radio. He picks up a transmission, telling them that he’s a survivor of Oceanic 815. The voice replies “We’re survivors of Oceanic 815” – and on that bombshell, the plane plummets off the cliff, taking Boone with it.

Locke’s legs start to work again and he heads into the plane, where Boone is in a bad way. Locke finds the strength to carry Boone back to the camp and leaves him in Jack’s care. Back at the hatch, he bellows in frustration at the Island – “Why did you do this to me?” At that moment, the glass panel in the hatch fills with light.

Flashback: John Locke is a toy store attendant with a full, manly head of hair (nearly) and a penchant for inadvertent foreshadowing. As he’s showing a kid how Mousetrap works, he’s being checked out by an older woman, whom he later catches eyeballing him in the carpark. He chases after her and – Pow! Smacked down by a car, just like that. Paralysed for life. Oh, no wait, it was a fakeout, he’s totally fine. The woman claims to be his mother and tells John that he’s Special (it’s time we started capitalising that word in reference to offspring, I think). Of course, she also tells him he was immaculately conceived, so we’re thinking maybe this isn’t going to have anything to do with the Island after all. Or is it? No, it’s not. She’s a paranoid schizophrenic, according to the PI he hires, who’s also found his father (not God, as it turns out). His father, Anthony Cooper, is a wealthy hunting enthusiast on dialysis and borrowed time. Locke volunteers a kidney. “See you on the other side, son” says a grateful Anthony, but he’s just fooling – Locke wakes up to discover his newly-enkidneyed father is resting up in his palatial estate, where Locke is no longer on the invitation list.

Highlights: Terry O’Quinn is marvellous. That’s really all there is to it. His portrayal of Locke is confident and thoughtful. Younger Locke is clearly a different person to the one we see on the Island – damaged by his past as a foster child but not yet shattered by his parents’ betrayal. I think you could probably watch this episode with the sound off and still appreciate the emotional core just on the strength of O’Quinn’s performance.

Oh Boone! Another dark secret from your tortured past sheds still more unflattering light on you. As a child Boone was a spoiled brat acting out at his absent mother by bossing around his nanny – until she dies attending to his pointless beckons. Presumably this is the pivotal event that drove Boone to want to become a better person (though without apparently lending him the wisdom to actually achieve that goal). We’ll never know because this is pretty much the last we get to hear from his past, and I’m already reading more into it than is actually presented onscreen.

There is a minor plotline in which Sawyer’s headaches, which have begin to afflict him over the past couple of episodes, turn out to be eyestrain. He’s farsighted, and all the reading he’s been doing since the crash have been hurting his eyes. Sayyid splices together a mismatched set of lenses from a boxful of spares and Sawyer is all good. The sequences is an excuse for a little more tension in the Jack-Kate-Sawyer triangle, but more importantly it sets Hurley up for a rare and devastating putdown on seeing Sawyer’s frankenstein glasses: “Dude, it looks like someone steamrolled Harry Potter.” Hah!

Themes: Sorry, Jin, I take it all back – you don’t have the worst Daddy Issues after all. Locke’s father Anthony Cooper is a total monster. Locke’s mother admits near the end of the episode that she was broke and went to Cooper for money. He put her up to steering Locke towards his father (“It had to be your idea,” she tells him). Locke has lost a body part to an elaborate con orchestrated by his own father. That’s pretty damn cold, poppa.

‘Deus Ex Machina’ does not have a clever little cross-reference to another character in the flashback sequence. That’s because the whole flashback storyline is actually a connection, one that won’t pay off for another three seasons! It’s obvious on rewatching that the writers had worked out where they were going with this. While I try to be coy and non-spoilery, take a look at which character the episode’s C-plot is about. There’s no doubt the connection is intentional.

(Ooh, actually I just noticed that Locke’s mother’s dossier included her admission form for a psychiatric hospital – the same one Hurley was in, of course. So thanks, DVD pause button, you’ve ruined my neat rhetorical flourish. Way to go.)

Aside from that though, what’s really interesting here is what we learn about Locke. In the flashback, Cooper calls Locke “son” and immediately makes a manipulative reference to his imminent demise, after which Locke donates a kidney. On the Island, Locke does the same thing: “Get me to my feet, son”, he says, and in the next scene talks Boone into walking into horrible danger on his behalf.

Locke has always had a faintly messianic air about him, which is preyed upon in his mother’s “crazy” speech about him being Special and immaculately conceived. Locke is rightly suspicious, but the idea seems to have some appeal. As they wait to go into surgery, Locke tells his father that their meeting was “meant to be”. You’d think by the time he got to the Island he’s have learned to be a bit wary about trusting in the workings of Fate, but apparently not.

Verdict: In Anthony Cooper, Lost has its first irredeemably evil character. Locke’s father is manipulative, two-faced and ruthless to the point of sociopathy, and he walks away from Locke without a backward glance. Of course, in ‘Deus Ex Machina’ Locke combines all these charming traits – albeit on less selfish and calculating scales – with a mild but growing obsessive derangement, with consequences just as tragic. In the final scene Locke despairs at what the Island has done to him, as if it were he rather than Boone who is strapped to Jack’s row of surgical cushions. Locke’s belief in his own destiny outweighs his concern for Boone’s wellbeing. It’s remarkably callous for a man who in only the previous episode took time out from his busy schedule to build a cradle for a pregnant woman.

If I have any complaint about ‘Deus Ex Machina’, it’s that Locke’s fascination with the hatch really only descends into full-blown obsession in this episode. Certainly we have been shown plenty of evidence that he is neither wholly a nice guy nor completely rational, but all the same this stage of his evolution felt very slightly rushed. There’s another portentous and eerie dream sequence, for which I believe I mentioned I have a weakness. All the same, the one in this episode feels like they went to the well once too often, even though the dream itself was eerie and effective. I want to give it a ten out of ten, but I’m not quite sure it’s justified – so let’s go with nine.

1 Comment »

  1. One thing that I forgot to mention about ‘Deus ex Machina’ is that the name is amusingly playful. In the normal course of events in a modern story, DEM is a shorthand expression for cheap, lazy plotting, in which some hitherto-unmentioned information, character ability or technological marvel is revealed at the last minute to resolve the situation (such as a character suddenly revealing they have perfect pitch or eidetic memory, or Geordie LaForge and/or Wesley Crusher inventing something implausible at the end of the third act of far too many episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation).

    In this episode, though, Locke has become obsessed with and even somewhat revential towards the Island, and at the end of the episode is bathed in the light emanating from his idol. There is, it seems, actually a god inside the machine.

    (It’s not, of course, but it made an excellent visual gag, if a somewhat literary one).

    Comment by lexifab — May 20, 2011 @ 10:57 am

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