“Deus ex Machina”
Originally aired March 30, 3005
Am I the only one that loves the Locke episodes the most? This is one of my mostest favoritest all time episodes ever. For real. It’s surreal and sad and nightmarish, and yet, it offers a glimmer of hope at the darkest moment. Even if we don’t know what it all means yet.
Poor Locke. After a life that lacked meaning, he found his calling, his purpose here on the island, he just can’t quite put to words what that is exactly. But he knows it’s here, he knows that when he’s ready, the island will reveal it to him. This, of course, is called faith. And Locke’s got it in spades. At least he did until the island demanded a sacrifice …
A big box store. (It’s a Costco in real life, but I think it’s irrelevant.) Locke works there, and part of his uniform is a hilarious toupee!
I’ve ranted about this before, but My! Lord! is the costume department
How much can they really cost? I’m willing to chip in if it means that Jack won’t look like he’s had one too many screwdrivers and decided that a piece of fake rabbit fur would make a nice surgical cap in any more flashbacks.
Anywheres. Locke is setting up the game Mousetrap, which I never had as a child, but I always wanted, but in retrospect, I probably would have lost a handful of the pieces upon opening the box, rendering it utterly useless, so it’s all for the best, I suppose. Locke shows a young boy the game and explains how you play: one by one, you assemble the pieces to make a trap, and when your opponent lands in the correct spot, once you get everything just right, you spring the trap. GOTCHA! And then he notices Swoosie Kurtz staring at him with her crazy eyes. Locke asks if he can help her, and then points her in the direction of the footballs — on aisles 8 and 15, natch.
As he’s leaving work, there’s Swoosie Kurtz again, lingering in the parking lot, giving Locke the crazy eye. She starts running away, Locke follows, nearly getting run down by a car in the process. When Swoosie Kurtz finally stops, she tells Locke that she’s his mother. WHA?
Locke takes Swoosie Kurtz to a diner where she explains that she’s arrived to tell Locke that he’s special. Very, very special. Part of a grand design, in fact! And that the two of them meeting this way? Sign of amazing things to come. And, by the way, Locke doesn’t have a dad: he was immaculately conceived! Like Jesus! Which? By the way? Is amazing. But less amazing than the fact that Swoosie Kurtz was 7 years old when she had Locke.
So the deal is, Locke spent his life going from foster home to foster home, never knowing his biological parents, and now, out of nowhere, there’s a Swoosie Kurtz with crazy eyes, claiming that she’s Locke’s long-lost mother and that she conceived him parthenogenetically. So Locke does what any reasonable person would do: he hires a detective to look into his parents.
And the detective turns up some very interesting information. While Locke was going in and out of new foster homes, Swoosie Kurtz (Emily Annabeth Locke, actually, but whatevs.) was going in and out of mental institutions. She’s schizophrenic, but it’s manageable. As for Locke’s father, the detective cautions Locke that he may not even know that Locke exists. As such, seeking him out, opening this door may not be the best idea. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be. And being reunited with his father? Might not have a happy ending. But Locke doesn’t care …
Lost note: Locke’s mother’s name is Emily, as is Ben’s. Both men lose their mothers early in life and both men have visions of their mothers on the island. But what does it all mean?
Turns out, Locke SCORED! Daddy’s LOADED! Locke drives up to an imposing house surrounded by a big ol’ gate and a guard and everything. Eddie, the guard, lets Locke past the gate after checking with the main house. And inside we meet Anthony Cooper for the first time.
Big, white-haired, charming man, Cooper laughs off the awkwardness and asks Locke what Swoosie Kurtz had to say about him. Locke is truthful: Swoosie Kurtz told him that he was immaculately conceived. This strikes Cooper as funny and notes that this must make him God. Cooper’s version of events is this: Swoosie Kurtz gets pregnant, tells him that she’s not going to have the baby, and then falls off the face of the earth. Later she shows up, tells Cooper that she put the baby up for adoption, and asks for money. Cooper invites Locke to go hunting and presto! All is forgiven.
Lost note: Anthony Cooper was a historical figure: a patron of the actual John Locke. Cool!
And apparently Locke and Cooper establish some sort of relationship around hunting, because Eddie, the gatekeeper, recognizes Locke when he drives up to the gate these days. They’re going hunting again, or so Locke thinks. When Locke goes inside Cooper’s house, he finds his father receiving dialysis. Why, Locke’s early! He’s not supposed to see this! Cooper certainly didn’t want his long-lost son to know that he has kidney failure, and needs a transplant! Why, that’d just ruin things between them.
