“The Greater Good”
Originally aired May 4, 2005
We’re nearing the end of the season, and frankly I’m a little down about it. But! The good news is that we’re one week away from the release of Lost: Season 3 DVDs. I CAN’T WAIT! And neither can my DVR. Tuesday, December 11th is the day when the discs go on sale, and I’ll be first in line for my copy. I can’t wait for Santa, I’m afraid.
We are in London’s Heathrow airport, and Sayid is being dragged, excuse me, escorted through it by two soldiers. (Insert TSA joke here about Sayid trying to carry on a 6-ounce bottle of shampoo, but then realize that we’re in London and that they don’t have a TSA over there, but then wonder if the same ridiculous flying rules apply when you’re in a foreign airport, and think about looking it up but then figure that would take too much time, and instead decide to work it into a labored parenthetical joke.) Sayid is brought to an interrogation room, where he has the pleasure to meet a CIA agent and an ASIS agent. See, over in Australia, some C4 was stolen from a military base by a group of terrorists, and the Australian government would like it back now, please. Sayid, understandably miffed that he’s being mistaken for a terrorist, is like good luck with that! But then the CIA and ASIS agents inform Sayid that what they want is for Sayid to infiltrate the group, seeing as one of its members is his college roommate.
And, I gotta stop right here and say that this is a great example of the optimism screenwriters have about the competency of our federal government. The idea that the CIA could figure out that Sayid was a terrorist’s college roommate and then track him down and then convince him to perform a dangerous mission on their behalf, is, well, sweet. Improbable, but sweet. Yes, yes, I understand: Kelvin’s relationship with Sayid is why Sayid is on the CIA’s radar. But. Still.
Anywhose. Sayid is going to infiltrate the group, see, because they know where Nadia is. You know, the chick that Sayid has been running all over the world looking for. For 7 years now. And if he wants to see her again, he’s going to first have to visit his old roommate.
Lost note: This isn’t anything important, certainly, but it looks like Sayid was on the right trail in his search for Nadia. After all, in “Greatest Hits,” we learn that, indeed, Nadia was in London. Sayid was just a few years too late, I suppose.
So, he goes. And he plops himself down in an Australian mosque where his old buddy Essam just happens to be worshipping! Well, whaddya know? Small world! Essam has been in Australia for a while now cutting down trees, and Sayid? He’s just on vacation. How’s stuff? Well, Essam’s girlfriend? wife? sister? cousin? Zaharaa was blowed up somewhere where bombs frequently go off — presumably Iraq. So that’s a bummer. Hey! Let’s catch up at Essam’s place!
Which is filled with terrorists. Sayid makes himself useful by debugging the fire alarm, which quite impresses the terrorists. Hey! Maybe Sayid running into his ol’ buddy wasn’t just a coincidence, but FATE!
Sayid and Essam play a little soccer and chat about the terrorists’ upcoming little event: blowing up a bunch of innocent people, and Essam’s going to be the master of ceremonies! Yippee! Problem is, Essam’s not so sure he can go through with it …
So, Sayid, being a good friend, heads back to the CIA and ASIS agents and is like, hey! Can’t we figure out a way to keep Essam out of this? And the agents are like, does he know where the explosives are? And Sayid is like, uh, no. They kinda keep us in the dark about the details. So the agents are like “so sad, so bad (as my 3-year-old says).” So Sayid? Is like, well count me out. And then? The agents? Are like, yeah, well, if you don’t help us and convince Essam to blow himself up we’re going to arrest your girlfriend. And Sayid? Is like, yo. That’s cold.
Now Sayid has to go back and tell Essam that he has to blow himself up. See, Essam has this little issue with killing innocent people. I know, what a baby, right? So Sayid has to sell brutal suicide/homicide to his friend. It’s for the greater good! It’s a way to prove how much Zaharaa meant to Essam. Hey, did Sayid mention that he lost someone, too? Because he totally did. And as a result, he’ll never be whole again. And if he doesn’t blow himself up, it’s like he never cared about Zaharaa. And Essam buys all of this, and asks Sayid to blow himself up with him, and Sayid is like, totally!
And then one day, as Sayid is just walking down the street, a van pulls up next to him and the terrorists inform Sayid that it’s time. They drive Sayid to some sort of warehouse where a truck filled with explosives is waiting. The terrorists hand Essam and Sayid a couple of bogus uniforms and a gun and send them off with wishes of good luck. They’re heroes! OK! Thanks very much! Goodbye!
