Finally, only 11 episodes into the season, we find out what the hell Sayid has been up to off island, and a little bit about how our favorite Iraqi torturer became the kind of man to kill for money. I’ll begin with that anecdote, and then try to put this together in some sort of chronological fashion. The opening scene asks us to question if Sayid was always meant to be a killer, as he steps in a wrings a chicken’s neck on his brother’s behalf, earning the accolade from his father, “At least one of you will become a man.” Sayid, it seems, has been indoctrinated with the idea that necessarily violence (killing one’s food, killing one’s enemy) is inherent to his masculinity. This brief intro into Sayid’s childhood cuts to our other favorite murderer, little Ben Linus, bringing his Iraqi hostile a chicken salad sandwich (presumably, no mustard). I adore this transition, where Sayid appeases his father by killing a chicken, little Ben tries to endear himself to the man he thinks will free him from his brutal, drunken father by bringing him another dead chicken (although minus the feathers and heavy on the mayonnaise). Ben’s got daddy issues, just like everyone else, and he desperately needs approval from a male authority figure. He knows he’s got Alpert’s approval, now he just needs someone to facilitate getting him to Alpert, and Sayid the Hostile should be that shepherd, something of a surrogate father.
Later in the episode, I thought that’s how it was going to go, when Sayid refuses Sawyer’s help in hatching an escape plan and declares that he’s on his own because he finally know what his purpose is. Little Ben sets up a flaming Dharma van to speed through Dharmaville, distracting Phil and other security members so he can free Sayid, under the following conditions:
Ben: If I let you out, will you take me with you? To your people?
Sayid: Yes, Ben. I will. That’s why I’m here.
But, no. I was very wrong. Before that, though, here’s some stuff that happened to Sayid, off-Island:
In Moscow, he finishes his final assignment as an assassin for Ben. Seems they were killing people who worked for Widmore — people Ben said were out to kill Sayid’s family. But once freed of his obligation to work for Ben and simultaneously avenge his wife’s death, Sayid doesn’t know what to do with his life. Killing is all he’s ever known. Ben’s suggestion: “I suppose you should go live your life. You’re free, Sayid.”
Struggling to change his stripes, Sayid winds up in the DR building La Escuela de Isla. Post-Jeremy Bentham’s visit, Ben arrives to announce Locke’s death. He claims it was murder in retribution for the work that Ben and Sayid have been doing, a plot executed by none other than Charles Widmore. Ben tries to tempt Sayid into killing again by telling him that people have been watching Hurley outside Santa Rosa, and that Hurley need’s Sayid’s help. (This, by the way, is only the first in what I feel are several Sayid/Christ comparisons in this episode.) He implores Sayid not to rebel against the fate he was made for: killing. Sayid responds: “I am not what you think I am. I don’t like killing.”
At the docks with Ben and the other O6ers, Sayid realizes that Ben if a liar and that everything he’s said so far about Widmore and his friends being in danger was all a ploy to get them back to the island. He walks away, and winds up drinking alone in a bar next to Ilana, whom I will, at least for now, stop calling by the name of the actress who plays her since I’ve finally gotten an idea of her character. Sayid thinks Iliana is a professional, but she says she’s not a prostitute, she just likes to go to bars, drink expensive Scotch (always Scotch on this show!) and talk to sad men. He tells her he’s trying to change who he is, and eventually they wind up in bed together. As he takes off her hooker boots, she kicks him in the face and pulls a gun on him. She is a professional, she says, a bounty hunter hired by the family of the man he killed in cold blood on an Italian golf course last year to be brought to justice in Guam. (In retrospect, perhaps killing someone in such a public place with a membership roster was not the best idea, eh?)
Ilana takes Sayid to the airport in cuffs. As he sees the O6 in various parts of the airport, he begins to grow suspicious. He asks Ilana, “Can you do me a favor? Can we get on the next plane? I am very superstitious when it comes to flying.” She refuses, and they board that fateful flight to Guam, from which he gets sucked out during bright white flashy time.
Back on the island, the Dharmites wonder what to do with their captured Hostile Sayid. Horace offers to help him if he’s somehow in trouble with his people, but Sayid won’t talk to anyone by Sawyer, who makes the first of a few attempts to save his friend by asking him to pretend that he’s a Hostile trying to defect, and beg for protection within Dharma if he can provide information to them about his people. Sayid refuses, and stays in his cell for a fascinated Little Ben to chat with while the Dharmites discuss their next plan. Roger “Work Man” Linus catches his son bringing Sayid a sandwich, and Sayid witnesses young Ben being beaten, a moment in which I had such tremendous sympathy for a man I know full well to be evil. You just don’t beat up a kid, man.
