Dharma Stations Part 5: The Hydra (Redux)

The Hydra Station was a zoological station with man-made facilities both above and below sea level, scattered around and monitored from a surveillance room. Whilst I may refer to how The Hydra has been adapted for Other-uses, my primary aim here is to imagine what The Hydra Station was like when Dharma ruled the roost.

New to the Dharma Initiative? On day one you'll probably find yourself in a registration room where a video plays in the background, a man saying, “Barracks are surrounded by a high frequency sonar fence, to protect us from the Island's abundant and diverse wildlife.” You'll be assigned a role. Maybe a workman. Or, as the video explains: “Should you be assigned to zoological study, our ferry will carry you to and from the site three times a day.” So as a Dharma Initiative worker on the Hydra Island you catch a ferry over and are then probably required to shower and change in the locker room (where Kate would one day receive a new dress to wear) before going out to meet the animals.

It seems the Hydra Island was for both zoological study and education. The room we briefly saw, where Juliet was on ‘trial’, contained a lectern that would be more appropriate in a lecture theatre. The operating theatre (where Jack performed spinal surgery on Ben) had an observation deck. I have a picture in my head of people in white coats, carrying clipboards, looking down from the observation deck at serious-minded Dharma zoologists operating on a sedated polar bear. . . More on the big, white bears later – but first let's get our feet wet and check out the fish.

Jack: “This thing's for what? Sharks?”

Juliet: “Dolphins, too.”

The soothing soundtrack of whale noises played into the holding tank were probably used to pacify the sharks/dolphins. Remember how the room flooded? And there were chains hanging over the bench in Jack's ‘cell’? I imagine a shark or a dolphin harnessed to the chains and submerged to keep it alive. Then drain out the water (shark/dolphin, harnessed, lowered onto bench) to conduct study. Probably this was how they managed to brand Dharma logos. Remember the shark that pestered Michael and Sawyer? It had a Dharma logo on its underside.

(Aside: the generic Dharma logo shown on that particular shark was intended to be there, just not clearly visible. This explains why the Dharma logo on the shark doesn't pertain to any particular Dharma Station logo we know of. End of aside.)

The surveillance room on the Hydra Island views areas inside the aquarium, the bear cages and the jungle. There are only six monitors but no telling how many cameras. I can guess, however, the Hydra does not show feeds from the Swan Station, for example, otherwise there would have been no need for Ben and Juliet to observe Jack in the Pearl Station during the Expose episode. It would be tempting to state that the cameras only view the Hydra Island, except we have seen one camera in the surveillance room appears fixed on Jacob's cabin. Of course, Jacob’s cabin is prone to appearing and disappearing – so maybe it ‘popped up’ on Hydra Island and was captured on CCTV!

I’m not so convinced, really (probably it was just a little easter egg put into the show) but it’s largely irrelevant. The point is the Hydra Island appears well-monitored, which brings up the issue of animal freedom. How free were animals to roam? We have seen other cages (Sawyer ran past different cages when Karl let him loose during A Tale Of Two Cities) but that's not to say all animals were kept caged. It makes sense that dangerous animals like bears were kept caged, but what of other less-threatening creatures? What I would like to bring into the mix here is the Hurleybird.

The Hurleybird is that strange creature that has appeared twice (I'd argue we've heard it on other occasions). If you can recall, it was basically like a large bird of prey, like an eagle, but a bizarre camouflage-colour of green. If the Hurleybird (so-called because it potentially spoke Hurley’s name!) is a Dharma-developed animal, genetic modification may have been involved to create a creature adapted to survive in the jungle (eagles generally aren't big on jungle life). I'm venturing here that Dharma’s zoological study was for this aim: to modify creatures to flourish in environments they were not originally designed to exist in. This brings me neatly onto polar bears.

On the Blast Door Map was the following notation: ‘Stated goal, repatriation. Accelerated de-terretorialization of Ursus Maritimus through gene therapy and extreme climate change.’ That's quite a mouthful, so let me break it down into simple words.

Stated goal, repatriation. - Repatriation is the term given to the process of returning indigenous things to their own environment. For example, if Australia suffered a viral outbreak that caused the country to be evacuated, the process of returning Australians back to their country once it was safe would be ‘repatriation’. In the sense of polar bears, repatriation for them would be a return to the Arctic. So does “stated goal” mean Dharma intended to return polar bears to the Arctic? I would say yes, but not until their experiments had been concluded. . .

