“Lockdown” (originally aired 03/29/2006)

The nature of a long-form serial narrative is that moments sometimes resonate more than episodes. There are certainly some of Lost’s 121 episodes that stand out as whole entities—“The Constant,” “Walkabout,” etc.—upon reflection, but in other cases an episode becomes associated with a single iconic scene that lingered with the viewer in a way the episode around it didn’t.

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“Lockdown” is not a bad episode of Lost, but it feels almost shockingly uneventful given how momentous it seems in retrospect. We pick up where “The Whole Truth” left off, but there’s no ambush in the jungle: in fact, Sayid, Ana Lucia, and Charlie spend a few minutes looking around safely in the rain before they discover the balloon and a grave, after which they disappear from the narrative entirely. The rest of the episode is split between only three stories: Jack and Sawyer using poker as a dick-measuring contest, Locke’s flashbacks to another key moment in his tortured relationship with his father, and Locke and Henry dealing with an unexpected lockdown at the hatch. There are no big action sequences—for the most part characters sit around as things happen to them.

And yet one of those things is one of Lost’s most iconic elements. The “Blast Door Map,” as fans would call it, represents the most significant clue offered to the audience regarding the series’ mysteries to date. The show has been toying with the audience on the subject of the island’s mysteries throughout, but it’s usually found in characters like Rousseau, or in details surrounding the Others. In most cases, we’re presented a specific question tied to a specific character or event, which we can subsequently add to a running list of mysteries that together form the series’ mythology (as commenter “clauditorium” has been collecting in these weekly reviews).

But the Blast Door Map is different. It is certainly a mystery in and of itself: Who made it? What triggers the lockdown mechanism? Why would the person who made it hide it in plain sight? And yet while those questions are something we can add to our running tally, it also promises answers. The episode treats it as something to pore over: look at how it lingers over it when it first appears, and how the switch to a wide shot pans slowly as though to give us maximum time to take in its scale. Locke’s intense gaze is matched by our own, to the point where the closeup of Locke’s eye reflecting the map is stripped of its specificity and matches the reflection of the television screen in our own. It’s a scene built for the age of the DVR, the pause button a necessity to break down the information we presume is contained within.

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But as the map is broken down online or published and analyzed in Entertainment Weekly, it becomes “Lockdown.” There is no doubt that the Blast Door Map is the episode’s most substantial legacy, but its answers—or red herrings, depending on the credibility of the person who created it—are there to feed mythology as opposed to the series’ other focus on plot and character. These areas remain a priority in “Lockdown,” but even when watching the episode I found myself jumping ahead to the map, my mind having determined that everything else in the episode was less important by comparison.

I won’t argue the rest of the episode is as memorable as the map’s fluorescent tease, but it makes an interesting character study for Locke. This is not a new story for Locke, despite covering a period we haven’t seen: as with many characters’ flashbacks, we’ve seen where his story is headed, and so our move chronologically forward eventually had to remove Helen from the picture. Moreover, the series returns to Locke being trapped between his father and his girlfriend, ready to propose until his father’s (fake) death pushes him back into being the dutiful son he so desperately wants to be. Locke is given every opportunity to betray his father: he could turn his location over the thugs Cooper’s hiding from, he could report the con to the police and turn over the money, or he could even take all of the money for himself if he really wanted to. And yet Cooper knows that Locke will do as he’s asked because he wants to be needed, and because he wants to convince himself that he has a relationship with this man.

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Whereas Cooper’s previous appearances have framed him as a villain, in the first instance actively committing an act of cruelty to his son, he is not a villain in the same way here. He does not force Locke to open that safety deposit box, or deliver the money to his hotel; heck, he wasn’t even forcing him to take the money. He was simply taking advantage of Locke’s sense of dependence the way a con man would, using Locke’s weakness against him. Unlike last time, though, Locke has no reason to be surprised, nor was he unaware of what he was doing. Time has passed since Locke had his kidney stolen from him, and his life is looking up: he has a solid job as a home inspector, he has a girlfriend he intends to propose to, and he was even able to forgive his father at his so-called funeral. But when Cooper shows up with a task, he just goes along with it, because John Locke is a man who needs to prove his own worth to the people in his life.

