Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Midside: S5E16 The Incident

The fifth season finale of LOST carried three important themes through it: one mythological, one philosophical, and one interpersonal. Although, I would argue that the interpersonal is philosophical. But in that sense, isn’t the mythological also philosophical? Yes, you’re exactly correct. All three of these themes are intertwined in a manner that is almost impossible to unwind, kind of like Jacob’s tapestry (or our lives). We weave these complex designs and then want to focus on one string. The only problem is we can’t. All the strings support each other and must be considered together.

Why then have I separated the strings of this tapestry into three themes? The first answer is clarity and simplicity. I picked an organizational scheme in which to best discuss the episode. What is the best way to discuss the episode? The answer to that question is also the answer to the first question. I have a point to make and am going to design this column in a manner in which that point is going to be most apparent.

I’m leading with the mythology as to not get distracted by it. Yes, it’s extremely important, but it was created in order to make the deeper philosophical points. It’s not important that Jacob and Eddie exist. It’s important what they believe. Likewise, philosophically, I’ve discussed the compatibilism leanings of LOST many times over in The Midside, so having that be my main point would be counter productive. Thus, I am building this edition of The Midside towards what I believe to be a Randian undercurrent of LOST: self esteem.

True, I’ve also discussed that issue a million times over, but that’s because it’s the most important idea in the show, if not our culture. Every significant action that was taken in this episode was directly related to the self esteem of the character performing it. I don’t want to spoil that discussion though. Instead, let’s head onward on our final journey into The Midside for the season (now profanity free for the kiddies).


Five seasons later, we finally have our “two players, one light, one dark.” The most important three minutes of the final weren’t the big reveal at the end, but the big reveal at the beginning. Think about it. Locke’s body being in the box (and thus there being an imposter Locke) wouldn’t have carried the same weight if we hadn’t seen Jacob and Eddie. Why have I nicknamed the other guy Eddie? His name comes from my group’s discussions while watching the episode.

Immediately upon watching the opening scene, I called Jacob the good guy and his “opponent” the bad guy. Jacob was blonde and dressed in light colors (you might also recognize him from the first season of Dexter). His “opponent” had black hair and was dressed in dark colors. Symbolically, it would appear that Jacob is good and the other dude is evil. Hence, I started calling the other guy Ed for Evil Dude. My friends immediately turned it into Eddie as they reminded me that nothing in LOST is ever as it seems. I couldn’t disagree. I’ve argued for seasons that Widmore isn’t evil even though he was being made to appear to be. As of right now, I seem correct on that count. How could I not discount the possibility that Eddie is good? (And I know Esau is the popular nickname for Eddie, but I don’t want to delve into the Biblical implications of those character names.)

To better understand the two sides here, we must first consider their actions. Eddie’s actions are relatively simple. He killed Jacob, perhaps not with his own hands, but he plotted the murder none-the-less. I return to my ever repeated point about Ben and genocide. If you commit such an action, you’re evil. I understand there are many arguments about people making mistakes and learning, but there are levels here. Ok, so maybe you did drugs (Charlie) or had lots of meaningless sex (Sawyer), but, while those actions are harmful to yourself and the world, they can be overcome and combated. Genocide or plotting cold blooded murder cannot.

If killing makes someone bad though, aren’t we forced to decry a bunch of our favorite characters? Simply, yes, LOST has always put us in the tough position of liking characters who do extremely unlikable things. However, if we look at the concept on a more complex level, we can understand that killing does not always make someone bad or evil. Is a soldier bad or evil for killing in war? No, I would say not (though many people, aka hippies, would disagree with me). Is killing in self defense wrong? I would say not (though pacifists and some Eastern religions would disagree).

