Thursday, December 18, 2008

An Anti-Christmas Carol...

It's the holidays, and that has me contemplating a classic:

The moral of A Christmas Carol is that it's never too late to change your fate. I used to think the same was true of Lost -- that its resolution would involve changing the fate of humanity to avert our prophesied extinction. But I've come to believe that Lost is more Tao than Dickens. The message of the show is to embrace your destiny. Fighting the future inevitably fails and backfires, causing needless suffering for those affected.

My posts typically focus on the mythical and sci-fi elements of Lost, but the show is ultimately character driven. Not surprisingly, therefore, the stories of principals like Locke clearly reflect this theme of accepting fate. A great example is Locke's refusal as a teen to embrace his destiny as a man of science. One of my all-time favorite scenes on the show is where Locke's teacher urges him to accept Alpert's offer of science camp -- to no avail.

Really, though, no storyline exemplifies the moral of Lost better than Desmond's futile efforts to save Charlie. I've previously praised Desmond's interventions for changing "the picture on the box" by making Charlie's death heroic. But the consequences of this heroism, particularly the rescue of the Oceanic 6, have proven less than positive. Indeed, the grim flash forwards seem to bear out Locke's insistence that the O6 were "not supposed to leave."

The mythology of the show, particularly the Valenzetti Equation, similarly embodies this fatalism. We know Dharma tried to save the world through the power of physical science but ended up creating in Swan Station the very same threat of human extinction they sought to avert. I suspect the Others also seek to save the world albeit using "para" science (i.e., psychic power). That's why they covet children with special abilities like Walt.

The problem is not just that these attempts are doomed to failure. They also suffer from an inaccurate -- or at least incomplete -- understanding of the Valenzetti Equation. I've argued previously that its prediction of extinction may also refer to our evolution into a new post-human species capable of transcending time, space, and even physical form. Altering the Valenzetti's core factors risks delaying this evolution or even derailing it completely (i.e., by destroying the world).

I believe Ms. Hawking, Brother Campbell, and maybe Matthew Abbadon are working to fulfill the Valenzetti's evolutionary mandate. These Chronology Protection Agents, as I've dubbed them, manipulate people and events along the timeline to nudge destiny back on course. The show depicts the culmination of their intricate plan, executed over many decades, to mitigate the distruption and delay caused by Dharma and the Others.

Like the eponymous device in the game Mouse Trap, however, Hawking and Co.'s machinations have a Rube Goldberg quality. There are several critical stages where their plan can fail, breaking the desired causal chain of events. One key point (pun intended) is Desmond's activation of the Fail-Safe. If Des delays going to the Island by marrying Penny, he risks missing this linchpin event, in which case "every single one of us is dead."

Ms. Hawking managed to avoid that outcome by persuading Desmond not to propose. But her speech on course correction was less successful in achieving its other intended effect. The lesson of the man in the red shoes was meant to dissuade Desmond from trying to save Charlie. Ms. Hawking knows the Oceanic 6 are not supposed to leave the Island. In fact, their presence is a prerequisite for fulfillment of the Valenzetti -- they are its six core factors.

The Oceanic 6 are thus pawns of prophecy. Their miserable existence is the universe course correcting them back to the Island. The problem is that these pawns have a measure of free will. They can postpone fate indefinitely -- or at least as long as they can stand the misery -- but their friends and loved ones will also suffer. The Chronology Protection Agents must nudge the Oceanic 6 back to the Island and bring the suffering to an end.


Anonymous said...

I like this alot!

bigmouth said...

Anonymous: I'm glad you enjoyed it!

Capcom said...

Very interesting thoughts! :-D

I'm beginning to think of the VE in a similar way. My take is, that it's sort of like 'The Stand'. Perhaps what Valenzetti "saw" in his equation was an eradication of contemporary mankind with only a *near* total wipe-out. Hanso may have interpreted it as a total loss, and with his overly compassionate knee-jerk reaction to the VE vowed to change the course. But maybe the VE was just meant to predict a new civilization that begins post-aftermath of whatever wipes out most of mankind, like you said.

I'm confused about Locke. Was he supposed to be a man of science or faith? Fate, or The Island, seemed to be leading him in the direction of science in his youth, but now It requires faith and intuition from him. I don't know what to think about him anymore at this point.

I do wish that the show was still more about redemption, hope, and revived purpose, like it was in the first couple seasons. Now it's mostly about conflict, but I hope that all the conflict will eventually bring us and the Lostaways back around to the original re-purposing of their lives and destiny, and not just a live action version of "The Itchy and Scratchy Show" with all the sides merely trying to wipe each other out by any means possible. Maybe like you say (if I read it right), the Losties will realize that if they stay on the island to save mankind, that they have a much more important role there doing that, than anything they could get out of their previously messed up lives, which will be their redemption after all.

