"Lost" in Translation: "I always do what I say."

Definitely not a sunny-side-up kind of guy.

Mercenary, mobster, whatever, Martin Keamey has got the real evil flowing in his veins. During his island days a couple of seasons back he tromped the underbrush like a squared-away psychotic. Killed everything in sight. Murdered a terrified little girl while her father watched. Blew up the boat and crew that had delivered him, as a kind of backwards gratuity. (he had other reasons too, but still)  Q’uest que ce? Run, run, run away.

So no surprise that parallel Keamey, now a gleeful mobster in Los Angeles, has his goons deliver parallel Sayid to some kind of spotless industrial kitchen, where he greets him warmly, offers to make him eggs any way he likes, with toast. Sayid refuses, so Keamey shrugs and eats alone, promising to murder his guest’s brother, sister-in-law, children and dog (implied) if he doesn’t see to brother’s ongoing debt payments. So this isn’t going well at all for Sayid, particularly since he already turned down brother’s earlier plea that he mete out some two-fisted justice to these same thugs in order to avoid this very eventuality. Parallel Sayid said no way – he’s a different man now, no longer close to the Iraqi Republican Guard torturer he once was, hey, didn’t he set up his brother with his own beloved Nadia? For whom he still visibly, painfully, yearns?

The point: Parallel Sayid has kicked the darkness. He doesn’t do evil shit anymore, not for any reason, not even to protect his loved ones.

But may be he really doesn’t like eggs? Sayid certainly didn’t want to be threatened by Keamey and friends, he’s got this survival impulse like no other. And so whiz-bang-boom, suddenly things go quickly sideways for Keamey: Sayid thumps one mobster, snatches his gun and kills the other guy while said other guy accientally drills mobster #1. Keamey, no longer hungry, seems to kneel: Slow down! Let’s just forget about this, okay? Debt forgiven. Life goes on. We’ll just forget about this, okay?

Sayid: “I can’t.”

Kablammo.

So that’s it for Keamey, again, and that’s interesting enough ’til this muffled thumping comes from a walk-in freezer, in which alterna-Jin is inexplicably tied up and walk-in-freezing. WTF?  A real bad-ass would just drill this mystery Korean and get on with his far-less-complex life. But you just know he’s going to rescue this stranger, and give him his freedom.

Thus the essential conflict in Sayid’s soul: He’s extremely good at violence, and has used it against legions and legions of people, not always in the service of the most moral ideals. But Sayid is a moral person at heart. Or at least he really, reallly wants to be: He knows right from wrong, he yearns to save the innocent. It’s just that life keeps throwing him Keameys. When bad people come to town the good ones turn to Sayid and ask him, pretty please, to do some righteous ass-kicking.

For most of “Lost” Sayid served as a human animation of the US’s war against Iraq and (arguably) every armed conflict any self-described moral society has entered. We all know war is essentially brutal and ugly. Once you unleash the darkness you can never keep it from destroying the innocents.  And yet we do it again and again, cloaked in vibrant red, white and blue, with spotless white hats and the true conviction that God is on our side.

You aleady know the contradictions at work here: Can anyone use darkness in pursuit of justice? And once you do it once, is it ever possible to scrub the blood from beneath your ragged fingernails?

One of the most compelling things about “Lost” is that it doesn’t seem to know for sure. It’s a dramatic thriller that certainly wields the catalytic thrill of redemptive violence. But it also understands and makes (painfully) clear that the true toll of those battles can’t really be known or understood. Because even the victors lose something when they take out their antagonists. You kill a piece of your own soul when you extinguish someone else’s. And as Island Sayid — already pegged by Guru Donen as unredeemably evil — lost all grasp on his moral compass, eventually opening the gates of the temple to the true embodiment of evil (NotLocke/Smokey, Crazy Claire and probably worse) he really did believe he was acting as a liberator: Saving the innocents, killing their leader and his aide-de-camp (Lennon, whose round glasses and center-parted hair were clearly intended to evoke the peace-singing Beatle whose own divided heart was pierced by another psycho killer).

“I always do what I say,” NotLocke/Smokey promised crazy Claire. So does the USA, we like to believe. We storm in, kill the leaders, burn the villages and wait for the terified locals to shower us with flowers and thanks. And when they don’t — often because they’re too busy suffering the consequences of our redemptive violence — we shrug, declare victory and forget about it. It’s morning in America: Time for eggs, toast and a long, hot shower.

As if you could scrub the shadows from your soul. As if you really were light and verity, free of even a wisp of darkness.

I quote again from my song of the moment, Kasey Anderson’s beautiful, cihlilng “I Was a Photograph.”: “I was numb back then/I ain’t even numb no more.” 

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