Friday, February 5, 2010

The Midside: S6E01+02 LA X

(This column will be cross posted on CulturEsponse for the rest of this final season. You should be following that blog already anyway!)

The difficulty I have with any season premiere is the openness it necessitates of content. As opposed to a season finale, philosophical concepts are hard to discuss because the metaphysical point of the storylines isn’t clear yet. The arcs are all open ended, if they’ve even really begun at all. Sayid, for instance, didn’t really have an arc in this episode. Yes, things happened to him, but that’s the point. Things happened to him. He didn’t make any decisions. Even in the parallel universe, all he did was kick a door down. It wasn’t a tough or agonizing choice or anything.

Oh, my bad, yes, we’re dealing with a parallel universe. No, we’re not calling it an alternate universe (Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse explain why they don’t want to use that term here), so I’m sticking to a parallel universe. Well, don’t take that clause out of context. I can imagine someone reading it and being like, “Jayemel’s going to a parallel universe?” Yes, it’s how I’m going to get into the minds of the characters this season. I’m going to experience what they are.

In all seriousness, LOST is attempting what, I don’t believe, any science fiction show has before, using both time travel and parallel universes as major plot devices in one show. The key word I used is major. Many other science fiction shows have had episodes featuring both devices. Star Trek is known for falling back on them for one shot episodes. In fact, one of my favorite episodes of the Next Generation is when Worf finds himself jumping between universes, and we see all the different directions his life could’ve gone if he and other people had made different decisions. It’s an interesting mental exercise to consider the other possible outcomes of our lives.

That idea is what I expect the question of this season to be, “How do you know this life is the best possible version of your life?” In a way, it is similar to last season’s question of “How do you come to terms with the bad directions your life has gone?”, but it is subtly different. Last season focused on regret for past choices. I expect this season to focus on fear of current choices. Sure, you can come to terms with yesterday, whatever happened, happened, but doing so doesn’t make today any less intimidating. Every choice is a commitment, a value judgment, a statement saying “this is better than that.”

For the purposes of Season 6 of LOST, this and that have been quantified in the original universe and the new universe. Lindelof and Cuse are working off of an extremely simplified version of the theory that every choice you face creates a number of parallel universes where every possible outcome of your choice exists. Rather, they created a universe with rules that necessitated a parallel universe because of free will. Daniel Faraday was right both times. Whatever happened, happened, but humans are the variables because they have free will. If you travel back in time, you can make all sorts of minor changes as long as they don’t harm the overall integrity of the timeline; however, if you make a major change, such as setting off a nuclear bomb, something must be done with consequences of that action, because they both happened and didn’t happen at the same time. That contradiction must be rectified, so existence creates a parallel universe. In other words, his nuclear bomb plan worked and it didn’t work. Both reset and parallel universe theorists were right at the same time. Ha, take that, LOST fandom. Lindelof and Cuse are still one step ahead of us. (Although, I’m sure someone out there had this same idea. It’s way too logical for someone not to have thought of it…and apparently that person is my friend William, who just attempted to gloat to me about thinking something I did right before I made him read the above paragraph.)


Last night my roommate asked me if I thought the lives of the people in the parallel universe would be worse than the lives of the people in the original universe (so that we would realize “our” universe is better). I replied, “Quite the opposite. I expect their lives to be exponentially better.” I expect Jack to fix Locke. I expect Kate to end up raising Aaron happily. I expect Sun and Jin to stay in America and fall madly in love beyond the reach of Sun’s father. I expect Hurley and Sawyer to become business partners or Sawyer to somehow protect Hurley from losing his money (because I don’t think Sawyer is a con man in this universe). These predictions aren’t many, and may very well be wrong, but they’re simply basic thoughts on how the parallel universe will go better.

