LOST 028 - The Universe Has a Way of Course Correcting

Unpacking the TV show LOST — Season 3: Episodes 7-9

LOST 028 - The Universe Has a Way of Course Correcting

I didn’t mean for so much time to go by between LOST post. Life happened. My newsletter’s platform decided they wanted to host Nazis, I was lucky enough to have to go to work publishing a book. I lost track of time, a-wocka-wocka-wocka.

But just like anybody else drawn to the island, or The Island (disambiguation in this post), I’ve learned that I can’t stay away.

We’ve got to go back, Kate! We’ve got to go back!

Today we’ll look at a trio of episodes that close out the Hydra Island segment of Season 3—a run that is largely considered to be the series’ creative nadir—but in this little run we’ll find only one episode I’d call bad and two that are quite good indeed. Of course that one bad one is often considered one of the worst episodes ever, if not the very worst, so it’s ups and downs around here. Let’s dig in.

Previously, on LOST: Oceanic Flight 815 crashed on a very mysterious island and its survivors survived, and they all have strange backstories full of the sort of strife that makes for interesting TV. One of the things they’ve had to contend with is a smoke monster, because this is a smoke monster sort of show. Another challenge is a group of others called Others already on the island who are quite hostile to them, and our heroes and the Others have been killing and kidnapping each other for a while now. Right now the Others are on top, having captured three of our heroes: Surgeon Jack, fugitive Kate, and con-man Sawyer. It appears the Others did this because they need Jack to operate on their leader, Ben, who is rumored to be tumor-ed, and they knew that Jack could be controlled if his friends were threatened. We the audience don’t know this, but The Others operate by control rather than by asking nicely because they themselves are (though they mostly don’t realize it) in thrall to a mostly immortal, vastly powerful entity, who would like to kill every human being in reality and end reality itself, but can’t do it directly, because It is in turn (though pretty much nobody knows this) under the dominion of an even more powerful entity, which from a certain way of looking at it is The Island itself.

Got it? Good. Conditions are perfect. It’s business time.

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This entry’s three episodes include the much-derided “Stranger in a Strange Land,” aka The One Where We Find Out How Jack Got His Tattoos. The fact that an episode was dedicated to providing answers to a question literally nobody had even thought to ask left the distinct impression among many viewers that the show was really scraping the barrel when it came to character-enhancing backstory, and I think the front half of Season three make the case that this was exactly the problem they were facing—at least in the case of the characters receiving the most story focus: Kate and Jack, and probably Locke, and maybe Sawyer. There’s just nothing left to say about where these characters have come from, and so it would be better to focus on where they are going, and happily the show is about to start doing that.

However: on deck we also have two episodes featuring recently-arrived characters, whose flashbacks (if flashbacks they both are, he intoned dramatically) demonstrate that the whole time-jump episode structure may have a bit more life left in it, provided it can focus on characters about whom we don’t know much yet.

Nowever: we also get some very interesting details. The main-time (that is island-time) story has all sorts of juicy bits of tid, many of which are going to become big deals, or at least worth remembering.

Sun's out. Guns out.

Episode 7: NOT IN PORTLAND (Juliet): That’s right, it’s an episode dedicated to our favorite or at least newest Other with a deadpan delivery, Juliet. We knew already that she was a doctor (she was an assisting physician as Jack operated), but in flashback we learn that she is a fertility doctor, who was recruited by Ethan Rom (who we’ve seen before in a rather more murderous setting) and Richard Alpert (who we are seeing for the first time but about whom much more will be said). These two are representing “Mittelos Bioscience,” location “just outside of Portland.” They want her on the winning team because of her groundbreaking research, which she has been conducting in secret on her sister. Sis is a cancer patient rendered infertile by her chemo, and Juliet, utilizing some not-entirely-above-board methods, has managed to get her pregnant. Long story shorter, her sleazebag ex-husband runs her program and blackmails her to take credit for her work himself, and is also blocking her ability to join Mittelos. Never fear, though: under not-at-all-suspicious circumstances, he’s hit by a bus! She can join Mittelos! Just for six months, they promise!

And she finds herself on LOST island, barred from coming home by their authoritarian leader, Ben. Hence Juliet’s desire to help Jack kill Ben.

