The Return of Dostoevsky: Episode 6.12

“Leave us to ourselves, without our books, and at once we get into a muddle and lose our way–we don’t know whose side to be on or where to give our allegiance, what to love and what to hate, what to respect and what to despise. We even find it difficult to be human beings with real flesh and blood of our own…” —Notes From Underground

In “Everybody Loves Hugo” Hurley is rummaging around Ilana’s camp when he glances down at a very sandy book. It is Fyodor Dostoevsky’s short novel, Notes From Underground, in the original Russian. This is Dostoevsky’s second appearance in the series; his work first appears in “Maternity Leave” when Henry Gale (aka Ben) is held captive in a vault at the Swan station. Locke offers him some reading material in the form of The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky’s last novel and greatest work. Ben, however, is unimpressed and wants to know if they have any Stephen King instead. Later, Ben draws a map to Henry Gale’s balloon on the back of this novel’s title page.

Notes From Underground, a much shorter work, is the story of an unnamed, self-isolated character who tortures himself by trying to identify and strive toward humanity’s highest virtues, but eventually realizes that, for all of his well-intentioned philosophizing, his ideas ring hollow and life seems empty. This early existentialist (or, more precisely, pre-existentialist) work proposes that the essence of humanity is not goodness or virtue or even personal interest; rather, it is free will that makes us human. The man from the underground declares, “One’s own free and unfettered volition, one’s own caprice, however wild, one’s own fancy, inflamed sometimes to the point of madness–that is the one best and greatest good…What a man needs is simply and solely independent volition, whatever that independence may cost and wherever it may lead.”

If the writers understand its basic message, the inclusion of this novel hints at an existential reading of this season. Whatever happened, happened–yes. But the characters must exercise their “independent volition” and trust themselves rather than depending on an external force or a transcendent being. The great existentialist, Jean-Paul Sartre, asserts that there is no dark side, no cosmic force, no god, no fate. Man is “without help, with no other aim than the one he sets himself, with no other destiny than the one he forges for himself on this earth.” This notion is well illustrated in the scene when Hurley questions Jack. He wants to know why Jack trusts him, why he is still following along even though Hurley lied about Jacob’s intervention. Here, Jack challenges Hurley to trust himself and to forge his own way. Finally, neither of the men are holding out for an external savior, nor do they have a clear idea of a fated plan. Each has “no other aim than the one he sets himself.” They have what they need to face the inevitable forthcoming challenges: faith in themselves.

Notable Lines of Dialogue

On a separate note, I want to isolate a few key lines from last night’s episode. Some of them are recurring phrases (see previous entry) and some seem to resonate with greater meaning or notes of foreshadowing.

Michael: “It doesn’t matter”

“A lot of people are going to die”

Locke pointedly describes the island as a “godforsaken rock”

Hurley: “Dead people are more reliable than live people.”

Ben: “The island was done with her”

Desmond: “The island has it in for all of us”

“What is the point in being afraid?”

“The Rowers Keep on Rowing

Finally, I want to provide the lyrics to the chilling promo for next week’s episode here. This is “The Rowing Song” from the 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. These words seem to illustrate well the confusion surrounding the final season of Lost.

“There’s no earthly way of knowing
Which direction we are going
There’s no knowing where we’re rowing
Or which way the river’s flowing
Is it raining?
Is it snowing?
Is a hurricane a-blowing??
Not a speck of light is showing
So the danger must be growing
Are the fires of hell a-glowing?
Is the grisly reaper mowing?
Yes, the danger must be growing
‘Cause the rowers keep on rowing
And they’re certainly not showing
Any signs that they are slowing!”

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8 Responses to “The Return of Dostoevsky: Episode 6.12”

  1. b.a.youngerman Says:

    Once again, you have made a great episode of Lost even better through your analysis. Thank you!

  2. lostandlit Says:

    Thanks for the kind words, b.a. youngerman. I’m glad you appreciate my posts!

  3. Though Ben tells Locke that he would prefer to read Stephen King, the opposite is true. As evidenced by his disdain for Juliet’s choice of “Carrie” for the Dharma book club in “A Tale of Two Cities,” season 3’s premiere.

  4. Many thanks for this – I have long loathed existentialism and you have found something very valuable within it . . . now I will have to look at it with wholly new eyes!

    . . . and isn’t that why you write – in hopes that someone, somewhere will catch what you are saying and be transformed by it, even if its just a little bit?

    Just. Wow.

    • lostandlit Says:

      Wonderful, mpress. Glad you found a new way of seeing. I’ve written a whole chapter about free will and Lost, including existentialist musings, for my upcoming book. I do hope you will check it out (and maybe “be transformed by it, even if it’s just a little bit”!) Thank you!

  5. S.King dove into parallel universes heavily…

  6. Nice, intelligent writing. I appreciate your thoughtfulness about the series.

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