Regardless of where you fall on the spectrum of these answers, my point is that you have to consider the idea that killing isn’t wrong in every instance, and if it’s not wrong in every instance, then not everyone who has killed is bad or evil. Is Sayid bad or evil? No. In fact, his character has always walked the line. You could even argue he has had to make the toughest moral decisions of the series. He was a member of the Republican Guard. He became Ben’s assassin. Perhaps he is dumb for making these choices (to enlist in the Guard and to serve Ben), but then we find ourselves in the Nazi solider argument. Was every member of the Nazi party/army evil or were some just doing what they needed to do to survive? Moving to another character, was Ana-Lucia bad or evil? No. Rather, she was psychologically unstable due to the murder of her child. Her case is much clearer cut than Sayid’s. Likewise, Sawyer is not evil either, he’s just really really dumb. He reacted to Hibbs claim that Frank Duckett was Mr. Sawyer. The evil person in that situation was Hibbs. The most distressing case in LOST is Kate. Is she evil? I don’t know. She plotted the cold blooded murder of her father, down to taking out an insurance policy for her Mom. You could argue she was reacting to the revelation of who her real father was, but that is a tough line to walk, although, to be fair to the point, Kate’s MO has always been to react.

What does any of this discussion have to do with Eddie? It brings about the point that we don’t know his true motivations. We were given an impression as to what they are (a philosophical difference with Jacob), but we don’t know why he truly wanted to kill Jacob. Perhaps Jacob is previously murdered someone (but is revenge good reason for killing?). Perhaps Jacob will bring about the end of the world (is preventing the apocalypse good reason for killing?). I don’t know, but I do think symbolically through out the series Eddie has been shown to be the bad guy.

Eddie is clearly the black smoke. In “Dead is Dead” Ben called it and Imposter Locke walked out of the jungle. Then, Imposter Locke brought Ben to the Temple, where the black smoke, by taking the appearance of Alex, demanded Ben swear his allegiance to Imposter Locke. The last time we saw the black smoke take such an action was “The Cost of Living” when it took the form of Yemi and demanded Eko’s allegiance. Like Eko’s death, we can also look back on other key moments. Was every appearance of a dead person an apparition of Eddie? What about animals, such as Kate’s horse (black, BTW), Sawyer’s boar, and Sayid’s cat? Now, consider when Ben was brought to the Hostiles. Alpert claimed that, if saved, Ben’s innocence would forever be lost and he would always be one of them. He then carried Harry Potter’s lifeless form to the Temple.

We know the Temple is the home of the black smoke and it would seem Eddie. Does that mean the Hostiles (and possible the Others) were always tools of Eddie while believing they were tools of Jacob? Could Alpert have been made ageless by Alpert and not by Eddie? As we’ll see when we consider the dialogue from the first scene in a moment, Eddie seems to want to keep the island hidden from people, which was the stated goal of the Hostiles/Others on many occasions. Of course, considering that Eddie and the smoke monster are one and the same and live in the Temple, we have to wonder who was in the cabin, as we were led to believe it wasn’t Jacob and thus had to be Eddie. Illana said that no one had been there for a long time. Consider though that before this episode (LOST timeline year 2007), the last time we had seen the cabin was “Cabin Fever” (LOST timeline date December 29th, 2004). The time lapse is about two to three years. We still have no idea who was in the cabin, how they got there, and how they were freed. I’m almost willing to bet we won’t get that answer until the series finale, almost.

Interestingly, answering the converse question (Is Jacob good?) is completely contingent upon the answer to the previous question. We haven’t been shown much of Jacob’s actions (besides visiting people’s past, weaving, and cooking a fish), certainly not enough to make any type of concrete claim. For all we know, his entire goal could be to destroy the world. And we will delve into his plan, just in the next section. However, we do have some clues as to his nature, if we consider the opening scene.

The first thing Jacob and Eddie seem to discuss is the nature of humanity. As a ship (the Black Rock?) sails into shore, they consider Jacob’s bringing people to the island:

Eddie: “I don’t have to ask. You brought them here. Still trying to prove me wrong, aren’t you?”
Jacob: “You are wrong.”
Eddie: “Am I? They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.”
Jacob: “It only ends once. Anything that happens before that is just progress.”

In this short exchange, Eddie seems to be taking the negative view of humanity, the same view espoused by Agent Smith in The Matrix:

“Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure.”

