Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Thoughts on Jughead...

Sorry for the delay in posting. Apparently, the Island doesn't want me blogging about this critical episode in its mythology, because I lost my notes on Jughead twice -- the first time about a quarter of the way through rewatching, and then again just as I was finishing. D'oh! Needless to say, I sympathized with Locke's frustration at not being able to complete his conversations with Ricardus Alpert. But not even the Island can stop me from dropping this little bombshell (groan...) on you all.

In my post Lost Time, I suggested that a book called The Big Time might be a major influence on Lost. The premise of Fritz Leiber's sci-fi classic is that two time-traveling factions (the "Snakes" vs. the "Spiders" -- the rest of us are "Zombies") are battling in a temporal conflict called the Change War. As that name suggests, the combatants fight to alter key events in history. Their efforts, however, are constrained by the "Law of the Conservation of Reality," which says that changing the past never alters the future more than the barest minimum possible.

The Big Time is set in a small Spider base outside of spacetime known simply as the Place. By virtue of its location, the Place is immune to the temporal disruptions of the Change War. The book's chilling description of the effects of this Change War was what originally set my Lost sense tingling:

Have you ever worried about your memory, because because it doesn't seem to be bringing you exactly the same picture of the past from one day to the next? Have you ever been afraid that your personality was changing because of forces beyond your knowledge or control? Have you ever felt sure that sudden death was about to jump you from nowhere? Have you ever been afraid of Ghosts -- not the storybook kind, but the billions of beings who were once so real and strong it's hard to believe they'll just sleep harmlessly forever? Have you ever wondered about those things you may call devils or Demons -- spirits able to rage through all time and space, through the hot hearts of stars and the cold skeleton of space between the galaxies? Have you ever thought that the whole universe might be a crazy, mixed-up dream? If you have, you've had hints of the Change War.
The part about the "Ghosts" of people from timelines that no longer exist made me think of Jacob and the Whispers, both of which have a ghostly quality. I was also struck by the reference to "spirits able to rage through all time and space," which reminds me of Desmond's consciousness time travel, and which evokes the message of the Others' brainwashing video that "only fools are enslaved by time and space." To me, moreover, the Law of the Conservation of Reality sounds a lot like course correction. No surprise, therefore, that Ms. Hawking wears a snake pin (i.e., the Ouroboros).

What I didn't mention before, but seems highly relevant in view of Jughead, is the nuclear weapon that drives the plot of Big Time. The characters are trapped in the Place with a "tiny tactical atomic bomb" counting down to detonation. I remember thinking the bomb would be a great metaphor for the Swan -- I never expected we would actually see such a nuke on the show. If you think about it, though, the jughead serves that symbolic purpose perfectly. Like the Island itself, the bomb suffered a breach that must be plugged with lead and buried in cement.

In the spirit of Herb Caen, here are some three-dot thoughts on Jughead:

ARE YOU THE DOCTOR? Penny's difficult childbirth, especially all the hemhoragging, brought to mind the pregnancy problems on the Island. Maybe this was merely for suspense, but I doubt it given Sun's difficult childbirth, as well. A pattern seems to be emerging the whereby children of people connected to the Island are somehow abnormal. Penny never visited the Island herself (at least so far as we know) but Desmond became basically a living extension of it after bathing in its exotic energy during the Swan imposion...When Des told little Charlie (awww...) about the special island he left long ago, I thought for a split second he was talking about the Island. That scene is pregnant with irony (groan...) particularly Penny's warning about her big bad daddy, whose reaction to Desmond's return is surprisingly meek.

YOU JUST COULDN'T STAY AWAY, COULD YOU? At first, I figured that Ellie's line about Daniel not being able to stay away was a reference to some future jump that would take Faraday even further into the past. But it seems clear she was alluding to her belief he was U.S. military...Let me preface my next comment by stipulating that Rebecca Mader is beautiful. Unfortunately, no thanks to my friend MB, I can only see Eric Stoltz's character in Mask whenever she's onscreen...Did Miles simply see the trip wire for the landmines, or did one of those dead soldiers warn him?

SEMPER UBI SUB UBI. Who says Latin is dead? As a former student myself, I was pleased the Others chose it as their secret language. Gives them a kind of secret order feel, like the Freemasons or Knights Templar...Now we know why only some of the Others wore U.S. military uniforms and carried guns -- they scavenged these items from the dead soldiers...The Others took down 18 armed and presumably well-trained soldiers with only bows and arrows. This earlier group of Others seems quite a bit more badass than their modern counterparts...Curious how Daniel makes a point of never revealing his name to Richard.

NO RECORD OF ANY FARADAY. When Desmond was told there were no records of any Faraday at Oxford, I briefly feared they might be going the cliched route of erasing Dan from history. So, I shared Desmond's relief at seeing familiar sights like Faraday's radiation machine and Eloise's maze...I really appreciated how the writers slowly and carefully established the plausibility of Dan's profession of love for Charlotte. Those two have a nice chemistry...It's interesting how Widmore snapping Cunningham's neck parallels Goodwin doing the same to Nathan. Those Others do what needs to be done...Did fate intervene to make Locke hesitate, thereby ensuring a future with Charles Widmore?

