The Flame, like most Dharma Stations, presents the initial appearance of being straightforward. It looks like a communications station and the big satellite dish on it certainly aligns with the idea! But a little digging throws up sticking points and furrowed brows. Chess games. . . C4 explosives. . . I guess we should have learned by now that nothing is ever straightforward when it comes to Dharma. . .
So. The Flame Station, in the time of The Others, appeared to be single-handedly manned by Mikhail Bakunin. From Ben's control, this makes sense: limit the amount of information available to as few people as possible. From a practical point of view this also makes sense; would you like to be stuck in small living quarters with the one-eyed lunatic?
There's not exactly much space. The Flame Station consists of a main living area - like a one-room apartment - with lounge, kitchen and sleeping facilities. Just off to the side is a separate room, housing a computer and monitor screens (sometimes). Underneath is a basement, ideal for storage. We'll have a poke around there later - it's a blast!
Let's discuss practicalities. Sayid found a schematic from The Flame that showed a connection from it to The Barracks. As he explains, "This is a map showing electrical and data cabling running from The Flame, here, to a place called The Barracks, here." I am hazarding a bet that The Flame was responsible for the Barrack's power supply. Probably power was stored up so, when The Flame exploded the Barracks didn't experience a sudden power cut, but the supply will run out eventually. Maybe that was a factor in The Others' decision to up and leave for the 'temple'. . .
The schematic also shows other passages connected to The Flame spreading out in other directions, adding to the notion that this Station is the control hub for many of the facilities on the Island. I think it's a fair bet to state that the computer network (that allowed Michael to talk to 'Walt' in the Swan Station) was enabled by The Flame. We have supporting evidence. On the Blast Door Map there is a notation asking, 'Alleged location of #4 The Flame', which is then disputed as unlikely. Clearly, the map-maker (Radzinsky, we presume) was struggling to pinpoint The Flame's location. However, at the spot on the map where The Flame actually is there's this notation: 'Why so many DharmaTel relays in such an untenable location?' DharmaTel, I am guessing, is the name of Dharma's computer network which adds further validation. The Flame is the hub of the infrastructure.
So far, so good. The Flame Station as control station stacks up. Let's turn our attention to operations. Once Locke gets passed the chess game (we will certainly be coming back to that!) he accesses a menu of options.
24 – PALLET DROP - Most likely triggers a 'parachuted' supply drop - suggesting (to me) there isn't an actual plane flying over delivering food.
32 – ACTIVATE THE STATION UPLINK - By process of elimination I am assuming this is the (DharmaTel) computer network.
38 - ACCESS MAINLAND COMMUNICATIONS - Mainland communications suggests the real world, but which particular mainland. . .?
56 - ACCESS THE SONAR SYSTEM - The 'ping' that guides in submarines, probably housed within The Looking Glass.
77 – REPORT AN INCURSION BY THE HOSTILES - The concept of this is simple enough, I suppose. . .
So let's put ourselves in the shoes of a Dharma worker in The Flame, manning the computer. If you like, you can picture the Dharma worker is Mikhail. There's every reason to believe he originally was Dharma and defected. He claims to have arrived on the Island when he was 24 years old, which puts him in the right timeframe. I think he was Dharma. I think he worked in The Flame for them and then switched loyalties. You can agree. You can disagree. It's irrelevant here, because the real issue is the Enter 7-7 procedure. See, you're a Dharma worker in The Flame and 'the hostiles' suddenly attack the place! Oh-oh! Time to act fast! Only to access the menu with the option of reporting a hostile incursion you have to win a game of chess against the computer first. It's not exactly what you'd call IDEAL. Especially given the fact that this chess game was apparently designed by three grand masters AND it cheats! Your move, punk, and the hostiles are knocking at the door. . .
It's ridiculous. Yet there's no doubting that The Flame is a mega-important facility - such an absurd defence system is even more inappropriate. I've strained my brain cells and managed to come up with an explanation. Try it on for size. In the time of Dharma, The Flame Station was indeed a communication station much as we understand it. However, Dharma being Dharma, having a station without doing some scientific research would be a waste. So. In this station they installed into the computer a chess game. A fiendish chess game. Maybe the Dharma workers were told it was designed by three grand masters, and maybe it does indeed cheat. Either way, the chess game was there - but it was not an integral part of accessing the menu. And so Dharma installed a camera next to the computer (remember when we first glimpsed Mikhail?) and perhaps told Dharma workers in The Pearl to watch The Flame inhabitants and monitor how long they spent playing chess against the computer, and their reactions against a difficult opponent that cheated. . .
Post-purge, I envision the chess game was installed like a password protection by Mikhail. For example, Locke sees the computer and the chess game and doesn't think much of it. If he saw a screen that said, 'Enter Password' the next logical step would be to say to Mikhail, "Give me the password!" If Mikhail refused, Sayid and some torture techniques could ensue. With the innocuous chess game, such unpleasantry is sidestepped. I know it's not the greatest explanation but it's AN explanation. The big fly in the ointment, of course, is that this grand master chess game that cheats probably makes for the most difficult chess opponent you can imagine. Locke managed to beat it in less than an hour. Hmmm. I guess Locke's just really good at chess.
Remember when I said The Flame Station could trigger "sticking points and furrowed brows"? This is kind of what I had in mind.
I don't imagine that The Flame was rigged with explosives whilst Dharma were there in the beginning, but perhaps when 'the hostile' threat was increasing the measure was taken. Does make me wonder why The Others, Mikhail in particular, didn't get rid of the explosives afterwards though. For such an important station, leaving the thing wired to explode doesn't seem like such a smart move. Possibly Bea Klugh turned up (after the sky had turned purple and knocked out communications from The Flame) to inform Mikhail to step up security; presumably the monitors that Ben once showed Juliet her sister upon were taken away (which is why Locke never found them) and C-4 was strapped to the basement. It works in Ben's favour for the Flame Station to be blown up; without the sonar ping no one can apparently leave the Island then return to it, which serves as more of a deterrent, I suppose.
As we were shown, of course, the basement itself contained all kinds of Dharma documentation goodies. (Seriously, how much would you have wanted to spend a couple of hours rifling through all the materials they had in there!?) However, like The Flame Station itself, it all got shot to sunshine after Locke detonated the place. This does make me wonder what the result of entering 7-7 was. If Dharma set up the C-4, it may indicate that it triggered a countdown to explosion. If Dharma didn't set up the C-4 then. . . well. . . it perhaps indicates that Locke was given some very important information. Perhaps an alternative method, a failsafe if you like, to contact the outside world. What if The Flame contained just such a thing, and thus it was important (for both Locke and The Others) that it was destroyed to prevent any such contact from being made? It's a longshot, of course, but it at least makes sense of why The Flame, well, went up in flames.