Mother: “Every question I answer will simply lead to another question.”
It was a joke from the writers and also a form of warning. Anyone that ever sought answers was a scientist. Anyone that ever believed without question had faith. The quandary this episode and, I suspect, Lost will leave us with by the end is the matter of what questions to demand answers of, and what vagaries and mysteries we quench with our own interpretation.
So this analysis is going to be formed very much from my interpretation, the only stipulation that it be coherent without contradiction from previously established information. Somewhere within the rather distant and frustrating history of the Island this episode presented there is coherence to be found. . .
So we learned that Jacob and Nameless (even at birth he wasn’t prescribed a name!) came to the Island via their mother, Claudia. Non-identical twins, it transpired that they were to be raised by another when Mother took it upon herself to smash Claudia’s head in with a rock. First impressions are that Nameless’ remarks to Kate, about how he had a crazy, disturbed mother were duly deserved.
The matter of Mother is very much open to interpretation. Mad woman? Manipulator? Monster?
Probably she was mortal, at first, with a mother of her own. Somehow she came to the Island and remained there. Maybe when she got there she encountered someone else, a previous guardian, who bestowed her with the role of Island protector. A bit like how there were people working in The Swan Station pressing the button for a shift until other Dharma people showed up to take over. This theme echoes on different levels throughout Lost. You take your turn, you do your duty, and then you get to relinquish the burden to someone else.
Indeed, if I may take a brief sidetrack, parallel with The Swan is more pertinent than you might first think. Consider Live Together, Die Alone, that showed us Desmond’s arrival on the Island. Desmond was shipwrecked on the beach and there found by Kelvin who took him back to The Swan. Kelvin informed Desmond that there was an infection and he was unable to leave the place. Compare and contrast with Mother stating that there was nothing else beyond the Island. Desmond, drunk and upset, would actually cry out that the Island was all there was, like a snowglobe, there being nothing else beyond the sea!
Furthermore, Kelvin explained that there was a button that needed to be pushed, to save the world no less, and though he didn’t know the source or the reason behind this force it was still a matter to be dealt with. Compare and contrast with Mother showing Jacob and Nameless the cave that needed to be protected, it housing a white light power of indeterminate source.
As an extra, Kelvin and Desmond’s relationship came to an end when Desmond, feeling betrayed, sought Kelvin out and so ensued a struggle that finished with a dull thud of skull against rock. Again, parallels, with Mother shoving Nameless’ head against a rock in the proto-donkey wheel cave, but fundamentally ending when the betrayed mete out fatal vengeance, as in Nameless killing Mother.
So Mother was on the Island, and then along came Claudia and the twins. Would Claudia have been killed had she given birth to just one child? I think so. Mother had a fundamentally negative view about man, but a child she could raise as her own was one she could mould to her own design – as her successor. That they were twins simply doubled her odds at finding a replacement. They were both, in effect, candidates. The chilling matter is that I believe Mother only wanted - needed - one of them. What she would have done with the child she didn't need is the chilling element. What eventually happened with the three of them I can't quite decide if it's what she wanted or expected.
I believe Jacob’s assessment that Mother preferred Nameless was correct. She referred to him as special and appeared to indulge his capacity for deception, such as with the Senet game he had found. Indeed, Mother was almost certainly lying when she said she had left the game for him to find. Jacob, on the other hand, was said to never lie – he possessed different qualities, amongst which was absolute devotion to Mother that Nameless turned his back on when the lure of his people, of going ‘home’ across the sea, beckoned.
At this point it’s worth asking the question of how grand was Mother’s plan. I believe the fact that she was shown weaving constantly was a very adamant suggestion that she, like Jacob, was in the business of forging bigger pictures by painstaking means. So it’s worth asking the question: Did she intend all that transpired to happen purely so that she could find a successor to protect the Island? Or was the fact that she was presented with twins what changed her initial plans of just finding a successor into something more?
It was very telling that she actually thanked Nameless for stabbing her.
The idea that Mother could conceive such a longstanding plan would beggar belief, but then we’ve seen Jacob touch the likes of Kate and Sawyer when they were children as part of his longterm plan of them being candidates on the Island – such ambition is not beyond the realms of reality in this show!
That Jacob and Nameless came as a package certainly aided this plan. Had Jacob been an only child then it’s hard to imagine him accepting the mantle of Island protector and also having the necessary rage to kill Mother. And that Jacob and Nameless, these two, have eventually formed the ‘black and white’ evil and protector role of the Island (I appreciate these are not as well-defined as a literal black and white interpretation, but it’s applicable enough for now) it’s tempting to figure that Mother herself once fulfilled both functions. Namely, that she was both black and white. Put bluntly: she was the Black Smoke as well as Island protector.
There’s evidence to suggest there was more power in Mother than was immediately apparent. Consider the well Nameless and ‘the others’ had dug; Mother knocked Nameless unconscious and then, off-screen, apparently carted his body up the ladder and then filled in the entire hole in a very short space of time.
Then she went off to wreak fire and death on ‘the others’.
It’s hard to imagine her managing such a thing without more formidable powers. Consider also that Nameless delivered the fatal dagger strike by stabbing Mother before she got the chance to speak to him; the same means by which Sayid was instructed to attack and kill Nameless.
Of course, Nameless instructed Alpert to find and kill Jacob with the same instruction. Stab him with the dagger before he gets the chance to speak. Maybe this really was a genuine rule that held for all three of them Mother, Jacob and Nameless – or maybe the fact that Nameless managed to kill his mother in this way simply informed his belief that it was the only way it could be done! The more questions you ask the more questions you find.
