Let us try to put aside certain prejudices we may hold towards The Tempest. It being a Dharma Station that appeared out of nowhere to serve a shaky plot in one of the lesser episodes of Season 4 (The Other Woman) and was never seen or heard of again doesn’t encourage us to embrace the place with affection. Initial reactions of it being a little too convenient, of it being shoehorned in to the show and lazily justified – these are the kind of prejudices I mean, and shall try to avoid. Indeed, on closer inspection, The Tempest musters intrigue and pertinence within Lost that initial inspection may have overlooked and possibly signifies a damning indictment of Dharma’s Island-worthiness entirely.
The Tempest logo depicts a large wave, alluding to Biblical-style events, like the flood that Noah built an ark to survive. (Consider an ark sailing in endless water, then think of the Island – there’s a thought to run with, for those inclined.) If Biblical proportions seem too outlandish, consider it a Tsunami-sized wave. Point is The Tempest is a Dharma Station capable of wreaking disaster to human life. And perhaps the most shocking notion is that this is exactly what Dharma built it for.
The naming of The Tempest, aside from being a devastating storm, also stems from the Shakespeare play of the same name. In Shakespeare’s The Tempest a sorcerer and his daughter – Prospero and Miranda – are stranded on a mysterious Island. Prospero summons a tempest to shipwreck his enemies and then uses magic, spirits and a monster to manipulate and divide them for his own purposes. Sounds strangely familiar, doesn’t it? Can’t help but feel that Dharma certainly saw and appreciated the similarities with the Island and Shakespeare’s work (but I acknowledge this was probably more about the Lost creators also getting the reference in there).
The Tempest first gets mentioned into existence in the episode Namaste (on a bank of monitors in The Flame), which puts the earliest known time of it having been built as 1977. This is a good while before 1992, which is roughly around the time of ‘the purge’. This fact leads me to branch into two strains of thought. The first is that The Tempest was built purely to distribute poison gas as a result of the conflict with ‘the hostiles’, and Dharma retained the use of this Station for approximately fifteen years before it was eventually used against them.
I believe this is the truth. The alternative idea is that The Tempest was originally built for other purposes and it was only the increasing hostilities on the Island that prompted Dharma to up their defences and create the capacity for more deadly response. Very little is known about The Tempest but the ‘kindest’ remarks could argue it was used for all manner of chemical testing before the distribution of lethal gas became its pure reason for existence. As there is no evidence to substantiate this argument, however, I am forced to defer to the principle that The Tempest was built as we saw it: to produce and release a fatal gas with the intention of inflicting multiple casualties.
Let’s turn our attention to the gas and the distribution mechanism. The gas itself would appear to have been a nerve agent, VX or a variation thereof. A computer display of chemical names such as thionylchloride and O-ethyl 2-diisopropylaminoethyl methylphosphonite are components of this nerve gas. Wikipedia has this to say about VX:
‘VX has a high persistence in the environment. It is odourless and tasteless and can be distributed as liquid, or as an aerosol. It works as a nerve agent by blocking the function of the enzyme acetylcholinesterase, thus resulting in sustained contractions of all the muscles in the body. Sustained contraction of the diaphragm muscle causes death by asphyxiation.’
VX seems to fit the bill from what we’ve seen – if not the actual nerve agent certainly something within the ballpark. The next matter concerns distribution of this gas. Evidently the gas manufactured at The Tempest was ultimately used against Dharma in ‘the purge’. The temptation, then, is to figure that ‘the hostiles’ gained access to The Tempest and triggered the release mechanism when they were ready with gas masks to protect themselves.
I, however, sense that this was highly unlikely and that the Island-wide release of poisonous gas that The Tempest is capable of has never been activated. Goodwin, one of the few Others entrusted with working at The Tempest, remarked that, with the wrong flick of a switch, he could kill every man, woman and child on the Island. Furthermore, The Freighter landing crew’s first mission (through Charlotte and Daniel) was to disable The Tempest so that Keamy and his men could land on the Island and stage their attack without being wiped out.
The point seems clear that The Tempest was entirely capable of distributing a lethal gas over the entire Island.
Now considering ‘the purge’ during Dharma’s time, it doesn’t seem feasible that such an event actually happened. (Danielle Rousseau, for one, was on the Island at this time with no warning or gas mask protection. Did every single Other have a gas mask, also?) More likely is the notion that The Others used The Tempest to engineer a whole bunch of the poison gas canisters similar to the one Ben used on his father.
Alpert and The Others could have distributed the Tempest-made gas using these canisters all over The Barracks, or tossed one down The Pearl hatch, or scattered them all over the Hydra Island and taken out the Dharma Initiative with more localised assaults. (That Dharma members survived – in The Swan, for example – is made even more probable and, since we know Dharma members did survive, makes this theory of ‘the purge’ attack via gas canister more valid.)
The alternative is the idea that The Tempest can somehow score ‘direct hits’ of lethal gas distribution and this was how ‘the purge’ was effected but, again, there’s absolutely no evidence to support this idea so I am inclined to defer to my previous rationale. The Tempest served as a kind of failsafe, or ultimate last ditch measure – if Dharma found their battle against ‘the hostiles’ was turning against them they could always trigger the lethal gas and end it for all of them. Curiously, after ‘the purge’, The Others elected to retain this facility (although Goodwin’s secrecy suggests it wasn’t common knowledge amongst all of them) for the same reason as Dharma: should ‘hostile’ people invade their Island they’d rather kill everyone than have the Island taken from them.
The function of The Tempest serves as that of a deterrent, like how countries with nuclear bombs refrain from using them to avoid mutual destruction. If the battle for the Island became too intense then The Tempest gas could be released and no one would win. The similarities to a nuclear bomb, however, do portray Dharma in a less-than-flattering light and add to a growing theme on the show.
Consider that prior to Dharma the Island, and ‘the hostiles’, had to contend with a military force intruding on the place. Potentially they considered the Island a fine place for nuclear testing, but whatever their purpose what they left was. . .
A potentially devastating weapon was their legacy. Now move forward a couple of decades and Dharma are the new intruders to the Island that ‘the hostiles’ must contend with. One of their legacies?
Another potentially devastating weapon. Not very ‘Namaste’, is it? Suddenly The Others and their claim that they are “the good guys”, from their perspective, certainly shoulders a lot of credibility. And consider also the observations of Nameless. . .
Nameless: “They come. They fight. They destroy. They corrupt. It always ends the same.”
For all their earnest scientific pursuit, Dharma, via The Tempest, have presented themselves as no more worthy of a place on the Island than all those that have been before. Rather than retreat and leave the Island they were prepared to kill everyone, even themselves, so that no one could have it. As I stated near the beginning, this is a rather shocking realisation. By this one aspect of the Dharma Initiative The Tempest Station ultimately proves to signify their lack of worth, and justifies itself as more than just a poorly-considered plot convenience. That The Tempest served to bring about Dharma’s demise is a bitterly ironic punchline. You reap what you sow.