An issue that has had certain quarters of the rabid Lost fans enveloped with consternation was the revelation that Ben, and The Others, had no idea about The Swan Station, pushing the button and Desmond before the crash of Oceanic 815. For many Lost fans this is impossible to accept. Their arguments range from the capacity to monitor The Swan, to Ben growing up with Dharma (with a father that had a Swan Station logo on his jumpsuit) and the sheer plausibility of The Others, on their Island, having no clue about such a major function taking place.
I can appreciate the concern. I’m a Lost fan, too. As rabid they come. But if I’m told that this state of affairs is the way of it then my Lost-fanatical brain has to come up with a way to make it make sense. I shall attempt to do that here. First, the offending article itself. The link to the full transcript of the podcast is here:
I’ve taken the liberty of taking out the key pieces of the transcript below, edited for brevity. (Note that this podcast aired during Season 3, at a point just before the Expose episode was due to be broadcast.)
Carlton Cuse: “The Others or Hostiles know about the Swan Station and about the number pushing, or does it not matter to them if it imploded?” I think this is a fair question to answer.
Damon Lindelof: I don't think they knew about the existence of the Swan Station. For one, Kelvin is down there continuing to push the button, even before Desmond comes, well after we know that this purge allegedly occurred. And The Others have completely left him alone.
Carlton Cuse: It might make some certain amount of sense, too, that if there was an incident in the Swan station, and there was this electromagnetic anomaly, and this sort of Chernobyl kind of circumstance there, the DHARMA guys wouldn't probably want a lot of other people to know about it. I mean, it would be a definite need-to-know basis, wouldn't it? Let's say I think their [The Others] knowledge of the Swan was pretty limited. And I think that when Ben came over there and saw that these people [the Losties] were pushing a button every 108 minutes, I think his skepticism was genuine.
So there you have it. The Others had no idea about the Swan Station before the crash of Oceanic 815. And when Ben was captured and taken there, posing as Henry Gale, he was genuinely doubtful that the act of pushing the button did anything of value at all. You may ask, How can that be? Well, let me take a run at convincing you how.
First, let’s to go the time of Dharma, when Ben was a boy and his father, Roger, was a workman wearing a Swan Station jumpsuit. In the grand pecking order of Dharma he was about as low as it gets. And as Cuse above states, The Swan Station functioned on “a definite need-to-know basis”. So Roger was simply given overalls bearing the Swan logo and either fed a false story about what it signified, or given no information at all. Even if Ben had bothered to ask his dad about The Swan he would have been given no indication of what it was really about.
Yet, as a boy, Ben was all set on running away and turning his back on Dharma. We have no idea how frequently Ben stayed in touch with Richard Alpert and ‘the hostiles’ between his first meeting and the eventual ‘purge’, but it’s a fair bet that Ben took little interest in Dharma’s activities in the meantime. He formed a belief they were entirely pointless. That’s crucial in understanding Ben’s ignorance of the matter.
Following that line of reasoning, after the ‘purge’ and ‘the hostiles’ took over (a group that would, also, have had absolutely no respect or interest in Dharma) then it stands to reason that they were disinterested in anything Dharma were up to. But, you may ask, wouldn’t ‘the hostiles’ have scoured the whole Island to track down, hunt and kill every last Dharma member? Wouldn’t they have made sure that there were no Dharma people left in Stations tucked around the Island?
Well, no. Why would they? They got most of them. They took control of the Island. If there were a few stragglers around they either wouldn’t last long or could be tolerated. Like Danielle, for example. 16 years she was left to herself. The Others didn’t bother her so long as she didn’t bother them. (Well, apart from nicking her kid!) And there is evidence that there were some Dharma people left over (think of the body in the Pearl suit spotted in the polar bear cave) but, apart from Radzinsky and Inman, it appears none of them lasted very long – but that story is probably due to be shown during Season 5.
So far so good? OK then. Let’s tackle the surveillance problem. The problem is The Swan Station can be viewed from The Pearl. Now if we are to believe that Ben and The Others were unaware of Desmond and Inman in The Swan, it also means they have to be unaware of The Pearl, too. Some people struggle with that idea. I can see why. What we have to assume is that The Others don’t go tramping around that side of the Island very much. (To be fair, with a Black Smoke and polar bears running around the place, and Rousseau’s booby traps, The Others sticking to their side of the Island is probably not a bad idea.)