Jacob takes the opposite view, in what is actually a pretty deft argument tactic. He accepts Eddie’s premise, but defines it has progress by subverting one of Eddie’s assumption. Eddie says there are multiple ends, each fight, each destruction, each corruption, it ends. Jacob says there is only one end and that the fighting, destruction, and corruption is necessary to reach that end. In other words, Jacob is espousing the old adage of you have to make mistakes to get to where you want to be (or however it goes). Notice how Jacob’s point of view plays perfectly into our discussion of who is good/bad above. Jacob wouldn’t call Sayid, Sawyer, or Kate bad. He would say they’re making progress. And that analysis is why I can’t call Jacob bad and Eddie good. Considering how LOST blurs good and evil, Jacob’s claim seems to be THE ultimate statement of the show’s morality.


It’s also Jacob’s final statement that gives us a better view on LOST’s fate vs. free will dichotomy. More specifically, we have to consider each sentence in the statement independently before we can understand how they work together. I will then end this section with a discussion of Jacob’s plan in relevance to what we learn here.

“It only ends once.”

This claim is the more important of the two as it addresses all the issues brought up with the time travel this season. Additionally, it reconciles two concepts that seemed contradictory up until this point: whatever happened, happened and Faraday’s Variable. The first thing this claim does is put a limit on time. There is an end. Time is not circular. Time is not endless. Time is linear (mostly) and finite. The second thing this claim does is state that end can only occur once. In other words, there can be only one iteration (kind of like in Highlander). Once the end is reached, you can’t go back and do it better. It’s very much like our lives (which I’m sure is intentional on the part of the writers).

“Anything that happens before that is progress.”

To roughly translate, in order to pick it apart, anything will mean events and that will mean progress. Thus, events that happen before the end are progress. The definition of progress contains words such as “advancement,” “development,” and “growth.” All of these concepts carry with them the idea of change in a positive direction (which is the reason Progressives are so scary politically, they think they have the market on the definition of a “positive direction”). Thus, any event that occurs before the end can change the end. If such a statement is true, isn’t whatever happened, happened invalidated then?

We have to consider the idea that time is linear. If time is linear, small endings (as Jacob accepted Eddie’s premise of small endings occurring) constantly happen and build towards the (big e) Ending. Thus, when an event ends, it happened. Whatever happened, happened. It can’t be changed. However, what can be changed is the most up to date present of the time line. Yes, you’re correct. This discussion carries with it some interesting implications for the plot.

First is the idea of relativistic physics. The only people’s present who matter are the people who are in the (big p) Present or people who are from the Present. This fact grants a large amount of power to time travelers. Consider our characters that went to the past. They couldn’t stop or change any events that happened because the events were in the (big p) Past and each character’s past. However, their futures are still unwritten, so they can make changes that will progress towards the End. In other words, actions taken in the Past can affect the Present (but not the characters’ present if their present is the Past). The writers established this fact through two important plot decisions. First, the time skips never ever went to the (big f) Future. There was no way to go to the Future because it isn’t written then. In fact, in this theory of time travel, if you live in the past, the only way to regain your ability to make changes is to travel to the Future. Second, when Faraday knocked on the Swan door, the memory came into Desmond’s head in the Present. In other words, the actions Faraday took in the Past affected the Present (the most forward spot on the timeline). God, I don’t feel like I’ve written anything this complex since my analysis of Live Together, Die Alone and my electromagnetism of The Swan.

What does all this mumbo jumbo tell us about The Incident and Jack’s plan to stop the plane crash? Sorry Jack, your plan failed (like that’s a surprise). The plane crash happened. It can’t be changed. However, detonating the nuclear bomb will have an affect on the Present. Rather, the events the characters in the Past will affect the way they address events when they return to the Present. Did Juliet detonating the bomb cause The Incident? No, it was always part of The Incident. Consider how underneath The Swan concrete was poured as thick as with Chernobyl. However, what detonating the bomb did do was enact Jacob’s plan as Eddie’s plan ended, which is why the colors of the end screen were inverted for this episode.

The first five seasons of LOST were the enacting of Eddie’s plan to kill Jacob and the laying of the groundwork for Jacob’s plan to combat his death. In order to prove my point, I refer to three things: Locke’s ability to be manipulate, Jacob’s flashbacks, and Jacob not fighting his own murder.

Locke has been an easy mark since day one of the season (in the same way Ben has been). He has looked for a father figure and a purpose (externally, rather than within himself) to the point that his father conned him out of his kidney. Likewise, Eddie conned him out of his life (using tools such as time travel). All the events were part of a plan with Locke and Ben being the key pieces. However, Jacob has a greater plan, as evidenced through his flashbacks.

