Violence, compassion and vegetarianism on Lost.

February 23rd, 2009 by

Crossposted from V for Vegan.


Proceed with caution: Moderate spoilers ahead. Specifically, I’ll be discussing Sayid’s flashbacks in the Season 3 episode “Enter 77” (3×11). There may also be a few small spoilers through Season 4, but none for Season 5 – promise! (Although the external links may lead to more current spoilers.)

The husband and I became Losties rather late in the game. We picked up Season 1 on DVD on a whim during the writer’s strike last winter; within the first five minutes of the pilot episode, we were hooked.

Lately, I’ve taken to consuming pop culture with a more critical eye. I’ve always been somewhat sensitive to how women are portrayed in the media; increasingly, I’ve consciously tried to expand my “circle of compassion” vis-à-vis pop culture to other marginalized groups, including non-human animals. While animal welfare issues rarely surface on Lost, one episode in particular has stuck with me – “Enter 77” (3×11), a Sayid-centric episode.

For those unfamiliar with Lost, most of the episodes to date (i.e., Seasons 1-4; the show’s now in its fifth season) follow a similar format: each episode focuses on one character, juxtaposing real-time action with “flashbacks” that offer the audience some insight into the characters’ current situation and state of mind.

Sayid Jarrah, played by Naveen Andrews, was once a Communications officer in the Iraqi Republican Guard. During Operation Desert Storm, he became an “interrogator” (read: torturer) under the American forces, a “skill” to which he later returned for the Republican Guard. As an Intelligence officer, he tortured rebels and military prisoners, including women. Eventually, Sayid left Iraq and found his way to Paris, where he found work as a chef and tried – unsuccessfully – to forget his past (a past which frequently haunts him). This is where “Enter 77” finds him.

You can find a full episode summary for “Enter 77” here; I’ve also included an “episode wrap-up” video from Daily Motion below, to place the flashbacks in context – but you can skip these if you’d rather. Only the flashbacks are relevant to this discussion.

In “Enter 77,” Sayid’s past as a torturer follows him to Paris, with heartbreaking results:

Working as an accomplished chef in Paris going by the alias of Najeev, Sayid was invited by Sami to work at his restaurant. When Sayid came to the restaurant, Sayid was introduced to Sami’s wife Amira. Sayid noticed burn marks on her arms and then Sami and his gang beat him up and kept him chained in a locked pantry (echoing Ben’s imprisonment in the Swan’s armory). Later, Sami brought him water and accused him of having tortured his wife when he was a soldier for the Republican Guard. Sayid claimed he had no idea what Sami was talking about and that he had never seen his wife before. Amira came in and watched as Sami assaulted Sayid for supposedly torturing her. Sami went to attack him with a pipe, but Amira stopped him, saying that was enough for one day. Sayid woke up to see Amira watching him with her cat. She said that she rescued the cat from children who had tortured it with firecrackers and that she forgives the cat when it bites because like her it will never feel safe again. Amira demanded that Sayid show her the respect of admitting what he did to her. Sayid decided to tell her that he remembered torturing her and tearfully apologized, saying that her face had haunted him for years. Amira said she forgave him and that she would tell Sami that she had made a terrible mistake, so that he would let Sayid go.

(Note: This summary is from Sayid’s character biography on Lostpedia; a more detailed summary is available in the “Enter 77” entry, under “flashback.”)

The video montage of Sayid’s flashbacks throughout “Enter 77” helps to flesh out and give life to the summary – watch it with a tissue nearby, as it’s a real tear-jerker:


Lostpedia, as always populated by the most helpful bunch of geeks ever!, has transcribed the entire episode, in case you’re unable to view the video. I’ve excerpted the final confrontation between Sayid and Amira below.

Here, Amira describes rescuing a stray cat from his abusers. As someone who was also tortured, Amira feels a sort of kinship with this poor animal, who – still damaged from his mistreatment at the hands of (O)thers – sometimes lashes out at her in terror. Amira could easily seek revenge for the pain Sayid inflicted upon her – certainly, this is what her husband Sami prefers – but Amira would rather show Sayid the compassion that he never extended to her (or the cat’s torturers, to him). Unlike Amira and the gray cat, Sayid is guilty – and still, seeing the pain that abuse visits upon both the abused and the abuser, Amira instead chooses to fill her heart with forgiveness.


