ABC’s TV series Lost, whose fourth season premieres tonight, has multileveled mysteries and a cruelly withholding storytelling style that inspires passionate love and passionate frustration.
The love comes from the show’s fascinating and compelling adventure-intrigue-SF storytelling. The scenario: plane crashes on an uncharted island. Some passengers, most with a fair amount of dark intrigue in their past, survive and try to forge a workable civilization — and to escape. Previous inhabitants of the Island bedevil them. Everything ensues.
The frustration comes from the fact that halfway through the show’s entire six-season arc, the viewer can be certain of very little — neither what lies ahead nor precisely what’s already happened — and certainly not the meaning of what’s happened.
The search for meaning bedevils characters and viewers. No element of the show is as suggestive and aggravating as its heavy reliance on political philosopher references.
The show stars a John Locke, which initially just seemed a curiosity. But as the show progressed, we were introduced to a Danielle Rousseau, a Desmond David Hume, a Mikhail Bakunin, a Richard Alpert, and even an Edmund Burke.
But what does any of this mean?
IN THE CASE of Locke, obvious references and ironies abound. Like the philosopher, he stands for political and personal liberty within a civic context.
Locke “leads” generally through service to the commonwealth — yet sometimes acts imperiously and dangerously, pursuing a personal vision of what is best for them all, in a disturbingly Filmerian manner.
He claims to be an empiricist — a real “meat and potatoes” guy — but comes to a seemingly mystical belief in the island’s power. Complicating his role as the “man of faith” in the island is that his mysticism is based in his experience of healing from the island, and his personal encounter with the smoke monster — so character and philosopher might be able to get along as fellow empiricists.
Most significantly Lockean is island John Locke’s mantra: “Don’t tell me what I can’t do,” the cry of the man who despises paternalism and unjust government. (In what is probably more an in-joke, Locke’s evil father is “Anthony Cooper,” after philosopher Locke’s mentor, the first Earl of Shaftesbury.)
Lost fans love clues, and if Locke’s name is one, it likely suggests that what Locke thinks he has empirical evidence for, he probably does.
DANIELLE ROUSSEAU’S link with her philosopher is obvious: she is the lone savage on the island, separated — by choice — from the human societies available to her. Her primary skills are sheer survival and the trapping and killing of animals and other humans.
Her personality is more stunted and weird than the apotheosis of human capabilities and sensibilities her namesake seems to promise from the “noble savage.” Her being “Rousseau” is both obvious and ironic. If it’s a clue, the viewer can wonder whether Danielle had her child taken from her, as she claims, or abandoned it, as the philosopher did with his five children.
The philosopher Mikhail Bakunin believed in a socialist anarchism, freely-organized worker federations controlling the social order. Lost’s Mikhail Bakunin has an uncanny ability to survive fatal injuries, and is a brutal enforcer for his boss Ben (the sinister leader of the “Others”).
If the name is anything more than the creators having fun, the clue may be that, as with Bakunin’s rivalry with Karl Marx over taking over the existing state, the show’s Bakunin might have a serious difference of opinion as to how their community should run with his “master” Ben.
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