Episode Title: Stranger in a Strange Land
Brian's Deeper Meaning Guess: While I had some initial ideas about the meaning of “Stranger in a Strange Land”, I started this week’s analysis the same way I do ever week – googling the episode title to see if it’s a reference to some book / movie / song that might give us further insight to the episode. Sometimes, the search is a waste, and it’s pretty clear that the title is either pulled from a line of dialogue (“Not in Portland”) or some central theme of the episode (“The Cost of Living”). Other times, the search reveals a lot of very intriguing results. This week is one of those weeks.
“Stranger in a Strange Land” is the title of a science fiction novel written back in 1961. It tells the story of a man, Valentine Michael Smith, who was born and raised by Martians on Mars (obviously), but then returns to Earth as an adult. It’s a “fish out of water” type-story, where the main thrust of the book is Valentine assimilating himself to the human culture – full of consumerism, violence, greed, sex, drugs, and rock and roll. It’s a sharp contrast to the Martian values that Smith was raised on – which focused on inner discipline, immortality, spiritual bonding, and the concept that all people are God, and we should all love each other. Sounds pretty nice, right? It also sounds exactly like the Others.
We’ve seen the Other’s love of the Buddhist concepts of discipline and spirituality on numerous occasions, and they actually seem to have a nice little utopian society put together under these guiding principles. Reading the summary of the Martian ideals, it reads like the Others’ manifesto except for one item – immortality. But that got me thinking…
I know the popular Lost theory these days is time travel, and we have long theorized that there is some sort of “funky time” on the Island - but maybe we’re looking at it from the wrong perspective. Perhaps time actually passes normally on the Island, but the people on it are somehow unaffected by the passage of it. It’s not really immortality, as in the book – because we’ve seen Others die – but more of a “life extension” concept (but not in a Vanilla Sky sort of way).
Remember that the original purpose of the Dharma Initiative was to research and change the factors in the Valenzetti Equation, which forecast the extinction of mankind. We also have been told that they failed, and couldn’t change the factors. However, that’s not to say that the scientists stopped their work. What if, once they realized that they couldn’t change the factors, they turned their focus to themselves – to find a way to make them unaffected by them?
There have been plenty of hints at this research – from the decaying skeletons (an early experiment gone terribly wrong?) to the Others wombs appearing much older than their outward appearance (a side effect of the life extension – some parts still age normally?). It could also explain why the Others are reluctant to leave the Island. You could even go so far as to say that the Island is acting as some sort of natural “fountain of youth” due to its “unique magnetic properties”, and the scientists were just finding ways to mess with these powers in their experiments. If that were the case, it could also tie into the Pirate Ship and Ancient Statue Foot – the remnants of former civilizations who sought out this mythical “fountain of youth” and settled the Island.
Wow – that was a pretty big tangent, even for me. Back to the task at hand…
Looking at the current situation on the Island, there are two characters just like Smith in the novel – strangers in a strange land – Jack and Crazy Carl. Since this is a Jack flashback episode (his EIGHTH – far and away the most of any character on the show), it’s probably more likely a commentary on his current state – but Crazy Carl’s situation is actually more similar to the book, since he is the one coming from the “Utopia” and the Survivors represent all the vices of “Earth Culture”. Jack’s is the exact opposite of the book.
But, since I have a creeping suspicion that this episode will deal solely with Jack (we might get some shots of Kate, Sawyer, and Crazy Carl continuing their journey to the Main Island, but I’m banking on Jack taking up about 80% of the screen time), we’ll focus our attention on him and assume Crazy Carl doesn’t hit the beach until next week’s episode.
Jack is in a peculiar situation – he actually kept his word and saved Ben (which should earn him a one-way ticket off the Island), but also held Ben’s life hostage in a rogue attempt to free his friends (which should earn him a one-way ticket to the guillotine). Yet, neither seems to be the case. From what we’ve seen in commercials, Jack is being held hostage there a la Kate and Sawyer. It seems pretty clear that the Others intend for Jack to stick around for a while until they decide what to do with him – and in order to do so, he needs to learn to fit in.
I’m hoping that through these assimilation attempts, we will finally get some major reveals about the Others (although this is – mark it – the third time this season I’m calling for us to learn the true nature of the Others, and I was wrong the first two times). Be it Rave Room brainwashing, having Cindy sweet talk him, or putting him through hard manual labor to “break him”, I’m expecting Jack to go through Others Boot Camp.