[Amira walks into the storage room with a gray cat and sits in the chair]

AMIRA: After my husband and I first arrived in Paris, I was afraid to ever leave our apartment. So I would stare out in the window into the alley, and I would see this cat looking for scraps. One day some children came into the alley and trapped him in a box. I watched them light firecrackers and drop them in the box. I could hear him howl from three stories above. So finally, I had a reason to leave my apartment. I rescued this cat and I brought him home. He sits with me when I read, sleeps with me, and he purrs. But, every once in a while, he will bite me or scratch me. He does this because sometimes he forgets that he is safe now. So I forgive him when he bites me, because I remember what it is like to never feel safe. And that is because of you. So today, I ask only one thing of you: I ask you now to show me the respect by acknowledging what you did to me. That it was you who questioned me, tortured me and that you remember me.

SAYID: I remember you. I remember your face. Your face has haunted me ever since I left Iraq. [crying] I am sorry. I am so sorry for what I did to you. I am sorry.

AMIRA: I forgive you. When my husband return, I will tell I made a terrible mistake, that it was not you, and he will release you.

SAYID: Why? Why are you letting me go?

AMIRA: We are all capable of doing what those children did to this cat. But I will not do that. I will not be that.

Throughout Lost’s first four seasons, Sayid’s regret at torturing dissidents – his childhood love, Nadia, included – is evident. Despite his pain, Sayid is unable to fully escape his past. After torturing a fellow Lostaway (James “Sawyer” Ford) in Season 1, Sayid goes on a self-imposed exile, during which he’s caught and tortured by another one of the island’s inhabitants (Danielle Rousseau, who’s been stranded on the island for 16 years and is initially presented as “crazy”). The efficacy of torture is constantly called into question; Sayid’s torture of Sawyer (and, later, “Benry,” i.e., Henry Gale/Ben Linus) yields no information, and only serves to further poison Sayid’s psyche.

The theme of vengeance is also touched upon, most prominently in Sawyer’s flashbacks. When James Ford was a child, a con man named Sawyer seduced his mother and stole his parents’ life savings. Once his father found out, he shot his wife and then killed himself – while a young James cowered under his bed. As an adult, James adopted the original Sawyer’s name and persona, all the while vowing to track down Sawyer I and kill him in revenge for ruining his family. In the Season 3 episode “The Brig” (3×19), Sawyer finally gets his chance.

More than twenty years of hatred and revenge sought prove difficult to abandon, however. Upon killing “Mr. Sawyer,” Sawyer feels little relief: he’s unable to fully let go of “Sawyer” or forgive himself for his past misdeeds. Sawyer remains a broken man; his only hope of redemption is love and self-sacrifice.

Similarly, in Season 4, Mr. Widmore’s agents murder Ben’s “daughter,” Alex. Ben later pays a visit to Widmore, promising that he’ll track down and kill Widmore’s own daughter, Penelope, in return. It’ll be interesting to see whether Ben succeeds (I hope not!!!1!!!1!) and, if so, whether vengeance brings him any solace.

This is not to suggest that Lost downplays the use of violence. Indeed, in their early confrontations with the Others, the Lostaways employ violence, sometimes with deadly results. These conflicts, though, are often presented as instances of self-defense, such that the survivors’ actions appear just – after all, are they not the innocent victims under assault? Again, it will be interesting to see how these initial interpretations shift as the nature and purpose of the Others is revealed in the final two seasons.

But I digress. As I said, Lost rarely addresses animal issues, even inasmuch as the non-human animal inhabitants of the island are concerned. Yet, the exchange between Sayid and Amira is both insightful and compelling: a parallel is clearly drawn between Amira and the unnamed cat, such that Amira’s past abuse instills within her a special empathy for the suffering of other, “lesser” beings. This sort of “shared suffering” is sometimes cited as a reason why women are overrepresented in the animal advocacy movement. It’s a beautiful – albeit painful – exchange, one which I think many women can relate to.