It’s why he’s struggling in his power struggle with Jack, as he navigates the sense of dependence he once felt (in which he sought the approval of men of authority like Jack), the forced dependence created by years in a wheelchair, and the air of confidence he’s been putting on to try to reinvent himself after the island’s gift of the ability to walk again. Henry’s comments bother Locke for this reason, and he’s forced to experience all of this when the blast doors come down—he needs Henry’s help to open them, and then becomes fully dependent once the doors fall on his legs, not so subtly mirroring his previous disability. Meanwhile, his choice to trust Henry further marginalizes him when Jack returns with Sayid and Ana Lucia, who dug up the grave and discovered the real Henry Gale inside, meaning that Locke’s trust was once again in the wrong place. Locke was put in a position where he made a decision to privilege one person over another, and no matter what context surrounds that decision—in this case nearly being paralyzed by a sudden lockdown—he will be held accountable for that choice by those around him.

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Jack and Sawyer’s poker battle over the medical supplies is fairly insignificant: the show is already jettisoning any major long term implications from Sawyer stealing the supplies from the hatch, and so this just moves the medicine back into Jack’s control. However, the climactic battle is notable for who’s watching: we’re brought back into the game through Hurley’s binoculars, and the fact they’re being watched ends up playing into Jack’s strategy. Sawyer isn’t willing to give up while others are watching, and Jack knows it—he may be willing to be a villain to the entire camp, but he’s not as willing to show weakness, something that makes him only too human.

“Lockdown” is pitched further forward than most episodes of Lost—after quickly resolving the tension of the cliffhanger, it focuses on building scenarios that converge with the three big reveals: the food delivery in the jungle, the news of Henry Gale’s grave, and then finally the Blast Door Map. But if we resist the urge to rush ahead to the next episode, we find an episode that despite its fairly sparse storytelling finds meaningful thematic resonance to linger in in addition to the frame-by-frame analysis of its most important contribution to the series’ legacy.

Stray observations:

  • This will be the last time I get to reflect on Katey Sagal’s place in the series’ narrative, so let us acknowledge how much good work she managed to do in only two episodes. Helen is one of the strongest “flashback” characters, and this was a nice precursor to remind us of her skill before she reemerged on Sons of Anarchy the following year.
  • The episode handles the Henry Gale reveal extremely well: we see the grave and the balloon, and then the implied innocence is reinforced by his willingness to help Locke, but then there’s a constant tension throughout the blast door sequence that he’s going to screw Locke over. The fact that he doesn’t offers more false security, at which point Sayid and Ana Lucia return with definitive proof he’s lying. It’s a lot of ups-and-downs, and it’s highly effective.
  • We’ll address “Henry” a bit more below, but I love that his alibi had everything it needed unless the people he led to the site were willing to dig up a body, which they were.
  • “Should I go and get a ruler?”—I know Kate is making a joke about Sawyer and Jack’s dick measuring contest, but it’s an empty threat given that they’re on a deserted island and Jack won’t let her in the hatch to look for one.
  • Jack learned to play cards in Thailand, you say? And Sawyer suggests that might be where his tattoos originated? Screw the blast map, these are the most important unanswered questions in this episode, and I greatly look forward to the surely crucial flashback that will answer them.
  • Daddy Issues alert: You know the drill.
  • Not sure what to make of Locke’s presumption that the woman whose house he’s inspecting has a husband—is it intended to signify that he has marriage on the mind, and forgets his manners? I found it very odd.
  • “When I need the guns, I’ll get the guns”—I like this line a lot, as it’s not a threat so much as a promise from Jack to Sawyer, reaffirming his commitment to the needs—rather than wants—of his community.

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“Dave” (originally aired 04/05/2006)

If “Lockdown” is an episode built to make viewers obsess over the mysteries of the island, “Dave” exists to force self-reflection for those same viewers.

