Friday, March 28, 2008

An Arbitrarily Advanced Civilization...

Lately, I've been reflecting on Daniel Faraday's chalkboard reference to the Kerr Metric, which describes what a few scientists theorize might be a safe and navigable trajectory through spacetime back into the past.

After much reflection, I've come to the conclusion that Faraday's reference isn't meant to point to any particular method of time travel. It's meant primarily to establish that time travel is theoretically possible. Same with the Penrose diagrams in Daniel's notebook -- they depict generic violations of causality rather than anything specific from the show. In all such cases (the Blast Door Map equations are another) the writers are simply delivering on their promise that everything will be explained by realistic pseudo-science.

I think it was a poster named lostmio who once suggested that time travel is a kind of MacGuffin. At first that notion annoyed me, but I've come to believe she was basically right. Ultimately, there is no deeper explanation than "electromagnetic radiation from the Swan unstuck Desmond in time," and "the Island's natural Casimir effect sustains wormholes." We can keep looking for more specific explanations forever, and they will always be true because none of them are false. Ultimately, however, all that really matters is that time travel is consistent with the theoretical limits of physics.

In that regard, Lost resembles the works of Edwin Abbott and HG Wells, which combine science fact and fiction to highlight interesting aspects of the former. The show also reminds me of the those crazy hypotheticals you read in popular science books by Stephen Hawking, Kip Thorne, Michio Kaku, and Paul Davies. The show is depicting what happens when human beings encounter technology from an arbitrarily advanced civilization -- the Fourtoes -- bounded only by the theoretical limits of physics. I've got to believe some kid will watch this show and be inspired to study science.

It's certainly had that effect on me...

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Thoughts on Meet Kevin Johnson...

First, apologies to anyone who was spoiled by my post "I'm Here to Die..." I confused an on-line preview of the exchange between Sayid and Michael from Meet Kevin Johnson with their brief encounter at the end of Ji Yeon. The inference that Mike couldn't commit suicide turned out to be sound, but I would never have made the connection absent the preview, which was technically a spoiler. So sorry again to anyone who was spoiled -- I promise to be more careful about such things in the future!

That said, I'm glad I got at least one thing right because my prediction about physical time travel and Taller Ghost Walt was totally incorrect. Time travel may yet explain his adolescent appearance to Locke, but it will probably be via astral projection from the future, as predicted by a poster named Netprophet. That actually raises a disturbing possibility I'll return to momentarily. Before going there, however, I want to register my frustration with this episode -- and not because I guessed incorrectly.

For Michael's return to be plausible, he needed to explain how he and Walt made it back to civilization in that rickety little boat. The two presumably found rescue just as Ben promised, but how could he be sure? I understand that Walt's growth spurt limited what the writers could depict. But it would at least have been nice for Mike to mention where that compass heading of 325, which also appears on Rousseau's maps, deposited them. The episode left so many juicy questions unanswered -- it felt like kind of a tease

Speaking of Rousseau, she'd better not be dead -- that would be a golden opportunity wasted. Rousseau's flashback, particularly how Montand lost his arm, ranks right up there with an explanation of the Four-toed Colossus on my list of things I'd like to see. I'd also welcome a little mother-daughter bonding -- or frankly any emotion at all from Rousseau. She's seemed oddly detached since being reunited with Alex. My guess is that Karl is dead but Rousseau is not. Let's hope the latter, like Michael and Locke, still has work to do.

Locke brings me back to the aforementioned grim possibility concerning Walt. Michael saw the ghost of Libby just before activating the bomb, and earlier this season the ghost of Charlie appeared to Hurley. Lost seems to be going the route of HG Wells in depicting spirits as higher-dimensional beings capable of transcending time and space. We've already seen evidence that Walt can project his astral self in the same way. But what if the Taller Ghost Walt who appeared to Locke is actually dead in the future?

Such a speculation is obviously whackadoo because I seriously doubt a show on network television would ever be so dark. If I had to bet, my money would now be on Michael being in the coffin with Sayid as his mercy killer -- i.e., the former will ask the latter to kill him. Still...Walt dying in the flash forward but living on as a ghost would be the kind of bold narrative twist that, say, Stephen King might pull. Come to think of it, the coffin did seem a little on the small side...

