So the “Frozen Donkey Wheel” has come and gone, and the reactions seem to range from delighted to bemused to downright venomous. Personally, I thought it was awesome.
From where I’m sitting, the wheel was a big twist in the regards that the Orchid station, as it turned out, really wasn’t responsible for moving the island. The scene essentially took the thunder from the hands of Dharma and put it back into the hands of the mysterious ‘original’ occupants of the island.
Ben’s comment on the station being for ‘silly experiments’ was the first clue. He openly acknowledged there was some time travel with bunnies going on, which is far from silly, but the real magic of the place was what it was built around: an ancient machine that had the capability of teleporting an entire island.
All at once it is easy to see why Ben may have not been that interested in the Swan, let alone the Dharma Initiative’s attempts to control and manipulate the forces on the island. Someone had already done it, a long time ago, or perhaps a long time in the future if you want to be more surreal about it. Either way, Ben’s lack of respect for Dharma is well founded. The Orchid had nothing to do with moving the island, it was merely an attempt to gracefully, and safely, duplicate what the wheel room was capable of doing.
This, for me, was the big point of the scene and the indication of what may come to be the central point of the mythology as the show moves along, that there was a race present who had somehow mastered the island’s special properties, if not created them, and it is the various groups of people (beings?) who have jockeyed to have possession of their boon that comprise the mosaic. The question is… who are they? The four toes? Aliens? What were the others building on Alcatraz island? Was Juliet correct when she said “a runway,” regardless of whether it sounded like she was joking?
In every way the scene was dripping with LOST’s device of not-so-subtle symbolism. Ben punches through the teleportation chamber wall, a wall built by the plundering scientists of the Dharma Initiative, to get to the true magic behind. The scene lives on the pivot between reason and faith, empiricism and magic, yet tips the entire argument over into a more murky discussion. Whether it is magic or science, there is a machine of some intelligent design that controls it.
It’s worthwhile to think about the true purpose of a Donkey Wheel. The real device was a Donkey (naturally) powered well pump. The purpose was to draw water from a deep well. Could the machine really have no mechanics other than to bring up some ‘magical’ substance? Is the end all explanation for the island’s magical powers based around a magic potion sort of construct. Alien jet fuel? Cosmic soup? Leftover lube of creation? That is a question the cruel masters of LOST will probably save for the end.