Sunday, January 07, 2007

You Make Your Own Luck...

Part I: No One's That Lucky
Remember what Martha Toomey said to Hurley when he claimed the Numbers were bad luck? "You make your own luck, Mr. Reyes. Don't blame it on the damn Numbers." At the time, I dismissed Martha as a raving skeptic, and she may well be that. But I've come to believe her line is among the most important on the show. Some of our Losties (e.g., Walt, Hurley, Jack, Des, and likely more) can literally make their own luck -- good and bad.

By that I mean they can (sometimes, somehow) influence probabilities to make what they visualize a reality. That's how Walt made the polar bear attack, how Hurley (and for that matter Sam) won the lottery, how Jack healed Sarah, and how Desmond got his boat -- all against steep odds. It also explains how so many people survived a catastrophic plane crash with mere scrapes. As Sayid said to Kate: "No one's that lucky."

Ironically, Sayid is wrong -- many of them (himself included) have already demonstrated themselves to be exceptionally lucky. Hurley and Walt are two of the most important characters in this regard, which is why each has key scenes in Season 1. Among the most telling is this one from "All the Best Cowboys..." wherein the two compete head to head at backgammmon:
WALT: Need a 4-3. [Walt then takes forever to roll]

HURLEY: Dude, would you please roll?

WALT [rolling a 4-3]: Yes.


WALT: It's okay, I wasn't very good when I first started playing, either.

HURLEY: I didn't just start playing. I took 17th in a tournament once.

WALT: 17th is not very good.

HURLEY: No, 17 is very good.

WALT: C'mon double 6's, double 6's. [he rolls double 6's] Yeah.

HURLEY: Aw, you've got to be kidding me,

WALT: I'm lucky.

HURLEY: No one is that lucky.

WALT: My dad said I was the luckiest person he ever knew.

HURLEY: Really?

WALT: Not Michael, Brian. My other dad. Yeah, um. . . [he rolls again and wins]. Yes! Yes! C'mon, one more game, double or nothing. (Transcript courtesy of lost-tv. )

This exchange is illuminating not just because it establishes both characters as unnaturally lucky. It also sheds light on why Walt is so special -- his power to make luck surpasses even Hurley's. But luck can be both good and bad, which is why Walt and Hurley each have had no shortage of both. Think of the death of Walt's mother from a freak blood disorder, or his capture by the Others (only to be released in another improbable turn of events).

No character, however, illustrates this duality of "making your own luck" better than Hurley. After winning the lottery (itself an improbable event) he becomes certain he will experience bad luck, which is precisely what happens. But it isn't the Numbers so much as Hurley's fear (combined with his power to make luck) that renders their curse a reality. Martha Toomey was right -- his belief in bad luck is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

If Hurley is a paradigmatic character, his paradigmatic scene has to be the mad dash to the airport at the end of S1. There we repeatedly see Hurley's power to affect probability for better and worse at war with itself. The improbable occurrences of the Numbers throughout the sequence simply confirm that Hurley's preoccupation with their "curse" drives the effect. His multiple personalities symbolize this internal conflict between light and dark impulses.

Jack and Desmond are less powerful individually, but when they meet improbably just before Jack performs surgery, the Doctor gets supercharged by the encounter. This lets Jack to deliver on his fierce promise to fix Sarah despite overwhelming odds to the contrary. But that's not to say Jack is inept at manipulating the odds by himself -- he completely dominated Sawyer at poker and I suspect the latter is no slouch at making his own luck.

That brings me to Desmond, whom we met in the Season 2 premiere to the strains of sweet Mama Cass's aptly titled "Make Your Own Kind of Music." I'm guessing it wasn't a coincidence that Des conveniently encountered Libby right when he desperately needed a boat. And now that he apparently has displayed precognitive powers, ask yourself this: Does Des see the future, help make it happen, or a little of both?

Finally, consider the possibility that the Island somehow attracts people with this special power to affect probability. That may be how Flight 815 and the Drug Plane, which took off on opposite sides of the earth, both crashed in the same place despite the utter improbability of that occurrence. That may also be why Benjamin Linus suspected there would be survivors despite Flight 815's obviously catastrophic impact. And those missing hairbrushes? Just Claire's bad luck...

Thus far I've stuck pretty much to events on the show, but Part II delves a bit into the Lost Experience. So if you can't stand TLE heat, now might be the time to get out of the kitchen...

Part II: The Fountain of Evolution*
Dharma began as straightforward scientific experiments aimed at influencing the core factors of the Valenzetti Equation. But shortly after the experiments began, there was an Incident. Scientists studying the Island's electromagnetic fluctuations accidentally unleashed an ancient energy source, causing strange effects worldwide. As a result, people across the planet began developing special powers, including the ability to make their own luck.

The energy that Dharma unwittingly released was the legacy of the Fourtoes' disastrous attempts long ago to harness some exotic plasma as a power source (catch a falling star?). The Fourtoes lost control of their "fallen star" causing a larger version of the Swan implosion (Le Crater?) and/or a volcanic eruption that buried them like Mt. Vesuvius did Pompeii. Hence Sawyer's otherwise cryptic reference to Vesuvius in S2E11.