Finally, on the subject of the King of Ka, I wanted to highlight a telling reference to the Shining. Recall that Mike is wasting time by bouncing a ball against the wall just like Jack Nicholson in the film version when Minkowski draws the comparison. I'm intrigued because the Shining strikes me as a perfect analogy for what's happening on Lost. Like the Overlook Hotel, the Island was once the site of some trauma that left a powerful psychic imprint upon it. Living and dead alike are driven by this imprint to repeat terrible events of the past.

Of particular relevance, both the Shining and Lost feature psychic children whose powers are intensified by proximity to the Island/Hotel. This booster effect makes the children more sensitive to the imprint but simultaneously gives them the power to resist it. That's why Walt eventually soured on the Island in a way Locke never did, even during his crisis of faith after finding the Pearl. The former is little Danny Torrance, and the latter his father, Jack. Like the Overlook Hotel, the Island needs a new caretaker...

Here are some other thoughts and questions I had about Meet Kevin Johnson:

* The scene with Michael throwing the ball also reminded me of the Great Escape, in which Steve McQueen similarly bounces a ball against the wall after being sent to solitary confinement in the Cooler. An early Simpsons episode parodied this scene brilliantly when Maggie was confined to the Box (i.e., a playpen) by the matriarch of the Ayn Rand School for Tots...

* I find it fascinating that Widmore and Ben each blame the other for the fake Oceanic 815 wreckage. Widmore strikes me as the most logical choice. But I still think it's possible neither one is involved -- the wreckage was staged by Chronology Protection Agents like Ms. Hawking.

* Alternatively, I know it's whackadoo it possible Ben and Widmore secretly collaborated on the cover-up and are now lying about it to their respective people for some unknown reason?

* Tom mentioned that the bodies in the fake Oceanic 815 wreckage were taken from a cemetery in Thailand. Didn't Jack's flashback to when he got his tattoo take place in Thailand? Which reminds me -- I read that Bai Ling was arrested recently for shoplifting. She always struck me as a little nutty...

* Also regarding Tom, it was nice that we got the pay-off to hints that he was the long-rumored gay character on the show. As suggested previously, however, there were so many other mysteries, I would rather have seen resolved.

* What did Tom mean when he said "some of us" can come and go from the Island. Is this a reference to loyalty? Or is there some physical or mental characteristic that suits people for such trips?

* Did anyone else think of Wiley E. Coyote -- and the Acme Co. -- when that flag popped up on the bomb? My first instinct was to be annoyed at such a farcical touch. Then it occurred to me that the bomb is a perfect metaphor for the Swan -- right down to the button labeled execute. Did Ben enter that code after all?

* There was another reference to Kurt Vonnegut. But are they confirming the Slaughterhouse 5 explanation for being unstuck in time or hinting at something deeper? As a poster named Turing's Ghost never tires of reminding me, Vonngeut leaves open the possibility that Billy Pilgrim's experience is a fantasy induced by his brain injury.

* Such ambiguity resonates with another another book conspicuously referenced on the show. The Swan Orientation Film was hidden behind Turn of the Screw, which similarly raises the possibility that the narrator is simply crazy. Would you be disappointed if Lost went the same ambiguous route?

* Another whackadoo speculation to ponder: Alex is pregnant with Karl's baby.

* Finally, be sure to check in periodically at Eye M Sick during the break. I'll hopefully have some new theories and speculations to share, and I welcome your replies!

"I'm Here to Die..."

A few predictions on the cusp of tonight's hotly anticipated episode Meet Kevin Johnson. I've speculated previously that Michael and Walt traveled physically into the past when they left the Island. Ghost Walt was taller when he appeared to Locke in the ditch because it really has been several years from his perspective. One question that lingered was how Ben recruited Mike to be his man on Widmore's boat.

