Re-Lost: Deus Ex Machina

Yemi's plane

Looks perfectly safe to me...

When I first started Re-Lost, one of my purposes was to see how well Lost holds together in hindsight. A lot of people have complained that the writers “made it up as they go along.” I’ve never really understood that accusation. It shows a serious lack of knowledge about how network TV works, particularly how Lost worked in its first three seasons. Threads are added to fill time, and they can’t be tied up. Actors leave, ratings sag, and they precise plot almost HAS to be made up on the fly, to adjust to the needs of the show. It’s not a mini-series, after all. But besides that, I’ve never really seemed to me that they WERE making it up. “Deus Ex Machina,” to me, seems to lend credence to that idea.

Right off the bat, we’re hit over the head with one of the most consistent metaphors for the story of Lost, that of a game between opponents. Locke describes the game of Mouse Trap to a boy, saying that you wait for your opponent’s piece to land on the cheese wheel, then trap him. That’s not a coincidence. Locke is trapped by his own father in the flashback. But on the island, Locke is fooled again, this time by what he thinks is the Island. When he follows his vision and finds the Nigerian plane, it holds nothing to guide him at all. Rather, it only means danger and death for Boone.

This is really interesting when we consider what we learn in season six, that Boone and most of the survivors are Candidates to replace Jacob, the ruler of the Island. Not only that, but some malevolent entity opposes Jacob, and wants the candidates dead. Watching “Deus Ex Machina” for the first time since season six aired, I was struck by the fact that Locke is conned by “the Island” into putting Boone in a dangerous situation. It seems to me that this might be the work of Jacob’s rival, in a move that would trap and destroy a specific “piece” of the game.

Obviously, that leaves a ton of unanswered question, as is the tendency with this show. The most interesting one is why Locke’s paralysis returns when he approaches the plane. Could it be a precautionary measure on the part of Jacob? Could it be a strategy to sacrifice one piece (Boone) to save a more important one (Locke)? I’m sure I don’t know, and I doubt that the writers even thought that far ahead. But it does seem pretty certain that they were establishing two opposing forces on the Island. In “Pilot,” Locke talks about two opposing sides, one light and one dark. The greater story of Lost comes into focus in a big way in “Deus Ex Machina,” even if its only in a roundabout way.

But all of the mythology in the world can’t save an episode that doesn’t work well with its characters. Fortunately, we are treated to some great stuff in that regard as well. Terry O’Quinn remains one of the best actors on the show, and we learn a lot of valuable things about Locke. His gullibility, his willingness to believe in fate, his desire for independence, and how he is utterly crushed when he knows he’s been taken. The episode worked in hindsight knowing how things end. It works the first time because it understands Locke, Lost’s most rewarding and complex character.

Grade: A-


  • Quick thought on “Numbers,” reviewed by Jamie (who did a great job). I thought it was a pretty good episode surrounding a really good flashback. The main plot of looking for a battery seemed mostly like a macguffin, but it did give us a chance to understand some wonderful things about Hurley. And I love the introduction of the numbers, perhaps my favorite Lost mystery.
  • What are your thoughts on the significance of the title of this episode? I’m wondering that myself.
  • There’s a fluffy subplot about Sawyer getting glasses. It’s got a couple of chuckles, but it doesn’t really deepen anything about the show. It’s just a little bit of a drag on the rest of the show.
  • I’ll no doubt come back to this eventually, but one of my favorite aspects of Lost is its love of ambiguity (though it can also be one of its greatest weaknesses). I really like that we are never given a reason for why Locke’s paralysis returns temporarily, just as I prefer the numbers to remain largely unexplained.
  • The first appearance of the Nigerian plane! Do you see any significance in the pairing of the Virgin Mary with bags of heroin? Kind of an interesting juxtaposition there.
  • Sorry this one was late. I’ll be back on Friday with “Do No Harm.”

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