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Killing Time: Calculating the Variables on "Lost"

A mother's love or the icy logic of a woman doomed to know how events will unfold?

Last night's 100th episode of Lost ("The Variable"), written by Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis, forced the audience to see the strained relationship between Daniel Faraday and his mother Eloise Hawking in a very different light.

Providing the audience with the first scenes of the duo together, this week's installment cast a light on Daniel's complex backstory, giving us a glimpse into his childhood, his time at Oxford with doomed lover/lab assistant Theresa, and his memory loss... as well as revealing what many of us have suspected for some time now: Daniel Faraday's true parentage.

So what did I think of this week's episode of Lost? Put on your Dharma jumpsuit, grab your journal, turn off the pylons, and let's discuss the 100th episode of Lost, "The Variable."

Daniel Faraday. I was beyond thrilled to see Faraday back in the mix this week, having arrived back on the island after a stint doing research at Dharma HQ in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The reason for his sudden return? A fax showing the new Dharma recruits--namely Jack, Kate, and Hurley--posing for that photograph which keeps seeming to pop up all over the place. Arriving via the sub, Faraday tells Jack that Eloise had made a mistake: this isn't their destiny. In fact, Faraday wants to undo everything from happening: prevent the release of electromagnetic energy at the Swan... which will prevent them from concreting the structure and devising the pressing of the button every 108 minutes... which Desmond would then never have to press... which means that he won't ever fail to press the button that one time... which means that Oceanic Flight 815 won't ever crash on the island. (Whew.)

How utterly heartbreaking was the scene where Faraday tells Young Charlotte that she needs to leave the island with her mother? Repeating Charlotte's dying words ("I'm not supposed to have chocolate before dinner"), Young Charlotte receives the message that she was always meant to have from the "scary man." And she does leave the island but in doing so she will return in the future, regardless of how much Faraday would seek to alter the timeline and save her life. Some deaths can't be prevented.

In fact, Faraday has now changed his opinion about their relationship to the past; whereas before he claimed that they couldn't change anything (whatever happened will still happen), he now believes that they are the variables in the equation. Their free will can alter events. He can save Charlotte and get her off the island, he can prevent the survivors of Oceanic Flight 815 from ever arriving on the island, he can change his destiny... Except that he can't. After escaping the Barracks, Daniel arrives at the hostile's camp and demands to see Eloise but is rebuffed by Richard Alpert, following a moment of frisson between the two of them in which Richard seems to recognize Daniel (from their 1954 encounter with Jughead)... and then Faraday is shot by Ellie herself. Just why did Richard lie about Ellie not being there? And why did Ellie shoot even though Richard had the situation under control?

So is Daniel Faraday dead? It certainly seems that way. I'm not sure how that jibes with the infamous Comic-Con video, in which Daniel Faraday compels Pierre Chang to film a message that predicts the destruction of the Dharma Initiative during The Purge and is a call to arms to reform the Dharma Initiative, thanks to some knowledge from the future. Given that this event had to take place after Faraday's encounter with Chang at The Orchid (which, yes, did take place after his return from Ann Arbor and not before). So does it mean that Faraday somehow manages to survive Ellie's gunshot? Is there time for Richard to take Faraday to The Temple to be healed, just as he did Benjamin Linus? Hmmm... Or is it curtains for Faraday after all? (I'm thinking he's a goner.)

We now know just what happened to his memory and why he was so visibly shaken by the footage of the faked crash site of Oceanic Flight 815. Before testing his experiment on Theresa (and sending her consciousness reeling through time), he tested it on himself, causing his short-term memory to become jumbled. And yet there's a sense that he's also able to recall future events as well, realizing just what significance the crash will have. And, as predicted by Widmore and Eloise, the island does heal him, allowing him to realign his consciousness, exert control of his memory, and regain the ability to calculate complex equations.

Eloise Hawking. Aristotle in his "Poetics" mentions the Greek word hamartia, which isn't easily defined in English. It means something akin to sin, often ascribed to an error in judgment, a tragic flaw within a character's makeup that leads to their downfall. Watching last night's episode of Lost, I was struck by the notion that Eloise Hawking is trapped by her own hamartia: the second she picked up that gun and shot Daniel Faraday in the back.