Sayid and Essam hop into the truck and pray. And after a moment, Sayid tells Essam everything: he’s been working with the CIA, he’s about to call them, and Essam has 10 minutes to get away. See you later! But Essam, understandably, feels betrayed and reminds Sayid that he said that he lost someone, too. Yeah, about that. See, Sayid lost touch with this chick? And the CIA knows how to find her. Essam, now COMPLETELY appalled, draws a gun on Sayid, and who can blame him? Sayid said he was his brother, and then he said they’d be blowing a bunch of Australians up for the “greater good” and it was all a big stupid lie? Essam hopes that this chick can make Sayid whole again, and then he turns the gun on himself. Bye Essam! Shame you killed yourself, ‘cuz you were really pretty cute!
The flashback’s still not over yet? Really?
Alright. So, Sayid meets with the CIA and ASIS agents, and they hand him a plane ticket, some cash, and Nadia’s information.
She’s in Irvine, Calif., and she works for a medical testing company as a lab tech. (What’s a “medical testing company?” No, really, I have no idea what they’re talking about here …)
Sayid, concerned for his friend, asks what will happen to Essam’s body, and is informed that he’ll be cremated. Which is a problem, because Muslims must be buried. So he demands that they give him a new plane ticket so that he can make sure Essam’s body is treated with the proper ceremony. And that’s why Sayid was on flight 815! Lucky breaks all around for Sayid!
The island. Not good things are happening on the island. Really not good things.
Let’s begin with Claire and Aaron. Claire’s tired. Really tired. Tired like those of you who have never given birth have never known. Charlie offers to take care of “Turnip Head,” i.e., Aaron who hasn’t been named yet, so that Claire can get some rest. She’s reluctant, but Charlie promises that no one will take her baby from her, and she agrees. And then goes off to sleep like the dead.
But Charlie is having a hard time keeping the little tuber quiet, despite singing to him. Hurley attempts to help, but his version of I Feel Good, isn’t doing the trick, either. Nope. There’s only one thing on this island that can calm T-Head, and that’s the dulcet tones of James “Sawyer” Ford. Eventually, Charlie manages to get Sawyer to read some car magazines to the little guy …
(Although I use “little” liberally. This is unquestionably NOT the same baby from “Do No Harm,” but rather his 4-month-old cousin.) which is where Claire finds them when she awakens from her very necessary nap.
You know who else needs to take a nap? Claire’s big brother. He’s a mess, what with the 24-hour-long triage he attempted, and all the blood he drew from himself in a fruitless attempt to save Boone. But instead of lying down, Jack’s out wandering around in the jungle looking for Locke. But between his lack of tracking skills (See: “All the Best Cowboys Have Daddy Issues”), his pig-headedness (See: “White Rabbit”) and his blood loss (See: “Do No Harm”), Jack’s just wandering in delirious circles when Kate finds him. Jack’s all mad because Locke lied about the cause of Boone’s accident, but Kate gently reminds Jack that the folks at camp are kinda freaking out about Boone’s death, and don’t know what’s going on, so maybe Jack needs to pull it together and quit acting like a lunatic. Also, he looks terrible.
His leadership questioned, Jack agrees to return, just in time for Boone’s funeral. Lucky him. Jack asks Shannon if she wants to say anything, but she doesn’t. So Sayid steps in instead, offering that Boone was very courageous and that he will be missed. (Aww. Sniff.)
And this is when Locke decides to show back up to camp: he offers that Boone’s death was his fault. They found a plane, Boone went up into it because Locke’s leg was injured, Boone found a radio and tried to call out on it, but his weight shifted, and the plane fell and he died a hero. But Jack’s REALLY NOT INTERESTED and demands to know where Locke was, and what he did to Boone, calls him a liar and accuses Locke of leaving Boone to die as he makes a running tackle on Locke.
Sawyer and Charlie (really?) pull Jack off of Locke, who soon collapses because that was a lot of energy to expend on a half-pint of blood. Jack then explains to Sayid that Locke is lying: that Boone mentioned something about a hatch, a hatch that Locke had told Boone not to talk about. And then everyone’s like: go to bed Jack. But Jack’s all: NO!
So Kate takes him back to a tent and drugs him. Night, Jack!