As noted in lots of place, Jacob made it a point to touch all the characters he saw in flashbacks (except for Sawyer, but I digress). Most notably, when he touched Locke, he apparently brought him back to life. If Jacob didn’t have a greater plan, why would he bring back to life the guy that would be such a key pawn in the series of events that would lead to his death? Likewise, what significance does his touching of each of the characters (except Sawyer) have? I can tell you why he visited Hurley. Now that we know Jacob is dead, we can understand why he told Hurley talking to the dead is a good thing. I can say with 100% assurance that Hurley will talk to Jacob next season. We can also come pretty close to saying that Jacob is the one who made it so Hurley could talk to the dead. Hurley said it made him crazy and Jacob assured him he was not crazy, thus proving Hurley’s dead talking is all part of Jacob’s plan.

Do you need further proof? Consider Ben’s plea to Jacob. All Ben wanted was some comfort. He asked the old question that demonstrates low self esteem, “What about me?” All Jacob could reply with was, “What about you?” which is pretty much the worst response you can give to that question, especially if it’s asked by a violent vindictive person like Ben. (Although, Jacob’s response is actually also the best response, but we’ll get that into a second).

So, Jacob clearly has a plan and knew he needed to die. The only question is how Jack, Kate, Jin, Sun, and Sawyer fit into it. Oh, and Desmond. In case you were wondering, yes, he still is a character in this show…maybe.


This season of LOST (and arguably all of LOST) came down to the same thing life does: self esteem, and the writers did a brilliant job of pulling the theme throughout the episode. More specifically, the episode was about not allowing your past to hurt your self esteem to the point that it hinders your present decisions. The exchanges that demonstrated these ideas occurred in the second half of the episode, mostly centering on Jack and Sawyer, the two characters that have always embodied these ideas. I’ll use their conversation to frame this section.

The first important thing to note is Sawyer basically quoting whatever happened, happened to Jack. As they sat on that log and tried to sort out their differences, Sawyer explained his past to the doctor and why he didn’t try to change it:

Sawyer: “Right now it's July 1977, which means that happened last year, so I could've hopped on the sub, gone back to the States, walked right into my house, and stopped my Daddy from killing anybody.”
Jack: “Why didn't you?”
Sawyer: “Because, Jack, what's done is done.”

What’s done is done. Not only does that statement mean whatever happened, happened, it means that you shouldn’t even want to change what has happened. Yeah, Sawyer had an awful past, but look where he was at the time of this discussion. All he tried to fight for this season was to maintain his present (all it wasn’t the Present). While he was presented with the opportunity to directly confront his past through a science fiction story element of time travel, the rest of us will never have that chance, so what’s done is done speaks even more loudly. We have no choice but to live today. Even if we focus on the past and let it affect all our decisions, the decisions are still being made today. As the discussion with Jack continues, we see how focusing on the past can be so debilitating. Jack explains what is fueling his plan:

Jack: “I had her. I had her, and I lost her.”
Sawyer: “Kate? Well damn, Doc, she's standing right she's standing right on the other side of those trees. If you want her back, just go and ask her.”
Jack: “No, it's too late for that.”

Jack is so focused on the past that it makes him incapable of going after what he wants today. In fact, he doesn’t even believe it’s possible. He needs to erase everything. Truthfully, in the past, he probably was incapable of getting her, but what’s to say he isn’t capable of getting her in the present? He has had a bit of a change of character. It’s like Sawyer said, she’s just on the other side of the trees. However, Jack’s flashback shows the deep rooted issues he has that hinder him:

Jack: “It's bad enough that everybody in this hospital thinks that the only reason I got this residency is because you're my father, but then you, you put me in a timeout during my first major procedure, in front of my entire team. Dad, I know you don't believe in me, but I need them to.”
Christian: “Are you sure I'm the one who doesn't believe in you, Jack?”