It’s good stuff. It’s really good stuff. It establishes Juliet’s predicament, as well as the unique mixture of pragmatic self-interest and empathy that characterizes her.

On-island is a bit more muddled but energetic, by which I mean Sawyer and Kate are finally out of those damnable polar bear cages for good. When we left off, Jack had fouled Ben’s surgery to hold him hostage contingent upon the release of his friends. Sawyer and Kate use the ensuing chaos to free themselves and run off, accompanied by an unexpected ally: Alex Linus, Ben’s teen daughter, who has been helping them from the sidelines for the last few episodes. She’s a rebellious teen, and is real mad at her dad for the ultimate teen reason: Ben doesn’t approve of her boyfriend, Karl Sjunior,¹ so Ben has Karl arrested and thrown into the polar bear cages, and then sent for some creepy drugged Clockwork-Orange style reprogramming.² Alex wants Sawyer and Kate to help Karl escape, and in the end they agree to do so (hilariously, to accomplish this, they beat up Mac from It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, who fails the ocular pat-down).

After an operating-theater confab with Jack, Ben agrees to send Juliet to assist the escape, and offers Juliet safe passage off the island if she agrees—leaving Tom Friendly (MC Gainey) to assist Jack, about which more later. Agree she does, and is so committed to the bit that she puts a few or maybe even several bullets into a colleague—lead Others soldier Danny Pickett. Pickett is the husband of the woman Sun shot and killed a few episodes back, and he’s not being cool about it at all, and is seeking red-assed revenge with nefarious intent—perhaps understandably, but he was pretty violent and mean even before being unspoused, so who can say? He’s about to shoot Kate and Sawyer right on the beach until they are dead, and that means that Jack will let Ben bleed until he’s dead, and that means Juliet won’t get off the island, so Juliet shoots Danny until he’s dead instead. Anyway, later for you, Danny Pickett. You seemed like you sucked. Now you’re leaky.

Kate and Sawyer escape from the Hydra sub island on an appropriated outrigger, with Karl in tow. Juliet and Jack confab post-surgery and post-murder: both were successful.

End of Episode 7.

“Skin it, player.”

Episode 8: FLASHES BEFORE YOUR EYES (Desmond): Hey why don’t we cover one of the most important episodes (from the perspective of the buried understory, anyway) of the entire run?

Everyone’s favorite time-displaced Scotsman is back! Ever since blowing up the nuclear device underneath the Swan station, Desmond David Hume’s been running around the beach in borrowed clothes (his were blown right off him by quantum forces) and doing weird stuff like anticipating lighting and predicting the future, and Hurley’s noticed even if nobody else has.

Now everyone’s about to notice. Locke and Sayid and Des return from their unsuccessful expedition to rescue the now-deceased Eko, and they meet about a mile inland to break the bad news of Eko’s death quietly to Hurley and Charlie, when, without warning, Des goes tearing ass to the beach and dives into the water. And a good thing, too: He’s just in time to save Claire from drowning out in the undertow.

Charlie’s curious to know how Des knew to save Claire, and Hurley gives him the goods on Des’ ability to predict the near future. To learn more, the two amigos ply Des with a bottle of MacCutcheon Scotch pilfered from Sawyer’s stash, and, once they get drunk as three opossums, we get a veerrrry interesting … flashback? not exactly a flashback? Ah hell, let me just tell you.

When Desmond turned the key, he found his consciousness had shifted back into what appeared to be his past: specifically a couple days before his greatest regret—the moment he allowed his wounded pride to lead him to end his relationship with his great love, Penelope Widmore. Des has a big chip on his shoulder about being poor, and Penny’s dad, Charles, is a shitballs rich captain of industry—one who is sponsoring a sailboat race around the world, and one who believes that Des is so unworthy that not only is he unworthy of Penny, but he’s even unworthy of even drinking a single pour of Charles’ prohibitively expensive MacCutcheon Scotch.³ Des had recently moved in with Penny and had been about to propose, but after Charles crushes him, he breaks up with her. Des does this right after a street photographer takes the very picture of the couple that he’s been moping over since we met him. From there, he joins the Scots guard, and then gets court-martialed (more on why this happened some other time), and then after his dishonorable discharge, starts to train for the race around the world, in a rather unnecessary bid to prove to the world’s biggest asshole that he’s worthy of a woman whose heart he’s already earned.