Lost note: Kate’s quite the pharmacist! She helps Sun drug Jin later on (well, really Michael, but that was an accident), and she drugs her husband, Kevin, before she leaves him. It’s always for their own good, of course.
When Jack finally awakens, he’s a little miffed that Kate gave him a bunch of sleeping pills, but he’s even MORE miffed that someone has taken the key to the gun case. Uh-oh! Wonder who? Probably Locke! Unless it’s not!
When we last left Shannon in “Do No Harm,” she was mourning her step-brother/hookup Boone. Sayid watches, and offers to do anything for her, and explains that Boone didn’t want Jack to use up all the antibiotics on him. ‘Cause he was noble and all that. Shannon is unresponsive.
So, then after the funeral, and Jack’s little hysterical scene with Locke, Jack revealed to Sayid that Locke was lying and there might have been something about a hatch, right? Well, apparently after this, Locke heads over to do a little damage control with Shannon. He offers her Boone’s bag, and something of an apology, adding that he knows what it feels like to lose family. Yeah, boo-hoo, Locke.
And apparently, this ticks Shannon off enough to go back to Sayid and ask him to take care of John Locke, if you catch her euphemism.
Sayid, being the good boyfriend, approaches Locke as he washes out his Boone-blood-soaked T-shirt. His giant kidney scar exposed, and asked about it, Locke refers to it as his “war wound.” Ha? Anyway, Sayid questions Locke about the radio from the airplane, and whether or not Locke would take him to it so he could salvage some parts.
And into the jungle they go. It doesn’t take too many questions for Locke to figure out that Sayid is essentially performing an interrogation on him; but when Locke asks Sayid if that’s what he’s doing, Sayid wonders why he would be interrogating Locke. Because Jack called him a liar, Locke responds, and perhaps there’s a part of Sayid that doesn’t believe that there is a plane. But? The thing is? Sayid knows when he’s being lied to — there’s a plane. Indeed, Sayid, and here it is!
They poke around in it a little, and Locke shows Sayid the heroin. Blah blah salvage the radio blah. And Locke wonders why Sayid doesn’t trust him. Really, Locke? Do you see yourself as a trust-worthy kinda guy? Because it’s not really the vibe you give off. But anyway. Sayid responds that he doesn’t trust Locke because he walks around with a gun he hasn’t told anyone about, for starters. Locke hands over the gun with the explanation of the gun and the priest and Nigerians and now? Now does Sayid trust him? Well, not really. Locke merely handed over the gun when he was caught with it. So then Locke makes a tactical decision. A very very risky tactical decision, and tells Sayid that one time when Sayid was whooped over the head with a stick and his transceiver was destroyed? Yeah, that was Locke.
Sayid takes this information poorly.
He pulls the gun on Locke, and Locke explains that he did it in everyone’s best interest. After all, Sayid’s big plan at the time was to locate the location of a radio broadcast that repeated the phrase “they’re all dead,” which just didn’t seem particularly sensible to Locke. Everyone’s so fixated on getting off the island, they’re not seeing things clearly — just like with the raft. Sayid, understandably asks if Locke destroyed the raft, too, but Locke denies it. So then Sayid asks about the hatch. Locke blanches, but just a little, and makes up some claptrap about hatches being on planes — kinda like this Beechcraft here! Maybe that’s what Boone was babbling about! And Sayid lowers his gun. Back to camp!
There, Sayid approaches Shannon and explains that he did talk to Locke, and he believes that Boone’s accident was just that: an accident. This is not what Shannon was wanting to hear. Not happy with Sayid. Stomp stomp stomp.
And apparently she stomped directly over to Jack’s tent, took the key, and headed straight for the gun stash. Sayid informs Jack and Kate that they’re going after the wrong person, and they head into the very very rainy jungle. Where, indeed, Shannon is holding the gun on Locke. Sayid tries to tell Shannon that she’s not thinking rationally (Hey, guys? Yeah. Never say this to a woman.) and that she’s never shot a gun before. So she shoots a round into the ground. So now she has! And then, as Sayid pleads with her to not shoot Locke, she ignores him and fires one off. Sayid tackles her, Locke goes down, but it merely grazed him. He’s fine. It’s all good.
Later, Sayid’s hanging at the beach and Kate plops herself down next to him, to reassure him that he did the right thing — after all, he didn’t have a choice. Ah, Sayid counters … there’s always a choice.