Lost also gives us one vegetarian among the 70 crash survivors. Kate’s vegetarianism is referenced just once, in “Walkabout” (1×4):

[Shot of Kate slipping a knife into a sheath at her waist. Jack enters.]

JACK: So? Hunting boar, now, huh?

KATE: Who says it’s my first time boar hunting?

JACK: Uh-huh. Tell me something, how come every time there’s a hike into the heart of darkness you sign up? You know what’s in there.

KATE: Actually, I don’t. And neither do you.

JACK: What’s your feel on our new friend?

KATE: Seems to know what he’s doing.

JACK: Call me paranoid, but anyone who packs a suitcase full of knives?

KATE: If I didn’t know any better, I’d say your worried about me, Jack.

JACK: If I didn’t know any better, I’d say you have a problem staying in one place for very long, Kate. So, you want to tell me why you’re really going?

KATE: [showing the antenna to Jack] Sayid gave me this so he can triangulate the distress signal we heard—find the source.

JACK: This isn’t about boars.

KATE: I’m a vegetarian.

Kate’s a bit of a fibber, so it’s difficult to know for sure whether she actually is a vegetarian, or is just being coy/glib/evasive with Jack. I don’t believe we ever see Kate eat the corpses of dead animals, either on or off the island, and the woman does spend an inordinate amount of time gathering fruit. Yet, also during Season 1, Kate helps Sawyer track a boar who’s been “harassing” him, with the understanding that Sawyer plans on slaying the animal (in the end, he doesn’t). Possibly a victim of physical or sexual abuse, Kate is a rather sympathetic character who exhibits compassion and empathy for those who are suffering.

Likewise, Lost presents us with more than a few unlikable characters, some of which appear to be pure evil. Take, for example, John Locke’s father, Anthony Cooper. Born three months premature, Locke’s mother Emily – just 15 years old at the time – gave him up for adoption, and Locke spent his childhood in foster care. Locke never knew his biological parents, that is, until middle adulthood – when Cooper enlisted a now-mentally ill Emily Locke to help him con John out of a kidney. (Cooper’s own kidneys were failing, and he was on dialysis at the time.) After Cooper received Locke’s kidney, he brushed his son off like a pesky flea.

Later, Locke was approached by a young man named Peter Talbot; Talbot’s mother, a rich widow, was engaged to be married to Cooper. Talbot suspected that Cooper was only after his mother’s money, and contacted John for proof. In a display of undeserved loyalty, John Locke denied knowing Cooper. Yet, he later confronted Cooper, threatening to come clean with Talbot unless Cooper called off the wedding. Ever the heartless criminal, Cooper murdered Talbot and then tried to kill his own son, pushing Locke out of an eight-story window. Locke survived, but lost the use of his legs.

We later learn that Anthony Cooper is also Mr. Sawyer, the man responsible for the death of James Ford’s parents.

In the Season 1 episode “Deus Ex Machina” (1×19), it’s revealed that Cooper is a hunter. In the course of conning Locke out of his kidney, Cooper takes his long-lost son quail hunting in a faux attempt at father-son bonding. He also denigrates animal rights activists in the process:

COOPER: You have a family your own?

LOCKE: No, sir.

COOPER: Me either. I tried it a couple of times, didn’t take. Do you hunt?

LOCKE: [laughing] No, no.

COOPER: You’re not one of those animal rights nut jobs, are you?

LOCKE: No. No, sir.

Taken with Kate’s vegetarianism, Cooper’s hunting is a nice complement: Cooper, the least redeemable of all the bastards on the show, enjoys killing sentient beings during his leisure time, while Kate – an amiable and compassionate (if somewhat flawed) individual – refuses to eat the flesh of dead animals. No complaints with these character sketches, nosiree.

And, I should also note, for being stranded on a lost island, the gang spends very little time hunting (humans, at least). Which comes as a pleasant surprise for this vegan Lostie.

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One Response to “Violence, compassion and vegetarianism on Lost.”

  1. Lost’s Sayid Jarrah: A History of Violence » POP! goes The Vegan. Says:

    […] year, I wrote a (relatively) brief summary of the few animal-friendly plot lines found in seasons one through four of Lost. Animal advocacy issues are rarely addressed in the show, […]

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