The Flame, like most Dharma Stations, presents the initial appearance of being straightforward. It looks like a communications station and the big satellite dish certainly aligns with the idea! But a little digging throws up sticking points and furrowed brows. Chess games. . . C4 explosives. . . I guess we should have learned by now that nothing is ever straightforward when it comes to Dharma. . .
So. The Flame Station, in the time of The Others, appeared to be single-handedly manned by Mikhail Bakunin. From Ben's control, this makes sense: limit the amount of information available to as few people as possible. From a practical point of view this also makes sense; would you like to be stuck in small living quarters with the one-eyed lunatic?
Yet here we are concerned with The Flame during the time of Dharma where it would seem the Station was also manned single-handedly by an equally disagreeable individual during the 70s.
We saw Radzinsky operating The Flame Station whilst also at work on his top secret plans for The Swan Station. There are enough clues around to let us conclude that The Flame was very much an exclusive place and off-limits to the majority of Dharma people. I make this statement based on the fact that Radzinsky worked in secrecy there, and that it was also a location with communications both on and off the Island. Despite the free-loving nature of Dharma, they still resided on an Island they prized and wanted to remain theirs and so not just anyone would be allowed access to talk to the outside world and potentially reveal its whereabouts.
We’ll leave Radzinsky for the moment (he comes back later for some theory) and instead discuss practicalities. The Flame Station consists of a main living area – like a one-room apartment – with lounge, kitchen and sleeping facilities. Just off to the side is a separate room, housing a computer and monitor screens on display (sometimes – when we first saw the place with Sayid and co in Enter 77 the monitors were either not there or had been packed away out of sight, probably since Mikhail knew he had been seen from The Pearl).
Underneath the Flame Station is a basement, ideal for storage. We'll have a poke around there later – it’s a blast! Sayid did find a schematic that showed a connection from The Flame to The Barracks. As he explains, “This is a map showing electrical and data cabling running from The Flame, here, to a place called The Barracks, here.”
Since The Flame was eventually destroyed yet The Barracks remained habitable it has to be assumed that it was The Barracks that supplied the power and not the other way around. The schematic also shows other passages connected to The Flame spreading out in other directions, adding to the notion that this Station is the control hub for many of the facilities on the Island. (Consider it’s name – ‘the flame’ – as a solitary source of illumination.) I think it’s a fair bet, for example, that the computer network (that allowed Michael to talk to 'Walt' in the Swan Station) was enabled by The Flame.
We can’t know for sure, as The Swan was gone before The Flame and we have never been back to The Pearl since to see if the surveillance there still functions, but we do have some supporting evidence. On the Blast Door Map there is a notation asking, ‘Alleged location of #4 The Flame’, which is then disputed as unlikely. Clearly, the map-maker (Radzinsky, we presume) was struggling to pinpoint The Flame’s location. However, at the spot on the map where The Flame actually is there’s this notation: ‘Why so many DharmaTel relays in such an untenable location?’
DharmaTel, I am guessing, is the name of Dharma's computer network, and we know why it was situated in such an “untenable location” – Dharma wanted to keep the Station pretty remote and secret, which adds further validation. The Flame is the hub of the infrastructure.
But hang on, what was that about Radzinsky and the Blast Door Map? Despite this being a post about The Flame it’s worth taking a brief deviation into theory about Radzinsky.
Inman regarded Radzinsky to be a genius and the mastermind behind the Blast Door Map, but we know by reading the notes on the map that it seemed to be produced by a person figuring out locations and purposes of various Island. Example: Why so many DharmaTel relays in such an untenable location? If Radzinsky wrote the map, then he knows all about The Flame and Dharma and so would know the answer! Explanation?
Well, either Radzinsky (perhaps as a consequence of ‘the incident’) lost his memory and genuinely cannot recollect all he knew (perhaps even a condition that prompted his frustrated suicide) or he was deliberately playing dumb on the map for reasons unknown, or he wasn’t the one that made many of the notes on the map at all. I guess we only have Inman’s word and he’s not the most reliable of people but personally I go with the idea of a memory-crippled Radzinsky. Aside over. Back to The Flame.
Let's turn our attention to operations. Once Locke gets passed the chess game (we will certainly be coming back to *that*!) he accesses a menu of options.
24 – PALLET DROP - Most likely triggers a parachuted supply drop - suggesting (to me) there isn't an actual plane flying over delivering food but the enigma behind the mechanism for the pallet drop remains anyone’s guess.
32 – ACTIVATE THE STATION UPLINK - By process of elimination I am assuming this is the (DharmaTel) computer network.
38 - ACCESS MAINLAND COMMUNICATIONS - Mainland communications suggests the real world, but where in particular? Ann Arbor?
56 - ACCESS THE SONAR SYSTEM - The ‘ping’ that guides in submarines, probably housed within The Looking Glass. We briefly heard Radzinsky communicating with The Looking Glass during Season 5.
77 – REPORT AN INCURSION BY THE HOSTILES - The concept of this is simple enough, I suppose. . .
Let’s put ourselves in the shoes of a Dharma worker in The Flame, manning the computer. If you like, you can picture the Dharma worker is Radzinsky. ‘The hostiles’ suddenly attack the place! Oh-oh! Time to act fast! Only to access the menu with the option of reporting a hostile incursion you have to win a game of chess against the computer first. It's not exactly what you'd call ideal. Especially given the fact that this chess game was apparently designed by three grandmasters AND it cheats! Your move, punk, and the hostiles are knocking at the door. . .
It’s ridiculous. There’s no doubting The Flame is a mega-important facility so why such an absurd defense system? And more to the point, how did Mikhail know about the fine details of it? Perhaps Dharma being Dharma installed the computer and chess game. A fiendish chess game. Maybe the Dharma workers were told it was designed by three grandmasters, and maybe it does indeed cheat. Either way, the chess game was there – but it was not an integral part of accessing the menu. Dharma installed a camera next to the computer (remember when we first glimpsed Mikhail?) and perhaps told Dharma workers in The Pearl to watch The Flame inhabitants and monitor how long they spent playing chess against the computer, and note their reactions against a difficult opponent that cheated. . .
Post-purge, I envision the chess game was installed like a password protection, perhaps by Mikhail. For example, Locke sees the computer and the chess game and doesn’t think much of it. If he saw a screen that said, ‘Enter Password’ the next logical step would be to say to Mikhail, “Give me the password!” If Mikhail refused, Sayid and some torture techniques could ensue. I know it's not the greatest explanation but it's AN explanation. The big fly in the ointment, of course, is that this grandmaster chess game that cheats probably makes for the most difficult chess opponent you can imagine. Locke managed to beat it in less than an hour. Hmmm. I guess Locke's just really good at chess!
Remember when I said The Flame Station could trigger "sticking points and furrowed brows"? This is kind of what I had in mind.
I don’t imagine that The Flame was rigged with explosives whilst Dharma were there in the beginning, but perhaps when ‘the hostile’ threat was increasing the measure was taken. It’s curious that Dharma would choose to blow up their only means of communication with the outside world in dire circumstances, though. Perhaps they didn’t want to allow ‘the hostiles’ to have such technology when all was lost.
As we were shown, of course, the basement itself contained all kinds of Dharma documentation goodies. (Seriously, how much would you have wanted to spend a couple of hours rifling through all the materials they had in there!?) Maybe this secret place, where Radzinsky once toiled over his plans for a Swan Station, housed even juicier secrets within its confines. Maybe information like a Dharma Station that could track the Island's location. . .? What if The Flame contained just such a thing, and thus it was important that it was destroyed? It's a longshot, of course, but it at least makes sense of why The Flame, well, went up in flames.