"The 23rd Psalm"

Written by Damon Lindelof and Cartlon Cuse
Directed by Matt Earl Beesley

In which Mister Eko becomes aware of Charlie’s possession of the Virgin Mary statue, and realizes that it has a connection to his own past, while Michael begins making plans...

Status Report - Final Analysis

Status Report
After a wait over the holidays for a new episode, after the oddly unaffecting “What Kate Did”, this installment brings back some of the complexities that marked the better parts of the first season. While this season’s writing staff has yet to hit anything out of the park (nothing has been as strong as “Walkabout”, for instance), this is a solid episode that confirms a number of suspicions and offers something completely unexpected in terms of the series’ mythology.

This episode is all about Mister Eko, whose religious leanings are a more recent turn in his life than one might have otherwise expected. One could have guessed that his past involved a great deal of violence, given his ability to be imposing with a glance, but the depth of that violence was still compelling. One thing that the writers can do right, given the inspiration, is compelling background. (Kate, apparently, hasn’t inspired enough inspiration.)

Eko sacrificed his own freedom from the territorial warlords of his homeland for the sake of his brother, and thus turned his back on final salvation for the sake of immediate survival. He found some success in that survival, and in his dealing with his brother, he certainly seems to have retained some sense of right and wrong. Innocence is likely to be a big thing with him. His attitude towards Charlie was not one of respect, especially once it was clear that Charlie was lying to him. It’s almost as if Eko wrote Charlie off as “lost”.

This could explain why Eko decided not to give Charlie an easy way out. It would have been easy to burn all the heroin (from Eko’s point of view) and force Charlie to abandon his temptations. It’s quite another for Charlie to overcome that temptation on his own and find strength in it. In this regard, Eko takes a very different stance from Locke, despite the fact that both men are operating from a need to believe in something.

The relationship between Eko and Locke should continue to gain momentum throughout the season, especially now that Eko has encountered his own personal version of the island’s bizarre interloping. Not the “monster”, per se, but the very fact that the small plane with the itty-bitty gas tank somehow managed to get itself stuck on the island in the middle of nowhere, exactly where he would up many moons later. That would challenge anyone’s assumptions about coincidence and fate.

Eko was a child of faith drawn into a world of pragmatic survival, given a chance to restore his faith and atone for his sins. His entire bearing speaks to his goal of becoming a priest in faith as well as on paper. Does he see his own journey as indicative of something others must choose for themselves? Perhaps a sign that, if one accepts what is meant for them without seeking the meaning of it, they will achieve redemption?

It’s hard to say, but as personal as Eko’s desire for meaning through faith might be, it’s a lot less self-aggrandizing than Locke’s version of it. If one wants to consider the “monster” a metaphor (and given it’s apparent nature, it certainly could be), Eko faced down the demons of his past and did not fear them. He also didn’t attach any particular meaning to the fact that he was challenged with them. Contrast this with Locke’s conclusion: seeing his flaws exposed led him to believe that he had received a revelation and a mission, and that the island was meant for him and the other survivors.

Locke approached Charlie in that fashion: he brought Charlie face to face with his demon and sought to give Charlie a path beyond it by eliminating the temptation. Locke probably thought that he had given Charlie what he had found for himself: something worth believing in and owning on his own terms. Charlie embraced this idea of redemption, but once the source of the temptation occurs, he’s slipping because what he chose to replace it (Claire and Aaron) isn’t his to embrace.

Eko’s method is more dangerous and reflects his own journey. Force Charlie to find something within himself to value more than the drugs, or let Charlie drag himself down into his own weaknesses. Eko faced his demons without fear; now he challenges Charlie to do the same. Charlie, however, is not that strong a man, as his past indicates; he has nothing to keep him from slipping back into addiction.

Eko’s past hints at his psychology but doesn’t fully detail his point of view. This is good, since he works well as a man of mystery alongside Locke. It should be interesting to see how the two men interpret events in the future. Locke chooses to see his life as out of his control, himself as a victim, waiting for fate and destiny to embrace his potential. Eko thought that he was in control of his life, and then found a reason to surrender it to destiny through faith. Two very different journeys, both of which converge in roughly the same place: faith in something more.