So they go out dove hunting, and after giving Locke some hunting tips (apparently you have to lead the birds? I don’t know.) Cooper waxes all emotionally about how at least crazy Swoosie Kurtz brought them together while there was still time … not that he wants Locke’s kidney or anything. Hey! Let’s go get Locke’s bird!
And that’s how Cooper got Locke to agree to give him his kidney! Pretty good, right? The two of them do a little last-minute bonding in the hospital before the big surgery, and Cooper assures Locke that he’ll see him on the “other side.” Indeed!
But when Locke wakes up? No daddy. Apparently, he went home for private care. And that’s when Swoosie Kurtz arrives and reveals that the whole thing was Cooper’s plan: he needed Locke’s kidney, he made Locke think it was his idea to give it to him, and it worked! Locke, however, is stunned, and can’t believe that Cooper has done this to him. Believe it, Locke!
So Locke, still bleeding from the kidney removal, heads to Cooper’s estate, only to be turned away by Eddie. Poor Locke. He lost his kidney and his imaginary nice daddy all in one day. But hey! He still has that ridiculous wig! So, you know, that’s … something.
The island! Onward!
Sawyer’s been having headaches lately, bad ones, and he’s turned to Dr. Sun’s herbal remedies to no avail. Kate seeks out Jack’s advice, Jack doesn’t want to help Sawyer, but he does, blahdeddy blah blah BLAH. The long and the short of it? Sawyer worries that he may have a brain tumor (his uncle died of one), but, in fact, all he needs are glasses. Turns out, he’s strained his eyes reading all those books since coming to the island (Wrinkle in Time this week — R.I.P. Madeline L’Engle). Jack doesn’t make this diagnosis, however, until after he tortures Sawyer a little, asking him in front of Kate about STDs and prostitutes. And Sayid solders together a pair of glasses. And Sawyer can read in less pain. The End.
O.K.! Locke! So, he and Boone have built this trebuchet thingy? Right? And they are going to use it to smash their way into the hatch? And Boone? He’s starting to lose faith? But? He’s also sorta amazed that Locke can go from quoting Nietzsche to being an engineer, right? And he’s like: what’s your story dude? But Locke? He doesn’t want to bore Boone with it? And then the trebuchet? It doesn’t work? It just, like, crumbles into eleventy thousallion pieces? And Locke? He’s really ticked, because this was supposed to work? And he’s so busy being angry that the trebuchet failed that he totally doesn’t notice the GIANT PIECE OF SHRAPNEL JUTTING OUT OF HIS LEG. Ouch! and Eww!
That night, alarmed at his leg injury, Locke starts jabbing himself with a safety pin. Ouch! and Eww! and, Nope! Feelin’ nothin’!
Back to square one. Locke and Boone begin work on Trebuchet 2: The Trebucheting, and Boone is all Why didn’t the trebuchet work? and What will we do if this trebuchet doesn’t work? And it’s irritating Locke, who finally lets slip that the island will let them know what to do. And Boone is like acrazymansayswhat? But Locke quickly realizes what he says and hobbles off.
So, as Locke’s working on his replacement trebuchet, Boone arrives and announces that he’s done working with Locke. He doesn’t believe that Locke can open the hatch, and that it’s a “dead end.” If they were meant to open it, why haven’t they? And Locke starts stammering about how the island will show them a sign — that it’s merely testing their commitment, their faith. And as Boone continues to mock Locke (Hee! that rhymes!), there’s a sound: the sound of an engine! A plane engine!
And sure enough, there’s a plane! crashing! onto the island! Locke glances at Boone to see if he saw it too, but Boone is covered in blood and saying “Theresa falls down the stairs, Theresa falls up the stairs,” over and over again.
Which is weird in and of itself, but then whaddya know, but there’s Swoosie Kurtz! And she’s pointing! At something! And then? Locke’s in the wheelchair again, which as you can imagine, he doesn’t like.
But no worries, Locke! It was all a dream! Locke wakes up from this and immediately goes and rousts Boone from sleep, which I would find TOTALLY UNCOOL.
So once in the jungle, Locke explains to an incredulous Boone his dream, and Boone’s all: you’ve been taking hits off your own wacky paste, old man. But Locke then asks Boone who Theresa was, and why she was falling down the stairs, and Boone goes all wide-eyed, and Locke’s like, that’s right, I just dropped some science on ya, let’s go.