Yet the very notion that Mother was really capable of assuming a Black Smoke form just doesn’t sit right with me, purely because of how I interpret what happened with Jacob, Nameless and the tunnel of light. What I think is that Mother was both, black and white together, but whatever power for good or bad she had was not as powerful as the force for ‘good’ that Jacob would eventually possess, nor the extreme power of ‘bad’ that Nameless would exhibit in Black Smoke form. Here we enter the interpretation zone and I’ll just tell you about what I think.
I do take a very religion-based angle from what we saw in this episode. When Mother showed Jacob and Nameless the cave of light and proclaimed it to be a pure source of what we’ll call ‘goodness’ for the sake of simplicity, I believed her. If there’s some conceptual profound power in the world beyond science’s reach it was shining out of that cave and religions of many types have given that force a name: God.
What it is defies explanation. And, as Mother warned, questions only lead to further questions. Sometimes you have to have faith and those that can’t, that won’t, they just aren’t candidate material. So, if we consider Mother was somewhat ‘old testament’ in her approach to how this shining source be protected then you can parallel her with the kind of ‘God’ that was ruthless as well as all-loving, vengeful as well as peaceful. The kind of powerful entity that can apologetically bludgeon a woman to death for the greater good of the children she could raise to succeed her.
To this end, Jacob can be considered more ‘new testament’. Rather than maintain an apathetic distance between himself and man, condemning them as corrupt out of hand, he seeks to see the good in them, the light they all carry within them burning without greed or destruction.
The Island was described, by Jacob to Alpert, as a place that holds up all that is ‘evil’. Now I believe we can better understand that concept. Previously, when the cave of light existed, this is where the ‘goodness’ was sourced, saved, protected. However, when Nameless was cast into the cave I could not help but interpret it like Eve taking fruit from the forbidden tree. The perfect Garden Of Eden was besmirched, man was imbued with sin – but the potential for redemption. There was a definite ‘fall of man, fall from grace’ allegorical vibe happening.
That the episode took a non-subtle reminder visit to the Season 1 scenes when the skeletons in the cave were found and dubbed ‘Adam and Eve’ this point seems more enforced.
(Personally I wish those scenes hadn’t been included. I got it without the reminder, but on this Lost was perhaps catering for the audience that might not remember these crucial moments from so many years back and the creators wanted this moment underlined as one of those pivotal proofs that they had this thing well-planned long ago.)
That Nameless became the Black Smoke was almost like a formation of ‘sin’, this evil force now brought about and capable of casting judgement against man. The punishment for eating the forbidden fruit. The Island therefore does ‘contain’ Nameless, this death-dealing force of judgement. I think of the bottle metaphor. The Island being a cork in the bottle therefore suggesting that the Black Smoke is akin to a wasp trapped inside the bottle, angrily buzzing inside, longing to escape.
As stated, that’s pretty much my interpretation and I must stress that I don’t consider this right. I think the only thing that can be considered correct is that there is no true answer. Interpretation does depend on the individual and the only provision for it to be considered worthy is in its coherence.
Naturally, I can’t explain what would happen if the wasp escaped from the bottle. I can’t explain what the sunken Island in the Alternate Timeline means in the context of this battle between Jacob and Nameless. I can’t even explain why it is Jacob can freely come and go off the Island. But in broad strokes there’s a gist, a feel, a faith-based comprehension I can hold to. And I certainly have to believe that there is a profound power at the source of the Island that defies explanation, purely because of the explanation-defying powers that have been exhibited.
Mother on the Island could create her own rules. She says that Jacob and Nameless cannot hurt each other (I presume she meant not kill each other, as Jacob was perfectly capable of pounding Nameless’ face into burger a few times) and it is so – thus it becomes a matter of Nameless needing to find a loophole around the rule Mother created.
Incidentally, the image of Jacob as a boy with bloodied hands that Nameless saw. . .
. . . can now be explained as how his arms were bloody after punching Nameless' face on the night he abandoned Mother and went to the world of men in search of freedom – the beginning of the end, if you like. And the boy Jacob apparition reminded Nameless that there were rules, rules that Jacob had been able to construct for himself in his own whimsy. Just like how Nameless had the game of Senet and was able to make up the rules of this game as he saw fit, he prophetically predicted Jacob would one day do the same.
The Island is an extension of that same principle. Perhaps that was why Mother indulged Nameless playing the game, back when she considered him ‘special’, as it was this mentality that would serve him well on the Island. This kind of power is absolute proof of there being something defying explanation. It’s why Jacob could effortlessly grant Richard Alpert agelessness, and why these bizarre rules around who can kill candidates or Jacob abound.
When Keamy shot Alex Ben said, “He changed the rules.” It’s a remark we can now mull over in all manner of interpretations, but we have a firm basis from which to do so. The Island is a giant controllable game, of which the rules are arbitrarily applied for the basis of seeking out the true ‘goodness’ of people who may be able to bring back and control the light within them without extinguishing it. The light that once shone from the cave on the Island but was since dispelled and cast out, it is now housed in the hope for goodness in all mankind.
The man that first stumbled across ‘Adam and Eve’, that perhaps symbolically pocketed the black and white Senet pieces, was Jack. I say symbolically because if it’s true that Mother once, metaphorically, was comprised of both black and white together within her then perhaps Jack may also manage the same balance. I wonder, if he were to become the Island protector, what kind of ‘rules’ would he apply to the place? One mantra immediately springs to mind; the founding philosophy of Jack’s view of how humanity should survive: Live together, or die alone. Amen.