This brings up an interesting question about what the purpose and nature of the “monster” or “security system” might be. The writers revealed something critical in this episode; the pan-through the “monster” revealed that images from Eko’s life were being scanned. Was this information retrieval, from some master database, or a direct lifting of information from Eko’s mind? Why does the “monster” sound mechanical in nature, when it appears to be completely non-corporeal? Or is the black smoke (evocative of the signal used by the Others in “Exodus”) just a cloak around a more elusive, physical structure?

The exact construction and nature of the “security system” is not nearly as important as its purpose. Why did it kill the pilot just after the crash? Why did it allow Locke and Eko to live? Neither man reacted to the scan with fear, but it seems too easy for that to be the only reason for the “security system” to allow them to live. Of course, it could also be as simple as the fact that the “security system” is designed to recognize fear and assume that anyone not afraid of it belongs on the island.

But what if there’s something about the two men, revealed within the scan, that the “security system” is looking for? If it was designed by Dharma or Hanso as part of the grand experiment, perhaps it is part of the overall selection process as originally conceived. After all, the Dharma Initiative projects seemed to dispense with basic morality in the experimental process.

So here’s a possible explanation (very general): the Others are trying to keep the experiment going by protecting the children that survive the accidents that bring fresh subjects to the island. The “security system” serves to keep people away from key Dharma facilities (within experimental bounds) and also screen the remaining adults to determine which ones are suitable for the experiment. Those not suitable could be killed without remorse, since the rest of the world already assumes them to be dead, thanks to the various accidents.

Of course, since there’s still very little information about Dharma, the island, and the nature of the “monster”, that kind of speculation is uninformed at best and a shot in the dark at worst. But revealing the fact that images from Eko’s life were within the form of the “monster”, projected within the inside of it, does suggest some kind of advanced science or something more spiritual.

In terms of the characters, this episode took the time to have at least one scene with the major cast members. Jack continues to play the responsible leader, especially when he sits down to discuss Walt with Michael. Of course, he also seems to let his own issues and concerns blind him to the obvious. He seems distracted by the relationship between Kate and Sawyer, which has become a bit closer after their fevered moments in the previous episode.

Locke also continues with his usual behavior, this time supporting Michael, despite better judgment. This could be an example of Locke setting himself up for failure. Locke could believe that empowering Michael is better for everyone and that Michael needs to do something about Walt in order to move on from the mistakes of his past. There is an interesting evolution in the similarities between Locke’s instruction with firearms with Michael and his first season scenes with Walt and the knife. He doesn’t seem to understand how desperate or unfocused Michael’s plans seem to be.

Did anyone bother to tell Michael about the instructions not to use the computer for anything other than inputting the deactivation code? One would think that anyone assigned to use the computer would be given the warning! Not only that, but previous episodes suggested that there were two people in the hatch at all times, something that Kate’s actions in the previous episode should have reinforced. Michael is not someone who should be left to his own devices, especially when Jack and Locke both have reasons to be concerned about his judgment.

Charlie has dug himself quite the hole, and he’s in danger of falling into it in short order. Claire and Aaron were two things he could count on to say focused, but temptation was already eating at him. This episode reminded the audience that Charlie’s relationship with Claire was something he assumed and the audience merely supported; in all fairness, little consideration was given to Claire’s feelings on the subject until recently. Sure, Claire accepted the help when pressed and probably thought about keeping Charlie around, but who can blame her under the current circumstances?

Other characters were barely in the episode, but there were indications of movement in their plot/character threads. Jin and Sun are still looking happy with their reunion, and they seem to be among the first to approach Ana Lucia, following in Jack’s footsteps in previous episode. Hurley seems to be intrigued by Libby. Given his previous experience with psychiatry, that could lead into some interesting territory.

While the connections between the Nigerian priest and the plane stocked with heroin and Mister Eko were telegraphed in press releases well before the season began, thus stealing away some of the shock value, there was more than enough to the episode to keep that drawback from becoming a huge liability. Tackling the troubles for Charlie was a good move as well, since the character was in danger of stagnating. While the season still needs a more consistent and active direction to match the quality of the first season, this episode is a step in the right direction.

Final Analysis
Overall, this episode was one of the stronger offerings of the season, aided by the intriguing exploration of Mister Eko’s past history and some revelations about the “monster”. Some of the connections made in the episode could be perceived as obvious, but movement on lingering plot threads is always welcome. If the rest of the season can build on this episode, it would be a step in the right direction.

Writing: 2/2
Acting: 2/2
Direction: 2/2
Style: 2/4

Final Rating: 8/10

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