The Dharmites take Sayid out into the woods to visit Oldham (Deadwood‘s William Sanderson), who, as it turns out, is Dharma’s version of Sayid — a torturer, of sorts. (“He’s our you,” says Sawyer.) Being a dirty old hippie who lives in the woods, Oldham’s version of torture is tying victims to a tree and giving them some kind of LSD/Saliva Divinorum/Truth Serum combo to peacefully make them talk. Under the influence, Sayid tells the Dharmites everything. He babbles about airplanes and being from the future and warns them all that they’re going to die. Oldham wonders, “Maybe I should have used half a dropper,” but Sayid insists that he used exactly the right amount. This scene had some Christ-like images for me, with Sayid tied to a tree as though it were a cross, spouting off about being from the future as though he were some kind of prophet or Messiah. I had hoped that the Dharmites might suspect him less and worship him as a god-figure for a time, but alas, they simply think he’s crazy.
Dharma votes, encouraged by new mom Amy, to kill Sayid, reluctantly forcing his one defender, James LeFleur into agreeing with them (because Horace would really like to say the vote was unanimous). And then the Flaming Dharma Van interrupts further planning and Ben lets Sayid out. They abscond into the jungle, and run into Jin out on routine Dharma patrol. Sayid lies to Jin and tries to convince him that Sawyer let him go, but Jin, suspicious, calls to confirm, and Sayid is left with no choice but to knock him out. Little Ben admires Sayid’s bad-ass killing skills, and looks on in awe as Sayid huddles over Jin’s body, to make sure his friend is still breathing and to turn his radio off. And then, unexpectedly, Sayid announces, “You were right about me. I am a killer.”
AND DRAWS HIS FUCKING GUN AND SHOOTS LITTLE BEN LINUS.
Sayid shot a child.
An evil child, but a child.
For as piecemeal as I felt the “filling in the background” sections of this episode were, I was deeply impressed by the struggle for Sayid’s soul. And I think it really ties in to the major mindfuck question we’re presented with at the end here. How much of our lives are destiny/fate/island magic/predetermined, and how much do we choose? And what happens if we go against what is predetermined? If we are to believe the basic principle of time travel that you cannot change the past without rewriting the entire future, then Sayid was always supposed to come back in time and kill young Ben Linus, which in turn somehow cosmically ties Sayid to his one-time victim. If this was always how it was supposed to be, then Ben’s gunshot wounds are definitely not the end of Ben Linus. The island, I doubt, is done with him yet. (Either the island magic will save him as it has saved others, or Jacob or Richard Alpert will breathe life into him like God creating Adam.)
But what Sayid doesn’t realize when he pulls that trigger is that very basic principle of time travel. He thinks he will change things and save lives by assassinating Ben before he turns out to be the liar and the great manipulator we’ve come to know and love, but it won’t change a damn thing because it already happened that way and will always happen that way. And I really, really like the idea of Sayid working for Ben in the future being some sort of cosmic debt paid, as though Sayid, who wanted so badly to not be so eager to kill (and even fought back tears when he assassinated Ben), had to make it up to the victim of his crimes who actually lived. (Yes, Ben, like Harry Potter, will be The Boy Who Lived. I also saw Sayid taking pity on dad-beaten Ben as a sort of Sirius Black-type figure. You know, until he shot Ben. That kind of destroyed the whole Harry Potter parallel for me.)
As for the nature of Sayid’s soul, I subscribe to that whole humanist “duality of man” theory, so it’s difficult for me to say that his true nature is that of a killer. However, he is certainly meant for it, skilled at it. But its the ability to resist that basic instinct that makes him so interesting and, I think, compares to the basic conceit in a narrative about werewolves (see one of my favorite Buffy episodes ever, “Wild at Heart,” in which Oz cannot resist his wolf side and breaks poor Willow’s heart, all the while Angel has to learn to be human again when Buffy realizes that he has returned from his stint in hell without an ounce of humanity left in him) as well as any story about a vampire who has chosen not to drink of human blood (Angel, specifically, but also Moonlight‘s Mick St. John, Twilight‘s Edward and other Cullens). All of these are stories about resisting something intrinsic and antithetical to what is deemed socially acceptable. Certainly, the instincts of a killer are something that society, as a whole, have tried to suppress in order to function. But that doesn’t make them any less innately human. I’m glad Naveen Andrews got to play with that here, because I could see that struggle in his eyes in two key scenes:
1. When young Ben returns to him with his glasses broken, and Sayid asks if they broke because of what Roger did to him.
2. As he is about to pull the trigger.
When I think about both of those looks, a part of me wonders if, perhaps, heroics were not the only reason for Sayid to believe it was his destiny to kill Ben. The boy hated Dharmaville and wanted out, and had been abused by his father in front of Sayid. Perhaps, at least in some small part, this was a mercy killing.
BEN IS A ROBOT!
BEN IS A ROBOT!
BEN IS A ROBOT!
BEN IS A ROBOT!
BEN IS A ROBOT!
You heard it here first.