Sunday, May 30, 2010

Lost Speculations and Observations: It Only Ends Once, Part Two

While Lost was always a show about its characters, and its artistic legacy will be for its characters, its significance to pop culture and the motive force for people to have watched the show through the years have been its mysteries. We've gotten plenty of answers, but naturally a show with the size and scope of Lost couldn't possibly hit everything. The mysteries that weren't specifically addressed on the screen generally fall into one of three categories: 1) mysteries that really were addressed, but that you have to read between the lines to understand; 2) mysteries that weren't addressed but then again don't matter so much to the plot, characters, or mythology; and 3) mysteries that weren't addressed but legitimately needed to be. Fortunately, there are only a handful in the third category. I'd like to go through several and explain why I thought the mystery was addressed, or didn't need to be, or was actually lacking.

Who were the Others? Honestly, this one couldn't have been more clear to me. Whether it was Richard's people in 1954, or the Hostiles in DHARMA times, or the Others that our people fought against, there has been a tribe of people living on the Island for at least half a century. They speak Latin, are advised by Richard Alpert, and ultimately proclaim allegiance to Jacob. From Jacob's "cork chat" with Richard back in 1867 that we see in "Ab Aeterno", we learn that Jacob has been bringing people to the Island for a very long time, but that he's not necessarily that great at interacting with them. Thus is born Richard's job of adviser to the Others and liaison between the Island and its people. Those people die gradually, but more are brought every so often as well. This amalgamation of people that Jacob has brought to the Island over the years 1867-present are collectively the Others.

How come we see Christian in the hospital and on the freighter? This one is trickier, and I think the answer does matter because it speaks to one of the core disputes in the conflict between Jacob and the Man in Black. The confusion is this: we know that every time we see Christian on the Island, it's actually the Man in Black. We also know that the Man in Black cannot leave the Island. Then, how is he able to go to the freighter or to Los Angeles? The freighter makes sense if you consider the water immediately surrounding the Island as part of the Island. It's Desmond's snow-globe; sure, you can sail away from the shores of the Island, but unless you know the magic bearing to escape the Island entirely, you're for all intents and purposes still on the Island. When the freighter crossed into the Island's "zone of influence", it became part of the Island, so the Man in Black could get to it. As for the hospital, it's a less fulfilling explanation, but chalk that one up to Jack's less-than-capable mental state and influence of drugs.

What's the deal with "mother"? I still say this one doesn't matter, because none of the main characters ever met "mother". The reasonable thing to conclude from "Across the Sea" is that "mother" is a pre-Roman or early Roman sea traveler who washed up on the Island, got curious about the Source one day, and became the Island's protector. (I still think she was also the smoke monster, but the evidence for that is much more circumstantial.) Her unequal treatment of her two assumed sons is probably the biggest influence on the prevailing sociological and philosophical opinions of Jacob and the Man in Black. That's all the story we need, because it's all the story that's relevant to our characters.

How did Jacob leave the Island? As the Island's protector, he of course knew the magic bearing that let him leave. Nothing was preventing him from leaving and instilling some small seed of purpose in each of his candidates at crucial junctures in their lives. The Man in Black, and most of the Island's inhabitants, weren't allowed to leave simply because Jacob didn't want them to. But Jacob, making his own rules, could leave any time he wanted. Yes, this is every bit as hypocritical as it sounds.

What ever happened to Annie? Doesn't matter. I like to think she left the Island when Faraday sounded the alarm right before the Incident. Or maybe she died in the Incident or in the Purge. The reason Annie was important was 1) to lay some foundation for Ben being so possessive of Juliet, and, more importantly 2) to show that Ben is capable of feelings after all. The Annie scenes (along with the Alex scenes) prove that Ben, while having done some truly terrible things, at least retains some of his humanity.

Why couldn't women have babies on the Island? The most reasonable pseudoscientific explanation here is that it results from the Incident. Massive discharge of electromagnetic energy plus massive dose of radiation equals less-than-hospitable environment for human procreation. A more spiritual explanation is that it's the Island's punishment to Ben's people for some of Ben's sins. As Ben's tenure as the leader of the Others became more violent and paranoid, the Island gradually rejected him. It denied him its healing properties, like we saw at the beginning of season 3 with the spinal surgery moment. Either or both of these explanations might be true: we know that Amy had no problem conceiving and giving birth to Ethan, and that was before both the Incident and Ben's accession to leadership.

Who built the Temple/Frozen Donkey Wheel/Four-Toed Statue/volcano plug? Ancient civilizations that were on the Island before our people's time. The Temple looks Mesoamerican, so Mesoamericans probably built it. The Statue is definitely Egyptian, so the Egyptians probably built it. The volcano plug has some cuneiform on it, so Sumerians probably built it. How did any of them get there? Likely the same way that Claudia and her people did, an unfortunate shipwreck. As for the Wheel and all the wells, it was the Man in Black and his adoptive village, like we found out in "Across the Sea".