Eloise has known since 1977 that she would kill her son and yet everything that she has done to push Daniel towards his destiny has been a series of actions to propel him towards his inevitable death at her hands. She's always known that he would end up on that island and formed him into the very person he needed to be in order to get there, with full knowledge of the harm she would inevitably cause him. Is it a sacrifice, as Widmore tells her? Is it an inevitable end to Daniel's life, one that can't be stopped, just as the man with the red sneakers will die regardless of whether she prevents his death? Why does her belief in inexorable fate counteract that of Daniel's belief in free will? Is it that the variables can change but the outcome is always the same?

Charles Widmore. We now know for certain that Widmore was behind the faked crash of Oceanic Flight 815 and that he is Daniel Faraday's father (a hunch many of us had after learning that he was bankrolling Faraday's research and knew Ellie on the island). I'm still unclear as to why Daniel's last name is Faraday and not either Hawking or Widmore but I absolutely loved the scene between Faraday and Widmore when the latter visits an addled Faraday and offers him an assignment: to be part of his research team and travel to the island. I'm still not clear what Widmore and Eloise's endgame is: to ensure that everything that has happened does come to pass? That everything plays out the way it always has? That 1977 happens as it always has? Widmore claims that he sacrificed his relationship with Penny just as Eloise will sacrifice their son. Are they both so cold-hearted that the lives of their children are as disposable as paper dolls? Or do their lives matter less in comparison to that of the greater good?

Penny and Desmond. I'm thrilled that Desmond managed to survive Ben's shooting and wasn't a "casualty" as Eloise predicted. His survival marks the first time that Eloise doesn't know what will happen next, a twist that leaves her visibly shaken. Could it be that Faraday was wrong: they're not the variables but Desmond himself is The Variable? After all, Faraday was able to send a message to the future Desmond on the island. We know that Desmond is special and has played a role in Eloise's machinations but what if his continued presence on the chess board has unforeseen consequences?

Jughead. There's no way for Jack and Kate to be able to detonate Jughead and prevent The Incident from occurring. If they did somehow manage to prevent this event, it would create a divergent timeline where they never arrived on the island; but they do arrive on the island because they have to travel back to 1977 in order to be a part of these very events. As I've indicated before, they are not there to prevent these events from occurring but to ensure that they do... before they are returned to the present day. The Incident will occur, The Purge will occur, and the crash will occur as well.

It's not that they can't change the past, it's that they can't change the future: the outcome will always remain the same. The variables might change but the two sides of the equation will always balance out in the end. Sometimes you just have to push a little harder to get them to line up the way they should.

What did you think of this week's episode? Is Faraday dead or will he live to write in his journal another day? (And how shocking was Ellie's murder of Faraday?) Were you surprised by the reveal about Daniel's parentage? Just what does Eloise Hawking want? And how on earth will the castaways return to their rightful time? Discuss.

Next week on Lost ("Follow the Leader"), Jack and Kate find themselves at odds over the direction they must take to save the castaways; Locke solidifies his role as the leader of The Others; suspicion falls on Sawyer and Juliet from the Dharma Initiative.


Hi, I love this blog. Just wanted to say that I'm 98% positive that Darlton didn't write "the variable." It was Adam Horowitz and Eddy Kitsis..
James said…
I think your spot on about Desmond being 'the variable' the episode started with Desmond and his will to survive was there at the end. Perhaps his love for Penny is what kept him alive and made Eloise not able to predict the outcomes.
Also one of the reasons why Eloise wanted the oceanic 6 to return to the island was probably so that Daniel will return to Ann Arbor and create the events that Eloise and Widmore seem so determined to keep the same.
Derek said…
I personally don't feel that Faraday is dead. You mentioned the video he makes with Chang that aired at Comic-Con, and that's my main reason why I feel as though he'll live. the Incident will still take place, the Swan will still be built, but I think Faraday still has a place in all of that to come.

