All right. Let’s do this. Let’s grapple with the ending of Season 5. Strap in for the long haul, take a deep breath – this one’s a mindblower.
Juliet sets the bomb off, is what happened, right when the electromagnetic anomaly is going haywire. One of the potential results of this, as Jack is hoping for, is that The Swan Station will be destroyed and thus he and the rest of the Oceanic 815 passengers will never crash on the Island in 2004 when Desmond fails to press the button.
Alternatively, as Miles suggested, the setting off of Jughead at The Swan Station may have been the very thing that created ‘the incident’ and, in effect, is what necessitates the requirement to push the button in the first place – technically creating the circumstances by which Oceanic 815 crashes on the Island.
Of course, Jack and everyone else could have all just been blown to ashen pieces in a nuclear explosion. That’s another possibility. But I think that seems unlikely. The electromagnetic event taking place probably prevented that. We'll scratch annihilation off the list of possibilities.
As of the end of Season 5, these were the questions we were faced with and, on balance, it seemed that the likeliest explanation was the idea that the blowing up of Jughead facilitated the requirement to ‘push the button’ in The Swan. That’s the one that works out easiest to figure.
And then Comic-Con came along. Shit like this came along:
Hurley in an advert for McCluck’s, apparently in a version of the world where he never crashed on an Island. There was also a news report about Kate having never killed her father, and instead being on the run for accidentally killing someone else. We were being presented with an alternate timeline, one where events before and after the crash of Oceanic 815 don’t match up with what we understand them to have been.
(I have speculated previously, in the post Re-Written History, about the idea of this alternate reality being used on the show as a form of new narrative convention to replace flashbacks/flashforwards. I’m not disregarding that idea, but here I’ll try and run with something else.)
So what are we to think? That the destruction of The Swan did alter the course of history? Is that what Season 6 is going to ask us to accept? It’s not likely because a) it would annoy people to just erase five seasons worth of story, b) the paradox of Jack crashing on an Island to prevent the crash that brought him there will induce a nosebleed in all of us and c) there’s people in 2007 who are already there thirty years after the events at The Swan who could not be there without the crash of Oceanic 815.
It’s time to employ some good old handcrafted diagrams to explain the matter, and elaborate on a potential way out of this mess, but first to just clarify just how much of a mess it is.
Here’s the timeline of events just before Jughead gets set off, as accords to the ‘whatever happened, happened’ theory of time.
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Here the future has informed the past. Jack and co went back in time to create 'the incident' that would lead to The Swan and the computer and the System Failure. This apparently always happened and, whilst it may create frustrating causality paradoxes, it’s a thread we can follow. Jack and the rest went back in time to 1977 and there got involved in events that culminated in ‘the incident’ occurring. (Where Jack and co go to from here is another matter, but eventually we have to believe they return to 2007.)
Now let’s look at this timeline if Jack is successful at changing history.
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I think we can agree: it’s a mess. Changing the past by coming from the future means the future cannot exist so how could it have informed the past? Paradox. So now this is where alternate timelines and parallel universes step in, potentially. (I’m playing devil’s advocate here for a while, so just go with me.)
How about a parallel timeline being the potential timeline of events? I’ll use Jack’s life as an example to show how it works.
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Fundamentally we've got a timeline where Jack is born and gets to the Island, and one where he never does. Problematically we can see that the two timelines don’t actually interact. They can’t. Jack effectively destroys his Island timeline and it’s just the other timeline, the one that has nothing to do with the Island, that remains. That’s all well and good in theory, but then makes absolutely no sense when we consider the likes of Sun and ‘Locke’ (as Nameless) on the Island in 2007. They would be erased with Jack’s Island Timeline, and that makes no sense.
So, I’m ruling out a parallel universe.
How about we go with a tangential alternate reality? A version of reality that is created when a timeline splits at some critical juncture. This sounds like high-concept daftness, but Lost has actually introduced us to this idea several times, particularly during Season 3 with Desmond’s visions and Charlie’s death.
In effect, Desmond had visions of Charlie drowning in an attempt to rescue Claire. Desmond intervened. (The universe split away from that future reality.) Desmond then had visions of Charlie slipping on rocks trying to catch a bird and dying. Desmond prevented this from happening. (The universe split away into a new version of the future.) Desmond, and us viewers, then saw Charlie receive an arrow through the throat and die. Desmond stepped in and stopped it, and so that future was averted and a tangential one where Charlie eventually drowns in The Looking Glass emerged.