What was the polar bear, and why was there a skeleton of one in Tunisia? The polar bears are definitely DHARMA experiments. The Hydra was their zoological research station, where they kept polar bears in cages. We know from "The Life and Death of Jeremy Bentham" (among other episodes) that Tunisia is the "exit" from the Island when you turn the Wheel. DHARMA knew about the Wheel and about its time travel properties, if not necessarily about the exit, as we learn in the season 4 finale "There's No Place Like Home". It happens to be really cold at the bottom of the well, and it takes a lot of force to turn the Wheel. What's large, already on the Island, and comfortable in cold climates?

What about Aaron--was he actually "special"? Sort of. Aaron was special in that he was born on the Island and that Claire didn't seem to suffer any of the late-term pregnancy issues that the recent Others did. What about him being "raised by another"? That one is interesting looking back on it, because now we know that Kate raising Aaron is what "disqualified" Kate from being a candidate. The implication is that Jacob already lost "Littleton" as a candidate when Claire had Aaron, and he didn't want to lose a second candidate by Claire letting another person raise Aaron. Did Richard Malkin know any of that? Probably not; he admitted to Eko in "?" that he was a fraud.

Why did the DHARMA food drops continue? This is a relatively minor one, but a little explanation here might have been nice. DHARMA effectively stopped supporting its operations on the Island in the years between 1985 and 1987 (which we know from the blast door map and the Lost Experience), and the Purge occurred in 1992 (which we know from "The Man Behind the Curtain"). Although Alvar Hanso himself guaranteed that the supply drops would be made "in perpetuity", it would make little sense for the Initiative to continue them without Hanso's funding and without personnel on the Island to benefit from them.

What happened with that one time flash when Juliet shot someone on the outrigger chase? Short answer: we don't know. This came in the episode "The Little Prince", and the pursuers earned the nickname "The Other Others" from Sawyer. Again, this is a minor point in the grand scheme of the show's mythology and story, but it was an intriguing plot point that could easily have been answered in season 6, as part of the season's theme of connecting to all the other seasons.

Who was in Jacob's cabin? We see the cabin several times, and the answer changes each time. In "The Man Behind the Curtain" and "The Shape of Things to Come", there's some mysterious shadowy figure inside the cabin. Ben assumes it's Jacob, but then again he never actually meets Jacob until he stabs him in "The Incident". Later Ilana tells us that Jacob hasn't been using the cabin lately, so it seems that this figure is not Jacob at all. It could be an elaborate charade by the Man in Black, but then again the cabin is surrounded by a circle of ash. We don't know why or how, but we do accept that the Man in Black can't cross ash. And why would the Man in Black be pleading for help?

The "Cabin Fever" visit to the cabin is much easier to sort out. There's no ash circle this time, so the Man in Black has no problem entering the cabin and masquerading as Christian Shephard. He already has Claire under his control, and he manipulates Locke into using the Frozen Donkey Wheel by saying he can speak on Jacob's behalf. Undoubtedly, the Man in Black wanted the freighter folk (who he, rightly or wrongly, would have associated with Jacob) gone, and using the Wheel to move the Island accomplished that. But the reason the Man in Black insisted that Locke turn the Wheel was probably so he could kill two birds with one stone and discard one of Jacob's candidates by forcing Locke to take the "exit" from the Island.

What ever happened to Walt? This is the granddaddy of "poorly explained Lost mysteries". For two whole seasons, we're told that Walt is special, that he can do extraordinary things, that he's a very important person to the Others and to the Island. We even see some evidence of this: Walt communicates with the rest of the survivors both as an apparition and through the DharmaTel computers by means unknown. And then, when the 14-year-old Malcolm David Kelley gets too old to play the 10-year-old Walt, he's shipped off the Island and not seen again until season 5, when the time travel mechanics make it possible for Malcolm and Walt to be the same age again.

Internet speculation is that Walt was originally meant to be the Desmond figure, immune to electromagnetism and the ultimate failsafe in the case that everything goes to hell. But surely someone would have thought ahead enough to realize that Walt would out-age five or six seasons of the show? After the first third of Lost was so consumed with Walt's "specialness", to have the matter dropped entirely in its latter two-thirds just because of the aging of a pubescent actor is frustrating.

Agree? Disagree? Did I miss anything?

Next up is the long-promised "I make fun of all my bad theories" post, then finally, I'll spill my top 5 episodes of the series.

Currently listening: "Caring is Creepy", the Shins

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