Why do I think the new universe will be superior to the old? Hold on, don’t misinterpret what I’m saying. I think the new universe will have better immediate and individual outcomes, but overall, it will be worse. Essentially, the reason we’ll see how good life could’ve gone for everyone is to contrast it with how poor everyone’s life seems to be going in the original universe, but then twist us by revealing that life in the original universe may actually be better because of some broader truth that is positive in the original universe and negative in the new universe (this reveal may actually be the series finale).

Before I go into what I believe the broader truth is, let’s delve into the minor differences between the characters. As mentioned in the article I linked to above, the archetypes are the same. However, there may be minor differences in the characters, and we’ve already seen them. Two are immediately obvious. First, Shannon decided to stay in Australia rather than return with Boone. This difference doesn’t seem to require much analysis, but hopefully its depth will grow in coming episodes.

In contrast, the second immediately obvious difference is Hurley believing he’s the luckiest guy in the world. This belief, however, may be exactly in line with the way I see the season going. Whereas the new Hurley believes he has good luck, and our Hurley believes he has bad luck, we will probably find by the end of the season that they’re both wrong, and the opposite of what they each believe is true. Jacob even said so much to Hurley in "The Incident" when he told him his talking to dead people could be considered as a good thing.

Another interesting tidbit is that the female TSA representative called Sun Ms. Paik and not Mrs. Kwon. Earlier on the plane, Sun seemed to be playing with her wedding ring, but it’s very difficult to actually determine if she or Jin are wearing wedding rings, even with DVR/Tivo. In the same vein, while the watch is easy to remember (Jin ended up giving it to Michael), all that money Jin had was never revealed before. It is, of course, possible we were just never shown it in our universe; however, that would seem to be a big hint about where the Jin and Sun flashsideways episode will focus.

Other differences between the characters were cosmetic. Charlie had a buzzcut. Jack’s hair was long, and he had a cut on his neck (Was the cut from the Incident? Did he know he had it or was he surprised at the sight of it?). Sawyer’s facial hair was longer than when they originally crashed on the island. Do these changes represent anything other than actors growing other and changing their style (Charlie’s hair is probably more representative of Dominic Monhagan than Charlie)? We’ll see in coming weeks.

Other characters were conspicuous by their absence. Though we were shown Frogurt, which I thought was a nice little touch, we didn’t have Michael, Walt, or any of the true Tailies (Ana Lucia, Libby, Mr. Eko, Nathan), well, unless you count Cindy. Odds are Michael and Walt weren’t shown because of how old Malcolm David Kelley is now, but I have to wonder if they weren’t on the parallel plane. Likewise, they probably didn’t show the true Tailies because they were attempting to parallel the plane exiting montage in Exodus, in which they weren’t included. Will these characters be included in the rest of the season? I’ve heard rumors, and I certainly hope so (especially Eko), but we shall see.


The crux of the question of the superiority of one universe over the other hinges on one element for me: The island. We’ve already been shown that in the new universe, the island is submerged. Since in the submerged sequence Dharma Village was already built and Ezra J. Sharkington was swimming around, the most logical conclusion is that the Jughead explosion submerged the island. What is difficult to logically consider is what the effects of the submersion of the island are. It is important to consider these effects, though, because I believe they will be why the new universe ultimately turns out to be worse.

To work backwards from an idea I have, I believe the submersion of the island released The Black Smoke/MiB/Flocke/Jacob’s Nemesis/The Monster (if we want to resort to name calling) into the rest of the world. The reason I believe so hinges on two details: The ash circles and its (his?) explanation of what he wants to Ben.

From this episode, especially, we are led to believe that ash in a circle provides some sort of protection against The Black Smoke. It would seem that it can’t cross the ash. However, what if it just can’t cross circles, because they are completely enclosed and have no break, and the ash is just a quick and easy way to protect yourself? What would be easier to carry around to create an instant circle, a hula hoop? This circle idea explains and is supported by the Dharma sonic fence. The sonic fence enclosed Dharma in a circle (ok, so the circle’s are geometrically imperfect) when operational. Many people wondered why The Black Smoke didn’t simply go over the fence. Well, if it can’t cross circles, then we have our answer.