So Lost had already presented us with the idea of a particular reality being averted to be replaced by a new one. Jack blowing up The Swan Station could, in effect, be the same concept applied to a larger scale. Let’s try and slot that into the timeline diagram and see how it looks.
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The detonation of The Swan Station, in this example, completely erases the whole Island timeline, paradox and all. Therefore the Jack that gets born is the Jack that goes on to not crash on the Island and there is, nor ever was, another Jack. That entire timeline simply ceases to exist.
Again, inherently defiant against this idea are Sun and Fake Locke in 2007. We can be absolutely certain that this timeline doesn’t get erased, right? With the death of Jacob and his “they are coming” statement, it’s a plotline that is immutable for sure. Which therefore makes the idea of a tangential plotline, of a change in history, surely impossible.
And yet there’s still this:
Good news is that I have a not one but TWO ideas how this could all still play out on the show (aside from my ‘alternaflash’ theory of a previous post, which actually makes three!).
First one is as simple as it is confusing. Using my tangent timeline diagram, I could suggest that Ajira 316 didn’t crash in the original timeline.
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If you’re anything like me you’ll find that idea messy. Why would Ajira 316 set off from one timeline and then jump to the other? Furthermore, how would they explain that on the show? (Get Faraday in from this new tangent timeline to draw a diagram perhaps?) I mean, principally, it’s no more implausible than why Jack, Kate, Hurley and Sayid would be zapped off a plane and into 1977 – but I still think Lost would struggle to sell this idea. Maybe they have already started laying the foundations, though. The Whispers. 'Dead' Charlie that appeared to Hurley, amongst others. Perhaps not ghostly voices and apparitions, but iterations of a tangent timeline infringing upon the timeline we are seeing.
I don't love this option, believe me, but you just can't dismiss it I'm afraid. But how about a different option?
Let’s take the point already illustrated by Charlie and Desmond’s flashes. See, despite the fact that Desmond intervened and prevented Charlie’s death on numerous occasions the fact of the matter is Charlie still died.
No matter how many possible futures were averted, the outcome was eventually the same. Charlie died. Course correction, of course, is the established explanation for this. So how could this apply to Jack, Jughead and The Swan Station? Well, I am thinking the moment of detonation, and the bright white light, may have produced a situation for the likes of Jack and Kate and Hurley not unlike what Desmond experienced when he turned the Fail Safe.
Desmond turned the Fail Safe and then awoke in his own past with faint awareness of his time on the Island. Slowly he began to remember where he had come from until, with a bat to the head, his consciousness was snapped back to the Island ‘present’. Course correction, see. Even your consciousness can flee to a different time and course correction will catch up with you.
Back to The Swan, and Jughead, and the explosion and the white light. What if this 'incident' had the curious effect of transporting Jack’s consciousness to a timeline - a tangent timeline - where he hadn’t crashed on the Island? Like how Desmond awoke in London, Jack could find himself in a different time with little memory of his time on the Island? Same goes for Hurley. For Kate.
Naturally this would allow Lost the TV show to have some fun with both the characters and us in presenting a world where they never went to the Island. However, as soon as those memories started trickling back – like they did with Desmond – then they would find themselves returning back to their original timeline, back on the Island. Course correction. Gets there in the end and puts everything pretty much back in its place.
Purpose? Well, it would offer some dramatic thrills to kick off the new season. And, like Desmond learned (or perhaps re-learned) how much he loved Penny by visiting his past, perhaps the likes of Jack and Kate might have that time to learn what their lives would be like without the Island and come to realise just how much the place means to them, and how much it has given to them.
Which makes it a bit like It’s A Wonderful Life. But on an Island.
And then what? Then they just wake up back in 2007, with the likes of Sun and the Ajira crew and fake Locke and Ben, and the whole show can come together into some form of climax? Yeah, something like that. Perhaps with the added benefit, like Desmond, that Jack and Kate and Hurley and Sayid now have the capacity to receive flashes of the future. That ought to make them a force for Nameless to reckon with. . .
They are coming, after all.