As for Ellie and her intentions... I have no idea.

I really enjoy reading the blog and keep up the great work.
Sam said…
Loved this episode overall, but I really wish we'd gotten a better understanding of how Daniel came to believe that free will exists and people are variables.

The problem is, that claim, besides contradicting his earlier theories about changing the past, also defies the laws of logic. If Daniel is right and they can stop the Incident from occuring, then doing so would indeed prevent Oceanic 815 from crashing... BUT it would also prevent Faraday and the castaways from ending up in 1977 and stopping the Incident, causing events to unfold as we've seen, creating an infinite causal loop. Eek.

But now I'm wondering if maybe that's going to be the big twist ending of the season. Maybe they will succeed, and we will find out that the island's power is not scientific in nature but rather fundamentally supernatural, that the mistake people keep making over and over again with the island is trying to use science understand something utterly magical.

I doubt this is the case, but you have to admit it would make for a huge WTF? moment if they actually did manage to change the future.
ted23 said…
Great write up as always. I think Faraday could be dead and I don't think that the Comic Con video needs to be canon. It was a publicity stunt and was the start of the most recent ARG but did Darlton ever say that it was definitely canon? I can't remember.

Eloise Hawking is pure evil. Even if what she thinks she's doing is for good she killed her son TWICE. Then again, if she believes that everything is pre-destined and we can't change our fates then her hands were tied. Which as you said makes her a pretty tragic figure.

A good but not great episode that made up for some shortcomings with its final ten mins or so.
Mazza said…
DANIEL CAN'T BE DEAD!!!!! I screamed at my TV last night when Ellie shot him. Could the writers really be so cruel that they would bring Faraday back for one ep and then kill him off? I wonder if they would use the Temple trick for him too but wouldn't Eloise have known that she didn't kill him then? Would that rewrite the past? Or was that how it was supposed to happen? I'm confused now!
Harleypeyton said…
A subpar episode for me, if only due to some Heroes-like logic gaps, and a little lazy writing.

The big one first. Faraday makes it clear that there is no causal link between their actions now (1977) and the present time they once occupied. That's why he didn't have a scar on his neck when they first met, despite getting shot. Okay. But if there's no causal link between the two time periods -- time's not a river, in other words, but several parallel streams -- then why would he believe he could stop the plane from crashing in the second time period by making sure there's no hatch in the first? And while we're on the subject, even if it could work, is there any reason Kate, among others, would want to be on that plane when it landed safely in Los Angeles?

The second one is smaller, but still problematic. On what planet, okay, island, does Daniel Faraday enter the Hostiles' camp waving a gun around? Hey. They're called the *Hostiles* for a reason. The only reason the writers put a gun in his hand was so that his mother could then shoot him. It's a Heroes-like move -- narrative convenience trumping logic -- that the show usually avoids.

And last? Every big reveal was something any loyal viewer already knew.

So I dunno. For me? A subpar outing.
wes said…
@harleypeyton Agreed. I thought this was one of the weakest episodes of the season and didn't give us anything we didn't already know. Tired of the writers killing off characters by shooting the at the very end of an ep. Yawn.
Brad said…
I really liked this episode. Daniel has been the most interesting character to come on the show. I didn't see any logic flaws. This is their present, the scar on his neck didn't come until he was grazed by the bullet. They are moving through their own linear timeline which just happens to weave in and around the normal timeline.

But I agree, I didn't buy Daniel's gun waving at the end. Total device to get himself shot... UNLESS he was trying to get shot... but that doesn't make sense. Walking unarmed into the camp would have served his purpose, waving a gun and threatening was stupid and out of character.
BraunMan said…
Daniel just got back and now he's (possibly) dead! No!

I could see him being dead for good but I feel like I still want to know more about his story and why he did suddenly think he could change things.

One problem I had with the episode was Kate's desire to help Daniel. If he did "reset" everything that would mean she would be back in custody with the US Marshall. Would she really want that?

Eloise is terrifying!

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