Analysis: 5.14 The Variable

The more you think about this episode the harder your brain hurts. I had that nagging sense once it ended, that the prospect of getting into the analysis was going to be problematic. And indeed it is. Fundamentally, when it comes to the matter of Faraday and his ‘variable theory’, he was either absolutely wrong or incredibly right.

We have to consider whether this episode, and Dan’s actions, merely served to emphasise the ‘whatever happened, happened’ idea, or whether it presented opportunity for this notion to be bucked. Fuelling Dan with a belief that he could change the past for a ‘better’ future – one where Charlotte lives and Oceanic 815 doesn’t crash – both we, the audience, and Dan were given hope that was literally shot down in dreadfully ironic circumstances.

In 1977 Eloise Hawking unwittingly shot her own son. She later gives birth to Dan and pushes him towards a life of mathematics, away from any creative or romantic interests he may nurture (she significantly stopped him playing the piano twice in this episode to underline this point - and the first time she seemed visibly upset about it: she either learned something just before she stopped Young Dan from playing, or just the act of tearing him away from his passion broke her heart).

Throughout Dan’s upbringing Eloise knows she is destined to push her son towards growing up to go back in time and be killed by her. This is very curious. I mean, if history cannot be changed and course correction exists then why does Eloise see reason for interference? If Dan is always going to be the brilliant scientist on the Island then stopping him from playing the piano, or seeing Theresa, shouldn’t change any of that from happening, right? If whatever happened, happened then Eloise is technically powerless to prevent any of it, right?

Seems to me, in fact, that Eloise wasn’t trying to fulfil destiny at all. She wasn’t letting course correction take hold. Seems to me that she was actually trying to change history. One way of looking at it is to consider her repression of Dan’s creative and romantic interests. It wasn’t mathematics that drove him to return to the Island in the 1970s and march into The Others camp and wind up getting shot. Faraday did all that because he wanted to change the past (getting creative with variables) to prevent Charlotte’s death (and rescue his romantic interest).

Somewhat perversely, by trying to focus Dan’s mind purely on numbers, to avoid distractions, Eloise may have been trying to prevent him from exercising what proved to be his undoing. That’s one way of looking at it. As we saw, however, this failed. Maybe that was the tragedy at work here, that we have seen before with Desmond in Flashes Before Your Eyes and Charlie’s death – no matter how much you try and change things, even when you know what’s coming, destiny cannot be averted.

And yet. . . does that feel right to you? It doesn’t sit right with me. Why did Eloise constantly tell Dan how much she loved him? Why get him the notebook and inscribe it with how much she cared?

When Eloise was confronted by Widmore she slapped him across the face when he stated he was Dan’s father (insert lack of surprise here), and expressed her sinking sense of doom about how Dan had been sent back to be, as she knew, shot and killed. Her reaction didn’t suggest a woman that had coldly reconciled her part in her son’s life, and death. Her reaction expressed dismay. And yet she did remark about how, for the first time in a long time, she wasn’t sure about what was going to happen next. This may not be a line to overlook.

A brief interjection here to state two things.

1. Widmore’s admission to Faraday about how he was responsible for the fake Oceanic wreckage was risky: a faulty memory doesn’t stop Faraday picking up a pen and writing it down!

2. Loved how Faraday’s rubbish memory was repaired, slowly, by being brought back to the Island. How come he was crying at the television? Presumably his experiments on himself (that had made Theresa catatonic as shown in Jughead) had loosened up his consciousness and given him his own ‘flashes of the future’ that his Swiss-cheesed brain can’t remember, but his emotional unconscious still holds onto.

When we first met Ms. Hawking – or Eloise as I am now more affectionately calling her – it was during the episode Flashes Before Your Eyes. There she met Desmond and possessed knowledge of the future. She knew Desmond was destined to go to the Island and press a button. She knew about the man with the red shoes that was going to be killed. The pertinent question is: How?

