Monday, May 4, 2009

The Midside: S5E14 The Variable

We’ve reached it, 100. Well, the show has reached it anyway. I’ve only written 75 columns, including non-episode special editions such as “The Key to Locke” and “Jayemel’s List.” To be honest, it’s a bit disappointing. I wish I could revel in the same 100 glory that the writers of the show surely did. Although, my favorite glory is 300. Immortals? We put their name to the test. Besides, I think the 108th episode will be a bigger deal for LOST than the 100th episode was, even though this milestone contained a lot of expository information (it had to, it was a [the?] Faraday episode).

I get what The Variable means. It’s cute, really, it is. The problem I have with it is that it may be a little too cute. It drips with over exertion on the part of the writers the way young Faraday’s “I can make time” did. And for that reason I’m extremely surprised Kitsis and Horowitz wrote this episode. On initial viewing, I declared this effort as the worst they’ve penned in the five seasons of the show.

However, upon second viewing something interesting happened. The episode got better, a lot better (proving that whatever happened didn’t necessarily happen). The intricacies of the writing became a lot clearer. What we had this week was a set up for the season finale, which is, of course, a set up for the final season of the show. So, Faraday’s episode was a set up for the set up for the final arc of the series. It’s also extremely interesting to me that the later episodes of the series get better with repeat viewings, while the first couple seasons (at least) seemed amazing on initial viewing. Am I just spoiled by the high quality of LOST that I don’t truly appreciate the brilliance until I see it twice or are the newer seasons so jam packed with information that they don’t become clear until you watch them multiple times? The world may never know, like with how many licks it takes to get to the center of a tootsie pop.

Oh, and if you let out a sigh of relief a few weeks ago because you thought the time travel was over: HAHA. It’s baaaack (and better than ever). In fact, this week I’ll only be discussing two things: Faraday and Time Travel.


I once read that the writers of Aladdin had a motto written in their office: “When in doubt, hurt the bird” (I think I read it in Disney Adventures when I was younger). Kitsis and Horowitz must have had a similar motto in mind when writing this episode: “When in doubt, have Faraday spaz out.” Immediately after climbing out of the sub, he runs to Jack’s, freaks out (saying stuff like “And how did she convince you, Jack? Did she tell you it was your destiny?” and she was wrong), and leaves. Jack even thought he was “spouting nonsense,” and if Jack thinks that, it must be nonsense. Of course, Jack usually thinks anyone who disagree with him is spouting nonsense, so I might have to take that back. Regardless, it makes sense to have Faraday spaz out as much as possible this week, considering it may be the last time we ever see him. Ok, maybe not ever see him, but it does seem like he’s dead. Hold on, I’m getting ahead of myself.

Finally, a character doesn’t have father issues. He has mother issues. Ok, so it’s not that different, but it’s enough of a difference to get me a little excited. (So it doesn’t take much to excite me. Don’t mock). And as this episode unfolded every Jewish guy with an overbearing mother suddenly identified with Faraday. Seriously, she showed up in his life every step up the way and tried to subvert his personhood, from the time he was a child playing the piano until his end. She even showed up when Faraday wasn’t there, harassing Penny as Desmond was in the OR. She claimed Desmond being shot was her son’s fault. How exactly was it his fault? True, his request to Desmond did bring him up to Los Angeles, but many people ask us to do many things, they can’t be held responsible for the chain of events that occur to us after we fulfill their request. I guess when you think like Hawking and everything is a causal event, you can’t help but make the connections. Besides, I get the impression that she was there more to harass Penny out of some grudge with Widmore than to express true grievances.

The most interesting parts of Faraday’s past were the first thing his mother said to him and the fact that Widmore is his father. While he was playing the piano as a kid, Faraday had destiny defined for him. Hawking explained it as a special gift being nurtured. She, of course, meant nurtured in the way she saw fit because you could argue that anyone with a special gift nurtures it in the way they see fit. However, it’s interesting to consider this definition of destiny in light of the series in general and the season specifically (the slogan is “Destiny Calls” after all).

The show has always presented free will and destiny as polar opposites (or maybe we just do in the way we’re taught to think). What if they aren’t? If destiny is a special gift being nurtured, aren’t we succumbing to destiny with how we nurture our talents? Likewise, Locke goes on and on about destiny, but maybe all he means, without knowing it, is that the island helps people nurture their special gifts. Faraday’s mind was healed. Locke’s legs were healed (making him a hunter). Sawyer became a leader. Jack became an even better doctor (it’s easy to heal people on an island that heals people). Kate became…well, we won’t get into her special talents. The point remains. Maybe destiny is free will.