This circle idea interacts with The Black Smoke’s explanation to Ben to show us an interesting possibility. It told Ben that what it wanted was to go home. That answer raises two questions. Where is home? Why can’t it go home? The former question is nearly impossible to evidence, as we have little knowledge of the identity of The Black Smoke. The latter question, however, has two possible answers. First, Jacob could’ve been preventing it from leaving, and now that Jacob is dead, it’s free and wants to exact it’s vengeance on Jacob’s allies before leaving. Second, the island is completely enclosed by water in a circular fashion, so it can’t leave. If the circle theory is true, the latter explanation makes a lot of sense.

Thus, if the island is The Black Smoke’s circular prison, then it is free in the new universe where the island is submerged. Assuming The Black Smoke is actually evil (I mean, it does kill people. Although, besides Mr. Eko, it only seems to kill people that directly attack it, which is corroborated by Richard Alpert yelling very loudly not to shoot it.) a universe where it is free to destroy the rest of the world is far worse than any other universe. However, I still wouldn’t be surprised if, at the end of it all, we’re twisted one more time and Jacob turns out to be the bad one.

Although, a major hole in the circle theory is regarding the actual Others. Why didn’t they build a moat around the Temple, or another more permanent protection method so that they didn’t need to do the ash circle like they did? Did they trust Jacob would always protect them? Did they build the wall, and when it failed said, “Ah, screw it”? And I called them the actual Others because they are the more savage others we saw in Season Two (and as I theorized back then that there were two groups). They are also the source of the whispers, as we heard them when they captured Jack, Kate, Hurley, and Jin in the wall. Ben/Widmore/Hawkin’s Others seem to be an offshoot of the actual Others, kind of a group of recruited people from organizations that find their way to the island, perhaps a group of quasi-Others to see if you’re worthy enough to be an actual Other.


As always, there are many more questions and possibilities to explore, but I examined the ones I felt were the most relevant. The other major one is the possibility of travel between the two universes. Three characters presented possible evidence for this idea: Charlie, Juliet, and Desmond. Charlie’s line of “I was supposed to die” could be interpreted as him having knowledge of the other universe or as him simply wanting to commit suicide. Likewise, Juliet’s gibberish about going to get coffee when she was about to die could be interpreted as her slipping between universes or as random neurons firing in her brains as she died (“Tell Merrill to swing away.”). The former is given more credence when you consider that she went from saying it didn’t work when she was alive to it worked after she died (thanks to translation from Miles). Finally, the rules don’t apply to Desmond, as Farraday told him, and Lindelof and Cuse were playing with that idea by having him on the plane sitting next to Jack and then seemingly vanish. Was he actually on the plane or was he flashing between parallel universes? Was "Flashes Before Your Eyes" a flash to the past or a parallel universe? I’m sure we’ll get these answers in weeks to come.

Now, onto random topics!

Challenge of the Week: Loyal readers, I impart upon you a Where’s Waldo-esque quest. Watch the episode again and see how many of the parallels to the Pilot and Season One you can identify. There were quite a few I notice, and probably more I missed. It was clever writing, which I’m sure will continue. (Also, isn’t it neat that Lindelof and Cuse essentially get to write a new show with the same characters within their already existing show? Think about it.)

Epic Win of the Week: (Tie) 1. Sawyer kicks Jack into a pit while yelling, “You were wrong!” If only that happened every time Jack was wrong (which would be every episode, multiple times every episode). 2. Jack thinks attacking the ancient Chinese guy is smart and gets Kung Fued to the face. I mean, really, Jack? Come on!

Quote of the Week: “What happened?” A clever line, as Sayid asked at the end of the episode what we were all thinking. (Also, is Jacob now inhabiting Sayid’s body? I doubt it, as it would destroy the awesome storyline they developed for Hurley where he talks to dead Jacob, but it’s possible).

Thanks for reading this week. See you after the next episode.

(Insert clever-yet-to-be-determined catchphrase here. Any suggestions?)

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