And he chooses to go talk to Locke. He notes that Locke has another “war wound.”
And Locke offers that he knows how much it cost Sayid to save him from Shannon’s bullet. Sayid, in response, says one of the most interesting things on the series: “I did it because I sense you might be our best hope of surviving here.” Sayid goes on to say that he doesn’t forgive Locke, nor does he trust him. And now Locke will be taking him to the hatch.
Where shall we begin with this episode? How about with “the greater good” or utilitarianism? Considering the title of this episode, it seems as good a place as any. “Utilitarianism: n: doctrine that the useful is the good; especially as elaborated by Jeremy Bentham* and James Mill; the aim was said to be the greatest happiness for the greatest number.”
In this episode, utilitarianism is explored in many ways. Claire is urged by Sun and Charlie to give the baby to someone else to care for so that she may rest. This is just human kindness, of course, but there is also a practical reason as well: if Claire is too exhausted, or worse too ill to take care of her newborn, the baby will suffer as well. Giving the baby to Charlie to take care of, while it goes against Claire’s maternal instincts, is for the greater good.
Similarly, Jack like his sister, has gone through a physically draining experience, and yet doesn’t want to rest. Kate goes to the rather extreme measure of drugging him to ensure that he will get much-needed sleep. If the only doctor is too ill or exhausted to aid the rest of the group, they’re all up the creek. A doctor is a valuable commodity on this island, as evidenced both by the extreme measures Benry went through to get his hands on Jack after his own surgeon was killed, and by the disarray the survivors fell into when Jack was kidnapped by the Others. And then, of course, Sawyer sacrifices his dignity for the greater good of everyone’s sanity, by reading to Turnip Head to keep the baby quiet.
(*Interesting side note: Bentham was the name that some people thought was listed in the obituary in “Through the Looking Glass.” It wasn’t. Or maybe, it was. The problem is, it’s hard to read.
According to lostpedia.com, the name is ~antham. So, did the props department misspell Bentham, or is it not Bentham at all? Frankly, I don’t see how they can make out that first “a” from this, but I also read somewhere else that the name was Lantham, so what do I know?)
And then there is Sayid. Sayid urges Essam to carry out the suicide mission, saying that it is for the “greater good.” By this he means that the innocent lives that Essam is worried about ending are the necessary sacrifices for the good of their overall mission. Their people in Iraq will perhaps one day benefit from the deaths of the people in Australia. And this, of course, is the ugly flip-side of utilitarianism: in the end, it comes down to numbers. If you could kill one person in order to save 50, should you? According to the tenets of utilitarianism, yes. But morally, this opens up a whole can of worms.
Aside from that, what gives this episode some of its layers is that Sayid, of course, is conning Essam (Ah! More cons! This entire show is just con after con after con. Could it be that they are pulling one big elaborate con on all of us?) on behalf of the government. Sayid has to convince Essam to kill himself to prevent it from happening. So, in talking Essam into killing himself for the “greater good,” Sayid himself is actually acting in it. Not that he is doing it for the right reasons, of course. Sayid, in reality, isn’t deliberately acting in the greater good at all: he’s doing it merely for personal reasons: his relationship with a woman.
And this Sayid changes on the island. On the island, Shannon asks Sayid to kill Locke out of revenge for Boone’s death. Additionally, Sayid has his own reasons to seek revenge on Locke, what with the whole bashing him up over the head thing. Instead, Sayid spares Locke’s life, even though he knows it will damage his relationship with a woman. Why? For the greater good, of course. He believes that Locke may be the best chance the survivors have of surviving on the island. Which is such an interesting statement, isn’t it? Sayid doesn’t believe that Locke can get them off the island, but rather keep them alive on it. Which, perhaps is true. After all, as we learn in “The Man Behind the Curtain,” Locke may have a special connection to the island: he can see Jacob. Whatever that means. But the point is, Sayid has enough concern that they won’t be getting off the island, that the greater good to be done with Locke is to keep him alive so that they can survive on the island. Sayid puts aside the personal for the survival of many.