With Jack, the issues have always been with his father. Except, there is one major fact that needs to be pointed out: Christian has been dead since before the show even started. He died in one of Jack’s flashbacks. Still, Jack can’t get over it because he couldn’t even get over it when Christian was alive. Even more poignant is Christian’s response to Jack. Our memories are often highly fictionalized accounts of what occurred that become more and more fictional over time. Focusing on them warps our perceptions of reality and, more importantly, ourselves. In the case of Jack, and many other people, it causes them to search for their self esteem in external sources. Jack’s not the only character to make this tragic mistake either. In her exchange with Sawyer, Juliet makes the same error, which eventually leads to her tragic death:

Sawyer: “I don't care who I looked at. I'm with you.”
Juliet: “And you would stay with me forever, if I let you, and that is why I will always love you. What we had was just for a little while, and just because we love each other doesn't mean that we're meant to be together. Maybe we were never supposed to be together. So if Jack can make it that none of you ever come here then, he should.”
Sawyer: “Why are you doing this, Juliet?”
Juliet: “If I never meet you, then I never have to lose you.”

Just as with Jack, Juliet’s flashback revealed the error in memory that hindered her self esteem: the lie her parents told her when they explained they were getting divorced. By internalizing that lie, she always saw herself as the other woman. She never believed the love she was feeling was true love because she was always expecting something to happen and her partner’s true feelings to be revealed. You could even argue that this false belief caused her to be drawn to situations where she would be the other woman, such as with Edmund Burke, Goodwin, and Jack. She hasn’t exactly had the best taste in men. Then she had three years with Sawyer and her issues probably largely subsided. However, then Kate returned and her self esteem issues kicked in, causing her to search for even the slightest sign that she was the other woman, and she found it in a look. How unimportant and inconsequential is a look? How many looks have you shared with people, perhaps people you never saw again? Juliet took it to heart though and it caused her to detonate a nuclear bomb setting next to her. If that action isn’t low self esteem hurting your ability to make rational decisions, I don’t know what is. Then again, she could have been Ben. His diatribe to Jacob was disturbing:

Jacob: “Benjamin, whatever he's told you, I want you to understand one thing. You have a choice.”
Ben: “What choice?”
Jacob: “You can do what he asks or you can go. Leave us to discuss our issues.”
Ben: “Oh, so now after all this time you've decided to stop ignoring me. Thirty five years I lived on this island and all I ever heard was your name over and over. Richard would bring me your instructions, all those slips of paper, all those lists. And I never questioned anything. I did as I was told. But when I dared to ask to see you myself, I was told, 'You have to wait. You have to be patient.' But when he asks to see you, he gets marched straight up here as if he was Moses. So, why him? Hmm? What was it that was so wrong with me? What about me?”
Jacob: “What about you?”

Like Jack and Juliet, Ben focuses on the past. He mentions the past 35 years and that Jacob would never see him. He mentions his loyalty and obedience. Then, rather than considering another explanation, he assumes the answer is his not being good enough, returning to his parent issues in the same way as Jack, Juliet, Locke, et al. And like Sawyer, Jacob tells Ben to focus on the present. Except, unlike Sawyer, he sums it up in one word: “choice.” Sure, Ben has done and been through some messed up things, but he still has one thing: the ability to make a choice. However, his low self esteem prevents him from making a choice. It has already been made for him, as Jacob points out with his return question, “What about you?” Sure, Jacob is egging Ben so Ben will murder him, but he is also making a point. You’re focused on the past, Ben. You’re focused on Jacob, Ben. What about right now? What about the decision of whether to kill or not to kill? You see, Imposter Locke used Ben’s low self esteem to cause him to make the decision before he even knew he had a decision. He took away Ben’s present by making him focus on the past. The middle of Jack and Sawyer’s exchange explains this point more fully and brings our discussion full circle:

Sawyer: “Then what is it about?”
Jack: “Three years ago, Locke told me that all this was happening for a reason, that us being here was our destiny.”
Sawyer: “I don't speak destiny. What I do understand is a man does what he does because he wants something for himself. What do you want, Jack?”

If you focus on the past, you essentially create determinism for yourself. Your past controls all your actions by subverting your decision making process, causing you to react rather than think However, if you focus on what you want, your desires will guide your choices, causing you to live in the present. What do you want to do? I want to eat. Then go get a sandwich. What do you want to do? I want to talk to her. Then call her. Maybe you ate a bad sandwich or dealt with a girl that didn’t answer your questions in the past, but currently the odds of that happening again are small.