AFTER WHAT HE DID TO THAT POOR GIRL. It seems that Theresa is either an intentional or unintentional victim of Faraday's time travel experiments. It's hard for me to believe he would actually test the device on her -- I'm guessing it was an accident of some kind. However it happened, she's obviously unstuck in time, not merely demented...Mr. Widmore has taken a keen interest in Daniel's career, even cleaning up the latter's messes like Theresa. He also obviously knows Daniel's mother, but if they were ever friends, I think they're now estranged. I wonder what she thinks of Widmore's generosity toward her son...

THAT SODDING OLD MAN. I loved the transition from Widmore's dismissal of Locke's tracking skills to the latter surveying the camp from the hillside...Richard is very old and has apparently been on the Island for some time. That suggests his agelessness isn't the result of time travel, as some have speculated. My own pet theory, of course, is that Richard died on the Island long ago but was reincarnated by the Smoke Monster, which is why he never ages...What is it about Ellie that so disturbs Faraday? Is it just her appearance, or does he actually know her in the future? One thing seems clear: whatever brought the Others to the Island, it clearly wasn't time travel, because they seem utterly baffled by the possibility.

JACOB SENT ME. It was fascinating how the name Jacob held such power over Richard as far back as the 1950s. I do wonder how Alpert managed to speak with the Island's ghostly patriarch. I've always thought that was Ben's special talent, which is why he was chosen to be the Others' leader. Richard seemed to be in charge of this crew, but I got the sense his title was interim, which got my whackadoo wheels turning. Is it possible Richard actually knew Jacob? Perhaps Alpert was the latter's second in command. Maybe Jacob was a casualty of the Others' conflict with the U.S. military team...

MR. HUME IS A COLLEAGUE OF MINE. Interesting choice of words by Charles Widmore. He referred to Desmond as a "colleague" instead of an "acquaintance." That implies a level of equality Widmore has never previously afforded Des...I wonder if Widmore has similar precognitive abilities, which is why Richard orignally recruited him to join the Others. That could be what Widmore meant (in the Shape of Things to Come) by the nightmares that drive him to drink in the middle of the night...The revelation that Daniel's mother is in Los Angeles seems to confirm what many of you speculated last week -- i.e., Ms. Hawking is his mother.*

ONE LAST THING. The implication is that Widmore selected Charlotte, Daniel, and Miles for his science team because he remembered encountering them on the Island in the past. That presumably is why he's been funding Faraday's work for all these years. What confuses me is why Widmore didn't track down John Locke sooner. I would have expected him to be present at the Chosen One's birth in Tustin just like Richard Alpert...

*Correction: The original sentence erroneously suggested that Ellie's accent was Kiwi. Her casting call, however, specifies that the character's accent is supposed to be British. So I'm apparently wrong about her being from New Zealand. D'oh!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Thoughts on Because You Left and The Lie...

Welcome back, you all everybody! You've got to hand it to the writers of Lost. Like the cook who boils a frog alive by slowly increasing the heat, they ratchet up the craziness notch by notch, cooking your brain before you know it.

Some complain the creators played unfairly by first denying the science fiction and time travel elements of the show. These skeptics feel understandably misled now that Lost has clearly and unequivocally been revealed as such. But I'll bet most of the skeptics are still watching despite their reservations.

This is mainly due to the slow and deliberate way the show has acclimated us to the possibility of something so outlandish time travel. First Desmond's consciousness became unstuck in time. Then we were introduced to physical time travel via Bunny 15 and the corpse of Doc Ray. Now the Island itself has apparently become unstuck in time, blurring the line between mental and physical time travel. The absurd seems plausible thanks to this incremental progression.

But I think even skeptics can appreciate Lost as a kind of "anti-time-travel" story. Unlike more traditional takes on the subject, time travel is the problem, not the solution on the show. Dharma's efforts to manipulate time have disrupted the course of destiny. It's up to Ms. Hawking and Co. to nudge things back on track. In the spirit of Herb Caen, here are some three-dot thoughts on the Season 5 premier:

POWER TRIANGLE. I loved the opening shots of Dr. Chang, particularly the way he makes a power triangle with his hands that subtly evokes the symbol for the Arrow Station...The "limitless source of energy" is presumably the pocket of negatively charged exotic matter that Chang mentions in the Orchid Orientation. The drill technician who collapsed with a bloody nose is probably unstuck in time as a result of drilling too close to the exotic matter...Very cool seeing Faraday during that opening sequence. Now we know for sure that he was the "reliable source" cited by Dr. Chang in the 2008 Comic-Con video...

