Sunday, March 28, 2010

"Lost" Fifteen Favorites: "The 23rd Psalm"

“Go. Go and tell your friends I let you live. That Mr. Eko let you live.”


“The 23rd Psalm,” number 13 on my list of favorite “Lost” episodes, is pretty much on this list exclusively because of its flashbacks. I think this episode was the series’ most successful attempt at downloading a lot of character backstory quickly in an extremely compelling way. It was certainly more effective than the “let me quick blurt out my life story to the people near me before I die” method used with Charlotte and Dogen. The flashbacks that depict Eko’s childhood and subsequent adult life as a Nigerian warlord are both fascinating and heartbreaking.

The episode opens with a group of children playing soccer outside a Nigerian school. A truck of what appear to be militia-type soldiers (probably goons for some local warlord) approaches. They’re looking for more child recruits for their army. The priest in charge of the school tries to protest, but the goons aren’t having it. They order a young boy to shoot the priest in the head. The little boy hesitates, and the goons are getting impatient. An older boy grabs the gun and shoots the priest. The goons are pleased and take him along in their truck. This boy is Eko, and the younger boy was his brother, Yemi. Yemi picks up the cross necklace that his brother left behind.

Years later, Eko is himself a warlord. Some men have approached him about buying some heroin. Heroin is useless in Nigeria since the local population is too poor to purchase it, and it’s virtually impossible to get it out of the country since the military closely controls all traffic in and out of the country. Eko knows the men are between a rock and a hard place, so he can get the heroin at a steep discount. When the men insult him, Eko slashes both their throats with a machete. He lets their young companion go unharmed, though, probably a nod to his own past.

Eko agreed to buy the heroin because he has a plan to get it out of the country undetected by the military. The only flights not closely controlled by the military are UN humanitarian and Catholic missionary flights. And Yemi just happens to have become a Catholic priest. Yemi’s church is selling Virgin Mary statutes to raise money for polio vaccine, and Eko wants to put the heroin inside the statues. Yemi is not in favor of this plan at all. Even when Eko comes back with some of his goons and simply demands Yemi make them priests so they can do the dirty work themselves, he’s extremely reluctant. Eko threatens to have his goons burn down the church, and Yemi relents.

Yemi isn’t going to give up on his principles that easily, though. Yemi approaches Eko as he and his goons are loading the infamous Beechcraft plane with the Virgin Mary statutes. Yemi tries to warn Eko of what’s coming, but it’s too late. A truck with soldiers from the Nigerian military has arrived, and their policy seems to be to shoot first and ask questions later. Yemi tries to stop the shooting, but he just gets shot himself for his trouble. Eko’s goons pull Yemi into the Beechcraft, and when Eko tries to follow, one of the goons shoves him out of the plane. Eko’s life is spared because the soldiers believe he is the priest who warned them about the drug smuggling attempt.

The Virgin Mary statues are very much the subject of the on-Island plot, as well. Eko is having a friendly conversation with Claire about his “Jesus stick” (the walking/clubbing stick on which Eko has carved Bible verses), when Claire mentions that Charlie’s very religious, too. He carries around a Virgin Mary statue, after all. Eko is immediately intrigued by this and demands to see the statute. When Claire shows it to him, he recognizes it immediately as one of the statues from the heroin smuggling incident. When Claire expresses confusion about why Eko cares about the statue, Eko smashes it to make his point. Claire is dismayed to see that it contains bags of heroin, and she suspects Charlie has fallen off the wagon.

Eko then angrily stalks towards the beach and demands that Charlie show him where he found the statute. Charlie tries to play it cool, like he didn’t realize there was heroin inside the statue, but nobody really believes him. Charlie doesn’t really truly want to show Eko where he found the statue either. In fact, he blatantly lies about it. Eko sees right through it, though, and he knows they’re on the right path when he sees the body of the man who shoved him off the plane. Eventually, they find the Beechcraft and Yemi’s body. Eko takes Yemi’s cross necklace, and when Charlie asks, Eko yes that he truly is a priest. The two say the 23rd Psalm as the plane burns. Any fulfillment or spiritual awakening Charlie may have felt on the journey is short lived. He returns back to the beach to find that Claire has kicked him out and no longer wants him anywhere near Aaron.

The on-Island B story is what really keeps this episode from being higher on the list for me. Michael is in the throes of his “WAAAAALLLLT!!!!!!!!” phase, and that is something I’ve never enjoyed on “Lost.” What happens in this episode is just one of many instances of Michael doing stupid stuff because Walt is missing. I know, I know, Walt is his son, of course Michael’s going to freak a bit, but he really takes it too far. First he asks Locke for shooting lessons. This should have been a big warning sign for Locke, but I think he was so excited to fee special and useful that he was all gung ho about giving the lessons anyway. By the end of the episode, both Locke and Jack are locked in the armory, and Michael has fled the Hatch armed with a rifle. He’s following instructions from the mystery IMs he’s been receiving. I never quite understood why he was so willing to believe those messages were from Walt.

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