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Although marginal to the series’ “plot” in most instances, Hurley is perhaps more directly tied to the island’s mysteries than any other character. The Numbers are unnaturally central to the hatch, and the fact that they seem to have followed Hurley to the island positions him as a crucial figure to unlocking its mysteries. However, he’s had nothing to do with the Others, or Henry Gale, or much in the way of the “adventures” of the island. While he ended up being present when the hatch was blown up, he’s faded into the background since, his connection to the space defined more by his food addiction than by his interest in exploring what the Numbers mean.

Those two perspectives converge in “Dave,” where Hurley struggles to grapple with his life on this mystical island. As with other characters—Charlie and his addiction foremost among them—the island represents a chance for Hurley to change himself, but that change is being tested. Charlie had his heroin plane, and Hurley had his hatch pantry, and then the hatch delivery that came during the lockdown in the previous episode (which Charlie exposits early on, the writers realizing the correlation was unclear in the previous episode). Even when he makes significant progress, sharing a moment of connection with Libby as he destroys perfectly good food that others surely could have enjoyed, he’s constantly tempted by some outside force willing him to resist positive progress.

Writers Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz make a logical connection to Hurley’s time at Santa Rosa, the mental facility where he met Leonard and the whole Numbers situation began. We learn another piece of Hurley’s backstory, which is that he was institutionalized after losing grip of his life following his involvement in a deck collapse that killed some of the people involved. It’s an answer to the question of why Hurley was in a mental facility, and we get what you’d expect: through an imaginary friend Dave (Evan Handler), Hurley sabotages his progress, punishing himself for being overweight and causing harm to others and himself as a result.

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That story is typical, and a bit tired, with the “Dave’s imaginary!” reveal seeming so predictable on rewatch that I have to presume it was pretty easy to predict the first time through as well given how it fits the genre of the story. But it’s another flashback that bleeds into the island, with Dave joining Kate’s horse and Jack’s father as pieces of storytelling transferring from one time to another. This bleeding has typically been used to help characters reach an epiphany, whether it’s Jack finding the caves or Kate confronting her relationship with Jack and Sawyer—here, Hurley faces the idea that he’s “crazy” similar to Shannon’s visions of Walt, with Libby talking him off a ledge and convincing him that he doesn’t need to follow his imaginary friend off the cliff to find progress, leading to their first kiss.

We can talk about Hurley and Libby’s relationship a bit more later in the season—preview: I don’t buy it, and not because she’s too hot—but it’s important to acknowledge that Hurley’s insanity is not clearly bounded to himself in this case. It is not simply that Dave’s appearance on the island signals Hurley losing his mind, creating tension around him “going crazy” that leads him to attack Sawyer and rush off with a jar of peanut butter; instead, Dave argues to Hurley that his reappearance signals that all of this is a figment of Hurley’s imagination. Everything—the plane crash, the smoke monster, the budding romance, the hatch—is nothing but Hurley’s dissociative break following Dave’s exit from Santa Rosa.

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This revelation creates obvious ramifications for Hurley, whose ties to the Numbers suddenly become a significant point in Dave’s favor: isn’t it weird that the Numbers followed him there in such concrete ways? Isn’t it strange that those numbers would come from a mental institution? At the same time, though, this argument has ramifications for the audience, in that it sounds exactly like the kind of crazy theorizing that surrounded the show’s mystery within popular discourse. Whereas “Lockdown” prompted us to ask questions of the show, “Dave” prompts us to ask questions of ourselves, and of whether or not we’ve committed to something that could end up being a meta-commentary on the Tommy Westphall Universe.

Kitsis and Horowitz will get a reputation for their winking nods to the meta-narratives surrounding the series, and “Dave” is certainly a big part of it. That said, we have no reason to believe that all of this is a dream, and Libby’s argument that she has thoughts independent of Hurley’s own rings true. We don’t want this to all be a dream, and we can quickly identify the series playing with our own insecurities to prove a point. The show wants to be able to have us identify with the characters, whether it’s Hurley determining if the island is all a figment of his imagination or the castaways gauging the credibility of Henry Gale. The show wants us to have opinions, but it also wants us to constantly question those opinions—this is no more clear than in the episode-ending reveal that Libby was herself institutionalized with Hurley, which means that they could be having some sort of shared hallucination following her logic. This uncertainty fuels some of the series’ storytelling, particularly in later seasons, and foregrounds questions about the island’s origins that become key building blocks at this earlier stage.