The tricky thing about utilitarianism is that it suggests that there is a group that will lose out. If you are making the best choice for the many, then someone, a smaller group, will be affected negatively. With the greater good comes a sacrifice. In this episode, the sacrifice is Sayid’s relationship with Shannon, and his need for revenge. And then there’s Essam. I’m having trouble with Essam’s role as a sacrifice in this episode. On the one hand, Sayid and the CIA use Essam for their purposes: to find Nadia and the explosives. He’s something of a sacrificial lamb in that sense. And there is a parallel drawn between Essam and Boone, in that they both were manipulated by men they trusted and believed in and then essentially kill themselves.
But. The tricky thing for me is that Locke sent Boone on his mission believing that he was doing the best thing for everyone, and then Boone dies. But Sayid, while working on behalf of the greater good, is only doing it for selfish reasons, and that’s why Essam kills himself. He’s upset with Sayid not because he betrayed him (although I’m sure that didn’t make him feel any better), but that Sayid betrayed him for a woman. And that’s where I get tripped up with the comparisons between the flashback and island events in this (and “Do No Harm” and “Deus ex Machina”) episode.
I understand: Sayid has learned that he should put aside the personal for the greater good of many. But if he hadn’t been acting selfishly in Australia, innocent people would have died. And I suppose the point is that had Sayid not talked Essam into doing the mission that he was reluctant to carry out, Essam might still be alive. But, then, the government wouldn’t have recovered the explosives and innocents would have died. So, I guess the point is that for the greater good to be accomplished there will always be a sacrifice: and it was Essam in this instance.
Yeah. Thanks for being patient with me as I worked that out.
Right, and I’d be remiss not to mention that Christian points out to Jack in “All the Best Cowboys,” that he sacrificed his relationship with his son for the greater good: to make Jack a great surgeon. Also, in the Sri Lanka video that was released during the Lost Experience, The Hanso Foundation, under the leadership of Thomas Mittelwerk, is making plans to kill off a third of the population of an island: for the greater good of humanity, of course. Sacrifices, sacrifices.
And since The Hanso Foundation has been mentioned, let’s talk conspiracy.
This episode sends up the conspiratorial red flags for me in a big way. And for one big ol’ reason. Haddad, the leader of the terrorist group, upon meeting Sayid, says: “Perhaps it’s not happenstance that you and Essam met at the Mosque. Perhaps it is fate.” Except that it’s neither. It’s pure conspiracy. Sayid and the government manipulated the situation so that Sayid would “cross paths” with Essam. As I mentioned earlier, it was a con. It was planned well in advance, the government agents knew who they were targeting, and Sayid was playing a role. It’s really not that different from Sawyer’s cons that he played on women, women who he had compiled enough information on to know that they were both worthy and manipulable targets. It’s also very much like the Others: Ben collects information on the survivors, they play dress-up, and they are several moves ahead of the survivors. (Something small, but in retrospect, I wonder if it was a clue about the true nature of the Others: before Sayid and Essam are loading up into the van for their mission, Haddad hands them uniforms to wear. Because, of course, they are attempting to disguise the fact that they are suicide bombers. Could this have been an early hint that the Others that we would encounter in the future are not who they seem to be?)
So, what to make of this? It was neither fate nor coincidence that Sayid and Essam met. So, what else has been manipulated? What else has been attributed to “fate” or “coincidence” but in fact something else was at play? A plan afoot, if you will? The plane crash? Desmond’s crash? Any number of events in the flashbacks, including Claire’s visit with Richard Malkin, the psychic? Hurley winning the lottery? Sayid meeting Kelvin? Christian meeting Ana-Lucia? Hurley, Libby, and Locke’s mother all being in the same mental institution?; Susan’s (Walt’s mother) death?; Christian’s death? How much is fate? Coincidence? Conspiracy?
Was the plane crash a conspiracy? Were the people who died in it the sacrifice for the greater good?
You wanna talk conspiracy?
By the way. Heroes “Volume Two: Generations” is done. And I gotta say, I’ve never been more excited about the return of Lost. As uneven as the second season of Lost may have been (although I am not among those who feel that way), it can not compare with how disappointing this mini-season of Heroes was. In no way. And, you know what? I’m kinda glad Heroes fell on its face. This may be petty, but as much as I enjoyed season one of Heroes, I became very tired of the inevitable comparisons to Lost and how Heroes was soooo much better because they weren’t so impenetrable and obtuse, and they tied up their mysteries sooner.
Frankly, I think there’s a lot to be said about keeping the mystery alive.
Lost originally aired on ABC and is now available to stream on Hulu and IMDb.
This post originally appeared on the Hearst site Tubular.