It should be noted that at the end of the book, Smith is murdered… but Lost wouldn’t actually kill off Jack, would they? I don’t care if Entertainment Weekly gave 20-1 odds of Jack dying, the death watch is officially on!
One more thing – while the book seems like the most likely reference for this episode, there’s also one other possibility. “Stranger in a Strange Land” is also an Iron Maiden song. Typically, I would dismiss this since the nerdy Lost writers don’t strike me as metal fans – but there is something very intriguing about this song:
It’s found on Iron Maiden’s CD entitled “Somewhere in Time”. Seriously.
Talk about a weird coincidence. I looked into the lyrics of the song, but they don’t really look to apply to the episode since they describe an arctic explorer who dies and is frozen, his body being discovered by other explorers one hundred years later (although if we wanted to stretch it, I’m sure we could apply it to the skeletons / Pirate Ship / Polar Bears or something).
But if nothing else, it’s yet another reminder / hint that there is something funky going on with time on the Island.
Episode Description: A power play ensues between Jack and "The Others" as Juliet's future hangs in the balance. Meanwhile, Kate, Sawyer and Karl continue on their journey away from "Alcatraz."
Episode Breakdown: Remember back in the day when Lost episode descriptions were more than two sentences long? Once again, we’re given very little to go on (which in a way is nice, because it makes the episodes more of a surprise), but I’ll do my best.
By the sounds of the description it’s Juliet who is in deeper water than Jack, although technically Jack is the one who almost killed Ben. Not surprisingly for a freaky cult, the Others clearly don’t take betrayal lightly. It’s also worded to make it sound like Jack has some sort of bargaining chip in the whole thing – which I can’t imagine. If they only wanted Jack to complete the surgery (and since he wasn’t on Jacob’s list), it seems that his usefulness is done. I’m more expecting Jack and Juliet to be in the same situation – people who were promised to be sent off the Island even though they participated in some shady shenanigans to get there – and the power play becomes the decision on what to do with the two of them.
The second sentence probably is merely an extension of Lost Moment 12. Which reminds me…
Lost Moments. We need to go through our Lost Moments to find more hints about what lies ahead in this episode!
Lost Moment 12 – Kate tells Sawyer they need to go back for Jack, Sawyer calls her crazy.
It’s pretty clear that Sawyer is going to win this argument, and the two will continue their journey to the Main Island, where they’ll circle the wagons Buffalo Bills style before attempting a Jack rescue mission. I’m curious if Crazy Carl will remain passed out for the entire journey (or is he just pretending to be asleep so he doesn’t have to help paddle? Lazy Crazy Carl!) to begin offering us some nuggets of information about the Others and how he fits in with them. But that’s probably me being too hopeful – maybe next week.
Lost Moment 8 – A sexy Asian woman comes into a room where Jack is sleeping, immediately strips out of her clothes and jumps on him. The two roll off the bed.
Obviously from Jack’s flashback, I have some major questions about Bai Ling’s character – mostly because I’ve read that she’s supposed to be on Lost for not one – but THREE episodes. Since this week is Jack’s flashback, it makes sense. But how in the world is she going to show up on two more episodes unless she is actually on the Island? And if she is actually on the Island, where does she fit in? An agent of the Others that was tracking Jack pre-Flight 815 crash? Didn’t we determine that the crash of Flight 815, while attributable to fate, wasn’t a premeditated event by the Others? Is she just going to appear in creepy visions to Jack a la his father for the next three weeks? Or have we just been fed misinformation from those crafty Lost producers, and she really only appears this week? (More than likely).
At any rate, this flashback also promises to reveal the meaning behind Jack’s tattoo on his arm. For those who don’t know, the tattoo is actually legit – Matthew Fox actually has it. Rather than cover it up, the Lost creators decided to write its origin and meaning into the storyline of the show – and have mentioned that it’s kind of a big deal. Fox himself has always been very tight-lipped on the meaning of it, but luckily for us, there are plenty of Internet Nerds who are versed in Chinese and Lebanese to spill the meaning:
The first character means "Eagle". The second character means "Strike" as a verb. The third one means "Long" and the final one means "Void".
This four characters are part of a couplet taken from a famous poem written in 1925 by the Chinese revolutionary leader Chairman Mao Tse-tung (Mao Zedong). The couplet can be translated into "Eagles high up, cleaving the space". But the poem itself has a much deeper meaning. In the end of the first stanza, the poet asks, “who masters fate's rise and descent?"