Then it hit me -- Michael said to Sayid and Desmond that he came back to the Island to die. I believe we will learn that Mike attempted suicide many times after returning to the real world but was frustrated every time like Jack on the bridge in the flash forward. Michael agreed to be Ben's mole because he's concluded that the Island won't let him die -- that this is his punishment for leaving.

But I believe the truth is more complex. Mike can't die in the past because it is his destiny to play a role in our Losties' rescue. The universe is course correcting him back to the Island to fulfill that purpose. Once Michael does so, he'll be free to die, which leads me to one more prediction I'll probably regret. Michael is in the coffin. Racked by guilt, he will beg Sayid to put him there as an act of mercy...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Thoughts on Ji Yeon...

Not a lot of mythological revelations last night, unless you count the brief return of Michael. I know I'm eagerly anticipating Meet Kevin Johnson, the title of the next episode, which will presumably tell what happened to him and Walt. But last night's episode was truly brilliant writing -- right up there with Walkabout as an example of the craft. I was blown away by the deft use of flashback and flash forward intersecting at Jin's grave.

It's rare, in this age of anxiety, to find something you've never seen. But I can't think of another work that uses both narrative devices, let alone to create such beautiful storytelling symmetry. The closest parallel I can think of is Following, an early Christopher Nolan film that, like Memento, uses non-linear storytelling. But non-linear isn't the same as symmetrical -- Lost has become Seinfeld in the fourth dimension.

There was a moment last night, when I realized Jin was in his own flashback, that my heart sank and I knew he was dead. Almost as rare as Lost's complex narrative style is its equally complex portrayal of an asian male. Like black men in the 1960s and '70s, asian males are locked in a kind of binary opposition by the media, caricatured either as timid convenience store owners or ass-kicking karate studs.

Jin kicked ass but was also a fully realized character, simultaneously a hero and a flawed human being capable of great evil. The credibility of this portrait is testament not just to the writing but Daniel Dae Kim's performance. I'm sorry to see Jin go, but I'm glad the show clued us into his fate through the flash forward. Doing so allows us to savor the character and portrayal of Jin in the time we have left.

Here are some other thoughts and reactions I had to Ji Yeon:

* I've mentioned previously how the show has some weird coincidences with my life. The strangest by far is that a friend from college is named Benjamin Linas. I also have cousins with the last name Kwon. Ji Yeon is the name of a friend of my family since childhood. I could go on...

* For some reason, the line "Everyone loves a panda!" cracked me up. I'm actually chuckling as I write this...

* Jin shouldn't have known the meaning of the word "karma." It would have been so easy and natural for Bernard to explain briefly, then have Jin recognize the underlying concepts. Thank goodness Lost isn't on NBC or we would have had some clunky Earl reference...

* Sun's call for an ambulance brings to mind a funny story. My folks were visiting my uncle in Korea a few years ago. One day, they were caught in terrible traffic when they heard an ambulance siren start up behind them. Unfortunately, none of the traffic made any effort to make way for the ambulance. My uncle explained that, in Korea, commerce trumps everything, including medical emergencies.

* I wonder, did Regina commit suicide to be with Naomi? I can't shake the sense those two are connected. Maybe the former's conversations with Miles convinced her there was an afterlife where her ghost and Naomi's could be reunited.

* Alternatively, is this cabin fever related to whatever killed Radzinski? I was struck by the similarity of the blood stain in Des and Sayid's room to the remains of Radz. Is Jacob ticking their subconscious, causing a literal cabin fever? Maybe this is the sickness at long last...

* The captain seemed to suggest that Widmore wasn't behind the wreckage, which leaves two possibilities. One is Ben and the Others, which seems increasingly plausible the more we learn about their financial resources. The other is some Chronology Protection Agency, as I describe in Lost Time. I was particularly struck by the way the Captain referenced the grieving process, which is an important element of that theory...

* My guess is that Michael is the saboteur. As a janitor, Kevin Johnson undoubtedly has access to most parts of the ship. I'm surprised they haven't suspected him already...