It’s important to note, however, that the writers have simply parlayed the free will vs. determinism debate into the nurture vs. nature debate. What I mean is the following: Faraday’s mind was made for science. He could never be a professional tennis player. His nature (or genetics) determines what his special talent his, but he decides how to nurture it. Therefore, we start with certain capabilities (determinism/nature) and go where we want from there (free will/nurture). This idea simply substitutes biological determinism for determinism by outside factors (such as outside causal events). However, to be fair, biological determinism is a bit more complicated. This idea substitutes in light biological determinism. Maybe at the end of the day LOST is just an argument for compatibalism.

Where was I? Oh yes, Faraday’s mother issues. Hawking shows up at his graduation, gives him the journal, and tells him that “The women in your life will only be hurt.” Was that statement a prediction of the future? Was it a threat? Does it include her? Regardless, it was correct, as we know what happened to both Theresa and Charlotte. Also, note how the journal has affected Faraday’s life and will play into the rest of the season. Was Hawking course correcting the events of the series by giving her son the journal? Unfortunately, we won’t know the answers to these questions until the true end game is revealed.

And then we have to ask ourselves if Faraday’s mother issues really are father issues considering that Widmore is his father and he had no idea his entire life. Why did Hawking and Widmore have a child? They’ve never seemed particularly loving to each other. Even in their scene in this episode, they didn’t appear to be former lovers. Did they have Faraday because they had to for the sake of the timeline? Is that why his last name is Faraday and not Hawking or Widmore? See, it all does go back to father issues. Although, you probably have to define the issues through the eyes of the person, and Faraday would almost certainly say his issues were with his mother and not his father. What about her issues with him though? Had she given birth to him before she shot him? If not, imagine how weird it must be to give birth to a child you’ve already shot. Time travel makes my head hurt.

It also creates incredibly creepy scenes such as Faraday talking to young Charlotte. I’m calling it right now, that scene will go down as the creepiest scene of the series.


Continuing to play upon the discussion of determinism and the expository nature of Faraday’s character, the writers introduced a new perspective on time travel (one that I quite like), but, in true LOST fashion, contradicted it throughout the episode. Now it’s up to us to decide which side we agree with…or we could just wait and see what happens. I like to indulge myself with these columns however, so we’re going to delve into the discussion. First, a quote from a random character:

Random Guy working in the Orchid: “Did you hear that? Time travel. How stupid does that guy think we are?”

Clearly it’s an in joke by the writers. Are we supposed to identify with the character or scoff at him? If it’s the former, the writers are mocking us. If it’s the latter, they’re mocking themselves. I’m going to be generous and say they were mocking themselves, after all, who would think they could make a successful major network show about time travel? Obviously only someone stupid, or the two guys who think they can reboot Star Trek (with Kurtzman and Orci writing to boot).

Immediately upon his arrival, Faraday introduced the idea that his mother was wrong. In a conversation with Jack, he stated: “You don't belong here at all. She was wrong.” Of course, he doesn’t explain himself before running off, leaving both us and Jack bewildered. The possibility of Eloise Hawking being wrong is a perfect way to start the episode though. Ever since she was first introduced in Flashes Before Your Eyes, we’ve had the impression that she knew what was going on with the timeline. With her being wrong, another reliable constant (hmm) in LOST is blown out of the water. Our only choice in the episode is to trust its main character Faraday as he scurries about the DI encampment. This notion also bookends the episode nicely, so we’ll return to it at the end of the section.

We’re left scratching our heads wondering how time travel can’t be deterministic, as all we’ve been taught in contemporary science fiction is that time travel must be deterministic, even though it being so creates things such as pre-destination paradoxes. Look, I love science fiction (hell, I even watch Fringe), and a good time travel story really gets me going (no, not like that), but let’s be serious for a minute. Is there much of a difference between 12 Monkeys and Harry Potter and The Prisoner of Azkaban? Blah blah blah protagonist realizes the mysterious figure he saw is actually himself from the future when he is himself in the future and sees himself in the past. That sentence is why I love time travel, it’s a fun mind game, but it’s a stale plot device. Simply for the sake of spicing up the genre, something had to be done.

In the middle of the episode though, the writers continued to play with the old fashioned rules. Faraday harasses PF Chang, almost revealing Miles’ secret, in an attempt to maintain the timeline. He and Miles share an exchange:

Miles: “Are you out of your mind? What are you doing?”
Faraday: “I'm just making sure that your father does what he's supposed to do.”
Miles: “And what's that?”
Faraday: “You'll see.”