Like most tattoos featuring Chinese characters, the characters are not rendered 100% correctly in Fox's tattoo. The second character "Strike" is a simplified Chinese character while the first and third characters are traditional Chinese characters. The last character, "Void", can be considered as of either form. The reason for this mismatch could be that the form of "Strike" in its current Simplified Chinese form is very similar to the triangular shape above the characters.
As for the shape above the Chinese characters, it seems like a Lebanese Phalange party symbol (Phalanges Libanaises). The Spanish phalangists also have a similar symbol. The shape looks like a Lebanon cedar tree and similar symbol also appear in the national flag of Lebanon. Also, the Maronite Cross has similar shape. Phalange also means the bones of the hand and foot. In human beings, there are 5 fingers or toes on each limb. That may be the reason there are a number 5 under the phalange symbol and 5 arrows pointing out from the phalange symbol.
The Falange (Phalange) movement is generally considered a right-wing political movement inspired by the Italian Fascism. In Spain, the Falange was an authoritarian political organization founded by José Antonio Primo de Rivera in 1933 in opposition to the Second Spanish Republic.
In Lebanon, The Phalanges Libanaises was founded in 1936 by Pierre Gemayel after seeing the discipline and authoritarianism of Nazi Germany. Its initial aim was to protect the Maronite position in Lebanon; in 1958 it entered the political arena to oppose growing Arab nationalism.
Finally, the "BC" characters on the far right of the arm seems to mean "Bad Character".
So are we in store for a Chinese and political history lesson this episode to garner the meaning? Not likely. I’m betting that we get a simplified explanation of the Chinese phrase dealing with fate (very Losty), and the 5 being a reference to Jack’s “5 second rule" about letting the fear in that he’s mentioned numerous times on the show.
Still, it’s pretty cool.
Lost Moment 5 – Jack wakes up in a cage, surrounded by Others… and Cindy. He asks Cindy how she ended up with them. Cindy tells Jack they are there “to watch”.
Also known as the best of all the Lost Moments, this is the reason I’m so excited for this episode. If you recall, Cindy was a member of the Tailers, but she wasn’t kidnapped during the first few nights on the Island. Rather, she was picked off during the journey across the Island to meet up with our Survivors. This brings up a few very interesting questions:
Is she a “good one”? If so, why wasn’t she taken right away like the rest of the kidnapped Tailers? Did it take longer for the Others to decide if she was worthy or not?
What happened to her? She seems to currently be a card carrying Other. Was she a member of Dharma all along, who just used the trek across the Island as an opportunity to sneak away and rejoin her Other comrades? Again – this would seemingly indicate a “master plan” about the crash of Flight 815 that goes against all the evidence we have. Or has she simply already gone through “Other Assimilation” in the Rave Room?
What does she mean by “we’re here to watch”? Are they acting as guards, learning their lesson from Kate and Sawyer that it isn’t too hard to climb out of those oversized cages? Or are they “studying” Jack, a rare chance to observe someone from the outside world – like an animal in a zoo?
Or… have the Others decided to use Jack as a guinea pig for their wacky experiments? If so, they may have already done some sort of experiment on Jack, and Cindy and the Others are observing the results and any reactions that Jack might have? If you buy into the “life extension” or even the “funky time” theories, it’s not too far-fetched that they’re studying him to see how he has changed since he’s been on the Island. This seems like the most logical answer, but getting to it would require some pretty major reveals about the nature of the Island and the purpose of the Others.
It’s sweeps – a guy can dream.
We’ve had two kickass episodes of Lost since the break, and I look for this week to continue the trend. The commercials for this week’s episode promise three big reveals. The meaning behind Jack’s tattoos are one, but I think it’s a stretch to call that a “big reveal”. I think most people could really care less. However, the other two do offer the potential to be huge – an explanation about why the Others kidnap the children, and what happened to Cindy after she disappeared.
If we actually get explanations about those two, they could potentially change our understanding of the Others, their purpose, and how our Survivors fit in to everything… which could potentially eliminate a lot of the potential theories floating around out there, and open up some new ones. But it would push us one step closer to a greater understanding of the show. Once we understand the Others, we can shift our focus to answering some questions about Smokey… or the magic powers of the Island… or the Pirate Ship… or CFL… or the Four Toed Statue… or how to get off the Island… or the two skeletons… or any of the hundreds of other questions we have about the show.
But hey – it would be nice to cross at least one mystery off the list.