In these stories we also need a Judas or a Benjamin Linus for another reason. Could we have continued to view John Locke positively if he killed himself? The notion that Jesus essentially committed suicide would also trouble most Christians, and yet there is a sense in which publicly proclaiming the kingdom of God in Caesar’s kingdom might be considered “suicidal”. We feel a need for Judas to betray Jesus, and for Ben to kill John rather than for John to kill himself, so that their deaths can be considered necessary, inevitable, perhaps even salvific – but not, ultimately, self-inflicted.
Human beings in a wide variety of cultural and religious contexts find it comforting to think that everything happens for a reason, and this is a theme explored not only in various science fiction contexts in which notions of fate, destiny, and one’s path have been touched on (including not only LOST but also The Matrix and Star Wars films among many others), but also the very different Slumdog Millionaire.The truth is that we human beings seem to feel two needs in dire circumstances: the need to have some malevolent force to blame, one that is relatively weak and capable of being overcome; and the need to believe that a higher benevolent power is in control. And while such resonances continue to make for powerful storytelling, when it comes to real life, it is time for humans (and for our religious traditions) to begin to accept that this view of things is ultimately self-contradictory and thus unstable. If the death and resurrection of John Locke or Jesus of Nazareth are foreordained, then neither the one who tries in vain to prevent the inevitable, nor the one who maliciously brings it about, has any guilt. The answer in this case is “D: It is written”.
But why should we find it consoling that a slum-dwelling orphan wins millions of rupees, or even that a man dies and rises again (I’m referring to John Locke, of course – who did you think I was talking about?), when millions are left in their slums or in their graves, apparently not having been singled out as “special” by destiny?
Last night’s episode of LOST tried to get us to rethink the situating of Benjamin Linus and Charles Widmore in relation to one another and the polar opposites of good vs. evil. But it may be that both are trying to manipulate John, and indeed it may be that the “game” they are playing with one another features John as perhaps the most valuable piece on the playing board, but John is not a player in the game but merely a piece. And if so, is being the king better than being a pawn?
It is even more interesting, perhaps, to consider the notion of destiny in relation to another famous story of death and resurrection, echoes of which we are intended to hear in LOST, as the discussion of Thomas the apostle on a recent episode clearly indicates. Charles Widmore reminds one of Peter, whose response to the prediction of Jesus’ impending death was to say that he would never let that happen to him. Ben Linus, on the other hand, takes on the role of Judas. He helps fulfill the prophecy and yet seems at the same time to be betraying rather than cooperating with Jesus/John, all the while bringing about that which is destined to occur.
Is it any wonder that thinkers have pondered the figure of Judas with such attention, or that scholars have wrestled with the interpretation of the Gospel of Judas? How are we to make sense of a story in which the one who tries to defend Jesus’ life is called Satan, and yet the one who brings about his death is “destined for destruction”, one who would have been better off not being born? How can fighting destiny and assisting it both be condemned?
The episode was full of other interesting details. Why doesn’t John ask Walt to return to the island? Will Walt return anyway? Have we seen the last of Matthew Abbadon? Should we believe Charles Widmore when he says that he and other heavily-armed people protected the island peacefully for decades? If so, how did he end up in that role of protector of the island? And why does Richard seem to have happily accepted Ben’s leadership, even while looking for his replacement? Who or what is Richard Alpert anyway? And now that John Locke has returned to life, is he any more or less alive than Christian Shepherd? Watching LOST is really enjoyable at this stage, when questions are being answered and yet there are still enough loose ends and mysteries to keep us wondering. But I sometimes worry that the loose ends will never be able to be adequately tied up. And so we may ask a question about LOST akin to that asked in Slumdog Millionaire: If LOST manages to wow us right up to the end, will it be because of genius, luck, cheating, or because “It is written”?