LOST, the ABC television show currently wrapping up its final (and 6th) season, mentioned the possibility of zombies on the Island in last week’s episode. For those who have not yet watched the series, season, or show, please know that there are MAJOR spoilers in this article.
Sayid, shot by members of the Dharma Initiative during the Season 5 finale, seemed to die in the first episode of Season 6. However, Hurley, Jack, & co., all of whom brought his unconscious body to the mysterious Temple to see if the residents therein could save Sayid, complicated his death. The Temple residents could not save him and, in fact, seemed to speed his death by drowning him. In a twist that only LOST could cleanly pull off, though, Sayid lived. His heart and breathing had stopped entirely, but he miraculously popped up about 30-60 minutes after he had been declared dead.
Hurley later made a joke about Sayid being a zombie, and that joke drew my interest. It was not the first time that LOST had been associated with zombies. Earlier in the series’ history, the producers, when pressed about the supernatural twists, time-travel logistics, and general bafflement of the show, had joked that Season 7 would have been the “Zombie Season.” Therefore, when Hurley made the joke about Sayid-as-a-zombie, most LOST fans assumed that it was only an inside joke. However, could it be more?
Sayid-as-a-zombie certainly sparked interest in message boards, blogs, and twitter feeds. One of the best articles, by Doc Jensen, mentions his “Philosophical Zombie” theory starting at the bottom of page 4. Most of these articles, however, lack a clear definition of a zombie and fail to address why the mention of zombies may be critical to understanding both the supernatural character and the television show.
Although there are distinct differences in mental acuity and physical prowess, all zombies are corpses, reanimated and capable of movement and thought but without the ability to feel pain or maintain normal bodily functions. To put it bluntly, zombies do not have beating hearts, even though they can have a throbbing desire to gobble brains.
Let us look at Sayid, post-revivification: He can feel pain, is breathing, and does have a heartbeat. Sayid cannot be a zombie. In fact, if he is not human (and that's a big IF), he might be something closer to the creature in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein or even the mummy in Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “Some Words with a Mummy.” Both Frankenstein’s creature and Poe’s mummy were electrified into existence (in the former case) or re-existance (in the latter); their organs began to function and their own bodies, not a mysterious spirit, kept them alive. Although Sayid was not electrified, his organs are functioning; therefore, he is not a zombie.
With that in mind, LOST producers and writers could be presenting zombies as a joke more than a philosophical point. More likely, though, they are invoking the socially constructed, and easily misconstrued, nature of the term “zombie” and relying on the premise that no one would carefully dissect the term. Conveniently, Sayid-as-a-zombie does not seem too different from “regular” Sayid: he feels pain when tortured, can still converse normally, and seems to clearly remember most of his life. But, by bestowing the moniker of “zombie” on him, the writers signal that the viewer should look for changes to Sayid’s character. Does he interact differently than he would have before? Do people interact differently with him? What kind of danger does he present?
As a “zombie,” Sayid’s character gains intensity and interest. Other character changes, though happening at the same time as Sayid’s storyline, do not seem to have as much impact. For instance, Hurley became an active authority figure in the first episode on Season 6, though he had previously eschewed all of the responsibility associated with being a leader. Although Hurley quickly relinquished this newfound authority after Sayid’s revivification, viewers of LOST dismiss these intriguing character changes and concentrate on the “zombie.” Likewise, Jack, the ultimate take-charge man-of-science, chooses to relinquish control, subvert a fellow authority figure, and put faith in friendship rather than medicine. His choices, as laudable as they are, signal a definite break from his usual demeanor. However, again, Jack is overshadowed by Sayid-as-a-zombie. Viewers (and other characters on the show) are much more concerned with what spirit might be possessing Sayid (which is not a zombie-sign, by the way) or how Sayid’s infection could spread to “normal” humans.
LOST writers may be using the seemingly dismissive, somewhat amusing description of “zombie” to trick their viewers. In the larger picture, zombies serve to distinguish humanity from non-humanity. If LOST writers deliberately skew viewer attention to Sayid, displacing attention from Jack, Hurley, & co, those forgotten characters have more room to grow, more important roles to fulfill. Zombies are not only dangerous when real; they are also dangerous when used as a source of amusement or with the deliberate intent to mislead. Do not underestimate zombies. Do not underestimate the writers of LOST.