In a similar vein to The Swan Station, The Pearl has an initially confounding duality as both genuine, working Dharma facility and functioning psychological experiment. The Pearl Station is, on the surface, a monitoring station. Situated deep underground, the main room (with en suite!) features nine monitors that we have seen offer live feeds from The Swan Station and, curiously, The Flame Station.
9 televisions. Apparently 6 Dharma Stations (the Orientation films had The Swan as Station 3 of 6, The Pearl as Station 5 of 6). 9 screens. 6 Stations. This suggests there are either multiple feeds from certain Stations, or that there are links to other Stations (there are more than 6 after all!). Why is The Pearl number 5 of 6? If the place was designed to view the other Stations you'd have thought it would come last, no?
It makes sense that The Pearl was denoted by a big question mark on the Blast Door Map. This baby is more of a mystery than first appearances suggest. And the plot thickens.
The narrator of The Pearl Orientation film called himself Mark Wickmund, although we of course know him better as Pierre Chang. The clear difference between ‘Mark Wickmund’ and ‘Marvin Candle’ from The Swan Orientation film is that Mark Wickmund has two working arms and Marvin Candle has only one. Point is, the Swan Orientation film was surely made after the Pearl Orientation film. That gives us a real chicken before the egg situation.
If Pierre Chang sustained an injury to his arm during The Incident that would probably result in it being amputated, he had to have made The Pearl Orientation before or shortly after this time. The Pearl Orientation never directly names The Swan, and it does have multiple monitors for multiple Stations so it could have been up and running for different experiments. (If Chang loses his arm at a later time then the discrepancy between the two Orientation films is well-covered.)
Let's look at the man himself and analyse his speech in the Pearl Orientation film. (The following has been edited for brevity.)
“Hello, I'm Dr. Mark Wickmund, and this is the orientation film for Station 5 of DHARMA Initiative. Station 5, or the Pearl, is a monitoring station where the activities of participants in DHARMA Initiative projects can be observed and recorded. . .” (Note here the use of ‘projects’, plural.) “. . . for the ongoing refinement of the Initiative. . .” (I believe this little statement to be the true crux of the matter; a point I shall expand upon later.) “Your tour of duty will last 3 weeks and during this time you and your partner will observe a psychological experiment in progress. Your duty is to observe team members at another station on the island.” (Note the singular use of “station”; it would appear that each ‘team’ of observers are limited only to observing one experiment at a time.) “These team members are not aware that they are under surveillance, or that they are the subjects of an experiment. . .”
“What is the nature of the experiment, you might ask? What do these subjects believe they are accomplishing as they struggle to fulfil their tasks? You, as the observer, don't need to know. All you need to know is the subjects believe their job is of the utmost importance. Remember, everything that occurs, no matter how minute or seemingly unimportant, must be recorded. Each time a notebook is filled with the fruits of your diligent observation, roll it up [audio/video problem] containers provided.” (Where the "fruits of your diligent observation" will be shot out of a tube in the middle of nowhere.)
What I think is the Pearl Station was never a bona fide monitoring station. The Pearl was pure experiment. The reveal of the pneumatic tube that went nowhere is the big giveaway, but it's also worth remembering the ironic line from above. “. . . team members are not aware they are under surveillance. . .” There is a camera in the Pearl Station! The monitoring station was being watched!
The original Dharma guinea pigs would not have known about the camera in the Pearl; when Locke and Mr. Eko found the Station the camera was visible because someone had ripped the casing apart and exposed it.
Of course I'm compelled to ask, Why? Why watch the watchers? Perhaps it was just a psychological experiment to understand the nature of observation. Perhaps it was just a psychological experiment to see if people would do it (fill in notebooks purposefully purposelessly). Or maybe it was a study of Observer Effect; a sort of study on the effect that observation of a study can have on the study – “for the ongoing refinement of the Initiative”. That's trippy on all kinds of levels but nothing would much surprise me when it comes to those ker-azy Dharma kids!
An interesting thought is that The Pearl was partly-used as the next Station for the previous occupants of The Swan to be rotated to, to serve as a form of detox after the high-pressure intensity, to convince them that The Swan isn’t real. Emphasis on the convince them part.
What I mean is, we know the act of ‘pushing the button’ was important. Without that button getting pushed The Swan electromagnetic anomaly goes haywire and all kinds of crazy stuff happens. And yet The Swan was also a top secret Station. One that Dharma wanted to keep distant from its own people. The best way of keeping a secret was not to try and pretend it didn’t exist, it was perhaps to try and portray the idea that The Swan wasn’t what it really was. The Pearl and the notebooks and the pneumatic tubes help perpetuate the concept that it was an elaborate scientific experiment.
So perhaps traumatised, sleep-deprived Swan Station Dharma workers were delivered to The Pearl and there spent their days making notes about their replacements, coming to believe that all they had been through was an experiment they had participated in. The hidden camera in the back of The Pearl potentially there to keep an eye on them – the watchers being watched – to check on their wellbeing and perhaps, also, to intervene should they try and tamper with the monitors and receive a feed from a Station they weren’t supposed to be looking at.
As we know, the notes they were making were a grand waste of time, ejected out into a field in the jungle. Probably a Dharma van - maybe driven by Roger Linus on occasion - collected the notebooks routinely. And so it went. That's how I envisage things went in the Pearl for quite some time.
Given the lack of supplies and living conditions there’s no way two people could have remained in The Pearl for long stretches at a time. I would expect that workers in The Pearl operated there like a full-time job; working in shifts and returning to The Barracks to sleep and eat until their rotation was done. They would be free to discuss their work in The Pearl, spreading word amongst the rest of the Dharma people about how The Swan was really a silly experiment. Perhaps a young Ben Linus heard it, and believed it, and so never gave a care about the place and didn’t believe it held any genuine power.
Refreshingly then, The Pearl is a rare Dharma Station that isn’t enshrouded in confusion and frustration, but it wouldn’t feel quite right without some unanswered mystery. On the Blast Door Map the Pearl Station was symbolised by a great big question mark so I feel it would be fitting to end this post on an open question. There was a camera in the Pearl Station, the presence of which begs the question: who was watching the watchers, and is there anyone watching the Pearl Station now. . .?