And that’s how Desmond wound up on the island, entering a sequence to save the world.

It’s important, I think to relate what Des’ subjective experience of living his past again is like.

Des has a vague sense that things aren’t quite as they should be, and a vague intermittent memory of his life before on the island, almost as a half-remembered dream. These memories become particularly acute when someone from his island time pops up (specifically, Charlie, whose middle name, we learn, is “Hieronymus”) in one of those odd coincidences that seem to happen so often in flashbacks. He also has memories of things that happen before they happen, but not all the memories are quite right; in other words, sometimes they happen the way he remembers, and sometimes they don’t.

Des also remembers that he has this huge regret, and he decides he’s going to change it. He’s not gong to make the same mistake again. He decides to do the thing he didn’t to last time, which is to buy Penny an engagement ring.

And then something quite extraordinary happens. The jewelry saleswoman (whose name, we will someday learn, is Eloise Hawking) tells him he can’t buy the ring, because time isn’t something that can be changed. She demonstrates the authority of her knowledge by making a true prediction about a tragic industrial accident—one whose outcome, she claims, would not be able to be prevented, because “the universe has a way of course correcting.” She tells Des that the only important thing he’ll ever do is going to that island to save the world by being a sequence-monkey and then by setting off the bomb, and that in order to do that, he’s unfortunately going to have to make the biggest mistake of his life.

Des defies Hawking, and buys the ring anyway. But at the fateful moment, he still pushes Juliet away, and sets himself on his designated course.

Back on the island, Des informs Charlie that Hurley is right: he’s still seeing flashes of what is to come. By running into the surf and putting up the lightning rod, he wasn’t saving Claire; he was saving Charlie. Charlie drowned trying to save Claire. Charlie got hit by the lightning. But now, Des realizes, it’s all useless. You can’t change things. Eloise Hawking was right: the universe, which has a way of course correcting, won’t be denied. Saving him from his fate only puts off the inevitable.

Desmond is sorry, but … “Yer gonna die, Charlie.”

And he is, too.

End of Episode 8.

Background: Juliet and the other Others. Foreground: Sir Not-Appearing-In-Any-More-Episodes

Episode 9: STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND (Jack) - Yep, it’s the one about Jack’s tats. You know how you were wondering how he got his tats? Uh, well Jack went on vacation to Thailand all by himself, but not like that (sure, Jack). While there he became involved with a local woman (played by Bai Ling), an artist who has the magical power to bestow tattoos that tell you who you are, but there is a powerful taboo (a tattoo taboo) against bestowing them upon outsiders, and Jack Of Course gets all intense and obsessive and insists on getting tatted up with his cultural appropriation marks, which later are revealed to mean “he walks amongst us but he is not of us,” and yeah cool shit Jack.

Its racially trope-y and there’s not much point or payoff to this. It’s just yet another Jack episode so there needs to be a Jack flashback, and this is what they came up with. A Tom Friendly episode might have been interesting here, since he’s a featured player in this episode (getting into an interesting “which of us is the real villain” exchange with Jack), but nope. The writers didn’t want to go thataway way with Tom, so their Gainey is our loss. More Jack! Fie on those who say they want less!

The main episode is better. Juliet is in danger of being executed by the Others for having shed the blood of one of their own. A judge/sheriff authority type figure named Isabel appears from … somewhere, along with some others (some other Others) who attend as witnesses or maybe jury, and it all looks pretty bad for ‘ol Juliet, but then ol’ Jack agrees to tend to ol’ Ben’s recovery, so ol’ Ben agrees to put a stay on ol’ Juliet’s execution, and they just brand her (like with a branding iron) instead. But one thing I’ll mention is that among the other Others is little-seen but much-pondered Oceanic 815 flight attendant Cindy, who seems utterly nonplussed by all this business, and has the two abducted Tailie kids along with her to boot, and they seem to trust her and be relatively well-cared-for. (A decent proof-point for my belief that Cindy had been a member of an island-aware Jacobian faction who likely anticipated where the flight was going to wind up.)