The smart critique here is the need for self improvement, which only comes from self analysis. I do agree that self analysis can be a powerful tool, but what’s important to note about all the cases above is that the characters weren’t focusing on themselves in the past, they were focusing on others. Jack was focused on his dad. Juliet was focused on her parents. Ben was focused on Jacob (and his dad as well). Self analysis and awareness is healthy, the danger is that when most people try it, they focus on other people. Think about when a girl says, “All guys are jerks.” She’s focusing on the bad people in the past, not on how she brought herself to that bad outcome, thus illegitimately painting all guys as the same.

So, from this season of LOST, remember:
What’s done is done.
What do you want?


Wow, it’s been a long one, which is to be expected from a season finale. However, we’re still not done. We finally saw Rose and Bernard once again, in what I believe to be their final scene in the series. It was extremely important as it echoed the main philosophical thrust of Eddie and Jacob’s discussion. I point to two quotes:

Rose: “It’s always something with you people. Now you say ‘Jack’s got a bomb.’ And what, you guys are all going to try to stop him, right?”
Kate: “Yeah, that’s right.”
Rose: “We traveled back 30 years in time and you’re still trying to find ways to shoot each other?”

Rose is essentially proving that people can overcome what Eddie says is the basic drive of humanity: fighting, destroying, and corrupting. She is sick of it and wonders how many ridiculous things have to happen before they realize it’s unimportant. To a large extent, she’s right. If they had decided to live peacefully on the island, almost none of the danger and violence would have happened. The problem is, this idea partially conflicts with “What do you want?” (you have to fight for what you want) and the way the world is (even if I decide to stop, everyone else has to too). Juliet then tries to argue the point, to which Bernard responds with his line:

Juliet: “Rose, we just need to know which way the Dharma barracks are from here so we can stop Jack, or you’re gonna be dead. We all will.”
Bernard: “So we die. We just care about being together. It’s all that matters in the end.”

Considering how heavily romantic LOST is, a stable romance in the middle of being demonstrated and expounded by the two most content characters we’ve ever seen. All that matters in the end is being together? Think of how many relationships on the show are messed up because of people’s poor decision making, and think of what other ramifications it caused. Just in this episode we saw Jack and Juliet detonate a nuclear bomb because they couldn’t be with Kate or Sawyer (or so they believed). No think of the history of humanity. Think of your own lives. Is that all that matters? The older I get, the more I soften to the idea. And if you disagree with that…

Actually, I probably agree with your critiques of the stance, but if you disagree with its importance in the LOSTverse, then I’m forced to say…

Shut up, you’re wrong.

(See you in January.)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

The Midside: S5E15 Follow the Leader

Tee dum, tee dee, cue the Peter Pan music as we delve into another LOST adventure. We’re following the leader, which means we’re playing the part of Richard Alpert in what ended up being a disappointing turn for me. I read some rumors earlier in the week that the episode would be Alpert-centric and hyped myself up. On Wednesday, I discovered it was only Alpert-centric based on a technicality. Technically, he was the only one in 1977 and 2007 following the leader (whoever he may be), but it wasn’t a traditional “centric” episode in which we learned about the character’s back story. You could even argue that Alpert’s character was majorly weakened in one scene. I’m not so sure of that claim though.

Fret not, for while this episode may not have lived up to expectations, it still provided us with something we can always depend on in LOST: Jack was the anti-Jack Bauer. Seriously, can the guy ever make a good decision? For part of this column, I’ll revel in pointing out the absurdity of his actions this episode, even though it’s so obvious how he is a fuck up that I shouldn’t have to. I can’t help it. I just enjoy it too much. Then, I’ll talk about a random assortment of things and other characters, as this episode was merely a random assortment of things in order to set up the season finale. Onward!


The previews for this episode teased us with the question “Why are Jack and Kate fighting?” Well, the answer to that question is simple: because Jack is a moron. And he started right away in the episode. With Faraday shot dead in front of the pair, Kate says they should get the hell out of Dodge (which is probably a good idea).

Kate: “Jack, he's crazy.”
Jack: “What if this is why we're here?”