See? It’s all determinism. Of course, it’s important to point out here that Faraday may have been trying to preserve part of the timeline (the lead up to the Incident), so he could later change another part of the timeline (the Incident itself), but the point remains that the writers are reiterating the idea of determinism to us. They want us to remember it until…

…Jack asks Faraday to explain how his mother was wrong. Faraday launches into a diatribe that begins with his recounting of the first four seasons and then continues…

Faraday: “...This entire chain of events, it's going to start happening this afternoon. But, we can change that. I've studied relativistic physics my entire life. One thing emerged over and over. You can't change the past. You can't do it. Whatever happened, happened, right? But then, I finally realized, I had been spending so much time focused on the constants, I forgot about the variables. And do you know what the variables in these equations are, Jack?”
Jack: “No.”
Faraday: “Us. We're the variables. People. We think. We reason. We make choices. We have free will. We can change our destiny.”

I definitely enjoy the linking of humanity with reason (further supporting my point that the writers are putting forward a Randian view of the world), but that point is minor. The major point of Faraday’s lecture is the sort of application of the theory of relativity to time travel and what it means for determinism, free will, and individualism. If you’re looking at time as a whole (and essentially removing yourself from it), nothing can be changed. All the events fit together like a puzzle. However, if you’re standing at any one point in time, you can change things because relative to you, that point is your present and in your present you always have free will. However, we are then presented with a mess of contradictions and confusing logical implications.

First off, depending on how many people time travel and from when, the time line can be in constant flux. If you travel to 1977 and I travel to 1966, I can change your present by changing my present. Of course, the answer to this implication is that, especially according to relativistic physics, the time line is always in flux. It can’t not be. There are always people existing in the present, because wherever they are people there is necessarily a present. (And I used a double negative on purpose.)

Second off, if they do stop the plane crash, how could they have gone back in time to stop the plane crash, so shouldn’t the plane crash always happen, but if it always happens, won’t they always go back in time and stop it? Yup, you got it. We have a giant mess of time travel soup spilled all over The Midside. However, relativistic physics opens the door to a very easy explanation that I’ve always been annoyed no time travel story has ever utilized (and works well with what LOST has already established): whatever happened, happened, but is only remember by the people it happened to. In other words, memories are relative to the individuals who experienced them (duh). So, if they stop the plane crash, they will always have stopped the plane crash and only they will remember it, but since they will cease to exist, no one will remember it. No one remembering somethng doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. It just means no one remembers it. (That’s why after 9/11 people made the cheesy slogan “Never forget.” And, by the way, best knock knock joke ever:

Knock knock?
Who’s there?
9/11 who?
You said you’d never forget!)

Wow, that was a long parenthetical. Anywho, the writers then went ahead and contradicted this idea of relativistic time travel with Faraday’s (apparent) death. In his final throws, he looks up at his mother and says, “Eloise? You knew. You always knew. You knew this was gonna happen and you sent me here anyway.” So, they close the episode out with images of determinism dancing in our head.

But wait! In the previous scene Eloise Hawking admitted she doesn’t know anymore:

Penny: “What do you mean, is Des going to be ok?”
Hawking: “I don't know. For the first time in a long time, I don't know what's going to happen next.”

If deterministic time travel is true, how can she not know? We have to go back to the Desmond and Charlie plot in Season 3 to get a handle on this. The universe will course correct, but in the moment, an individual can change things, and if he does that for enough small things, it can change a big thing. It’s a form of compatibilism that I can’t remember the name of, but the gist of it is that free will only exists in the moment we make a decision. It’s some complex stuff (and the answer is, of course, that we’re always making choices in every moment. Furious debate ensues). It’s what happens when a showrunner went to Harvard (Cuse).

What do I think? Based on Desmond suddenly getting the memory of Faraday knocking on the Hatch door earlier in the season and his Season 3 plot, relativistic time travel is a go for this series. I just hope they don’t steal my idea for my book. I’d have to do some major rewrites. That’d be annoying.


-In a minor note of possible foreshadowing, when in the team meeting in Sawyer and Juliet’s house, Sawyer states their options: “...or we can head back in the jungle, start from square one.” Will Season 5 be starting from square one? Considering the end of LOST: Via Domus, I wouldn’t be surprised at all.

-I saw X-Men Origins: Wolverine on Friday night. I swear the thing is littered with LOST references. Dominic Monaghan and Kevin Durand are in it. I pointed out the numbers a few times. They kept looking for a mysterious island. If only Josh Holloway had played Gambit like he was born to do…

-If you haven’t seen Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse yet, you need to. It’s had two of the best episodes of television I’ve seen so far this year. The most recent episode “Briar Rose” was especially incredible. Alan Tudyk delivers the performance of the year. If he doesn’t win an Emmy, I’m going to riot. It may be me by myself running around lighting shit on fire, but I’ll do it. And if you show up and try to tell why he didn’t win, I’ll scream back at you:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

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