Accelerated de-terretorialization of Ursus Maritimus through gene therapy and extreme climate change. “Ursus Maritimus” is a fancy term for polar bear. “Accelerated de-terretorialization” means a rapid change in living environment, apparently through gene therapy and climate conditions. Or, put basically, Dharma shifted polar bears out of their Arctic environment to modify their capability to survive in tropical conditions, using gene therapy to assist the goal. Link that in with “repatriation” and the goal becomes clear: create tropical polar bears and then send them back to the Arctic!

Ah, you may think, but what about the polar bear remains that were found in Tunisia?

Personally, I get the impression the polar bears used here were most likely used over in The Orchid for experiments there. Unrelated experiments. I’ll discuss that more with The Orchid Station post, but the most tenable reason to claim that the experiments at The Hydra had nothing to do with The Orchid come from Pierre Chang. He was of the opinion the work at The Hydra was nothing more than “ridiculous experiments”. This may actually be the most hard-hitting point to be made about The Hydra Station’s work than anything else we can glean, but it pretty much sums up Chang's utter distance from it. Perhaps he just borrowed polar bears from The Hydra, ones that had been potentially changed to exist in hot conditions, to see if they could survive in the desert (whilst also testing the fundamental properties of the Orchid time-travelling wormhole!).

Back to The Hydra, though, and the purpose of that facility. The polar bear cages, for example. The polar bears had a relatively complex series of buttons to press in their cages in order to get fish biscuits, which basically seems to echo Skinner’s Rats (button-pushing test on rats, discussed in The Swan post) experiments on a larger scale.

What we can't understand so well is the purpose of these experiments. For example, you may or may not feel strongly about animal testing. Some poor rabbit (probably not with a number on its back!) strapped down in a laboratory somewhere with make-up shoved in its eye is not a pleasant thought – but there is a purpose; the goal is to determine if the product is harmful to humans. Whether it's right or wrong is a debate for another place, but what can't be denied is that there is a point. So what are we to make of genetically modified polar bears enabled to exist in tropical conditions?

My guess would be along the lines of comparative psychology. That is, the psychological study of animals to enable understanding of human behaviour by comparison. Taking the polar bear study, the concept of the experiment is to change a living thing to make it adaptable to environments it was originally unsuited to, “for the betterment of mankind” as Alvar Hanso might say. Strangely, though Pierre Chang may have thought this pursuit was ridiculous, there’s a thematic alignment with a discussion that took place between these two. . .

Ostensibly, Jacob and ‘Nameless’ had opposing views about the people that came to the Island. Nameless was of the view they were unable to adapt, bringing their destruction with inevitable routine. Jacob held hope that the same old routine only needed to change once for it to mark progression. Bizarrely, if the studies on animals were comparable to eventual study on humans, the work at The Hydra had an alliance with Jacob’s view. A marked change needs only to occur once for dramatic progression to be made real. Like a polar bear, or an eagle, designed to survive in the jungle. . . If the polar bears can do it, maybe so can we.

Dharma Stations Part 4: The Pearl (Redux)

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. . .?

Dharma Stations Part 3: The Staff (Redux)

The Staff Station Dharma logo takes a departure from other Station logos in that it uses red rather than being restricted to black and white. However, before I press on about the Staff Station, I feel this note I unearthed about 'the caduceus' (the name of the symbol within the logo) is worth pointing out.

'The caduceus is sometimes inaccurately used as a symbol for medicine, especially in North America, but the traditional medical symbol is the rod of Asclepius with only a single snake and no wings.'

‘The rod of Asclepius, a snake-entwined staff, remains a symbol of medicine today, although sometimes the caduceus, or staff with two snakes, is mistakenly used instead.

Did Dharma (or the creative designers on the show) realise the caduceus symbol they used for the Staff Station was inaccurate in pertaining to the medical profession? Maybe.

The caduceus symbol, as carried by the Roman God Mercury as a symbol for thieves, liars, and potentially a guide for the dead, certainly possesses parallels with Dharma. Are they not liars? Have they not stolen the Island for their own purposes? And as for the dead. . .! In misappropriating the symbol as faux-medical Station and correct sub-textual symbolism, the use of the caduceus within the Staff logo holds hidden depths.

Still, let us press forward with our true agenda. My chief purpose here is to work out what Dharma originally intended the Staff Station for. As of the end of Season 3, the last views we had of The Staff was with the reveal of the secret vault that Juliet showed to Sun. Here, at least, there was working pregnancy equipment verifying it was not a place that had been adjusted and refurbished to accommodate Claire after her kidnap; other pregnant women had been there before her. As Juliet pointed, out they all died there, too.