So, essentially, Jack’s response to Kate’s argument is to make himself seem crazy too by agreeing with said crazy person (Faraday). And, to be fair to Kate (because we aren’t fair to Jack), Faraday did seem pretty crazy ranting about relativistic physics (which were seemingly contradicted in this episode). Jack got his response though, as Widmore came through on horse back and gave him a crimson mask. Am I the only one who’s noticed that Jack has become the new Boone? He gets the crap kicked out of him pretty regularly.

He brings it on himself too because he never learns his lesson. In Hawking’s tent, he tells a Hostile to “Take it easy on, her” (Kate). He is immediately kicked in the face. To make matters worse, he tries to convince Kate they need to “fix” the timeline again, but goes about this objective in a way that demonstrates that he has no knowledge of audience.

He calls everything they have gone through during the first five season misery. This statement says two things to Kate. First, it tells her that Jack considers they’re time together off the island (in the flashforwards) as “misery.” Second, it tells her that Jack doesn’t really care about her at all. If the plane never crashes, Kate will be in prison. Clearly, life after the plane crash hasn’t been misery for her at all. Jack had no chance of convincing Kate with this line of argument, which is clearly shown when Hawking comes into the tent. Jack explains everything to her, and she turns to Kate.

Hawking: “Does he know what he's talking about?”
Kate: “He thinks he does.”

That statement isn’t the last time Kate owns Jack either. Later, before they dive into the tunnels, Kate wants to leave. Jack tries to convince her that going back to Dharma is pointless.

Jack: “You can't go back there now. They know about us. They tried to kill us.”
Kate: “And what are you trying to do?”

To make matters worse, he doesn’t even understand how he is getting owned and continues to give orders. A Hostile points a gun at Kate and he commands, “If she wants to leave, she can leave.” Really, Jack, you’re going to tell the guy with the gun what to do? Since when were words more powerful than a gun (in an immediate sense)? I suppose you did create enough of a distraction for Sayid to shoot the Hostile. Still, Kate insisted on owning you one more time before she ran away from you for good.

Kate: “And if you're wrong, then everyone on the island dies. Do you understand that?”
Jack: “I'm not wrong, Kate. This is it. This is why we're here. This is our destiny.”

It’s amazing to me how someone can make a complete character change and still be a fuck up. He went from a man of science to a man of faith in this season (as is the dichotomy created within LOST), but still insists on doing ridiculous things like blowing up a hydrogen bomb to save everyone. At least we know Jack and Kate is finally over. Seriously, if she ends up with Jack after this episode, then screw her, she’s not worth anyone’s time, let alone Sawyer’s. There’s only so many mistakes someone can make before they stop being mistakes and you realize the person is just a fuck up.

Also, am I the only one who is starting to wonder if Jughead is a joke by the producers about Jack?


The most logical place to start this section is with Richard Alpert. His involvement in this episode was mainly interesting due to the way he interacted with John Locke. His interaction with the characters in 1977 was pretty typical of what we’ve seen of him so far. He acted like he knew a lot, although didn’t really say that much at all. In contrast, when speaking with Locke, Alpert seemed to be unknowledgeable, dimwitted even, in a way he had never seemed to be before. This appearance began when Locke showed up:

Alpert: “There's something different about you.”
Locke: “I have a purpose now.”

Here is also where the interesting debate begins. Is Alpert as unknowledgeable as he seemed in this episode or was he pretending to be that way in order to appease Locke? Consider the above exchange. He immediately notices something is different about Locke. Wouldn’t that change the way he interacted with him? Before, Locke was easy to mold if you acted like you knew what was going on with the island. Now, he thinks he knows exactly what is going on with the island. On a similar note, consider how Alpert acted like he knew nothing about time travel when Locke was explaining it to him. How could he not know about time travel? We know he was there in 1954 and 1977 when the other characters appeared. We know he’s met some of them since that year (he was with the Others when Jack, Kate, and Sawyer were brought to Hydra Island). There was no way he actually knew as little as he did when he was questioning Locke. On the contrary, he had to be pumping Locke up, making him feel like an expert.

While mentioning 1977, Alpert says he watched all of the people in the picture Sun handed to him die. I guess we’re operating under the assumption that he is immortal, because I can’t think of another reason he would have survived the Incident and none of the other characters did. Of course, maybe the faulty assumption is that he watched them die in the Incident. Maybe he watched them die in the Purge. The immortality theory gained more ground with what Ben told Sun:

Ben: “His name is Richard Alpert. He's a kind of advisor, and he has had that job for a very very long time.”