Sorry for the long post. :-o

Merrylegs said...

Since Desmond's character is so closely associated with Charles Dickens, I have a sinking feeling he may be filling hte role of Sydney Carton in "A Tale of Two Cities" by eventually sacrificing himself to save Penny. I certainly hope this doesn't happen, but this is Lost!

Anonymous said...

I like your site and I've added a link to it from mine. Hope you don't mind. Personally, I don't think it ever was Desmond's destiny to turn the key or he'd still be doing it now. The universe course corrected that. The connection to Taoism is interesting. They all seem to be learning the hard way that going against the tide is futile.

I don't believe, though, that Desmond ever saw Claire get on the helicopter. I think he saw himself with Penny and would say anything to make it happen. It was his only future flash that the audience didn't get to see. And, like ghost Boone told Locke, he's in it for himself.

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your story and I just wanted to wish you a Merry Xmas!
Of course you know that Penny is a Queen in the chess game of LOST! LOL!

Landa241512 said...

As usual, I enjoy reading your comments BM.

Thanks, Jeremiah, for the comments regarding Desmond and his own desires. I too wondered if Desmond really saw Claire on the helicopter.

I think the next 2 seasons will totally change our views on certain characters and I'm looking forward to it. One of the biggest character change will be Hurley. I've made this comments before to other friends and they just looked at me crazy. Understand, I adore Hurley to death and he's one of my favorite characters -- but, there's something underlying there. On one hand, I'm hope I'm wrong, I would hate to see one of my favorite character, turn out to be not who I think. However, on the other, as someone said, this is LOST ...

Bigmouth said...

Juanita's Journal comments:

Pardon me for sounding rude, but that strikes me as a dumb ass message. I don't believe in "embracing" one's destiny. Nor do I believe in fighting it. I believe that each person should live his or her life, one day at a time. And if by chance that person meets his/her destiny, then so be it.

Bigmouth said...

Capcom: Love the Stand! There are definitely some parallels, particularly the notion of random folks unwittingly doing the work of destiny. You also raise an chillingly plausible possibility with your scenario of an extinction-level outbreak of disease like Captain Trips. I could see someone like Thomas Mittelwerk -- or even Jacob -- wanting to trigger such an event while protecting a few to rebuild a new and better civilization.

But this, too, strikes me as a potential misreading of the Valenzetti. I have no evidence for my opinion, merely a gut feeling. I think the Others are as much to blame for humanity's stalled evolution as Dharma. This may be the unintentional side effect of the Others stashing special children on the Island. We were supposed to take the next step in the 1960s, the age of Aquarius, but haven't because of such well intentioned meddling.

You raise an interesting question re Locke. I tend to think he was supposed to be a man of science. I suspect we will learn in this season that Locke's faith (in Jacob, the Island, etc.) is misplaced. This could be the symbolic meaning of his adoption of the name Bentham, who famously critiqued natural rights as "nonsense on stilts."

Merrylegs: I really hope you're wrong but share your suspicion that Penny and Desmond's story may end in tragedy.

Jeremiah: Thanks for linking to EyeMSick! And I think you've nailed this speculation -- Lost is about learning the hard way that you can't fight the tide of fate. You may also be right that Desmond's destiny wasn't originally to push the button. Dharma and the Others have somehow changed the "picture on the box" using the Island. Des is part of the contingency plan hatched by the Chronology Protection Agency to nudge destiny back on course. So, too, is the crash of Oceanic 815. It's all part of the complex Mouse Trap...

JT: A belated Merry Christmas to you t2s! But don't you think Ms. Hawking is the queen? As someone perceptively noted on your chess thread on the fuselage, she works in a PAWN shop!

Landa: Interesting! What sorts of changes in the characters do you have in mind? Will these changes be natural or triggered by some sort of Room 23 brainwashing?

Juanita: Meh. Embracing fate is a common theme in the fiction of Stephen King and Eastern philosophy, which are both big influences on the show. Whatever your preferences, I think that's where they're headed. The dilemma at the core of Lost is what happens when a force like the Island allows you to see the path of destiny in advance. Do you keep living life one day at a time, or do you fall prey to the temptation to meddle?

Capcom said...

Very interesting Big! Especially your last two sentences to Juanita! Must think more on these things while sipping champagne tonight. And I agree, the Others and the DI both created a "FUBAR" situation with their actions. I'm very curious as to whether or not Cheng's attempts to fix things will somehow make things even worse.

Happy New Year Everyone! :-D

Bigmouth said...

Capcom: Happy New Year to you and everyone else! I think Chang and Faraday's efforts to avert the Purge will be sabotaged by the Chronology Protection Agents.

lil-beeyotch said...

Mrs Hawking scares me =(

OT - when is Lost coming out? Sometime in Feb?