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From a plot perspective, meanwhile, “Dave” brings us our first glimpse at the “real” “Henry Gale.” The episode doesn’t fully break down the façade—he still won’t acknowledge his real name—but we see “Henry” work on the fly to find a new angle on the situation. In his new and precarious interrogation position, he starts out arguing he had simply stumbled across the body, but then Sayid pulls out a note that proves Henry survived the crash, at which stage “Henry” starts posturing. He wasn’t the one who killed him, you see, and they should all be scared of this other guy—not the one with the beard, though, he’s just a pawn in this whole situation. It’s a lot of bluster, and it continues to reinforce that we have no way of trusting his word: he may no longer be lying about whether he is one of the Others, but the castaways have no way of confirming what he says about his people, resulting in only a minimal increase in certainty.

However, when an injured Locke—on crutches after refusing a wheelchair—gets his five minutes with “Henry” to figure out how this man could have lied to him, we have better reason to believe at least part of what the prisoner has to say. It’s still too soon to know whether he’s telling the truth about the button—talk of magnetism sounds right, and we know about the hieroglyphics, but we have no way of knowing if he really pressed the button or not. However, the way he interjects when Locke off-handedly suggests “God knows” how long the Others have been on the island does not feel like manipulation. He even clarifies, unprompted: “God doesn’t know how long we’ve been here, John. He can’t see this island any better than the rest of the world can.”

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This isn’t an evasive answer to a question, nor does it seem designed to push a particular button for Locke in the same way that Dave is triggering specific issues for Hurley. This is not a targeted attack so much as an outburst, a moment where he has to interject for reasons that go beyond whatever game he’s playing. While acknowledging that I have the advantage of knowing where the story goes from here, which undoubtedly colors my view of these scenes, there is still plenty of evidence to turn us into amateur sleuths, leading us down the rabbit holes that could eventually end in Tommy Westphall’s snow globe as far as we know at this stage.

“Dave” suffers a bit in retrospect when you know where the rabbit hole really leads—not because the rabbit hole leads to disappointment, but because the episode is so caught up in our internal tension as viewers. Its playfulness is appreciated and important to the series’ tone, but it’s also self-referential to the point of dating itself to a time that I had trouble returning to in revisiting the episode.

Stray observations:

  • Okay, so Hurley destroying all that perfectly good food when they’re on a deserted island and before he knows that there was another shipment of food that arrived the night before is absurd, right? Is he afraid they’ll be angry at him for hiding the food to begin with? Wouldn’t they just be like “Oh man, food!” That’s how food works!
  • What’s Mr. Eko Building?: Well, it’s made of wood! That’s all we’ve got at this stage, really. Charlie outright asks what he’s up to, at least, and Eko’s all “not right now.” Okay, then!
  • “Don’t you have an adventure to get to?”—this line from Sawyer to Kate also felt like something of a meta-commentary on the series’ “settling” into their new situation versus running off to the tune of Giacchino’s adventure theme.
  • Note that they echo the “foot in foreground” shot of Locke from “Walkabout” when we check in on his leg injury.

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Spoiler Station (Only read if you’ve seen the entire series):

  • Obviously, Kitsis and Horowitz will go full meta when they dive into “Exposé” in season three, which fully turns over the narrative structure of the series to the failure of Nikki and Paolo. Spoiler alert: only God knows how long I’m willing to defend “ExposĂ©.”
  • The relationship between time and the various locations in the series is a key piece of linking the various time periods together, and so I loved the moment of recollection that washed over me when Hurley was walking with Dave through the Santa Rosa basketball courts, thinking ahead to the scene in “Beginning Of The End” where he and Jack meet there.
  • We’ll address Libby more in the weeks ahead, as promised, but boy does that last reveal land with a thud given where that character arc ends. Yeesh.

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Next week: Sending out an “S.O.S.” for the mostly-absent Rose and Bernard, and finding another absent castaway instead.