As they continue along into the jungle, Boone’s still struggling to figure out how Locke would know about Theresa, and that’s when Locke’s legs give out underneath him, and it’s from there, on the ground that Locke notices a rosary hanging in the bushes. Well, where do you think that came from, wonders Boone, and Locke yanks down a skeleton from the tree above.
Anyway, the skeleton is dressed in priest’s clothing, and Locke points out that the polyester fabric makes it next to impossible to tell how long it had been there. The skeleton has Nigerian cash, and a gun and Locke quickly jumps to the conclusion that perhaps he’s not actually a priest.
Locke and Boone continue on, and Locke’s legs are really starting to fail now. Boone insists that they turn back, and go see Jack, but Locke insists that Jack wouldn’t know what’s wrong with him. Finally realizing that he needs to explain to Boone his past to justify his crazy behavior, Locke tells Boone that he was in a wheelchair for 4 years prior to the crash. Boone finds this acceptable, and they continue on until they can’t anymore, and Boone sets Locke down. This time it’s Boone’s turn to confess, and he tells Locke that Theresa was his nanny as a child, and he was cruel to her: he would call her on the intercom all day, making her run up and down the stairs fetching things for him. One day she slipped and fell down the stairs breaking her neck. Wow. Nice going Damien.
After Boone makes this little confession, Locke glances up and begins giggling inappropriately, which Boone understandably doesn’t take well. But Locke’s not laughing at Boone’s story — he’s laughing because lo and behold, over Boone’s shoulder, there precariously perched on a cliff, is the plane that Locke saw crash in his dream. Boone confirms that this is the same plane, and asks Locke how long it’s been there. That doesn’t matter, Locke explains. What’s important is what’s inside, and Boone is going to go up there and find out.
So Locke, unable to walk, sits at the bottom of the cliff as Boone scales it, heading up toward the plane. Once there, he climbs inside, and the plane makes some rather unsettling noises, shifting in its position on the cliff. Boone discovers maps of Nigeria and a bunch of Virgin Mary statues. Irritated, Boone tosses one of the Marys down to Locke, which shatters in front of him, revealing baggies of heroin inside.
Here’s your big sign, Locke. The passengers of the plane were drug dealers. Super. Boone then notices a radio, and moves toward it, shifting the balance in the plane to Locke’s chagrin. Boone turns the radio on, and calls out a mayday signal, and OH MY GOD, SOMEONE ANSWERS! Boone excitedly calls over the radio that they are the survivors of Flight 815, as Locke is screaming from below at Boone to get out of the plane. And just as the radio responds: “Hello, we’re the survivors of Flight 815,” the plane falls off the cliff with Boone inside. D’oh.
Locke, mustering all his available strength, rushes to the plane, and finds Boone bloodied and in shock. And somehow, Locke manages to lift Boone onto his shoulders and carry him back to camp.
Once there, Locke leaves Boone with Jack, explaining that Boone fell off a cliff while hunting. But before Jack can ask Locke any more questions, poof! he’s gone.
And where’d he go? To take out some rage on the hatch, that’s where. Pounding on the metal door, and sobbing, Locke yells at the door: “I’ve done everything you wanted me to do. So why did you do this to me?” And then? At Locke’s lowest moment, at the moment of his greatest crisis in faith, a light goes on inside the hatch …
As you may remember from high school English, “Deus ex Machina“ is a literary device that came from a literal device in Ancient Greek drama. “Deus ex Machina” translates into “god out of a machine” and it was this crane that would lower actors who were playing gods into the play, often to resolve an unresolvable issue.
The phrase now refers to a literary convention in which a resolution to a problem comes from outside the confines of the plot. It’s a cheap device that has frustrated critics for centuries, the first being Aristotle in his Poetics. Aristotle argued that the Deus ex Machina “should be employed only for events outside the drama — for antecedent and subsequent events, which lie beyond the range of human knowledge, and which require to be reported or foretold; for to the gods we ascribe the power to seeing all things. Within the action (of the play) there must be nothing irrational.” What he’s saying is that the outcome of the play must follow from the events within the plot. It must be a logical resolution.
So how does this all relate to our episode? Well, I think it’s complicated. It’s difficult to pinpoint what, exactly, is the Deus ex Machina in the episode. Was it Locke’s dream? The sudden loss of the use of his legs? The sudden appearance of his parents in his life? Or is it literally a machine: the airplane? the trebuchet? the hatch, and its light turning on? Could it be all of the above? Could the episode really be about the “god” of the island coming out and descending upon the stage via Locke’s dream to create this particular resolution: the light going on in the hatch? I honestly don’t know and am curious to hear your thoughts on the matter.