When we first met Eloise we could speculate that she was some kind of ‘super temporal being’ to know all these impossible-to-know future events, but now we know better. She was once a young woman on the Island, she had a son that she raised, she was a human being! So how come she had knowledge of the future? Unless there is some time travelling business going on that we have yet to learn about then I suspect Eloise had the same ability as Desmond exhibited – to receive glimpses of the future. Potentially she got this skill when she was on the Island and carried it with her. As such, she catches glimpses of future events, and then works to make sure they are fulfilled in the name of “destiny” – like getting Jack and co on Ajira 316.

And what’s interesting to me is her claim of how she can no longer see the future. Why? What’s changed? That, I feel, may be the question. Something changed, some variable took effect, and the remainder of this season, leading up to ‘the incident’, is what I predict is going to be revealed. So now the question is: What changed?

Rather than dance around the matter let me just lay out my prediction about what I think might happen. (My predictions have a habit of being spectacularly way off, especially towards a season finale, but what the hell.) We saw Dan tell Pierre Chang about how he was from the future. Whilst Chang may have been initially cynical I am sure he’s not going to easily let that one slide (particularly in light of the gunfight at The Barracks). Dan may be dead (that’s a big “may”, by the way!) but Miles was also incorporated as part of the group.

So Chang goes to Miles, perhaps, and finds out about the rest of the Oceanic people and comes to believe they really are from the future. Chang believes in this major accident that is due to occur at The Swan and orders an evacuation where certain people (like Chang’s wife with Miles, and Charlotte) all get off the Island. This then leaves Chang behind, to try and prevent the catastrophic accident at The Swan – but he fails, and the result is ‘the incident’.

‘The incident’ will, on one hand, produce the electromagnetic discharge provoking the requirement for a button to be pushed every 108 minutes to vent the build-up. That much we know. What we don’t know is the flipside of ‘the incident’ or, more pertinently, how it effects those from the future. . .

Remember when Ben turned the donkey wheel, and the Island moved? The Island was bathed in white light and some people were dislodged from time. I think ‘the incident’ will produce a similar event. That first time The Others did not get dislodged in time. They remained with the Island. In effect, they were Constants. The Oceanic people, meanwhile, became Variables and bounced around decades for a little while. I believe ‘the incident’ will retain Dharma on the Island (Constants) and once more knock these Variables (the Oceanic people, and Juliet and Miles) out of their current time – probably to 2007, where Locke, Sun and the Ajira survivors are.

Obviously there are massive unknowns in all of this. What was Dan doing at Ann Arbor for those years? I suggested above that he only “may” be dead. Why? Because if there’s some way to change history, to skew and twist and maybe break timelines, then potentially there’s some way for him to exist in a timeframe where he didn’t die. The very nature of the Island, of being ‘lost’, may completely hinge around the concept of being out of time completely. ‘The incident’ might produce a means by which Faraday, from some time, some place, survives!

“I can make time,” Young Dan Faraday said to his mother. Lowly Eloise replied, “If only you could.”

When Faraday was telling Jack and Kate about how ‘the incident’ was directly responsible for crashing their plane, and about how stopping that would prevent the crash from ever happening, they didn’t ask the obvious question: What would happen to Jack and Kate if he succeeded? If he succeeded then Oceanic 815 would take off from Sydney and land in L.A. and Jack would hold the funeral for his father, and Kate would be in the custody of the FBI. . .

The fundamental question would be, if history was changed, would Jack and Kate on the Island cease to exist? I have to come to believe they wouldn’t. I believe they would become ultimate Variables, existing in the one place where people who have become dislodged from time can survive: the Island. And I believe we already know one man that has fallen into this state already.

The look on Faraday’s face when he saw Alpert was a picture. I think it was because Faraday recognised him from the 50s and, seeing him in the 70s, realised this was a man that had become a complete Variable – displaced from time and space and never aging. Living proof of Faraday’s own ideas against ‘whatever happened, happened’. Proof that people, with their choices and volatile emotions, can change history and survive into a new future they have no logical right to survive in.

