Before I begin, modesty (assuming that I have any) demands that I inform you that I ‘borrowed’ the subtitle of this article from a thread at the Fuselage by Pink Freud.
I originally planned to wait until after the season wrapped to write this article, but after The Variable, the end game for the Season is pretty much laid out, so I figured, what the hey.
The mantra of Season 5 has been “Whatever happened, happened,” meaning the characters were unable to change the past, only take part in it. This concept has been repeated so much, that even casual viewers have come to accept this less popular time travel paradigm. Yet, on the surface The Variable seemed to suggest that the past could be changed after all. Of all people, Daniel Faraday himself introduced the idea when he laid out the groundwork of his plan to prevent the Incident, undoing the chain reaction supporting the entire show.
Is he right? Of course not.
While I was sad to see poor Daniel get killed by his own mother, I found his decent into desperation much sadder. Daniel abandoned the clear cut principles of Self Consistency, namely that you can’t change the past, and embraced instead the emotional gibberish that was his speech about Variables. Daniel was so desperate to save Charlotte by changing the past, that the fool didn’t even realise he was just playing out his part all along.
Despite everything that Daniel said last night, despite his free will, despite his vaulted status as a Variable, he still warned little Charlotte to stay away from the Island per Self Consistency. His entire life his mother has been haunted by the fact that her itchy trigger finger snuffed out the life of her own son. At the crucial moment, Mr. Variable strolls into the Hostile’s camp waving a gun and gets his stupid butt shot.
Way to change the past Einstein.
Can the Past Be Changed?
If the past can’t be changed, why introduce the concept of a Variable and set up Daniel’s ill-conceived ‘plan’?
The whole of Season 5 has thus far been all about how the characters can’t change the past. All of their interactions have been in events they knew little to nothing about. None of the Flashers knew anything about the Island in 1955. John never knew Richard visited his birth. None of them had any detail history of the DHARMA Initiative circa 1974 – 77. In the end, they had no way of knowing if what they were witnessing was any different, or the way it always happened.
Since none of them knew the details surrounding the events they were taking part in, they could not purposefully change anything.
But now, for the first time, we have a different situation. Daniel Faraday is apparently aware of the Incident and the role it plays in the sequence of events leading to their presence in 1977. Further, he got it in his head that he can change something, and he is determined to do so. He laid out his plan to Jack, telling him he is going to prevent the Incident by detonating a hydrogen bomb. Before he can elaborate further, he goes and gets himself shot. So now, Jack and Kate are the only ones who know that the Incident is coming and that somehow detonating a hydrogen bomb will fix it. Now I love Jack and Kate, but I wouldn’t trust them to program my VCR much less successfully carrying out whatever hair-brained scheme Daniel cooked up in Anne Arbor.
Therefore my prediction for the rest of the season (all three hours of it) is this, with Faraday out of the picture, Jack and Kate will be left to try to carry out his plan with the help of his magic journal. All they know is this plan involves detonating an H-Bomb. They don’t know how or why. Ellie will be feeling all kinds of bad about shooting her son and all, so she will offer to help by bringing them to Jughead. Of course I doubt the dynamic duo that is Jack and Kate will have the slightest idea what to do with the thermonuclear warhead once they find it. That is where Miles will come in. I always found his powers were a peculiar addition to the show. But what if the real reason he was sent to the Island was because once Daniel is dead, he will be needed to glean the necessary intel from Daniel’s corpse?
With the figurative countdown timer running, our heroes will do their best to prevent the Incident and bring Daniel’s plan to fruition. If we stick to the Self Consistent view that has been established, we know they will not only fail, but in all likelihood, will play a crucial role in bringing about the very circumstances that they are trying to alter. That is classic Self Consistency. However, in the grand tradition of Lost season finales and their twist endings, I will go so far as to suggest that the finale may end in such a way as to imply that the Losties did indeed change something, or better yet, maybe they will do something catastrophic that must surely diverge from the accepted history of the Island, if for no other reason than to give us something to debate until Season 6. I have suspected for some time that the finale would involve detonating Jughead and that we would be left to wonder how to reconcile the Island being nuked with ‘Whatever happened, Happened’.
The fatal flaw in Faraday’s plan is that it boils down to a Grandfather Paradox. A Grandfather Paradox is any time travel scenario wherein the cause is precluded by its effect. In other words, if the Losties prevent the Incident, they negate the very means by which they were able to prevent the Incident in the first place. To put it less clearly, if Faraday succeeded in his plan to prevent the Incident, thereby erasing the chain of events that lead him to being in 1977, how could he have prevented the Incident in the first place?
Damon and Carlton have gone on record as saying that they are using time travel in a way that avoids paradox because they do not want to fall into the trap of invalidating the experiences of the characters. Why should we care about anything that happened to Jack if Season 5 wipes the slate clean and erases everything that has happened since the Pilot? Preventing the Incident is not only a logical quagmire, but it would be worse than having the shole show be a dream. Not to mention, what the hell would Season 6 be about?
I know what some of you are thinking. It’s too obvious. AstroJones and I have been back and forth about this very point. His argument is that the Whatever Happened, Happened mantra has been beaten into our brains precisely because it will be abandoned, in order to create a twist in the end. To have the characters fail to change the past yet again would be a predictable and limp season caper.