What is interesting is Aristotle’s critique: that the resolution needs to fit the logic of the previous action. There’s nothing logical about this episode. Locke receives a vision and follows it. We don’t know where the vision came from — is it supernatural, is it merely coincidence? Whatever it is, it isn’t logical and it doesn’t meet Aristotle’s criteria.
But! Here’s the thing! This episode is not the end of the story. The events in this episode set off a string of unintended and unforeseen consequences that stretch far into the future. This episode is closely connected to Eko’s story arch, connected to Desmond, and even connected to Charlie and his visions. So instead of viewing the action in this episode independently, we have to look at how it works with the entire story. As such, personally, I think that Locke’s vision that leads him to find the plane is an (almost) acceptable Aristotelian Deus ex Machina. It is something of an antecedent event which lies beyond the range of human knowledge — the island is somehow supernaturally setting events into motion.
You can’t discuss “Deus ex Machina” without noting how it fits in with other episodes. In “Fire + Water,” Charlie has his own vision of his Mother and Claire urging him to save the baby. Overhead, we see the Beechcraft, once again, crashing — before turning into a dove. This vision, like Locke’s in “Deus ex Machina,” gives Charlie a purpose on the island: save the baby.
In “?” Season 2, Eko receives his own vision. And when he follows it with Locke’s assistance, they find themselves back at the Beechcraft, where Eko discovers his brother. They also, of course, discover the Pearl Hatch, which sets off contradictory reactions in Locke and Eko. What they find in the Pearl Hatch destroys Locke’s faith in pushing the button and solidifies Eko’s faith in it.
And then, of course, we learn in “Live Together, Die Alone,” that Desmond was on the verge of killing himself when Locke pounded on the hatch after Boone’s accident. Desmond realized he wasn’t alone, and lived on to continue pushing the button, thereby saving the world. It’s all part of a grand design! It was meant to be …
It’s all about faith. Locke’s unwavering faith in the island is finally tested in this episode. Since he arrived on the island, Locke had received nothing but signs that there was something powerful about the island: his ability to walk was restored, he happened across this weird hatch, and, for the first time, he found his place in life, he found a purpose.
Remember, this is a man who we’ve seen bounce from job to job to job: home inspector, big-box store employee, account manager at a box company, minion at a commune. He’s seeking meaning, purpose. And here on the island, he’s not only found a place and purpose but the respect of many of the younger survivors, including Walt, Boone, Charlie, and Claire. He has faith that this island will lead him to his destiny — after all, so far, so good, right? But then, the island provides this very strange dream, whose meaning Locke struggles to decipher. And he does his best to follow the island’s directives, only to injure Boone, and no progress made on the hatch. Faith: tested.
Compare this to Eko. Eko, before his vision in “?” is skeptical of Locke’s faith in the island. He is the one who warns Locke to not mistake coincidence for fate. But! Once he has his own vision that leads him to the same place Locke finds in this episode, Eko’s faith in the island and his purpose there is cemented.
And then there’s Desmond’s faith that he’s no longer alone; faith that is affirmed thanks to the island sending Locke to the plane, and sacrificing Boone, and momentarily losing his faith and pounding on that hatch. Discovering that he is not alone saves Desmond, and is interestingly mirrored in this episode when Boone converses with the tailies on the radio in the Beechcraft. They are not alone. And isn’t that what religious faith ultimately is all about? Knowing, beyond physical proof, that we aren’t alone? Boone serves as the boon that restores so much faith …
I find it so interesting that the means through which the island affirms its presence is via dreams: dreams that are almost impossibly inscrutable, but in retrospect, so telling. Dreams and prophecies obviously play a huge role in ancient literature, biblical tales, and mythology. My favorite example, Oedipus Rex, but also poor crazy Cassandra, the Oracles at Delphi; and then all the Biblical prophets: Daniel, Elijah, Joseph, and all those guys …
The idea that the gods are willing to bless the special among us with visions of the future is an appealing and popular story. There are always consequences to knowing what is to unfold, however. People often think you’re crazy, often you become an outcast, and sometimes you misunderstand the vision given to you. Which, I think, is sorta what happens to Locke here. He’s given all these pieces: the plane crash, Boone bloodied, the phrase “Theresa falls up the stairs, Theresa falls down the stairs,” himself in a wheelchair, his mother, and even the sound of pottery breaking. But he misunderstands how the pieces fit together, or even what the point is. He thinks the vision is going to lead him to how to open the hatch — he tells Boone that it’s not important how long the plane has been there, but what’s inside the plane. This is inherently wrong. In reality, I believe the vision is preparing him for the fatal injury of Boone.
