Middle Eastern characters are rarely seen on television, and when we do on shows like 24, Alias or The West Wing, the portrayals are not positive ones. So when the writers of Lost created a character who was not only an Iraqi, but a member of the Republican Guard, and they make him one of the more sympathetic characters on the show, they were making a bigger risk than a lot of the other parts of the story. Sayid is one of the more complex characters on the show (then again, that could be true of almost anybody on the island), but as we saw earlier, he has some of the biggest baggage of the other characters. In ‘Solitary’, we see a good sense of what it is.
Sayid was a torturer, and from what we saw in the flashbacks, he was an effective one. He had the ability to shut down his emotions in order to get the job don—- until a woman from his past reappeared as a prisoner. Nadia, the woman in the photograph Sayid has been carrying was clearly a childhood friend, who somehow became a suspected insurgent. It’s not clear whether he was able to torture her as well, but he wanted to protected, and was willing to risk everything in order to make sure she stayed safe. Much like Sawyer, Sayid is obsessed with finding his search, but he has long since given up on hope.
All of this comes to the surface when Sayid is taken prisoner by someone else on the island. The Frenchwoman whose distress call we heard in the Pilot, captures and tries to torture to Sayid. Her name is Danielle Rousseau, and through her we get some sense of the island. A member of a science expedition that was caught in a storm en route to Tahiti, they ended up on the island. The other members of her team got sick with some illness, and Rousseau killed them all. Oh, and there were Others on the island who infected. The Frenchwoman is extremely paranoid, probably a little insane, and clearly has been alone so long that she’s forgotten who to interact with people— which is evident in how she handles him in the first few minutes he is conscious. Sayid clearly thinks she’s at least a little delusional, but like her wants to gets some kind of answers.
Of course, when we find her, a whole load of questions come into play. What did she inject into Sayid, where did she get the electricity that she used to zap him? What was her team researching? What was the malfunction that cause their ship to crash? How was it that she didn’t notice the plane crashing? What is the black rock that she mentions? Where is the source of the transmission? And who are these Others that she keeps mentioning with a mixture of fear and wonder? Eventually, we get answers to most of these questions, but not from her. Most importantly, despite the fact that for the first time, she can interact with other people, she elects not to. She doesn’t want to be a part of whatever civilization is being built on the island (and as we find out, there is more than one)
The scenes between Sayed and Rousseau is among the high points of the first season. Sayid knows he’s playing with a live bomb here, as well as a potential source of information. Even if Danielle is lying to him, the fact is she has been on this island for seventeen years seems to indicate that she knows at least some of the mysteries on this island. Danielle tortures drugs, and interrogates Sayid, and the two end their discussion by training rifles on each other, but there is clearly some measure of respect here. Sayid will become Rousseau’s link to the castaways for the next few seasons, despite somewhat unfortunate things that will happen.
Meanwhile, back at the crash site, life is continuing after a fashion. Jack is still tending to the wounded, Locke is still hunting, Sawyer’s still being a jerk, and so on. Hurley, however, the man who has been trying to keep the peace, now finds away to try and alleviate stress, by creating a two-hole golf course, and inviting everyone to the first ‘Island Open’. Golf is an apt game for the castaway to be playing, considering it deals more with man versus nature rather than man versus man. However, it does accomplish something Jack has not been able to do for two weeks, and that is bring some peace and unity among the survivors. Of course, there are those who don’t feel isolated because of where they are. Locke, for example does not participate, and Walt, who has been leaning towards him, is more interested in following him than the others are.
This is funny, but the most important element of the episode comes when Rousseau tells Sayid about ‘the others’. This is a term that the survivors have been tossing around since the day of the crash. We knew that there was at least one person on the island, but her description of hearing them whispering in the wind’, sounds like that of a lunatic. Until Sayid on his way back to camp actually hears the whispering.. I’m still not entirely certain which group (there are a couple of them) is making the noise or what they’re saying, but it does not sound friendly. More importantly, we meet a survivor named Ethan who has been helping Locke hunt and seems to be as average as anybody here. We’re going to find out soon enough that this he doesn’t belong, though I’m still not sure who he worked with or why.
This is the first major episode where the majority of the story is concentrated on a single character, and the other castaways, particularly Jack and Kate, remain more in the background. Many of the other characters, such as Claire, Sun and Jin are conspicuously absent. Writer Fury, who cut his teeth working on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, knows how to amplify the level of strangeness, how to mix the serious with the amusing (Sawyer’s reaction to Jack playing golf is priceless), and how to build an episode around one character. Naveen Andrews and Mira Furlan give strong performances not only about strangeness but about loss. Both characters deeply yearn for people they have lost, and are obsessed with finding them. (Ironically, both will eventually find their heart’s desire because of the island, but will not be able to hold it for long.)
The dynamic of the show changes dramatically after ‘Solitary’. Up until this point, the survivors of Oceanic 815 have only had to deal with the perils of the island, not any human enemy. They are about to learn they’re not alone, and that ‘the others’ are not friendly. The real mysteries are about to kick in the show into high— and it wasn’t that low to begin with.