But what about Mikhail in The Flame? He could see The Pearl, right? Well, no. It was only when Sayid switched the monitor on was visibility permitted. (A feed that Mikhail quickly shut off, it ought to be noted.)
See, we have to figure Ben and The Others were unaware of The Swan Station, and The Pearl, because otherwise they would have had to wonder where Desmond came from. For about three years Desmond’s yacht was moored in a cove on the Island’s coastline – but The Others never saw that either. The facts of the matter all point towards the idea that The Others never strayed past their side of the Island. (Think of Tom telling Jack that there was a dividing line that should not be crossed; The Others have all they need on their side and don’t care about the other half.)
The crash of Oceanic 815 changed all that. Suddenly a whole bunch of people crashed on the other side of the Island and Ethan was sent to check them out. Not only do they have a pregnant woman (Claire), they have a ‘special boy’ (Walt), a walking miracle (Locke) and, amazingly, a spinal surgeon (Jack). Learning all this, Ben formulates a plan. . . Consider the scene from Expose, where Ben and Juliet are in The Pearl, checking out Jack in The Swan.
Ben: “Who left this [the Pearl hatch] open?
Juliet: “Tom was down here a couple of days ago.”
Ben: “Have him cover it up with the plane.”
We know Tom will have been checking out this side of the Island. Probably he discovered The Pearl and what was contained within. Then he reports back to Ben that the Oceanic people have found a Dharma Station, and the guy they need to do the spinal surgery seems to spend a lot of his time there.
Juliet: “Why are we doing this? Shephard will never agree to do the surgery.”
Ben: “No, I can convince him to do it.”
Ben: “Same way I get anybody to do anything. I find out what he’s emotionally invested in, and I exploit it.”
To make his plan work, I believe Ben gets himself captured and taken to The Swan Station where he can check the place out for the first time (with “skepticism”, as Cuse stated) and make observations about Jack; the man he is and what he’s emotionally invested in.
You may recall the incident when Locke was trapped beneath the blast door and Ben (posing as Henry) went to the computer and entered the code. Why would he do that if he thought it was useless? Well, he was trying to earn Locke’s trust at the time. So he played along. But the moment his scheme was rumbled – when the real Henry Gale’s I.D. was found – Ben tried to get Locke to lose faith in the button. Ben told Locke it was useless and that pushing it changed nothing. In short, Ben tried to get Locke to think like he did.
Dismiss Dharma. Ignore everything they stand for. Find belief in the Island.
I hope so far I’ve done a good job in portraying a way of things that can plausibly explain The Others’ ignorance of The Swan. By no means am I affirming that this is definitive, but so long as it’s convincing enough then it does the job. I’ll wrap this up with the one last major argument regarding Ben and Dharma: The Orchid Station.
The argument is as follows. Ben knows everything about The Orchid Station and what goes on there. How could he be so knowledgeable of that Station and be completely ignorant about The Swan? It’s a fair argument. Only, as we’ve established, Dharma kept The Swan Station a secret on a “need-to-know” basis. And as we have seen by the greenhouse ‘front’ above The Orchid, that Station was also shrouded in secrecy, too. The difference is Ben had a reason to go to The Orchid and understand about that part of the Island: the donkey wheel.
It should be remembered that the ‘donkey wheel room’ was underneath The Orchid. Dharma built over it, and covered it up. By the hieroglyphics in the room there’s the strong suggestion that the wheel there pre-dates Dharma. Perhaps Alpert and the original ‘hostiles’ put it there? In which case they would know it was there, and know Dharma built a Station there. And since it contained the capacity to move the Island it was essential that the likes of Ben were aware of The Orchid Station and, more importantly, what lay beneath it.
Ben did dismiss The Orchid Station itself as just another of Dharma’s “silly experiments”. Whilst he knew how to blow up The Vault he gave no indication that he valued anything that went on there, which has been the common thread of Ben’s thinking for everything that Dharma was involved with. So whilst at first glance his actions with The Orchid may seem in conflict with his dismissal of Dharma he’s actually portrayed nothing contradictory at all.
The Others –‘hostiles’ and Ben alike – can be said to hold a view that the Island is like a marvelous wall they admire and revere. Dharma are like graffiti on that wall; marring and defacing it. All The Others do is ignore the graffiti, whatever messages it may hold, and continue to focus only on the wall. Potentially, their ignorance might be their biggest mistake. We can be sure they never banked on Desmond and a certain Fail Safe switch, after all. . .