LOST Rewatch, Season 1, Episode 2

Locke explains backgammon to Walt.



AS JACK continues to tend to the medical needs of the ‘man with the shrapnel’, Kate and Sayid decide to climb a nearby mountain in order to use the transceiver (recovered from the cockpit) in the highest location possible. Joining them are Shannon (just to spite her brother Boone), Charlie (“I’m a coward”), and Sawyer (“I’m a complex guy”).

Back on the beach, John Locke and Walt have a short scene that is pivotal to the entire series, for it sets up the ‘game’ the Man in Black and Jacob are playing with the survivors:

JOHN: “Backgammon is the oldest game in the world.”….”Two players, two sides. One is light, one is dark. Walt, do you want to know a secret?”

We never hear the ‘secret’ that Locke passes along to Walt, but then that’s the point. Two major themes play out in the episodes of LOST: Good vs Evil and Faith vs Reason. To emphasize the point, the writers use Christian names (such as Jack Shephard and  Christian Shepard) alongside the names of well known philosophers. However, in the mix, we are teased with ‘secret knowledge’ that hints strongly at gnosticism. Black and white is a reference to more than ‘good and evil’ but also to the secret societies (a group that flourished during the 17th and 18th century period known as The Enlightenment).

As Locke offer up secrets to Walt, Jack recruits Harley as his assistant (again, a foreshadowing of the end), assigning Hurley to search the luggage for antibiotics and pain killers so that Jack can perform a rough surgery on the bounty hunter (with the shrapnel). Hurley proves to be a poor ‘nurse’, fainting as Jack pulls out the shrapnel.

Jack is healing while the hikers are fighting. Rumbles in the jungle prove to be our first polar bear sighting (never quite explained in the end), and Sawyer saves them all by shooting the bear with the gun he’d found in the rubble (along with a US Marshall badge). Sayid and Sawyer accuse each other of being ‘the prisoner’ while Kate remains silent, recalling bits of her shady past.

By this time in the original viewing of this episode, many in the audience may have assumed the island could be Hell or Purgatory, and that the ‘survivors’ were in fact dead. Now that we’ve seen the end, this possibility is still up for grabs. Certainly, most of the passengers brought a great deal of ‘baggage’ with them when they boarded Oceanic 815, and few, if any (save perhaps Claire’s unborn child), could be called innocent.

Though not heavily featured in this episode, Locke’s statement to Walt grants us more insight into the island than all other action combined. Battle lines have been drawn, and a deadly game has begun. And while we’re on the subject of John Locke, let’s explore his character for a moment. His name evokes reason, for the historic ‘John Locke’ is considered by many to be the ‘father’ of modern liberalism. His philosophical theories regarding man’s ‘self’ and ‘the mind’ influenced countless devotees of The Enlightenment. Locke saw man as a ‘blank slate’ (tabula rasa, which not coincidentally is the title of the next episode), waiting to be written upon. In this case, only the unborn child is ‘blank’. Also interestingly, the transceiver message picked up by the hikers is spoken by a French woman named Rousseau. Jean-Jacques Rousseau was a French philosopher whose theories on education were based upon Locke’s idea of the blank slate.

Black and white. Good and evil. Backgammon, the world’s oldest ‘game’. And ‘blank slates’. It’s as if the island is testing not only the passengers but also the theories. Does the ‘baggage’ carried by each passenger matter in this arena, or has each one now been given a ‘blank slate’ upon which to write a new chapter of redemption? It’s been pointed out by others that those passengers who die during the seasons do so shortly after working out their problems: eg. Shannon and Boone come to terms with their incest; Mr. Eko finds solace in building a ‘church’ to honor his brother. Though the writers have denied the purgatory theory, I find it the most reasonable explanation.

Can mankind ‘work out’ his/her salvation by undergoing tests as if playing a ‘game’? Does our Lord see us as merely pawns in a long chess match with Satan (a concept described by Stephen King in ‘The Stand’)? Once dead, is there a second chance at salvation in a place called ‘Purgatory’?

Scripture tells us that each one of us must choose Christ to live, for only through His sacrificial act can we obtain righteousness and forgiveness. That choice must be made prior to death. Hebrews 9:27-28 says this:

And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment: so Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many; and unto them that look for Him shall He appear the second time without sin unto salvation.

LOST implies that very thing: ‘Lost’, a state of no salvation. Let us rejoice that our Savior paid the price for our sins and that no such ‘game’ is required of us. We need only to choose Christ. That’s it. Human struggles, works, our most ‘noble’ efforts will gain us nothing, but a humble, contrite heart and a simple prayer asking Jesus Christ to come in, will gain us everything.

Next time: Episode 3, Tabula Rasa.

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