The Moth Chase

Elevating the Art of Procrastanalysis – Academics wasting time on pop culture

Finally, the Numbers…a Semi-Answer!

with 11 comments

Hey Kathryn,

Ok, so we got a little movement on what those numbers mean tonight!  That’s one of the big mysteries for me.  Sure, we don’t know how Jacob ‘plays’ with them or what his own logic is behind them, but we do know now that each one on the hatch…and played by Hugo in the lottery…and which get punched into the catastrophe-barring computer program corresponds to one of our Oceanic friends.  And given how often these numbers appear on their own in the show (as house numbers, flight 8-15, in random stories, etc…) is anyone else feeling like me and wanting to go back through the first 5 seasons for a second look of where they appear and if, when appearing, they correspond to the folks’ names written on the wall: 4-Locke; 8:Reyes; 15:Ford; 16:Jarrah; 23:Shephard; 42:Kwon. I loved that Jin and Sun (continuing their brilliant Lord of the Flies Samneric way of being) were together!  And I was especially intrigued that the numbers didn’t correspond to the Oceanic 6, but mixed that up a little (ha, Kate didn’t get one!).  But what are we to make of 175:Costas; 27:Kalen; 90:Troop and others…including a Frank (Lapides?).  Oof, we rewound and rewatched so many times but couldn’t come up with much more here…any thoughts, K?  Did you notice something I missed?

So each person on that wall stands as a “candidate” – one who Jacob follows to see if they might take his place as the island’s protector.  Locke is out and, it seems, Sawyer will be too.  Flock’s (fake+Locke) explanation that Jacob has continually guided our friends to the island throughout their lifetime, undermining their free will in hidden, almost malignant ways intrigued me.  This could explain how the numeral sequence makes it out into the real world – how Hurley finds it and plays it, for example, but also in all the ways it appears in slightly unnoticeable moments.

Real Locke took the show tonight, though – it was lovely to have Helen’s return (in her “Peace and Karma” t-shirt…why not just make it say Namaste?!).  Did you notice that she mentioned Locke’s father as a wedding guest, though?  Does that mean we’re to think that Locke’s back was broken in some way other than attempted murder by dear old dad?  An old question resurfaced for me here – if we say ‘whatever happened, happened,’ then what constitutes a happening?  Can a broken spine count, but not the way the spine gets broken? And as my friend Thunder pointed out to me tonight, if that spine gets fixed, does it matter how either?  Island healing or Jack’s offer of surgery – if it’s just the spine itself (the bodily aspect) that matters…then can the events around that happening shift depending on context?  And if so, then how will Boone die?  How will we lose Charlie again?

Furthermore, when it comes to the difference between Locke and Flocke – what are we to do with the obvious continuities between the two? Despite whatever possession or inhabitation or particular form of infection Flocke is under, he bears his own memories still and he bears his own dispositions (“you can’t tell me what to do”).  So where is Lost locating the endurance of identity?  This is a resurrection with a new body, not the endurance of the old body or even the soul…but a new creation out of the pattern of the old…and in a face that can no longer be changed (fascinating!).

Ok, so the rocks situation was interesting.  Flocke tossing the white rock (presumably Jacob’s rock) into the water as an “inside joke”…what was that about?  If felt more ominous than playful.  If Jacob and the MiB have had some balance going on in the way the island is run, does this literal tipping of the scales shift the atmosphere to pure chaos?  And on that note, who was that creepy kid running through the woods?  And why is Richard so exceptionally freaked out?

Ok, I’m leaving so much out for you – Ben’s hilariously poignant eulogy for John; Elena’s description of Richard as one Locke might recruit as a candidate; Ben’s lie re: who killed Jacob; Sawyer’s recognition that Locke is not the real Locke because he isn’t scared; Hurley’s real world success; the Of Mice and Men reference, and so, so much more!

And I’ll leave you with this link to the lyrics of the song that Sawyer was listening to while drunk in Dharmaville – seriously, they do cover every detail! It’s stuff like this that makes me realize nothing happens by accident in this show! “I’m the runaway son of a nuclear a-bomb…Baby detonate for me” – what a perfect song to help work through Juliet’s a-bomb detonation death!  And it leaves me wondering what this forgotten boy is searching for, searching to destroy?