The Others, then, appropriated The Staff as base for their issues with pregnancy-fatality on the Island. The vault that Juliet showed to Sun had been appropriated as a form of ‘hospice’ for the mothers that would certainly die. And I think there is a temptation to leave the thought process there. The Staff Station is a medical station, we tell ourselves. The Others brought pregnant women there for medical treatment, we tell ourselves. It makes sense. Except ending with that line of thinking does not answer this: What did Dharma build the Staff Station for?

It’s instinctive to consider The Staff Station the medical facility for Dharma – but even before Season 5 that seemed strange: it was located far from The Barracks in the middle of the jungle and buried underground. Not exactly convenient in an emergency. During Season 5 we saw Dharma had their own medical facilities based at The Barracks, like when Young Ben had been shot and Juliet was trying to save him.

Proof if proof were needed: The Staff Station was not the Dharma equivalent of a regular hospital. They already had such bases close to The Barracks, as would be expected.

During Season 3, The Man Behind The Curtain, we saw Dharma workers sporting the Staff logo on their overalls administering vaccine to new arrivals.

The vaccine and The Staff Station are linked, except in The Swan where bottles of vaccine don’t have a logo on them – but I can provide plausible explanation for this inconsistency.

The purpose of the vaccine is, yet again, another Lost mystery currently open-ended. My own feeling is that it is both a system of control and a genuine drug. For the system of control consider how Desmond remarked to Claire he believed it was entirely useless. Note he used the Swan vaccine. I would venture this was a placebo, a powerless drug. The reason it was used in The Swan was to maintain the illusion of a Quarantine for the occupants pressing the button, making them believe they would meet harm should they venture outside. They were given a harmless, ineffectual drug to inject themselves with, itself disguised as a genuine drug they used in The Staff.

But why inoculate new arrivals to the Island? This drug, the drug used by the Staff Station workers, may have been a drug used to try and counter the inability of the people on the Island to conceive a successful birth. We are certainly inclined to believe that since we saw The Others using this drug within a fertility basis. . .

. . . but there’s a real sticking point with this line of thinking: When Dharma were on the Island, at least at the time when Ben arrived there, it was possible for women to give birth!

Ethan is born on the Island naturally to be there in later life using drugs to achieve the same effect! Oh the irony. But there is a simpler line of thinking. The fact about Island pregnancy is that conception on the Island will result in the death of both parent and unborn baby. We could therefore consider the idea that Horace and Amy conceived little baby Ethan off-Island. Problem solved.

Feels a bit cheap, though.

Let’s take a step back and consider this again. I don’t get the impression that Horace and Amy did conceive Ethan off-Island. We are informed in passing that the usual practice for Dharma is to have their women give birth off-Island, which gives the impression a) this kind of thing happens regularly, and b) off-Island trips are special occasions. I can’t imagine Dharma workers were going off the Island regularly just to go and have unprotected sex on the off-chance they might conceive! So I am willing to state that during Dharma’s time on the Island, at least before ‘the incident’, there was nothing stopping people from conceiving and giving birth on the Island, and Horace and Amy did as much, but the usual practice was to give birth off-Island. Therefore, during the time of Dharma in the 1970s, it was accepted that people could conceive and give birth on the Island. Agreed? OK then.

What was the vaccine for then? My guess is it was used as a stabilising antidote to the effects that could potentially be experienced from entering the Island area; the madness and the time-displacement some of The Freighter crew exhibited. Nothing to do with pregnancy at all – but that will come later.

New arrivals to the Island were given this drug, perhaps as a precautionary measure. Most people wouldn’t get sick (due to traveling underwater in the sub?) but it was there just in case. Potentially, with The Others, this same drug was used but given to people before they journeyed to the Island. Remember the orange juice that Juliet was made to drink before Alpert and Ethan took her to the Island? Maybe the drug was in that, along with something to knock her unconscious.

Hold on to the time-displacement vaccine use for now, but let’s get back to The Staff and the question of what Dharma did there. When Claire returned to The Staff, with Kate and Danielle, the place was emptied and abandoned, seemingly in a rush (presumably because, since Claire had escaped, The Others fled fearing she would tell her people where she had been). There was one enormously intriguing element that probably took your interest at first and you've since forgotten about. ‘Escape hatch’. There was an escape hatch in the Staff Station, presumably put there by Dharma. For me, that raises more questions than anything else seen in The Staff so far.

Whoever heard of a medical station requiring an ‘escape hatch’?

Before The Others, before ‘the purge’, something happened concerning The Staff Station that’s thoroughly deserving of our attention. On the Blast Door Map, close to the The Staff, the following notation. ‘Caduceus Station believed to have been abandoned due to AH/MDG incident of 1985 - or - possible catastrophic malfunction of Cerberus system.’