B-plotting: Sawyer and Kate and Karl Sjunior get to the mainland, and Karl makes mention of looking at constellations with Alex, but he mentions different constellations (like ursa theadorus, the “teddy bear”), which hmm, maybe. Karl also mentions that when they take kids, they give them a better life than the one they had, which also hmm.

Anyway, Sawyer lets Karl go back to Hydra Island so he can be with Alex.

The Others—Hydra staff included—prepare to leave Hydra island and go to a place they call “home.” Jack comes along.

We never see Isabel again, for what it’s worth, despite her seeming importance in the Others organization. That’s how it goes sometimes.

End of Episode 9.


There’s so much to observe this time!

1) “Ever since the sky turned purple …” The (rather unexpectedly mild-mannered) Tom Friendly finds himself assisting Ben’s operation for Jack as Juliet goes off to save Kate and Sawyer, and Jack quite sensibly asks why they didn’t just bring Ben to an off-island facility. Tom starts with the quote above … and is interrupted. That’s going to be one of the few clues that we get that since Des turned the reset key, Ben’s method of getting on and off of the island is no longer available to them. We’ll keep poking around at clues as to why this is and to what extent it is no longer available (my theory can be found here). I’ll just say for now that I think the reset moved the island, to use a phrase that will become relevant eventually.

2) A Brief History of Time. Mac from Sunny is reading Stephen Hawking’s book in the episode preceding the one in which we meet Eloise Hawking, which means that the show has Hawking on the brain. The book is, in part, about how black holes can facilitate time travel. Did I mention before that I think that the act of destroying the island creates a black hole so massive that it swallows not only the Earth but the universe—reality itself? I did? Oh, good.

3) A brief history of The Others. “Most of us don’t even like coming here,” Isabel says of the Hydra facility. She doesn’t appear again, which is one of the many inconsistencies of the presentation of the Others up to this point, but her group’s antipathy for Dharma facilities is, I think, a consistency. Many times in the past, I’ve discussed what I think is going on with this group, and now I’d like to reiterate what I believe is going on with the Others based on the clues we have and some we’ll be given. The group known as “The Others” are a faction of on-island Jacobians, by which I mean they worship and serve a timeless entity that few if any of them have ever seen, who they know as Jacob, and who they believe (mostly correctly) is the same entity as the one I’m calling The Island. From these episodes we can observe that they have traditions and customs and laws and rules, and feel perfectly justified in undertaking some downright hostile acts in the name of their cause.

We’ll soon receive hints that some of their traditions and customs and laws and rules have been passed down from Jacob, while other have almost certainly infiltrated into their dogmas thanks to the trickery of the entity known as The Adversary. The Jacobians believe that they are the protectors of the island from The Adversary and outsiders who come to the island—outsiders I believe they (mistakenly) believe are being drawn there by The Adversary, even though we’ll learn these outsiders are being drawn by The Island despite The Adversary’s great objections and burning desire to rid the island and reality itself of unworthy human beings. It is as a result of The Adversary’s corruptions of their dogmas that the Jacobians believe they are fully justified in any actions they take in their role as protector, and in this way they serve the desires of The Adversary. In the relatively recent past, they opposed the scientific research team, The Dharma Initiative, and were known by that group as “the hostiles.”

Now Dharma is gone, and certain of the Jacobians, led by Ben Linus, are utilizing their facilities while the rest of the Jacobians live in a temple that is found within a zone that they believe to be largely safe from The Adversary and his influence. Linus appears to have been given some level of overriding authority within this group, despite a certain level of distaste that they might have for him; it’s an authority that includes some form of material and practical support from Richard Alpert, who is known by all of them to be the voice of Jacob.

Where did Dharma go? How did Ben Linus rise in power? That’s a box to open some other day. But I think we can say why the Jacobians tolerate his use of facilities established by a group that almost destroyed the island.

4) Mittelos Bioscience. No women can give birth on the island, we’ll soon learn. Juliet is recruited because of her expertise in this area. She’s been forbidden from leaving by Ben for the same reason that I believe Ben’s experiments in Dharma facilities and his active recruitment of outsiders have been permitted: because this matter is of continued existence of a group whose existence likely spans back to at least the period of Earth’s history where BC moved into AD, if not to ancient Egypt.