Just a few episodes remain to, apparently, cover just six hours of Island time before ‘the incident’. All this and I haven’t even mentioned the man who may prove to be the biggest Variable of them all.

There he was, promising Penny that he would never leave her. Yet Eloise has already insisted that the Island is not yet done with him, and I am inclined to agree. “See you in another life, brother.” That’s his catchphrase. It may prove more literal than he yet realises.


Anonymous said...

so youre saying you think desmond is going to die right. he just re stated he's not going to leave penny. and would they throw that in right after he was just in the hospital about to die? i dont know if this is a SPOILER but i heard someone is gonna die at the end of the season. god i hope its hurley

Anonymous said...

maybe you were just saying island life i dont donno

Anonymous said...

don't know* feel free to erase those

ThisGuy said...

All i know is that if this series ends with 815 taking off and landing like it was supposed too, and jack going to the funeral, and kate going to jail, locke still crippled, charlie still alive and a drug addict, clair giving up arron and sawyer just being sawyer... i'm gonna be pissed. I mean i've already seen donnie darko... i didn't spend all this time watching this show to have it end up never really happening. (sorry to be so negative)

Anonymous said...

As much emphasis as has been placed on "Whatever happened, happened", I think the key point of the show will be that it can be changed. If whatever happened can't be changed, then why is everyone working so hard to make sure that it doesn't?

Anonymous said...

that made no sense, at all. wtf are you talking about

AngeloComet said...

Not for nothing was the first sentence: "The more you think about this episode the harder your brain hurts."

This episode was either a self-contained poetic tragedy for whatever happened, happened (being that Eloise knew she would kill her son, and lived with that knowledge and did it anyway and nothing could change it), or it was a transitional introduction to the idea that Variables could change time (which is where I believe drama and potential plot lies so, despite the logistical nightmare of it, I have tried to embrace).

It's not easy. It's not clear. As such my analysis went for more speculation than conclusion; potentially this is where confusion and frustration may have arisen from reading it. I don't apologise, but I can sympathise!

Quick answers:

- No, I don't think Desmond is going to die. But his pledge to remain with Penny and have nothing more to do with the Island doesn't seem feasible. He may not even have a choice in the matter, but we're in total speculation territory there. (It may be he does live out the rest of his time with Penny and never sets foot on the Island again nor has much to do with Lost - like Walt. It feels wasteful, but it's possible.)

ThisGuy - No. A complete time loop is not going to happen (it's untenable). 'The incident' has to happen, and Oceanic 815 has to crash. But if it didn't, then Jack and Kate and the rest would merely - by my ideas here - be truly 'lost' and remain on the Island. There's no place for a clean slate and a restart. (Don't forget we've got the Ajira people speaking of an impending war - there's too much drama left in 2007 for us to be speaking about time loops!)

Anonymous about the people making the effort to change things: I agree. Seems to me that if this episode was not about introducing the capacity to change then it merely went and reinforced the idea of whatever happened, happened. But that's an idea that was already well enforced and everyone understood. That seems kind of pointless. (But, again, it may purely have been an episode about tragedy, about Dan's death and Eloise's part in it - which in the grand scheme of Lost would make it a powerful episode.)

Last Anonymous: "that made no sense, at all. wtf are you talking about"

May I refer you to my very first sentence? :o)

Acharaisthekey said...

Dang I loved this episode. Here is what I took from it:

The Variable can only change the events that exists within someone's present. It cannot change what happened in someones past. This will be crucial because changing the course of someones future, is not going to change course of anothers past. (if they so intermingle because of time travel)

So, whatever happened, happened. Whatever is happening, can be altered by 'variables'. The only change that will happen the 'present' of someone and not the 'past' of someone else.

Mrs. Hawking has a past. Whatever happened in her past, happened...You can't change her past. She is going to shoot her son, she knows this. For if she doesn't...she may not even have a son, or may not even be alive to have her son in the first place. Whatever happened happened and put in motion everything that took place.