(I’m putting this paragraph in parenthesis because this thought just occurred to me, and I haven’t really had much time to mull it over and find ways to poke holes in it. But dig. What if “the island” or whatever isn’t choosing to provide the visions to those who receive them. But! Instead! The visions aren’t “visions” per se, but actual glimpses into the future. We know that there is something wonky about time and the island: what if Locke, Eko, et al are seeing glimpses of time, not unlike what happened to Desmond, but on a much smaller scale. And they are taking these little snippets of time and getting them mixed up with their own subconscious mind, producing this surreal vision, which then comes true. So what’s the difference between seeing the future and receiving a prophecy from God or whomever? Not much, so far as I can tell. It may be an explanation for what the visions are, if not how or why they occur to certain people. Meaning, there may still be some sort of sentient force — be it the island or Jacob or whatever — that facilitates the visions to certain people, but that the visions are actually similar to what happens to Desmond, they’re flashes of time. A. Does this make sense? and B. Is it kind of redundant? Meaning: who cares what the visions are or how they happen — their message is what’s important, and I’m missing the point. Also! Could the little Wrinkle in Time clue be a nod to this?)
Later, Locke will tell Jack that Boone was the sacrifice that the island demanded, which, you know, is kinda a horrible way of looking at his death. It doesn’t mesh well with our Judeo-Christian sensibilities regarding what God would demand of us. This, of course, echoes the Abraham/Isaac story. Abraham, if you will recall, received a message from God that he needed to sacrifice his son Isaac. So, being a good believer, Abraham led his unwitting son up Mount Moriah. Once at the top, he prepared to sacrifice poor Isaac, when an angel appeared and stopped him, providing a ram to sacrifice instead. We’ve got a couple of father-son sacrifices going on in this episode, neither of which is prevented by a Deus ex Machina of an angel suddenly appearing. Cooper convinces Locke to sacrifice his kidney to him, and Locke sends Boone up the mountain to his death. Both Locke and Cooper convince the younger men to sacrifice themselves, not unlike Abraham and poor Isaac.
And while we’re on the whole biblical tip, there is obviously some other religious symbolism going on in this episode; we’ve got a lot of falling again — Locke falls multiple times, poor Theresa falls down the stairs to her death, and Boone falls in the plane: the Fall of Man.
But in terms of knock-you-over-the-head religious imagery, we have the Virgin Marys, and the dead priests. Neither the Marys or the priests are what they first appear to be. The Marys are filled with drugs, and the priests (with the exception of Yemi, of course) are actually drug runners and murderers.
Similarly, Swoosie Kurtz, and Anthony Cooper while biologically are Locke’s parents, are not real parents at all. Like the Virgin Marys, Swoosie Kurtz is not what she seems, merely establishing contact for monetary benefit (and the whole “you were immaculately conceived” line fits in nicely with the Virgin Mary imagery, of course), and Cooper, like the dead priests, is no “father.”
They are cons: the Virgin Marys are cons, the priest collars are cons, the whole, “let’s have a real father-son relationship” is a con. Cons, cons, and more cons, which litter the show at every turn, and which the writers cleverly set up with the opening scene where Locke explaining the game Mousetrap. There are many mousetraps in this episode. Cooper’s con is a mousetrap, and Locke is the little mouse. The events on the island all are pieces of the puzzle that lead up to Boone, the little mouse, dying. But I also think that the writers are being a little meta here, and suggesting that what they are doing, the way they put together each piece of the puzzle of this story is not unlike the game of Mousetrap, and we, friends, we are the mice.
Alright, kiddos. I’m going to be taking next week off for Thanksgiving, and we’ll find out Boone’s fate on November 28th. You know, I had planned out my blogging breaks in such a way as to finish season one just as season four was about to start. But now, with the writers’ strike, there’s a debate raging over whether or not to air the 8 episodes they have completed, or to postpone the season. UGH. I’m honestly not sure which would be worse. What about you? Which do you think would be more awful?
Lost originally aired on ABC and is now available to stream on Hulu and IMDb.
This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Tubular.