Lost‘s Sayid Jarrah: A History of Violence

February 2nd, 2010 by


Caution: Spoilers through Season 5 below.

Last 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, but look closely, and you’re bound to discover occasional gem: lovable Kate is a vegetarian, while show villain Anthony Cooper enjoys blood sports such as hunting. The Losties (understandably) took to hunting wild boar for sustenance early on, but the slaughter quickly ceased when they discovered the Dharma food drops. And who could forget Sayid’s memories of Amira?

While nonhuman animals didn’t much figure into the season five story arc, one episode in particular stuck with me. In fact, I meant to write about “He’s Our You” (Season 5, Episode 11) months ago, but somehow it kept getting placed on the back burner. With the final season of Lost set to begin tonight, what better time to revisit an old episode?

As I noted previously, Sayid’s story lines oftentimes revolve around the themes of forgiveness and vengeance, with Sayid struggling to come to grips with his strikingly violent past. As a soldier in the Iraq Republican Guard, he was captured, co-opted, and trained as an “interrogator” (read: torturer) by American forces during Operation Desert Storm. At the close of the war, his “skills” were put to use and turned against his fellow Iraqi citizens in the Republican Guard, where he was promoted to the Intelligence division and tasked with torturing dissidents and political prisoners – including his long lost childhood love, Nadia (as well as the aforementioned Amira). Torn between his allegiance to his country and his moral qualms, he helped Nadia to escape, but could not bring himself to go with her.


Once on the island, Sayid (somewhat reluctantly) put his interrogation skills to use several times (as if fate would not allow him a break from his past – even when stranded on a lost island!), first torturing an innocent but obstinate Sawyer, and later, a guilty but cunning Ben Linus. During the “A-list missions” and battles with the Others, Sayid proved to be a valuable military asset. After escaping from the island, Sayid reunited with Nadia, only to see her murdered not a year after their wedding. The rest of Sayid’s time off the island is devoted to hunting her killers down, one by one, and exacting revenge. This came with an uneasy alliance with Ben, on the premise that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” However, it’s still unclear whether the men Ben directed Sayid to kill had anything to do with Nadia’s murder – or if Sayid was being conned.

Flash forward to Sayid’s return to the island – circa 1977. Here, a lost and confused Sayid struggles with the reason why he’s been brought back to the island; what is his purpose here? After meeting 12-year-old Ben Linus, Sayid has an epiphany: if he was to kill Ben, then the young, innocent Ben would not live to grow into the evil, adult Ben that the Losties know and hate – and thus most of the (present-day) events in Lost would never occur. But can Sayid really murder a child in cold blood?

He’s Our You” deals with Sayid’s inner struggle over this complex moral dilemma. As with earlier episodes, Sayid wonders whether he’ll ever be able to escape his past as a torturer and killer; are these merely things that he has done – bad things, of course, but things that can be left in the past – or are they what he is? To what extent do Sayid’s sins define him as a person? And, given the American occupying forces’ role in shaping his destiny, is Sayid a natural born or man-made killer?

In this episode, the audience learns that Sayid worked for Ben as a sort of “assassin” after Nadia’s death. We’re also (finally!) treated to flashbacks of Sayid’s childhood (whereas we saw many of the Losties as children in earlier seasons), including this particularly disturbing memory:


[Chickens clucking]

Title card: Tikrit, Iraq

MAN: [Pulling a boy alongside him.] [Subtitle: Come on! You are not a child anymore. Act like a man. You must kill one.] [Gestures toward a chicken coop.]

BOY: [Glances sadly at the chickens. Hesitantly:] [Subtitle: I…I don’t want to.]

MAN: [Sternly] [Subtitle: You will do as your father asks.]

BOY: [Subtitle: No!]

MAN: [Subtitle: Listen to what I’m telling you! Come on, kill one of them! You will stay outside until you do!]

[The man leaves the boy standing in front of the chicken coop with knife in hand.]

[Smaller boy approaches from behind, lays a hand on the larger boy’s shoulder. They look at each other. The smaller boy opens his hand to reveal a handful of chicken feed. The smaller boy enters the coop and lays the feed on the ground in front of him. A bird approaches, which the boy lifts into his arms. The boy snaps the bird’s neck while the other boy looks wincingly on. The smaller boy brings the bird out of the coop and offers it to the larger boy, who takes it. The MAN reapproaches the pair.]

MAN: [To the larger boy] [Subtitle: Good for you. You did it.]

BOY: [Subtitle: It wasn’t me.]

MAN: [Subtitle: Well, at least one of you will be a man. [Approaches and bends down to look the smaller boy in the eyes.] Well done, Sayid.]

Transcript via Lostpedia; unfortunately, I couldn’t find a video of this individual flashback, but it is shown briefly in the recap video below:

Given the link between animal abuse (including childhood animal abuse) and interpersonal violence, I think the writers’ decision to show Sayid killing a nonhuman animal – coldly and seemingly without emotion – was spot-on. Especially impressive is their choice to cultivate audience sympathy/disgust on behalf of a chicken – a “food” animal – whose mistreatment and slaughter most people overlook to the tune of billions a year. (Most of the 10 billion+ land animals consumed in the U.S. annually are chickens.)

Perhaps more commonly, pop culture depictions of animal abuse involve “pet” animals, such as dogs and cats (see, for example, The Butterfly Effect, in which a dog’s torture and murder is one of many pivotal/potentially life-altering moments in the narrative). And for obvious reasons: dogs and cats are familiar to us, such that we are able to see the animal on the screen (or in the latest undercover investigation) as an individual being, complete with a family, emotions and a personality, as opposed to an abstract, depersonalized object. So good on Lost for considering a “lesser” animal as one worthy of compassion and sympathy. (Even if it was incidental or accidental!)

Of course, this flashback doesn’t really “solve” Sayid’s moral dilemma, as it is open to multiple interpretations. While Sayid was, in fact, able to strangle the chicken with little display of emotion, this doesn’t necessarily brand him a born killer. His father is portrayed as “a hard man” who obviously valued an unemotional, detached, even brutal version of masculinity – and, consequently, tried to instill these values in his sons. Raised in another environment, Sayid might have become an entirely different man. Additionally, it’s not clear that he took any pleasure in ending the chicken’s life; and as an adult, Sayid struggles with his roles as a soldier, interrogator, killer and assassin. He rarely kills because he wants to (the obvious exception being his stint as Linus’s hit man), but rather because he feels as though he has to in order to achieve a loftier goal.

Likewise, is one the sum total of one’s past (mis)deeds, or is there always a chance for redemption and evolution? Sayid’s flashback shows that his history of violence is lengthy, but does not indicate whether it’s a fate he’s destined to continue in perpetuity.

Perhaps we’ll find out more in the final season of Lost (!squeal!). No spoilers, please, I probably won’t be able to watch it until Friday night!

Anyhow, on a lighter note:

Final Season Of ‘Lost’ Promises To Make Fans More Annoying Than Ever

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3 Responses to “Lost‘s Sayid Jarrah: A History of Violence”

  1. Because the world needs more vegan superheroes, » V for Vegan: easyVegan.info Says:

    […] far this week, I’ve blogged about Bones, Lost (no Season Six spoilers, please! lalalalala I can’t hear you!), the Temple Grandin biopic […]

  2. Shannon Says:

    I don’t watch Lost, but I feel the need to mention that I have had a raging ladyboner for Naveen Andrews ever since The English Patient. That is all.

  3. Kelly G. Says:

    He’s wonderful in Lost – and his island GF was also named Shannon!

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