I do enjoy how out of it Sun appeared. She knew nothing and was only focused on finding Jin (too bad she doesn’t care that much about her kid). It’s also clear that Ben knows about whatever secret Alpert has. Beyond that fact, we have to think about Ben’s use of the word “advisor.” Of course Ben would think Alpert is an advisor, he’s one of the leaders Alpert has manipulated. Maybe it’s just me, but it’s becoming more and more obvious that Alpert is not simply an advisor. Consider how he reacted when Locke said he was going to see Jacob. He clearly did not want that to happen. Perhaps he’s worried he won’t have time to set up the elaborate ruse he has been running for years.

Where did he come from? His building of the ship in the bottle seems to be a huge bit of foreshadowing that he was on the Black Rock. Clearly we’re going to find out more about that ship in future episodes, as Widmore also bought the log. Where is he going? It would seem he is going to take some sort of over action soon. Look at this exchange with Ben:

Alpert: “I'm starting to think John Locke is gonna be trouble.”
Ben: “Why do you think I tried to kill him?”

The exchange closely mirrors Jack’s “We’re going to have a Locke problem” from Season One. Maybe the end of this show will be people killing Locke when they realize he’s been messing things up from the beginning. Regardless, it was almost as if Alpert was looking at his old puppet figurehead (Ben) and regretting that he chose to exchange him for Locke.

Typing about the new puppet figurehead, Locke has an interesting plan up his sleeve. At the very end of the episode, he informs Locke that they are going to see Jacob to kill him. It’s not clear exactly what his motivations are. I’m not sure if he even actually wants to kill Jacob. Doesn’t he believe that he saw Jacob before? And when he saw him, didn’t Jacob ask for help? Why would he kill someone who asked for help? Maybe he is just intent on calling Alpert’s bluff. He is killing Jacob metaphorically in order to expose Alpert. Although, didn’t Christian say he spoke for Jacob? Does Locke think Christian is Jacob and thus wants to kill him? Regardless, won’t Christian show up during the attempted murder? Locke is also making some very interesting claims:

Ben: “Your timing was impeccable, John. How did you know when to be here?”
Locke: “The island told me. Didn't it ever tell you things?”

If the island actually tells him things, which seems absurd to me, how does it tell him things? Does a voice talk to him? Do ideas pop into his head? If ideas are popping into his head, maybe they’re just new memories the way Faraday gave Desmond a new memory earlier in the season. In that case, it’s not the island telling him anything at all. It’s just him experiencing reality.

Then there’s the Asian convention in the middle of the jungle that Hurley somehow became a part of. PF Chang, Miles, and Jin all met, and Chang finally understood that all these people were from the future. And later on, Miles finally understood why his father kicked them off the island and acted the way they did. It’s a lesson to all of us about analyzing people’s actions, both past and present. You can’t ever really know why people do things unless you witness the actions, sometimes even if you witness the actions.

Oh, and Sayid is still a character in this show. He shot a Hostile and followed Jack to Jughead. What was his reasoning for doing what he’s doing?

Sayid: “Well if this works, you just might save us all, and if it doesn't, at least you'll put us out of our misery.”

It’s interesting the dichotomy that’s being created based upon characters that are happy and characters that think their life is misery.


-The preview for the season finale was by far the best preview I’ve ever seen, just for the first few seconds. You can watch it here. Jack having a hydrogen bomb has to be the most horrific thing that could have happened on the show. I don’t think I could have written a better comedy routine about Jack constantly fucking up and the worst fuck up he could achieve.

-Abrams’ new Star Trek movie is a lot better than I expected and worth seeing. Kurtzman and Orci don’t mess up the writing because the movie is just a reboot, so it didn’t need much intellectual depth. However, I wasn’t a big fan of the “Spock is picked on as a kid” scene. I was a big fan of the blatant plug for the movie on Abrams, Kurtzman, and Orci’s show Fringe though. It was so over the top, it had to be appreciated. And if you disagree with that, well then:

Shut up, you’re wrong.

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.