Dear Natalie,

What a satisfying episode! It felt like we were really getting somewhere, even if we still have a long way to go. We know Jacob has been sending lists to the Others, and presumably those lists are transcribed from the names on his cave ceiling. We know what the names are supposed to mean – or at least what Jacob thinks they mean: they are lists of people who are candidates to take his place as “protector” of the island. One interesting question that was not answer is why does Jacob need a substitute? Does the MIB need one too? Did Jacob foresee his own death? Was he originally a substitute for someone else? And given that he doesn’t age and has been on the island for at least several centuries, what’s the rush to find a replacement? I was really struck by Flock’s comment to James that he knows what it is to be trapped but that at one time he was a man. That seems to imply that he is no longer a man (same for Jacob?) and that he is trapped on the island against his will, caught up in some cosmic game (the rules of which are somehow binding, even though it takes the freaky ghost boy in tattered clothes to remind him of one of them: you can’t kill him, whoever “him” is).

But I am getting ahead of myself. I also loved seeing alterna-Locke, still wheelchair bound, but at least in a loving relationship (presumably reconciled to his father, as you say), still frustrated, still constrained, but so much better prepared to deal. I agree with your and Thunder’s musings about what constitutes a happening in the idea that whatever happened happened. Perhaps it is something primarily physical, the effect not the cause being important. I thought of the conundrum in a pretty common sense way, the way we often mean when we play “what if” games. What if I weren’t in a wheelchair? What if I hadn’t one the lottery? What if I had fallen in love with someone else? It is a good philosophical check to think: if no matter what I did I would end up in a wheelchair, would that change the way I responded to it? As you say, this kind of fatalism, however, assumes that there are some events that are “bigger” or more important than others and these are the ones that we cannot change – they are the well-worn grooves of destiny and character down which our lives flow, regardless of what stream, river, or tributary gets them started. You are absolutely right that as far a scientific understanding of the space-time continuum and cause and effect, this is not the way it would work  – there would be no “bigger” or “lesser” events, just a series that is either unfolding or broken and diverted into a new series. But if you think of the chain as a closed system, one can still imagine the chain breaking, spliting off in a different series, and then ending up in the same place. I think there is thinking about this in parallel worlds theory, where certain salient features would remain from one world to the next, but they would only appear significant by their repetition, not by anything inherent in them.

I am totally out of my depth here, so I will return to the simpler terms of destiny, miracle, and free choice that are constants in the Lost universe! We see this theme explicitly discussed by Locke and Helen – is it destiny that he met Jack Shepherd, a spinal surgeon, or is it just coincidence. But it is also the bedrock of the whole cosmic struggle between Jacob and the MIB. The MIB accuses Jacob of tinkering and manipulating the free will of his candidates, drawing them against any conscious choice to the island. In turn, he promises knowledge and freedom. I couldn’t help but hear the echoes of the Serpent promising Eve knowledge like the gods if she only disobeyed the arbitrary injunction against eating the fruit from one tree. The Eve and Serpent story has been discussed theologically and philosophically exactly along those lines – especially during the Enlightenment. The only reason God gives for commanding Adam and Eve not to eat that particular fruit is that they will become like gods themselves. Which, if the name of the game is casting off the shackles of arbitrary domination and seizing/creating one’s own destiny, is a pretty stupid and petty reason. In fact, one might say, with the Serpent, that Eve was doing the moral thing – the autonomous, brave thing to find out for herself, to make her own destiny. And the Serpent then – like the MIB – is not the “bad guy” but the agent of liberation. Sure, he has a pretty bleak view of humanity, but at least he thinks highly enough of their self-determination to let them go at it without moral or legal constraints. Then again, he seems to need Sawyer to get off the island, and that seems to be his big motivation, so how much should we trust him, especially since he thinks all of humanity will fight and kill each other anyway?

The Serpent in the garden isn’t the only biblical character that is alluded to in respect to the MIB. Ben also describes him as turning into a “pillar of black smoke.” This is an accurate description of the Smoke Monster, but it also echoes with resonances of the pillar of smoke as the shape God takes to lead the Israelites in the wilderness after their escape from Egypt. In this parallel, the MIB is compared to God (and remember Flocke was already compared to Moses at the end of the last episode), albeit a dark pillar. Like many commentators have pointed out, it is unclear if Jacob is all good and the MIB is all bad. But I kind of think it will come down to the big question of the series: faith. When is it better to trust to a higher power, an authority you don’t fully understand but you hope/believe knows best, and when is it better to struggle against this fate, this arbitrary rule, and insist on one’s own autonomous self-creation? Notice that this is the one thing that unites Flock and Locke: the phrase “don’t tell me what I can’t do” – which is pretty much a rallying cry against arbitrary constraints.