Daniel comes along, gets stuck in 1974...starts thinking about variables and changes his course from the mopy ole' SAD ABOUT CHARLOTTE self. He knew he didn't want to tell Charlotte to not come back or be that CREEPY OLD Guy she recollected to him on the day she dies. He then goes through a whole new mindset set out to change THE EVENTS, but because Charlotte had that memory and event happen in her life, no matter what DANIEL DID or how he tried to change things, he was going to tell her to leave the island, etc....

Why is all of this? - because the person themself can't go back in there life with knowledge from the future....they have a present and in that present, any variable can happen....but it will not effect or change what happened in the past. This is the rule of LOST time travel (not to be confused with THE CONSTANT mind travel side effect...which will bridge the destiny vs fate arguement). With this rule, you have set forth and unmistakable destiny regardless of your time travelling ways (or non 'linear datelined' life).

With the Constant 'rules' and with Time Traveling 'rules'...I think lost is setting up nicely what it is you can and can't do with 'time'. Science won't change matter how hard you try...I'm guessing a certain Jack won't beleive that and a certain John will be stuck trying to convince him of it during season 6.

I was really hoping (then I saw next week previews) that time looping ideas would finally be dead out in the lost blogosphere...but alas I don't think the thought has died. The rules seem to be laid out pretty thick here....I only hope the INCIDENT doesn't shatter all my thoughts about what is going on.

But as Pierre Chang has said...Don't be absurd. There are rules, rules that can't be broken.

Garett said...

When this episode ended, I turned to my wife and said, "If they turn this entire show into a Bobby Ewing dream sequence, I will be royally pissed." I don't think it will happen, but just the idea strikes fear in me. Obviously, we have a whole other season to progress through, so it won't happen in the season finale, but I'm worried about next season. Resetting the show would not only be a disservice to fans, but to the characters as well. They've all grown so much because of their experiences on the Island. Jack no longer has to "fix" everything, Kate has stopped running from her problems, and Sawyer has found peace with his past. And of course this is theory, but I disagree about what happens with the current Jack and Kate if they manage to "reset" time. I believe they'll cease to exist. Picture a line (a time-line, if you will, HA!) that represents all of time. All of flight 815 are traveling on this line with the rest of time until Desmond fails to push the button. Once that happens (or fails to happen) Flight 815 is pushed off the timeline and creates a parallel timeline, which occurs on the island. If they manage to prevent the release of electromagnetism that brings down their plane, they effectively chop off that fork onto the island's timeline. They're not stuck in a loop, like Locke's compass. Once that branch breaks off, their timeline will cease to exist. (Most of this is based of the science of Dr Emmett Brown.)

I hadn't heard that someone is going to die at the end of this season. I don't think Daniel is dead, so I'm overlooking that "easy" answer. My money is on Juliette. I actually like Sawyer and Juliette together and it appears that Sawyer is going to stick with her despite his feelings toward Kate. I would be happy to see the love quadrangle settle into this (I'm probably in the minority here), but I doubt the writers feel the same. So they kill off Juliette, Sawyer doesn't have anyone to distract him from Kate, and we're back to the tension between the 3 characters.

I can think of a couple reasons why this won't happen, but wouldn't it be interesting if the hostiles were the descendants of a time-displaced Dharma?

universe said...

"I believe they would become ultimate Variables, existing in the one place where people who have become dislodged from time can survive: the Island. And I believe we already know one man that has fallen into this state already. "

Now that is class, that properly struck a chord with me,& if true, that one paragraph would explain a lot of things. Good call.

DanX said...

I think Eloise may know about Desmond pushing the button in the future from Faraday's journal. She takes it from him in 1977, and it contains "everything he's ever learned about space-time, and the DHARMA Initiative", in his (admittedly paraphrased) words. The journal only goes up to 2004, when he is sent to the island, and all Eloise knows after that is that at some point she will send Jack and Kate (whom she saw were with Faraday) back to the island, and therefore back in time. Now that she has done this, she doesn't know what to expect.