IT HAPPENED BECAUSE YOU LEFT. Ben's line is the latest of many reinforcing the notion that the Oceanic 6 were not supposed to be rescued. You'll also recall that Locke said something similar when trying to persuade Jack not to leave the Island. As I describe in the Anti-Christmas Carol, Desmond changed the "picture on the box" by postponing Charlie's death. This ability to change the course of fate is what makes Des the "wild card," a point I'll return to shortly...When Ben asks if Jack knows what happened to the people left behind on the Island, I sense the former already has this information and is actually testing the latter, though I'm unclear why...

PURPLE SKY. The purple sky is one of my absolute favorite recurring images on Lost. I could easily see the show ending with a purple sky event that moves the Island forward into the far future, perhaps via one last turn of the Frozen Donkey Wheel..."We must have been inside the radius" is presumably a reference to the event horizon of the wormhole that was opened when Ben turned the Frozen Donkey Wheel...The camp disappeared because the Island is now unstuck in time as a result of passage through the wormhole. As I describe in the Island Needs a Constant, its "consciousness" will oscillate between key periods in the Island's history. People and things from different times will appear, interact, then disappear like ghosts.

BORN TO RUN. You don't simply get a court order for a blood test as a matter of course. I suspect Sun was the one who's responsible, whether directly or indirectly, for those attorneys from Agostini & Norton wanting to test Kate and Aaron. Or maybe it was simply fate driving Kate back to the Island. Either way, it's fascinating how Kate's first instinct is to run just like it was in her life before the Island. It's another sign the Oceanic 6 have regressed to their former selves since they defied destiny by leaving the Island...

WELCOME TO THE CHINA CLUB. Sawyer's hilarious slap of Faraday was on behalf of every fan who's been frustrated by bigmouths like me for delving waaaaay too deep into the science and pseudo-science of Lost...I love the way Daniel's metaphor of the record skipping mirrors Dr. Chang's difficulty playing his Willie Nelson record. Many of my other favorite shows -- e.g., the Wire, Dexter, and Battlestar Galactica -- similarly use twinning and parallelism to underscore core themes. In this case, the skipping record reinforces my belief that Dharma somehow "scratched" the timeline, necessitating intervention by the likes of Ms. Hawking and her Chronology Protection Agents.

IT POINTS NORTH. Locke's encounter with Richard seems to suggest not everyone on the Island is unstuck in time. That's more difficult to conceptualize, but Daniel expressly alludes to the possibility earlier in the episode...Richard's gift of the compass harkens back to the scene in Cabin Fever where he gives young Locke the Dalai Lama test with the compass as one of the objects. I've always suspected that test wasn't so much about reincarnation as time travel. I believe Locke will soon travel back in time and meet a version of Richard who does not yet know him. Locke will gain Richard's trust by giving him the compass. Richard will then seek out Locke as a newborn, young child, and teen, in an effort to understand why. This is also why Richard and the Others seem to know Locke in earlier scenes -- they've been expecting him for some time.

WILD CARD. In posts like the Course Correction Conundrum, I've explored the tension between Ms. Hawking's rule against changing the future and the special case of Desmond. He's a "wild card" in part because he sees the path of destiny in advance and can manipulate course correction to change the "picture on the box." But Daniel's comments imply something even more profound -- Des is the only one who can undo the temporal disruption caused by DHARMA and the Others. His freedom from fate is actually what makes him the key to getting it back on track...So who is Daniel's mother? Like many of you, my first thought was Ms. Hawking. After sleeping on it, however, that feels incorrect to me. I think it's very possibly Ms. Hawking is connected to one of our Losties, but my gut tells me it isn't Faraday.

RED SHIRT ALERT. I let out a yelp of recognition (holy *&$% -- that's Frogurt!) when I saw Neil "Frogurt" in the Zodiac raft. Hard core fans will recall Frogurt from the Missing pieces mobisode the Adventures of Hurley and Frogurt. Sadly, the moment I recognized Frogurt, I knew he was going to die and soon. The writers confirmed my worst fears when they subsequently emphasized that Frogurt was wearing a red shirt -- a nod to the show's practice (in the tradition of Star Trek) of killing off minor characters so clad. Still, the flaming arrow was quite a spectacular way to go -- it brought to mind the shocking sight of Doc Arzt being blown to bits.

CHRONOLOGY PROTECTION AGENCY. Ah, Ms. Hawking, you are truly one of my favorite characters on the show! As stated previously, I think she's a Chronology Protection Agent whose mission is to nudge destiny back on course by convincing the Oceanic 6 to return to the Island. She seems to have recruited Ben, though it's unclear whether he has always worked for her or only since leaving the Island. I'll bet Ben wallowed in anger and depression over Alex's murder and his banishment for some time thereafter. I could plausibly see Ms. Hawking recruiting him with the promise he might one day return to the Island with her help.

ONE MORE THING: I was going to edit to add one further speculation but I see from the comments that someone has beaten me to the punch. I'm with Wayne Allen Sallee that the British fellow who wanted to chop off Juliet's hand was none other than a younger version of Charles Widmore himself.