To this argument, however well thought out and articulately Astro worded it, I submit that it is not obvious to everyone. Sure we, the upper echelon of Lost fans, might see it coming, but that is not the case with the hoi polloi. They are going to be blown away.
Case in point. Who of us would describe The Variable as ‘full of reveals’ as opposed to ‘full of confirmations of things we figured out 12 episodes ago’?
- Eloise Hawking is Faraday’s mother? We figured that out in 4.01.
- Ellie the Other is Eloise Hawking? We knew that as soon as we learned her name in 4.03.
- Daniel had memory problems as a result of self experimentation? Figured that out after the Constant.
- Charles Widmore was Daniel’s father? Suspected as much in 4.03.
My point is Lost has trained us to expect twists around every turn. So much so that we see them when they aren’t even there. The worst example I can think of was way back in Season 2. There was a theory floating around that it wasn’t Ana Lucia that shot Shannon, but what we saw at the end of Abandoned was in fact two different scenes edited together in such a way to imply that she did. That went over well.
Your average viewer doesn’t try to anticipate the twists, he just enjoys them as they come, and as a result will think The Variable has changed the rules and will fully expect Jack and Co to prevent the Incident, thus changing the past as per Daniel’s new take on time travel. And why not, it’s easier to swallow than the Whatever Happened, Happened paradigm anyway.
It is my feeling that LOST is, at its core, a Self Consistent time travel show, and by definition must continue to be so. The next two episodes could prove me wrong. We will see, but as long as character’s actions continue to fail to diverge from what we know to be the established history of the Island, I will continue to stand by the Self Consistency model of time travel for Lost. This stand is not solely due to my feelings on time travel, but to my understanding of the story of Lost.
One of the major themes of the show has always been Destiny vs Free Will. Until Season 5 this debate has been dressed up in mystical garb, but since the introduction of Self Consistent time travel, it has entered the realm of empirical science. Allow me to borrow from Parts I & II of this series of articles to explain.
In Part I, I told a story of Jack and Dr Chang and a time travel experiment. The story illustrated that destiny and free will are a matter of perspective, and are not mutually exclusive. From Jack’s perspective he choose the number 2,342 randomly, but from Chang’s perspective, Jack was destined to choose that number. Because his choice was a matter of record.
If we look at Lost’s theme of Destiny vs Free Will from the perspective of Self Consistent time travel, we see it in a new light. Locke would say that Oceanic 815 crashed on the Island for a reason, and he’s right, but when asked what the reason is, he would give you some mumbo jumbo about the Island wanted them there. Sorry, John, that’s not quite it.
You see, there was an Incident in 1977. This Incident happened a certain way due to the actions of a select group of people. Those people were from the future, brought to 1977 as a result of a specific sequence of events. Because their actions in 1977 are a part of an unalterable timeline, those actions must occur, and therefore, it is inevitable that the sequence of events that result in them being in 1977 will play out. Part of that sequence is the crash of Oceanic 815 and the survival of those specific people.
Daniel had it partly right. In 1977, DHARMA digs a tunnel toward the exotic matter under the Orchid. This digging upsets something, leading to the release of tremendous energies at the future site of the Swan station. Some or all of the time travelers play a part in this Incident. The Incident causes the button to be pushed. One day Desmond doesn’t push the button and as a result Oceanic 815 crashes. Eventually, survivors of Oceanic 815 find their way back to 1977 and play a part in the Incident.
Much like the story in Part I with Jack and Chang, the time traveler’s involvement in the Incident in 1977 is a matter of record, it happened. That means that later they will end up on the Island, and they will be sent to 1977. In a way they were ‘brought to the Island for a reason’ as Locke suspects. But the reason is grounded in causality, not Island voodoo (assuming those are not one in the same).
If all the above sounds like circular logic, I refer you to the story I told in Part II of this series. That story involved a group of aliens obliterating all life on earth in order to prevent humans from becoming the cruel masters of the universe. They fail because they were unaware of a small group of humans on the moon at the time whose descendants, as a result, become the cruel masters of the universe. This story has two plot lines, each, when viewed separately are linear and coherent. It is only when considering them together do things get slightly screwy.
Yes, the Incident is dependant on its results to cause it, but when time travel is involved, this is an acceptable wrinkle. Much more acceptable than the paradox that would result if Oceanic 815 didn’t crash for some reason, thus depriving the Incident of the crucial players in it’s formation. From this perspective, 815 had to crash, it was inevitable. In the end, by choosing to go with the seemingly circular logical explanation above, we are left with the lesser of two evils.
Whatever happens is ultimately up to the writers, it is after all their show. But given the framework they have painstakingly built up over the last five years, it would be a shame to see it all torn down through the introduction of a plot twist for the sake of plot twist, especially a plot twist best left in Heroes.
In case you didn’t know, I am producing an online graphic time travel serial called TRICKSHOT. It is my attempt to tell a Self-Consistent time travel epic the way I think it should be told. If you have enjoyed my articles on the subject, please give it a try. It is now in Chapter 4, so to start from the beginning go here.