* The alias suggests that Michael made it back to civilization. As you know, my speculation is that he ended up in the past, which explains Taller Ghost Walt. I'm not concerned about him doing anything that changes the future (e.g., meeting himself) because of course correction. But how does Ben then recruit Michael to be his mole? The preview for next week suggests Walt is that leverage -- was this a condition of their release? I can't wait!

Sunday, March 09, 2008

Taller Ghost Walt...

After Confirmed Dead, Jason raised the provocative possibility that Ben's man on the boat might be Michael. At the time, I cast my lot with Doc Jensen's equally provocative suggestion that the mole was actually Charlotte -- the bulletproof vest demonstration seemed like it had to be planned. But I had a brainstorm recently how Michael might be Ben's agent after all in a scenario that also explains Taller Ghost Walt.

Last we saw Michael and Walt, they were leaving the Island on a boat and bearing of 325, both provided by Ben. Thanks to Frank and Sayid, who departed on a bearing of 305, we know that which direction you leave the Island can affect when you return to the real world. My prediction, based on their experience and Faraday's rocket experiment, is that 325 took Michael and Walt several years into the past...

They found rescue just as Ben promised -- I have a feeling Widmore's freighter has been parked there for some time. Maybe Michael and Walt returned to the world and assumed new identities, but both soon realized that leaving had been a mistake. Or maybe they stayed on the freighter that whole time. However it happened, Ben re-established contact at some point and recruited Mike to be his mole.

Michael and possibly Walt are on the freighter. The former unlocked the sick bay door for Sayid and Des. And that really was Walt -- or rather, his ghostly astral projection -- that appeared to Locke in the ditch. Ghost Walt was taller because it really has been several years from his perspective since leaving the Island with Mike. Kudos to Jason for the call!

Saturday, March 08, 2008


Welcome to everyone joining us via New York Magazine, which was kind enough to reference Eye M Sick in a recent roundup of Lost blogs. Curiously, the article also attributes my comments about Lost paradox to the, even though the blog version of that same post is quoted for another point later in the article. But I'm certainly not complaining -- many thanks for the plugs! Now, back to the analysis...

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Thoughts on the Other Woman...

The revelation of a Dharma Station named the Tempest has me pondering the Shakespeare play of that name. There are some intriguing similarities to Lost, particularly in Prospero, who overprotects his daughter Miranda the way Ben does Alex. Ghostly Jacob is the rough equivalent of Ariel, an elemental spirit who grudgingly serves Prospero because he freed Ariel from imprisonment. The Cerberus smoke monster reminds me of Caliban, the deformed creation of Sycorax, a powerful witch who died long ago like the Fourtoes. The play begins with Prospero conjuring the titular tempest, which wrecks his brother's ship on the remote island where all of these characters live.

Beyond these specific parallels, I'm intrigued by the Tempest's resonance with other works of science fiction. For example, Shakespeare's play inspired the classic film Forbidden Planet. In this futuristic re-imagining, Dr. Morbius (Prospero) lives with his daughter Altaira (Miranda) and their faithful servant Robby the Robot (Ariel) on an isolated planet once inhabited by an extinct alien race called the Krell (Sycorax). A crew of astronauts lands against the warnings of Morbius, who welcomes them nonetheless. Shortly after touchdown, however, the ship is attacked by a monster (Caliban) that turns out to be a manifestation of subconscious fears using advanced Krell technology.

Many, myself included, have noted the connection between Cerberus and the Id Monster from Forbidden Planet. Another analogy is to Dan Simmons's literate sci-fi novels Ilium and Olympos. The basic premise is that far in the future powerful post-humans have recreated the Trojan War on Mars with themselves in the roles of Olympian gods. These "Posts" use advanced technology that's indistinguishable from magic to intervene in the conflict like the gods did in Homer's epic tale. The Posts are enhanced, for example, by nanotech that allows them to assume the form of "a twisting, cyclone of black plasma-energy, its static electricity discharging in random lightning bolts..."