This eruption sealed the Fourtoes' mistake underground like a natural version of the concrete dome that covers Chernobyl's radioactive core. The Island's ecosystem was contaminated, and the energy trapped within generated a massive magnetic anomaly. But both effects were localized, at least until Dharma cracked the natural containment vessel like Charlie did the hornet's nest in S1E6, releasing a blast of energy worldwide.

As the "fallout" from this first Incident spread, some of those exposed were transformed at the quantum level, gaining special powers like hyper-empathy and the ability to affect the future. One loose analogy is to the Fantastic Four, whose own special talents resulted from exposure to unspecified "cosmic rays." Another is to the legendary Achilles, who is described in Dan Simmons' novels Ilium and Olympos as a freak of quantum probability:
"I see a quantum singularity," says the goddess Nyx. "A black hole of probability. A myriad of equations all with the same single three-point solution. Why is that, Artificer?"

The god of fire grunts again. "His mother, Thetis of the seaweed tangled breasts, held this arrogant mortal in the celestial quantum fire when he was a pup, little more than a larva. The probability of his death day, hour, minute, and method is one hundred percent, and because it cannot be changed, it seems to give Achilles a sort of invulnerability to all other attacks and injury." (From Olympos.)
Note the reference to being bathed in the "celestial quantum fire" which is a good metaphor for exposure to the Island's exotic energy (the Flame?). Those exposed to fallout from this celestial quantum flame can affect probability and link minds. Believing they had found the fountain of evolution, Dharma hatched a new plan to mass produce and aggregate the power to make luck in hopes of altering the Valenzetti's grim prophecy.

First, however, Dharma had to plug the Island's leak. The powerful electromagnet in Swan generated a magnetic shield around the plasma that surged up periodically through the breach like a geyser. The analogy here is to the Earth's magnetosphere, which protects our planet from solar radiation and flares. The difference is that the planetary magnetosphere keeps solar radiation out, while the Swan shield kept the Island's energy contained.

Plasma discharge akin to a solar flare may well be what turned the sky purple after activation of the fail-safe. I suspect there were three levels to this discharge. Pushing the button on time triggered a controlled release that was entirely local. Pushing it late (i.e., System Failure) caused a larger burst with local effects that were detectable globally. Activation of the fail-safe blasted the contaminated plasma worldwide (i.e., another global Incident).

Why not automate the discharge? The device also served as a deadman's switch -- Dharma figured the implosion of Swan would destroy the other stations and Island itself. They either didn't realize or care that it might actually swallow the world, which seemed dangerously close to happening before Desmond turned the key. I'm guessing the ultimate result would have been either a black hole or a magnetospheric eternally collapsing object (MECO).

Dharma also failed to appreciate the powerful psychic forces they'd tapped. After the first Incident, the stations were redesigned as an intermental network that harnessed subjects' collective power to affect fate. Swan served as a cocoon where occupants developed into masters of probability. That power was then collected and reflected intermentally to other stations via hyper-empathic subjects in Pearl.

But isolation on the Island proved stressful, and test subjects were selected mainly for psychic ability not mental stability. In Lord of the Flies fashion, their collective fears and anxieties exploded in a fresh series of Incidents, including animal revolts and the "catastrophic Cerberus malfunction." Like Hurley's curse or the Id Monster from Forbidden Planet, the subjects' own subconscious demons were entirely responsible for the effect.

Many died or fled the chaos until one man (a great man!) restored order using his hyper-empathic abilities to control and compartmentalize the remaining survivors' dark impulses (i.e., their bad twins). I'm guessing that great man was Benjamin Linus, a powerful psychic who was born on the Island then supercharged by the original Incident years before. I've argued previously that he's analogous to the Mule from Asimov's Foundation series.

By submitting to Ben's iron will, the survivors regained control of their bad twins, and thus the animals and Smokey. But those with a talent for the improbable continued to find the Island bringing their mental baggage with them. This created a vicious cycle as new arrivals subconsciously attracted more people. Even a great man like Ben isn't totally immune to such temptations -- his desire for a spinal surgeon did indeed help draw Jack to the Island.

The Others, most of whom are survivors of various crashes themselves, took to categorizing new arrivals. Good people (i.e., those amenable to empathic coercion) were incorporated into the community. Questionable people (e.g., Desmond and Kelvin) were quarantined in stations like Swan, where their abilities were suppressed with vaccine. Bad people (e.g., Nathan) were killed either by the Others or Smokey before their "bad twins" caused problems.

Like Whitney Houston, the Others believe the children are their future. The younger the child, the easier he or she is to indoctrinate, which is why the Nigerian warlords and Others originally preferred Yemi and Aaron, respectively. Young children are also less tainted by the stresses and appetites of modern society -- little noble savages of sorts. The kids are taught to control their talents and raised apart from Otherville (free-range kids?) until they can.

So what happens now that Swan imploded? For one thing, the Island's "fallout" will again spur psychic evolution worldwide, drawing other exceptionally (un)lucky people to the Island. I suspect, moreover, that Dharma's backers (Paik, Widmore, the U.S. military, etc.) have long wondered what happened to their investment. Look for those interests to conspire over the Island now that its anomaly has again been detected. As in Walt's comic, I fear activation of the fail-safe may also serve as a summons...