Let's just hold up for a second and take that in.

Caduceus Station believed to have been abandoned due to AH/MDG incident of 1985.

"AH" probably stands for Alvar Hanso. "MDG"? The DG part could be De Groot, the M could be Mittelwerk (as in Thomas Mittelwerk – from The Lost Experience: check out Lostpedia if you wish to know more about all of these people, but they don’t serve my purpose here).

Possible catastrophic malfunction of Cerberus system.

Easily the most eye-catching notation. Cerberus probably being Dharma’s name for the Black Smoke, we have the suggestion here that the Staff Station was directly involved with it. The fact that the Cerberus SYSTEM had a MALFUNCTION is an interesting choice of words. If it hadn’t been for images such as this. . .

. . . I would have been strongly considering the notion that Dharma had a direct hand in the marauding Black Smoke that currently resides on the Island. However, it seems apparent that the Black Smoke has been on the Island for considerably longer than Dharma ever were – but maybe their “Cerberus System” was some means by which they controlled (or tried to control) ‘the monster’. Studies such as that, you can see why they’d need an ‘escape hatch’ for when ‘incidents’ happened. But what kind of study could have been going on? Well, it is here I’ll have to make quite a reach, because it’s all to do with a certain four-toed statue. . .

The statue is of the Egyptian Goddess, Taweret. Very much associated with fertility and eternal life, it should be observed that the statue is carrying an Ankh. This same Ankh symbol was found on a necklace that Amy – mother of Ethan – took from her dead husband, Paul. I’m not suggesting that the only reason Amy survived to give birth to Ethan was because of this symbol, but what I am latching onto is the deliberate link between childbirth and this Ankh symbol held by the four-toed Taweret statue that used to watch the horizon of the Island like a guardian.

So imagine a long time past, the ancient civilization on the Island perhaps found fertility an issue for themselves. They erected this enormous statue to ‘protect’ them and allow for such fertility. That’s reasonably far-reaching (at least the notion that it would work), but not unheard of. More far-reaching? That the Black Smoke, this entity that feeds off sin and moral corruption, is somehow directly responsible for the childbirth issue. I consider the hieroglyph above – of the statue fronting up to ‘the monster’ – and it’s like it’s countering the effects. Without the statue’s presence the Black Smoke (or whatever larger force it is a part of) can create an Island environment where human conception is fatal.

Of course, the statue eventually, somehow, ended up like this:

The Goddess Taweret no longer presided over the Island, no protection given. And maybe this was fine, for a while, but when something bad happened, like. . .

. . . suddenly the Island was plunged into a place where fertility was no longer viable. Taweret was no longer present to afford protection for sin and moral corruption, and the penalty was mortality, as adjudicated by the unquenched Black Smoke.

Hey, when I said it was far-reaching I wasn’t kidding around.

But perhaps that’s the kind of study Dharma were conducting at The Staff. Study into this strange phenomenon they termed ‘Cerberus’ and the power and effect it had over the Island. They wanted to understand it, perhaps learn how to tame it or control it or counter it themselves. Maybe they got pregnant women there and tried to control the effects of ‘Cerberus’ in a scientific way. The mind boggles, but then we’re dealing with a dark cloud that can scan people’s brains and slam them against trees so the outlandish is probably applicable. Unfortunately, whatever Dharma were doing, they failed.

If the vaccine really does serve as a kind of balancing agent that prevents the effects of time displacement on the Island from having serious consequences on a person, The Staff was used to develop this drug, to study these effects. And then there was ‘the incident’ at The Swan, which we believe took place in 1977.

The incident at The Staff Station, as mentioned on the Blast Door Map, was stated to have occurred in 1985. Perhaps ‘the incident’ at The Swan, and whatever time dilations and ruptures and strangeness that ensued, caused Dharma to step up their studies into the vaccine. Maybe it was ‘the incident’ at The Swan that disrupted the Island so much that pregnancy became an issue – something to do with time displacement reverberating around the Island being fatal to the growth development of an unborn infant with fatal results. Potentially, Dharma thought their vaccine might hold the cure for this condition with further research.

That seems slightly less crazy than blaming it all on the Black Smoke, but not by much when you really consider it.

It’s certainly true The Others seemed to believe the vaccine would have some benefit for unborn babies, given Ethan was administering it to Claire when he had captured her. Perhaps this is a rare case of The Others, rather than just appropriating Dharma facilities for their own purposes or abandoning them completely, picking up their work and trying to continue it. After all, Alpert and Ethan went out, posing as Mittelos Bioscience, and sought out a specialist fertility doctor they hoped would resolve what Dharma, and their Staff Station, could not. . .