It’s also a group whose previous leaders, we’ll learn a long time from now, were two people who are no longer on the island, and no longer married to one another: Charlies Widmore and Eloise Hawking.

5) Hawking and Widmore. So here’s my question: where did Desmond go after he turned the key?

Into his past, he thinks. A place where he has a vague sense that things aren’t quite as they should be, and a vague intermittent memory of his life before on the island, almost as a half-remembered dream. A place where these half-memories become particularly acute when someone from his island time pops up (specifically, Charlie, whose middle name, we learn, is “Hieronymus”) in one of those odd coincidences that seem to happen so often in flashbacks. He also has memories of things that happen before they happen, but not all the memories are quite right; in other words, sometimes they happen the way he remembers, and sometimes they don’t.

And that’s what Eloise Hawking clearly wants him to think, too. She wants him to think he is in a past that is unchangeable and immutable, a past governed by a universe that will correct its course even if somebody tries to depart their path. That’s what she tells him, and she wants him to believe it, and maybe she even believes it herself. But what exactly is her game here? We’ll learn someday that she has access to technology that lets her know where the island is, and her understanding seems to be vast. But she doesn’t have knowledge of things to come … does she?

But here’s my question: if the universe will course-correct no matter what Desmond David Hume does, then why is she trying so hard to stop him? Why not just let him do what he’ll do, confident that he can’t change anything?

And why is she acting to set him on a specific course utilizing the sort of very specific kind of almost omnipotent knowledge we haven’t seen her use before?

She’s actually acting like somebody else we’ll see very late in this story—almost the end of it, in fact. The person she’s acting like? Desmond Hume.

Where did Des act like that? I’ll tell you where, by telling where I think he went in "Flashes Before Your Eyes."

I believe that Desmond is seeing flashes before his eyes of things that happened. This suggests a knowledge of what is to come, and we’re invited to believe its because he’s already lived it once before. And maybe so. But then, when he returns to what he thinks of as his present, the flashes continue. This suggests that the portion of his consciousness that has already “lived it once before” has also experienced points that happen after these moments we see him in, here on the island which both we and he have been thinking of as his present. And if he changes things, like Charlie dead of electrocution, then he sees new things (like Charlie drowned saving Claire) that he now has also lived already because he changed the other thing that he had lived before, and now his far-flung consciousness has access to memories of those events, new timestreams he didn’t remember before but now he does, because choices can change things—specifically, they can change which branch of an infinite reality your consciousness has chosen to inhabit, to the degree that those choices were available.

Maybe Desmond did go to his past. Maybe that’s where he went when he turned the key and exposed himself to a massive amount of thermonuclear and electromagnetic energy. But we’ll see him exposed to massive amounts of similar energy someday, and it doesn’t send his consciousness into the past. No, it sends him into the future—the far future. The very far future. The End, you might say.

Maybe Desmond went to his past. Maybe. Or maybe, from another way of looking at it, Desmond has always been in his past, as are all of us, now, even now, right in this moment, but only Desmond has been granted consciousness of that fact.

I actually don’t believe Desmond had a flashback here.

I believe he gave us our first glimpse at a place (or perhaps a state of being) that we’ll eventually know as the Sideways.


Next Time: Acceleration

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A.R. Moxon is the author of The Revisionaries, which is available in most of the usual places, and some of the unusual places, and the upcoming essay collection Very Fine People, which you can learn about how to support right here. He is also co-writer of Sugar Maple, a musical fiction podcast from Osiris Media which goes in your ears. He don’t have no mercy in this land.

¹ I didn’t catch his last name but I presume the writers chose correctly.

² Reprogramming that mentions, for the very first time, the name “Jacob.” Which may be important later, we’ll see. I’ll also note that it’s need that Karl is being subjected to flashes before his eyes in the episode directly preceding the one titled “Flashes Before Your Eyes.”

³ Hilarious cold-blooded pettiness: When asked for his daughter’s hand, Widmore sets out two ostensibly celebratory glasses, then only pours for one.

We won’t see that temple for a very long time, but once we do see it, I think we’ll learn that the Jacobians are quite mistaken about how free of Adversarial influence it might be.