We haven’t even talked about how what we learned tonight fits into what has been going on at the Temple and with infected Sayid. Is Sayid’s infection proof that he is no longer a candidate? And why was Kate’s name on the list in the Ankh if her name was not on the cave ceiling? Moth Chase readers, help us out! Theories, observations, analysis we missed or didn’t get to?

Let the whirlwind keep speaking!

Read the entire Lost conversation from start to finish.

Written by themothchase

February 16, 2010 at 11:16 pm

11 Responses

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  1. Here’s what I started chewing on last night… When the young boy told Flock “You can’t kill him”, I think it cut to a flashback and we all assumed Jacob was “him”, but was he really talking about James?

    Thunder Jones

    February 17, 2010 at 8:03 am

  2. I’m thinking the young boy was Jacob, reincarnated in some other form (real or imaginary), and the “him” referring to any of the names on the rock (maybe Richard too?).

    It is possible that she is on the rock (though I’m thinking she isn’t anyway). MiB only showed us the names that were not crossed out, though there could be something to the fact that he crossed off Sawyers name right then.

    My money is on Jack being the next Jacob.


    February 17, 2010 at 9:09 am

  3. And of course, we didn’t even mention the title episode, “The Substitute,” perhaps referring to Locke’s gig as the substitute teacher where we get to meet Ben Linus…the European History teacher!


    February 17, 2010 at 9:49 am

  4. Speaking of Ben, wasn’t he on the island when Jughead went off? That should make us reconsider the entire X timeline. What caused it?When was it altered? Why is the flippin’ island under water?

    What the what!

    Thunder Jones

    February 17, 2010 at 10:30 am

  5. @Dozenz- I thought Flocke crossed off Lockes name not Sawyers?

    Amazing episode and exactly how season 6 episodes should be! Flocke made a very compelling case last night…Kind of makes you wonder if Jacob is really good?


    February 17, 2010 at 10:34 am

    • I’m pretty sure that’s right, @Deebo – it was Locke’s name, not Sawyers that got crossed off…although Sawyer’s, “Hell, Yes” might lead to his own being erased pretty soon!


      February 17, 2010 at 10:52 am

  6. Thank goodness that there are people out there with LOTS of free time and a LOST obsession. Here’s a link to the names visible on the cave wall.

    As an aside, as I browse the LOST boards this morning have you noticed that there’s a contingent out there that are convinced that Jacob’s replacement must be male as well?

    Thunder Jones

    February 17, 2010 at 2:10 pm

    • Yes, I can’t believe us two feminists didn’t catch that one! Depending on whether or not Sun is the Kwon (and I actually think it’s both of them together), the whole list is male…which lines up nicely with a lot of K’s and my comments regarding male leadership in our discussions of season 5!


      February 17, 2010 at 4:46 pm

  7. ONE MORE THING! (this is fun)…

    One number we did not see last night was 108, which is the sum of the numbers. It’s been significant in LOST in the past and I wouldn’t be surprised is Austen wasn’t 108…

    Thunder Jones

    February 17, 2010 at 2:15 pm

  8. I found Locke’s coping skills in this episode kind of suspect. Taking it to mean that what physically happens is predestined while how we react is a matter of free will seems to be an oversimplification given how different alta-Locke’s circumstances are. The “real” Locke had his back broken by his father and he didn’t have Helen there to lean on. His attitude isn’t different because he’s made different choices, it’s because he’s carrying way less baggage.

    I also find it hard to swallow the “accept your limitations” story when Lost has shown us that miracles CAN happen, for both Locke and Rose. I really don’t know what to make of all this given the peace they seem to have found in this episode.


    February 18, 2010 at 8:26 am

  9. OK, The blond boy HAS to be Aaron! Why in the WORLD would they get a light skinned, blond boy if it weren’t? Is there a connection between Aaron and Jacob? Is Jacob Aaron in the future?
    Now my brain is really starting to hurt.
    I must say though, every time I watch this wonderful show, I tell my wife I can’t believe something of this quality and depth is on as a network series.
    But not for much longer… :(

    Bryan Hulse

    February 19, 2010 at 10:16 pm

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