Shakespeare generally, and the Tempest specifically, figure heavily in both books. One main character is an artificially intelligent scholar of Shakespeare who analyzes sonnets and dreams of meeting the Bard. It turns out that the Posts were transformed into gods by Prospero, a sentient avatar of the Earth's post-internet logosphere. Prospero is served by Ariel, a similarly sentient avatar of the Earth's evolved biosphere. Prospero is also served by Caliban, a monstrous cannibalistic mutant created by Sycorax, another mysterious meta-intelligence whose origin is never explained. And that barely scratches the surface of Shakespeare references -- not to mention Homer and Proust.

Truth be told, Forbidden Planet, Ilium, and Olympos may be even more relevant to Lost than the Tempest. Simmons's works, in particular, read like a handbook for the (pseudo) science of the show. When the Orchid Orientation mentioned "Casimir effect," I immediately thought of wormholes and time travel thanks to an explanation of the connection in Ilium. But I digress -- here are some other reactions and questions to the Other Woman:

* I love it when Lost revisits familiar scenes from a fresh perspective that casts dialogue and events in some new light. A perfect example was the way this episode revisited the opening moments of Season 3 when Ben sends Goodwin on his fatal mission. Now we know why Ben figured he was no longer welcome in Juliet's book club. The only time this technique doesn't work is when it's used to build suspense instead of dramatic irony -- e.g., in the first few episodes of Season 2 when we saw the same scenes inside the Hatch from several different perspectives.

* Speaking of Ben ordering Goodwin to his death, I felt more than ever in this episode that the former has knowledge of the future. Then again, you wonder why he'd waste his time on Juliet if that were the case...

* Jin speaks English! Unfortunately, his fake accent when doing so is even worse than his Korean. Don't get me wrong -- I love Jin's character, which represents one of the few complex portrayals of Korean males on television. As the son of a Korean mother, however, I can say with some authority that Daniel Dae Kim badly needs lessons from someone -- perhaps Margaret Cho -- on how properly to imitate Korean-accented English.

* When I first saw Harper in the jungle, I turned to my friend and said, "she's dead." I figured it was really Jacob using Smokey to assume her form. It appears, however, that Harper is still alive. That doesn't exclude Jacob's involvement, especially since Smokey seemed to scan Juliet in Left Behind. But you'd think he'd use Goodwin's ghost to communicate her. The more likely explanation, therefore, is that Ben sent Harper because he wants to initiate another Purge...

* On a related note, was that Harper's physical form or an astral projection? The whispers that preceded her sudden appearance reminded me of similar whispers heard right before Wet Walt appeared to Shannon and when Taller Ghost Walt ordered Locke out of the ditch. And she disappeared as abruptly as she appeared, into thin air. So, if it was astral projection, are we sure it was really Harper?

* How many rebel spies do you suppose died to get that video footage of Widmore?

* As for Ben's explanation, don't believe his lies. As I suggest in the Cancer Man's Con, his connections to Widmore are more substantial than we're being led to believe. How else to explain that Ben is a main target of the Freighter crew's mission? I believe he's been stringing Charles Widmore along either directly himself or through an agent sent to infiltrate Widmore's organization by posing as a disgruntled Other.

* Reference 108 to how Hurley makes his own luck -- he effortlessly trounced Sawyer at horse shoes.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

They *Hate* Paradox?!

Here's a question I posted recently on the Fuselage for writer Gregg Nations:


In recent podcasts, Damon and Carlton have gone out of their way to badmouth the notion of chronological paradox. Yet I counted at least three such paradoxes in The Constant. There were two predestination paradoxes -- i.e., Eloise the rat knowing her way around the maze before being taught the correct route, and Penny keeping her same phone number for eight years. There also was an ontological paradox -- i.e., the correct settings for Daniel's time machine having no discernible origin. Anyone curious to read more about the distinction might want to check out my post on the subject.

It seems to me that Damon and Carlton are using "paradox" to mean "changing the future." As the foregoing suggests, however, there are many chronological paradoxes that *don't* involve such changes. Sometimes, the paradox simply entails effects preceding their causes in time due to time travel, which seems to be the case on Lost. Could someone (you) please ask Damon and Carlton to stop throwing the baby out with the bathwater? I fear they're unintentionally leading viewers astray with their repeated rejection of all paradox, without exception...


PS: Keep up the good work!